Motorsports Column for 2/2/03

I have to apologize for inadvertently omitting the exploits of a couple of local Outlaw Kart racers in last week's column. Mackena Bell ran her 125cc kart at Red Bluff, Calif., in addition to her Box Stock entry.

She qualified in the middle of the 125 pack, 17th out of 29 karts, finished sixth in her heat and ninth in the B main. In Box Stock, Christian Steele made it all the way to the A main where he finished 14th, via a third place B main result and a sixth in the heat race.

An announcement this week made me think back to Richard Petty's last few years as an active Winston Cup driver. The story was about the retirement of journeyman NASCAR driver Rick Mast due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Mast first noticed symptoms in March of 2002 and thought he had the flu, but when symptoms became worse he had medical tests that discovered the problem.

Mast quit driving in May. Harking back to Petty, I recall him wearing an oxygen mask his last years in the sport, also because of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The question arises, how prevalent is the problem, and what (if anything) is NASCAR going to do to address it? Well, Mast has been working with the sanctioning body to address the problem. They're working on finding ways to duct fresh air into the cockpits of the racecars, but as usual NASCAR is moving on the issue with glacier-like speed.

Bill France's recent comments about potential changes in the Winston Cup schedule have drawn fire (surprise, surprise) from Bruton Smith of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Smith took exception to France's suggestions for SMI to shift some races from some of their tracks to others. Since Smith already

believes NASCAR owes him a Texas Winston Cup race, he's not likely to bend over backwards to cooperate. Smith countered with a proposal to split NASCAR's top series.

"Why don't we just create an American and National league?" Smith asked. "You have an east coast and a west coast race every Sunday and could immediately double the number of races on the schedule."

That's not likely to happen until NASCAR develops the technology to clone it's biggest stars, the likes of Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. NASCAR is already seeing erosion in ticket sales at various venues, and the loss of half their star roster to the "other" league certainly wouldn't help to improve attendance.

I suspect such a move would even hurt the TV ratings, something likely to cause great wailing and gnashing of teeth at NASCAR headquarters. If anyone tells you that big league racing isn't mostly about money these days, get out your hip waders, because it's going to get deep.

Moving over to the fragmented, war-torn open-wheel racing world, Indy Car icon A.J. Foyt announced last week that he is switching his Indy Racing League team to Toyota engines for 2003. Foyt is the fifth IRL team to switch to Toyota power, the others being Kelley Racing, Marlboro Team Penske, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, and Mo Nunn Racing. Foyt's grandson, A.J. Foyt IV, will be doing the driving chores after a successful 2002 season in IRL's feeder series.

On the other side of the open-wheel divide, it appears that CART can cite the famous quote of Mark Twain, "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." The series appears to have reached the magic number of 18 cars for the minimum field, with a potential for another two to three teams to announce by the start of the season at St. Petersburg, Fla. on Feb. 23. With a spec turbo engine and no traction control, the cars sound like Indy cars, act twitchy, get sideways: all the things that have been so neat about them for the past 50 years or so.

For those of you who've missed Darryl Waltrip's familiar "Boogidy, boogidy, boogidy" at the start of a Winston Cup race, fear not! Ol' "Jaws" will be back on the FOX announce team for the Bud Shootout this coming Saturday, followed by all the rest of the Speed Weeks activities. Me, I'll be watching the Daytona 500 from Maui, Hawaii, this year. I've done it before, and I highly recommend the experience. Aloha.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist. He can be reached at


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