The economy continues to negatively affect racing at all levels. Poor car counts have been reported at tracks throughout the country and loss of sponsorship has been a thorn in the side of promoters, race teams, and sanctioning bodies for more than a year.
The latest problem to surface was the filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by financial giant Conseco, primary sponsor of the A.J. Foyt IRL and NASCAR teams. Foyt has recently added his grandson to his IRL roster and who knows who is (or was) to appear in his Winston Cup car next season. The volatile A.J. goes through employees faster than a McDonald's franchise so I'm looking for at least two or three occupants in his Winston Cup car next season, provided sponsorship emerges. If not, then NASCAR will be perilously close to not having a full starting field of 43 cars at some races.
I've seen a similar trend locally at Champion Speedway and also with the American City Racing League, the road-racing series I travel with and announce for. Both entities are taking steps to remedy the problem. I spoke with Jeb Onweiler of Champion earlier this week and he is moving forward with plans to make his Hornets division an affordable option for race fans who want to come out of the stands and climb into the driver's seat.
And let's face it, that's where most of our drivers come from. I hope Jeb is successful with this division and that it will provide a steppingstone for wannabe drivers to get into the sport and move up to bigger and better things.
In his column last week, Jeremy Evans made the sort of uninformed statement often made by stick-and-ball sports guys to the effect that NASCAR drivers (and by extension other racers) aren't athletes. He noted that driving to Yerington didn't tire him out so racing can't be difficult. Jeremy, my young friend, driving your grocery-getter to Yerington is to driving in a race as jogging down to the mailbox is to running a marathon.
The concentration, heat, g-forces, and other physical and mental demands on race drivers are far greater than those faced by other athletes and there are few timeouts or halftime breaks. Most professional drivers are in tremendous physical shape, as they must be to be competitive in today's racing world. Witness the fact that a couple of Top Gun fighter pilots waxed the rest of us last August in the Celebrity/Media race at Champion Motor Speedway.
Speaking of columnists, Sam Baumann took me to task a couple of weeks ago, chiding me for what he perceived to be my dislike of Formula 1 racing. It seems that Sam covered the F1 circuit in Europe years ago and extolled the glamour of the series to me. As I told Sam, it isn't that I dislike F1, it's just that I don't have many readers that follow it or understand it. And even though I am fascinated by the technology of F1, I'm repelled by the politics and greed that have taken over the sport.
Back in my early days of close involvement with racing, I met many of the greats from 30 years ago: Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Jack Brabham, James Hunt, Mark Donohue, Mario Andretti (yes, that one) and others. The budget for the entire F1 circus in those days wouldn't cover one back marker team's expenses these days, but the drivers were wonderfully skilled and such fun to watch.
And the glamour was there. It's not that I don't like F1 these days, Sam. It's just that the way I remember it is so much better.
I don't normally run want ads in this space, but here's a chance for a race fan to get in on the ground floor of a career in the racing industry. Champion Motor Speedway is looking for the ideal Director of the CMS Kids Klub. The Kids Klub headquarters will be located at the new Earnhardt Memorial Park, which will feature the world's biggest race car jungle gym, along with bicycle and EconoBox races.
If you're interested, call CMS general manager Jeb Onweiler at (775) 884-3045 or send him an e-mail at SpdwayInfo@aol.com for more details.
Roger Diez is the Appeal motorsports columnist. He can be reached at Racytalker@aol.com