Wednesday, June 28, 2006

George Says Reports Are Overblown

Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George said yesterday that open-wheel racing is not be as close to unification as recent headlines claim.

George said a deal to bring the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series together is not nearly as close as the headlines might lead us to believe. “We've talked conceptually about how things might be structured,” said George yesterday, “but it's so far from being done, it's not even worth talking about. Where they came up with the story is a bit beyond me.”

The IMS President called reports that IRL and Champ Car could hold companion events on race weekends next season “entirely fabricated by the people who wrote the story.”

George’s comments were not entirely discouraging, however. Of his talks with Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven, he said, “We're going to get back together in a few weeks. Certainly nothing is imminent, and we've got a lot of work ahead of us. We're still getting to know one another, still trying to understand one another. I enjoy his company and getting to know him, but it’s just one of those things. It's not gonna happen anytime soon."

Farewell Fred...

Here is a transcript of the eulogy Debbie Brownfield wrote for her late husband, National Sprint Tour founder Fred Brownfield. It was delivered at his Memorial Service Monday at Gray's Harbor Speedway in Washington, and struck me as one of the most poignant and moving tributes I have ever read. Thanks to for the transcript...

“You know the wife always gets the last word!

For 29 years I have been a living dinosaur; an outdated style of wife that is now practically illegal! I actually set out to stand beside, uplift and support this fascinating man called Fred. I did not have a career, no income! Sometimes it was tough, but I honored him as my leader, the head of our household. I strived to make him proud, to give him rest from his burdens, to be the hard-headed woman that would make him do his best. I was frequently awed by the vibrancy, generosity, intensity, surprises, support, leadership and sacrifice he provided. I treasure his loyalty to our vows. Despite many ups and downs over the years, we hung in there, got to the core of what was important, and ended up making one heck of a team. Without a doubt, we were true partners and what is most special, each other’s best friend. It was worth the journey.

When Fred was racing, I used to get asked a lot if I was nervous, or worried that he would be killed. I always said ‘no,’ until the day I took one of our newborn daughters to the track to watch him race. Waves of panic seized me when I suddenly realized he was the father of our children, not just my husband. (Apparently, I’m a little slow.) I couldn’t possibly tolerate this dangerous behavior that was jeopardizing our family’s future. I had to make him stop! I envisioned myself climbing over the wheel fence, screaming over the motors, `Stop, stop, stop – you can’t do this anymore!' Heart thumping with terror, I went out to the track parking lot, locked myself in our car and prayed. Amazingly, I was given that unexplainable peace that passes understanding. Hadn’t I always claimed that God was the one in control? I knew right then and there I had to commit Fred’s well being to the one who cares the most and sees all, and let him race!

Ever since that day, I have felt the Lord would guide us if we would just ask Him. Only HE would determine when our time was up, and I trusted Him with that. Life was fun over the 23 years Fred drove the racecar, taking an ever-growing batch of kids and nieces and nephews to the track to watch him win! Our family literally grew up in the racing community, and how lucky we are for that. It’s our family heritage! And promoting just added to it.

Is there racing in heaven? I say YES! The news I found out about heaven from the most reliable source, informs me we will be occupied doing the “work of our hands”; not sitting around on clouds playing harps! So whatever it is on earth that we love to do, God has more of it in store for us, only this time it won’t get screwed up!

Fred loved racing. I used to wonder what it was about racing that made perfectly intelligent and ambitious men want to drive around in circles, in dirt, over and over, trying to prove that if they ran hard enough, they’d eventually get somewhere! Kind of like the hamster in the wheel.

But then I started thinking about how we are formed in the image of God and He originally created us to have dominion over a perfect world. To me, that kind of explains why people have that inner drive to achieve perfection (and master things like sprint cars!) Competition and the drive for perfection are built right into us! Competition brings out our best efforts, self-discipline, a search for answers, creativity, planning, cooperation, innovation, introspection, commerce, excitement, emotion and respect for Nature! These are all noble things! When I explained this brilliant revelation to Fred, he gave me that “You have been out in the hot sun way too long” kind of look, but he did smile. He had already determined that God was ok with all this horsepower stuff.

Because Fred raced and promoted races, friendships were formed and nurtured, as other families came to relax and enjoy the entertainment together, until the race community itself became sort of an extended family. I can’t tell you how many kind words and deeds, times of camaraderie and opportunities have come to our family over the years because of the racing. It’s pretty special. So let’s keep it up!

Fred was so happy that he had the opportunity to meet all of you. Every fan that asked for an autograph or told him “Good job” made his day brighter. When his idols Ted Johnson, Carlton Reimer and Steve Kinser started calling him just to chat, he knew he’d earned a very special gift of friendship! How proud he was to be included in your world. I know he’s having a ball seeing how popular he is right now, and how, SUDDENLY, all his faults have been forgotten and only the good things he did are being talked about! Man, he could have used some of this P.R. a few months ago!

I am so thankful that Fred’s death was immediate. It fits the rest of his personality, which was decisive, absolute, totally committed, final; no wishy-washy waiting. He knew what he wanted and went after it. He never backed down from a challenge. He is the perfect illustrator of the NIKE phrase “Just DO It.” I don’t swear, but I have to say there was nothing “half-assed” about him! He was a force to be reckoned with, and the true stature of the man should have been 6’ 6”!

I always thought we would die together. You would have thought so too if you’d seen him driving our motorhome on the way to a race – one hand and ear busy with the cell phone, another hand holding iced tea, munching potato chips in between, which of course had to be dipped, steering with his elbows or knees while reading the map or rule book, then…..letting completely go while he made wild hand gestures to illustrate his point to the person on the other end of the phone (who was probably in Timbuktu and couldn’t see his hand gestures anyway!!!) That is how I learned my opera singing skills.

I will miss the Hostess chocolate cupcakes that mysteriously appeared in my nightstand and the hundreds of other bighearted gifts he sneaked into my world. I will miss seeing his eyes widen in horror as I launch myself onto the bed from 15 feet away, interrupting the latest chapter in Dave Argabright’s “The Best of Times” saga, I will miss crushing his guts as I insist YES we CAN fit together in this recliner! I will miss his eyeballs rolling up in his head over one more of my hair-brained disasters. I will miss admiring him from the infield, amazed at his expert timing and power of command. I will miss a lot of you, who I met only because of him. I will miss being safely in his care. I will miss sharing the love and pride we have in our children and grandchildren. Mostly I will miss his companionship and all those kisses. I will need all of your prayers for a very long time.

