Weather shortens racing
June 1, 2003
Rain, rain, go away! This has been one of the most weather-plagued racing seasons in recent memory.
Last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 was shortened by rain, this weekend’s Craftsman Truck series qualifying and final CART qualifying at Milwaukee were rained out. And these are just the latest in a string of delayed and canceled events, starting with the rain-curtailed Daytona 500.
Fortunately, we in the West are into our summer weather pattern and should have good racing conditions for the rest of the season.
Gil de Ferran’s Indy win last weekend was a popular and sentimental one among participants on both sides of the open-wheel split. De Ferran, one of the truly nice guys in racing, spoiled his teammate’s attempt at the history books, relegating Helio Castroneves to second place in his try to become the first “threepeat” Indy winner. De Ferran is the consummate professional, who goes quietly about his job and doesn’t get caught up in all the hoopla surrounding him.
As recently as a month ago, it was questionable whether he would even race at Indy. He was recovering from a concussion and cracked vertebra suffered in a collision with Michael Andretti at Phoenix, and missed the IRL race in Japan due to the injuries. In fact you could tell de Ferran was in some pain as he exited the car at the end of the Indy 500, but winning that race has got to be a better pain killer than anything you can get from the pharmacy!
Even though Castroneves failed to set a record for consecutive Indy wins, other records were set by a “rookie” driver with Formula 1 and CART credentials. Tora Takagi became the first Japanese driver to win “Rookie of the Year” honors at the Brickyard and the first Japanese driver to lead the Indy 500.
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“It is a big honor for me,” said Takagi, “even though I have a lot of top-level open-wheel racing experience to be called ‘rookie.'”
Over in NASCAR-land, Jerry Nadeau has been released from Virginia Commonwealth University/MCV Medical Center and will continue rehabilitation at an institute nearer his home outside Charlotte, N.C. He has made significant progress, the team reports, and is “on an excellent recovery path,” a team update said. Mike Wallace will continue to drive the No. 01 U.S. Army car until further notice.
Charlotte winner Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, drew a $2500 fine for “unapproved use of refrigerant near the fuel system,” prior to qualifying for the 600. Chilled fuel has a lower vaporization point and can produce a small horsepower increase. Maybe a little too much power, as Johnson’s engine blew at the start of the qualifying run.
One suspects that had he qualified on the pole, the run would have been disallowed in addition to the fine. This is not the first time Knaus has been apprehended for “illegal” activities, and some in the garage are grumbling that the Lowe’s team was let off lightly while others have lost points as well as money for similar infractions.
NASCAR’s rationale, apparently, is to dock points (as they did with Mark Martin last season) if the infraction did, or could have, materially affected the outcome of a race. In this case, the action occurred during qualifying and the car started at the back anyway, so a fine was deemed appropriate.
Perhaps the biggest off-track news this past week was the termination of the contract between Dodge Motorsports and Bill Davis Racing, cutting off all support and access to information for drivers Ward Burton and Kenny Wallace.
Todd Goyer, managing director for Dodge Motorsports, said Thursday the contract was broken before last week’s Coca-Cola 600 because of a “material breach of agreement,” but refused to comment further. Davis can still use Dodge Intrepids for Burton, Wallace and Busch Series driver Scott Wimmer, but now he will now have to pay for all of his equipment. More serious is the loss of information sharing with the other Dodge teams, consisting of the Penske, Ganassi, Evernham, Petty, and Ultra Motorsports groups.
Speculation is that Davis has been in discussion with Toyota, which will become the first foreign automaker in NASCAR next season when it enters Tundras in the Truck Series.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist. He can be reached at Racytalker@aol.com.