Motorsports Column for 4/8/00
It used to be that “silly season,” when drivers and crew chiefs started team-hopping, began in October or so. This year’s NASCAR silly season is already well underway, and shows no signs of slacking off.
The latest shuffle has Jeff Fuller out of the No. 27 Viagra car, replaced by Mike Bliss, who got his walking papers from A.J. Foyt in March.
Veteran Dick Trickle may well set a record for number of different teams if he keeps up his current pace. Trickle, who has a full-time Busch series ride with Jimmy Spencer’s team, has already appeared in the No. 14 Foyt car and the No. 60 car, sitting in for Geoffrey Bodine.
It seems that pressure to do well in Winston Cup is so intense that sponsors and team owners have little or no patience with a driver who is having a run of bad luck. Look for the changes to continue throughout the season.
– Local racing has finally gotten underway, and the weather is cooperating beautifully (so far).
Reno-Fernley Raceway opens its season tonight with IMCA Modifieds and three stock car classes, including Mini-stocks. The Reno-Fernley -mile dirt oval has been widened to 60 feet minimum, with an 80-foot width on some parts of the track, which should provide for a lot of side-by-side racing.
The track plans an 11-race series for the Modifieds and stock cars, running on alternate weekends. There is also a 6-race series for Legends and Dwarf cars, as well as a program of Sand Drags, some offroad racing, and lots of other special events.
Thunderbowl Speedway in Mound House has not finalized its season as of yet, but plans are to run several special events (including ARMA flat track motorcycles on July 15) and possibly an abbreviated stock car season under the lights.
Yes, Thunderbowl will have lights and night racing for the 2000 season, according to track owner Charlie Brandenburg. I hope to have more news about the track in the next week or two.
Finally, the Outlaw Karts will return to Fuji Park with an 11-race season, running alternate Saturday nights. After a couple of practice days the last two weekends in April, the Outlaw season will kick off on May 7.
Depending on what happens with the proposed Costco store, this may be the last season for the Outlaws at Fuji Park.
– The one CART Champ Car team that will be a serious threat in the Indy 500 this year tested their IRNLS cars (Indy Racing Northern Lights Series has replaced Indy Racing League as the series name).
Jimmy Vasser and Juan Montoya of the Ganassi-Target team took their first practice laps earlier this week at Las Vegas. The team has acquired two GForce chassis, with another on order, and 10 Aurora engines prepared by Comptech for the effort.
Vasser said that the IRNLS car was very similar to the CART Reynard, but noted that the power response was less. The less-experienced Montoya had trouble coming to grips with the difference in power response of the normally aspirated IRNLS engine, being used to the turbocharged CART powerplants.
The Ganassi team chose Vegas for its shakedown test because they feel that it is similar from an aerodynamic standpoint to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The team plans to run at the Brickyard in the IRNLS Open Test session April 10-11 to continue searching for the right setup.
– That test session will follow this year’s Rookie Orientation Program at the Speedway, which is underway even as you read this. Eleven rookies will take part in the program this year, including two female drivers.
Sarah McCune will drive for Team Pelfrey, replacing Sarah Fisher, who will take the rookie test in a Team Walker car (did I say something about NASCAR silly season earlier?).
Other drivers participating in the rookie test will be Casey Mears, nephew of four-time Indy winner Rick Mears, World of Outlaws ace Andy Hillenburg, CART castoff Shigeaki Hattori, and current IRNLS competitors Airton Dare, Sam Hornish Jr., and Doug Didero.
The sanctioning body graciously allowed reigning CART champ Montoya to skip the rookie test.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist.