Bittersweet time in Phoenix | NevadaAppeal.com

Bittersweet time in Phoenix

Motorsports Column for April 14, 2002

Last weekend I was at Phoenix International Raceway, announcing the season opening race for the American City Racing League.

It was a bittersweet occasion, because it was the first race of the season for the Series and I got reacquainted with lots of old friends. However, one racer wasn’t there, and won’t ever be again. Jeff Clinton, a former National Champion, was killed

at Miami-Homestead Speedway in a Grand-Am prototype car in March. It’s always harder when a racer that you know personally loses his life.

I’d talked and joked with Jeff, had a beer with him after the races, and now he’s gone. The drivers all carried his number 07 on their cars as a memorial. I could go the rest of my racing career without losing any more friends. As Darrel Waltrip

said after the death of Adam Petty, this is the part of our sport that I hate.

In Winston Cup, it looks like the Roush team is back on track. After a miserable 2001 season, the team has scored back-to-back wins, courtesy of their “young lions,” Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth. And veteran Mark Martin was strong in the rain-delayed Texas race as well, giving the team a 1-3 finish.

All four Roush cars are in the top 10 in points, and Kenseth is only 70 points behind leader Sterling Marlin, a far cry from last year’s situation.

They’re not looking too strong for today’s Martinsville race, though, qualifying 17th through 26th. Well, at least they didn’t have to take any provisionals.

Speaking of provisionals, local racer Jerry Allec Jr. didn’t get one for yesterday’s Craftsman Truck race at Martinsville. His qualifying time was 43rd fastest at 21.941, not good enough to make the 36 truck field.

Ironically, he practiced at 21.142, which would have been good for 28th starting spot if he’d been able to do it in qualifying. Allec plans to run three or four more races in the series this year, and I hope this setback doesn’t adversely affect those plans.

The month of May is just a couple of weeks away, and entries have closed for the Indy 500. There are 46 official entries, all vying for one of the coveted 33 starting positions. A much larger contingent of CART drivers (seven in all) will join the field this year, as well as ex-Formula 1 driver Johnny Herbert, who will drive the Duesenberg Brothers entry.

Nine entries do not have assigned drivers. Most of these are cars added to existing teams for the Indy race only. The Kelley, Cheever, Blair, Hemelgarn, A.J. Foyt and Dreyer & Reinbold teams all have driverless entries. Walker Racing has released Sarah

Fisher, so that car is also without a pilot. You can bet that drivers like Memo Gidley will be going from garage to garage, helmet in hand, looking for a ride.

There are six former 500 winners and four Indy pole winners currently on the entry list, which also includes 11 rookies. Opening day for the race is May 5, with pole day scheduled for May 11. Qualifications will continue on May 12, and finish up on May 19, Bump Day.

Much has been written in recent years about the “graying” of auto racing.

Today’s Gen-X and Gen-Y youth are more into video games than cars, with the notable exception of the import street racers. The movie “The Fast and The Furious” has chronicled this racing genre, and now a drag racing series with the same title as the movie has been organized. It’s an eight-race series sanctioned by the NDRA, and promoted by Universal Studios Consumer Products Group and the Number One Parts Group, an organizer of product shows for the sports compact car industry. Since today’s kids are so much into video games, the title sponsor for the series is Microsoft’s Xbox video game system.

Microsoft will award the Xbox Cup to the series champion. Personally, I think that anything that gets young people involved in racing is good for the sport in the long run. Hmmmm — maybe we could get Nintendo to sponsor the local Outlaw Kart races at Champion Speedway.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.