Motorsports Column for 4/22/00

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that this might be the last season for the Outlaw Karts at Fuji Park, depending on what happened with the new Costco store.

Well, based on the outcome of a meeting between the Park Users coalition and the Parks and Recreation folks last Tuesday, it looks like the Outlaws will have a home for some time to come. Not only that, but it will be a better home.

Plans are in the works to construct an 87,500 square foot multiple-use indoor arena. It can be used by the Outlaw Karts as well as other park users for events such as concerts, horse shows, rodeos, etc. This will allow the Kart organizers to run a winter series, drawing racers from outside the area as well as locals.

-- The Indy Racing League has its final tuneup before the Indy 500 tonight at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race will mark the superspeedway debut of the new Olds Aurora 3.5 liter engine, which has been challenged by the revitalized Infiniti powerplant this year.

With the smaller (3.5 liters vs. 4.0 liters), higher-revving (10,700 rpm limit vs. 10,000) engines, using a 180-degree crank, fans will be treated to the familiar Indy Car shriek rather than the stock car rumble that has characterized the IRL cars in previous years.

At the close of entries for the 2000 Indy 500, 48 teams and 93 cars had signed on the dotted line to qualify for the May 28 event. Three former champions will be in attendance: Al Unser Jr., Eddie Cheever, and Buddy Lazier, along with defending series champion Greg Ray.

Among the 11 rookies trying to make the field will be 1999 CART champion Juan Montoya, CART journeyman Memo Gidley, and World of Outlaws and NASCAR veteran Andy Hillenburg.

A handful of teams also have cars on the list but no drivers announced. Among them are the A.J. Foyt/Kenny Brack consortium, Team Menard, Treadway, Pagan, Walker, Cheever, Simon, Nienhouse, Coulson and Hemelgarn.

If you have a couple million dollars in sponsorship money lying around and think you can talk your way past the rookie test requirments, give me a call and I'll put you in touch with the appropriate parties.

-- Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend this weekend's IRL Las Vegas round, as I will be announcing at the Grand Am sports car race at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend. I just wish this form of racing had the marketing clout of NASCAR, because it's every bit as exciting.

Speaking of exciting NASCAR racing, Talladega was a lot more thrilling than I had anticipated, especially the last 20 laps or so. Anybody that saw that race and doesn't agree that Jeff Gordon is one helluva driver needs professional help.

On the down side, it's just a matter of time before somebody is killed or seriously injured in a restrictor-plate race "big wreck". After the race, the drivers were pretty much unanimous in voicing the opinion that it wasn't much fun being out there running so fast, so close, for so long.

Said winner Gordon, "We were all very blessed and fortunate that this race went the way it did, because it might not have. We were so stacked up."

Dale Earnhardt echoed his sentiments, saying, "It was just a real rough day. This is superspeedway racing, but it sure was a bunch of bumper cars. It was as bad as Martinsville was as far as the contact we had."

And "Mr. Excitement" Jimmy Spencer may have voiced the opinion of the drivers best, saying, "It was very nerve-wracking. They're great drivers ... but there should have been an accident every lap, every corner."

-- The question NASCAR needs to ask is: Is it worth risking the lives of 43 men to give the paying customers a three-hour wild mouse ride? By making the restrictor plates smaller, as it did this year, NASCAR packed the cars even more densely than before, creating more potential for death or injury.

It seems NASCAR has thrown caution to the winds for the sake of the "show". It's a miracle someone wasn't seriously injured at Talladega on Sunday.

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

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