Champion gearing up for season
This weekend is the first test and tune session at Champion Speedway. All racing divisions will be testing in rotation, with another two-day session scheduled for next weekend.
The stands won’t be open to spectators, but there will be a $10 charge for pit passes. I won’t be on hand for this weekend’s action, as I’ll be at Phoenix International Raceway announcing a sports car race. However, I plan to attend next weekend to see who looks fast and who may be changing divisions this season.
And of course I’ll be around for the opening race at Champion on April 21. That’s a Sunday race, with the action switching to Saturday nights on April 27 for the rest of the season. The best news of all is that the Carson City Supervisors ratified the decision of the Planning Commission, allowing Champion to run a full racing program in 2002, including Outlaw Karts and Motocross.
Earlier in the week Jimmy Spencer, never shy about speaking his mind, voiced some opinions on the behavior of lapped drivers in Winston Cup and Busch Grand National racing. Spencer took NASCAR to task about not enforcing minimum speed rules, particularly at short, crowded tracks like Bristol. He was also critical of drivers who are slow and won’t move over for lead lap cars.
I can relate personally, having run some endurance races with multiple classes of cars running at different speeds. I was always mindful of the really fast guys coming up on me, as well as trying to work around the slower cars. Of course, the stakes were nothing like those in the top levels of NASCAR, so I understand Spencer’s frustration. He’s in a top-level ride with a top-flight team this year, and he doesn’t want anybody messing up his game.
It appears that, like Mark Twain, rumors of the Haas-Carter Winston Cup team’s death are exaggerated. The No. 26 car will resurface at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend with three-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel in the driver’s seat. Kimmel has only qualified for one Winston cup race, ironically in the Travis-Carter Ford in 1998, subbing for the injured Jimmy Spencer. Kimmel is bringing support from his sponsor, Advance Auto Parts, to provide financing for the one-race effort. Kimmel will also add personnel to the depleted Haas-Carter crew for the race. If he makes the race, Haas-Carter gets the added benefit of car owner points for the No. 26 car, which could help in securing a provisional starting spot later in the season.
Robert Yates Racing announced last week that Todd Parrott has reassumed the position of crew chief for Dale Jarrett’s No. 88 Winston Cup Ford. Parrott had been bumped upstairs, in training for the General Manager position at RYR, and Jimmy Elledge was made crew chief on the No. 88. Judging from the season’s results to date, the chemistry between Jarrett and Elledge didn’t jell, and Yates decided to reunite the team that brought the Winston Cup championship to Jarrett two years ago. Elledge is still with Yates, but is said to be “exploring other options,” among them a position on the Casey Atwood No. 7 Dodge team.
In open-wheel racing news, Roger Penske has signed with Toyota as engine supplier for his second season in the Indy Racing League. Penske has always been an innovator, so it’s no surprise that he’s taking the plunge with a new engine supplier. Toyota achieved tremendous success in the CART series, but had rough going the first few seasons. Penske obviously hopes that it learned from that experience and will come out of the box with a competitive unit in 2003. Penske’s quasi-partner Kelley Racing will also switch to Toyota for next season. Penske is running the Ilmor-built Chevrolet engines this year, which are reportedly 20-40 horsepower down on the Infiniti powerplants. The plan for 2003 is for the Penske team to build its own engines in its Pennsylvania shop after getting all the components from the Toyota Racing Development shop in Costa Mesa, California. Penske was apparently impressed with Toyota’s strong showing in its first year in Formula 1 this season, which led to the decision to switch engines next year.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist. he can be reached at email@example.com