Thursday, April 27, 2006

More Hot Air From The Autoextremists

Well, it looks like we've ticked another one off.

Regular listeners to “Sirius Speedway” will recall last week’s interview with Peter DeLorenzo of, who claimed to have insider knowledge of a plan by one of Detroit’s “big three” automakers to pull out of NASCAR. I lobbed a few questions at Mr. DeLorenzo – most of which went thoroughly unanswered – and pointed out a few gaping holes in his reasoning, in what I thought was a mutually respectful dialogue between two people with radically divergent views.

Apparently, Mr. DeLorenzo disagreed.

Rather than call me out in person, however, he had his buddy (and fellow writer) Dr. Bud E. Bryan do it for him. In a column posted today under the heading, “NASCAR Nation? No Thanks,” the self-described “bit of a loose cannon” tells how his hero and mentor “acquiesced to an interview on NASCAR's official radio network -- on MRN Radio's Sirius Speedway show -- in which the `host’ treated him in a condescending tone, like he was guilty of blasphemy or even high treason, his crimes against the NASCAR Empire were so blatant and unforgivable.”

For the record, Doctor, Mr. DeLorenzo didn’t “acquiesce.” He literally jumped at the chance to talk about himself, and his website. And the host never condescended. He merely pointed out a few of the flaws in your pal’s ridiculously flawed logic.

The Good Doctor writes, “Peter did his best not to just cut the interview off, deeming it afterwards as a monumental waste of his time (which it was), but I don't have to be that cordial.” He then embarks on a monumental rant against all things NASCAR, calling the sanctioning body “a flat-out fraud.” In his words, “the people who count themselves as `fans’ of NASCAR ‘racing’ have been duped and sold a bill of goods. NASCAR has devolved… into a fabricated, synthesized and sanitized marketing `vehicle’ that exists solely for the edification and the profitability of the France family and its legions of enablers (aka the corporate sponsors) and the equally subservient TV networks.”

Bryan was apparently unable to come up with an opinion of his own on that count, choosing instead to parrot DeLorenzo’s original column, virtually word for word. But I digress.

Dr. Bryan scolded your humble host for being intolerant of other forms of racing, saying, “if one has the temerity to even question anything about NASCAR they are immediately vilified and branded an undesirable - or worse. What is that about, anyway? People aren't supposed to like or prefer any other forms of racing? We are only allowed to like NASCAR in this country and if we don't we're what - un-American? Unf---ing believable.”

For the record, Doc, we cover a wide array of motorsports on “Sirius Speedway;” NASCAR, IRL, Champ Car, Formula One, Grand Am, American Lemans, NHRA, Sprint Cars and Midgets, to name just a few. Many of our listeners credit us with opening their eyes to other (non-NASCAR) forms of racing for the first time in their lives. If you had listened to the show – just once – you might have picked up on that. But you were too busy defending a man who proved woefully incapable of defending himself.

Dr. Bryan proudly admits watching just four NASCAR races each year: the Daytona 500, Sears Point, Watkins Glen and the night race at Bristol. Other than that, he says, “I couldn't care less. NASCAR is tedious, repetitive, homogenized, predictable and ridiculous.”

And this guy criticized ME for being narrow-minded? Sheesh.

Bryan writes, “I would hope that all of the Detroit manufacturers would show some cojones and say, `You know, come to think of it, this makes absolutely no sense to us at all.’" Riiiiight. Let’s bail out of NASCAR. The same NASCAR that draws more TV viewers on most Sunday afternoons than all other forms of televised motorsports, combined.

“NASCAR is about marketing and money,” he writes, “and if the denizens of NASCAR Nation want to delude themselves into thinking otherwise, be my guest. But I for one am mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it one minute longer - and I know there are hundreds of thousands of people out there just like me.”

You’re right, Dr. Bryan, there are. Hundreds of thousands of people, who regularly join forces to boost the combined IRL and Champ Car ratings to a whopping a 0.9, or less. Compare that to the millions of people that turn out (and turn on) every weekend to get their weekly NASCAR fix, and I'd say you're a bit more outnumbered than you think. But don't sweat it, General Custer. These Indians are unarmed.

I love IRL and Champ Car. In fact, I've yet to find a form of motor racing that I'm NOT interested in. From Formula One to Swamp Buggy racing, if it's on the tube, I'll watch it. And unlike Dr. Bud. E Bryan, I'm absolutely not interested in calling my fellow fans a group of mindless sheep.

Here’s the bottom line on this whole discussion, as I see it. Peter DeLorenzo made his ill-conceived and inaccurate comments last week with one goal in mind; to draw a little heat to his website. On that count, he got his wish. But in the ultimate case of "Be Careful What You Wish For..." he also stirred up a hornet's nest of high-level denials from GM, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler, all of whom labeled his unsubstantiated, unsupportable allegations – in no uncertain terms -- a load of manure.

Dr. Bryan, you’re just more of the same.

Troubled Times For NASCAR Elite Racers

The 2006 racing season is underway at short tracks around the nation, but for competitors in NASCAR’s four Autozone Elite Divisions -- Southeast, Midwest, Southwest and Northwest – this year will be their last under the NASCAR banner. NASCAR announced a few months ago that it will pull their plug on its regional racing programs at the end of the 2006 campaign, citing low car counts, the escalating cost of competition, and diminished interest from regional track operators.

That “diminished interest” is plain to see. The 2006 Autozone Elite Division Southeast Tour schedule features just four (four!) races, while the Midwest Tour has only five. Competitors in the Southwest Division will race nine times this year, while their colleagues on the Northwest Tour will enjoy a comparatively robust 11-race schedule. Those schedules are a far cry from the days when ARTGO (forerunner of the Midwest Series) and All-Pro (now Autozone Southeast) regularly booked 25-30 race schedules, and both the Southwest and Northwest Tours raced virtually every weekend, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

“Doing away with the Elite Series was a tough emotional decision, but it really wasn’t a tough business decision,” said Don Hawk, Director of Regional Racing Development for NASCAR. “At what point does it no longer make sense for track operator and competitors to race that kind of a car, with that kind of a purse structure? You have to ask yourself, `at what point do they go broke?’ Eventually, you are going to have to make a business decision.”

NASCAR decision to walk away from the Elite Divisions has left racers in those areas with some tough decisions of their own, though there are a few viable options. Former Supermodified and IRL driver Davey Hamilton will promote the Wild West Late Model Shootout series for Southwest Series-type cars next season, under his SRL banner. A similar group is said to forming in the northwest, with plans to race at Evergreen, Yakima, Rocky Mountain and Wenatchee Speedways. And rumors have surfaced recently that a group in the Midwest may be working to resurrect ARTGO, running perimeter and straight-rail chassied cars against each other; at least in the short term.

