Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kinser, Schatz Prepping For The Prelude


With 688 feature wins and 24 championships between World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series drivers Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz, their prowess in wheeling 1,400-pound winged Sprint Cars on dirt is unmatched. 

Donny Schatz in a Late Model!
But what about their skills in piloting a 2,300-pound dirt Late Model stock car capable of putting out more than 800 horsepower? Currently, it’s unknown, as neither Kinser nor Schatz – despite their decades of dirt-track experience – have ever raced a dirt Late Model.
That will change on Wednesday, June 6 when the duo competes in the eighth annual Prelude To The Dream at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. They’ll join stars representing NASCAR, NHRA and INDYCAR in a battle for dirt supremacy on the half-mile clay oval where HBO Pay-Per-View will present the event LIVE in high-definition to the entire nation. Net proceeds from the telecast will support Feed The Children, a U.S.-based charity that domestically has helped more than 365,000 families since 2009 through its Americans Feeding Americans Caravan.
The 2012 edition of the Prelude To The Dream includes hot laps, qualifying, heat races and a40-lap feature with double-file “shootout style” restarts 

Despite being dirt Late Model rookies, as well as first-time Prelude participants, Kinser and Schatz have one trump card none of the other Prelude drivers have – a mountain of experience on the high-banked Eldora oval. The amount of laps they’ve made at Eldora is unmatched, including that of Eldora Speedway owner and Prelude to the Dream founder Tony Stewart, who also happens to be the three-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
“I’ve made a lot of laps around Eldora the last 30 years, but I’ve never done it in a dirt Late Model,” admitted the 57-year-old Kinser, a 20-time World of Outlaws champion who has amassed more than 50 career wins at Eldora. “Heck, I’ve never even raced one anywhere, let alone at Eldora. I’m really not sure what to expect, but Tony will be a pretty big asset. He’s been in a Late Model and a winged Sprint Car there before, so I’m sure he can translate some of the similarities. It’s going to be something different, that’s for sure.”
Stewart has Kinser and Schatz covered in experience. He’s raced dirt Late Models for years, and since 2008, has run more and more winged Sprint Car races, to where in 2012 he has approximately 40 on tap.
“Tony was obviously a pretty quick study,” said the 34-year-old Schatz, a four-time World of Outlaws champion who tutored Stewart in the nuances of winged Sprint Car racing at the end of the 2009 and 2010 racing seasons. “I can only hope I can get the hang of driving a dirt Late Model just as fast. I might be asking a lot for my first race ever in a dirt Late Model. One night isn’t much time, but Steve and I both have a really good idea of how dirt changes through the night. Once we get a feel for how to run the car, I think we’ll be ok. It’s such a great opportunity and something I’ll remember for the rest of my career.”
The event offers both Schatz and Kinser, who drive for Tony Stewart Racing in the World of Outlaws, another chance at competing against Stewart.
“We love to compete, so that’s why this is going to be so much fun,” Schatz said. “We’ll be out of our comfort zone for a while, but just about everyone else will be, too. I’m sure Steve and I will bounce some things off each other during the night and try to get each other up to speed.”
Schatz and Kinser have raced 23 times this year with the World of Outlaws and they have three races – Friday at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park, Saturday at I-96 Raceway in Lake Odessa, Mich., and Tuesday at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway – before racing with fenders for the first time in the June 6 Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway.
“I know they’re both almost as excited as I am about them running the Prelude,” said Stewart of his World of Outlaws drivers. “I told them both it’ll be different, but by the end of the night, I’m pretty sure they’ll have it figured out and be right up in the hunt.
“But no matter how they do, we all know it’s for a great cause with Feed The Children. We’ll all be racing for a trophy, but also to make an impact with the more than 16 million children who are at risk of going hungry right here in America.”
For the top-10 finishers in the Prelude To The Dream, Feed The Children will send a food truck to each driver’s hometown or city of their choice.
The live, commercial-free, high-definition broadcast of the Prelude To The Dream will begin at8 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. PDT) with an immediate replay. The Prelude To The Dream has a suggested retail price of $24.95 and is available to more than 92 million pay-per-view homes. HBO Pay-Per-View is the leading supplier of event programming in the pay-per-view industry. Ordering information and up-to-the minute racing information is available at either www.PreludeToTheDream.org or www.HBO.com.  

Tony Kanaan of the IZOD IndyCar Series will again compete against former open wheeler Danica Patrick and straight-liners Ron Capps and Cruz Pedregon of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. They will join NASCAR stars Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Aric Almirola and many others, including the Busch brothers – Kurt and Kyle – and the Dillon brothers – Austin and Ty.

