Motorsports

July 30, 2007

LAST NIGHT OF DRAG RACING AT LOS ANGELES COUNTY RACEWAY --- JULY 28, 2007

Dsc04950_15We were there. And so were a police-estimated 15,000-or-so other drag racing aficionados, all of whom showed-up in their racing-best in Palmdale, CA on a hot, hot summer night to celebrate --- and say goodbye --- to Los Angeles County Raceway. The track first opened in 1964 for testing and resurfacing, and opened to the public as an NHRA-sanctioned 1,320 foot-long drag strip in 1965. NHRA's premier showcase track, at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, is much closer to downtown LA and the surrounding population centers. Though some always say Pomona may also fade into the past sometime soon, well, they've been saying that for 50 years, since the place opened. But with NHRA's new ownership, who knows for sure?

But literally tens of thousands of new residents are moving into the the "Upper Desert" every year now, a place where spanking-new cookie-cutter housing developments still compete with dune buggies, MX bikes and tumbleweeds for what's left of the "wide-open spaces" ... And the houses are winning the battle. And a lot of those new folks are already or will be drag racers. Where will these enthusiasts find their vehicles' nether reaches? Unfortunately, any number of them will probably (and typically, if history is any guide) find the streets in their new home area, which are for the most part brand-new, long, wide and smooth, perfect for competition.

The dry lake bed of El Mirage, a smaller version of the Bonneville Salt Flats, is within an easy 1/2 hour drive of Palmdale. You've seen it in any number of TV commercials, feature movies and TV shows. People who have been running at Palmdale's LACR for years will hear the Salt calling to them, too.

The streets and the Salt are both more dangerous than any organized race track. And Palmdale has lost its track.

THE CROWDS GATHERED EARLY FOR A LONG NIGHT OF RACING
Some came in their street-legal cars, trucks and motorcycles --- Others were trailering the loves-of-their-lives, still others appeared ready for the NHRA Pro ranks, with $100,000 transporters, some carrying jet-powered cars which can clear the 1/4 mile in somewhere around 3.5 seconds --- But NHRA limits these screaming meemies to around 5 seconds and just under 300mph, or thereabouts. Others showed up with their Pro-level TFDs (Top Fuel dragsters), the world's fastest piston-powered vehicles, which can accelerate from 0 to over 320 miles per hour in well under 5 seconds. The local police attended, too; but most of them seemed to be there as competitors, not enforcers.

When the track was built, the entire area surrounding it was owned by a gravel company. But Palmdale was small and growth was slow. And not much gravel was needed. That all changed in the 1990s, when slow-growth became quick-growth throughout the area. Today the track's surrounding land being mined, owned by Granite Corporation, is running out of gravel. So the company needs to tear-up the track and its parking lots and starting mining gravel. So, for the sake of gravel and suburban growth, a race track dies.

BERNIE AND BIG WILLIE TALK TO THE MEDIA
Bernie Longjohn, who has operated the race track since 1980, is moving on -- All the way to Alabama Splongjohn2 where new friends and, mostly, a new race track are calling to him. He told us it is hard giving up all his So Cal-area friends and relatives and racers, but with the track closing, he has no other choice but to find a new track to run. And right now, for Bernie, Birmingham, AL seems to be the place to go. (Photo - 'CAR NUT' Steve Parker interviews LA County Raceway track operator Bernie Longjohn for 'CAR NUT TV' and this website).

Big Willie Robinson, "King of the Street Racers", spent much of the evening greeting old friends and announcing on the microphone, calling the events in his inimitable, deep, knowledgeable, friendly and folksy style. According to Willie, heads-up racers bet hamburgers, not money or pink slips, between them, and when the cars take a break from the track for one reason or another, he encourages parents to take their little kids down to the start line and have a foot race. Plus, with the recent death of his wife, Tomiko, everyone was thrilled to see Willie out-and-about at a race track with his fellow Street Racers. Everyone knew it wasn't easy for him, but as the night went on, more and more Willie became the Big Willie everyone has known and respected for so many years.

Aut_1621 Safe, friendly and fun. That's how Willie runs (and announces) his races, and he hopes to someday soon be running races again at Terminal Island in the Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor area, or perhaps even in Palmdale itself, where the same commission which manages Los Angeles and Ontario International Airports has several thousand acres where a futuristic Palmdale International Airport may someday be built --- Complete with high-speed rail conections to the greater Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego areas. That's just a dream at this point, but the land lies fallow with nothing on it, and people have proven for over 50 years they'll drive from all over So Cal to the Upper Desert where Palmdale is located ... So, why not build a track in the meantime? (Photo --- 'CAR NUT' Steve Parker and Big Willie attempt to see eye-to-eye).

Every time we turned around, someone was pitching a race track idea to us. Some say a track near Beaumont, CA might actually become a reality. But after years of waiting, a lot of people aren't very positive about that effort. Some push another Palmdale location. Others say they'd be happy with Brotherhood Raceway re-opening somewhere in the LA/Long Beach harbor.

ANOTHER SAFE, LEGAL PLACE TO RACE BITES THE HIGH DESERT DUST OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
But the reality is: Southern California  lost yet another 1/4 mile drag racing track where young and old, rich and poor, amateur and pro (a few racers were vying for their NHRA competition license) but especially black, brown, white, red, yellow and every combination --- which is what makes southern California what it is ---  were there with no ill feelings, no animosity, no fights. Anyone looking for some "real street action" would be sadly disappointed. Hardened and tough characters who look like veterans of the Heartbreak Hotel are playing with their infant grandchildren before getting into their race cars.

Dsc04965 LA County Raceway was truly one of "the" places in So Cal where people could "Run Watcha Brung," in every sense of the phrase. (Photo --- A turbocharged Buick Grand National with racing slicks on the trailer, readying for LACR's last night of racing).

Dodge Ram truck against Suzuki Hayabusa? Bring 'em on! A Honda 2005 Civic which turns the 1/4 mile in under 7 seconds with a little help from the factory ... versus ... a classic and original T-bucket pumping out 600 horsepower with a blown V8, built by a husband and wife in their garage over the course of 20 years, and she's driving tonight? Get in line and suit up, drivers! A jet car which uses #2 "Sweet" Diesel as fuel, not A4 Jet Fuel ("Because it's a helluva lot cheaper!", one of the jet jockeys tells me) hits its afterburner and a wooden fence behind the long, sleek vehicle immediately bursts into flames (men are at the ready with fire extinguishers) ... And the night goes on and on. Live music from a Palmdale-level rock band only made the place feel more and more like Lions Drag Strip, Orange County International Raceway or even Pomona, before the "Circus" and the "Painted Elephants" (as some call the NHRA Pro classes) took over.

The fragrance of "Bernie Burgers" from the snack bar mixed with that of tire rubber is compelling, one which instantly puts real racers "in the mood". The blast of the live music along with the heart-stopping roar of some of the dragsters seems good training for the youngsters who want a future in racing (though most all the kids and many adults wisely sported ear plugs).

SAY GOODBYE
After taping interviews with the principals, shooting lots of still photos of the crowd, the cars and theDsc04988  colorful people, seeing a lot of old friends and even making some new ones, we hit the road back to the Low Desert and our Palm Springs-area home.

Going to a race track opening is one thing, attending its wake is another. We hope we get to go to one of the former soon.

(Photo --- What's a race track without Trophy Girls? Here are Miss Palmdale and Miss Junior Palmdale, ready to present an award and a kiss).

-30-

July 27, 2007

LOS ANGELES COUNTY RACEWAY CLOSING THIS WEEKEND!

Los Angeles County Raceway, located in Palmdale, CA, is closing after this weekend's activities. The final races are scheduled for Sunday, July 29th. But this Saturday night, July 28th, will be very special. BE THERE!!!Lacr_2

This means the loss of yet another legal and safe racing venue for auto enthusiasts in southern California.

Apparently, the gravel company which owns the land where the track sits, is running out of gravel and needs to tear up the track for more. So we lose a race track for the sake of some gravel ...

BIG WILLIE ROBINSON will be there to speak to the gathered "street racers" as part of the "Last Saturday Night Drags at LACR"; there will be LIVE music and many other celebrities from inside and outside the sport are expected to be there, too.

We'll be there, too, shooting video, stills and doing interviews for this website and our TV show, 'CAR NUT TV'.

For more information, click anywhere on this line to visit the LACR website.

LA COUNTY RACEWAY! THIS SATURDAY NIGHT! BE THERE!!!!

May 25, 2007

ULTIMATE RACE FAN GIFT --- "RACE FUMES IN A CAN"

Racefumes We get, probably, 15-20 "new product" press releases a day here at CAR NUT HQ. But rarely do we get one which instantly gets our rapt attention ... One crossed the transom today and we just have to share it with you. Now, we checked, so keep in mind this is NOT a joke, not a late "April Fool's" gag ... This is a completely serious new product ... I have removed the PR guy's contact info because, well, he's getting enough attention as it is ... He's a good guy and I can guarantee you he's already gotten a lot of negative e-mails about this ... Deservedly so? What do YOU think? Well, here goes:

Race Fumes Unveils Product At Lowe’s Motor Speedway With Fitz Motorsports

CONCORD, North Carolina (May 25, 2007) - - Officials from Race Fumes announced today the unveiling of their new exciting product, the real scent of race fumes dedicated to the millions of race fans nationwide.

To kick off their unveiling, Race Fumes has aligned with Fitz Motorsports and former NASCAR Busch Series Rookie-of-the-Year driver David Stremme to carry the Race Fumes logo on Stremme’s No. 22 Dodge Charger during Saturday night’s CARQUEST Auto Parts 300, the NASCAR Busch Series race held at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Race Fumes was developed in the heartland of Stock Car Racing by stock car fans for stock car fans in “Race City USA”, Mooresville, North Carolina located just twenty miles from Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

“Race fans can now experience the excitement of the scent from the convenience of their own home making our product one of the most unique racing products available to the public,” said the President of Race Fumes.

He continued, “We are very excited to launch our product on one of the biggest NASCAR weekends of the season. David Stremme and the Fitz Motorsports team have a great program and have shown to be contender’s week in and week out. We are very honored to be apart of this weekend’s festivities and we’re all hoping for a thrilling performance Saturday night.”

Race Fumes is available in 16 ounce aerosol cans and makes a great addition to race day activities. For ordering information, please visit RaceFumes.com or call 704.859.4772

May 10, 2007

AS PROMISED: PEUGEOT'S 908 V12 HDi DPFS DIESEL ANSWERS AUDI'S LEMANS-WINNER

Peugeothdi2_2 We like sports car racing! There, we said it. These days, it is probably the closest thing in terms of excitement and technology to the old Trans-Am series, with the involvement of so many different engine-builders, race car fabricators and great drivers. Of course, a main point of sports car racing is the endurance event, and in all of them, from Daytona to Le Mans to Sebring and a lot of places in-between, your car not only must negotiate some of the toughest (and fastest) road courses in the world, but with the shortest races being three hours in length and the longer a full twenty four, those potential car-buyers looking for their next garage inhabitant gets a lot of useful information from the results of these world-renowned events. But only if the car company markets a victory correctly. For example, Mazda won the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1991 and failed to tell the world about it ... something we understand they are going to rectify, and soon, but we don't see how they'll benefit from it. Time will tell. Audi last year made world headlines, not only in the racing world, but in the production car newspapers and magazines as well, with their V12 turbo-diesel-powered R10 cars winning Sebring, LeMans, Utah, etc. Now, just in time for LeMans (coming up in June, as always), Peugeot fires back with their own diesel-powered endurance race car, the 908HDi. Some of the European manufacturers have decided (and wisely so ... Where are the US car-makers willing to make that same gutsy statement?) that one way to get Americans thinking positively about diesel engines is to put them in some of their race cars before they sell them in the USA. Later this year, people just like you and I will be able to buy a street version of the Audi R10 diesel engine in that company's Q7 SUV, already one of the best-looking sport/utes on the road, now to be outfitted with a engine which can run over 1,000,000 miles with regular maintenance, and get around 30 or more miles per gallon while doing it.

The news was very good for Peugeot after their first two races: "Peugeot's new 908 HDi is now 2-for-2 in the LeMans Endurance Series after a dominant win at Valencia in Spain. The diesel-powered Peugeots started to overtake the slowest cars in the 45 car field only four laps into the race. It wasn't all smooth sailing for the French cars ,as the leader had a clutch fail after 160 laps. Still, after six hours of racing, the second 908 crossed the finish line three laps ahead of the next car. It should be a great race next month (LeMans in June) between the open-cockpit Audi R10s and these closed Peugeots."

So far so good for Peugeot.

Here's what some said about the Audi R10 engine when it first was introduced: "The technical task thatAudir10racephoto  Audi has undertaken should not be underestimated and it is such an endeavor that only a well honed (and well funded) manufacturer can tackle.  But Audi's design methodology is such that it is counter intuitive to a successful program. The English/Italian paradigm for chassis manufacturing typically has design, engineering, and manufacturing all under one roof with the usual utilization of out side suppliers as needed.  Audi Sport does things a little differently starting with the fact that they do not have any chassis manufacturing capability in and of themselves.  All design work for the R10 is done at Audi Sport though Audi routinely subcontracts some design and drafting duties to an in-house consultancy called BTZ.  The R10's aerodynamics were first developed at Audi Sport in CFD, fleshed out in Fondmetal's scale wind tunnel in Italy, and then finally fine-tuned in full scale at the Audi Wind Tunnel Centre back in Germany.  Italian race car manufacturer Dallara builds the R10’s monocoques and additional suppliers located throughout Europe provide everything from related ECU components to bodywork, granted all of which has been designed to Audi Sport specification and from Audi Sport CAD/CAM files.  The car is then assembled at Ingolstadt."

In the meantime, Peugeot, in 2005 at the Paris Auto Show, announced their intention to take-on Audi thusly: "The Peugeot 908 V12 HDi DPFS - On 14 June 2005, Peugeot announced its decision to accept a new technological challenge: to win one of the world's most prestigious and demanding motor races, the Le Mans 24 Hours, with a car powered by an HDi diesel engine equipped with a diesel particulate filter system (DPFS). The car that will display the Peugeot colours in the Le Mans 24 Hours race and in the "Le Mans Series" in 2007 will be the Peugeot 908. The choice of number comes from, "90" designating an exceptional Peugeot model and 8 the next number in sequence after the 907 concept car. The choice of body style is that of a closed car, in line with changes to the regulations announced by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest on 16 June 2006. Equally there was also a desire to keep a link with the two-times winner of the Le Mans 24  Hours in 1992 and 1993, the Peugeot 905. While from a technical point of view this solution presents a number of drawbacks (weight, height of the centre of gravity, operational problems), the Peugeot Sport team felt that it also offers advantages, particularly in terms of chassis rigidity and aerodynamics."

Peugeot908hdi_2 As for the Peugeot diesel engine (at 5.5L the same as the Audi's): "The chosen engine architecture is a 100° V12 with a capacity of 5.5 litres. This is the maximum capacity permitted by the regulations and was chosen due to its greater internal airflow at low engine speeds. It also gives potential future development opportunities to use different grade fuels. The choice of a twelve cylinder engine helps keep the cylinder bore diameter very close to that of a production series engine. In doing so, Peugeot can call on its extensive knowledge of diesel combustion and also ensure the engine has a reasonable piston stroke. The V12 architecture, well known for its good balance, also reduces vibrations to a minimum. The 100° V angle, like the V12 architecture, makes it possible to lower the height of the centre of gravity without affecting the engine's torsional rigidity. Two diesel particulate filters are located at the end of each exhaust system and guarantee "smoke-free" operation of the engine under all conditions. The two exhaust systems are as short as possible. On each side a 6 into 1 exhaust manifold is connected to a Garrett turbocharger, then to a very compact diesel particulate filter before ending in a side exhaust pipe, located in front of the rear wheel. The expected level of performance – a power of more than 515 kW (700 bhp) and a torque in excess of 1200 Nm, which is unprecedented for a diesel engine – is a direct result of Peugeot's diesel engine expertise, combined with the mechanical specification of the V12 engine."

Isn't all that Euro-style spelling oh-so-precious? In any event, the big news is that two major European carPeugeotlogo   companies planning on selling diesel engines in their vehicles in the USA (Audi sooner than Peugeot), are pitting themselves against each other and any other comers on the toughest race track in the world, LeSarthe at LeMans. For 24 Hours.

May 09, 2007

CHINESE MANUFACTURING GIANT NOW A NASCAR TEAM SPONSOR

For those of you who thought Toyota entering NASCAR was somehow 'un-American" (and Chinese_worker there are still a lot of you out there), try this on for size: Haier America, a division of the Chinese-owned Haier Group, has joined the Ginn Racing team of sponsors. That's right, Bobby Ginn, that slow-talkin' good ol' boy from Florida who owns more real estate than god, according to some people, and also owns the NASCAR Chevrolet team which is letting Mark Martin come as close as he has in 20 years to the NASCAR Cup title, has thrown-in with a gigantic Chinese company, whose US manufacturing facility is ... get this ... less than 20 miles from Darlington Raceway (as if that would make them, in some people's eyes, more American). (Photo - Workers on an automotive assembly line in China).