For drivers in the southeast, however, options are strictly limited. A handful may turn their attention to the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series; a division that has somehow found a way to thrive in many of the same markets NASCAR’s Elite Divisions struggled in. To make that move, however, competitors will have to completely revamp their programs, with all-new cars and engines. They can also upgrade to the NASCAR Busch East or Autozone West Series, spending twice as much money in search of a similar purse.

For many, though, it’s a question of going back to weekly racing, or quitting the game outright.

NASCAR is encouraging its Elite Division competitors to examine other racing venues. Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter said recently, “We’re looking forward to a dignified and respectful ending to NASCAR’s involvement with the Elite Division. NASCAR realizes that many Elite Division competitors will choose not to step up into the Grand National Division, but will be looking for opportunities to race. For our competitors on the West Coast, we encourage our tracks, teams and drivers to participate in the Stockcar Racing League (SRL) in the future.”

I have said before that the situation faced by NASCAR Elite Divisions racers should serve as a warning to those on the Busch East and Autozone West Series. All three factors cited by NASCAR in terminating the Elite Divisions -- low car count, high cost, and lack of interest from promoters – exist at the Grand National level, as well. Only 11 races are scheduled in the west this season, with 10 “back east.”

NASCAR admits that it gets more difficult every year to convince promoters to pony-up the dollars necessary to book a Grand National event, as track owners learn to live without series’ that were mainstays of their schedule just a few years ago.

My friend Bill Ryan is the owner/promoter of the highly successful Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford, Maine. Oxford used to be a mainstay on the Busch East schedule, often booking as many as five series races each year. Ryan brought the Tour back for the first time in a decade in 2006, and nearly drowned in the red ink.

“I got the wind taken out of my sails last August,” says Ryan in an excellent story by Mike Twist on the website. “I might like a series, but I can’t book a race just because I like to see those cars run. I’ve got better things to do with my money than buy a $50,000 race ticket.”

In 2006, Ryan has booked the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models, and the American-Canadian Tour Late Models, circuits he calls, “affordable for a racetrack… even if a couple of clouds roll across the sky.”

He’s not alone in that attitude. Hopefully, NASCAR will learn from the mistakes it made in the Autozone Elite Series, and avoid stepping in the same potholes at the Grand National level.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Talladega Prediction: "Slam Drafting" Will End

I'm going out on a limb this week, predicting the stunning demise of "slam drafting" at Talladega Superspeedway. After an endless string of senseless, multi-car crashes at the Alabama superspeedway in recent years, NASCAR finally took action this season, mandating lighter front bumpers that will collapse on heavy impact, leaving "slam drafters" will nothing to show for their effort but a busted radiator and a DNF.

There will still be a bit of "bump drafting" Sunday; the comparatively harmless practice of of giving another driver a gentle nudge in the backside on straightaways. But amazingly, the very drivers that declared "slam drafting" to be an unavoidable part of restrictor plate racing will suddenly discover the God-given ability to avoid harpooning each other in the trunk, after all.

Like "bias-ply tires" and "Driver Escape Hatch," the term "slam drafting" will be wheeled out to the NASCAR graveyard following this weekend's race, never to be heard from again. And best of all? The racing will not suffer for it.

Listener Hot Rod #5!

Dan Belych of Brighton, Ontario, Canada sends along this shot of the TQ Midget driven by his son, David, in the Lucas Oil Can-Am Midget club. The car was built by 2001 ISMA Supermodified champion Dave McKnight Jr. and Brad Litckey, co-owner of 5/8 mile Cayuga Speedway in Ontario, and is powered by a stock, 750 cc Kawasaki motorcycle engine.

David Belych began racing karts in 1980 at age nine, and is now serving his second term as President of the Can-Am Midget Club. This family based team has finished second or third in points each year since switching to a stock powerplant for more reliability; running two cars for two seasons with only one DNF, that due to a blown water hose. The team runs 15 to 18 shows a year, with their showcase event coming at the legendary Oswego (NY) Speedway on Oswego Classic weekend.

Dan says, "Although we don’t set the world on fire, racing for us is “father/son bonding.” We may never have made it through the teenage years without it!" Thanks, guys!

Monday, April 24, 2006

"Shrub" Needs A Little Pruning

Look for NASCAR to send a very clear message tomorrow, in the aftermath of Kyle Busch's red-flag incident with Casey Mears Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway.

On lap 99 of the event, Busch and Mears tangled at one end of the racetrack, just as a multi-car incident broke out at the other. Busch spun and did considerable damage to his Carquest-sponsored Chevrolet, while in turn four, Elliott Sadler, Joe Nemechek, Michael Waltrip and others sat in a steaming, twisted heap of battered sheetmetal. NASCAR immediately threw the red flag, due to the severity of the crash, and the fact that the track was effectively blocked. Despite the red lights flashing around the speedway, Busch refired his car and drove halfway around the track to where Mears' Dodge sat, hitting it from behind, then driving down pit road and directly behind the wall.

How serious was the contact between Busch and Mears? Somewhere between a "nudge" and a "slam," depending on your point of view. What is not debatable is the fact that Busch ignored the red flag, breaking one of the cardinal rules of NASCAR racing. For the record, drivers are required to stop their cars immediately when the red flag is displayed, in order for emergency vehicles to be dispatched as quickly and safely as possible. Busch failed to do so, ignoring the fact that one of his fellow drivers (Sadler) was sitting in a burning racecar after a vicious hit.

Fortunately, all drivers emerged unscathed. Busch retired to his Hendrick Motorsports transporter, followed closely by his team's PR rep and (we're told) a pair of NASCAR officials. Almost immediately, an unidentified voice on the team's in-car radio said, "Tell him not to make any comments until after he sees what happened." Busch did that and more, secluding himself in the hauler until repairs were made to his car, and declining repeated requests for radio and TV interviews. After eventually returning to the track, he was immediately black-flagged by NASCAR and held an additional five laps on pit road for rough driving.

The penalty was NASCAR's way of saying, "We saw what you did, we're not happy, and you'd better not mess up again tonight." However, in terms of punishment, Busch's five-lap penalty was no penalty at all. He limped home to a 36th place finish, exactly where he would have finished without the five aditional lost laps.

Busch refused to comment after the race, and his crewchief, Alan Gustafson, offered only a lukewarm defense, saying, “He was frustrated. When you're in that racecar, sometimes you don't have the whole perspective. He was frustrated with Casey, but I don't think that's an excuse. Sometimes things happen that don't go your way, and you've got to react to those calmly. We need to respect the red flag. The No. 1 priority in that situation is safety to other people, and that's what we got away from."

Gustafson clearly has the clear-headed perspective that his driver lacks. Once again, Kyle Busch has gotten himself in trouble with NASCAR, this time for placing the fulfillment of a personal vendetta over the health and safety of his fellow drivers. That attitude cannot be tolerated. NASCAR needs to send a clear message that the red flag cannot -- and will not -- be ignored. While an actual suspension may be too much to ask, hefty monetary fines, points penalties and a lengthy probation are all warranted.

It's time to break out the chainsaw and give "Shrub" a little trim.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Add Ford To The Chorus

Ford Motor Company has joined GM and Daimler-Chrysler in denying reports that one of the Big Three automakers is set to withdraw from NASCAR.

Kevin Kennedy, Ford's Public Affairs Manager for racing, said yesterday, "We've seen that story, and I can assure you Ford does not plan on getting out of NASCAR. Our racing program has support at the highest levels of the company, and our research and data has shown conclusively that there's a viable business case for us being involved in the sport. Racing is part of the Ford DNA, and has been since Henry Ford raced back in 1901."

General Motors' NASCAR Director, Pat Suhy, confirmed earlier remarks by company offiicials that GM has no plans to leave the Nextel Cup, Busch or Craftsman Truck Series'. "We're here in NASCAR, and we're here to stay," he said. "It makes good business sense for us to be here. We get a great return on our investment."

Team owner Ray Evernham, whose operation fields Dodges and is sponsored by the Dodge Dealers Association, said, "I know they're happy. I've got a really long-term contract with them, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet it's not Daimler-Chrysler."

Friday, April 21, 2006

Automakers Dismiss DeLorenzo's Claims

It didn’t take long to debunk columnist Peter DeLorenzo’s recent claim that one of the “Big Three” U.S. manufacturers is making plans to leave NASCAR.

We punched a number of gaping holes in DeLorenzo’s theory during a live interview Thursday, and within 24 hours, representatives of both Ford Motor Company and Daimler-Chrysler joined the chorus of industry insiders labeling the column pure bunk. Dodge Director of Motorsports Operations John Fernandez left no doubt where his company stands, saying, “We’re not involved in it, (and) I haven’t heard anything from General Motors or Ford that indicates they’re in any jeopardy. Obviously their companies right now are having a tough time in the marketplace, but that’s happened before, and it’ll happen again, I’m sure. As far as I know, GM and Ford are still committed to NASCAR and committed to racing in the Cup Series.”

Since DeLorenzo’s column hit the internet, much of the speculation has centered on General Motors – parent company of Chevrolet -- which lost $10.6 billion in 2005, and $323 million in the first quarter of this year. However, Alba Colon, Chevrolet’s Nextel Cup program manager, said Thursday that if discussions are ongoing about withdrawing from NASCAR, she hasn’t heard of them.

“I have never been in a meeting where anything like that has been discussed,” said Colon Thursday at Phoenix International Raceway. “We have a commitment with all our teams, a long-term commitment. It’s longer than a year, I can tell you that. It’s more than the end of this year, and it’s not GM’s philosophy to break contracts like that.”

Dodge’s Fernandez said his company remains committed to the “Win On Sunday, Sell On Monday” philosophy that has long kept the “Big Three” involved in NASCAR.

“We still believe (NASCAR is) the right place to show off the image we’re trying to project for the Dodge brand,” he said. “Quite frankly, we’re just getting in position now to win some races and show some strength with our program. We’ve won three of the first seven (races), and we probably should have won Daytona. I’m pretty comfortable with where we’re at. We’ve got a long way to go before we want to quit.”

If Fernandez and Colon are to be believed – and there’s no reason to think they are not – that leaves only Ford Motor Company to fill the role as DeLorenzo’s mysterious, unnamed automaker. The same Ford Motor Company that has claimed two of the last three NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championships with drivers Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, and the same Ford Motor Company that gobbled up five of the 10 available spots in last season’s Chase For The Championship.

Once again, for the record. Peter DeLorenzo, you’re out to lunch.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

You're Out To Lunch, Pete

Columnist Peter DeLorenzo of claims that a domestic automaker is holding serious discussions about pulling out of NASCAR. For the record, DeLorenzo has a flair for the controversial, and is decidedly anti-NASCAR. However, he claims that a timetable is actually in place for that automaker – Ford, Chevrolet or Dodge – to withdraw from NASCAR, shifting its focus to production-based racing series, engine programs for open-wheel and prototype series, and a road-racing effort focused on the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

DeLorenzo says the three manufacturers – each of which (he claims) spends $140 million annually in NASCAR – are unhappy with the “Car Of Tomorrow," feeling that it bears no resemblance to what they sell on the showroom floor. In his words, “any connection to what the manufacturers are producing has been well and truly broken.”

DeLorenzo’s beef with the Car Of Tomorrow is interesting. It’s also completely baseless.

As NASCAR’s Brett Bodine told Sirius Speedway during Speedweek in Daytona, “Right now, the only major variation between a Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge Nextel Cup car is in the nose and tail panel. There are some minor differences in other areas, but basically, the cars are pretty similar. The Car Of Tomorrow will differ fairly dramatically in the A,B and C pillars, and will have more points of difference in the nose and tail. Anyone who calls the Car Of Tomorrow an `IROC car’ doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

In short, the Car Of Tomorrow will have more in common with its stock, showroom namesake than current NASCAR racers do. Gary Nelson, former Head of Research and Development for NASCAR, has echoed Bodine’s comments on numerous occasions, as have spokesmen for the various manufacturers. Did Peter DeLorenzo somehow miss these facts?

Probably not. More likely, he chose to ignore them.

In recent weeks, GM, Ford and Dodge have all expressed interest in the possibility of converting NASCAR’s Busch Series to a so-called “Pony Car” class, featuring the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Dan Davis, Director of Ford Racing Technology, said of the concept, “We’ve discussed it, and I’d like to see it.” John Fernandez, who directs Dodge’s racing operation, said, “It’s under discussion with NASCAR. Not to what I’d consider the serious stage, but it is under discussion.” If NASCAR is such a lousy deal for the Detroit automakers, why are they investigating opportunities to become more involved in the future, by entering a second nameplate in NASCAR’s Triple-A division?

It doesn’t add up.

Amazingly, DeLorenzo places the blame for Detroit’s recent financial struggles squarely at the feet of NASCAR, saying, “Pretending that NASCAR's popularity has done wonders for the car companies amounts to the Big Lie. The fact of the matter is that the increase in the popularity of NASCAR over the last 10 years has seen a corresponding decrease in the participating domestic manufacturers sales fortunes. The relentless hype of NASCAR and its sponsors by NASCAR itself and its enablers at the TV networks has resulted in dramatically diminished returns for the participating manufacturers.”

While there is no question that Detroit has dug itself a colossal financial hole in the last decade or so, DeLorenzo is the only pundit I’ve seen who blames that downturn on involvement in NASCAR. Virtually everyone else in the automotive community sees the situation for what it is; the result of restrictive, one-way trade policies, U.S. labor laws, and the failure by Detroit to develop economical, fuel-efficient, family friendly vehicles that appeal to domestic buyers. Does DeLorenzo truly believe that GM, Ford and Dodge would have steered a different path in the last 10 years, had they not been so distracted by their involvement with NASCAR?