Drive Drive Baby: Vanilla Ice To Wheel Pace Car at Pocono


Vanilla Ice will serve as Honorary Pace Car Driver for the June 10th Pocono 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway. Vanilla Ice, whose 1991 hit, "Ice Ice Baby" was the first rap single to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, stars in the upcoming Sony Pictures release, That’s My Boy, which hits theaters nationwide next month.
Before assuming his driving duties in the 2012 Camaro SS ‘Official Pace Car’, Vanilla Ice will make an appearance at The Tricky Triangle Club, tour the team haulers and attend the driver’s meeting prior to the race. He will also do a pre-race parade lap in the Mustang 5.0 he drove in the movie with lucky race fans, who can bid on the ride through Thursday, June 7 as part of an online auction component of the inaugural Pocono Celebrity Charity Poker Showdown. The tournament, which takes place at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on Thursday, June 7, benefits The NASCAR Foundation and The Armed Forces Foundation and will feature race fans playing alongside NASCAR drivers and celebrities. For more information on the poker tournament or to bid on the ride with Vanilla Ice, visit NASCAR.COM/Unites.
That’s My Boy, also starring Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg, is scheduled for a June 15th release. The film is directed by Sean Anders, produced by Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo, Heather Parry and Allen Covert, and written by David Caspe.. For additional movie information, visit www.thatsmyboy-movie.com.

Robby Gordon To Present New Stadium Truck Series


Robby Gordon announced yesterday that he has created a new, stadium based off-road racing series. 


Gordon becomes a promoter in 2013
Gordon's Stadium Super Trucks Series will debut in 2013, and is modeled after the former Mickey Thompson Off-Road Race Series. "Stadium racing helped Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears and myself launch our careers," said Gordon, who will serve as President of SST. "Bringing off-road racing back to the stadium like Mickey Thompson did has been something that I have wanted to do for a long time, and I am proud to say that we have finally accomplished it. SST offers attractive racing venues, remarkable track designs, substantial purse, and opportunity for network TV a lot like NASCAR because you can visualize the whole track."  

SST’s inaugural season will begin in April and include a minimum of 10 races throughout the country, with a possibility of international events, as well.  There will be two events in San Diego and Los Angeles, with the remainder of the calendar to be announced on July 15. Gordon said the series will feature two-day events, with Friday qualifying, followed by a fan expo, tailgating, side-by-side ATV heats, Bigfoot heats and finals, SST heats and the main event on Saturday.  

Race trucks will be modeled after automobile manufacturer replicas and be powered by 600-horsepower V-8 engines, with 20 inches of wheel travel on DOT approved tires like the ones fans can purchase and drive on the street. Racers will compete for a $60,000 weekly purse, with and the overall series champion receiving a $500,000 dollar prize at the conclusion of the season.

Paludo, Piquet Tabbed For Road Course Starts


Turner Motorsports announced today it will field four NASCAR Nationwide Series entries in the upcoming Sargento 200 at Road America. Brazilian drivers Nelson Piquet Jr. and Miguel Paludo will join full-time Nationwide Series championship competitor Justin Allgaier and Brad Sweet in the June 23rd race at the 4.048-mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis.  

Paludo and Piquet to Road America
Paludo, who is slated to drive the No. 32 Chevrolet Impala, will be making his first career NNS start. A two-time champion in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Brazil, Paludo has extensive road racing experience, but has only made one start on a NASCAR road course circuit (Lime Rock Park in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where he started and finished ninth). Paludo has made 34 starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with three Top-5 and 10 Top-10 finishes, with a best finish of third at Michigan International Speedway in August of 2011. Paludo also made history earlier this season at Daytona International Speedway by becoming the first Brazilian driver to win a pole in one of NASCAR's top-three series. 

"I'm very excited to be making my first NASCAR Nationwide Series start, especially at Road America," said Paludo. "It's such a unique track with so many elevation changes and a very long, fast frontstretch. Our team tested at Virginia International Raceway this week and it was my very first time in a Nationwide Series car. We have such a solid team that I know we'll be going into the race really prepared. Last year, the No. 32 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet went to victory lane in that race, and I'm hoping that we can make it two years in a row."

Piquet Jr., scheduled to pilot the No. 30 Chevrolet Impala, has two previous career NNS starts. Hailing from the road course circuits of Formula 1, Piquet Jr. made his NNS debut at Watkins Glen International in 2010, earning a seventh-place finish, his best NNS finish to date. Piquet Jr.'s 35 NCWTS starts have resulted in one pole, seven top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. The 26-year-old Brazilian earned his first NASCAR victory earlier this season when he took the checkered flag at Bristol Motor Speedway in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

"I'm really looking forward to making my first Nationwide Series start of the season," Piquet Jr. stated. "I earned a top-10 in my very first Nationwide Series start, my first start on a road course in NASCAR, and I've grown a lot as a driver in the two years since then. The two tracks are quite different, but I spent a lot of my career on road courses before coming to NASCAR. The Turner Motorsports cars have been performing extremely well in the Nationwide Series this year, getting a win already in Daytona, so my expectation is that we can bring home a victory." 

Piquet  is guaranteed a starting spot in the field by virtue of the No. 30's full-time NNS status, while Paludo will have to qualify the No. 32 into the race on time because it has not accrued any owner points in 2012.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Taylor Earnhardt Married Saturday in NC


Taylor Nicole Earnhardt and Brandon Samuel Putnam were married Saturday at the Earnhardt Estate in Mooresville, North Carolina.  

Earnhardt, 23, is the daughter of the late NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt and his wife Teresa. The professional rodeo competitor is active in support of the Dale Earnhardt Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to children, education and wildlife preservation. She is also the Director of Equestrian Development for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. She is currently a student of Equine Business, Reproduction and Training.  

Putnam, 25, is the owner of Hi Tech Incorporated, a grading and trucking company in Charlotte, North Carolina. He also competes in professional rodeo and is an avid hunter. He graduated from Central Piedmont Community College with a degree in Fire Science.

Photo Credit: Christian Oth Studios

Truex Cleared To Drive After Recent Surgery


Just over a week after undergoing an emergency appendectomy, Ryan Truex has been cleared by doctors to compete in this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series “5-Hour Energy 200” at Dover International Speedway. 

Truex was rushed to the hospital after experiencing severe discomfort in the early morning hours last Tuesday, and subsequently underwent surgery to remove a badly inflamed appendix. The 20-year old New Jersey native has now been cleared for competition, and said he is anxious to return to the cockpit. 

"I felt fine Monday evening, but around 2 a.m. felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I went to the hospital to find out that my appendix hadn't burst, but needed surgery to be removed," said Truex. "The procedure went extremely well and I'm ready to get back in the No. 20 Grime Boss Toyota this weekend. I'll just be a little lighter." 

Dover International Speedway is a special place for the Truex family.  Ryan and older brother Martin Truex Jr. grew up just across the state line in Mayetta, N.J., and both raced at the “Monster Mile” while progressing through the ranks of NASCAR competition. Ryan Truex has two K&N Pro Series East starts at the Monster Mile en route to the 2009 and 2010 series' championships, with a best finish of third in 2010. He also has two Nationwide starts there, notching an eighth-place finish with Joe Gibbs Racing last fall.  

Truex will carry the Grime Boss colors on the hood of his No. 20 JGR Camry this weekend.

Photo Credit: nascarmedia.com

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

NASCAR Announces Nationwide Rules Violations


NASCAR has penalized two NASCAR Nationwide Series teams for rules infractions that were committed last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  

The No. 41 Rick Ware Racing team and driver Timmy Hill were found to be in violation of Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20A-12.8.1(B) (body height requirements – car failed to meet the minimum front car heights) of the 2012 NASCAR rule book. 

As a result, crew chief George Church has been fined $10,000 while Ware and Hill have been penalized with the loss of six championship owner and six championship driver points, respectively. The violation was discovered during post-race inspection.

Philippe Lopez, crew chief for Michael Annett’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford and car chief Michael Wright have been penalized for rules infractions discovered during opening day inspection. Lopez was fined $10,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31. Wright has been placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31. 

The No. 43 car rules violations referred to Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20-A of the rule book); 20A-2.1E (streamlining of the contours of the car, beyond what is approved by the series director will not be permitted. Installation of air directional devices, under pans, baffles, shields or the like beneath the car or the car’s hood and fender area, front firewall, floor, rear firewall area, rear deck and quarter panel will not be permitted. If, in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance, will not be permitted. All cars must remain standard in appearance); 20A-3.10A (front upper bumper cover must be from the respective OEM manufacturer and must be approved by NASCAR. The front lower bumper cover and rear bumper cover must be from an approved manufacturer and must be approved by NASCAR. Once approved, the front lower bumper covers may be used on all approved models. NASCAR officials may use bumper covers provided by the respective manufacturer as a guide in determining whether a competitor’s bumper cover conforms to the specifications of the NASCAR rule book. Unless otherwise authorized by the series director, cutting and reshaping of bumper covers will not be permitted.)

COMMENTARY: Overpromise vs Underdeliver

The debate rages across NASCAR Nation; has Sprint Cup racing become stagnant, dull, even boring? 

"Come see this... EVERY WEEK!"
With caution flags down by approximately 30% this season, some point to a dearth of what NASCAR Chairman Brian France once called, “Game Seven moments;” high-energy events that bring fans to their feet and provide ESPN’s SportsCenter with highlight-reel material for years to come. 

