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Another big day of racing today

Roger Diez

Another big race day today, with Nextel Cup at Martinsville, Champ Cars at Long Beach, and the Indy Racing League at Motegi, Japan.

And if you’d rather see live racing action than sit in front of the tube, head for Champion Speedway where the season opener kicks off at 1 pm today.

The Motegi race is an interesting milestone for the IRL, as it’s the last race for the 3.5 liter engine formula. IRL engines can displace no more than 3 liters as of this year’s Indy 500. Initially, engine manufacturers were skeptical of being able to supply enough engines for the field, but with only 35 cars entered it appears that there will be enough motors to go around. IRL started with year-old turbocharged Champ cars, then switched to a 4 liter normally aspirated formula, later reduced to 3.5 and now to 3 liters in an effort to keep speeds down. It kind of turns the whole thing into a “spec car” series, but it does make for close, exciting racing.

Champ Car will have 18 cars at Long Beach today, provided nobody has trashed their primary car and has no spare. I’m looking forward to checking out the big-league debut of A.J. Allmendinger, who is arguably the hottest young American open-wheel talent at the moment. Reigning champion Paul Tracy is favored to win Long Beach (it will be his fourth win there if he pulls it off). Tracy is one of those guys you either love or hate, but you have to admit that he’s an interesting interview.

While brother Todd Bodine is one of the field fillers, starting 43rd in today’s Martinsville Nextel Cup race and brother Geoffrey hasn’t been seen in a while, Brett Bodine has hung up his helmet to join NASCAR’s research and development center as a special projects engineer. Bodine, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, will work with center director Gary Nelson on several projects, including one dubbed the “car of the future” for Cup racing. I’ve seen some information on this project, which moves the driver toward the center of the car, providing more crush space in the event of a left-side impact with the wall. No timetable has been published for implementation of the new design, but with an experienced driver/car builder/engineer like Bodine on board, perhaps the project will move forward a bit more speedily.

For those of you who are upset about Toyota’s entry into NASCAR racing, are you ready for Nextel Cup’s first German driver? It appears that 32-year-old Klaus Graf is slated to be the first German-born driver to compete in NASCAR’s top series. He will run at least two Cup races and possibly as many as seven this season, beginning with the Sears Point (Infineon) race on June 27.

Graf will drive for BAM Racing, the team that fields the No. 49 Dodge for Ken Schrader. Graf, who most recently raced in the Porsche Michelin and Porsche Carrera Supercup series in Europe, was also a Formula 1 test driver for McLaren. He was expected to test well on road courses, and impressed the team at Virginia International Raceway. The surprise was his performance on the ovals, where he tested well at Kentucky and then finished third in last weekend’s ARCA race at Nashville after qualifying fifth. And if the Nextel Cup guys think they can intimidate him with a little fender-banging, they obviously haven’t caught a Porsche Supercup race on SPEED Channel!

As I mentioned last week, I attended The Next Level driving school at the road course at Reno-Fernley Raceway this past weekend. As I write this, I’ve completed one day of the course, with another day to go, and so far the experience has been nothing but FUN!

While at the track, I noticed that I had been a bit premature in my announcement about the paving of the second section of the course. Bulldozers and scrapers were doing the final grading in preparation for laying asphalt on the next section, which will increase the track length to approximately 2.5 miles. Owner Rich Cable tells me that the black stuff will be going down in 2-3 weeks.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.