Here's the complete press release from NASCAR:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Haier America, a division of the Chinese-owned Haier Group, has joined the Ginn Racing team of sponsors. A manufacturer of home appliances and consumer electronics, Haier will sponsor Joe Nemechek's Ginn Racing entry in Saturday night's Nextel Cup race in Darlington.

The Haier Group, ranked by Forbes magazine as the most reputable company in China and 25th overall inJoenemechekcar  the world, was founded in 1984 in Qingdao, China. The company's products are manufactured in 16 countries, including the United States. Haier's U.S. manufacturing plant is located in Camden, S.C., approximately 30 miles from Darlington Raceway.

"We're proud to start our NASCAR sponsorship at Darlington Raceway, which is near our operations and manufacturing headquarters in Camden," said Dave Parks, chief operating officer of Haier America. "We believe the NASCAR fan is also a Haier customer. This is a great opportunity to further enhance our branding by being affiliated with Ginn Racing team and driver Joe Nemechek." (Photo - Joe Nemechek's race car).

Jay Frye, CEO and general manager of Ginn Racing, said of the new partnership, "Each year NASCAR is becoming more of a global sport and we are very proud to have formed a partnership with a leading international company such as Haier. This is Haier's first venture in motorsports and we are honored that this prestigious international company is teaming with Ginn Racing."

By the way, here's a press release from the HAIER GROUP website, posted April 21 (the artwork is the Haier Group logo next to the Beijing Olympics logo --- Haier is a major sponsor!):

Haierolympiclogo "Li Ziquan---an employee in Washing Machine Division has got the first place in the National Screw-Fastening Competition, and the nomination prize in the National Model Worker of 2007

On April 21, 2007, in the selection activity of Model Worker of 2007 held by the Education Bureau of Propaganda Department of Central Committee, National Trade Union and CCTV in combination, Li Ziquan, who is an employee in the Washing Machine Division of Haier group in Qingdao finally got the first place in the National Screw-Fastening Competition and the nomination prize in the "National Model Worker of 2007"  with his excellent screw fastening skill. On the big platform of CCTV, Li Ziquan showed his skill to the audience of the whole country, and won honor to both himself and the group."

"National model worker"? "Education Bureau of Propaganda Department of Central Committee"? "National Screw-fastening Competition"?

Steve here: Oh, yeah ... Things have REALLY changed in China! And all his comrades must be so proud of his screwing efforts!

Wow! Is hell freezing over or what? The truth is that for years there have been plenty of foreign-ownedChinesemgtf1  companies participating in NASCAR in all levels of sponsorship, supplying parts to teams, etc. In fact, isn't there a company called DODGE which has some race vehicles in the Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck series? And isn't that company owned by a German outfit called Daimler (even if they are currently for sale to the highest bidder, no matter the country of origin of the money the buyer will pay for the company and Jeep and parent Chrysler). (Photo - Chinese-made, Native American-assembled MG TF).

Anyone pretending NASCAR is some sort of "All-American" sport is way behind the times, living in a fantasy world (which NASCAR doesn't mind at all). As far as NASCAR is concerned, better that many of the sport's fans labor under the delusion that there is something heavenly and special about both NASCAR and the USA, and that the two are involved in some sort of Holy Duality, rather than complaining about NASCAR being taken over by "them damn ferners".

So the rush is on. NASCAR now has significant investment from both Japanese and Chinese industrial powerhouses, two of the biggest manufacturing companies in the world, in fact. Mark our words: NASCAR is going to become more and more "international" as time goes on, with NASCAR-style series established throughout the world, using racing versions of cars particular to local markets. There might be some sort of "World Series" of NASCAR play-offs between national champions at the end of the year, involving a series of races on both road course and oval race tracks. It'll all be similar, but on an international scale, to the inter-US-city TRAC series which some former NASCAR champs and promoters tried to start a few years ago (but which died when TRAC was unable to attract any existing NASCAR sponsors to their efforts. Wonder why?) (Photo - Logo of recent Shanghai Auto Show).

Chineseshanghaiautoshowlogo In a story posted earlier on this BLOG, we recounted the recent travel of NASCAR officials to "mainland" (what we used to call "Red") China, supposedly just to check-out international conditions in racing and new tracks in that country. In time, we'll see Chevy, Mercedes, Toyota, Chery (China), Proton (Indonesia) and Volkswagen and more all on NASCAR tracks --- at the same time --- vying for worldwide driver and manufacturer titles (just like F1!).

May 05, 2007

'GUMBALL' CANCELLED; IDIOTIC "LEGAL" STREET RACING MUST BE STOPPED

Yet another idiotic "open road race", this one called the "Gumball 3000", has been canceled following twoGumball_crash  deaths and the arrests of two participants for leaving the scene of an accident involving a death. The folks at JALOPNIK.COM have been right on top of this one, reporting from the overseas (eastern European) scene, and our thanks to them for covering this so-called "motorsports event", finally, in the proper, journalistic way, after engaging in a little too much "cheerleading" for the event before things turned ugly. And with these events, it is only inevitable that things do turn ugly, indeed. (Photo - What was left after the Porsche ran into an elderly couple's car in Macedonia during the running of the "Gumball 3000"; the Porsche drivers left the scene, apparently picked-up and taken from the wreckage by a fellow competitor in a BMW).

Here's some of what JALOPNIK.COM has to say:

"We've been covering the Gumball 3000 up to this point with good cheer, and we'd hoped it would stay that way. Unfortunately, sometimes when you mix high-powered vehicles with the double dose of stupid -- adrenalin and lack of sleep -- bad things can happen. Like what appears to have happened with Nick Morley and Matthew McConville who, according to a report from Metro.co.uk, "...have been arrested in Macedonia after an alleged hit and run incident which left one man dead and his wife fighting for her life.

The 67-year-old died on his way to hospital and his wife was in a critical condition after a Porsche taking part in the super car race crossed the road at speed and plowed into their VW Golf......The drivers of the Porsche 911 Turbo Techart which Macedonian TV station A1 named as Nick Morley and Matthew McConville, allegedly got out of their crashed car and ran off. The station said they later climbed into another car, a BMW, and tried to leave the country. But eye witnesses alerted police and the pair were arrested at the border.

(Later JALOPNIK reported the following):

The international rally, Gumball 3000, claimed the second victim today - Margarita Chepunjoska, the wife of Vladimir, who died two days ago, has passed away today in the Skopje Clinic Center. Margarita was severely injured in the accident that took place on Wednesday, when a participant of the rally crashed his Porsche into the car driven by her husband." Thanks to the JALOPNIK folks for their great on-scene coverage, though their initial reportage was full of positive bombast aimed at the promoters and participants.
Gumballpoliceteam_2 

These fellows were  "Team Polizei" during the Gumball 3000. Apparently they are real police officers who entered the event for fun, and to help with various controls over the cars. During a morning "racer's briefing" in a hotel auditorium following the first death and the accident involving the Gumball team in a Porsche, the promoters warned racers not to believe "wild rumors", and at that point the police challenged the promoter as to the facts of the accident and fatality.

Here's what the GUMBALL officials had to say, after the police spoke to them and the "racers":

"A Statement from Maximillion Cooper

Issued by Maximillion Cooper on behalf of The Gumball 3000 Rally - 21.30 / 03 May 2007

Following our earlier release reporting yesterday's accident - As a sign of respect we have decided that this year's Gumball 3000 Rally will not travel any further and will end in Bratislava this evening, May 3rd 2007.

As the organisers of the rally we feel that it should be stopped as a mark of respect to Vladimir Cepulyoski who died today after an accident involving one the participating drivers.

We are very saddened by what has happened and feel that it would be wrong to continue. On behalf of Gumball 3000, we once again extend our deepest sympathies to his family and we are doing everything we can for them.

This is the first time anything like this has happened in 9 years of travelling through over 40 countries with 1000's of drivers and it is with deep regret that I make this announcement.

Maximillion Cooper
Founder & CEO
The Gumball 3000 Group"

What we say is: These kinds of events should never be allowed. The only race/rallies allowed on public roads should be those run by professionals in the sport, with the roads closed by the police responsible for them, and all the drivers being certified, license-carrying trained racing drivers. Even the Great Race, a cross-country classic car event held annually in the US (and in which I have participated three times), uses professional rally drivers such as John Buffum to organize the route and plan the 14-day event. It's a major undertaking which marshalls tremendous resources to make sure things run correctly, keep "timed" sections of the event short and away from any interstate highways, and do their best to control speeds of the participants. Anyone found exceeding the local limits is expelled from the race (and with a $15,000 or so entry fee, that can hurt!).

What cinched the ending of the GUMBALL was the death of the woman who suffered the heart attack, allowing the promoters to chalk up two dead bodies on account of their oh-so-important event, aimed at really wealthy people with a ton of money to enter the race, and little of any checks into these entrants' driving abilities, history, etc. Apparently one death and the arrest of participants connected with the accident wasn't enough for them to cancel the event, it took two deaths.

Here's my experience with these events; Indeed, I was one of the organizers of what some call the "granddaddy" of all these "open road races":

I did the media relations for the very first "SILVER STATE CHALLENGE" rally, wherein a Las Vegas-based Silverstate1_2 promoter named Phil Henry somehow got the Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) to shut down about a 50 mile stretch (if I remember right) of state highway in the Ely/Elko, NV area, about 125 miles north of Las Vegas. This was about 20-25 years back. Beautiful, gorgeous area. And full-on whore houses are still legal in the area, and sponsored some of the cars entered!

To make a long story short, I was quite successful in bringing a good number of auto journos to the event and placed the then-editor of HOT ROD MAGAZINE in the passenger seat of a bright red Camaro, at his request. The idea, of course, was to let the participants pay a hefty entry fee and then drive their cars as fast as they liked on this 50-mile stretch, with cars being released onto the course about every two minutes.

Speeds reached 180 mph ... A Camaro entered by a fellow who was the son of publisher Robert Petersen's attorney, Robert Gottlieb was his name, won the event. Again, if memory serves me right, which it usually does (please let me know if I am wrong and you know it!). Anyway, at the start line, a dirt strip off to the side of the "race road", with the event in progress, we got a report from the NHP that there had been a horrific one-car crash and there was a fatality, about 15 miles from the starting area. DOA on the passenger. They couldn't ID the car other than to tell us it was red, so I naturally through it was my buddy, the HOT ROD editor whom I'd put in the RED Camaro. I decided then and there to never work that kind of event again!

Silverstate2 And, to editorialize against them whenever I had the chance (like now). We eventually found out that the crashed car was a Ferrari, the driver was a dentist from LA and the DOA passenger had been his wife. Terrible enough!!! My HOT ROD MAG friend was ok, and when I next saw him, later that same day, he didn't even know of the accident which happened somewhere behind me. When I told him, he freaked out, as you might imagine (and which was something we did in the '80s).

These races and rallies on public roads are outrageous. We all pay the same gas and road taxes ... Why should anyone in the USA be allowed to use the roadways we ALL pay for for their private and absolutely deadly and dangerous purposes? STOP the GUMBALL, STOP the DAKAR until it is fixed so the whole thing takes place AWAY from populated areas (heck, even Pope John Paul II wanted this one ended; not known if Benedict XVI is a race fan), STOP the SILVER STATE, STOP, STOP, STOP THEM ALL ... As far as what they do in other countries, all we can say is: Learn from all these mistakes and do not allow these events within your borders!

This is why we have RACE TRACKS, folks! And RACING SCHOOLS, too! Now, PROFESSIONAL racing events, like FIA WORLD RALLY, are different ... Have a different opinion? Click on COMMENT and we'll post it here!

April 28, 2007

"SPEEDCAR SERIES" BRINGING NASCAR TO ASIA? OTHERS HAVE TRIED AND BEEN SHUT-DOWN - REMEMBER 'TRAC'?

NASCAR officials recently visited China. Now, we're not sure if theyNascar1  went to the world's last large Communist-run country to check-out the local dirt tracks in the Chinese hinterlands on Saturday nights, or, considering the way NASCAR shut-down Tony Stewart after his verbal attack on the sport last week, to pick-up some tips on "controlling the message" (though China, Cuba, et al could probably learn a thing or two from NASCAR when it comes to keeping their people "in line"). Last time NASCAR officials ventured into Asia, we saw a bunch of exhibition races held in Japan. With Champ Car and the Indy Racing League making noise about wanting to grow their series into international shows, it's only natural that NASCAR, with points-paying races in the USA and Mexico, would want to look to what used to be known as the "Far East". It might also be all about another race: That one between NASCAR and Formula One Czar Bernie Ecclestone to see who can own NASCAR-style racing in Europe and Asia.Speedcar

Chinese_worker4 One interesting all-new series being promoted for Asian tracks is the Speedcar Series, a competition that will pit 24 identical 600bhp cars against each other on tracks across Asia and the Middle East. None other than old-time F1 driver Jean Alesi is involved in putting the series together. And Williams F1’s test driver Narain Karthikeyan has announced that he will take part in Speedcar, too. Karthikeyan is the first Asian driver to be announced as a competitor in the series. (Photo - Chinese fans enter Speedcar track; Speedcar in action during testing at VIR).

A host of other former F1 drivers, including Johnny Herbert, Stefan Johansson, and Gianni Morbidelli, were on hand to test three of the new Speedcar Series cars at the Virginia International Raceway, earlier this month. And, the first testing day of the brand new Speedcar Series was hailed a success by drivers and engineers. Former Formula One drivers Jean Alesi, Johnny Herbert, Stefan Johansson, and Gianni Morbidelli, were joined by American stock car racers Mike Bliss and Tony Avy, to test three of the championship's 600bhp cars at the Virginia International Raceway, USA, on Monday (March 5th), completing over 90 laps in total. The first season begins this coming November.

The planned 18 race series will run over 9 weekends across Asia. The specially-built cars will feature aSpeedcar2  tubular fiberglass chassis and power from 600-hp engines built in Charlotte, North Carolina. The inaugural season of the Speedcar Series, which is backed by F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, kicks off in November and runs through April 2008. (Photo - Drivers Morbidelli, Herbert and Alessi pose with the Speedcar series cars they tested at VIR on March 5th, 2007).

Is Bernie looking to sponsor his own version of NASCAR outside the USA? And is the recent NASCAR officials' trip to China part of a plan to try and cut-off Ecclestone at the knees, and gain tracks for "real" NASCAR events with the same drivers so well-known in the USA? We'll have to wait and see, but if NASCAR's power, seen in the past to be able to shut-down any and all NASCAR imitators and potential competitors, is any indication, Ecclestone and his FIA sanctioning body (which includes F1, World Rally, the Dakar Rally, F3000 and more) will have their work cut out for them.

Remember this information, first announced in early 2003? "While the founders of the Team Racing Auto Circuit, or TRAC, plan to position the series as a "complementary" series to NASCAR's Winston Cup circuit, a certain degree of rivalry seems inevitable. The new circuit hopes to attract national television exposure and plans to race on at least some of the same tracks at which the Winston Cup cars compete."

Traclogo And here's the announcement from the TRAC people in August, 2003: "Team Sports Entertainment [TRAC] announced today, effective immediately, it has discontinued its efforts to develop, own, operate and sanction an automotive racing league. As previously discussed, the Company's business plan provided that its ability to continue to pursue the creation of a racing league and begin racing in May 2004 would depend upon its successfully selling operating rights for six teams and sufficient league sponsorship packages by September 30, 2003. Following extensive and ongoing discussions between management and the Company's various consultants, the Company's Board of Directors has concluded that such sales are not possible within the necessary time period."

And then, the inevitable: "Four shareholders have filed a lawsuit against former executives of Team Sports Entertainment Inc., which failed to create a stock-car racing league that would compete with NASCAR. That effort, Huntersville-based Team Racing Auto Circuit, was abandoned in August. Its first season was supposed to begin this spring. The suit alleges breach of contract, wrongful conversion of company monies, mismanagement, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud. Named in the suit are William Miller, former chief executive of Team Sports, and Jon Pritchett, former president."

So, whatever happened to TRAC? It had some big-time former NASCAR people, some impressive moneyNascarlogo  and  TV network interest behind it. What it also had was a theme way too close to NASCAR for the people in Daytona Beach to allow it to exist. TRAC was quickly no more. Keep your eyes on the Speedcar Series; it might disappear as quickly as it takes Ecclestone and NASCAR officials to come to some sort of "agreement" in sanctioning and promoting NASCAR-style racing in the world's Eastern Hemisphere.

April 25, 2007

TOYOTA EMPLOYEES GET JAIL FOR RACING SECRETS THEFT!

Toyotaf1logo Boy, are they strict in Europe when it comes to auto industry espionage! Maybe NASCAR could take a lesson from this one: F1's long running Toyota espionage saga has ended with the two former Ferrari employees handed jail sentences. Mauro Iacconi and Angelo Santini have been found guilty in a Modena court of stealing design information from Ferrari before switching to Toyota in 2002, according to Italian newspapers on Tuesday. Their combined 25-month sentences were suspended, but both will reportedly appeal. The story first came to attention in 2003, when Toyota was accused of producing a car that was visibly very similar to the ultra-successful 2002 Ferrari single seater. The two were fired, and Toyota officials including boss Ove Andersson, designer Gustav Brunner and aerodynamics chief Rene Hilhorst were all also implicated. All five no longer work for Toyota.