Poppycock, pure and simple.

DeLorenzo also believes that the arrival of Toyota has changed NASCAR’s attitude toward the other manufacturers. In his words, “All sense of reality left the NASCAR offices in Daytona Beach and New York long ago. The NASCAR attitude goes something like this: If a Detroit manufacturer drops out, it's "whatever" - because Toyota is stepping up to the plate.”

Again, exactly the opposite is true.

Had Mr. DeLorenzo taken the time to speak with anyone in NASCAR – executives, officials, car owners or drivers – he would have learned that the sanctioning body is already keeping a tight rein on Toyota to ensure that the playing field remains level. NASCAR recently turned thumbs-down on Toyota’s announced plan to build all its Nextel Cup chassis and engines in-house for subsequent distribution to its teams. That strategy has worked well on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but NASCAR has clearly stated that it will not allow that kind of fundamental sea-change in its upper divisions.

Clearly, DeLorenzo’s most recent rant is not based on facts. Instead, it is born of his own long-standing personal dislike for anything and everything NASCAR. He makes that case himself, writing, “NASCAR exists for its benefit and profitability first and foremost. Everything else is secondary to that fundamental premise.”

So Pete, have a great time at your next Champ Car, IRL or SCCA race. Spread out and relax in those spacious, wide-open grandstands, secure in the knowledge that NASCAR’s days are numbered. And if you've got a spare minute, explain to me how any manufacturer could justify underwriting an engine development and manufacturing program, in the same Open Wheel series' they all bailed out of just a year or two ago.

Listener Hot Rod #4!

Adam Purdy runs this sharp, 2004 Port City Monte Carlo in the Sportsman division at the half-mile Toledo (OH) Speedway. He scored two heat wins last season before a blown engine sidelined him for half the year. Adam says this year's car is in need of additional sponsorship, hinting that it is already painted "pretty close to Sirius Speedway blue," and that the number 123 is not taken yet.

Nice try, Adam...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

More Listener Hot Rods!

Listener Matt Martel races this 1980 Chrysler Cordoba (complete with Dodge Mirada nose) in the Street Stock Class at Sangudo Raceway in Sangudo, Alberta, Canada; just over an hour from Edmonton. The 2006 season will be his third in racing, after taking a year off to get married and buy a new home. Matt's father serves as his pitcrew, and his wife also drives the car each weekend in Lady Stock races. Thanks Matt!

Listener Bob Humphreys campaigned the #19 Legends Car at Champion Speedway in Carson City, Nevada last season, winning the first two main events of his career, and finishing tenth in the West Coast Legends Classic at Shasta Speedway in Anderson, CA. Unfortunately, Bob and his team are looking for a new track, after Champion Speedway closed during the offseason. Bob's team is also family based, including his wife, Jaime, children Shelby (5) and Travis (3), his parents (Bob & Joyce) and brother Don, along with Tom Berek, Mike Hubert Jr., and "Stitch," the team's ride-along mascot.

Bob really seems to enjoy himself in Victory Lane, and it's no wonder! Attaboy, Bob!

Monday, April 17, 2006

RIP: Louise Smith

"The First Lady of Stock Car Racing," Louise Smith died Saturday at the age of 89. She had battled cancer in recent years, and had been under hospice care in Anderson, SC, at the time of her death.

Smith was born in Barnesville, Ga., but moved to Greenville, SC, at the age of four. Her father and brothers were all mechanics, and early on, she exhibited a flair for things mechanical. One of her early memories was driving her father's Model T into the family chickenhouse, and as she grew older, she developed a well-deserved reputation for having a heavy right foot.

Knowing a good draw when he saw one, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. entered Smith in a race at the legendary Greenville-Pickens Speedway in the late 1940s, and her career blossomed from there. Smith recalled her introduction to the sport, saying, “Bill France wanted somebody that would draw people. He asked about women drivers, and they told him there weren’t any at the track. But somebody said, ‘I know one that will drive. She’s the craziest woman I know.’ Bill got in touch with me, and I went out there."

Smith drove a 1939 Modified Ford Coupe to a third-place finish that day -- her first time in a racecar, and competed for nearly a decade in Modified, Sportsman and Grand National -- now Nextel Cup -- cars. She never won on the Grand National circuit, but carried 38 checkered flags in other events, against such competition as Buck Baker, Curtis Turner and the Flock Brothers.

A devastating crash in Hillsborough, N.C., nearly ended her career. After setting the track record on her first qualifying lap, Smith went airborne and crashed heavily, flattening a number of trees. Torches were required to cut her free from the twisted wreckage, and she needed 48 stitches to close her wounds, along with four pins in her shattered left knee. She retired from driving in 1956, but remained a familiar face around area speedways for many years; sponsoring teams and working with beauty pageants associated with major races.

Services for Louise Smith were held Monday in the chapel of Westville (SC) Funeral Home, with interment in Graceland West Cemetary in Greenville.

Maybe He Really WAS The "Redneck Jesus!"

Sometimes, stories come across my desk that are just too good to keep to myself.

Bayside Community Church in Manatee County, Florida, used the late Dale Earnhardt's GM Goodwrench showcar to boost attendance at Easter Sunday services yesterday, making the car available for viewing and photos. There was a catch, though.

If you wanted to be photographed with the car, you had to have a ticket. And to get a ticket, you had to sit through Pastor Randy Bezet's sermon, "Finishing The Race Of Life." That's not all. To obtain a free 4x6 print of you and The Intimidator's Chevy, you have to come back next Sunday, and sit through another service.

My suggestion? "Passing The Lord's Post-Race Teardown."

Pastor Bezet -- who we hope to speak to on today's show -- says he hoped to double his normal attendance of 1,100 yesterday. He mailed out 40,000 fliers in advance of the event, sent out press releases to local newspapers, and advertised on a country radio station and at a local short track. He also trumpeted the appearance of Earnhardt's car on the church's website, though in a way that may not pass muster with Richard Childress Racing, Teresa Earnhardt and their respective copyright attorneys.

You've got to respect that kind of creativity.

Outlaws Looking Stronger In 410 Sprint War

Round One of the much-discussed battle for 410 winged Sprint Car superiority appears to have gone to the World of Outlaws. The Outlaws went head-to-head with the rival National Sprint Tour this past weekend, racing at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Indiana, while the NST competed at Outlaw Motor Speedway in Oktaha, Oklahoma.

Up to now, it has been difficult to get an accurate "read" on either series, since they have avoided booking races on competing dates, allowing drivers to cross-over and support both sanctioning bodies. In addition, the Outlaws had co-sanctioned an early season race or two with the All-Star Circuit of Champions; boosting car counts above what either circuit might draw by itself. But with the All Stars in action at Ohio's Attica Raceway Park Saturday night, both the Outlaws and the NST finally got down to the nitty gritty; with only their dyed-in-the-wool regulars on hand.

