Preparing for Saturday’s race | NevadaAppeal.com

Preparing for Saturday’s race

Roger Diez column

As you read this column, I’ll be at Champion Speedway learning all about how to drive a Bandolero racecar.

All the participants in next Saturday’s Top Gun celebrity/media race will be there, taking part in the Champion Racing Experience under the tutelage of J.P. Molnar. As I mentioned last week, Michael Hohl Motors and Red’s Old 395 Grill are sponsoring the event, a benefit for the Brian Sweeney Fund. Sweeney, a former Top Gun pilot, lost his life aboard one of the airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

I have to take a mid-day break to go to Mills Park and

announce the Silver Dollar Car Classic winners, but J.P. tells me I’ll get plenty of seat time in the afternoon. Come on out to Champion next Saturday night and cheer on your favorite media personality, or maybe one of the Top Gun pilots that will be racing with us.

Formula One Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher tied one of the most amazing and longest-held records in Motorsports when he clinched his fifth World Championship at the French Grand Prix last weekend. Schumacher equaled the record set in the 1950s by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, who won five world championships at the wheel of cars like the fabled Mercedes Benz grand prix machines.

Schumacher almost had to wait for the next race to clinch, though, as Team McLaren’s Ron Dennis protested the German for passing McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen for the lead under yellow. However, the stewards ruled that since Raikkonen had encountered oil and slid wide of the racing line, he was out of control and off the course, hence making the pass legal.

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Now maybe Ferrari will let Schumacher’s teammate Rubens Barrichello win a race or two instead of having to pull over for Schuey. Of course, the team first has to give Barrichello a car that will start on the grid! His ride expired just prior to the start of the race, and poor Rubens was out before he’d even begun, for the second time this season.

I was delighted to see Alex Barron win last weekend’s IRL race at Nashville.

Alex was on the fast track, a star in Formula Atlantic, but just couldn’t seem to get a steady ride in either CART or IRL, despite his obvious talent.

Blair Racing took a chance and was amply rewarded last Saturday night, when Barron held off ex-CART Champion Gil de Ferran of Penske Racing for the win in only his 11th IRL start. Barron also mixed it up with IRL stars Sam Hornish and Scott Sharp, showing that he can race with, and beat, the best of

them.

It seems like Silly Season starts earlier every year. We’re just halfway through the season, and Team Petty’s no. 44 car is on its third driver. Jerry Nadeau, the former road racer who was so impressive at Sears Point last month, has replaced Steve Grissom for the remainder of the season.

Scott Pruett will run a third Ganassi Dodge at Watkins Glen, with rumors of a possible longer-term deal if sponsorship is forthcoming. Pruett has been doing TV work for ABC/ESPN for the past couple of seasons, with some one-off endurance racing rides.

CART Silly Season has also begun, with problem child Townsend Bell out at Patrick Racing and Oriol Servia replacing him for the remainder of the season. One less American driver in the series is not a good thing. But Bell has had problems with car control and luck all season, falling afoul of Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach and CART’s rules on numerous occasions.

Also, it was announced last week that Michael Andretti will take an ownership position with his current team, to be known as the Andretti Green Racing Team. It is not known at this time if the new team will align itself with CART or the IRL. Sponsors (as is becoming more and more the case) will probably call the tune on the venue. Honda is committed to IRL in a big way for 2003, and Andretti runs Honda engines, so my guess would be that the team would head in that direction. Andretti will undoubtedly drive in the Indy 500, but may turn over some of the other driving chores to a team driver (not yet named).

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.