This has traditionally been one of the biggest days of the year for the race fan.
The day of the fabled Indy 500, followed by the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, both televised live. We race fans weren't always so fortunate. I remember listening to the race on the radio for many years, then for the next few years keeping the radio off and myself in isolation so I wouldn't find out who won before the ABC same-day tape-delayed broadcast. Now, we take what can only be called amazing coverage (in-car cameras, live interviews with drivers via radio, eavesdropping on team conversations) for granted. It's a great day for the race fan, maybe less so for the rest of the family, but you can always take them on a picnic Monday, right?
Last Sunday's Bump Day at Indy, usually a day fraught with tension, was pretty much a ho-hummer. The field got filled in a carefully stage-managed scenario, with no drama and no bump attempts. IRL officials certainly heaved a huge sigh of relief as the 33rd starter, Vitor Meira, completed his four qualifying laps. The field is the third fastest in Indy history, and the quality is probably the best it has been since the CART/IRL split. The addition of veteran CART drivers and teams over the past couple of years and the increased costs brought about by engine manufacturers Honda and Toyota joining the series have combined to run many of the marginal teams out of the series. That's a good thing for the quality of the series, but it does tend to limit the number of teams that can participate, hence the concern about a full field this year.
Robby Gordon is the only driver attempting the "double" this year, racing both at Indy and Charlotte. John Andretti and Tony Stewart have both done it in the past, and there were a few harsh words between Andretti and his cousin Michael over Michael's choice of Gordon rather than his own flesh and blood to take the vacant seat on Andretti Team Green. If Gordon can't make Charlotte due to a delay (like being tied up in the winner's circle at Indy), Ron Hornaday has been tapped to take his place in the NASCAR event. A driver change would put the car at the back of the field, but since Gordon only qualified in 38th place with a provisional, not much will be lost.
A couple of former Indy competitors who won't be on the track this year nevertheless have been mixing it up verbally this past week. A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, neither high on each other's Christmas card list, had a few uncomplimentary things to say about each other. Mario started things off by noting for publication that A.J. Foyt IV, A.J.'s grandson, was unfit and too inexperienced to race in the 500. The remarks were occasioned by the younger Foyt's third crash of the month last Sunday. A.J. took advantage of an appearance on a nationally syndicated radio show on Thursday to get off a few shots of his own.
"Just once before I die, I want to hear Mario Andretti say he made a mistake on a racetrack," fulminated Foyt. "I don't think I've ever heard him say he's made a mistake."
I have to admit A.J. has a point there. I've been following racing for 35 years, and I don't think I've ever heard Mario blame himself for anything. Not even egregious miscues like hitting the safety truck at Detroit or smacking a parked racecar (that had been there for five or six laps) in Canada.
Foyt also made reference to Andretti's somewhat disastrous test in the Andretti Team Green car that ended with Mario executing airborne pirouettes into the catch fence. "I get the itch to return to the car every once in a while," said Foyt, who retired in 1993. "But I'm not that stupid."
Finally, some very good news. Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau has regained full consciousness and is verbally communicating with his doctors. Nadeau suffered a moderate to severe head injury, a fractured left shoulder blade and injuries to the left-side lung and ribs in a May 2 accident during practice at Richmond International Raceway.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorspors Columnist.