Portenga to receive $10,000

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A driver with roots in Northern Nevada is in the news again this week.

Steve Portenga, a former resident of Sparks and former track champion at Tahoe-Carson Raceway (now Champion Motor Speedway), will receive $10,000 from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco this coming Saturday at Irwindale Speedway. The award is in recognition of his points lead in the NASCAR Grand National Division, Winston West Series after the first six races of the season. Portenga, driving the Performance Motorsports No. 7 Ford, has scored a top 10 finish in every race so far this season.

As anyone who hasn't been residing in a cave in the high Sierra knows, Winston is pulling its sponsorship from NASCAR's top division at the end of this season. Those of you who follow the Champ Car series should also know by now that the Canada-based Players tobacco company is also ending its 42-year involvement in motorsports. The decision to bow out is related to a ban on tobacco company sponsorship of sports events by the Canadian federal government. The ban takes effect on October 1, 2003.

As Derek Dalny noted on the CBS broadcast of last week's Champ Car race in Toronto, cessation of Players' support of young drivers will certainly have a negative effect on driver development in Canada. Jacques Villeneuve, winner of the Champ Car series title, the Formula 1 World Championship, and the first Canadian to win the Indy 500, is perhaps the most famous beneficiary of the Players' driver development program. But there are many others including the late Greg Moore, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, etc. Current Champ Car points leader Paul Tracy, who was already in the CART series when the driver development program began, now drives for the Players-Forsythe team. Players' participation in motorsports will be sorely missed both north and south of the border.

NASCAR continues to wield a big stick when it comes to technical violations. Two teams received $25,000 fines and lost driver and owner points as a result of infractions last weekend. Kevin Harvick's No. 29 Childress Racing Winston Cup team was caught using an unapproved travel limiting device in the rear suspension. The unapproved parts showed up in pre-race inspection at Chicagoland Speedway, and resulted in the loss of 25 points as well as the monetary fine. The second penalty was issued to the No. 99 Roush Racing Craftsman Truck team of Carl Edwards and consisted of the $25,000 and 100 owner/driver points. The offending parts were unapproved cylinder heads, discovered after the team's victory at Kentucky Saturday night.

Speaking of engines, GM racing has applied for approval of a new Chevrolet engine for use by its Indy Racing League teams. The Cosworth-designed engine, originally destined to wear a Ford badge, will be dubbed the "Gen IV" Chevrolet. Given the horsepower disadvantage Chevy teams have labored under versus the Honda and Toyota engines, it is expected that the IRL will approve the new engine, perhaps in time for the July 27 race at Michigan International Speedway.

Although tobacco companies are being forced out of racing sponsorships, the same does not hold true for brewers of alcoholic beverages (go figure). A beer company has hooked up with a British-German racing entity in a five and a half year sponsorship deal to get more international exposure. Nope, it's not Guinness or Beck's, as you might expect, but America's Anheuser Busch that will put its Budweiser brand on the BMW Williams Formula 1 team. Budweiser branding will be placed above the drivers' name on the airbox of the cars as well as on Juan Pablo Montoya's and Ralf Schumacher's driving suits beginning with this weekend's British Grand Prix. Financial details were not volunteered, but F1 pundits estimate the deal to be worth something on the order of $80 million.

The NASCAR rumor mill is spinning faster than a turbocharger concerning the upcoming announcement on which teams have been picked to run Toyota Tundras in the 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske have to be considered front-runners due to their relationships with Toyota, first in the Champ Car series and now in the IRL. I wonder if Dodge will treat them the same as they treated Bill Davis Racing for dealing with the enemy?

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.


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