Virginia City event should continue

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Almost exactly six years ago, in one of my first columns for this paper, I wrote about the Virginia City Hillclimb. I had spent two days at the event, and ridden up the hill at speed in the passenger seat of one of the cars.

It was a fun, laid-back event, with people enjoying the opportunity to stretch the legs of their high-performance cars. Even so, safety was taken seriously, with all drivers and riders required to wear helmets and seatbelts. So it was with dismay that I read of last week's fatal accident on the hill, particularly the part that the people who lost their lives weren't wearing seatbelts.

I checked into things, and found that they were indeed wearing belts, although not a five-point racing harness. However, even that would not have saved them, according to reports. When the fragile human body confronts the forces of Newtonian physics, some accidents just are not survivable.

While I am saddened by last weekends' tragic deaths, I would not advocate discontinuing the Virginia City Hillclimb. Human beings engage in risky sports because modern man doesn't routinely engage in the elemental daily struggle for survival that our ancestors did. I believe that there is something in the human spirit, at least in many of us, that demands that we stretch ourselves to the limits of our capabilities in some perilous endeavor, whether it be motorsports, skydiving, downhill skiing, scuba diving, or bungee jumping. All risk sports have a certain fatality rate, and the people who partake of these activities know and accept the risks -- because the risks are what make it worthwhile.

After a dismal 2001 season, Jack Roush's Winston Cup teams are serious contenders this year. Three of the four Roush drivers have won races this year, with Matt Kenseth notching three victories! Only Jeff Burton hasn't visited Victory Lane in 2002, but the Roush boys have been consistently running up front.

Rookie Kurt Busch and Burton are second and third on the grid for today's race at Sears Point, and Mark Martin always finishes well at the Sonoma track. Martin and Kenseth currently sit fourth and fifth in the season point standings, with Busch in ninth and Burton in 11th. The teams were doing well even before Jack Roush's near-fatal plane crash, but I think his miraculous recovery has spurred them to new heights. Maybe this will finally be Martin's year to win the Championship. If so, it would be a popular and well-deserved title.

In the continuing saga of American open-wheel racing, the rumors I alluded to last week proved to be true. Chris Pook, CEO of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), announced that the series had abandoned its changeover to a 3.5 liter normally aspirated engine similar to the powerplant used by the rival Indy Racing League (IRL).

Cosworth Engineering, perhaps the most venerable of all racing engine makers, will provide a mildly de-tuned 2.65 liter turbocharged unit for the CART series for 2003. The move, seen by many to be one of desperation, may be the only thing to save CART, whose car count was down to a dismal 18 entries at last weekend's Portland race.

There are also interesting moves being made behind the scenes, with a lot of CART stock being acquired by one investor, perhaps looking to gain control and take the company private. Personally, I believe that would be a good thing for the series. It's hard enough for Pook to try and salvage the operational side of things without having to keep an eye on the stock price and fend off angry investors.

After last week's column on the CART/IRL war, I received an email from a racing friend, Mike Ritter, who expressed his views on the subject, which are a bit different from mine.

Mike has a great retirement job, working as a technical inspector for the Trans-Am road racing series, the U.S. Grand Prix, and INEX-sanctioned Legends racing. I have great respect for Mike, which I hope is mutual, but when it comes to IRL and CART, he and I are like two friends who practice different religions. We can agree with one another on many levels, but the deep-down, gut-level belief issues will never change for either of us. But isn't that what makes life interesting?

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist


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