Perhaps that’s true. Or perhaps NASCAR, its tracks and media partners are simply guilty of over-promising. 

In an effort to reverse sagging attendance and television ratings, NASCAR has turned more and more to the sensational. Promos for upcoming network television broadcasts have become little more than crash montages, with one bone-jarring wreck after another, sandwiched around small snippets of actual racing and a brief Victory Lane celebration. Many member speedways are now taking the same tact, attempting to sell tickets with 60-second ads that portray our sport as bare-knuckled, 200-mph demolition derbies. 

In the lead-up to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, fans were promised a thrill-a-minute experience that was equal parts “Pass in the Grass,” Davey Allison pounding the wall at the checkered flag, and Darrell Waltrip encouraging Rusty Wallace to choke on a wad of cash. Never mind that those video clips are more than a decade old, NASCAR, SPEED and Charlotte Motor Speedway promised us all that, and more.

The race itself failed to live up to all the hype. In truth, no race could have. 

This week, commercials began running in the Charlotte, NC market, enticing fans to purchase tickets to next month’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway. The commercials are a veritable smorgasbord of motorized mayhem, but amazingly, not one of the wrecks used to promote the race actually occurred at Kentucky Speedway. Last season, Kentucky’s inaugural Sprint Cup Series event featured 105 laps of uninterrupted green-flag racing and just six caution flags; none of which were for major crashes. 

That’s a far cry from the nuclear cataclysm featured in the track’s advertising. 

Just another ho-hum NASCAR race.
There is a long tradition of accentuating the positive in marketing.  Laundry detergent brands routinely prop-up their market share by declaring themselves “new and improved,” when in most cases, little or no actual changes have been made. Movie trailers generally include the funniest or most dramatic moments from a particular film, leaving theatregoers to discover for themselves that those were the only noteworthy scenes in the entire production.

Is it any wonder that after a weeklong promotional bombardment of flipping, crashing, flaming racecars, NASCAR fans have come to expect exactly that on Sunday afternoon? And when it doesn’t happen, is it any surprise that they feel like victims of the old “bait and switch?” 

When pitching potential sponsors, marketing experts routinely advise teams to “underpromise and over-deliver.” Sadly, in recent weeks, it appears we’ve done just the opposite.

By virtually every statistical yardstick, NASCAR is faster, safer and more competitive than at any point in its history. Two decades ago, there were perhaps a dozen teams with a realistic chance of visiting Victory Lane on any given Sunday afternoon. Today, that number has doubled. More drivers enjoy quality rides today than ever before, and the days of a team enjoying a multi-lap lead over the remainder of the field have long passed.

The product presented by NASCAR on speedways around the country is better today than it's ever been, but somehow, we've set the bar of expectation so ridiculously high that fans cannot seem to enjoy it.

There's more to NASCAR than fiery crashes and fistfights. Not every baseball game ends with a walkoff, grand slam home run. Not every Super Bowl ends with a 95-yard touchdown pass on the final play from scrimmage. And sadly, not every NASCAR race ends in a three-wide, upside-down fireball of a finish.

That's the simple truth, and it's time we started telling it.




Townley, RAB Racing Set For Double Duty at Dover



Townley (09) will be busy this weekend.
John Wes Townley will do double duty this weekend on the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway, running both the NASCAR Camping World Truck and NASCAR Nationwide Series events with sponsorship from Barberitos Southwestern Grille and Cantina. 

Barberitos has 26 franchise locations in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, and recently announced plans to open an additional 15 locations.  

Townley currently ranks 21st in Truck Series championship point, after a 16th place finish in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200  at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He did not compete in the 2012 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The Georgia native made his Nationwide Series debut at Dover in 2008, and posted a career-best eighth-place qualifying effort on the one-mile concrete oval the following year. He will drive Toyotas fielded by RAB Racing in both races this weekend.

Red Horse Shuts Down Daytona Winning Team


King won the Daytona opener.
Red Horse Racing announced today that it has suspended operations of its No. 7 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team driven by rookie of the year contender, John King, effective immediately.

A brief, written statement from the team said, “Due to lack of sponsorship, the No. 7 will be cutting back its program until further notice.” King scored an upset victory in the 2012 season opener at Daytona International Speedway, and is currently ranked 13th in championship points after crashing out en route to a 33rd place finish in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 18.

Red Horse Racing will continue to operate the No. 17 Toyota driven by Timothy Peters and the No. 11 entry driven by former series champion Todd Bodine.

