This weekend marks the Indy Racing League's (IRL) road racing debut at St. Petersburg, Fla.
The venue, a temporary street course, is a former Champ Car (CART) race, and yet another pawn in the open-wheel wars. If the race is a success, it will be a big feather in the IRL's cap, as it makes further inroads on former CART territory. If it turns out to be a disaster, then CART will come out the winner.
It's sad that the state of open-wheel racing in this country has come to this. Fortunately for the IRL, a preponderance of its drivers and teams are former CART competitors, and thus are capable road racers. The only question that remains is the reliability of the IRL-mandated road course components. I'll be watching the race with great interest.
Over in NASCAR-land, it's Bristol, one of the more traditional races on the schedule, and one that always provides excitement (read: crashes and frayed tempers). Racing at Bristol has been likened by competitors as flying a fighter jet in a gymnasium. One of the racing pundits recently deemed Bristol and Talladega as the two venues on the NASCAR schedule that demand feats that are outside the envelope of human reaction time.
He likened them both to pinball games, and he's probably not far off. Elliott Sadler is on the pole for today's race, but at Bristol the pole means little; the front-running cars will start lapping before 10 laps are complete (provided the first 10 laps stay green), and once traffic comes into play anybody can be taken out at any time.
We're less than two months away from the Indy 500, once the "Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing." Alas, the aforementioned open-wheel war has taken a lot of the luster off of this major event. In recent years a number of drivers, notably John Andretti, Robby Gordon, and Tony Stewart have "done the double" on the Memorial Day weekend, contesting both Indy and the World 600 (now the Coca-Cola 600) at Charlotte Motor Speedway (now Lowe's Motor Speedway).
This year, Stewart will do an Indy double, but not the one we're used to. Tony plans to run the Busch race at Indianapolis Raceway Park the Saturday prior to the Brickyard 400 on August 7. Stewart will wheel Kevin Harvick's Busch car at IRP, the same car he drove to victory at Daytona earlier this year. The car's paint job will memorialize the 50th anniversary of the death of actor James Dean, who died on his way to a sports car race in his Porsche Spyder.
Speaking of Indy, Sam Schmidt Motorsports will field a 500 entry for Richie Hearn. Schmidt, a former driver who is a paraplegic, will enter a Chevy-powered Panoz chassis with sponsorship from Meijer stores and Coca-Cola. This will be the fourth year in the 500 for the pair, although this is the earliest the funding for the effort has come together. On a personal note, I once shared a racetrack with Hearn during a test session at Sears Point (Infineon Raceway) prior to an endurance race I was to run. I want to tell you, that guy is FAST!
Finally, here's some news about a possible major racing facility right here in our back yard. I say "possible" because things are in the preliminary stage at this point, but I've been given some facts to hopefully lay to rest some of the rumors that are beginning to circulate.
The plan is for a Motorsports complex east of Carson City on Highway 50 just west of the Lyon County line. A large parcel of BLM land adjacent to the Carson City landfill may be ceded to the City for recreational purposes. The City would then lease the land for development of a Motorsports park including a high-banked medium-sized track (1/2 to 9/10 mile) that could accommodate local race shows plus major events. Think Bristol or Martinsville.
Representatives from both NASCAR and USAC have visited the facility and were favorably impressed with the potential. No commitments have yet been made, although I understand that two proposals have been made to City officials. Watch this space for further announcements, and wait for the shout, "Gentlemen, start your bulldozers!"