To all of our family and friends and the big extended race family out there; I thank you for your astonishing show of support. It has sustained me through this, the darkest of all my days. But this is not the end. Especially for Fred, this is not the end. He has moved on to the beginning of a glorious new reality that puts this world to shame.

I stole this from a magazine cover:

Every race seemed bigger.

Every room brighter.
Every worry lighter.
Every obstacle smaller.
Every smile truer.
Every dream clearer.
When you were in the company of Fred Brownfield.

God Bless you all.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

This n' That From Here and There...

I Hate To Say “I Told You So,” But: As predicted, the so-called “Road Course Ringers” did virtually nothing for their respective teams last weekend at Infineon Raceway.

I define a “ringer” as a driver that competes only on road courses, displacing a team’s regular driver on a one- or two-race basis. Invariably, team owners say they hire “ringers” in an effort to win the race, and boost their team back into the top 35 in owners’ points. Again this year, they did nothing of the kind.

Scott Pruett was the best of the bunch, hitting everything but the lottery in the Lonestar/Coors Light Dodge normally driven by David Stremme. He finished 30th at Infineon, and Chip Ganassi is no closer to the Top-35 today than he was a week ago. Amazingly, the headline on Pruett's personal website Monday read, "Pruett Helps Ganassi Bunch Conquer Sonoma;" a glowing example of journalistic license, if ever we've seen one. P.J. Jones bumped Scott Wimmer from Morgan McClure Racing’s Aero Exhaust Chevrolet, only to finish 36th Sunday. With Travis Kvapil watching from atop the pit box, Ron Fellows steered ppi Racing’s Tide Chevrolet to a lackluster 37th place finish, while Tom Hubert piled Kirk Shelmerdine’s car into a first-lap accident en route to 43rd in the final rundown.

Pretty impressive, huh? Explain to me again how the four teams in question did themselves any favors Sunday, because I don’t see it.

IRL/Champ Car Merger: The Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series crossed a major bridge in their attempt to unify American Open Wheel racing, when Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven agreed to share ownership of a combined series. However, that agreement absolutely does not justify the breathless headlines that trumpeted “UNIFICATION” from coast to coast late last weekend.

Kalkhoven cautioned The Associated Press Sunday that there is no written agreement in place, and admitted that a number of extremely complicated questions must still be answered before anything like true unification can be announced. For instance, who will serve as principal owner of the combined series? Who breaks the tie when Kalkhoven and George disagree? Who will supply the chassis, engines and tires for the new series? Where will the series race, and what mix of oval and road course events will be included on the schedule?

IRL’s George was correct when he cautioned, "We have agreed conceptually to share ownership. Now we have to agree on how we go about resolving differences that might come up." Kalkhoven said only that the agreement leaves him "very optimistic" that a deal can eventually be completed. Emphasis on the world eventually.

In terms of concrete decisions, one bridge was crossed last weekend. Many others remain. Finding an impartial third party acceptable to both owners will be difficult, if not impossible. And even if such a candidate can be found, I have yet to see a racing series run by committee that worked very well. So while last weekend’s news was indeed encouraging, it was not the watershed that some portrayed it to be.

Doesn't Play Well With Others: The P.R. hacks can say what they want, but Whit Bazemore is not a happy camper these days. Since getting his lip split by teammate Ron Capps a few weeks ago, Baze has been on a slow emotional simmer. He snapped at ESPN2's Gary Gerould last week, when Gerould informed him that he would face Capps in the opening round of eliminations, saying, "Don't call him my teammate." After losing to John Force in the quarterfinals,'s Rob Geiger says Bazemore climbed from his Matco Tools Dodge and berated Force, who he felt had been slow to stage. "For the first time in five years I stage first," said Bazemore, "and that @%$& burns me down."

Force was stunned by the allegations, saying, "I didn't burn him down. What is he talking about?" Videotape of the race revealed that four seconds elapsed between the time Bazemore staged his Dodge, and the time Force followed. That isn't much, but apparently, it was enough for Bazemore, who vowed, "It will never, ever, ever happen again."

Those events -- combined with Bazemore's generally surly demeanor under normal conditions -- create a situation that does not bode well for the NHRA veteran. Feuding with other drivers (competitors and teammates alike) will do nothing to raise his stock with team owner Don Schumacher. His eighth-place point standing (592 behind Capps) won't help, either. What happens in the next few weeks, both on and off the racetrack, could determine whether Bazemore has a future at Don Schumacher Racing.

Thanks, Carl: With two wins since being unceremoniously fired by RuSport Racing boss Carl Russo earlier this month, American A.J. Allmendinger will not be showing up on the unemployment line again anytime soon.

Russo was vague in explaining his reasons for cutting Allmendinger loose, hinting that the driver’s immaturity and unwillingness to try new chassis combinations may have spurred the move. Allmendinger said even less, telling us recently that, “unless Carl wants to talk about it, nobody will ever know what happened.”

Allmendinger’s replacement, Cristiano daMatta, may ultimately become a championship contender for RuSport. But right now, the Allmendinger-for-da Matta swap looks like the most lopsided deal since my beloved Red Sox sold the Babe to the Bronx.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Riggs Injured, Questionable For Infineon

Evernham Racing driver Scott Riggs is questionable for Sunday’s race at Infineon Raceway, after injuring both feet while unloading a jet ski in an oyster bed Monday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The wounds required 12 stitches in his left foot, and eight stitches in his right big toe.

“I’m going to Sonoma to race,” Riggs called the accident, “a freak incident. There was no warning about an oyster bed where we unloaded. We’ll see what happens when I get in the racecar, but I’m going to do what’s best for the team this weekend.”

Valvoline Evernham Racing has made back-up plans in the event that Riggs is unable to compete, retaining former series champion Bill Elliott to stand-by this weekend. Evernham said he hopes that Riggs will be able to compete, but added, “Bill will be ready for any scenario.”