Red Horse Racing was founded in 2005 by former Mobil Oil Corporation executive Tom DeLoach and former NASCAR crew chief Jeff Hammond, and has recorded six NCWTS victories and six poles in its eight-year existence.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Patrick Could Attempt 2013 Indy-Charlotte Double


Danica Patrick said this weekend that she has likely not run her final Indianapolis 500.
Firmly entrenched in her new career as a NASCAR stock car racer, the former Indy Car star admitted he has thought about attempting the much-discussed Indy/Charlotte double; running both Indy and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“(It’s) not a mystery that if I did the Indy 500, that's what it would be," said Patrick, adding that she could attempt the Memorial Day weekend double as soon as next season. "As long as everything works out and we're able to transition to Cup, it would be awesome. It would be a hell of a lot of work, but I'm sure it would be pretty fun.
"Indy is special to me," said Patrick, adding that while she misses open wheel racing and is anxious to compete in an Indy Car again, she will not do so at the expense of her NASCAR effort. "If I were to attempt it, I wouldn't want to do anything that would tarnish all my great memories and the successes that I've had there by going out in an attempt that wouldn't be comfortable for me.”
Patrick could contest the full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule with Stewart Haas Racing next season, or return for another Nationwide Series campaign with JR Motorsports. She is running a 10-race Cup slate with SHR this year.

Franchitti Claims Emotional Indianapolis 500 Win

Dario Franchitti became the 10th driver to claim three or more Indianapolis 500 wins Sunday, outlasting a final-lap challenge from Takuma Sato that saw Sato crash heavily into the Turn One wall, then joining Helio Castroneves as three-time winners of the event.

In Victory Lane, an emotional Franchitti remembered his friend, 2011 race winner Dan Wheldon, who lost his life in the final race of last season. ''Everybody up there (at the front) was a friend of Dan's, and that about sums it up. Everybody loved him,'' said Franchitti.Thanks to all of the Indianapolis fans for their tribute to Dan today. What a race. I think D-dub (Wheldon) would be proud of that one."

Franchitti was chased to the finish by Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon. The last time teammates finished 1-2 was in 2003, when Gil de Ferran beat Penske teammate Helio Castroneves to the checkered flag. The win was Ganassi’s fifth all-time, tying Lou Moore for second on the career win list. Roger Penske leads all car owners with 15 victories. 

Indy Notes: Sunday’s win came in Franchitti’s ninth career Brickyard start, tying him with Louis Meyer, who also claimed his third 500 checkered flag in his ninth start. It was Meyer’s 10th Indianapolis 500 in all, however, since he drove as a relief driver in his rookie year.

Ashley, get outta the shot!
…ABC struggled to maintain an unobstructed view of Franchitti as his car was pushed into Victory Lane, thanks to the winner’s wife, actress Ashley Judd. Displaying an uncanny ability to jump into every Victory Lane and post-race shot, Judd alternately proclaimed her husband an “incredible talent” and fought to maintain control of an oversized straw hat large enough to shade her, her husband and most of his race team. Judd was the first person interviewed after the checkered flag – even before team owner Chip Ganassi – but inexplicably continued stepping between Franchitti and the camera throughout the post-race ceremonies. Apparently, award-winning actresses do not, in fact, have an inherent feel for the camera.

...The National Weather Service reported a high temperature at Indianapolis of 91 degrees Sunday, making the 2012 running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing the second-hottest on record. The hottest race ever occurred in 1937, when the mercury hit 92 degrees. Race day temps also hit 91 in 1919 and 1953.

…Former Indianpolis Motor Speedway Radio Network reporter Ron Carrell died Sunday. Carrell called the backstretch, first turn, third turn and pits from 1965-1992, and is remembered for his vivid description of Danny Sullivan's spin between Turns 1 and 2 that preceded his victory in the 1985 Indianapolis 500.

Ana Beatriz, unnoticed in 23rd
…Three women competed in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500; none of them named Danica Patrick. Brit Katherine Legge finished one lap down in 22nd place, with Brazilian Ana Beatriz 23rd, 10 laps in arrears. Swiss driver Simona DeSilvestro completed just 10 laps before being black-flagged from the event along with teammate Jean Alesi, both saddled with Lotus engines too slow to remain safely on track. None of the three women received even a small fraction of the attention heaped upon Patrick in prior seasons. In fact, Patrick was featured briefly in ABC’s pre-race coverage, with host Brent Musberger declaring that the GoDaddy Girl would not, in fact, take part in this year’s race.