Advantage, Outlaws.

The WoO had 30 cars entered at Tri-City, and started a full field of 24 Sprinters. The NST, meanwhile, managed just 19 entries in Oklahoma, with 18 starting the A-Main. One "Sirius Speedway" listener in the grandstands reported considerable grumbling over the short field, and the griping probably intensified when Danny "The Dude" Lasoski wired all 30 laps en route to the win, topping Tim Kaeding, Steve Kinser, Jason Sides and Jason Solwold. Paul McMahon shattered the all-time Outlaw Motor Speedway track record in qualifying, stopping the clocks in 14.998 seconds; the first sub-15 second lap in track history. But time trials are little more than an appetizer for hungry race fans. The meat and potatoes come in the main event, and Lasoski's wire-to-wire win over a decidedly short field almost certainly left the fans in attendance hungry for more.

But don't start crowing yet, Outlaw backers. A 3o-car field is nothing to get worked up about, either, and while there was reportedly a bit more action in Craig Dollansky's A-main win over Terry McCarl, Rob Chaney, Jac Haudenschild and Brooke Tatnell, Boundless Motorsports still has some work to do to get the series back where it used to be.

Sadly -- in the early going, at least -- it appears that the World of Outlaws and National Sprint Tour have succeeded in doing to 410 winged Sprint Cars what the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series have done to Open Wheel racing; taking one tremendous series and splitting it into two mediocre ones.

In my mind, it's hard to see how anyone wins.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Listener Hot Rod #1!

OK, we technically never said it had to be a REAL racecar, and since this car's sponsor totally rocks, we'll allow it just this once. Listener Kevin "Birdz" Hinshaw races this Boston Red Sox Dodge on the internet, in "NASCAR Racing 2003."

Submit your ride at today!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Show Us Your Rides!

Many of our listeners are racers themselves. If you're one of them, we want to see your ride! Send a snapshot of your racecar (stock, open wheel, drag, etc) to, and we'll post it for the world to see. Send us all the vital statistics -- where you race, what class you run, big races you've won, etc. -- and if you can solicit a bikini-clad hottie to lie across the hood, be sure to send along HER vital stats, too!

Stay tuned for the debut of "Listener Hot Rods," coming soon!

Notes From All Over columnist and weekly Sirius Speedway contributor Rob Geiger got the first crack at Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon's hair last Sunday in Las Vegas, after The Cruzer finally snapped a 97-race winless streak with a 5.417 second, 266.16 mph Final Round win over point leader Ron Capps. Pedregon had vowed not to cut his hair until he won another race, and in recent months, was in danger of being mistaken for "Huggy Bear" from the old Starsky and Hutch TV show.

After a mention in Geiger's weekly "Geiger Counter" column (a must-read for drag racing fans, by the way) Pedregon agreed to let Geiger take the first snip, and our boy Rob gladly obliged in Victory Lane at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The rest of the job will be handled this weekend on ESPN2's NHRA 2Day.

Don't miss it.

Much has been said about the dust-up between Greg Biffle's girlfriend, Nicole Lunders, and Eva Bryan (fiancee of Kurt Busch) last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. For the record, Lunders marched down to Busch's pitbox after contact between the two drivers sent Biffle spinning into the wall, and out of the race. The two women are (or at least were) good friends, but that didn't stop Lunders from delivering a few choice words, punctuated by a waggling right index finger.

No blows were exchanged, but NASCAR made it clear this week that they are not interested in staging a World Wrestling Entertainment style "Diva Slapdown" on pit road. NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said Tuesday, "There will be some conversations with the people that participated, and we'll make sure that this doesn't carry on and into the garage or anywhere else. Tempers flare, and we'll look at that and make sure it doesn't carry on any further."

Technically, Lunders could have subjected Biffle to a fine, or even a points penalty, since "significant others" are in the NASCAR garage under the same type of credential issued to team members. Unofficially, however, most of the NASCAR community reacted with a snicker and the admission that, from time to time, "girls will be girls."

And finally, we've gotten plenty of feedback on Ryan Newman's jab at fellow driver Sterling Marlin last weekend in Texas. After the two got together and Newman crashed, the Penske Racing South driver said, "I'm pretty sure Sterling's hairpiece got in his eyes and he couldn't see what was going on."

Judging from the calls we've received this week, reaction to Newman's crack is equally divided between, "Poor Sterling, that was a low blow," and, "Oh my God, Sterling Marlin wears a RUG?!?"

For the record, if it is true, you didn't hear it from us. And besides, Marlin has been known to land a punch below the belt himself, from time to time. It was he who first christened Greg Biffle "a bug-eyed dummy" a few years ago, a nickname that still finds its way into print from time to time.

Newman finished 40th Sunday, and has now fallen all the way to 18th in Nextel Cup points, possibly explaining his recent grumpiness.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

We have received a great deal of feedback since breaking the Dateline NBC "Rent A Muslim" story a week ago. These were by far the funniest.

Or maybe not...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Good Start, But More To Be Done

NASCAR made it official yesterday, announcing the release of a long-discussed, single piece composite body for its Grand National Division (Busch East and AutoZone West Series) teams. The move has been in the works for more than a year, and is seen as a cost-cutting measure, allowing teams to avoid the weekly expense of repairing steel bodies during the series' predominantly short-track schedules.

My friends on the Busch East Series say it costs approximately $10,000 to hang a Nextel Cup-style steel body on their cars, and repairs aren't cheap, either. Now, teams will have the option to run a molded synthetic composite body, which comes in one piece for easy replacement. The composite bodies will be mandatory in 2007, with an estimated cost of $7,500 each. That seems a bit pricey for a racing body -- considering there are short track bodies on the market for a fifth that price -- but I'll do a little research on exactly why the price tag is so high before drawing any conclusions.

Don Hawk, NASCAR's Director of Regional Racing Development, commented on the new bodies yesterday, saying, "As we continue to restructure NASCAR’s regional touring series, cost containment will be a top priority. This new composite body has the potential to drastically reduce costs in the long term."

South Carolina's American Fiberglass will manufacture the bodies to NASCAR specs, and while the bodies are fundamentally the same for all makes and models, teams will be able to customize window openings and decals to resemble their preferred make of car. Veteran driver Kenny Schrader -- who does a lot of racing on the AutoZone West Series in addition to his Nextel Cup duties -- has already taken delivery of a new composite body, and says it is a welcome change. “I think it’ll be a tremendous help,” said Schrader. “The cost savings of this body versus a metal body, plus the cost of buying templates, is huge."