Riggs had been enjoying a breakout season in Nextel Cup competition. Despite failing to qualify for the season-opening Daytona 500, he stands 23rd in points with four top-10 finishes, including a season-best seventh at Texas Motor Speedway. He also won the Bud Pole for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte last month.

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

UPDATED: NASCAR Team Owner Indicted In Tax Case

Haas Automation owner Gene Haas was arrested Monday on suspicion of conspiracy, filing false tax returns and witness intimidation. In a 52-page indictment, federal prosecutors allege that Haas – who also owns the Haas-CNC Racing Team that fields the #66 Nextel Cup Chevrolet driven by Jeff Green and Johnny Sauter's #00 Busch machine -- orchestrated a plan to list $50 million in bogus expenses that he could write off as business costs, in an attempt to save his company $20 million in taxes.

Haas was held without bail, after Justice Department officials argued in L.A. Federal District Court that he represents a risk of flight, since he is single, has no children, and owns a Cessna jet that he could use to flee to China, where he has extensive business interests and would not be subject to extradition. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

In a statement, company spokesmen said Haas is not guilty, and that the tax issues involve the company's former chief financial officer, John Phillips. Haas Automation recently won a lawsuit accusing Phillips of cheating the company out of $27.5 million.

There is no word at this hour how Haas’ arrest and indictment might affect Haas CNC Racing. Haas came to NASCAR from off-road racing, where he was a championship-winning driver. Hisd team has a 40,000-square-foot building in Harrisburg, North Carolina, a he recently announced plans to build a multi-million dollar wind tunnel in the state.

UPDATE: Included in the federal indictment are allegations that Haas used his race teams to create illegitimate expenses that he then claimed on corporate tax returns.

Most of the allegations of wrongdoing stem from before the creation of Haas CNC Racing in late 2002. But the indictment alleges that on at least two occasions, Haas CNC Racing and another team -- identified only by the initials C.C.M. – accepted sponsorship payments from Hass Automation, only to funnel much of the money back to the company, and Haas himself. Haas Automation sponsored C&C Motorsports and driver Troy Cline on the NASCAR West Series from 1999-2001, and in off-road events with drivers Joe Custer -- currently General Manager of Haas CNC Racing – and Cline.

In September of 2000, Haas Automation allegedly sent a check for $2.79 million to C.C.M. – $290,000 of which was earmarked as sponsorship for its NASCAR team. C.C.M. then returned $2.5 million to Haas Automation, with the money then allegedly deposited into Haas’ personal bank account. In a similar transaction, Haas Automation is alleged to have sent a check for $5,215,000 to C.C.M. on December 28, 2001; recording the expenditure as “expenses for cost of goods.” Days later, the team sent the money to Haas CNC Racing.

The 52-page indictment against Haas includes a total of 11 counts; nine for tax fraud and two for allegedly threatening an informant and requesting that another informant provide false testimony.

The Joker Drives A Green Mitsubishi!

"Holy Bodyshop Batman! Lucky we pack plenty of `Bat-Front End Damage Repair Spray' in our Utility Belts!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Nice Going, J.B.!

It was a good weekend for some of Sirius Speedway’s favorite on-air guests.

Just a day after David Stremme spanked the ARCA field by a full lap at Michigan International Speedway, Johnny Benson claimed his first career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory at the same track.

Benson held off the hottest driver on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series -- Mark Martin -- in a two-lap Dash For The Cash Saturday, after a late caution bunched the field and sent the race into overtime. Martin appeared to have the faster truck over the long haul, but in a two-lap sprint, Benson was able to leave his former Roush Racing teammate in the dust. He won by about two truck lengths at the line, sending a large number of “Johnny Benson Fan Club” members in Section 23 (his truck number) of the MIS grandstands into hysterics.

Benson, a native of nearby Grand Rapids, Michigan, called the race, "awesome. I finally got this stupid win! I'm speechless.”

J.B. becomes just the 17th driver to win in each of NASCAR's top three series, with 19 Busch Series wins, and one each in Cup and Trucks. He had finished second four times in Craftsman Truck action, the most recent coming last June in Texas.

It wasn’t all wine and roses for Johnny last week, though. He brought out the red flag Wednesday night in an ASA Late Model event at the Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan – a track he co-owns and promotes – slamming into a tire barrier and flipping over. You can check out a video of the crash here.

Fortunately, things went more smoothly Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Nice Going, Stremme!

Sirius Speedway regular David Stremme dominated the ARCA RE/MAX Series “Hantz Group 200” at Michigan International Speedway Friday, lapping the entire field in the process. It marked the first time since 2002 that an ARCA race finished with just one car on the lead lap.

“I used to do that a lot,” said Stremme of lapping the field. “But as you move up, there’s more competition. The ARCA series is tough, so this is pretty cool.”

He established a new race record of 145.956 mph -- eclipsing the old mark of 142.461 mph set by Ron Barfield in 1996 – taking the lead on the opening lap in his Rusty Wallace Incorporated Dodge and relinquishing it only on a lap 42 pitstop. By the halfway mark, he was one of only two drivers on the lead lap, along with Penske Racing South developmental driver Billy Wease. He lapped Wease just seven laps later.

Blake Bjorklund finished third; the only top-five finisher without a Nextel Cup or Busch Series affiliation. Evernham Motorsports’ driver Erin Crocker finished fourth, with Brewco Motorsports’ Brad Coleman rounding out the top-five. Two cautions slowed the race for a total of 14 laps.

Something You Never Want To See In Public

NHRA Funny Car champions Gary "Wild Thing" Scelzi and John Force, racing upside-down barstools in a Joliet, Illinois, watering hole last weekend. One wrong move and Scelzi's a gelding! Thanks to for the photo.

64 G's Can't Faze Super-G

Jeff Gordon says his Hendrick Motorsports team is still unsure what caused the right-front brake rotor to fail on his car last weekend at Pocono Raceway, sending the DuPont Chevrolet slamming into the turn-one wall in one of the hardest crashes in NASCAR history.