…Food Network star Guy Fieri drove the 2013 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Pace Car during pace laps at Indy Sunday, with three-time race winner Johnny Rutherford handling Pace Car duties during the race itself. Asked what advice he received from Rutherford, the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” host called his mentor, "the Obi-Wan Kenobi of pace car driving. He gave me as much as I think I could understand. I'm going to watch that rear-view mirror and side mirror and really know where (the race cars) are.
“There's a lot going on,” admitted Fieri. “I don't think people quite understand the responsibility. It's a real responsibility of prepping this thing, getting those drivers ready and letting 'em loose."
Marco Andretti: foiled again
…Marco Andretti led a race-high 59 laps Sunday, the seventh time that a member of the Andretti family has led the most laps in an Indianapolis 500. Grandfather Mario Andretti led the most laps in 1969, 1985, 1987 and 1993, and father Michael turned the trick in 1991 and 1992. Only Mario’s 1969 effort resulted in a victory, and the Andretti Curse continued Sunday with Marco crashing out of contention with just 12 laps remaining.
…Sunday’s race featured a record 34 lead changes. The previous record was 29, set in 1960. It also had 10 different lap leaders, tying the 1980, 1995, 1998 and 2011 races for the second-highest number of leaders. The record is 12, set in 1993.
…Franchitti has now crossed the finish line under caution in all three of his Brickyard wins, due either to crashes (twice) or rain.
Photo Credits: FOX Sports, Tom Strattman/AP, Zimbio.com, Yahoo Sports

Friday, May 25, 2012

It's More Than Just A Three-Day Weekend...

"Doctor Dirt" Signs Off Next Weekend


Next week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway marks the end of an era for NASCAR’s longest-serving TV pit reporter, who celebrates his 70th birthday at Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Berggren (L) with NASCAR On FOX
colleagues Steve Byrnes. Krista Voda
and Matt Yocum
After 12 years on NASCAR on FOX, Berggren will give his final pit report for the network at Dover, in the same informative and passionate manner he has since first establishing himself in the role 31 years ago. Ironically, Berggren made his NASCAR broadcasting debut at Dover in 1981 alongside Mike Joy, his NASCAR on FOX and SPEED colleague. Interestingly, Joy is the only current NASCAR broadcaster who has been on-air longer than Berggren.

Don’t think for a second that Berggren is leaving NASCAR TV. It’s in his blood, and he assures his friends that he will still be found at some racetrack or another on a weekly basis. It may be smaller and less grandiose than the Cup venues at which he has spent the past three-plus decades, but he’ll be there.
“After the FOX portion of the year ends, I’ve always traveled to local tracks where I still enjoy sitting in the stands with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other, watching the local heroes,” said Berggren, whose claim to fame was once hustling a fire-breathing, fuel-injected dirt supermodified around the Maine’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, twisting it so tight that he spent most of the feature on three wheels and was affectionately known as `Doctor Dirt.’ “I can’t get enough of local-level racing,” he said, “so I’ll do more of that now.”
The founder of Speedway Illustrated magazine said that in addition to contributing stories and columns to the publication, he also has lofty goals and projects to which he can dedicate his newfound spare time. The Massachusetts resident has founded a corporation dedicated to building an auto racing museum on the grounds of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He has already signed an agreement with the speedway, been awarded tax-exempt status by the IRS and recruited a powerful Board of Directors.
“There is no museum of Northeast auto racing open to the public in general that displays the area’s racing history,” Berggren said. “The Northeast has a rich racing history that deserves to be saved and displayed. We’re fund raising and accumulating things to display.
“Getting the museum up and running is a big job, and it’ll take a lot of my time.”


"I still enjoy sitting in the stands with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other. I can’t get enough of local-level racing, so I’ll do more of that now.” -- Dr. Dick Berggren

