Motorsports Column for September 8, 2002 |

Motorsports Column for September 8, 2002

Roger Diez

As you read this I’ll be in Monterey announcing the 10th annual Cherry’s Jubilee car show.

It’s kind of like a mini Hot August Nights, with great

cruise venues like Cannery Row and lots of activities at the Laguna Seca racetrack. It’s one of my favorite events of the year, and I always see some Northern Nevada car buffs there.

Jeff Gordon is once again proving that it’s premature to write him out of the championship picture in Winston Cup. He’s been in or near the top five in points all season while most of the pundits were focusing on his lack of victories. Then, bang! He’s notched two wins in two weeks and is breathing down Sterling Marlin’s neck for the title. With the momentum the 24 team has

right now it’s going to be difficult to bet against Wonder Boy to win another championship. As much as I’d like to see Mark Martin or Sterling take the crown, I think they’re outmatched yet again.

Autosport Magazine reported last week that Chip Ganassi had told it in an interview at the Denver CART race that he was following engine supplier Toyota into the rival Indy Racing League. Later a team spokesman denied the story, saying that a decision had still not been made. Ganassi has dipped his

toe into the IRL this season, running a single car for Jeff Ward. Rumor has it that if he does bolt to the IRL ranks, driver Bruno Junqueira will stay behind and drive for the Newman-Haas team in the CART series. Likely Ganassi drivers in the IRL are Ward and Scott Dixon, who has raced a third Ganassi car in CART since mid-season. Former Indy winner Kenny Brack appears to be

left without a seat if this series of events actually takes place.

Of course, Ganassi will miss out on lots of fun rule changes at CART if he does leave. The CART board has voted to rescind the rule allowing traction control and also eliminating the onboard fuel mixture switch. With the series using one spec engine, such rules will be easier to enforce and will (one hopes) make the races more interesting. The current one-engine rule has also

been scrubbed due to anticipated higher reliability of the spec Cosworth powerplant.

In addition, the cars will be required to run the road course

wings at short ovals, to encourage side-by-side racing.

Over at the IRL, former champ Greg Ray landed a seat at Sam Schmidt Motorsports for the final two races of the season. Ray, the latest driver to part with the A.J. Foyt team, felt that Foyt could not afford to run three cars effectively. If the two-race deal shows good results, Ray may have a ride with the Schmidt operation for 2003.

What do race drivers do with their time off? Well, lots of them go racing!

This year’s SCORE Baja 1000 off-road race will see a bunch of pro racers including Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick from NASCAR, CART’s Jimmy Vasser, road racer Elliot Forbes-Robinson and former Indy car driver Roberto Guerrero in the field. Vasser is joining Mike and Robbie Groff, who have top-level open-wheel credentials themselves. The trio will compete for overall honors

in a two-seat Jimco with Toyota power, running in Class 1 for unlimited open-wheel vehicles.

A few weeks ago when I raced a Bandolero car in the Top Gun Media/Celebrity race at Champion Speedway I felt I might be getting a little old for that sort of thing (but only until I got into the car). Well, I’ve got nothing on Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, who is back in the seat of a Top Fuel dragster and posted a run of 4.763 seconds and 318.54 miles an hour last weekend at the

Indy Nationals. The 71-year-old drag racing legend qualified 17th-fastest, just missing the starting lineup for eliminations. Garlits plans to run again at Dallas if he can find sponsorship.

Benny Parsons, Darrell Waltrip, Wally Dallenbach, Derek Daly, Scott Pruett, and all the other former drivers-turned-race-announcers will have a new compatriot at the U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis. Two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen will act as color commentator (in his native tongue) for Finland’s digital F1 TV channel.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.