“We don't have a definite answer yet," said Gordon, adding that has sent what the remains of the shattered rotor to be analyzed. Gordon ran the same brake set-up as teammates Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers, neither of whom experienced problems. Jimmie Johnson ran had a slightly different brake package, and Gordon said he will likely use that assembly when the Nextel Cup Series returns to Pocono next month.

Gordon’s impacted the Turn One SAFER barrier with a force registered at 64 Gs – 64 times the force of gravity, I believe I reported 62 G’s on Friday’s show, but sources say it was actually 64; a number that caused officials in Pocono’s Infield Care Center to hold Gordon for extended observation. "I was ready to walk out of the Care Center when they came in with the telemetry numbers,” he said. “The doctors said, 'Wait a minute. We think you might want to stay a little bit longer.' That’s one of the hardest hits I’ve ever taken.”

The wreck was serious enough that it took safety crews two tires to load the crumpled remains of the #24 onto a rollback truck. It damaged the SAFER barrier, and left huge amounts of dirt and debris on the track. But while the race was red-flagged for more than 13 minutes, Gordon climbed from his car and walked away with little more than a headache to show for it.

Recent advances in driver safety clearly played a major role in the crash’s positive outcome. SAFER barriers – unheard of in NASCAR racing as little as five years ago -- head and neck restraints, advances in seating technology, and improved car construction techniques all helped ensure that Gordon walked away from a truly savage crash.

Let’s hope the trend continues.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Things That Really Tick Me Off

The older I get, the more I find myself becoming annoyed by things that didn’t used to bother me at all. I laughed at the movie “Grumpy Old Men,” but now, I see myself becoming one of them. Things that used to pass unnoticed now ruin my entire day, and I fear it’s only a matter of time before I begin berating innocent waitresses because the romaine is wilted at the salad bar.

One of my pet peeves is people who say stupid things, apparently without thinking. Not a week goes by without someone asking, “Who do you think is going to win this week?” If I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn’t be hosting a satellite radio talk show. I’d be playing the ponies at Aqueduct!

People often tell me, "life is short.” They’re wrong. Life is NOT short. It’s the longest thing we will ever do. So stop telling me that.

I also hate people who say, "Can I ask you a question?" No matter how I reply, it’s too late. They just did.

I’m sick of TV ads that call their product “new and improved.” Common sense tells us that something cannot be both “new” and “improved.” It’s one or the other, but not both.

And when I’m watching a movie, please don’t tap me on the shoulder and say, "Did you see that?" I spent $55 dollars to fill the car with gas, drove to the movie theatre, and paid $27 for a ticket, a box of over-salted popcorn and a flat Diet Coke. What do you think I’m doing, watching Milk Duds roll across the floor?

Around the house, I have issues with teenagers who will spend 20 minutes searching for the T.V. remote, but refuse to walk eight steps to change the channel manually. Have we become so lazy that we’d rather endure a three-county search for a misplaced “clicker” than drag our bloated carcasses across the room?

And finally, why do people insist on pointing at their wrists when asking for the time? I know where my wristwatch is, and I don’t need anyone’s help to find it! Why the sudden outbreak of sign language? Should I point at my crotch to ask where the men’s room is?

Thanks for listening, everyone. I feel a little better.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's All In the Name

As part of a recent project, I found myself researching a number of NASCAR drivers’ career records. There are a number of websites devoted to old-time NASCAR racing, and the information was not particularly hard to find. What I did not expect, however, was a lesson on how colorful this sport’s athletes used to be; right down to their names.

No doubt, stock car racers had more colorful names in the 1950s and `60s. Scrolling through the archives, I found names like Jug Pierce and Judge Rider, FiFi Scott and Gober Sosebee, Nero Steptoe and Fred Steinbroner. The starting lineup in those days had real color, and any field that included Melvin “Puddin’” Swisher, Hilly Rife, Smoky Purser and Volney Schulze would probably have had me in the grandstands, too. Buren Skeen and Van Van Wey (no kidding) would have sold a few tickets on name value alone.

I like to imagine that a driver’s name gives clues to his on-track demeanor. In modern days, the Busch Brothers come to mind. And if you were racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1951, I’m guessing you might have wanted to watch out for Guy Waller.

The archives also included some great candidates for two-driver teams, including the would-be tandem of Dick Passwater (20 Grand National starts in 1952 and `53) and Junior Pooler (one GN start in 1951). Passwater and Pooler; somehow, they just seem to go together. The team of Peckham and Prickett -- Peck Peckham and Chuck Prickett -- also seems natural somehow. Peckham made 27 Grand National starts in the early `50s, while Prickett made a solo appearance in 1957. Dink Widenhouse (1954-1956) would have made a great teammate for Legs Whitcomb, and if you can’t figure out why, you haven’t studied your anatomy.

H.F. Stickleather? Don’t even get me started...

There were also some great “Family Acts” on the list, including the fabulous Rakestraws -- Ansel, Benny, Tyre and Wilbur – who competed sporadically in NASCAR competition in 1956 and `57. If you ask me, anyone with a name like Tyre Rakestraw should be awarded at least one NASCAR career win, for creativity alone.

I found Emerson Newton-John, rumored to have choreographed sister Olivia’s “Let’s Get Physical” video in the 1980s before making a single Craftsman Truck Series start in 2002. I found Bobby (not the hockey player) Ore; Ted (no relation to Sylvester Stallone) Rambo and Jesse Samples, whose brother Junior’s work on the old “Hee Haw” show is the stuff of TV legend.

There were also a few drivers whose names could serve as the final exam at announcer’s school, including Robin Schildnecht and Rolf Stommelin (one start each in the 1970s), Todd Szegedy (still running modifieds in the northeast) and “The Fabulous Finn,” Reino Tulonen.

All those wonderful names harkened me back to my youth in Vermont, when my heroes jousted on the high-banked quarter mile at "The Nation's Site of Excitement," Thunder Road International Speedbowl. The regular Thursday night feature lineup included characters like Russ "The Wild Child" Ingerson, "Hot Dog Ron" Bettis, "Dynamite" Dave Dion and "The Bethlehem Bombshell," Ronnie Marvin. To a 12-year old kid in the fourth row of the Turn Four grandstands, those cats just sounded cool. And they were.

