NASCAR affected by tragedy |

NASCAR affected by tragedy

Roger Diez

One of the occupational hazards of NASCAR racing is the amount of travel it takes just to get to the races.

A lot of it is by private aircraft, and occasionally the law of averages catches up with someone, as it did with Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, Graham Hill, and too many others.

Last Sunday, another tragedy in the air took the lives of several family and team members of the Rick Hendrick organization, including Ricky Hendrick. Ricky was being groomed by his father to take over more responsibility in the organization, but sadly his promising career ended with the crash of a team plane en route to Martinsville. In my opinion, NASCAR did the right thing in withholding the information about the missing plane from the team until after the race. I’m hoping they did it for the right reasons.

The accident certainly put a damper on the “Chase for the Championship” or at least made us realize that there are more important things in life.

That being said, the Chase continues with just four races to go. Last week I predicted Jeff Gordon to take all the marbles, and he has moved into second place, just 96 points behind leader Kurt Busch.

I’m not sure if the Martinsville tragedy will demoralize Gordon and Jimmy Johnson, or whether it will fill them with an even greater resolve. We’ll know today in Atlanta. And if Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another race as disastrous as Martinsville, the 25 “profanity points” he lost won’t matter a whit. Of course, Junior bounced back from a miserable race at Las Vegas earlier this season to win at Atlanta – he needs to repeat that performance to stay alive in the Chase as it goes down to the wire.

I mentioned recently that Robbie Gordon would probably be out of a job and possibly unemployable after this season. Well, it appears that Gordon has been released by Richard Childress Racing at the end of the season, but has bought himself a job for next year.

Yep, just as he had to do in CART, Robbie is going to run his own team as owner/driver. Maybe he’ll settle down a little bit in Nextel Cup as he did in CART when he had to pay the bills for the damage he caused. As of column deadline Friday evening, Childress had not yet named a replacement for Gordon in the No. 31 car for 2005.

And Jimmy Spencer is likewise out of work. Morgan-McClure Racing released Spencer last week, just two days after the controversial driver was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting a police officer in his hometown of Cornelius, N.C.

The incident occurred when police came to the Spencer home to serve a warrant for vandalism on Spencer’s son. The Morgan-McClure team did not refer to the incident in its announcement, simply stating that it would be “beneficial to both the team and to Jimmy Spencer to release him so he may pursue other driving opportunities.”

Don’t look for Spencer, 47, to join Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin in a farewell tour in 2005. Mike Wallace will drive the Morgan-McClure entry for the remainder of the season

Carson Country kids did well in the Outlaw Kart races at Red Bluff last Saturday. Tom Purcell, who moved up from Intermediate Open to Open this year, qualified sixth out of 86 entries, took the trophy dash and B Main wins, and finished 11th in the A Main.

Mackena Bell, who won in her first time out in Intermediate Open the week before, qualified second and charged from the rear of the B Main field to take second, then parlayed her transfer spot into an eighth-place finish in the A Main.

Three of our young racers made the A Main in the Box Stock class: Kellcy Bell had the best finish in fourth after qualifying second and running third in the heat and trophy dash; Zachary Heinz took second in the heat race and ran seventh in the A Main; Jay Primm took second in his heat and finished 13th in the A Main as well, finishing. And Heinz’ little sister Elizabeth had a great run in Beginner Box, charging to a fifth place in the A Main after finishing third in her heat and second In the B Main.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at