NASCAR says the composite bodies are just one part of their "comprehensive approach to lowering the costs of racing in the Grand National Division." Sources say the next step may be the introduction of low-cost "spec engines" to the Busch East and AutoZone West Series' within the next 1-2 years. NASCAR is reportedly planning to issue teams a list of approved engine parts, allowing them to asemble the motors themselves, within strict assembly and machining guidelines. Currently, a competitive Busch East or AutoZone West engine runs between $40,000 and $45,000. The new spec engines are expected to come in at approximately $15,000; a savings of 66 percent.

In my opinion, that move cannot come a moment too soon.

Make no mistake about it, NASCAR's Grand National Divisions are in serious trouble right now, with dwindling schedules and diminished car counts across the board. The 2006 Busch East schedule includes just 10 races -- ranging from Loudon, NH to Greenville, SC -- and with the front-running teams now spending in excess of $400,000 per season, it's tough to get much of a return on that kind of investment. The AutoZone West Series has just 11 races on its 2006 schedule, and while the average per-team expenditure is reportedly a bit lower on the Left Coast, its still difficult for racers to commit to a series that runs less than a dozen times a year.

NASCAR recently announced that it is pulling the plug on its AutoZone Elite Series -- Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest -- at the end of this season, citing the increased cost of competition, dwindling car counts, and a lack of interest from local promoters. All of those problems currently afflict NASCAR's Grand National Tours, as well.

One by one, local short track operators have said, "no thanks," to NASCAR Touring events, because the cost of the show precludes them from turning a profit. As one former Busch East track owner told me during SpeedWeeks in February, "I lost money three years in a row. If I got a beautiful, sunny day, I could draw enough people to break even, or maybe turn a modest profit. But if the weather wasn't perfect, I was in serious trouble. Last year, it took me the entire season to recoup what I lost on the Busch east race."

Comments like those are common among northeastern track owners, and they are echoed by their colleagues in the west, as well. The writing is on the wall for NASCAR's Grand National Divisions. Cut the cost for racers, cut the cost for promoters, jazz-up your program for the fans, or prepare to go the way of the dinosaurs, following the AutoZone Elite Series down the road to ruin.

Composite bodies are a step in the right direction, but they're not nearly enough. NASCAR needs to roll out the spec engine option for 2006, making it mandatory in `07. They need to implement an "eight tire per race" rule, effective immediately. And while they're at it, cut those deadly-dull, two-day programs in half; qualifying at 2 p.m. and racing at 8:00, with a free driver autograph session in between. Stop counting caution laps -- highway robbery in a 150-lap race -- and invert the starting field to ensure that the winner passes someone on his way to Victory Lane.

Do all those things -- quickly -- and there may yet be time to save NASCAR's Grand National Divisions.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


If you're a race fan, don't miss Kenny Schrader's new autobiography, GOTTA RACE! Written with veteran motorsports writer Joyce Standridge, GOTTA RACE! chronicles Schrader's career from May 30, 1971 -- the day after his 16th birthday, when he started (and won) his first race in a 1964 Chevy Impala -- to the present, with all the tall tales and inside stories you would expect from one of racing's busiest drivers.

Schrader has raced just about everything there is to race, from stock cars to midgets and sprints, Indy Cars and more. And along the way, he has remained to true to his motto that, "If you're not having fun, it's probably not worth doing." Four NASCAR Nextel Cup victories do not begin to sum-up the life of Kenny Schrader, one of the sport's last remaining true characters. While you'll find an exhaustive appendix of virtually every race Schrader has run in his career, the best stories in GOTTA RACE! are the ones from off the track; when the Budweiser flowed like water, and the practical jokes ran unchecked.

Schrader has more funny stories that Kasey Kahne has female admirers, and with the help of Standridge -- columnist for Dr. Dick Berggren's Speedway Illustrated magazine and (in my humble opinion) one of the most talented motosports writers ever to set pen to paper -- those stories come to life with amazing vibrance and clarity. Schrader and Standridge will join me on the show later this week to talk about the book and tell a few stories, some of them quite possibly true.

If you only read one book this year, make it GOTTA RACE! You can order your copy at, for just $23.95 plus $6 shipping and handling. And while you're there, pick up a copy of "Life Wide Open," the autobiography of legendary northeast Late Model driver "Dynamite" Dave Dion, written by yours truly.

Friday, April 07, 2006

UPDATE: NBC Cancels Round II, Defends Tactics

“Dateline NBC” says it will not have its cameras at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.

In a written statement, NBC also defended its tactics of the previous week, saying, “there have been a lot of inaccurate comments about a potential story Dateline NBC has been looking into. Dateline is not planning a story about NASCAR. We are following up on a recent poll and other articles indicating an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. The NASCAR race at Martinsville was a stop we made in our research on this story, which may take us across the country. There is nothing new about the technique of witnessing the experience of someone who might be discriminated against in a public setting. Government agencies and journalists do it all the time to explore important issues. For this story, we also wanted to take a look at large public gatherings, including sporting events. Dateline has barely begun its reporting on this topic. We can assure you that what we broadcast, if anything, will be fair and accurate.”

NBC's final statement is the most telling of all. Less than a week after attempting to ignite an incident that would have portrayed NASCAR fans as racist, intolerant rednecks, NBC now assures us that they are worthy of our trust, and will treat us fairly in the end.

Again, had "Dateline" wanted to know whether there has been an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, they could have canvassed law enforcement agencies nationwide, looking for incidences of discrimination and/or violence against Muslims. Instead, they took a shortcut, trying to instigate one of their own. Now, they insist that their "research" will continue, despite the abrupt cancellation of this weekend's festivities at Texas Motor Speedway.

My guess is that Dateline NBC's story is dead on arrival, for two reasons. First, with the light of day now shining brightly on their hidden-camera scheme, NBC will find it virtually impossible to goad anyone into the kind of incident they hope to document. Second -- and most important -- NBC has failed to prove the point they set out to prove; that NASCAR fans (and Americans in general) are a group of racist, intolerant thugs.

NBC/NASCAR Story Goes National, NBC's Williams Responds

The controversy over “Dateline NBCs” decision to send a group of Muslims to Martinsville Speedway last weekend to document what they believed would be incidents of racial harrasment and intolerance has been picked-up by the so-called “mainstream media.” We had this story basically to ourselves for the first 48 hours, but now, the national media has gotten wind of the controversy, and NBC News is catching the kind of flak we hoped they might.

Last night on FOX News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” guest host Tony Snow talked with conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, who helped break the story early this week. Both Snow and Malkin made light of NBC's past news-related indiscretions, as well as questioning the network's journalistic integrity. Conservative icon Rush Limbaugh also took a swing at NBC on his nationally syndicated radio program yesterday. We'll have highlights of both discussions on today's show, you can hear Limbaugh's complete commentary by clicking here , and the Snow/Malkin conversation here.