Toyota consistently denied that the stolen information had been used for the TF103 design. Which Toyotaf1 probably has more truth to it then we realize, because Toyota's F1 effort has been one of the worst on record for a major manufacturer. Perhaps Ferrari knew these men were planning on taking some secrets with them to Toyota, and fed them false information. Certainly whatever information the spies gave to Toyota hasn't helped the Toyota F1 cars go any faster ... Or maybe it did actually help, and the cars would have simply been that much worse (read: slower) without whatever "inside and stolen info" the Italian spies managed to sneak into the night.

Certainly many people are disappointed in Toyota's F1 effort. Honda had set an early and fairly successful entry as the first Japanese entry into Formula One racing, way back in 1965 with American Richie Ginther as their driver.

Richieginther Paul Richard "Richie" Ginther (photo, in Honda race car), born in Los Angeles, California in 1930 he grew up racing hot-rods. He became the friend of another Southern-Californian named Phil Hill. After a brief stint in the military during the Korean War Ginther joined Hill in driving a private Ferrari in the grueling Carrera Panamericana in 1953 and 1954. The later year saw them finish an impressive second to the works Ferrari of Maglioli.

When Honda entered Grand Prix racing they signed Ginther as much for his racing ability as for what he could offer in the development of their car. In 1965 he rewarded Honda with their first World Championship victory at the Mexican Grand Prix.. The car he drove to victory had originally been meant for his teammate Ronnie Bucknum but was switched on race morning. This victory would prove to be the high point of his career.

Readers wanting to find out more about Ginther might want to view the 1966 John Frankenheimer-directedRichieginther1  film "GRAND PRIX", traditionally rated with "LeMans" (with Steve McQueen) as one of the two best motor racing movies ever produced (and why is it so hard, seemingly close-to-impossible, for people to make good racing movies?). The film starred James Garner, playing someone approximating the Richie Ginther role, and then-unknown-in-the-USA, Japan's Toshiuro Mifune, as the Shoichiro Honda-type owner of the Japanese company sponsoring Garner (named Izo Yamura). The love-fated French F1 driver depicted in the film was played by (who else?), Yves Montand.

Honda's Formula One race cars were the stuff of dreams a few seasons ago, with the amazing Ayrton Senna driving Honda-powered F1 cars earlier in his F1 career to establish himself as one of the greatest drivers of his generation (Senna's death in a Williams FW16 in 1994 at Imola remains one of F1's darkest days, comparable only to what the death of Dale Earnhardt meant to NASCAR and its fans). The engine was a Renault RS6 3.5 V10. Their main sponsor was Rothmans. In fact, Senna drive a Toyota-powered Formula 3 car in the 1983 Macau Grand Prix, a race which helped thrust him into greatness in the eyes of the sport's professionals. (Photo above - Richie Ginther after winning the first Grand Prix World Championship series race for a Japanese manufacturer).

Ginther, though, eventually tired of F1 politics (as many drivers do --- others used their status andJackiestewarttyrell  organized the drivers to form committees for their own safety, especially Sir Jackie Stewart, seen in the photo in his Tyrrell race car), and, together with frustrations brought about by his own sense of perfection, abruptly retired and moved to a house trailer in Baja, Mexico, a place with no phone or TV (or, seemingly, no F1 pressure) . In 1989 he was reunited with many of his former rivals at Donington (a UK track) for the 40th anniversary of BRM. Just days later he died of a heart attack at the age of 59.

Toyotaf1trulli1 Toyota, so far, and unfortunately, has no such romance or persoanl intrigue involved with their F1 efforts (save for their industrial spies!). (Photo - Toyota's Jarno Trulli). Entering the sport in 2002, when drivers were already PR-packaged pieces of perfection, trained to speak to the camera and for the most part devoid of discernible personality (someone say Kimi Raikonnen?), and with the cars and the money which goes into them reaching beyond astronomical or even any reasonable or excusable heights (Toyota is rumored to spend as much as $200 million annually --- and maybe more --- to support their two-car factory team -- And other firms may be spending even more), Formula One needs more drivers with the spirit and passion of their forebearers --- and not afraid to show it on and off the track.

Even if Toyota's lead drivers, Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, don't stand atop the winner's podium as often as some may like, it would add greatly to the sport (and to fans' appreciation of the Toyota F1 Team) if they would demonstrate the kind of personal excitement which F1 racing certainly must generate forToyotaf1schumacher  them. (Photo - Toyota's Ralf Schumacher).

Otherwise, just what the heck are they doing in this sport?

March 18, 2007

FORMULA 1 SEASON-OPENER --- NO F1 "DRIVE FOR DIVERSITY", YET THIRD-PLACE IS A BLACK MAN

When the checkered flag flew, first and second place were the Lewishamilton expected "usual suspects". Under the bright sunshine at Melbourne, Australia (didn't you really want to be there?) there were 'Ice Man 'Kimi Raikonnen winning in his new Ferrari ride, and defending World Champion Fernando Alonso, holder of two consecutive titles in a Renault, flashing by into second in his new ride, a McLaren-Mercedes. Third place was a young man finishing his first-ever F1 race, Lewis Hamilton (photo) of the UK. On the podium in his first-ever event! And, it was, as far as anyone could remember, the youngest top-three finishers in F1 history.

Lewis Hamilton drove with the precision and expertise of a much-older driver, but the entire crop of F1 rookies seems destined for history of some sort; it is that strong a group.

Yet in America, there is not one major automotive motorsports star of color. Everyone is thrilled with the motocross champion James "Bubba" Stewart and what he's accomplished for sponsor Kawasaki in the two-wheel world. Yet Stewart remains the only man of color of note in motorsports, since the days of Willy T. Ribbs and his many victories and tremendous drives for Toyota along with Chris Cord and other drivers on a sports car racing team managed and run by Dan Gurney in the 1980s, no one other than whites have captured the imagination of young potential racers.

Yet for years, NASCAR has been running something called their "Drive for Diversity". There is one blackBilllester_2   man in all of NASCAR's three professional series, and he is in the Sears Craftsman Truck series (Bill Lester, photo, with over $1.3 million in winnings in his 8-year long career), with an occasional ride in the Busch series and even Nextel Cup, when all the stars are aligned correctly.

Yet for all of NASCAR's protestations, here comes F1, the single most sophisticated, serious and expensive auto racing series in the world, and the first time a black man enters the F1 series professionally, he captures a podium finish with a third against, literally, the world's best.

Maybe NASCAR should start banning those stupid "rebel flags" at their tracks. Maybe the "welcome mat" just isn't out for anyone other than white Christians when it comes to driving in their sport.

Whatever the problems are (and there are many), NASCAR's "Drive for Diversity" was shown in one race by one young black man from Great Britain to be a joke; a lot of people, however, do not find it so funny.

"12 HOURS OF SEBRING" PRODUCES EXPECTED WINNER BUT ONE GREAT FINALE'

AuditditeamAnother win for Audi, the first for Acura and Andretti Green Racing, and the most exciting finish in race history, all in different classes, marked the now-traditional start of the 2007 American Le Mans Series (ALMS). Marco Werner, Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela (photo) drove to victory at the 55th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in one of the most thrilling editions of the Florida classic in its history. It marked the second straight Sebring win and ninth victory in as many races in the short life of the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI. Werner crossed the finish line after 363 laps for his third victory in five Sebring starts. Biela won for the fourth time in America's greatest sports car race (tied with Tom Kristensen), and Pirro won for the first time since 2000. And would you buy a V12 Audi diesel of your very own?

Acuralemanscar1_2 The class win for Andretti Green Racing came less than a year after Acura publicly announced its entry into the American Le Mans Series. Herta, Franchitti and Kanaan led overall three different times (photo) and finished two laps ahead of the Lowe's Fernandez Racing Lola of Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz and David Martinez. Robert Clarke, the now-legendary chieftain of Honda Performance Development, in Santa Clarita, CA (among a bunch of look-alike light industry buildings across the I-5 Freeway from Magic Mountain, of all places), said the engines in the Acuras (different chassis were used, including a Lola) were the first Honda racing engines developed completely in the USA, without input from the fabled Honda Technical Center in Tochigi, Japan. (I've been there ... they're building the future; it's home to "Asimo", the well-known Honda Robot). Corvettec6rfront

In GT1, Corvette Racing (photo - Compuware Corvette C6R) won its class for the fifth time in six years as Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis took a 17-second victory over their sister car in a race that saw the two Corvettes on the same lap the entire way. Beretta and Gavin won last year with Jan Magnussen, who teamed this year with Ron Fellows (photo below) and Johnny O'Connell. The race marked the last at Sebring for Corvette Racing pioneer Fellows. He, Magnussen and O'Connell competed in a special Arctic White C6.R as a tribute to Fellows. The two Corvettes finished comfortably ahead of Team Modena's Aston Martin DBR9.

Papis, always an emotional fellow, was overcome after the win, stating, while holding his young son in his arms, that it was his first victory since the death of his father this past December. Max is a great guy, and has definitely found his niche as a top-drawer sports car racer. He still holds the single lap record on the road course at Daytona, set several years ago in a Ferrari. He comes from a wealthy Italian family involved in what we call in New York the "shmata business" (clothing) and Max married well --- Into the Fittipaldi family, one of the wealthiest families in all of South America.

Ronfellows The race also marked the first try for a new production-based air conditioning unit in the Corvette C6.Rs. Like the car and team, the AC unit received a workout Saturday in preparation for Le Mans and came away a winner. Corvette Racing will use the unit at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and for the full American Le Mans Series season. What a tremendous boon for the closed race cars, especially!

The highlight of the day was the GT2 class battle and especially the finish. After 12 full hours of all-out racing, Risi Competizione's Jaime Melo beat Jorg Bergmeister of Flying Lizard Motorsports to the finish line by 0.20 seconds, the closest finish in Sebring's 55-year history and the closest finish ever in the American Le Mans Series' GT2 class.

Ferrariwinatlemans Melo, who drove with Mika Salo and Johnny Mowlem, led by five seconds with 11 minutes left but by the final lap Bergmeister was tucked right behind his rear bumper. The two cars crossed the start-finish line just before Werner took the checkered flag. So instead of a one-second victory, Melo had to hold off the young Porsche factory driver for another full circuit. (Winning Ferrari leads group in photo).

Bergmeister, partnering with Johannes van Overbeek and Marc Lieb, finally caught up with Melo entering Turn 16 and on to the long backstretch. He pulled alongside Melo and barely moved past him as the two headed into the final turn. They remained door-to-door and made contact as Melo edged across the line.

The battle between the Ferrari and Porsche lasted throughout the entire day. The Ferrari survived start from the rear of the grid, a late drama in pit lane with a 20-second penalty and a Turn 17 spin at sunset for the team's fifth win in the last seven events dating back to July of 2006 at Salt Lake City. Tafel Racing's Porsche of Wolf Henzler, Robin Liddell and Patrick Long finished third.

Drpanoz_2 After the race, the winners were humble but loser Overbeek accused the Ferrari of "taking me to the wall" at least twice in the final several hundred yards of the race, something the video did not show.(Photo- Dr. Don Panoz, founder of the ALMS series, owner of a European pharmaceutical company, Road Atlanta race track and an Atlanta-based winery and much, much more). 

And now a world first – the first V12 diesel engine in a passenger car. The new Audi Q7 V12 TDI (photo) is powered by a twelve-cylinder diesel engine containing a wealth of pioneering technology. With an outstanding 500 PS and 1,000 Nm of torque, the six-liter engine of the high-performance SUV provides the driving performance of a sports car. Sprinting from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just 5.5 seconds and achieving an electronically governed top speed of 250 km/h, the Audi Q7 V12 TDI (photo) is catapulted into the echelons of top-class sports cars. New horizons have been set in the diesel market thanks to this outstanding power. None of our competitors can offer a comparable engine."Audiq7dieselengine

And would you buy an Audi with a V12 diesel engine? You'll get your chance ... and soon. Audi has announced that a version of their V12 diesel will be available in the coming months in their topline SUV, the Q7. Audi is using this model as an all-out attack on their SUV competition worldwide, going up against the most expensive and capable SUVs in the "over-$75,000" class.

The big marketing question is: Will Audi be smart enough to use their many recent diesel-powered wins at Sebring, LeMans (last year) and elsewhere to educate the American buying public about the benefits of their oil-burner? In Europe and Asia, the concept of a diesel-powered race car or truck is no big deal. Over 60% of the vehicles sold in Europe are diesel-powered; one of the most popular cars sold there is a turbo-charged Honda diesel which produces more-than-respectable performance numbers and great mileage figures.

Mazda1991lemanswinner787bMazda won the "24 Hours of LeMans" in 1991, only their second year at that race with a rotary-powered sports racer, and only the first win ever at LeMans for a Japanese-branded car. (Photo - The 787B runs on the track at Laguna Seca during Vintage Races. The track is today known officially as "Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca", as Mazda USA spends more money in various racing venues and series). For reasons best-known to Mazda chieftains, this record-setting and news-making victory was never promoted in the USA, as Mazda missed yet another golden opportunity to explain rotary engines to the American public. However, Mazda is gearing-up for some major expansion into various racing series throughout the country (the company just announced sponsorship of a kart racing series this past week) and there is word that they are going to promote their 1991 LeMans win --- now! We'll see how well that works. As for Audi, they should grab onto these diesel-powered victories and run with them for all they're worth.

Here's what Audi says about the consumer version of their diesel engine, from their PR release: "The Ingolstadt brand now presents

And here's some information about the diesel-powered R10 race cars:

2006 Audi R10 Specifications

Designer: Aerodynamics: Vincent Bichon
Chassis:  Wolfgang Appel
Engine:  Ulrich Baretzky
Layout: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
Monocoque: Carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb monocoque
Engine: 5.5 liter, 90° V12 turbo-charged engine, 4 valves per cylinder, DOHC, 2 Garrett turbo chargers, 2 x 39.9 mm engine-air intake restrictors (defined by regulations) and maximum turbo pressure of 2.94 bar absolute, diesel direct injection TDI, stressed aluminum crankshaft case
Engine management: Bosch MS14
Engine lubrication: Dry sump, Shell Racing Oil
Horsepower: 650+ hp
Torque: 811+ lb-ft.
Gearbox: 5-speed pneumatically-actuated sequential race gearbox, partner X-trac
Clutch: Ceramic clutch
Differential: Viscous-mechanical locking differential
Driveshafts: Constant velocity tripod plunge-joint driveshafts
Steering: Electronically controlled power steering (rack and pinion)
Suspension: Independent front and rear double wishbone suspension, pushrod system with torsion bar and adjustable dampers
Brakes: Dual-circuit hydraulic braking system, mono-block light-alloy brake calipers, front and rear ventilated carbon brake discs, driver adjustable infinitely variable brake-balance
Wheels: O.Z. magnesium forged wheels,
Front: 13 x 18 inch
Rear: 14.5 x 18 inch
Tires: Michelin radial
Front: 33/68-18
Rear: 37/71-18
Length: 4650 mm (assumed)
Width: 2000 mm
Height: 1030 mm
Wheelbase: 2980 mm (calculated)
Front Overhang: 920 mm (estimated based on calculated wheelbase and assumed rear overhang)
Rear Overhang: 750 mm (assumed)
Weights: 935 kgs (Sebring '06)
Tank capacity: 90 liters

March 07, 2007

EMBARRASSMENT IN MEXICO CITY; NASCAR'S BUSCH SERIES GETS THEIR WAY, BUT NO ONE IS HAPPY ABOUT IT

The annual points-paying Busch race at Mexico has become Juanpablomontoya something which might be termed "an embarrassment of riches". NASCAR does a pretty good job of filling the seats along the 2.518 mile road course at the huge Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. While the announcers constantly intoned about Mexico's huge love of racing, and with some certifiable Latino stars in the first few rows, it was easy to see on the ESPN2 broadcast that there were more than a few empty seats in the stands. This in spite of the lengths and trouble NASCAR went to (and will continue to, we'd guess) trying to fill as may top starting spots with Latino-named drivers. (Photo above - Juan Pablo Montoya).

When NASCAR's Busch series first hit Mexico City and its long track, an unknown Mexican driver, whose name was not even in the NASCAR Press Guide (or on their website) took the pole position. No matter; his engine lasted only a few laps after the race began and his hand-grenaded engine brought him back to the garage very early in the race.

Nascarlogo2_1 Apparently, this driver had received "the call" from NASCAR telling him that the official inspectors wouldn't be looking "too closely" at his car and engine after qualifying (where he won the pole), but they forgot to tell him to swap engines for a LEGAL one before the actual race began. But having a Latino driver in the pole position in the first points-paying NASCAR race ever held outside the USA? That was enough material for all the headlines in Mexico City's many newspapers, and guaranteed a great fan turn-out for race day.

As for all the other drivers? They all certainly "took one" for the sport, and I hope NASCAR remembers that no one complained, at least publicly, about this obvious stunt to pack the stands. NASCAR reports that just under 95,000 fans were at the Telcel-Motorola Mexico 200.

