Motorsports Column for 11/27/99

With the racing season over, this week's column will be kind of a grab-bag of interesting facts, rumors, and announcements about next season. Enjoy.

-- Let's all buy CART a beer today. Championship Auto Race Teams came into existence Nov. 27, 1978, which makes it 21 years old today. It was also a banner day for NASCAR, because the split of open-wheel racing (USAC vs. CART) helped trigger the phenomenal growth of the stock car racing organization.

Recently, the CART-IRL split further entrenched NASCAR as the 600-pound gorilla of American auto racing.

-- Hendrick Motorsports announced the first step in a major reorganization Monday, naming Gary DeHart as new crew chief for Terry Labonte's Kellogg's No. 5 team.

DeHart led the Labonte team to the Winston Cup championship in 1996. Additional changes in top-level management are in the works, according to Hendrick general manager John Hendrick, who did not rule out further personnel changes.

-- Two-time Craftsman Truck Champion Ron Hornaday was impressive in his first ARCA race at Atlanta last weekend. He drove a converted Winston Cup car inherited from Dale Earnhardt stable mate Steve Park to the win.

"I think Earnhardt was trying to see if I'd be scared," said Hornaday. "This is one of the fastest tracks we go to, one of the fastest the Busch guys go to. I've never been around this track, and what's better than to run a race to get experience for next year." Hornaday will be running the Busch series next season, taking over Dale Jr.'s ride. The win clearly showed him to be ready for the step up.

-- Race fans everywhere need to boycott Big Daddy's Barbecue Sauce. The company has burned just about every racing series in the country.

After big promises - and no money or performance in Winston Cup, Craftsman Truck, and IRL - the IHRA announced this week that they are canceling a previously agreed-to promotional program for its Alcohol Funny Car class with Big Daddy's. Once again, the company had failed to live up to its financial obligations with Von Smith's AFC team.

-- CART owners voted unanimously last week to retire No. 99. This was Greg Moore's number, and it is only the second number ever retired by CART (A.J. Foyt's No. 14 is the other).

Fittingly, fellow Canadian Wayne Gretzky's number, also 99, was retired by the NHL last month. It was the first number assigned to Moore by the Westwood (Canada) Karting Association, and he carried it throughout his racing career.

"Greg Moore left a permanent impression on the FedEx Championship Series in his all-too brief tenure with us," said CART CEO Andrew Craig. "It seems only proper that we assure him a permanent legacy by retiring the number which became a symbol of his success."

-- In what Rick Galles termed "the worst-kept secret in the history of racing," Al Unser Jr. was officially announced Tuesday to have signed a five-year deal to drive for Galles/ECR Racing in the Indy Racing League.

The evasive Galles said that they had signed a major sponsor along with some other associates, but could not announce them. Galles did say that the primary sponsor, new to motorsports, wanted to hold a launch of its own.

The Unser/Galles combination won 16 CART races over eight previous seasons, along with the 1990 season championship. Unser will run the full season in a G-Force chassis with Oldsmobile Aurora power, but the main draw for Unser was the chance to return to Indianapolis.

"I have some unfinished business there," he said. "I wasn't fast enough to make the show in my last attempt."

-- Recently, we mentioned Robby Gordon's plans to move back to Winston Cup racing, speculating that he might purchase Ricky Rudd's team.

Well, Gordon has just signed a joint-venture agreement with Irvan-Simo Racing to use their Mooresville facility, including all equipment, race cars and employees. The agreement also includes a merchandising deal with No Fear, the apparel company owned by Mark and Brian Simo.

Ernie Irvan will act as advisor to Gordon and other Team Gordon partners Mike Held and John Menard. The team will campaign a No. 13 Ford Taurus.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist.


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