Berggren, who earned a PhD in psychology before becoming a college professor, admits he wasn’t always adept at time management. In fact, he nearly didn’t graduate from high school after spending too many days chasing his dream of driving race cars.
“I couldn’t have cared less about school, especially with a couple of garages on my way home to stop at,” Berggren recalled. “I didn’t do homework, didn’t study and didn’t pay attention in class. Only around 20 of 616 students in my graduating class had a lower grade point average than I. All I wanted to do was to be involved in racing.”
After graduation, Berggren quickly realized that even two jobs weren’t enough to fund his racing career, concluding that a college diploma was his only ticket.
Berggren with an early supermodified.
And more hair.
“But I couldn’t get into the colleges I applied to -- not with my grades,” he admitted. “I finally found one that would take anyone who could pay the tuition. My parents paid the bill and I was on my way. With the motivation to do well so I could race, I paid attention, did my homework and focused on my education. I earned terrific grades in college -- good enough to get into Tufts University’s graduate school on a full scholarship, where I earned an MS and then a PhD in psychology. And then, I got a job that paid well enough that I could afford to race.”
Following graduate school, Berggren accepted a position teaching at an all-women’s Catholic college in Boston. Once again, however, his love of racing got in the way. Following a weekend at the track, the professor drove to work in his mud-covered pickup truck with a Sprint Car still on the back.
“I parked the rig, which had my name on it, in the faculty parking lot,” Berggren recalled “It was there about 10 minutes when I was paged to the president’s office. Sister wanted to know what that ‘thing’ was in the parking lot. She explained to me it had to be off college property immediately. Well, I wasn’t about to park my race car on a Boston street. So, I disobeyed the college president and left the rig in the faculty lot all day. I knew my teaching job was over.”
The college’s loss was racing’s gain, as he took a job editing Stock Car Racing Magazine and began working as a track announcer at local speedways. Those positions eventually led to his current TV gig.
The only thing that ultimately ended Berggren’s driving career was Berggren himself. His racing days came to a screeching halt with a wreck in the IMCA Nationals in Boone, Iowa, in which he initially feared he’d killed hundreds of spectators and issued a desperate plea to God.
“In one of my heats, I got turned at the end of the backstretch -- the highest-speed part of the track,” Berggren explained. “So many people were in the pits, they had overflowed to an area that wasn’t separated from the racing surface by anything other than a dirt bank. When I got turned, that’s where the car headed. I tried to go hard left and kept my leg in it, hoping the car would straighten out and go back down the track. It didn’t.
“I hit that dirt bank and saw hundreds of people scatter as I headed for them,” he said. “I’m not a religious person, but in the car that night, I said a prayer as I hit the dirt bank. ‘God, if you get me through this without hurting anyone, I won’t do this anymore.’ I closed my eyes, hit the bank, flew through the air and crashed into the pits. As the car stopped, a guy stuck his head in the window and asked if I was OK. With my eyes still closed, I asked how many people were under the car. ‘You didn’t hit anyone,’ he said. I climbed out and that was it. You don’t go back on a promise like that. It’s hard, because I’ve been offered rides in cars I dearly would like to race. But I won’t.”
"Doctor Dirt" (#80) in hot pursuit!
All said, Berggren’s 20-year racing career spanned stock cars, sprint cars and supermodifieds, including numerous feature wins, the majority in dirt track sprint cars. He was elected to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2002, and is a member of a number of other Halls. Berggren has also been the recipient of many prestigious awards for journalism, including the 1999 Cunningham Writer of the Year Award presented by the National Motorsports Press Association.
He will be remembered most, however, for the indelible mark he made outside the race car, as a reporter, commentator and tireless crusader for safety.
“As a colleague and friend, Dick has had no equal in the 40-plus years I’ve been in this business,” Joy said. “Whatever the event, Dick by far is the best-prepared pit reporter this business has ever known, and he always has brought a great degree of professionalism to every telecast he has worked.”
Not surprisingly, keying his microphone one final time at Dover will not be easy for Berggren. Anyone who knows the man in the trademark cap knows how bittersweet the moment will be.
“Life will be different without FOX,” admitted Berggren this week. “I’m very proud of having been part of the NASCAR on FOX broadcasts from the beginning. I’m dreading the 2013 Daytona 500 because I won’t be there on pit road as part of that team. It will be hard, but nothing is forever and I understand that. I’m looking forward to walking into the museum on the day it opens. That’s a whole new challenge and one I fully expect to conquer. But it’s time to move on.
“I’m ready,” he said. “However, it would be nice to pick up a few TV things here and there. I’d really like that.”
As would his NASCAR colleagues and fans the world over.
Photo Credits: KristaVoda.net, TheChromeHorn.com

Circle Sport LLC Tabs Leicht For Cup Effort

Circle Sport, LLC, has announced that 2012 Rookie-of-the-Year Contender Stephen Leicht will drive the No. 33 Circle Sport Chevrolet this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the debut effort for the Sprint Cup Series organization. Joe Falk recently acquired the No. 33 from Richard Childress Racing, and formed Circle Sport to operate the fledging organization. Falk, a Virginia businessman who has been a part of the sport since the late 1990s, is making a return to fulltime competition in NASCAR’s top series. Falk previously fielded the No. 91 Sprint Cup entry for drivers Dick Trickle, Greg Sacks, Kevin Lepage, Mike Wallace and Todd Bodine, and claimed a career-best Top-5 finish in 1998 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stephen Leicht returns...
“When the opportunity was presented to acquire the No. 33 owner points from Richard Childress Racing, we felt this was the way to build a solid foundation for our emerging Sprint Cup operation,” Falk said. “Circle Sport is positioned to offer companies of all sizes entry into NASCAR’s top tier of racing and the ability to reach the sport’s 75 million fans. We are actively seeking marketing partners that want to either test the waters of NASCAR or have been told that their budgets can’t support a NASCAR program.”

