Fond memories of Oldsmobile

By now I'm sure you've heard that General Motors is dropping the Oldsmobile line in 2002.

Olds has been around since 1897, the oldest American car brand, and second only to Mercedes-Benz in longevity. Olds was also a force in the early days of NASCAR, but in today's dog-eat-dog automotive market, the brand just wasn't robust enough to cut it anymore.

I have fond personal memories of Oldsmobiles, which my father drove while I was in the early stages of "car awareness." In fact, I learned to drive in the last Oldsmobile he owned, a blue and white 1954 Super 88. Every now and then I'll see one at Hot August Nights, or the Silver Dollar Car Classic or another car show, and memories come flooding back. Yes, it was "my father's Oldsmobile," and I for one will miss it.

Of course, the demise of Olds has repercussions for racing, particularly for the Indy Racing League. The Olds Aurora power plant has been the engine of choice for the IRL for the past four years, although the Infiniti power plant finally showed its stuff last season with its first win. It appears that although the Olds Aurora name will be dropped after the 2001 season, there are contracts and structure in place that will keep GM supplying engines for the IRL.

It's even possible that Cadillac Northstar will be the badge on IRL GM engines in 2002 and beyond, especially since the Cadillac LeMans program has fallen on hard times. Whatever happens, you can be that Tony George and GM will figure some way that the smaller, cash-strapped IRL teams won't have to replace all their engines. At $100,000 a pop, that could cut the IRL field in half.

The situation could be good news for Infiniti, and even some other engine manufacturers, who might interpret GM's move as an opportunity for them to make some inroads with IRL teams. That could only be a good thing, as

competition will inevitably improve the technology. In fact, Ilmor Engineering, the firm that built the "Mercedes" engines for CART, is building GM-based power plants for Penske Racing's 2001 assault on the Indy 500, and Kelley Racing has also ordered some of the Ilmor units.

I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember early T.V. star Howdy Doody. Howdy was wildly popular in his day, but not nearly as much so as his modern-day look alike, Bill Elliot. Elliot was once again voted Most Popular Driver in the fan poll conducted by the National Motorsports Press Association, for the umpteenth year in a row.

Even though Bill finished just out of the top 20 in points, and is abandoning Ford for Dodge next season, he still received almost 40 percent of the 280,000 votes cast, easily outdistancing second place Dale Earnhardt, who scored just over 16 percent. With that kind of numbers, there's no need for a recount.

Other drivers who received significant numbers of votes were Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, and Bobby Labonte.

In addition to two more races for the 2001 season, NASCAR is also revamping the format for The Bud Shootout. Originating as the Busch Clash in 1979, the non-points event will be called the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. Instead of the 25-lap format that has been the standard for the past few years, the race will be lengthened to 70 laps with a mandatory pit stop, and will be lengthened as necessary to finish under the green. When the announcement was made during the hoopla surrounding NASCAR's banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, officials released the details one at a time. This prompted Dale Earnhardt to remark, "Send me the rules when you get done with them."

The field will consist of 2000 pole winners, as well as former winners of the event. Those include Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Mark Martin, Geoffrey Bodine and Ken Schrader. Ted Musgrave won a starting spot from among second-round fast qualifiers at the announcement when his name was revealed under the cap of one of 15 Bud bottles. Don't ask.

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

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