A great day for race fans | NevadaAppeal.com

A great day for race fans

Roger Diez

Today is a going to be a busy one for race fans. At four o’clock this morning local time, the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix was flagged off, and is probably over by the time you read this.

I suspect that rookie McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton may have scored his first F1 victory. I hope you had your TiVo or VCR on to catch it.

Today is also the day for the running of the Indy 500. I was invited to sit in on a conference call with the TV booth announcing team of Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear and Rusty Wallace last week, as they gave their perspectives and insights on the race and answered questions.

I found the question and answer portion of the call to be most interesting. Topics ranged from the lack of rookies this year to the inclusion of three female drivers in the field, to Davy Hamilton’s comeback story, to how to attract new viewers. Scott Goodyear seemed to field more questions than Reid or Wallace, probably because he has the most experience with 11 years racing in the 500 and six years broadcasting it.

All three commentators were enthusiastic about the participation by women this year, but the consensus was that Danica Patrick is the only one of the three with a legitimate shot at winning the race. As for attracting new viewers, Goodyear feels there is a fine balance between talking to the knowledgeable race fan in technical terms, and keeping things simple enough for the new fan to understand.

One of the other motorsports writers on the call mentioned the fact that Indy has been in decline since the IRL/CART Split in 1996, and asked if the broadcasters felt that the 500 has regained some of its lost prestige. Goodyear took the party line, noting that the race is still the biggest single-day sporting event in the world, that it is still the most important motor race in the world (in his opinion), and that it is still the lifelong dream of most racing drivers. Rusty Wallace chimed in with the opinion that the sport of open-wheel racing really needs to be re-united even though Indy boasts some of the world’s best drivers. He continued with the reunification theme until it seemed as though he was given the signal to drop that subject.

My question to the commentators was about the new qualifying format, and how the old bump day excitement was now spread throughout the four days of qualifying. Goodyear acknowledged that the format was designed to do just that, because recent fields hadn’t been large enough to make bump day significant. He also noted that this new qualifying procedure has been in place for the past couple of years, but because of weather this year was the first time it played out as designed.

So, armed with all the information I gleaned from the conference call, I’ll be watching the 500 with some added insight, which should make it more interesting.

Finally, the racing day will wrap up with the Coca-Cola 600 from Lowes Motor Speedway, the longest race on the NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule. This year no drivers will be attempting to “do the double”, running both the Indy 500 and the Coke 600. In the past Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, and John Andretti have all done so, and I suspect that the next one to try it will be Penske driver Sam Hornish, Jr., who has been getting his feet wet in stock cars this season.

So maneuver your recliner into your favorite race-watching position, make sure the remote is nearby, and have a supply of your favorite snacks and beverages handy, because it’s going to be a long day for us race fans.

By the way, there has been speculation for the last several months about the phase-in schedule for the Car of Tomorrow, initially slated to run in 16 races this year, 26 in 2008, and the entire schedule in 2009. After assessing the performance of the new package so far this season, and conferring with team owners concerning the time and expense involved in running two different types of cars, NASCAR has officially declared that the new package will be used exclusively beginning with the 2008 season.

• Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist. Contact him at racytalker@aol.com