Somewhere along the way, I think we've lost some of the color in this sport. I know Roger Penske and Miller Lite would blow adjoining gaskets, but wouldn't it be neat to have Kurt "Bad Boy" Busch in the lineup next Sunday, right alongside "Golden Boy" Jeff Gordon and Denny "Hammer Time" Hamlin? It might even sell a few tickets along the way.

But it'll never happen.

So feel free to long for the good old days of "The Wild Child" and Dink Widenhouse, even if it does make “Jimmie Johnson” sound a little too tame.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This n' That From Here and There...

Some People Just Can't Keep A Secret: Michael Waltrip will make a major sponsorship announcement this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. Asked by Ken Schrader on this week's Inside Nextel Cup Racing why he was not announcing the deal right then and there, Waltrip said the papers had not yet been signed. Continuing to bust Mikey's chops, Schrader asked, "is there a chance they might not be signed," to which Waltrip responded simply, “Domino's Delivers."

Gee, I wonder what the announcement will be?

ISC vs Champ Car II: Writing on, Robin Miller says Round Two of the battle between International Speedway Corporation and the Champ Car World Series will be fought today in the Arizona House Appropriations Committee. A bill was introduced recently that would prohibit motor vehicle competitions outside of closed-course facilities, if those competitions produce more than 90 decibels of noise.

Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven, who is negotiating to hold a street race in Phoenix next season, charged ISC and NASCAR with hiring 22 lobbyists to scuttle the event. Kalkhoven said of the vote, "(it) eliminates… any racing that's not in a controlled environment. That includes motocross, autocross, karting, rallies and even the IRL. If they pull it off, they would control all racing in Arizona and there is nothing we can do about it.”

ISC and NASCAR have denied the charges, despite comments by Phoenix International Raceway President Bryan Sperber that urged lawmakers to turn thumbs-down on what he called “a rinky dink, Mickey Mouse project.”

The bill was set to be voted on last Thursday, but was withheld at the last minute. Depending on who you ask, it was held back either (A) to give the two sides time to reach a compromise, or (B) because backers knew they didn't have the votes to get it passed. State Senator Robert Blendu – who represents the district that includes Phoenix International Raceway -- reversed field on the proposal this week, after originally speaking out against the street race. Blendu now claims to have been misled about the economic impact of the event. Commenting on reports that race organizers will pour $300 million of their own money into downtown Phoenix, Blendu said, "As far as I'm concerned, I don't care if they want to race frogs."

You can read Robin Miller's complete story here.

"Slowhand" Scores In Music City: Carl Edwards claimed his second Nashville Superspeedway trophy guitar Saturday night, after a dominating Busch Series win. And unlike most Nashville winners, he looked downright comfortable with it in Victory Lane. Edwards admitted to us yesterday that he does possess rudimentary guitar skills, saying, "I can play a little." Unfortunately, he said his singing voice prevents him from making a positive musical impression of any kind.

Anything Is Possible: ESPN's Mike Massaro reported last night that defending Indy Racing League champion Dan Wheldon could move from Chip Ganassi's IRL team to the #42 Texaco Havoline Nextel Cup Dodge next year, replacing Casey Mears. The operative word here is "could."

I, too, could replace Mears in the Texaco Star Car, in a scenario only slightly less likely than Wheldon jumping to NASCAR. "Dapper Dan" dropped the N-word a number of times during the offseason, in an effort to attract the attention of the Formula One paddock. When those efforts failed, he quickly signed with Ganassi to remain in Indy Cars. No one believed Wheldon had any interest in joining the stock car set then, and no one believes it now. I have also yet to find anyone in the NASCAR garage -- with the possible exception of Ganassi -- who is remotely interested in putting the defending IRL champion behind the wheel of a Nextel Cup or Busch Series machine.

Let's do the math, here. Ganassi can either keep Wheldon in the IRL -- winning races and contending for the series championship -- or shuffle him off to NASCAR-land, dropping him head-first into the Nextel Cup ranks where he will need at least two years to adapt.

It doesn't add-up to me, either.

Enough Already! Could somebody please tell Danica Patrick to pipe down about the exhausting schedule in NASCAR Nextel Cup racing? Again this week -- and for the umpteenth time -- IRL's femme fatale is bemoaning the debilitating grind of big-time NASCAR racing, saying she's exhausted after THREE WHOLE WEEKS of consecutive open wheel events, and can't understand how the stock car guys possibly do it.

This just in, Danica: you don't HAVE to understand it. Be happy with your 14-race, five-and-a-half month IRL schedule, and leave the NASCAR folks alone. For a woman who proclaims to have no interest in stock cars, Ms. Patrick certanly spends a lot of time talking about them.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Allmendinger Speaks On RuSport Ouster

A.J. Allmendinger spoke out yesterday, calling his release from Carl Russo’s RuSport Racing, “a marriage gone bad."

Just hours after his surprising ouster, the lone American on the Champ Car World Series grid, said, "I'll admit the timing caught me off a bit, and I'm a little disappointed it happened after only four races. But we were having our troubles, and there were differences in what I wanted for the team and what they wanted for the team."

Allmendinger denied reports that a blowup following a fourth-place finish at the Milwaukee Mile Sunday had led to his ouster. “It wasn't one thing,” he said. “It just wasn't working. I'm an emotional person, I want to win, and sometimes my emotions are a little over the top. But I can't change that. I'm 24, and I'm still learning to get better, inside and outside the car.”

After offering no specifics in a hastily arranged press conference Friday, Russo said Saturday that his former driver “has to mature as a man, not just as a driver. He's the most naturally talented driver I've ever seen, but that's not all there is to this business. Our decision was that he was not going to improve, so it was time for both of us to try a new environment. Maybe some tough love will put him on the right path. Maybe he needs a less sympathetic environment.”