Seems as if NASCAR tried to use the same trick this year. But race fans seemed to say, "Fool me once, blame you, fool me twice, blame myself".

In spite of three Latinos staring in the first six positions, the place was still not packed. Some of youCaroftomorrow_1  may say, "Hey! What are you bitching about? Ninety-five thousand people is a fantastic turn-out!" And I would heartily agree; but the fact is that NASCAR and track owners complain bitterly when an event does not sell-out (ask the folks at California Speedway about that). I would not even mention this disappointing (to top NASCAR people)attendance except for the fact that NASCAR beats the drum for "sell-outs" so strongly. Anything less than that seems to be a loser for them; that's not a good attitude. See what happens when a big event does not sell-out? You get columns like this from analysts like me. (Photo - NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow" which will be seen in the Nextel Series this season).

If you saw the event, or read anything about it, you already know that the Latin world's gift to auto racing (if you,believe NASCAR), Juan Pablo Montoya, started third and quickly placed right behind is Ganassi/Sabates Dodge teammate, Scott Pruett, who started on the pole (evidently he didn't get that "call"). And anyone who has ever spent more than two minutes talking with Pruett knows he is not going to get out of the way for anyone, team (or NASCAR) orders or not.

And if you saw the race, you also know that at the very end of the race, after interminable yellow flags to clean "debris on the track" (that must be one dirty race track!) to try and allow more Latin drivers to make it into the top ten at the event's finish, the only way Montoya was going to be able to win was going to be to break the one, single team order on the Ganassi/Sabates team --- Don't put each other out of the race.

And Montoya did just that. He wrecked his teammate with barely yards to go in the race, spinning him out of the way like a CHP officer performing a "pit maneuver" to catch a carjacking suspect at 2am on the Hollywood Freeway. Montoya might have another career ahead of him if this NASCAR thing doesn't work out (and he'd be played by Eric Estrada in his life story movie, natch) .

No one was happy about the finish, especially Montoya, but only after he saw the reaction of his team owners and his own pit crew chief, who was practically in tears, knowing he'd have to try and explain Montoya's stupid, desperate move to his team and to NASCAR officials. The driver is in the car, but the crew chief takes a lot of the heat when things like this happen.

Scottpruett Montoya's teammate, the usually-affable Scott Pruett, brought in as a ringer for the race because he is a road course expert, said it all at race's end: "It was just low down, dirty no-good driving ... We talk about it and talk about it and who wrecks you? Your own teammate!" (Photo - Scott Pruett. I always thought he looked like the get-away driver for an outfit robbing banks, or a driver for a Secret Service limousine. Tough and definitely bad-ass).

How did it all work out for NASCAR? This was a huge event for them. Not only was EPSN2 carrying the show (in High Definition where available, and it is NOT, at least where I live!), but ESPN en Espanol carried the whole thing live, too, a first for NASCAR. Besides all that, the newly-revamped NASCAR website was up-and-running at full tilt, with some new features (and way too much more advertising and come-ons) for the new season.

And here's a tip from us to you --- If you are a TIME-WARNER cable user, NASCAR'S TrackPass feature on their website is free. All of it. That's right ... If you use TIME-WARNER cable in your home and are a Road Runner user (TW's online e-mail and Web service), then try logging into TrackPass and getting your ID number and all else ... If at all works right (and it may take a few tries), you'll be able to enjoy all the TrackPass features. The reason for this non-advertised largess on NASCAR's part?  It's because Turner Sports Interactive maintains the NASCAR site, and they are also part of the TIME-WARNER family of companies. Try it yourself if you have TIME-WARNER cable and Internet (Road Runner) and let us know what happens!

How did the race turn-out for the fans on-hand and watching worldwide? The top six starters were Scott Ganassiandmontoya Pruett on the pole, Carlos Contreras, Pruett's teammate (at least when the race started) Juan Pablo Montoya, Jorge Goeters, Denny Hamlin and Ron Fellows (a ringer road racing star; best-known recently for his development and piloting of the Corvette C6R endurance racer). The final six were, in order, Montoya, Hamlin, road course ace Boris Said (who started seventh), Carl Edwards, then Pruett and Jason Leffler. Goeters came home seventh and another Latino racing star, Adrian Fernandez, was ninth. (Photo - Team owner Chip Ganassi and his driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, in happier times).

February 15, 2007

MEMO TO NASCAR --- DROP MICHAEL WALTRIP NOW!

As of today, three full days before the Daytona 500, the Camrynascar_2 first and most important race in NASCAR’s schedule, the credibility of the sport and so many of its teams, owners, cars, crew chiefs and drivers is in serious question. For the first time in its history, NASCAR has docked teams money and points before the season has begun. Some teams got hit hard for making patently illegal aerodynamic changes on their cars; four cars were found guilty of this offense earlier this week. But the biggest news came Wednesday and today, Thursday. Both Jeff Gordon and Michael Waltrip were hit with penalties … and the credibility of the sport continues to drain, drop by drop … And the company hit worst by it all is

Toyota

. Before they have run even one mile in actual racing in Nextel Cup, the giant Japanese company finds itself scrambling to manage this disaster.

Jeff Gordon’s #24 “Rainbow Warrior” Chevy was found to have illegal rear suspension components. The team said it was because they installed some of the suspension parts incorrectly. NASCAR seems to buy some of the team’s excuses, but Gordon will start in last place, relegated to the 43rd position, for Sunday’s “Great American Race”.

Michaelwaltrip_1 But it was Michael Waltrip, ne’r-do-well younger brother of FOX on-air analyst and former Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, who received the biggest fine ever levied in NASCAR ($100,000 and 100 points against the team and its members), which almost guarantees the team’s cars having no shot whatsoever at the Nextel Cup title at the end of the year. And this before the season has even officially begun, as far as most fans are concerned.

Why was Waltrip assessed so strong a penalty? Because it seems a fuel additive the team had been using in their Toyota Camrys was similar molecularly to a substance resembling --- rocket fuel. That’s right, rocket fuel. Tampering with the fuel itself is considered one of the worst actions anyone on a race team can take. Fuel in all major series are inspected, tested, inspected, tested again … Throughout the entire racing weekend.

What does this mean for Waltrip? His tearful protestations and apologies aside (and what else would you expect?), my guess is that

Toyota

might drop him altogether, for at least a year. My recommendation is that they definitely should do exactly that. How else do they regain their credibility within the sport? With one team out of just three running Camrys now essentially convicted and sentenced, what ‘shoe’ may drop next?

The company has invested many millions of dollars (and whatever thatDarrellwaltripattundraplant  works out to in Yen) into Waltrip’s all-new team, and even more into his older brother’s Sears Craftsman Truck Series team. The

Toyota

advertising budget alone featuring both Waltrips has to be in the hundreds of millions. (Photo - Darrell Waltrip signs autograph at Tundra plant opening in TX).

With the season opening and all this chicanery revealed very publicly by NASCAR and several teams hit hard by sanctions,

Toyota

seems to have gotten the worst of it as far as public opinion is concerned. Many NASCAR fans are not thrilled with the first ‘foreign’ entry in NASCAR to begin with (though other import cars, including Nissans/Datsuns, have run in many local NASCAR series over the years), and adding this level of rule-breaking is something the world’s second-largest automaker  certainly does not need.

Toyotalogo_2 The other teams can straighten up and fly right, as can

Toyota

, but it seems to me that there will be suspicion over the car-maker for at least this entire season, all thanks to Michael Waltrip.

January 27, 2007

FORD QUITS CHAMP CAR; INSIDERS SAY "NO SUPRISE"

Ford is leaving Champ Car as an official series sponsor, effective, Fordlogoold apparently, immediately. Ford remains active in many different racing series, but Champ Car is clearly one of the most visible and important places where they have been spending mega-monies. During the same week, the company announced a fourth-quarter, 2006, loss of $5.8 billion, capping a year of losses totaling $12.75 billion. The last time Ford showed a quarterly profit was the second quarter of 2005. Ford's loss, however, was not as large as General Motors' reported losses in 1992.

Ford leaving Champ Car was no surprise to insiders, even casual fans, and especially to Wall Street, where investors could see the writing on the wall. This very BLOG predicted Ford starting to leave specific series months ago.

Champcar2 With losses mounting, in spite of the company's efforts to stem the tide and turn things around worldwide, several more quarters of huge losses are expected until FoMoCo starts showing "black" ink on their books. And while that black ink is certainly projected, whether or not it actually happens remains to be seen.

Ford has been hit hard, with lackluster car sales (the much-vaunted Edge has yet to realize its "savior" status), and with truck sales waning due to high gas prices which show no signs of slowing, the company continuing to spend mega-millions (and maybe totaling more) on auto racing, where "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" was over a long time ago, the question arises: What major series might Ford leave next?

NASCAR? Jack Roush has become the whiner-in-charge for Ford within NASCAR --- Lately he'sNascarlogo_1  gotten louder, more strident, in his complaints about Toyota having "all that money". Well, perhaps if Ford had been building cars and trucks people wanted to buy for the past decade or so, Toyota might be having the same complaints about Ford. Some are calling Roush "the Carroll Shelby of his generation". Well, last time I checked (January 27, 2007 at 2:34pm, west coast USA time --- Can't be too careful these days), "Ol' Shel" was still kicking, still autographing dashboards and still running up what some people say are fake prices for his own cars at certain auctions. We can't say for sure, and we're sorry we even brought the topic up ...

Here's the simple question: For how long can Ford justify to its stockholders the exorbitant spending in NASCAR (and other series) which the company continues to do, with no seeming end in sight?

To read the entire story announcing Ford's backing-out of Champ Car, click anywhere on this line.

December 04, 2006

BULLETIN - NASCAR RACE TRACK DEAL IS DEAD ON STATEN ISLAND

The NY TIMES reports on 12-5 that the deal to put a race track onNascarlogo  NYC's Staten Island is dead as a door knob. This brings up the possibility of (none other than) Donald Trump (and his custom-fabricated race shop toupee) bringing back his concept for a track in Riverhead, Long Island (and if they think traffic is bad on Staten Island, wait'll everyone hears THIS idea ...) ... There are also ideas for race tracks on some of the Native American land scattered throughout the northeast, especially where casinos have been built in Connecticut and Massachusetts. All this means that the only major NASCAR track in the northeast remains the New Hampshire International Speedway. Here's the word from the online edition of the NY TIMES:

Faced with unyielding opposition from residents who complained that Staten Island’s roads were already too congested, a Florida company dropped plans for a 82,000-seat NASCAR speedway on the island, officials said yesterday.

After two years, plans for the speedway — a three-quarter-mile track to have been built on an abandoned oil tank farm near the Goethals Bridge — were scuttled on Thursday by the board of directors of the International Speedway Corporation, said Wes Harris, a company spokesman.

“The reality of it is the board came to the conclusion that the politics was going to be such that we could not be successful,” Mr. Harris said.

In May 2004, officials of the company, a Nascar affiliate based in Daytona Beach, Fla., announced plans to transform 450 acres of unused industrial land on the northwest tip of Staten Island into the New York base for the country’s most popular sport.

Nascar2 In order to relieve the inevitable traffic, they had proposed a complex network of ferries, charter buses and park-and-ride lots that would have allowed fans to reach the site during the three race weekends that were expected to be scheduled each year.

They had also promised more than $350 million in construction wages during the two years it would have taken to build the track and said the track would have contributed $200 million to the economy annually, including ticket sales, food and beverage sales and hotel bookings. To help them navigate the shoals of city politics, they hired Guy Molinari, a former borough president, as a lobbyist.

But Mr. Harris acknowledged yesterday that the board finally realized that even Mr. Molinari, who did not return a telephone call seeking comment last night, could not help them overcome Staten Island’s three-man City Council team, which came out in vociferous and early opposition to the track.

One of the councilmen, James S. Oddo, the Council’s minority leader, called the company’s move “a monumental victory for the people of Staten Island” in a statement released yesterday. Another, Michael E. McMahon, called the development “a huge victory” and “delightful,” saying he had considered the project a “sow’s ear” from the start.

“I am glad that the Nascar people finally understand what I have said all along,” Mr. McMahon said in his statement, “that to put a 100,000-seat Nascar track on the west shore of Staten Island is what my mother would call a schnapps idea.”

Almost from the start, the plan was met with condemnation from a diverse crowd of skeptics, includingNascarlogo2  Manhattan-based environmentalists and Staten Island homemakers.

In April, the Sierra Club issued a report saying the project would pollute the air, require filling in nearly 15 acres of fragile saltwater wetlands and harm several wildlife species.

A few days later, a public hearing on the track devolved into fisticuffs when more than 1,000 people converged on a meeting hall in Staten Island, including a union carpenter who tussled with Staten Island’s third councilman, Andrew J. Lanza.

At the time, Mr. Lanza said he was simply trying to express his views when “a guy put a bear hug on me, threatening me while guys standing in front of him were urging him, ‘Punch him in the face.’ ” After the confrontation, the police shut down the hearing, saying the auditorium’s capacity had been exceeded. There was no other hearing on the matter.

“We honestly don’t know what happened at that hearing ourselves,” said Michael P. Printup, an International Speedway official. There was support for the track early on, according to Mr. Printup, but after the hearing, “something turned.”

Mr. Harris said the company, which bought the land for $100 million, would now study other ways to use it, though he refused to say last night what those might be.

He also refused to give up on the idea of bringing Nascar racing to the nation’s largest media market, though he admitted that New York could be a tough town for business.

Camrynascar_1 In Chicago, he said, it took several tries for International Speedway to settle on a site for a track, but eventually the company was successful.

“The challenge with New York is everything’s magnified 10 times over,” he said.

November 19, 2006

EMPTY DRIVING SUIT WINS NASCAR TITLE

Jimmyjohnson2Our first thoughts on Jimmy Johnson's victory in the NASCAR Nextel Cup 10-event Chase for the Championship and Lawnmower Repair (doo-dah, doo-dah) ... The series with a title almost as long as its season (and bless Dale Jr., for finally saying what all of us know: The season is too long and the races are too long. You saw Junior hit the wall out of sheer boredom at Homestead-Miami).

And did you all see the bitter, nasty Ryan Newman smack Juan Pablo Montoyaonfire Montoya into the wall in what wound up as a rare and frankly spectacular fuel cell explosion and a real-life test to see how fast a former F1 star and Indy 500 winner can get his on-fire ass out of a closed race car ... Montoya had no business being there in the first place, and while Jim Peltz, the LA TIMES' motorsports writer, told my radio audience the morning of the race that Montoya had said at a press conference the day before that "he hoped to stay out of everyone's way", I opined that I hoped those didn't become "famous last words".

Well, as usual, I was right and Montoya had to, at a minimum, eat his words. Or at least smell them as he inhaled all that smoke. And it ain't funny at all ... An idiot like Newman taking out a rookie at the end of a 180-mile an hour straight is, well, all we can say is: We'll just see what punishment NASCAR metes out to Newman and his team. He deserves to be suspended for at least the first ten events of 2007.

Just what is NASCAR doing allowing ANY rookie in the most important race of the year, the race where the national championship is going to be decided? And who punishes NASCAR? They're the ones who allowed "Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates" to pull this stunt for NASCAR's large and growing Spanish-speaking audience.

So, NASCAR has its first ‘corporate champion’: Jimmy Johnson, former motocrosser from

El Cajon

(about as All-American as you can get. Very white, no non-dominant culture or accent or anything apparent) … “The Corporate Champ”.

Johnson said, after winning the title, that he had learned a lot this year from Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart … Too bad he didn’t pick up any spare personality from either of those guys.

And when it’s said that Jeff Gordon has more personality than anyoneJimmyjohnson_1  else, that’s saying a lot … or a little.

Nameless, faceless, just the average guy with no apparent scandal … outside of a skuzzy crew chief whose cheating got Johnson his win in this year’s Daytona 500 and who-knows-how-many other races.

Johnson is the first empty driving suit to win the NASCAR Nextel Cup.

Put one of his sponsor’s  “LOWE’S” sticker on his forehead and Johnson’d look like an extended part of an expensive NASCAR leather jacket.

He is … Almost … Perfect ... Corporate-wise. Can’t wait to see him on Letterman, REGIS AND KELLY, et al … saying … nothing.

Just like NASCAR wants him to!

Dalejrbuttons And about Dale Jr. and all those nasty little truths he's spreading around publicly --- NASCAR's own version of dirty laundry --- We can only hope no one manages to quiet him down. I don't think anyone in NASCAR's upper echelons has the balls to do it. You go, Junior!

October 26, 2006

THE END OF NASCAR --- COMING SOON

RACY THOUGHTS --- AN ANALYSIS

THE END OF NASCAR : IT’S COMING, AND SOON

Was watching the Brazil F1 race (thank goodness for SPEED TV, even if their F1 announcers are sitting in a studio in Bristol, CT) and saw the pass by Michael Schumacher of Kimi Raikonnen, who just so happens to be Schuie’s replacement on the Ferarri team next year.

After the race I called a good friend, the motorsports writer for a “major American newspaper”, and he had a great line: “It’s amazing when anyone makes a pass in F1!” He was right, of course, but F1 continues as both the world’s most expensive and most money-making racing series. Bernie Ecclestone’s solid control over the sport proves again that the only way to successfully run a racing series is via a ‘benevolent dictatorship’.