And finally, we received an e-mail today from NBC Nightly News anchor and Managing Editor Brian Williams, following up on a phone conversation earlier in the day. Williams, who is also a major NASCAR fan, wrote, "...this whole thing caught me by surprise, too. I learned about it the way everybody else the papers and on the web. While the whole thing sounds a little crazy to me, and while I sure hope they were planning to visit some OTHER venues, like basketball, baseball or football, I can only assume nobody was going to report anything bad about NASCAR fans, because they'd be saying bad things about me and people I know.

"The Dateline folks, by the way, say they are NOT doing a story on NASCAR, and apparently the stop at Martinsville was because it was a large venue, full of people. The President of NBC News, Steve Capus, is a major fan, and like me, still worships the #3 car and misses Dale (Earnhardt) every day. This puts me in a bit of a weird spot, but I wanted to be straight up with you and my fellow fans, especially after I started reading my name attached to this story. I hope I'm still welcome at various tracks this year, as my plan was to hit at least Talladega and the Bristol night race. Thanks for helping me air this out, and thanks for taking my call this morning. Please give my best to all your listeners, and I hope we're `clear high.'" -- Brian

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"Do It Yourself" News

The NASCAR community is abuzz today with reports that NBC’s news magazine “Dateline NBC” sent a hidden-camera crew to Martinsville Speedway last weekend, as part of a planned report on racism in this country in the aftermath of 9/11. “Dateline” reportedly paid a group to stand near a Martinsville ticket booth clad in traditional Muslim garb, in an apparent attempt to incite acts of discrimination.

Internet and print sources have publicized an e-mail allegedly written by Tarek El-Messidi, who The Wall Street Journal describes as a former Muslim Student Association activist who studied Islam with the radical Muslim Brotherhood while in college. In that e-mail, El-Messidi wrote, “I have been talking with a producer of the NBC Dateline show, and…they are looking for some Muslim male candidates…who would be willing to go to non-Muslim gatherings and see if they attract any discriminatory comments or actions while being filmed. They are looking for men who actually "look Muslim". They want a guy with no foreign accent whatsoever, a good thick beard, an outgoing personality, and someone willing to wear a kufi/skullcap during the filming. They also want someone who is fairly well accomplished and has contributed to American society at large in some meaningful way. That said, I'm urgently looking for someone who can be filmed this April 1st weekend at a NASCAR event in Virginia. NBC is willing to fly in someone, and cover their weekend expenses. A few weeks later, NBC will fly all the filmed participants to New York City to interview them as a group about their experience and thoughts on discrimination they've faced in America. The show, if approved by NBC (highly likely), is expected to air sometime this summer. Please forward this to all Muslim lists you can.”

When “Sirius Speedway” attempted to reach officials at “Dateline NBC” for comment, our calls were not immediately returned. Lars Larson, host of the nationally syndicated “Lars Larson Show” on Westwood One Radio, contacted NBC official Jenny Tartikoff and received an e-mailed response denying that NBC had authorized El-Messidi's e-mail, and saying, “’Dateline’ is looking into this story. We were intrigued by the results of a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, and other articles regarding increasing anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States. It's very early on in our newsgathering process, but be assured we will be visiting a number of locations across the country, and are confident that our reporting team is pursuing this story in a fair manner.”

Tartikoff’s definition of “newsgathering” is questionable, at best. Clearly, “Dateline NBC” went to Martinsville with a storyline already in mind. Their goal was to ignite a racial incident, and prove that anti-Muslim sentiment is alive and well in this country. Rather than simply reporting on any incidents that may have occurred elsewhere, NBC elected to take the easy way out, manufacturing an incident of their own while violating virtually every tenet of responsible journalism.

Not surprisingly, NASCAR reacted angrily to news that one of its television partners had attempted to paint the sport in such an unfavorable light. NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said yesterday, “It's unfortunate that a respected news organization like NBC would stoop to a stunt like this. The role of a news organization should be to report the news, not try to create it. This is an obvious attempt to provoke a reaction. I am confident our fans won't take the bait, but will treat all people with the same courtesy and respect with which they would expect to be treated."

Are there bigots and religiously intolerant people in attendance at NASCAR races? Absolutely. But the same can be said of football, basketball, baseball and golf. By targeting NASCAR’s fanbase as being more likely to provide an ugly incident for its cameras to record – as opposed to the Masters or the NCAA Final Four – NBC News reveals itself to be as prejudiced as those its purports to expose.

One listener on Wednesday’s show compared NBC’s tactics to yelling, “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Actually, it was much worse. What NBC did was like pouring gasoline on the floor of that theatre, striking a match, and waiting for the inevitable reaction. What would NBC’s response have been if an incident had occurred, and someone – Muslim “plant” or innocent bystander – had been seriously hurt or killed? How would they have explained the international incident that almost certainly would have ensued, and the impact the resulting wave of international ill will would have had on our military men and women in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries?

Would their story have seemed so important then? I think not.

If anti-Muslim incidents are indeed occurring in the United States, “Dateline NBC” should have no trouble uncovering them and reporting the details. Unfortunately, they chose to forego this fundamental journalistic exercise, in favor of a tawdry, attention grabbing, on-camera incident of their own making. For the record, this is the same “Dateline NBC” that paid a multi-million dollar judgement to a major U.S. automaker a few years ago, after using an incendiary device to cause an explosion during a staged crash involving a vehicle they alleged to be unsafe.

Apparently, NBC News learned nothing from that episode. And now, “Dateline’s” producers will justifiably face the heat all over again, after another shocking display of journalistic ineptitude.
There is a bright side to this story, however. Despite their best efforts, “Dateline NBC” was unable to record a single act of abuse or discrimination last weekend. Their “Rent A Muslims” were treated with respect and dignity, leaving NBC with nothing more than a camera full of boring, non-confrontational footage.

I look forward to seeing “Dateline NBC” use that footage to illustrate the tale of tolerance that took place last Sunday in Martinsville, Virginia, on a day when their ugly premise went so wonderfully wrong.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hammond Gets Hammered -- See For Yourself!

Here is a link to a brief video clip of Hammond getting his block knocked off by Jeff Jarrett last Saturday night in Martinsville, Virginia, courtesy of FOX Sports and TNA Wrestling. Enjoy!

Admitting The Obvious

Sebastien Bourdais said yesterday that both the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series will die if they cannot settle their differences and merge into one. Bourdais, the two-time defending Champ Car champion, said, "It's not a matter of trying to make it happen. It's do it or die. Both series are struggling so bad financially (that) the teams can't put programs together, and the drivers aren't getting paid any more. I think it's very straightforward. Either we succeed at this unification, or we all are going to run out of jobs very soon. "

With all due respect to my friend SeaBass, most fans of Open Wheel racing came to that same, sad conclusion years ago.

