Today I'll be watching one of my favorite Nextel Cup races, the road course at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma.
I used to attend that race every year, but recently I haven't been able to do so, and this year I'm still laid up from my recent surgery so I'll be on the couch in front of the TV. I consider Infineon (or Sears Point, as it was known for years) to be my home track. I started out waving flags on a corner there in 1969, I've put in a lot of racing miles there, and I announced SCCA road races on the track PA for many years.
So it's interesting to me to watch the best stock car drivers in the world negotiate this course that I know so well. Today's race promises to be a really good one, and will perhaps be the first time a road-racing "ringer" will take the checkered flag. In particular, watch the No. 60 car of Boris Said and the No. 32 of Ron Fellows.
Both cars feature a Pratt & Miller designed chassis, which could just give them the advantage they need. I've been associated with other series that had Pratt & Miller cars involved, and depending on what happens today we might see lots more P&M chassis at Sonoma and Watkins Glen in 2007.
I recently received a call asking my why all the hype about Indy Racing League driver Danica Patrick last year, compared to the total lack of press coverage given to Champ Car World Series pilot Katherine Legge this season. After all, Legge has a better record in the Formula Atlantic series, with three wins last season (Danica did not score a victory in Atlantics). The answer consists of two words: Indy 500.
The IRL has it, and despite the damage to the venerable race's prestige since the IRL/CCWS split, the 500 is still one of the premier Motorsports events in the world. Legge has been doing a good job so far this season, even leading laps in the Milwaukee race a couple of weeks ago. But without that Indy 500 hook to hang a PR campaign on, you're not going to hear much about it.
Speaking of open-wheel racing, A.J. Allmendinger scored his first Champ Car win at Portland last weekend after being fired by RuSport the week before and being picked up by Forsythe Racing for the Portland event. Talk about going from the depths to the heights! Allmendinger has a local connection as well, having driven in the Formula Atlantic series for Sierra Sierra Racing out of Gardnerville.
Neither the CCWS nor the IRL seem to be making much headway in gaining new fans, based on TV ratings and race attendance. I've noticed that the TV coverage for both series pointedly keeps the cameras from lingering on empty stands during the races.
I truly believe that if some sort of reconciliation between the rival series isn't achieved in 2007 that CCWS will probably fold, with a few remnants moving over to the IRL. This will boost anemic fields of 18-20 cars to maybe 30, whereas a full-fledged reconciliation would bring both groups together with a potential for 35-40 car fields. I think this would go a long way toward bringing fans back, but that's just my opinion.
I recently received an email from a gentleman in Gardnerville who has been following racing for 60 years, both as a fan and as an insider, in Northern California and Nevada. His complaint is the clutter of commercials that interfere with our enjoyment of racing on TV.
To quote him, "I am so tired of so much advertising that you cannot follow the races, the Indy 500 was so bad this year I went and got a radio so I could follow the race. As for NASCAR, I did not watch it Fathers Day but the week before it was almost as bad as the Indy 500."
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but based on what NBC, FOX, and ABC/ESPN are paying for the rights to broadcast NASCAR races in 2007 and beyond, it's only going to get worse. Pay per view, anybody?