ABC’s coverage of the IRL is a bit lacking |

ABC’s coverage of the IRL is a bit lacking

Roger Diez

Well, racing has finally begun.

Unfortunately the first shot of the 2000 season, the IRL Disney World Speedway 200-miler, was carried on ABC. As usual, ABC elected to tape-delay the race rather than show it live. The problem was compounded by the Reno ABC affiliate, KOLO Channel 8, which was too busy preparing for the Mapes implosion to bother airing it.

I finally channel-surfed into the race about halfway through Saturday afternoon on the Sacramento ABC affiliate, Channel 16 on TCI cable. I was too late to catch Al Unser Jr.’s IRL debut, as he dropped out with a mechanical problem early on. Not an auspicious beginning for Little Al.

— I had to make a trip to Washington state last week, and I ran into Butch Austin while waiting between planes at Sea-Tac Airport. Butch is currently racing an NHRA Alcohol Funny Car, and he was on his way to Tucson for a weekend of testing.

I discussed with him some of the rule changes I wrote about last week. He is definitely against the new cleanup rule (he thinks the fines are meaningless, but has a problem with a loss of points). On the new 90 percent nitro fuel rule, Butch told me that everybody will just up the supercharger boost to compensate, which will probably result in even more blown engines.

He told me Top Fuel guys have been making consistent 4.5-4.6 second runs in testing with the new fuel, with 320 mph trap speeds. According to Butch, the only thing keeping speeds under 350 mph is the final drive ratio limit of 3:20-to-1 that was instituted a few years back.

He noted that Top Fuel and Funny Car guys are hitting 270 mph at the -mile mark, and only getting another 50 mph in the last half of the run due to running out of gear.

He also lamented the fact that NASCAR’s popularity means that Winston Cup teams are sucking up the majority of available sponsorship money, leaving little for drag racing or other forms of motorsport. If it continues, Butch thinks that NHRA will only be able to field 8-10 cars in the top classes within a few years. So even though NASCAR has popularized motorsports tremendously, there is a downside for other forms of the sport.

— I got a call from local promoter Les Kynett on Saturday morning, bemoaning the fact that the IRL race was nowhere to be found on the tube.

Les also mentioned that he’s working on a new series, the Pro Modified Spec series. The idea is to have equally prepared and powered Modified cars which are affordable to race. It’s sort of taking the Legends idea and applying it to bigger, more powerful cars.

The Pro Modified Spec cars will run sealed 350 Chevy engines, and a complete car will sell for $17,000 in kit form ($20,000 assembled). One of the cars is on display at Mark Hain’s Fourth Turn restaurant on Kietzke Lane in Reno. I stopped by for lunch the other day and took a look at the car. It’s pretty impressive.

Les plans to put together a series of races for the cars, with demonstration races at tracks in Northern California and Nevada this year, and hopefully a complete series for 2001.

— Driver of the Century co-winner Mario Andretti will get back into the seat for his second millennium of racing. Andretti has signed to drive a Panoz LMP Roadster in the 2000 24 Hours of LeMans.

Andretti has won the Daytona 500 (1967), the Indy 500 (1969), the Sebring 12-hour (1967 and 1970), the Formula 1 World Championship (1978) and the CART Championship (1984). The LeMans race is the only major event in the world he has not won, but the Panoz ride may be his best chance ever for a victory in the June classic.

— Darrel Krentz, who started the Legends racing school here, has been running the Legends program for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the past year. He will soon relocate to Charlotte, N.C., to take over the reins of INEX, the Legends sanctioning body.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist.