Sears Point track changes for the better
May 26, 2002
I spent last weekend at Sears Point Raceway, and I was absolutely blown away by the changes in the track.
I’ve never made any secret of my preference for road racing over oval track racing. I’ve done both, and from a driver’s viewpoint road racing is far more interesting and challenging.
At Sears Point in particular, drivers are dealing with going uphill and downhill, turning left and right, slow corners and fast corners, few straightaways and lots of shifting and braking.
OK, fun for the driver, but frustrating for the fans who can’t see much of the track from one spot. There are two solutions to the fan dilemma. One, the fans can get off their butts and hike around the track to catch the action from different viewpoints, as road racing fans have done for years. Or two, the track can bring in the biggest fleet of bulldozers ever assembled, move millions of square yards of dirt to create great sightlines, and create the only amphitheater road course in the United States and probably the world. Sears Point took the second option.
Those of you who have avoided the Winston Cup race at Sears because you “couldn’t see the whole track,” have no fear. You can probably see more of the track there now than you can see from the main grandstand at Talladega or Daytona. The track is nearly surrounded by grandstands, including the front straightaway grandstand right above pit road. I was announcing from the suite area atop these stands last weekend, and the view is fantastic.
So if you’re a NASCAR fan, get your tickets now, because Sears Point is the closest the Winston Cup circuit gets to Northern Nevada.
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Today is a race fan’s dream. I’ll be watching the Indy 500 this morning, the Monaco Formula 1 race right after that, and the Charlotte Coca Cola 600 later in the evening. The Indy race is finally getting back to the point where I’m interested in it, with the best open-wheel drivers once again competing. The delineation between CART and IRL drivers is not as clear-cut this year, as the Penske team, last year’s 500 winners, are now a full-time Indy Racing League team after being in CART since its inception. It should be a good race, for sure.
Joe Ellison seems to think that Penske driver Helio Castroneves is going to be the repeat winner, and I wouldn’t bet against it. But Indy is a strange place? By rights, Mario Andretti should have more wins than A.J. Foyt, the Granatelli turbine car should be in the record books as a winner, and Lloyd Ruby ought to have a couple of victories. You never know what’s going to happen at the Brickyard.
And even if you don’t care about Formula 1, the Monaco race is the one contest in that series that will get your pulse pounding. Watching these quick, nimble, and powerful cars master the twisty streets of Monte Carlo puts you in awe of the skill and reflexes these drivers must possess. If you think racing is only NASCAR, watch the Monaco Grand Prix to get a taste of something different.
Of course, the 600 at Charlotte, the longest race on the Winston Cup calendar, will be a real test of NASCAR’s new “one engine per weekend” rule. I just hope there’s somebody left at the end of the race. A number of drivers changed engines prior to qualifying and will start at the back of the field, but the strategy of having an engine with a few less miles on it might turn out to be a winning one. Congratulations to Jimmy Johnson on setting a new qualifying record at Charlotte, beating out all the veterans and young lions alike.
You know, as much as I’m a fan of drivers like Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin, Bill Elliot and the other veterans, it seems like this recent crop of youngsters is coming along so fast that the “old guard” is being shoved aside. It will be interesting to see whether youth and enthusiasm or age and treachery win out at Charlotte tonight.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motor sports columnist
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