Leicht, the 25-year old former development driver for Robert Yates Racing and winner of the 2007 Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway has been selected to pilot the No. 33 Circle Sport entry in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. Leicht enters the weekend event with three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts to his credit, after making his debut for legendary owner and engine builder Robert Yates in 2006. Leicht was recently approved for the NASCAR ROTY program and will be guided by veteran crew chief Tony Glover. Glover is a three-time Daytona 500 championship crew chief credited with 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories with drivers Ernie Irvan, Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek, and joins Circle Sport after a longtime leadership role with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.

Falk’s Little Joe’s Autos has served as a sponsor in the races leading up to the Coca-Cola 600 with Precon Marine, a Virginia-based company that specializes in heavy marine constructions, in an associate role. Additionally, Circle Sport welcomes marketing partners new to the sport of NASCAR – HotTorque.com and Moon Shine Attitude Attire – for this weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. HotTorque, a social media forum and phone APP for car enthusiasts, was designed to help connect, communicate and share with automotive enthusiasts worldwide and will become the world’s first social media app for motoring enthusiasts to become a sponsor in NASCAR. Moon Shine Attitude Attire is a designer of quality brand name apparel that conveys the attitude and traditional values of every generation.

Complete details of the sponsor-driver lineup for the remainder of the season will be announced at a later date.

Front Row Sweep Rejuvenates Petty, Team


Richard Petty was, as he himself might say, one happy cat Thursday night after sweeping the front row in qualifying for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Richard Petty Motorsports drivers Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose qualified first and second for the 43-car starting field, with Almirola topping the speed charts with a lap at 192.940 mph.
Almirola copped the Coke 600 pole
After the sweep, Petty said that while he has put cars on the 600 pole in the past, Thursday’s performance was especially gratifying.
“I think I sat on the pole in 1961 because they ran 100-mile races and I won one of them,” he recalled. “It wasn’t speed, it was just that we won the race.
The 200-time NASCAR Cup Series winner said Almirola’s pole was a direct result of the effort expended by the No, 43 team and new crew chief Mike Ford. “There’s nobody that works any harder than our crowd,” he said. “It really makes me feel good that our guys have been working hard for a long time and finally got a little bit of recognition. Everything came together tonight with both cars and… it shows that what these guys have been doing has been right. We just haven’t had circumstances right.”
Petty called the front-row sweep “a confidence-builder (and) a big deal. We’ve got bragging rights for a couple of days here, so that makes all of us feel good.”
RPM competition Director Sammy Johns echoed those sentiments, saying, “The last time I saw (Richard) this giddy, I think, was in Victory Lane at Sonoma. It means a lot. It’s a pleasure to work for Richard Petty. He lets us do our job and like he tells us all the time, it’s our race team. It’s up to us to go out and get it done. So it means a lot to sit here next to Richard Petty and know we’re sitting on the front row for the Coca-Cola 600.”
Petty was all smiles Thursday
Almirola called his fast lap, “really awesome. To get my first pole right here in Charlotte, I get to drive home and sleep in my own bed tonight. That’s really cool.” He also lauded Ford’s efforts, saying this is the first weekend he has been able to put his mark on the team’s cars. “He came on at Talladega and we ran Darlington with what already was in the car,” said Almirola. “(When) we came here for the All-Star Race last weekend, he’s like, ‘I’m gonna step off the island this week. It may or may not work, but we didn’t run good enough last week for it to matter.’ We struggled last week, so we came (back) with something totally different and it’s paid off. We’ve got a really fast car.”
Ambrose, meanwhile, said the team’s front-row qualifying effort was an indication of better things to come.
We’re a two-car independent team trying to take it to the big super teams. It’s just a great night for us (and)… our team really has it together. It’s a proud day for us and we’re looking forward to more things to come in the 600.
“Nothing would make me happier than to see the King smile in Victory Lane,” said Ambrose. “And that’s our goal. I’m proud to represent him and even prouder to run well for him, so it’s an honor to be a driver for him. He should feel good about what we did today, because a year and a half ago he singlehandedly saved this team and kept it alive. He’s still steering the ship for us and he’s here at the track.”
Ambrose did admit disappointment in not claiming the pole himself, joking, “Aric might be missing a toe by Sunday. I might have to stomp him on the foot because he pretty much took my first pole away from me. He got his out of the way and I’m still looking for mine, but it won’t be far away with the way we’re running right now.”
Petty said it doesn’t matter which RPM car succeeds, as long as the team performs well.
“I’m not pushing the 43 more than I’m pushing the 9 car; or even when we used to run the 44 (and) the 45 car. It didn’t make any difference as long as we were involved in some way, shape or form. It’s sort of like a Hendrick deal. If any of his cars win, he’s a winner and that’s the way I always looked at it.”

Photo Credits: Getty Images/NASCAR, SI.com