Plenty of variety in racing
October 14, 2006
The infinite variety of Motorsports has never ceased to fascinate me. From dragsters with 5,000-plus horsepower to Briggs & Stratton-powered go-karts; from Saturday night dirt stock cars to Formula 1; from motocross to Monster trucks, man’s ingenuity when it comes to getting performance out of the internal combustion engine knows no bounds.
I was reminded of this in the past week, when I was announcing a variety of dirt racers at Reno-Fernley Raceway on Saturday night and a few days later watching some of the most exotic and expensive machinery ever created racing on a classic road course on SPEED TV. I refer to SPEED’s airing of the Monterey Historic races, which has become the biggest vintage racing event in the West, and possibly in the United States. Only the British Goodwood Festival for vintage cars tops it.
I had the privilege of being a race official at the first Monterey Historics in 1974, and have returned periodically to officiate, announce, or just enjoy. In recent years, however, I’ve been relegated to watching SPEED’s excellent coverage of the event.
I’m sure SPEED will re-run it in the near future, so watch your TV listings and try to catch it. The cars will take your breath away, and the commentary by Bob Varsha, Mike Joy, Alan, deCadenet, et. al. is some of the best I’ve heard in motorsports.
Last week’s column was “in the can” when the bombshell announcement of Mark Martin’s plans for 2007 broke. After a week to reflect on the meaning of it all, and reading and listening to much commentary on the subject, here are my thoughts.
First, Mark Martin is, and always has been, one of the true gentlemen in NASCAR Cup competition. I became a fan when I attended the first Cup race at Sears Point (it wasn’t Infineon yet), and Mark was still driving the Stroh’s beer-sponsored Roush Ford. A miscue in the pits sent Mark out with no lug nuts on the left-side wheels, and the results were predictable. But after the track crew turned the car right side up and towed it back to the pits, the crew re-attached the wheels and Mark continued the race undaunted.
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Conspiracy theorists have laid out all sorts of ridiculous (in my opinion) “hidden” reasons for Mark’s defection from Jack Roush and Ford to MB2 Racing and Chevrolet (including assigning Mark the role of Ford spy in the Chevy camp). I think it’s a lot simpler than that. Mark wanted to race a reduced schedule, but NASCAR rules prevented Roush from adding another team, even a part-time one.
So Mark went where he could race on his own terms and tutor young rookie driver Regan Smith. Mark has always been good at the mentor role . . . witness his influence on Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, his young teammates at Roush. Too bad more of his gentlemanliness didn’t rub off on Kurt Busch, but that’s another subject.
In any case, MB2 seems to be stepping up its effort in NASCAR, not only acquiring Martin, but also adding motorcycle racer Ricky Carmichael to its stable of drivers. Carmichael, who recently announced that he would run a limited motocross season with Suzuki in 2007, will do 15 automobile races with MB2 next year, with increasing involvement in 2008 and beyond.
Carmichael is the latest two-wheel star to try four wheels. Most recent efforts have come to naught, and you have to go back a ways in history to find those who have switched successfully.
Mike Hailwood and John Surtees were both British motorcycle champions who became winners in Formula 1 and sports car racing in the 60s, and in the U.S. Joe Leonard won two national bike championships before going on to a successful career in Indy cars. Carmichael will spend time this season in NASCAR late model short track racing, with some ARCA events thrown in. The next step will be Craftsman Trucks, with Nextel Cup the eventual goal.
Rumors have surfaced again of Champion Speedway rising from the dead, this time as a dirt track. I haven’t had time to track down the source, let alone the validity of the rumors, but I’ll try to have an update by next week.