Schuie_1 Before we go on, what about F1 in the USA? The race at Indy is becoming a classic, but it is taking time, and things would have moved along faster if 2005’s race had not been such a debacle, with only 6 starters due to problems with the Michelin tires for the teams using them. Only the Goodyear-shod teams started. Where the road course part of the Indy track meets the oval, running left to right onto and then through Indy’s Turn 1, the G-forces were simply too much for the Michelins designed for Indy. And the terrible wreck in practice/qualifying involving Ralf Schumacher in that very turn added to the bad taste which the event left in everyone’s mouth. Other problems: The race promoters are contracted to pay for the travel of all the F1 teams and their cars and equipment. Tony George might be able to afford that, but precious few other promoters in America can. And the biggest problem of all: No successful American F1 driver in the series. Scott Speed, a gifted California driver who races even while suffering throughout his life with Ulcerative Colitis, is an inspiration to millions around the globe, but not yet a successful F1 driver. That may come in time, but Speed (great name, though!) needs to do something impressive and quickly in F1 … like a ride with a team capable of putting a car on the podium at the finish within the first five races next season.

Apart from F1, the other series which has proved that adage true is NASCAR. Under the proverbial thumb of the France family since “Big” Bill France founded the series over 50 years ago, NASCAR owners, as much or more than any other racing series in history, understands the ‘show’ part of racing more than any other.

Remember the only Mexican driver in the Busch Series, a driver whose bio wasn’t even listed on the NASCAR website, winning the ‘pole position’ for the first Busch race ever in Mexico City? In the race, the guy’s engine blew up after about 20 laps --- Now, did the France family (and other powers-that-be) allow that team to put a ‘tampered’ engine into that driver’s race car to let him get the pole, knowing the engine would last only a few laps under racing conditions? No one knows, but it made for a hell of a news story and guaranteed Mexican fans would be at the race track the next day in huge numbers for the actual race.

In fact, the disasters which have been CART and the Indy Racing League, prove again that seriesNascar1  owners can not have ownership interests in the various race teams in their series and expect success.

I attended the first west coast press conference Tony George gave about his founding of the IRL, and he swore up and down that he would never have any ownership interest in any IRL team. We know now that George, if he wasn’t lying, had to eat his words a few years later when he took interest in more than one IRL team and their drivers. (George also swore, at that same meeting,  that his series would be low cost, would feature American drivers and would focus only on oval race tracks. So much for Tony George and honesty).

The team owners also running the show is what eventually ‘did in’ CART. The CART board consisted mostly of the team owners. No racing series can exist for long that way. Looks like Champ Car is headed in the same direction.

Toyotanascar5 But NASCAR has bigger problems right now that you won’t read about on NASCAR.com or hear about on their broadcasts. And the name of their biggest problem is: “Toyota”. (Photo: Left, Toyota NASCAR V8 engine).

Toyota has plans for at least seven drivers on three different teams to be ready for the green flag at the Daytona 500 early next year to kick-off the 2007 Nextel Cup season (As an aside: I expect the series name to be changed next year to the NASCAR Sprint Cup, now that Nextel and Sprint are the same company. MUCH better name for a racing series! Might be so obvious no one has brought it up).

Nascar3 Both attendance at NASCAR races has gone down and TV viewership has dropped. Oh, the overall numbers are still strong, NASCAR expects 55 or so entrants for every Cup race in 2007 and both the Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series continue to make money from their TV contracts.

Some folks might think one of the main problems has to do with Cup racers becoming “Busch-Whackers”, entering Busch Series races on those weekend when the Busch and Cup races are at the same track. But this season, even the races were far away, there were a number of Cup racers in the Busch events, and Kevin Harvick, a full-time Cup competitor, has won the Busch title this year. As much as that might hurt the wallets of Busch teams, it’s actually a pretty good thing for everyone. The crowds are larger for Busch races when Cup competitors are in them, and the Busch racers have a lot of Cup teams and their owners watching them race.

My solution, if there is a problem? Put the prize money which the full-time Cup racers win in Busch events into a pool which is shared among all the full-time Busch racers at the end of the season. Trust us, the Cup racers don’t need the $35,000 they get for winning a Busch race. Most if not all of the full-time Cup racers are making well over a million dollars a year. Jeff Gordon, after finishing 36th at Talladega recently, nonetheless put his prize-winnings in NASCAR Cup racing over $80 million.

Toyotanascar1 NASCAR’s biggest problem is amount of money Toyota brings to the game. Toyota is the wealthiest, most successful company of any kind in the world today. They have over $60 billion in cash, in the bank. They have been spending well over $100 million on their own F1 team for the past few years with virtually nothing to show for it so far. Interestingly, next season, Toyota will supply their engine to the Williams F1 Team, which might help cut some of Toyota’s astronomical costs in the series.

Given Toyota’s much-anticipated official entry into NASCAR Cup racing (we are certain at least some of the cars driven by next year’s Toyota drivers in the late-season races this year are carrying some if not mostly Toyota suspension and engine parts), the specter of costs rises.

The simple truth is that Toyota can afford to outspend GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler (DCX) in the series and have shown that they are not afraid of throwing huge dollars at their race car development (see their F1 experience).

What controls does NASCAR have on team spending? None, really, outside of a rule book which triesToyotanascar2  to control costs through technology. But NASCAR Cup race cars are becoming as sophisticated as the top open-wheel cars, and cubic dollars has always been one way to win a race or a series.

When NASCAR was purely a southeast sport, “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” made some sense to Detroit. While the northeast and the west coast were buying more and more import cars and souring on Detroit (Toyota’s largest metro market in the US has consistently been Chicago, not Los Angeles), the rivalry between GM, FoMoCo and DCX was still real in the southeast.

Has NASCAR’s national growth resulted in their attendance and TV viewership drop-offs? And will a Chevy or Dodge or Fusion winning on Sunday really affect buyers outside the southeast?

NASCAR has large problems. Potentially, if Toyota outspends the competition and simply buys their way to the Cup championship within only a few years and becomes difficult to dethrone, will the southeast fans stay loyal to NASCAR?

Toyotanascar3 And if a Monte, Fusion or Charger win doesn’t result in any sales outside one part of the country, can NASCAR keep demanding the kind of big national money they are getting from the Big Three? Or will at least one of the (former) Big Three drop their NASCAR involvement well before Toyota wins a title? Ford was rumored to be out of NASCAR at least once already this season.

The things affecting NASCAR and which could put it out of business within a decade are out of the France family’s hands. If the Big Three start to cut-back (which is almost a given) and imports begin marching into NASCAR (Honda will follow Toyota, and why not a BMW 5-series sedan?), what will then constitute NASCAR’s “fan base”?

-30-

August 13, 2006

WHO WAS THE PR GUY AT THE FIRST 'SILVER STATE CLASSIC', 1988? WHY, I WAS!

Ferrarichallenge Ferrari has been staging a series of TSD Rallies (time, speed, distance) across the country. In a TSD rally, drivers and their navigators are given fairly difficult driving instructions to get from the infamous Point A to Point B. The 'trick' is to make the trip in as close to a "perfect time" as possible. That perfect time was developed by the Rally Master, the person who laid out the course. Drivers who go over the speed limit are (supposedly) automatically suspended from the rest of the event. Hitting that theoretical perfect time is all that matters. But things got out of hand on at least one of the rallies, the Ferrari Owners' Rally for Northern Oregon. AUTOBLOG reported that at least one participant was stopped by police for exceeding 125 miles per hour. Due to some personal connections, we received emails from participants in that particular Ferrari Rally which confirmed those high speeds. And more. At the same time, an OPEN ROAD RACE in Utah, which involves the closing of public highways to allow people to drive their own cars as fast as they want, saw yet another classic Ferrari destroyed. My take on these events is a bit different.

In September, 1988, the first SILVER STATE CLASSIC OPEN ROAD RACE was held near Ely, NV. Silverlogo This was the first time in America that anyone could remember the public roads being closed for an event which invited anyone to drive their own cars which, after a somewhat of an "inspection", were allowed on the "track". Cars left the start line at 2 minute intervals. Through some connections, I was the Public Relations person for that very first race. What follows is an email I wrote to my friends who participated in the recent Northern Oregon Ferrari Rally, and, I think much to their chagrin, I came down squarely on the other side of these events. Here's why:

I’m assuming you are discussing one of those OPEN ROAD RACES where people are allowed to travel as fast as they like, no matter whether they have any training or not. No matter whether their cars meet strict safety concerns or not. Whether they ever strapped-on a helmet or not.

And I know what I am talking about, probably more than anyone else reading these emails.

Silverstate1 I did the Media Relations for the very first SILVER STATE CLASSIC, the first of these open road races. A man named Phil Henry, a very ‘interesting guy’ with a lot of ‘connections’ in Las Vegas, had convinced the Nevada Highway Patrol to close down a route of about 90 miles out of Ely, NV for a period of about 6 hours. Cars were released at 2 minute intervals and there were about 100 entries, if I remember right (this was about 20 years back).

As usual, there was a tie-in to some military or law enforcement ‘charity’, so everything was ‘ok’ (‘wink, wink’) and ‘legal’.

There were at that time a lot of whorehouses in the Ely area, and some of them even sponsored some of the race cars. The local hotel was right out of the 1860s, and a boom in local mining meant the gaming tables were full 24 hours a day with drunken and drug-high miners spending their BIG cash rolls.

What a scene.

Anyway, as the PR guy, the editor of HOT ROD approached meSilverstate2  and asked if he might get a ride in one of the cars. Of course I found a willing driver.

So I placed the editor of HOT ROD magazine in a red Camaro, I think it was, and off they went from the starting line.

About ½ hour later, the Nevada Highway Patrol radioed us that there had been a huge crash of a “red car” and that the passenger was DOA (dead-on-arrival).

For more than a few moments, it appeared that the fellow I had placed in one of the cars for the OPEN ROAD RACE ‘experience’ had been killed.

It turned out that a dentist (how ironic), driving his Ferrari, had gone off the road and his wife had been killed instantly. He was in terrible shape himself. Don’t know the outcome of his condition.

Silver4 This latest crash and destruction of a Ferrari took place, I believe, in an OPEN ROAD RACE in Utah just a few weeks ago. The event was another ‘benefit’ for a ‘law enforcement charity’.

In any event, the experience I had in that OPEN ROAD RACE and the injuries, deaths and wrecks which have result from them over the years make NO SENSE AT ALL. This is not a matter of “different strokes for different folks”, this is a simple matter of COMMON SENSE.

Guys with fast cars want to drive way over your heads? RENT A RACE TRACK!

But no, you wouldn’t be able to do that … No track owner in their right minds would allow untrained drivers in potentially unsafe cars on ANY reputable track in the world…Guess it’s back to illegal street racing for all of you ‘kids’!

GROW UP! GET TRAINED AT A RACE TRACK BY PROFESSIONAL Silver5 DRIVERS AS SO MANY OF US HAVE! AND KEEP YOURS PANTS ZIPPED ON THE PUBLIC HIGHWAYS!

Comments, anyone?

August 04, 2006

TWO WOMEN, NEVER WINNERS, IN UPCOMING IRL RACE

Once named IndyCar Racing's most popular driver, 25 year-old Sarahfisher2 Sarah Fisher has been without a ride since 2004. That all changed when Dreyer and Reinbold Racing announced that Fisher will drive for the team in the Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway August 13.

This will mark the first time that two women (Fisher and Danica Patrick) have competed in an IndyCar event since the 2002 Indy 500. Interestingly, both Fisher and Patrick have qualified on the pole at the Kentucky Speedway, and Fisher still holds the IndyCar qualifying record at the track. Also interestingly, neither women has ever won an IRL race. (Photo: Sarah Fisher in Paul Tracy look-alike contest).

Fisher hasn't been idle since losing her IRL ride, racing in the NASCAR Grand National Division's western regional series. The one-off deal with Dreyer and Reinbold may be extended if the Kentucky race goes well for Fisher.

July 29, 2006

CHAMP CAR'S 2007 PANOZ SPEC CAR UNVEILED

June 29th, and the public unveiling of the Panoz spec chassis for the "Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford and Malted Milk Service Available" has happened in Indianapolis! The DP01 will serve as the exclusive chassis of the series in 2007, becoming the first American-built chassis to compete in the series since 2000. Replacing the fabled Lolas that have dominated Champ Car in recent years, the Elan Motorsports-built DP01 chassis features the latest in aerodynamic technologies and has allowed the design team to reach its goal of providing a car that runs better in traffic while allowing for closer racing and more passing Panozcart1 opportunities. Now the BIG question remains: How compatible will this DP01 be with whatever the Indy Racing League specs call for in 2007, or will the race car be a "one-year wonder", with other manufacturers already working on the spec chassis for 2008 and beyond, when Champ Car and IRL unite? (Photo: Click on the photo to see the car and the crowd at the unveiling in a larger format).

Here's the PR release from Champ Car:

"Aerodynamically we have broken away from various existing Champ Car features, which have been a product of the existing regulations," said Elan Motorsports Chief Designer Simon Marshall. "We have to create the downforce in a sensible manner that is not as setup critical, and which is less affected by traffic turbulent wakes. (Chief Aerodynamicist) Nick (Alcock) has produced a superb underbody for this car, and an awesome looking topside which should keep the fans (and drivers) excited."

The design incorporates a number of changes to the existing car, including paddle shifters, additional 'sharkfin' elements as well as wing improvements, and a change of the seat angle for the drivers designed to improve driver safety. The Elan Motorsports design team, working in conjunction with Champ Car officials, has created a car that represents the latest in vehicle technology while still featuring the sleek silhouette unique to the Champ Car World Series.

"We were able to maintain the Champ Car look," said Champ Car Technical Director Scot Elkins. "There's a lot of F1 elements to it but it still looks like a Champ Car. The exposed roll hoop, the slope of the engine cover, it's low to the ground, it's a look that the fans will recognize as a Champ Car. One of the key design elements for us was that it look like a Champ Car."Panozcart4

But there is far more than flash to the DP01. More than 20,000 man hours went into the design and construction of the new chassis, which is designed to be faster, lighter and safer than the current Champ Car. The chassis is more than 100 pounds lighter than the current car, but features a number of safety innovations, including a collapsible fuel cell, that will provide even more protection to the drivers. (Photo: Kevin Kahlkoven, co-owner of Champ Car, in the car, with driver Mario Dominguez).

The DP01 also features such improvements as the addition of an on-board starter, which is designed to lessen caution periods for stalled cars, and paddle shifters replacing the gear shifter. The semi-automatic paddle shifter system is also tied into the throttle system of the turbocharged Ford-Cosworth engine, allowing drivers to downshift without lifting off the throttle, something that is not possible in the current car.

The sharkfin look in the rear of the car aids in downforce, benefiting from a change in the air induction system designed into the DP01. The sidepod radiator inlet allows air to flow completely through the sidepod, providing the airflow that makes the sharkfin more effective.

"It creates downforce without the penalty of drag." Elkins said. "The air would get all bottled up in the current design. We like the feature and feel that it will really help the car."

But while given the chance to create a world-class car from the ground up, Elan and Champ Car also tasked themselves with building a chassis that provided more affordable entry into the series. The cost savings has already attracted new interest in the series, and Elan will be ready to handle the demand.

Panozcart5 "One of the requirements for this project was not necessarily to make things cheaper to make, but faster and easier to produce in higher volume and at a higher rate," Marshall said. "Design thinking started around production techniques. The design is still evolving as we move through the prototype and testing phase."

"The 2007 Champ Car was designed with three objectives in mind," said Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven. "First, to increase the excitement for the fans by allowing closer racing and more overtaking. Second, to level the playing field for all teams, which will also increase fan excitement. Third, to make a dramatic decrease in the costs for the teams thereby allowing new teams to join the series. This car achieves all three objectives." (Photo: 2007 Champ Car chassis; paint by Troy Lee, famed helmet artist).

July 28, 2006

WORST SECRET IN F1 REVEALED; TOYOTA TO POWER WILLIAMS

It's ALL finally official! Danica Patrick goes to Andretti/Green racing for 2007 in the IRL (unless her father can pimp her up a NASCAR ride for some real money), Juan Pablo Montoya will drive for Chip Toyota_f1 "Biggie" Ganassi in NASCAR starting this season (and perhaps get Chip to drop a few, uh, kilos), and now the last best-known secret in motorsports (this week, at least) is revealed: Toyota will supply engines for WilliamsF1 in 2007.

Toyota Motor and WilliamsF1 announced Thursday, July 27,  that Toyota will supply engines to the WilliamsF1 team for the next three years, beginning in 2007. The agreement explicitly states that WilliamsF1 will use "the same specification of engine as Panasonic Toyota Racing," ensuring a level playing field for all concerned, and putting even more heat on Toyota's "factory" team to produce race wins, after years of big budgets and mediocre results.

Frankwilliams Toyota will continue at least for the next year with their own in-house F1 team, constructing their own engines and race chassis. However, this deal leaves Toyota with a convenient exit strategy if they do decide to abandon their underperforming factory team in favor of a support deal with WilliamsF1. (Photo: Frank Williams).

