Earlier this year I mentioned how impressed I was with Tony Stewart's drive in the Daytona 24-hour race, when he muscled a wounded car around at competitive speeds until it literally fell apart under him.
Last Sunday he impressed me again with his gutsy drive in the Nextel Cup race at Watkins Glen, fighting off stomach cramps to take his second win at the fabled road course. If his stomach problems were anything like the ones I had earlier this week, it's no wonder he wanted to change his driver's suit after the race before meeting the media! The funniest part of his non-participation in the Victory Lane ceremonies is that his affiliation is with the soft-drink sponsor that has been dissed in recent weeks by drivers who have ties with a rival sponsor. (You will note that I am naming neither of these soft-drink companies, thereby denying them any more publicity than they're already getting).
Yes, Tony has had his share of controversy. Yes, he needs anger management. But the bottom line is that he is one of the most talented drivers in any major racing series today. The late, great Dale Earnhardt also had his share of run-ins with fellow drivers and with NASCAR authority. Personally, I think the sport needs more, not fewer, controversial and rebellious drivers to recapture the character of the early days of racing. Sadly, most of today's drivers are chosen as much or more for their PR talents than for their driving ability.
Remember a few years ago when there was a question on the Nevada ballot about exempting race teams from sales taxes in order to encourage the industry to put more facilities and money into Nevada? Voters defeated that measure here, but guess what's happening in the heart of NASCAR country, North Carolina? Governor Mike Easley has signed a bill calling for $4 million of taxpayer money to fund the planning and design of a North Carolina Motorsports Testing and Research Complex near Charlotte.
Easley wants his state to expand its already significant share of America's multibillion-dollar racing industry and keep other states from getting any of it. Race teams based in the Charlotte area, and there are a lot of them, would be able to use the facility for testing, thereby avoiding NASCAR's limits on testing at Cup and BGN-sanctioned tracks. The complex, estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $50 million when completed, would be linked to the Motorsports engineering program at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Are you listening, Governor Guinn?
The race to the championship in NASCAR is coming down to the wire. A few drivers are still in the hunt as the "pre-qualifying session," otherwise known as the first 26 races of the season, winds down to the final few. Earlier, I discounted the idea that anybody outside the top 10 would be able to qualify for the "Chase for the Championship" but if points leader Jimmy Johnson continues his recent slump, we could have as many as 13 or 14 cars in the final shootout.
Mark Martin (the best driver in NASCAR's top ranks who has never won a championship) is one of them, despite blowing engines in the final laps of recent races while in a top-five finishing spot. Although I believe that motorsports writers should be impartial and not be fans of any particular driver I must admit a certain fondness for Martin, based on his longevity, reputation for clean racing, and just generally being one of racing's nice guys. Go Mark!
I had a couple of calls from the Bonneville Salt Flats last week, from Minden resident Russ Eierman. Russ worked his way up in stages from 150 mph to a record-setting run of 220.686 mph in the Gas Coupe category on Thursday. Unfortunately the run was disqualified due to a minor technical issue, and Russ had to get back in line to run as a Classic Gas Coupe. That run was to have taken place Friday, but I didn't hear from Russ, indicating that he didn't make the run for whatever reason (an on-track accident scotched his chance of a Thursday afternoon run). Stand by for an update next weekend.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.