Tony George's IRL will start a maximum of 20 cars in its next event at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi on April 22nd. Kevin Kalkhoven, Paul Gentilozzi and Gerry Forsythe's rival Champ Car World Series will begin its season this weekend in Long Beach with only 19 or 20 cars on the grid, as well. The Champ Car roster is padded with a slew of "Who Dat?" drivers, including Dan Clarke, Jan Heylen, Nicky Pastorelli, Charles Zwolsman and Will Power. Not to be outdone, the IRL features such household names as Ed Carpenter, P.J. Chesson and Kosuke Matsuura. Don't bother sending me e-mails listing the accomplishments and resume's of each driver; I already know all of that. My point is not that these guys can't drive, it's that all eight of them combined won't sell 100 tickets.

The Indy Racing League schedule fell from 17 races a year ago to just 14 this season. League President Brian Barnhardt claims that to be a good thing, allowing teams to trim their budgets and compete more economically. The owners say otherwise, and a slew of offseason layoffs testifies to that fact. Simply put, it's impossible to justify a 12-month payroll for 14 measly races. Champ Car is in the same dire straights, with just 15 races on its 2006 docket; two of them overseas in Korea and Australia. To get to that 14-race mark, Kalkhoven, Gentilozzi and Forsythe have been forced to promote many events themselves, reportedly losing money at every stop.

Both series' are on the road to ruin, but somehow, none of the men in charge seemed able to see the writing on the wall until very recently. A few weeks ago, George and Kalkhoven finally began meeting face to face, in an effort to lay the groundwork for a lifesaving reunification. (See "George: Reunification Talks Underway" in the March 24th archive for more) Whether they waited too long to start CPR remains to be seen.

Former Champ Car king Paul Tracy put it best this week, saying, "One series is obviously best for open wheel racing. We'll just have to wait and see if that happens. It's really not in the control of the teams or the drivers. It's down to Kevin and Tony, and it's got to be equitable for both. You can't go into it saying, `We're going to have a prenup, and I'm going to get all of this, and you're going to get that.' It can't be 60/40 or 80/20. It's got to be fair for everybody."

There are massive amounts of work to be done if reunification is to be achieved by 2008 or 2009. Major questions about chassis, tires, sponsorships and TV contracts must be answered, and a single misstep along the way could doom the entire process. But the fact that Bourdais, Tracy and their Open Wheel compatriots are finally willing to acknowledge the 12,000-pound gorilla in their living room may be the best sign of all.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Thank You, Tony and Jimmie

Thank you, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, for showing the world what short track racing is supposed to be!

In the final 50 laps yesterday at Martinsville Speedway, Stewart and Johnson battled for the lead, badgered each other relentlessly, swapped the top spot a handful of times, and traded just a little bit of paint en route to the checkered flag in the DirecTV 500. They ran side-by-side for four consecutive laps at one point -- with 65,000 frenzied fan standing and cheering the whole way -- before Stewart finally got the edge and drove away to the victory. Amazingly, nobody got dumped yesterday, or even fell victim to the dreaded "bump-and-run" that has become such an integral and accepted part of short track racing in NASCAR-land. Instead, Stewart and Johnson gave an exhibition of short track racing at its best, jousting back and forth with incredible ferocity, while never putting a wheel out of place.

"I knew we were a little quicker than him," said Stewart afterward. "There was no way he was going to give it away, so we were going to have to take it away. We didn't turn him around. We didn't spin him out. We just got the position that we were after."

Johnson agreed, saying his battle with Stewart was nothing more than good, hard racing, though still coming away disappointed with the final result.

Sunday's Stewart-Johnson battle has been badly needed in NASCAR for quite some time. Until yesterday, I have been hard-pressed to explain to people that what they see on TV at tracks like Bristol and Martinsville is not short track racing. Or rather, it's not the short track racing I grew up watching as a kid, and still get to see at the local and regional level. That racing is as hotly contested and incredibly intense as anything you'll find on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, but somehow still retains a healthy respect for the competition. The "bump-and-run" is not only frowned upon at that level of the sport, it is scorned; looked upon as a desperate manuver that taints any victory it might bring.

The Cardinal Rule of short track racing where I grew up is," Give the other guy a lane. If you want the bottom of the racetrack, take it. But leave him room to drive around you, if he's good enough to do it."

Sadly, many drivers at the top of the NASCAR feeding chain seem to have lost touch with that kind of thinking. The stakes are so high -- and the rewards so great -- that drivers see nothing wrong with sticking a guy in the wall with five laps to go, if that's what it takes to win. The mantra has now become, "Do what you have to do," and that's a crying shame.

Yesterday, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson went to war at Martinsville, but they did it the right way. Running door to door, they battled fiercely for those six tiny inches of asphalt that decide most races; the six inches between me and you that determine who comes off the corner hardest. Stewart did all he could to crowd Johnson high yesterday, while Jimmie did his damndest to squeeze Tony low. On a couple of occasions, Johnson's car kicked sideways, giving Stewart all the opening he needed to deliver a well-placed fender and send his challenger spinning. Instead, he gave Johnson the time and space he needed to right himself, before beginning the battle anew.

In the end, as Stewart climbed the fence at the start/finish line, he was engulfed by a tidal wave of cheers. Later, he met with the media without having to stammer his way through a halfhearted defense of an inexcusable "bump-and-run" final lap dump job. And later still, he returned home to Indianapolis with one of Martinsville's coveted grandfather clock trophies, secure in the knowledge that he had won it the right way.

Thank you, Tony -- and Jimmie -- for restoring my faith in NASCAR racing the way it should be. Hopefully, I'm not the only only who noticed.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Hammond and Hermie Win!

Hermie Sadler pinned "Showtime" Eric Young in the center of the squared circle Saturday night, as he, Jeff Hammond and "Team 3-D" defeated Young, "America's Most Wanted" and Jeff Jarrett in an eight-man Lumberjack Match in Martinsville, Virginia. Sadler saved the day after Hammond fell to a vicious guitar shot to the head by Jarrett, covering Young after the Canadian took a helacious whipping from Brother Bubba and Brother Devon; formerly known as the Dudley Boyz.

Sirius Speedway's own Dave Moody shared the Lumberjacking duties with Nextel Cup drivers Kyle Petty, Michael Waltrip and Scott Riggs, and stayed busy tossing the escape-minded bad guys back into the fray. A good time was had by all -- except for Hammond, who was still a bit woozy more than 30 minutes after having Jarrett's guitar busted over his cranium.

After Sadler recorded the 1-2-3, Bubba and Devon granted the crowd's wish, sending the much-despised Young crashing through a folding table from the top rope. Moody got away unharmed, despite stealing the black Stetson of AMW's "Cowboy" James Storm and wearing it into the ring for a post-match celebration. Dave elected to return the hat after being threatened with severe bodily harm. In his words, "When a guy that size threatens to f--- you up, you quit screwing around and give him back his hat."

After spending the evening backstage and at ringside, Moody, Petty, Waltrip and Riggs all agreed on one thing; professional wrestlers are incredible athletes who take an unbelievable amount of punishment. In every match, at least one man returned shedding blood from some body part.