Motorsports Column for July 7 — Back in the saddle again
July 7, 2002
Thanks to the fine folks at Champion Speedway, I’m going to get the chance to get back in the saddle again. I received a call from Champion’s General Manager Kris Martin last week, asking if I would be willing to participate in a “celebrity” race on Aug. 3.
After looking behind me to determine what celebrity she was talking about, it dawned on me that, as a member of the motorsports press, I was to be included. J.P. Molnar, who runs the Champion Driving Experience, told me that he would arrange an orientation session in Bandolero cars for the participants prior to the race. Wow! Not only a race, but a chance to do some hot-lapping and work some of the rust out of the old racing joints.
So far, I don’t know who my competition will be. I imagine Dan McGee of the Sparks Tribune will be one of the competitors, and a tough one. He’s been through the Jimmy Sills Sprint Car School in Sacramento. I guess I’ll find out who the rest of my rivals will be at the orientation session. I just hope I can squeeze my 6 feet, 2 inches and 200 plus pounds into a Bandolero? I had a tough enough time fitting into the Legends car I drove five years ago!
I’ll keep you posted on developments, and I’ll be doing a feature article on the training I receive at the Champion Driving Experience. Watch this space!
I’ve written much here of late about the sad state of affairs into which the top level of open-wheel racing in this country has fallen. Remember when Indy cars had the big, recognizable heroes? The Unsers, the Andrettis, the Bettenhausens, Tom Sneva, Lloyd Ruby, Danny Ongais, Dan Gurney?
Back then, NASCAR was just a regional Southeastern series, and every now and then Mario Andretti or A.J. Foyt would go to Daytona and kick butt.
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Now the tables have turned, and motorsports guru Brock Yates, who has written for nearly every automotive publication on the planet, compares the current popularity of Indy-style racing here with soccer and water ballet, and he’s not far off. But Yates has recently come up with some proposals to keep open-wheel racing alive, if not exactly in the bloom of health. Some of them I agree with, some I don’t. Here they are, with my comments in parentheses:
1) Instantly align the two sanctioning bodies: CART on the road courses and IRL on the ovals with a joint schedule, co-promotions and a common formula. (Looking back at my columns over the past 2-3 years, I see that this is a recurring theme. Gee, am I as smart as Brock Yates?)
2) Open up a compatible engine formula to permit CART turbos, 3.5-liter IRL motors and domestic pushrod stock-blocks. (The Indy 500 used to allow a variety of engine types, and the race was far more interesting and exciting than today’s “spec” event.)
3) Give a weight break to front-engine cars to attract USAC and World of Outlaws stars like J.J. Yeley, the Kinsers, etc., etc., before they bail out to the similarly configured stockers. (Why not? The front-engined Panoz roadsters in the American LeMans series have proven the competitiveness of the concept.)
4) Slash the schedule by perhaps a third, concentrating all of the joint CART/IRL promotional power on no more than 20 successful venues to build a solid base of fans. Stop trying to mine new markets until a bedrock of successful races can be re-established. Let demand exceed supply for a change. (Amen, Brock! Overexposure has killed many sports, and is the potential iceberg for the NASCAR Titanic.)
5) Seek out and develop fresh, young talent from the sprint and midget professional and SCCA amateur ranks. Subsidize second cars if necessary to promote American kids. We love the boys from Brazil, etc., but in a nation where all motorsports is local, they cannot build a giant fan base-especially when the best ones are using CART as a bus stop on the way to Formula 1. (Wow, this is a smart man! He thinks just like I do!)
OK, all of you who thought there was a snowball’s chance in hell of Tony George overturning the IRL officials’ decision and giving the 2002 Indy 500 win to Paul Tracy, raise your hands.
Hmmm, I didn’t think so.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist.
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