And Sir Frank Williams gets access some of the best engines in all of Formula 1, and at a considerable saving over his outright purchase of engines from Williams' current engine supplier Cosworth.

The announcement also means Cosworth may be without a team for 2007, although the engine plans of the other "non-factory" teams, Red Bull Racing, Torro Rosso and MF1 (Midland) are yet to be finalized, and David Richards' new Prodrive team is also a potential customer.Toyota_f12

July 21, 2006

CHAMP CAR TO OPEN SEASON IN LAS VEGAS?!?!

It's been officially announced that the "BRIDGESTONE PRESENTS THE CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES POWERED BY FORD AND LAWN 76ferrlauda MOWER REPAIR" series will open 2007 on a temporary street circuit in Las Vegas. The race will be held the weekend of April 8th and the Long Beach Grand Prix, the season-opener for the former-CART racers the past three years, gets moved back to the weekend of April 15th. The big question on all of this: WHY?

And while we are at it, why not take a look at some very cool F1 photos from the past ... From a very cool website I found called F1-Grand Prix ... ALL their photos are in the public domain (which means you don't have to pay for them), so please visit them by clicking here!

Andretti_lotus

We like the idea of one open-wheel series running on a combo of some natural road courses, a few temporary street circuits and some large dedicated oval and road course race tracks.

But with Champ Car and the Indy Racing League finally on their way to rapprochement (that means getting back together), why would Champ Car add this particular event?

First, Chris Pook, the man who brought racing to Long Beach in the first place, no longer owns that event. The Long Beach street race is owned by the same people who own the Champ Car series itself, to wit: Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe. The Las Vegas event is owned by a co-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns, Dale Jensen, and some guy named Bradley Yonover. If Kalkhoven and Forsythe don't mind putting off Long Beach to the series' second event of the season, then that is their choice.

Las Vegas will not take anything away from Long Beach, which is really a 72-hour long beach party with some wet T-shirt contests thrown-in for fun. Occasionally, a race or two takes place, too. If the races weren't even there, a good portion of the crowd wouldn't even notice. It certainly has become the biggest event of the Champ Car season.

Britain73revson

But Champ Car has some rotten temporary street circuits, especially this year. The race in San Jose was nothing more than a Demolition Derby, with the 800-horsepower, 1,500-pound Champ Cars literally FLYING over RAILROAD TRACKS on the course and crashing back down to earth. Many, many race cars lost their transmissions, the part of the car which took the brunt of the  every-lap fly-over.

Detroit_86

Then there was Houston. Another lousy street circuit, consisting of the now-standard concrete barriers turning the driver's point-of-view into nothing more than a lap-after-lap tunnel. Changes in the Houston "track" surface hurt the cars and the drivers, making for a fairly uninteresting, but dangerous race.

Champ Car is also slated to run temporary street circuits this coming season (the official schedule has not been released yet) in: Denver, Toronto, Edmonton, and Surfer's Paradise, AU, as well as the aforementioned Long Beach, Las Vegas, San Jose and Houston.

That means, tentatively for 2007, no fewer than 8 temporary street courses on a schedule of  15 events (and Champ Car has plans for South Korea this coming year, too, but on an established race course).

Having worked closely with Mickey Thompson in bringing Baja-style off-road racing to the masses through the first "OFF-ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP  GRAND PRIX" (I got a $1,000 bonus from MT for naming the event) at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1979, I know a bit about trying to "bring the action to the people".

MT's races were wonderful, hilarious, action-packed, dueling, sweating circuses which no has topped Hill_aus_98 for excitement and drama to this day in a stadium. Big Baja trucks racing around the seats of the LA Coliseum's world famous Peristyle!

The best live event announcer in the world, "Supermouth" Larry Huffman, driving the 50,000-strong fans crazy! And this only the first event, ever, anything like it, and it drew near 50K!

With bathrooms and concessions nearby, it was great for the fans ... And the racers! With those big crowds, some of the Baja racers got their first taste of BIG money, too.

My point is that promoters who want to bring events "to the people" have to obey some basic rules, rules which in fact Mickey Thompson invented.

One of the first is: If there is a race track, nearby, WHY have a street course race, which generally are disliked by the drivers and their teams? They usually tear the hell out of race cars and are generally more tiring for the drivers than  "natural" road courses like Road Atlanta or Mid-America.

Mickey knew there was no venue where people could witness Baja-style racing in any sort of comfort. And no one claimed the Coliseum events were "real" Baja racing. They were called BAJA-STYLE races. And people got it, they understood what they were seeing. And MT managed to jam all the thrills and chills of a 1,000 mile off-road race down the Baja Peninsula into just a few hours' worth of qualifying and quarter-finals, semi-finals and then a lengthy run for the championship title and money. And running different classes on the track at the same time guaranteed lots of passing and paint-swappin'. Mickey Thompson was the automotive PT Barnum of the late 20th century.

Hunt

In Denver, San Jose, Las Vegas, Phoenix (where Champ Car is trying to get a street event going), Houston and even Long Beach, there are race tracks within a day's drive or closer.

I use Houston as an example though the closest major track is at Dallas/Fort Worth, called Texas Speedway. That's where the Champ Car pilots refused to race a few years ago, saying they were passing out from the G-forces generated by the combination of their car's high speeds and the track's high, tight banking. The IRL drivers seemed ok on the track and they now have an annual event there (as does NASCAR).

I don't think that Champ Car should be angling for more temporary street races. Las Vegas and Denver are probably the best examples of cities that do not need street races. They both have great race tracks nearby!

Clearly, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman is always looking for ways to promote his city worldwide. Formula 1 would seem to be a better answer if the town is really interested in worldwide coverage, but F1's experience there was so bad (as you'll see below) that F1 "Supremo" Bernie Ecclestone has said he would NEVER go there again (with his series, at least --- On his own, yes).

The race is planned, at least at this time, for a 2.4 mile 14-turn course north of the world-famous Strip. Let's say that the specific area of Las Vegas where the race is planned for, is where the TV show "COPS" tapes a lot of their stories when they visit Las Vegas.

Matrasimca

PHOENIX AND LAS VEGAS RACING HISTORIES-

Both of them held FORMULA ONE races in the 1980s and 1990s which were abject failures on every level. In fact, the Phoenix race ran for three years (1989 through 1991) and the final event drew just 18,000 spectators. An ostrich race that same weekend in Phoenix drew MORE people. I am not kidding!

One of my best friends is currently the host of the #1-rated radio talk show in Phoenix (Joe Crummey on KFYI), and when I was a guest with him a few weeks ago, he asked me about the possibilities of a future Grand Prix there. Honestly, I was not aware that the Champ Car people were serious  about staging another race in Phoenix ... Where it's usually over 100 degrees, like Las Vegas...

The potential Phoenix Champ Car race is planned for the same area where the F1 race was held, in a pretty seedy downtown location.

Sports promoters of all kinds are forever taking advantage of politicians who are trying to improve a sleazy downtown area. We all know the stories of how promoters and stick-and-ball team owners and conned and/or blackmailed cities into paying for new stadiums.

The only place where a street race has helped an area improve is Long Beach, and even there it took more than 20 years before even moderate changes happened, and the race was part of a larger civic improvement plan. Even today, after more than 30 years of F1, F5000, CART, and many other races in downtown Long Beach, I still would not go on the street after dark anywhere in that neighborhood, save for a single gentrified block on Pine Avenue where some clubs, restaurants and movie theaters have opened in the past 20 years.

The Las Vegas race was held in triple-digit heat in Las Vegas (when is it not triple-digit heat in Las Vegas?) in the parking lot of the Caesar's Palace Hotel. Both races, 1981 and 1982, drew probably fewer spectators than that final Phoenix street event. Final attendance numbers were never released; usually not a positive sign.

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Here's another BIG  problem in Las Vegas: There are a few other distractions catching people's attention there other than a car race in a parking lot. Anyone think of that?

What DO you think? Let us know...Post your comments about Champ Car, IRL, NASCAR ... Whatever your racing pleasure!

July 05, 2006

AMERICA'S LAST F1 RACE HELD AT INDY

After a contract calling for seven F1 races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has run its course, Bernie Ecclestone, "F1 El Supremo", has stated, "We don't need the United States," and evidently Schuieontrackindy America agrees with him.

Even the most ambitious and friendly reports from Indy said that "perhaps" 100,000 people attended the F1 race this year, 20,000 of those tickets purchased and distributed by Michelin, whose tire failures last year caused the most embarrassing and amateurish F1 event ever run in the modern history of the sport, with only six cars starting in the competition. (Photo of: Michael Schumacher)

This year, almost half the field (including the lone American, Scott Speed) was knocked out of the race at the first corner of the first lap by F1 racers driving way too anxiously for the first lap of a two-hour-long event. The race then unfortunately deteriorated into one of those typical F1 "parades" which American fans simply don't want to watch. And who can blame them? With no American manufacturer or American driver with a chance of winning the race, why should Americans care?

NASCAR star Jeff Gordon spoke to the media at Indy about his interest in F1 and his love of the F1 cars, the most exotic and expensive racing machines in the world, after having the chance to drive some, but it must be asked: Why would Gordon give up a guaranteed $40 million or so annually in NASCAR salary, prize money and endorsements, for an F1 contract with a salary of perhaps $15 million and very little in the way of endorsements and prize money the first several years.

Bernie3  TV coverage of F1 at Indy showed near-empty grandstands which had been filled a few years ago. Attendance at the US GP has gone down dramatically each year since it started being held at Indy a few years ago. It appears that Tony George and Bernie Ecclestone, truly two peas of the same pod, have gotten what they deserve. George invested tens of millions in his legendary facility to meet the demands of F1 and Bernie. Bernie juggled the schedule to have the two North American F1 events just days apart from each other. (Photo of: Bernie Ecclestone)

What they can't guarantee is the quality of the race itself. Where other series, particularly NASCAR, understand that racing is first and foremost a SHOW and run their organizations that way, F1 runs an outfit with only two or three drivers and their cars capable of winning on any Sunday, and it's accepted that the rest of the field is simply "filler" or "cannon fodder", depending on your point of view.

The biggest mistake ever made in American racing was splitting CART into Champ Car and the IRL. Scottspeed2 The second biggest was ignoring F1 and halting the events which had been held successfully for many years at the fabulous Watkins Glen, NY track.

(Photo of: Scott Speed)

June 18, 2006

"IT'S AN AUDI DAY, IT'S A DIESEL DAY, IT'S A DAY OF TECHNOLOGY": Audi PT1 Driver Emanuele Pirro

Audi dominates "24 Hours of LeMans" with DIESEL-powered race cars finishing first and third. Judd (Honda)-powered Pescalaro, local favorite, finishes second overall. Corvette C6-R wins its class in last few hours. Will Audi diesels winning both the "12 Hours of Sebring" and the world's toughest auto race, the "24 Hours of LeMans" this year finally convince American manufacturers and drivers that the technology can be made not only as good as gasoline-powered engines, but even be far superior? Here's the full story:

(Courtesy lemans.org) - In the final hours of the 74th running of the 24 Heures du Mans, there were no more surprises - unless one counts the unlikely eventuality of the world's premier endurance race being won by a diesel-engined sports car. Unlikely as it may seem - and it would have been deemed impossible until recently - diesel is not just economical, not merely practical, beyond unexpectedly torquey, it is now a type of engine with a Le Mans win to its name.Audilemans

The brace of Audi R10 TDI cars, powered by a 650 hp V12 TDI engine, were by far the fastest and most economical cars. Even before the victory of the No.8 Audi Sport Team Joest R10, in the capable, mature hands of Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner, and the third place of its sister No.7 car driven by Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, the car was changing the face of racing. Peugeot announced it will contest the great race next year with its own V12 diesel, with much the same specifications as Audi's TDI.

But the Audi will always be the first diesel to win Le Mans, and it extends the Ingolstadt manufacturer's record to six outright victories in the last seven years. It also demonstrates the incredible soundness and adaptability of the Audi R8 racing platform, from which were developed both the R10, and the Bentley Speed 8 which is the only other winner in the 21st Century. From all these perspectives, the 2006 24 Heures du Mans was historic.

History may not have been on the minds of the multitude of fans as they rushed onto the Grandstand Straight and towards the famous podium gantry to celebrate with all the race winners. Rather, the spectators, totalling 235,000 at the circuit this year and millions around the world, were honouring a simply superb race. Every year it is joked that Le Mans is not won in the first hours, but this year it seemed a genuine 24 Hour sprint as drivers could allow themselves no respite from the competition, lapping within seconds of their qualifying times throughout the race.

Pescalaro If history was on anyone's mind it was perhaps Henri Pescarolo, his team, and their many fans. While he made it onto the podium, this is the second year in which the team has had overall victory within its grasp, only to be defeated by the might of Audi. Throughout the final hours of this race, the No.16 and No.17 Pescarolo Judds appeared to run 'like clockwork', coming in for scheduled pit stops, getting back on the track without incident, maintaining a speed which in other years might have secured victory.

Pescarolo Sport must once again be considering 'what might have been'. As it was, the No.17 car of Eric Helary, Franck Montagny and Sebastien Loeb came second in the race, and the No.16 of Nicolas Minnasian, Emmanuel Collard and Erik Comas was fourth in the LM P1 class. Pescarolo's quest for Le Mans laurels is legendary, and 2006 may have been his best chance yet. It seems inevitable that Pescarolo will return in 2007, and that he will again be a favourite.

Behind the LM P1 cars were GT1, where a titanic battle raged for the entire race. In the end a Corvette, the 'works' No.64 Corvette C6.R driven by Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen, won its class again at Le Mans, suggesting that experience and preparation will out.Vettelemans

The circumstances might also suggest that racing is a fickle sport. Three hours from the end it seemed impossible that the No.009 Aston Martin Racing DBR9 would not hold off the No.64 C6.R as it had for so much of the race, superb drivers and technicians in both teams matching one another move for move, lap for lap. But with victory seemingly in sight the No.009 car fell victim to a clutch problem and was forced to settle for fourth in class. Ironically, the winning No.64 Corvette's sister car, No.63, also suffered a clutch problem early on Sunday morning; at the time, the Aston Martin seemed invulnerable. Some consolation for Aston Martin came from the No.007 Aston Martin Racing DBR9 of Thomas Enge, Andrea Piccini and Darren Turner finishing second in class, ahead of the No.72 Luc Alphand Adventures C5-R of Luc Alphand, Patrice Gouselard and Jerome Policand.

Lmp2 In LM P2, where the attrition was particularly fierce, the No.25 RML Lola AER of Thomas Erdos, Mike Newton and Andy Wallace managed a solid win, having led the class for almost the entire race Behind it were the No.24 Binnie Motorsports Lola Zytek of William Binnie, Allen Timpany and Yojiro Terada, and the No.27 Miracle Motorsports Courage AER of John Macaluso, Andy Lally and Ian James.

GT2 saw three different marques on the podium. The winner was the No.81 Team LNT Panoz Esperante driven by the all-British team of Tom Kimber-Smith, Richard Dean, and Lawrence Tomlinson. Second place was won by the No.83 Seikel Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driven by Lars Erik Nielsen, Pierre Ehret, and Domink Farnbacher, which suffered such misfortune in the last hour of the race; what seemed certain victory was denied them by a technical problem. In third place, in the model's Le Mans debut, was the No.87 Scuderia Ecossse Ferrari F430 GT in the hands of Chris Niarchos, Tim Mullen and British GT champion Andrew Kirkaldy.
Panoz

June 11, 2006

LE MANS PREVIEW: AUDI DIESELS AIM FOR VICTORY

Audi won the "12 Hours of Sebring" endurance sports car race, held March 18 at the Sebring, Florida Airport, with their 12-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. Drivers Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish completed 349 laps in their Audi P1-class R10 TDI POWER closed-wheel race car, four laps more than the second-placing car, a Lola B05/40/AER-powered P2-class racer (interestingly, piloted in part by the coming event's only female driver, Frenchwoman and equestrian Liz Halliday). With Le Mans-style endurance sports car racing barely a blip on the radar screens of even most racing fans Audidiesels in the USA, it's hard to say how Audi's win at Sebring in March and potential victory at next weekend's "24 Hours of Le Mans" might affect American's knowledge of and desire for diesel-powered vehicles. More than 50% of all vehicles on the road in Europe are diesel-powered. The best-selling car in the UK is a diesel-powered Honda model. But when Mazda won the "24 Hours of Le Mans" in 1991 with their four-rotor 787B rotary engine-powered super-exotic race car, they barely trumpeted that fact outside of Japan. Americans didn't know about it at all. Will Audi follow the Mazda template of what a car company should do when they win Le Mans using a surprising type of engine? (Photo: Audi R10 diesel-powered race cars look pretty for the camera).

Diesel engines, with their need for a less-expensive fuel than gasoline, their ability to provide, with minimal maintenance, over 1 million miles of service, their huge amount of low-end take-off and towing torque and, with turbochargers and superchargers (sometimes both) fitted to the engine, V8 gasoline engine-type cruising abilities, lowered emissions, both visible and invisible, lowered engine noise and their deserved reputation for a low occurrence of breakdowns, have a lot to offer, especially to American drivers.

DaimlerChrysler, at the start of June, announced they would be selling a diesel-powered version of their Grand Cherokee, but discontinuing a Liberty diesel-powered model though buyer demand far outstripped DCX's production abilities.

Audi_lemans_2 As long as auto manufacturers are unable to sell diesel-powered cars and light trucks in states such as California and New York, two states which account for a huge percentage of every car-makers' sales in the USA, and states which ban diesel sales through state laws, no car company will make a big commitment to diesels being sold in any large numbers in the USA. Even those diesel Jeep models will see many, if not most, of their sales in Europe, South America and Asia. (Photo: At Tokyo Motor Show, 2005,  TDI R10 street version of Audi's "Prototype 1"-class race car).

Here's some of what the AUDI AG Press Department has to say about the upcoming (next weekend, June 17-18) race this year at the famed Sarthe Circuit:

As the world’s first automobile manufacturer, AUDI AG aims to take overall victory at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans with a diesel sportscar. The first important milestone in this ambitious project was Saturday 18 March: Audi won the 12-hour race at Sebring (US state of Florida) with one of a pair of R10 sports prototypes. Lemanslm2

The Audi R10 is powered by a V12 TDI engine producing almost 650 hp and which has more than 1100 Newton metre torque available. It follows in the tire tracks of the Audi R8, which is the most successful Le Mans Prototype ever with 61 victories form 77 races to date. (Photo: Liz Halliday in Lola sports car; she'll be only woman in Le Mans line-up).

June 07, 2006

L. RON HUBBARD UNDER THE HOOD!

Just like some major automaker "sneaking into" NASCAR through the back door, L. Ron Hubbard, the dead science fiction author who invented a religion and got lots of people to give him lots of money so they could be in it, too --- Is now a factor in the world's fastest-growing motorsport. Yes, NASCAR's first Scientology-sponsored race car is planned to enter an event at Los Angeles' Irwindale Speedway on Saturday night, June 7th.Cruiseposter

If any sport can be said to "Spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ," it is NASCAR. Invocations, at the start of every race, generally delivered by a local pastor with some connection to the track, implore "Jesus Christ" to protect the racers and the fans and provide for a great day of racing. Other religions, it would appear, are "Not Welcome Here". NASCAR grandstands and infields also serve as museums of the Old South, as the "Stars and Bars", the traditional "Rebel" flag, fly in great numbers throughout the crowd, something NASCAR might grumble about privately but does nothing to stop publicly. It's still difficult for many to imagine NASCAR being serious about their ongoing "Diversity Program", when the symbol of the rebellion which broke apart the United States, assassinated a US President, killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and which was based on economic conditions determined by the free labor provided by Black slaves, is allowed to be freely displayed.

No word on whether or not Tom Cruise (who starred in the NASCAR film "Days of Thunder"), Isaac Hayes, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Chick Corea, Kirstie Alley, Nicole Kidman, Kelly Preston, Priscilla Presley or Lisa Presley or any of the other cult members will be part of the pit crew. Maybe founder L. Ron Hubbard will re-appear. But here's how the Dianetics2 Associated Press is reporting the story, out of Charlotte, North Carolina:

  Race fans, let the couch-jumping begin.
   The Church of Scientology, the religion for which actor Tom Cruise crusades, will attempt to spread its "Ignite Your Potential" message into auto racing through sponsorship of a race car in one of NASCAR's lowest levels.
   Kenton Gray, a 35-year-old Californian, will attempt to make the field for a late model race Saturday night at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. His No. 27 Ford Taurus will be sponsored by Bridge Publications, which publishes Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's bestseller "Dianetics."
   The hood of the car will say "Dianetics" on it, along with a volcano to mimic the book cover.
   Details of the sponsorship agreement were sketchy Wednesday.
   A woman who answered the phone at Freedom Motorsports, the team Gray founded, referred all calls to Bridge Publications. Danielle Methvin, spokeswoman for Bridge Publications, did not immediately return a call for comment. And there was no word if Cruise, who famously jumped on a couch during an Oprah Winfrey appearance last year, will be attending the race.
   NASCAR, for now, has no issue with the sponsorship.
Daysofthunder   "The sponsorship at the weekly and regional touring level are made independent of NASCAR, unlike our three series on the national level," spokesman Jim Hunter said. "However, we would step in at any level if we deemed it to be in bad taste or bad for the sport. But in this case, we don't
think it is."
   According to Freedom Motorsports' web site, Gray announced the five-year sponsorship deal on May 6.
   "Dianetics is a book that helped me in many ways since I first read it many years ago," Gray said in a statement. "It helped me get better control over the obstacles I had to get through to reach goals I was passionate about. Its a great honor to have a sponsor relationship that's so directly related to my
making it this far."
   Will Gray use Scientology's gimmicky "E-meter" (photo) to help with his racing efforts?
   Scientology is not the first religion to make its way into racing.
   Morgan Shepherd has competed the past few years in the No. 89 Victory in Jesus Racing MinistriesDianetics  car. NASCAR had to sign off on his paint scheme, and refused to let his first offering onto the track before finally agreeing to allow the message "Racing With Jesus" onto the hood of the car.
   And in 2004, Bobby Labonte drove the season-opening Daytona 500 in a car that advertised Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of The Christ."
   Still, NASCAR keeps a close eye on what it allows on its tracks.
   "When you get into philosophies and morals, that's a slippery slope," Hunter said. "But we do understand that NASCAR has broad national appeal, and we reach millions of people every week. Not all of our fans agree with some sponsorships, but they do understand that it is imperative for our cars to have sponsors in order to succeed.
   "Obviously, philosophically, everyone has different opinions."

Car Nut thought: It's going to be difficult, if not impossible, for NASCAR to keep Scientology out of the sport. NASCAR promotes both Christianity and encourages the memory of a violent attempted overthrow of the legitimate US government. How could they stop other organizations with "points of view" from becoming sponsors?
 

June 06, 2006

A1 GRAND PRIX RAISES SHORT-TERM FUNDS; SERIES BACKED BY DUBAI SHEIKH

A1 Grand Prix, which ran its first season this past year, and successfully so, staging events with "spec" open-wheel race cars driven by an interesting combination of retired F1 drivers and up-and-coming hotshoes, seems to have the cash to continue, at least for another season or so, thanks to an IPO on the London Stock A1gpengine Exchange. Started and backed almost completely by a Dubai Sheikh (his purchase of the race cars and engines was the single-largest racing equipment buy in history, they say), A1 GP has caught the attention of many fans, running in nations and during times of the year when F1 is not active. Also, the series unashamedly pits nation against nation, with national franchises sold to various racing interests in that country. Here's the latest from AUTOWEEK:

Rumors during the recently completed A1 Grand Prix season suggested the series was in serious financial trouble, but it appears that at least its short-term future is secure. A1 GP announced initial public offering plans, with a listing on the London Stock Exchange.

The series has engaged Nomura Securities to raise funds prior to an IPO, and London investment management firm RAB Capita has agreed to act as the lead investor.

The A1 GP company structure will also change, with the series founders Sheikh Maktoum and Tony Teixeira assuming less prominent roles, and a new management board that will include five non-executive directors. “This means there is no way that A1 GP can fail. The banks have been convinced enough to put up the money,” Teixeira said.Piquet

“When we started A1 GP, we were underfunded. We had to sort out our accounts, and now every single creditor has been paid and we have secure financial backing. This gives us the confidence to go forward and plan for the long term".

June 05, 2006

AW SHUCKS, BILL! Y'ALL GONNA RUN THAT JA-PAN-ESE CAR?

Here's something of a surprise from NASCAR. Bill Elliott, perennially known as "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville (GA)", and the winner of NASCAR's "Most Popular Driver Award" so many times that he pulled his name from that competition and now the trophy is named FOR him --- Will drive a car for TOYOTA later this year! With Elliott, Dale Jarrett and both of the amazingly irritating Waltrips on-board, what's TOYOTA going to do next? Free tickets to Daytona for the winner of NASCAR's "Best BBQ" contest? In other words: TOYOTA could not be getting MORE American!

Bill Elliott will run three races this season for Red Bull Racing as a warmup for its 2007 debut as one of Toyota's initial teams.

Elliott, NASCAR's 1988 champion, will attempt to qualify for races in Concord, N.C., Atlanta and Texas. The car make he'll drive has not been decided, but it won't be a Camry because the model has not been approved for 2006 competition. (Car Nut note: This will probably be our first official competitive look at NASCAR's so-called "Car of Tomorrow", COTO, the spec race car which all teams will eventually be running, phasing-in starting this year. That COTO means every NASCAR racer will be exactly alike, with the only differences being the decals.)

"It's an honor to have a driver of Bill Elliott's caliber help Belliottt us get the program ready for 2007," Red Bull general manager Marty Gaunt said Monday. "His championship pedigree and his penchant for providing technical feedback make Bill the ideal fit for this important role."

Red Bull is one of three teams that has announced plans to field Toyotas next season when the Japanese automaker makes its Nextel Cup debut. (Car Nut note: For those who don't know, RED BULL, makers of the first of the popular 'energy drinks', is so wealthy and so committed to motorsports that they own TWO Formula 1 teams, each of which estimated to cost some $100 million annually. Money is not a problem for these guys).

So far, Michael Waltrip is the only car owner with a driver lineup - he and Dale Jarrett will team to drive two entries. Bill Davis Racing has yet to announce its '07 driver lineup, and Red Bull appears to be having trouble finding a top-name driver.

Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick both signed extensions to stay with their current teams, leaving Casey Mears as the next best driver with a contract expiring at the end of the season. But Mears has maintained he wants to remain with Chip Ganassi Racing and is not talking to anyone about driving a Toyota.

Red Bull potentially could talk Elliott into piloting one of its cars next year. He's run a limited schedule the past two seasons, and his 2006 calendar has him driving five races for Waltrip and a select few for MB2 Motorsports. Caroftomorrow

Red Bull asked him to drive three this year as it tries to assemble a crew for the 2007 season-opening Daytona 500.

"The organization and its competitive spirit are what attracted me to Team Red Bull," Elliott said. "My job is simple, to put the car in the show, drive it toward the front, and provide valuable input so that Team Red Bull is fully prepared by the Daytona 500."

This story seems to have been corroborated by the latest (6-6-06) from The Associated Press:

Jim Aust, vice president of Toyota Motorsports and president and CEO of Toyota Racing Development, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that two of its current teams in the Craftsman Truck Series are hoping to run some races in 2007 with the new Car of Tomorrow that NASCAR plans to launch at Bristol next spring.

Germain Racing, which fields trucks for Todd Bodine and Ted Musgrave, and Wyler Racing, which has Jack Sprague as its truck driver, have told Aust they are looking for sponsorship to run a limited Car of Tomorrow schedule next season. Toyotatruck

The Car of Tomorrow is a bigger, boxier vehicle with a front-end splitter that NASCAR has designed to eventually replace the slick aerodynamic models that manufacturers spent the past 10 years developing. The Car of Tomorrow is scheduled to run in 15 races next season in a phase-in process that will be complete by 2009.

May 22, 2006

SLEAZY BERNIE SIGNS PACT WITH AUTOMAKERS; F1 TO REMAIN EXPENSIVE AND BORING FOR YEARS TO COME

"F1 Supremo", as the Euro media calls him, Bernie Ecclestone, has somehow muscled some of the world's major car-makers into calling off their threat of creating a rival series. How ho hum. This happens every few years. Remember, Bernie is the guy who recently, out of one side of his mouth, harshly criticized the current and youngest F1 World Champion ever, Spain's amazing Fernando Alonso, for "not doing enough to promote the sport". The next day, Bernie opens the other side of his mouth to say, "Well, we haven't really told him what he's supposed to do". Quite the charmer, that Bernie!

Bernie Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone (at left with wife) has signed an agreement with carmakers to end the threat of a rival series from 2008. Both Ecclestone and the Grand Prix Manufacturers' Association confirmed that they had signed a memorandum of understanding after years of negotiation. The five carmakers are Renault, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Toyota.

The five, who all have teams in the championship, signed the document during the Spanish Grand Prix but Ecclestone, 75, had left the Circuit de Catalunya without putting pen to paper.

Ecclestone told the Autosport website: "We've now signed our part and it is now just a question of sending it to the lawyers. The negotiations have taken a while and we spent a lot of time discussing issues which were not real, honest issues. But now at least we have the (memorandum) and that will form the basis of the Concorde Agreement, once we get the FIA technical issues sorted."

A manufacturers' association spokesman confirmed that all parties had signed.

Ecclestone, one of the thankfully last of the great monied, drugged and jetsetting EuroTrash of the Bernie2 '60s, thus guarantees there will be no major rival to F1. The new A1 Grand Prix series, bankrolled by the owners of Dubai, will continue to be run in F1's "off-season" in F1 "off-countries". That series, by the way, has turned-out to be quite an exciting venture, and USA fans get to see the open wheel cars with some proven drivers on the gorgeous and challenging Laguna Seca track in central California.

With Bernie evidently firmly in charge, able once again, as he has time after time, to muscle major world corporations into doing things "his way", F1 is sure to become even more expensive, dominated by the most-monied teams (and nations), a series where only three or four drivers are capable of winning on any given race day, and where the rest of the cannon fodder, uh, we mean competitors, languish minutes and laps behind the leaders.

Is this true: Some say that Bernie got his seed money for creating and organizing F1 by his participation in what is generally known as the British Great Train Robbery. As friendly as Bernie is with Long Beach Grand Prix founder Chris Pook, the two of them combined could create enough sleaze and grease to keep several refineries open. Thank goodness Bernie and Pook were kept from achieving their big dream: Turning USA open wheel racing into a minor league for F1.

May 02, 2006

"GRAND PRIX OF BROOKLYN"? AUTO RACING COMING TO NYC; APPARENTLY SOME DON'T LIKE THE IDEA

It's no secret that NASCAR has been trying to buy and develop land in New York City's fifth borough, Staten Island. Now we hear that race car driver/actor/philanthropist Paul Newman is helping fund an effort to bring open-wheel racing, specifically the Champ Car World Series, to a former Navy Air Base in Brooklyn called Floyd Bennett Field. 

Here's what the NY TIMES said about both deals recently. SOPRANOS fans especially will get a kick out of the Staten Island coverage. Our story begins at a community meeting on Staten Island between those pro and against the NASCAR track and three annual events there:

Less than an hour after it began, the meeting, according to people on both sides of the dispute who were present, degenerated into a shouting match. They said that a top union official who supports the development was involved in a scuffle with Councilman Andrew J. Lanza, a Republican who opposes it, as two planning officials tried unsuccessfully to calm the angry crowd. Nascar5

Mr. Lanza said yesterday that he was trying to describe his views on the project when "a guy put a bearhug on me, threatening me while guys standing in front of him were urging him, 'Punch him in the face. Hit him.' "

Mr. Lanza identified the man as Christopher J. Wallace, president of Local 20 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Mr. Wallace, whose union has 630 members, said yesterday, "That's silliness."

"Clearly, the speedway and the benefits to Staten Island are what we should be talking about," he said.

In telephone interviews, two Staten Island residents who are volunteers for neighborhood environmental groups and oppose the project, Ronald M. Lauria and Charles E. Perry, and an International Speedway Corporation official, Michael P. Printup, all said yesterday that they saw Mr. Wallace place his arm around Mr. Lanza while trying to grab a microphone from him.

"It's a shame the elected officials couldn't speak and finish their thoughts," said Mr. Printup, who oversees the project and said it would generate $200 million a year in economic activity and create 75 permanent jobs.

Police officers disbanded the meeting shortly afterward, saying that the auditorium's capacity had been exceeded. No arrests were made. A new hearing date has not been scheduled.

The speedway corporation has hired Guy V. Molinari, a former borough president, to sway opponents.

"We're going to have to reconvene and hopefully start to answer their questions," Mr. Printup said.

Coincidentally, another land-use dispute involving auto racing has also generated high emotions.

On April 21, North American Motorsport Events, of Fleetwood, Pa., presented a proposal to bring an annual auto race involving single-seat, or open-wheel, racing cars, to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, which was the city's first municipal airport, built on 1,500 acres of reclaimed marshland, and is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.Cart

Representative Anthony D. Weiner, who represents parts of Queens and Brooklyn, sent an aide to the meeting and later said that the aide was berated by State Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, who represents the area and has expressed tentative support for the project.

The acrimony between Mr. Weiner and Mr. Kruger, both Democrats, led to a loud argument at a fund-raising dinner on Thursday in Brooklyn, The Daily News reported.

Mr. Weiner said the project, which is backed by the actor (and race car driver) Paul Newman, would violate National Park Service regulations. "There is no doubt in my mind that when the senator learns how fervently his constituents oppose megadevelopment at Floyd Bennett Field, his position will either reverse or become awfully quiet," Mr. Weiner said.

Senator Kruger said of the project, "It's an exciting, unique opportunity to take what was the forgotten Floyd Bennett Field, energize it and bring a Grand Prix to Brooklyn. It will attract a very high-end, sophisticated clientele that will mean dollars coming into Brooklyn."

