Earnhardt to return to the track | NevadaAppeal.com

Earnhardt to return to the track

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be racing a little uncomfortably at New Hampshire this weekend, recovering from second degree burns after his crash in a road-racing Corvette at Infineon Raceway last week.

In the wake of Junior’s accident, which looked pretty scary, people have been weighing in with opinions concerning safety. Two comments that I particularly agree with are Dave Despain’s and Jeff Hammond’s.

Despain asked on his Wind Tunnel show on SPEED, “Why don’t they have a fire system that detects and goes off when there’s a fire, rather than waiting for the driver (who may be unconscious) to hit the button?” The technology is certainly available, and it was pretty apparent from the video of the crash that Earnhardt was stunned and unable to trigger the onboard fire extinguisher system immediately after the impact. Hammond, a former NASCAR crew chief who is now a commentator on FOX, holds that many drivers today, Junior included, don’t do enough to protect themselves, especially in the area of fire safety.

“Dale Earnhardt Jr. would not have been burned if he had been wearing Nomex underwear underneath his firesuit, or if he had been wearing a balaclava underneath his helmet,” stated Hammond.

I have to say that I agree. When I ran in the media race at Reno-Fernley Raceway last July, I wore a Nomex balaclava, or “head socka” despite the 100 degree heat. What I am happy about in Junior’s case is that he has switched from an open-face to a full-face helmet. He would have sustained some pretty extensive facial burns if he had still been wearing the open-face helmet.

Earnhardt will start the No. 8 Chevrolet today, but the plan is to put Earnhardt protege Martin Truex into the car at the earliest opportunity. By starting the race, Earnhardt is eligible for the points, and hopes to maintain his second-place standing in the Nextel Cup championship chase. Unfortunately, the driver change will relegate Earnhardt to the tail end of the field for the start, rather than the inside second-row starting position Truex earned in qualifying.

It appears that peace talks have broken down again in the ongoing open-wheel war between the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car organization. The two series issued a joint statement last week saying that the timing for reunification is not right, even though a unified series would be preferable.

Roger Penske was behind the most recent attempt to bring the two rival series together, and a more powerful man in racing probably doesn’t exist. If Roger couldn’t get it done, I don’t think anyone can.

The joint statement concluded, “Both parties appreciate the efforts of Mr. Penske, and both parties believe that each has a better understanding of where common ground exists. No more meetings are planned and both series are moving forward with their future plans.”

The persistent rumor that Champion Speedway here in Carson City has been sold appears to be nothing more than a rumor. I spoke with General Manager Les Kynett on Friday, and he assured me that to his knowledge a sale has not taken place, nor are there any viable offers on the table.

Kynett said that he has told drivers several times this season that it is his intent to keep running the track, but that rising property values may at some point cause its sale and closure. I remember the fabled Ascot Speedway and Riverside Raceway in Southern California, both closed to make way for progress. It will probably happen here, too. . . but I hope later rather than sooner. There are tentative plans on the drawing board for a replacement Motorsports park on the East edge of Carson City, just off Highway 50, if and when Champion falls prey to developers.

For those F1 fans among you, this weekend is the German Grand Prix, and as of this writing Michael Schumacher had set the fastest practice time (surprise). However, the new McLaren MP4-19B at the hands of Kimi Raikkonen was only hundredths of a second behind him. Can the new McLaren run with the Ferrari of Schumacher? By the time you read this, we’ll both know the answer.

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