In addition to an apparent clash of personalities, Allmensinger and Russo differ dramatically in their approach to the sport. Allmendinger does not have the technical knowledge of his replacement, former series champion Christiano da Matta. And after hiring a pair of high-dollar engineers from Newman-Haas Racing during the offseason, sources in the Champ Car garage say Russo was anxious to try new things in an effort to displace Sebastien Bourdais from the top of the heap. Allmendinger reportedly resisted those efforts, believing that no major changes were needed. When Bourdais ripped off a trio of wins to start the season, Russo was left seething. In his words, “it’s getting annoying.”

Russo praised da Matta’s technical expertise this week, saying, “One of the things we're going to benefit from is his wealth of technical expertise, the background, the Formula One experience that will continue to drive the technical side of the equation forward. We have, we think, a very strong technical staff and we're looking forward to benefitting from Cristiano's experience there.”

So while all parties profess to having no hard feelings, Allmendinger is out of a ride. No one believes his fiery personality will prevent him from finding a new home in the Champ Car paddock, however. Even Russo said, “I believe A.J. will (remain) in Champ Car, because he's too good not to. I hope he can harness that fire and make it work.” One possibility is Forsythe Championship Racing, where Allmendinger’s relationship with Paul Tracy and Red Bull could mean a few sleepless nights for Mario Dominguez.

His longtime relationship with Red Bull has prompted speculation that Allmendinger could be headed to the new Team Red Bull NASCAR Nextel Cup team. While that possibility seems remote, Allmendinger said he is keeping all his options open. "I love Champ Car,” he said. “I love everything about it, and if I can get a ride with a chance to win, that's where I'll be. I'd love to be in Portland next weekend, but I don't have anything yet, and I haven't heard from anybody. I'm in the process of getting an agent and exploring my options.”

"I'll land somewhere, and it will be better for me."

But for now -- at least for the moment -- there are no Americans on the Champ Car grid once again.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Nobody Loves A Lame Duck

The “Silly Season” dominoes continue to fall.

Wednesday, Hendrick Motorsports confirmed that they have given Brian Vickers permission to look for a new ride next season. Just 48 hours later, Casey Mears announced that he will leave Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates at year’s end, to replace Vickers in Hendrick’s #25 ChevroletenrdickH. Those announcements came just weeks after Dale Jarrett finalized plans to leave Robert Yates Racing for a 2007 ride with Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota.

Driver changes are nothing new in NASCAR, they happen every year. But in the month of June? Totally unprecidented. And to my way of thinking, extremely dangerous, as well.

Vickers said his decision to seek alternative employment is due to the lukewarm performance of the No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet. "For whatever reason -- and this is just as much my responsibility as it is anyone else's at Hendrick Motorsports -- me and the 25 car have not performed to the standards we're capable,” he said. “So I feel it's best to start looking at other options."

The 2003 Busch Series champion made the requisite statement of continuing commitment to Hendrick, saying, "I'd love nothing more than to win in the GMAC car." He admitted, however, that he is disappointed in the performance of the #25. "I didn't come into this sport to have a job. I didn't come here to ride around. I came here to win." Those words will do little to salve the hurt feelings of Vickers’ team, who now have to finish the season with a “lame duck” driver who doesn’t want to be there.

A year ago, the Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch’s teams came unglued under identical circumstances, with Busch ultimately being removed by car owner Jack Roush after a run-in with Sheriff’s Deputies in Phoenix. Now, tied to “lame ducks” of their own for the final two-thirds of the 2006 campaign, it is reasonable to expect the Ganassi and Hendrick operations to struggle, as well.

Personally, I can’t image them making it.

Donnie Wingo, crewchief on Mears’ Texaco Havoline Dodge, admitted that it’s difficult working for a driver who is preparing to jump ship. “It’s tough,” he said. “When you sit down and think about it, you get pretty upset, but there’s really nothing you can do. Bottom line, you’ve got to put aside all this other stuff and do your job.”

Wingo has been through this before, having lost McMurray to Roush Racing last year. Despite that experience, however, he is unsure what the rest of the 2006 campaign holds. “I’m not sure,” he said. “We’ve been through this before, but you never know what to expect. It’s just one of those deals. You’ve still got to do your job. We’re all racers, and we want to win races, but it’s tough on everybody.”

Friday, June 09, 2006

So Long, Tom

The end of an area was announced earlier this week, when Tom Carnegie informed Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George that he has manned the microphone for his final Indianapolis 500. The 86-year-old Carnegie has worked 61 consecutive editions of “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing,” and his melodious baritone is as much a part of the month of May in Indiana as Carburetion Day and the Borg Warner Trophy.

A pair of artificial hips -- and as many artificial knees – did little to slow him down over the years. But while he has agreed to continue making cameo appearances at the Speedway in the future, Carnegie says his days of working regular shifts are over. “It’s time to finish on top,” he said. “I had a good year. I felt good on race day, and it’s time to move on.”

Carnegie was hired by George’s grandfather -- the late Tony Hulman -- in 1946, and called his first 500 that year. Prior to that, he had seen only one automobile race, and told us in a remarkable 2004 “Sirius Speedway Legends” interview that it took him the better part of a decade to become comfortable with the job. It took much less time for race fans to take Carnegie into their hearts. At the helm of the world's most powerful public address system -- 317,000 watts and 341 speakers – Carnegie turned simple phrases like, “It’s a neeeew traaack record,” and “Heeee’s on it,” into auto racing anthems.

He learned early not to get too close to the men who raced at Indianapolis. The winner of Carnegie's first Indy 500, George Robson, was killed just a few weeks later at a race in Georgia, and Carnegie’s close friend Jimmy Clark died in a crash in Germany. A tragic month of May in 1973 solidified his resolve, as Art Pollard was killed in qualifying, followed by a pair of horrifying race day crashes. The first left Salt Walther with severe burns and injured 13 spectators, while the second left Swede Savage with injuries that took his life a month later. Compounding the tragedy, an emergency vehicle en route to Savage's crash, struck and killed a crewman in the infield.

"I gave eulogies at two drivers' funerals that year," recalled Carnegie, "and that was when I determined that I just couldn't get too close."

The term “legend” is often overused, but in Carnegie’s case, the term applies. His name and voice are recognized by thousands of Indiana residents who have never set foot in the Brickyard, due to his decades of broadcast the Indiana State High School Basketball Championships. He was voted into the Indiana Basketball Hall Of Fame; an honor he accepted with his customary grace and humility.

Commenting on his six decades at the Brickyard, Carnegie said recently, “It is sort of a long time. You look back and say, 'My gosh, how did that happen?' But it's been easy. It's been inspired by my love of the race, and the love of the people who've been here all these 60 years. I appreciate the attitude of the Hulman-George family, and all the fans. And after 50 years, it began to be important!"

Tom Carnegie is truly one of a kind, and his presence will be missed when the Indy Cars come home to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next May.

Thanks for the memories, Tom. And Godspeed.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sirius Speedway Exclusive! The Finalized Version of NASCAR's "Car Of Tomorrow"

Listener Ann Cognito snapped this clandestine photo of the finalized "Car Of Tomorrow" in the parking lot of NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. I guess this is what Brett Bodine meant by "a few more minor tweaks."

"Dead Man Walking" Back From The Brink

Busch Series driver Kevin Grubb was reinstated by NASCAR this week, and will attempt to qualify for Saturday’s “Federated Auto Parts 300” at Nashville Superspeedway, driving the Mac Hill Motorsports #56 Chevrolet.

Grubb was suspended from NASCAR in March of 2004 for a violation of NASCAR's substance abuse policy. He ran a partial Busch Series schedule in 2003 -- finishing 19th in points – and was slated to run a partial schedule for Team Rensi Racing in `04. At one time, Grubb was seen as an up-and-coming NASCAR star, after driving the Timberwolf Chevrolet for Brewco Motorsports (18 top-10 finishes in 2001), Team Bristol Motorsports' Toys-R-Us Chevy, and the Carroll Motorsports Dr. Pepper Ford. By late 2003, however, his performances began to suffer, and rumors circulated in the NASCAR garage that the Mechanicsville, Va., driver was battling substance abuse. NASCAR took action before he turned a lap in 2004, suspending him from competition.

Over the next few months, stories circulated that painted a troubling picture of Grubb and his struggles. A post on his website asked NASCAR fans to send messages of support, saying, “Kevin needs our help now. He is no better, in fact probably worse than in February. He looks terrible, and is basically a `Dead Man Walking.' I'm afraid he will not be here much longer if his fans don't come together and save him from himself. Most of his friends and family have given up. We cannot allow this young man to self-destruct.”

Since then, little has been heard from Grubb. NASCAR maintained its stance that in order to be reinstated, Grubb would have to adhere to a stringent set of guidelines, including mandatory, random drug testing at NASCAR’s discretion. Nothing more was heard until early this week, when word first leaked that Grubb had applied for – and been granted -- reinstatement to NASCAR.

At the time of this writing, Kevin Grubb has issued no public statement about his return to competition, or the long road he has traveled since March of 2004. One thing is beyond dispute, though; Kevin Grubb has cleaned up his act. In order to gain reinstatement to NASCAR, Grubb has had to pass an exhaustive gauntlet of tests, proving to NASCAR beyond any doubt that he has won his battle against addiction.

For that, he deserves a tremendous amount of credit.

As difficult as that battle has been, however, it is not the end of the fight. Now, Grubb has to convince the rest of the world that he is clean and sober. Landing a ride with Mac Hill Motorsports is a fine first step. Team-owner Jack McNelly is well-respected in the NASCAR garage, and while they have frequently struggled to find adequate sponsorship, the team has fared well this season with Kevin Lepage at the wheel. Lepage will continue to drive the Mac Hill #56 on Nextel Cup combination weekends, with Grubb steering the machine in stand-alone events.

Regaining the confidence of his fellow drivers won’t happen overnight, but it can be done. After all, with the conditions set forth by NASCAR, Grubb is the one Busch Series driver that everyone knows will not be out partying the night before a race.

Grubb's toughest battle will be waged in the corporate boardroom. Will sponsors be willing to associate themselves with a driver that was suspended by NASCAR for substance abuse? The spectre of drugs looms large in this society, and faced with a choice between Kevin Grubb and another driver, sponsors may understandably choose to invest their money elsewhere.

We'll worry about that later, though. For now, let’s rejoice in the fact that Kevin Grubb was able to look the Devil in the eye and fight his way back to life, and to the sport he loves. The “Dead Man Walking” of 2004 will be back behind the wheel of a racecar this weekend in Music City, USA, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Congratulations, Kevin, and good luck.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Random Thoughts From Here And There

Eddie vs. Andretti -- It seems to me that the escalating war of words between Eddie Cheever and the entire Andretti clan could be the best thing to happen to the Indy Racing League in a long, long time. In case you didn't see it, Eddie let his car wander a little too wide Sunday at Watkins Glen, running a clearly faster Marco Andretti into the weeds and out of the race. Marco and father Michael spared very few adjectives in describing Cheever's faux pas after the event, branding him (among other things) "an idiot;" a term echoed by Danica Patrick after she tangled with Cheever later in the day.

The ever-quotable Cheever fired back yesterday, denying Michael Andretti's claim that he had intentionally wrecked the kid. "To think I would intentionally take anyone out is just ludicrous," said Eddie. "It's beyond words. I find the accusations incomprehensible.” Cheever then took a marvelous backhand slap at Michael Andretti's well-documented record of futility at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, saying, "The last time I looked, I earned the label of Indy 500 champion. Those lobbing unfounded accusations at me have not.”

For the record, Cheever won the Indianapolis 500 in 1994, when Michael Andretti was running the rival CART circuit. But hey, facts are facts. And if the folks in the IRL Public Relations and Marketing Departments get their wish, Cheever's low-blow is just the latest in a series of catty comments between the two camps.

Kyle Is Sorry --Kyle Busch said this weekend that he is sorry for his latest incident of bad behavior, and is ready to change his ways. Of last week’s $50,000 fine for throwing his HANS device at Casey Mears, Busch said, "It's a tough situation to have to go through. It's tough to hold the emotion back and keep the frustration under control, but there is a point of no return, and we stepped over that." I assume that Busch is using the "Royal We" in this instance, since only he stepped past that "point of no return."

