Column: Motorsports

Last weekend I attended the CART Champ Car race at Mid-Ohio as announcer for the American City Racing League, which was one of the support races.

You've probably watched races from Mid-Ohio on TV, but the tube really doesn't do justice to the beautiful setting and the extremely challenging natural terrain road course. Anyway, it was a treat to see the Champ cars in their natural habitat ... the cars are awesome, and so is the car control exhibited by most of the drivers. This is another aspect that is far more impressive in person than on TV. If you ever get a chance to attend a CART race, by all means do so. You won't be disappointed.

One of the innovations CART has recently made to try and recover some market share from NASCAR is the "Fan Forum." This is, basically, a press conference with fans asking the questions instead of journalists. The first of these forums took place at Mid-Ohio last weekend, and was very successful. The best exchange that came out of the session was when a young man in the audience asked Barry Green: "Mr. Green, do you ever pray?" Without missing a beat, Green replied, "Kid, I have a two-car Champ Car team. My drivers are Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti. I pray every day."

Rumors and silly-season hoopla were also the order of the day at Mid-Ohio. The grapevine had Jimmy Vasser separating from the Target-Ganassi team. It was denied by the parties concerned, but after the race it became apparent that the buzz is true. If Juan Montoya goes to the Williams Formula 1 team next year, as has been rumored for some time, Ganassi will find himself with a completely new set of drivers for 2001. Word has it that Michael Andretti, whose contract with Newman-Haas is up at the end of this season, might be entertaining ideas of changing horses. Besides Target-Ganassi, there may also be openings at Team Green (perhaps lessening Barry Green's need for prayer) and Players-Forsythe.

Moving over to NASCAR land, first let me congratulate Steve Park on his first win. He drove a heads-up race and took advantage of great pit work to bring it home for car owner Dale Earnhardt. I wonder if his boss would have raced him as cleanly as Mark Martin did in the final laps? I also wonder why Goodyear spent so much time and effort developing a rain tire for Winston Cup to use on road courses, when NASCAR won't use it. Watkins Glen qualifying would have been the perfect opportunity to use these tires, but instead NASCAR arbitrarily set the grid according to team owner points. This denied a number of teams the opportunity to make the race, and left a lot of hard feelings among those denied the chance to compete. And it seemed like the Holyfield-Ruiz fight might not be the only big-time fisticuffs of the weekend when Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart emerged from their cars after the race. The altercation never got past the shouting-match stage, but if the pair ever does square off, my money's on Stewart.

The big flap about the Firestone tire recall may well have an affect on racing. Customers are refusing to accept any Firestone tire on their new cars (never mind that only certain sizes of one particular type of tire are involved), and personal injury lawyers are circling like the vultures they are. The cost to Firestone could be on the order of a billion dollars in compensation, legal costs, and lost business. What might this do to Firestone's racing budget for CART, IRL, Formula 1, etc.? Firestone had a similar problem twenty-odd years ago, forcing the company out of racing and into a takeover by Japanese tire giant Bridgestone. I'd hate to see perhaps the best-ever racing tire manufacturer get out of the game again.

Although the Indy Racing League (OK, Indy Racing Northern Lights Series) has made some strides in the quality of racing, little things keep popping up to indicate the series still isn't quite ready for prime time. The most recent problem was the arrest last weekend of IRNLS driver Scott Harrington on a DUI charge ... his sixth! Harrington, who had a .21 blood alcohol level, was immediately suspended by Mid-America Motorsports owner David Didero. It was later announced that Jacques Lazier will get the ride for the remainder of the season.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist. Write to him at racytalker@aol.com

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