The National Park Service, which controls the site, has not taken a formal position on the proposal, which would not require permanent construction. It would cost an estimated $15 million a year, provide some money for charity, and be affiliated with the Champ Car World Series.

April 30, 2006

American Racing Today Provides Behind-the-Scenes Look at Today's Stock Car Racing Events!

Artlogo If you haven't heard American Racing Today in your radio market, then you can hear it now online at on Steve's American Racing Today web site!   Updated daily with the latest NASCAR news you're sure to enjoy! 

American Racing Today is a daily two-minute radio feature which provides a behind-the-scenes look at today’s stock car racing events. The show delivers team profiles, technical information, race previews, and inside information about what it takes to field a competitive racing team.

Audio_image Listen now: Buschwhackers! Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth

If you enjoy listening to American Racing Today, ask your local radio station to carry American Racing Today!  It's available upon request at 760 771-8157 via national syndication, by contacting Carey Parker or Steve Parker at sparker@dc.rr.com . 

April 23, 2006

GM, FORD LEAVING NASCAR?

Nascar1 GM OR FORD LEAVING NASCAR; RUMORS ABOUND ABOUT THEIR DAYS POSSIBLY BEING NUMBERED IN THE "GREAT AMERICAN MOTORSPORT". ARROGANT NASCAR SAYS: "WHO CARES? TOYOTA IS COMING ON-BOARD WITH THEIR DOLLARS NEXT YEAR!" THE DAYS OF "WIN ON SUNDAY, SELL ON MONDAY" ARE OVER.

The word is all over the Internet but not yet in the general media: One (or two or all) of the Big Three is formulating their withdrawal from NASCAR over the next 2-3 years, and oddsmakers say FORD might be the (first) one to go.

Peter DeLorenzo's website, autoextremist.com, has reported what's been rumored for more than a few years: Chevy, Ford and DCX spend an estimated $500,000 in total on the various NASCAR series in the course of one year. While that might be acceptable budgets for Ferrari, Toyota and Renault in their F1 efforts, companies in Detroit now regularly posting losses in the hundreds of millions are having a tough time justifying those costs to their stockholders.

However, because DeLorenzo also works for the Detroit manufacturers as a consultant/analyst, there is the chance that this "news" was planted on his website to gauge public reaction to the possibility.

WHY GM?

Those saying General Motors will leave NASCAR say that possibility might be connected to another long-running rumor: That Roger Penske has been tapped to replace either Rick Wagoner or Bob Lutz in their leadership positions at GM, or replace them both in one fell swoop.

The story goes that Penske, as leader of GM, would cut off all funding for racing except involvement in certain sports car series, in open-wheel series where engine-makers are an important part of the equation (IRL, Champ Car) or in an all-out effort to win at LeMans (which Ford did in the 1960s, after hiring Carroll Shelby for some $40 million to field a team to put Ford on top at the world famous endurance race).Nascar3

Roger Penske knows more than anyone else what the TRUE costs of racing are in all its different variations. Like President Franklin Roosevelt hiring Joseph P. Kennedy to be the first head of the Security and Exchange Commission, it makes a certain amount of sense to put the biggest fox in charge of the entire hen house.

WHY FORD?

They have just posted what is expected to be the first of several quarters of huge losses coming from the closing of several North American factories (GM already has absorbed similar losses), and they might be the one US-based car company unable to take it, or convince their stockholders that the cost is worth the overall price. Without the gigantic worldwide assets of all of GM or Daimler behind them, Ford is floundering.

TOYOTA AND THEIR $60 BILLION

Sixty billion dollars. That's what Toyota says they have, in cash, in the bank. With a full-on Formula 1 program costing the company near $500 million annually, and already involved in the Sears Craftsman Truck Series and a slowing IRL program, Toyota has money to spare for any racing program.

Camrynascar Many NASCAR teams are shaking in their boots at Toyota's entry into the Busch and Cup series. They should. The company has the money and determination to dominate, if and when they want to. No one is fooled with Toyota announcing their first "teams" as involving Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing. These mediocre outfits will do some of the final R&D for Toyota's NASCAR effort.

By 2010, the top teams in NASCAR Busch and Cup series will all be involved one way or another with Toyota.

In fact, most of the top teams in NASCAR have already, one way or another, gotten hold of Toyota NASCAR-spec racing engines and they are scared to death of what they see: High-technology to a degree not yet seen in NASCAR, and an evident commitment to spend as much as necessary to put the company on top and keep them there.

And once that circus starts, if one manufacturer starts dominating in all three series, sponsors will knock themselves out to have their names plastered on those cars and trucks --- and no one else's. Toyota will spend money and, ultimately, they will make even more.

IN RACING, "NEVER SAY NEVER"

However, one thing I have learned in covering the auto industry and auto racing for 35 years --- Never say 'never' or 'always' about anything. If either Dodge or Chevrolet announced one hour from now that they were leaving NASCAR (for the same reasons which Ford is rumored to be considering), it would not surprise me one bit.

However, before Toyota comes on-board next year, one or more of the Detroit car-makers will probably be gone.

NASCAR'S "CAR OF TOMORROW" HAS A BIG PART

In another time, the "Car of Tomorrow" (COT) might have been a quaint, corporate-sponsored exhibit at Disneyland, maybe with an audio-animatronic Richard Petty doing the walk-around explanation for a hushed crowd, amazed at the near-reality of it all.Caroftomorrow

But the COT is real and it is here. And all three manufacturers now involved in NASCAR have spent millions to "help" the France family in its development.

Once the COT is fielded, it cuts the final connection between the car on the race track and the car in the showroom. Finally, once and for all, apart from some paint, tape and decals, the car on the NASCAR race track and the "stock" car in the dealer's showroom will truly have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

"WIN ON SUNDAY, SELL ON MONDAY"

There was a time when "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" meant sense to the Detroit car-makers. In the '50s, '60s and '70s, when there were no other choices to the American car-buyer outside of the various GM, Ford and Chrysler brands, a win in NASCAR, NHRA, Indy racing (engines) and even SCORE off-road racing (Baja 500 and 1000) really had an influence on buyers.

But with more than 900 different makes and models available in the US, the amount of juice a NASCAR victory gives a manufacturer might simply not be worth the cash.

NASCAR FIGHTS TO BECOME A NATIONAL SPORT

NASCAR continues to try and place tracks in the northeast and northwest while their momentum is high. But the questions are beginning to arise: How long can NASCAR stay this "hot"? When does NASCAR become overexposed (and more than one analyst says that's already true)?

When does America either completely tire of or see-through the forced and phony geniality of media-trained NASCAR drivers? When do even die-hard fans get tired of the pseudo-Christianity and patriotism of what is, in the end, just a sport, like any other? NASCAR will disappear long before we ever hear a "benediction" focusing only on one religion before a football or hockey game in this country.

Even 5-year old kids can now predict exactly what the sport's drivers, announcers and sponsors will say whenever a mic is shoved in their face.

NASCAR has to be very careful in not getting ahead of themselves in misjudging their own popularity and at the same time keep the public from viewing the sport as the motorized version of the WWF.

If the public stops respecting the sport, then sponsors will be leaving like the place is on fire, Toyota or no Toyota. The France family has so far controlled the competition while still leaving a veneer of real racing over the entire show; but every race gives that veneer the time and opportunity to disappear, and then NASCAR becomes "Rollerball" on four wheels. After all, how many arrests of the Busch Brothers are good for the sport?

More to come on this important story.

April 09, 2006

NBC TRIES TO RILE NASCAR FANS WITH --- MUSLIMS!

HERE'S A STORY 'RIPPED' FROM THE WIRES, AS THEY SAY...KEEP IN MIND THAT NBC IS STILL PAYING MILLIONS TO CARRY NASCAR RACES! AND WASN'T "DATELINE NBC" THE SHOW WHICH "MADE CERTAIN" THAT PARTICULAR CARS AND TRUCKS WOULD "BLOW UP" WHEN INVOLVED IN ACCIDENTS...GUARANTEEING THE ENGULFING ON-CAMERA FIRE STORM BY RIGGING THE VEHICLES WITH CANS OF GASOLINE AND EXPLOSIVE TRIGGERS...?

NEW YORK  - NASCAR officials criticized an NBC news magazine program Friday, saying it tried "to
manufacture the news" by bringing a group of Muslim men to one of its car races to see if they would be mistreated by NASCAR fans.
     "Dateline NBC" countered by saying it was not doing a story on NASCAR when it sent cameras to gauge reaction to the Muslims brought to Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, but was exploring
a possible story based on a poll indicating an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.
     NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said the group walked around outside the Martinsville track without incident, but said the car racing organization objected to the staged nature of the TV
shoot.
     "It's outrageous that a news organization like NBC would seek to manufacture the news instead of reporting the news," Poston told Reuters Friday.
     "Dateline NBC" defended its reporting in a statement.      
     "Dateline is not planning a story about NASCAR," it said. "We are following up on a recent poll and other articles indicating an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. We are curious about whether that is true. The NASCAR race at Martinsville was a stop we have made in our research on this story, which may take us across the country."
     NBC said there was nothing new about this technique in TV newsgathering, noting that government agencies and journalists conduct such investigations to expose possible discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
     NASCAR, which boasts rising television ratings and a growing and highly loyal fan base, is in the final year of a contract with NBC Sports, which will broadcast the second half of the Nextel Cup season.

THE BOTTOM LINE IS --- NBC PARADED THESE "DRESSED-LIKE-MUSLIMS" CHARACTERS ALL OVER THE TRACK AT MARTINSVILLE --- AND NOTHING HAPPENED! TOO BAD NBC --- BETTER 'DATELINE' STICK WITH BLASTING CAPS AND GASOLINE TO "ENSURE" GETTING THE NEWS...

April 08, 2006

FINALLY! THE SOLUTION FOR NASCAR'S 'BUSCH-WHACKERS'

AFTER 30 YEARS OF TRACKING NASCAR INSIDE AND OUT, WE WERE TIRED OF THE 'CHERRY-PICKERS' LONG AGO. HERE'S THE ANSWER TO THE 'PROBLEM' WHICH SHOULD MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY...

Suddenly, everyone has discovered “Busch-whacking”, that phenomenon which occurs (as it did the weekend of 4-8/9-06 at Texas Motor Speedway) when the Busch and Cup events are run on the same track and weekend. There were 18 full-time Cup competitors “cherry-picking” in that weekend’s Busch race.

First, some trivia. The very first Busch Series race was --- Do you know? --- In February, 1982, at Daytona --- And who won it? None other than Dale Earnhardt! Now back to our story...

Cup racers sure aren’t there for the money, at least most of them (though some teams could use that extra pocket change to pay their NASCAR fines).

We’ve been railing against the cherry-pickers for years, and NASCAR has their reasons for keeping things the way they are. Two of the main ones are:

1)     Cup drivers in the race make for better ticket sales and TV ratings for the Busch event than without them, and,

2)     The Busch drivers get great experience racing alongside the more-seasoned Cup racers.

Also, with NASCAR’s new testing rules for this season, teams can not practice on some tracks, Texas included. For this reason, the Busch race becomes a practice session for the Cup competitors. NASCAR officials won’t admit this, but it’s not even a “secret” of any sort anymore.

For the Cup racers, the prize money and points are only incidental to the experience they are gaining for the next day’s race --- For everything from the all-important race car set-up to the driver learning new lines around the track, testing their tires and their own endurance on a tough track like Texas (remember when CART cancelled a race at Texas because they said their drivers were passing out on the high banking?).

So here’s the solution:

First, and NASCAR can start doing this tomorrow, after a race such as Texas, and all Busch events the same weekend, same track as Cup, bring the top finishing Busch competitor to Victory Circle and allow him, his car and his team (or her's) to get the deserved accolades, along with the overall winner of the event.

Allow Cup racers in the Busch events. All well and good, everyone is happy (especially NASCAR, as they make more money, which ALWAYS makes the France family happy).

But --- Take ALL the prize monies won by Cup racers during the Busch season. Put it in a pot and award ALL that money as bonus and points payments to Busch racers and teams at the end of the season.

Some of it should go to a team which has had a particularly “hard luck” year (let the Busch teams vote on that one); some of the cash should go to Top Ten and Top Five finishers during the year (NASCAR could certainly work out a system to determine those deserving drivers and teams), and the Busch season champion, as well as the Top Rookie and Most Improved Driver all deserve a big bonus at the end of the year!

It would be very interesting to see how may Cup racers would still be attracted to the Busch events if the prize money was not part of the racing equation that day.

Of course, all this becomes moot with the introduction over time of the NASCAR "Car of the Future", which, at least initially, will not be used in Busch events.

What do YOU think?

WHY IRL DRIVER PAUL DANA DIED

'CAR NUT' STEVE PARKER SPEAKS OUT ON THE DEATH OF IRL RACER PAUL DANA. THIS TRANSCRIPT, FROM THE APRIL 6, 2006 "MOTORSPORTS UPDATE", A  REGULAR SEGMENT OF "CAR NUT TV", SEEN ON TIME-WARNER CABLE SYSTEMS IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY AND THE COACHELLA VALLEY (PALM SPRINGS, LA QUINTA, INDIO, ETC). THE SAME BASIC THOUGHTS WERE SHARED BY STEVE ON HIS 'CAR NUT RADIO SHOW' HEARD EVERY SUNDAY FROM 8-10am ON NewsTalk 920 KPSI, PALM SPRINGS.

"WHAT WE HAVE TODAY IN OPEN-WHEEL RACING IN THIS COUNTRY ARE TWO SERIES OFFERING ON-THE-JOB TRAINING TO AMATEUR-LEVEL DRIVERS IN THE FASTEST AND POTENTIALLY MOST DANGEROUS RACE CARS IN THE WORLD."

WHY WAS INDY RACING LEAGUE RACE CAR DRIVER PAUL DANA KILLED DURING PRACTICE FOR THE SERIES’ OPENING RACE OF THE SEASON?

BECAUSE SOMETHING VERY UGLY AND UNSAFE HAS HAPPENED TO OPEN WHEEL RACING IN AMERICA.

WHEN THE CART AND IRL SERIES SPLIT UP, MANY OF THE TRADITIONAL BIG TIME SPONSORS IN THE SPORT DROPPED OUT. THE TV RATINGS FOR BOTH SERIES WERE TERRIBLE FROM THE START AND GOT WORSE.

EVEN THE INDY 500 WENT FROM A MONTH-LONG TO A WEEK LONG EVENT, ITS TV RATINGS PLUMMETED AND TICKETS FOR THE EVENT ARE AVAILABLE THE DAY OF THE RACE.

ESPECIALLY IN THE IRL, IT SEEMED THE SPORT HAD BECOME MUCH MORE DANGEROUS, WITH MORE WRECKS, SERIOUS INJURIES AND EVEN DEATHS.

IT USED TO BE THAT A DRIVER WAS ALLOWED TO GET INTO THE FASTEST CARS ONLY AFTER MANY YEARS OF ESTABLISHING HIM OR HERSELF ON SMALLER RACE TRACKS AND IN SLOWER CARS. ONLY THEN COULD THE DRIVER HOPE FOR A CHANCE TO GET A TRY-OUT AND OFFERED A SPOT ON A TEAM.

AFTER PROVING HIM OR HERSELF ON THE TRACK, A TEAM COULD GO OUT AND GET A CASH SPONSOR. THAT WAS BASICALLY THE WAY THE OPEN-WHEEL RACE SERIES WORKED FOR ALMOST 70 YEARS IN THIS COUNTRY. BRINGING MONEY NEVER HURT, BUT DRIVER SKILL WAS OF PARAMOUNT CONCERN.

TODAY, THE SYSTEM HAS BEEN DANGEROUSLY TURNED ON ITS HEAD.

PAUL DANA REPLACED VITOR MEIRA LAST YEAR ON THE RAHAL/LETTERMAN TEAM BECAUSE HE BROUGHT A SPONSOR TO THE TEAM. TODAY, A RACER HAS TO GET A SPONSOR FIRST, THEN FIND A TEAM TO TAKE THE MONEY.


WHAT WE HAVE TODAY IN OPEN-WHEEL RACING IN THIS COUNTRY ARE TWO SERIES OFFERING ON-THE-JOB TRAINING TO AMATEUR-LEVEL DRIVERS IN THE FASTEST AND POTENTIALLY MOST DANGEROUS RACE CARS IN THE WORLD.

THAT’S WHAT KILLED PAUL DANA: HIS OWN INEXPERIENCE AND ALMOST EVERY TEAM BEING FORCED TO DO BUSINESS THIS TERRIBLE NEW WAY.

THIS SITUATION EXISTS BECAUSE OF TONY GEORGE AND HIS OWN SELFISH DESIRE TO PERSONALLY DOMINATE THE SPORT.

IMAGINE ANY OTHER PROFESSIONAL SPORT WHERE THE GOLFER, FOOTBALL PLAYER, BASEBALL STAR OR BASKETBALL PLAYER HAS TO FIRST GET A SPONSOR BEFORE THEY ARE ALLOWED TO PLAY!

WE ALL BETTER START REMEMBERING THAT THOSE ARE HUMAN BEINGS IN THE COCKPITS OF THOSE RACE CARS, NOT ATM MACHINES FOR THE USE OF THE RACE TEAMS.