Mears defended Busch to a point, saying, "What he did was a natural reaction to being mad. The thing you've got to learn is that you're not at home, and you're not by yourself. You're responsible for your reactions. One of these days, he'll learn that and we'll all go on."

In the past, I have defended Busch, pointing out that we all did stupid things when we were 20 years old. The difference is, we didn't have a camera crew, three radio reporters and USA TODAY following us around to tell the world about it. Lately, though, it's getting tougher to excuse Shrub's antics. Hopefully, a $50,000 fine (and NASCAR probation through December 31st) will force the supremely talented Busch to do what he should have begun doing quite some time ago; grow up.

Toughest Sanction Ever -- Former Formula One world champion Keke Rosberg apologized this week for comments regarding Michael Schumacher's "parallel parking" incident during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. At the time, Rosberg said that in addition to losing his qualifying position, Schumacher’s wife should refuse to provide him with food and sex, and that Schumacher should "retire in shame" at season’s end.

With time to reflect, Rosberg now admits that his choice of words was less than ideal, calling it "a typically Scandinavian volcanic eruption." A damned funny one, though, you've got to admit.

Toyota Ahead Of Schedule -- Despite assurances from Toyota executives that the new Camry would not make its competitive debut until Speedweeks 2007, Team Red Bull says it is almost ready to race, right now. The team will enter three Nextel Cup races -- October 14 at Lowe's, October 29 in Atlanta and Texas on November 5 -- with Bill Elliott at the wheel. General Manager Marty Gaunt said the team's 2007 driver and crewchief lineups will be announced later this year. Said Elliott of his new gig, “My job is to put the car in the show, drive it toward the front, and provide input so Team Red Bull is fully prepared by the (2007) Daytona 500. It’s really a great role at this stage of my racing career.”

In the past, the good people of Dawsonville, Georgia have rung their church bells to celebrate a win by hometown boy Elliott. In February, they said they would not celebrate a possible Elliott win in the Daytona 500, since "Awesome Bill" would be driving a Dodge, instead of a Ford.

One can only imagine how they'll react to this news.

Why Not Deny? -- MB2 Motorsports CEO and General Manager CEO Jay Frye has confirmed published reports that his organization and Dale Earnhardt Inc. are exploring possible partnership scenarios. "We’ve been looking at the ‘Car of Tomorrow’ and how it’s going to work." said Frye. "That’s how our conversation started with DEI. We’re looking at ideas to make things more efficient for both of our companies." Frye suggested a possible scenario where MB2 would build the `Car Of Tomorrow' for both teams, while DEI focuses on the current design. He said he expects a decision within a month, but denied published reports that MB2 may merge with (or be purchased by) DEI.

In an effort to determine what's what, we invited Frye -- a good friend, both personally and professionally -- to appear on Sirius Speedway yesterday, to explain exactly what is being discussed. He declined, as is his right. However, if this story has really gotten as overblown as Frye and P.R. Rep Dave Ferroni insist, what better way to put it to rest than with a complete examination of the facts on our airwaves?

Our offer stands, guys, if you're interested.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Willy T. Who?

He was a major star in Trans-Am racing in the 1970s for Jack Roush, but Willy T. Ribbs is little more than a footnote in NASCAR history.

In 1986, he made three Winston Cup Series starts, finishing 39th at Michigan, 22nd at North Wilkesboro and 29th on the road course in Riverside, California. In 2001, he ran the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for Bobby Hamilton Racing, qualifying for 23 of 24 races, and finishing 16th in points with a best finish of 13th at Pikes Peak. His main claim to NASCAR fame was being the third African-American driver -- behind Wendell Scott and Randy Bethea -- to compete at the top levels of the sport. Ribbs faded away after that 2001 season, and has scarcely been heard of since.

Until last week, when he launched a scathing critique of NASCAR in an article written by Jason Whitlock of Knight-Ridder newspapers.

"No matter what the other racing series think of themselves, no matter how drunk they get on moonshine and delude themselves, there's nothing that equals the Indianapolis 500," said Ribbs. Asked whether he hates NASCAR, Ribbs said, "I feel the same way about them that they do about me. I raced when everybody knew that was the junior league. Mario Andretti went down south and just embarrassed those guys. And then A.J. went down there and showed `em."

Over the course of their two days together, Whitlock says he never heard Ribbs refer to NASCAR by name. Writes Whitlock, "though he talked about America's most popular racing series constantly, Ribbs referred to NASCAR as `al-Qaida' or `Neckcar' or `The WWE,'" while lauding Indianapolis as the pinnacle of American motorsport.

Ribbs' love for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is curious, since his record there is as spotty as his NASCAR resume'. Comedian Bill Cosby bankrolled a pair of Indy starts for Willy T. in 1991 and 1993, getting virtually nothing in return. He lasted five laps before suffering engine failure in 1991, and despite spending more than $10-million of Cosby's money in an effort to land a top-notch ride, a 21st place finish in 1993 was the highlight of his Brickyard career.

Gasoline Alley turned its back on Willy T. Ribbs back then, while NASCAR gave him a top-notch Craftsman Truck Series ride. And yet, Ribbs now chooses to lob hand grenades at the only major racing series that offered him a legitimate opportunity to succeed. Willy T. believes that the rumored reconciliation between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League will spell doom for NASCAR, catapulting Open Wheel Racing to the top of the American motorsports ladder once again.

That degree of dementia is troubling in a man just 50 years of age, but it's his opinion, and he's entitled to it.

Ribbs is wrong about Champ Car and the IRL causing sleepless nights for the France Family anytime soon, and he's wrong when he says NASCAR hates him as much as he hates them. Willy T. Ribbs is absolutely not hated by the NASCAR community. In fact, he is barely even remembered. And that's what bothers him most of all.

You can read the complete Jason Whitlock article here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Listener Dan Takes Matters Into His Own Artistic Little Hands

Dan in Riverhead, NY, writes, "I personally believe what NASCAR needs to do to sway some of the non-believers is to take the "Car Of Tomorrow," then paint and decal `em up so people can see that this ain't so bad. All the uninformed see is a black blob with a big wing. Show em something tangible and they'll come around. See what I mean?"

Ask a matter of fact, Dan, I do.