Marking time until racing season begins

Are you like me, just kind of marking time, on hold until the racing season starts?

If so, we're not alone. Even some of the Winston Cup, IRL, and CART drivers can't wait for their seasons to start. So they've figured out how to beat the off-season doldrums.

NASCAR stars Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Kyle Petty, John Andretti, Robby Gordon, and broadcaster/driver Wally Dallenbach plan to compete in the Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona the first weekend in February.

They'll be joined by IRL ace Scott Sharp, ex-CART pilot Max Papis and multiple Trans-Am champion Paul Gentilozzi. Rumors are also circulating about a pair of CART hotshots, Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi, co-driving the Newman-Haas Panoz with Paul Newman, the oldest driver ever to take a class victory at Daytona.

In testing this past week, Harvick spun the RE/MAX Corvette coming out of the pits on cold tires, but soon settled down and turned some competitive laps.

Tony Stewart proclaimed that he needed to find about 13 seconds per lap to be in the hunt. They were among the drivers who got to Daytona before winter storms shut down Atlanta and other major southern airports, stranding many drivers and crews.

While the NASCAR boys were gearing up for a long road-course race, Kenny Brack was preparing for a NASCAR Winston Cup test! Brack, who has had major success in both IRL and CART open-wheel cars, will test Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Dodge Intrepid at the NASCAR Open Test session at Daytona International Raceway January 14-16. Brack got a taste of stock car racing in last year's IROC championship, and will build on that experience with the Daytona outing.

If sponsor money can be found, Ganassi plans to have Brack try to qualify for Daytona.

"He'll do the test just to be ready. It's also possible he'll run

later in the year," Ganassi said.

NASCAR crew chiefs, anonymous for many years, have recently become more recognizable, in large part due to live TV interviews during Winston Cup races. One of the more well-known of the breed is Robin Pemberton, late of Roger Penske's Winston Cup Team. He recently landed a new position at Petty

Enterprises, with the title of Vice-President and General Manager of the three-car Petty Winston Cup team. It's a homecoming of sorts for Pemberton, who started his racing career with the Petty team. He has amassed a Winston Cup record of 23 wins and 39 poles as a crew chief, an impressive record.

Hopefully, he will be able to turn the Petty fortunes around.

The A.J. Foyt/Conseco revolving door has spun once again, as A.J. announced that Stacy Compton would be his new driver for the 2002 season (or for as many races as they can stand each other). Compton replaces Ron Hornaday, who had a less than stellar 2001 season with Foyt. Starting into his third year as a Winston Cup team owner, the irascible Foyt has changed team personnel as often as other teams change tires. Hopefully, this combination will work.

And Shawna Robinson plans to make a run at Winston Cup as the first female semi-regular in the series. She has signed to run 24 races in the BAM Racing Dodge in the 2002 season. The plan is to run well enough to entice major sponsorship that would allow the team to expand this season's schedule and/or go into 2003 with full funding for the entire 36-race series.

CHAMPION AWARDS BANQUET

I spoke briefly last week with Kris Martin, the new General Manager at Champion Speedway. Plans for the awards banquet are well underway. It will take place at the Carson Valley Inn on Sunday, January 20, beginning at 4:30 pm. Invitations have been sent out to all of last season's competitors in all divisions, including the Outlaw Karts. Awards for last season will be

presented, and the new operations and official teams for the speedway will be introduced. If you want to have a good time and rub elbows with your fellow racers, return your reservation sheets now.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.

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