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Simmons to take over for Dana

Roger Diez
Nevad Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Less than two weeks after the accident that claimed the life of Indy Car driver Paul Dana, Team Rahal has announced that Jeff Simmons will take over the No. 17 car for the remainder of the season.

Simmons, 29, has won seven IRL Indy Pro series races and has twice been runner-up in the series points. He also has a pair of Indy Car starts, including a 16th place finish in the 2004 Indy 500. Simmons pledged to honor Dana’s memory with his performance this season. His first race with Team Rahal will be at Motegi, Japan later this month.

On the other side of the great open-wheel divide, the Champ Car series kicks off its season today with a street race at Long Beach. The Long Beach Grand Prix is the second oldest continuously held street race in the United States (extra points if you can name the oldest). As of this writing, defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais had the provisional pole, an important starting spot on a circuit where passing is notoriously difficult.

An added attraction to the Long Beach circus this year is the Rolex series Daytona Prototypes. Last year a drifting event was added, and that popular and spectacular show will be back this year. I think the reason Long Beach has lasted so long and become so popular is that the organizers have never been afraid to innovate and bring in new series. It’s too bad our own local attempt at a street race at the Reno Hilton died after only two years.

NASCAR this week announced that it will mandate the smaller fuel cells (now used at restrictor plate tracks Daytona and Talladega) for all Nextel Cup races at Lowe’s Motor Speedway this season. This includes the Memorial Day Weekend Coca Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest event.

With the smaller fuel cells and a longer race, pit crews are going to get a real workout at the end of May. The underlying reason for the ruling is concern over tire failures since last year’s “levigating” of the track surface at Lowe’s. Goodyear has come up with a harder tire compound for Charlotte, but NASCAR elected to err on the side of safety by requiring the smaller fuel cells, meaning shorter runs between pit stops and, hopefully, fewer tire failures.

I attended last Saturday’s tune and test session at Reno-Fernley Raceway’s 3/8 mile clay oval, and I was impressed with the turnout. The pit area looked like a normal race weekend, with a good-sized turnout in most of the racing divisions. Next Saturday is the final tune and test, with the season opener scheduled for April 22.

The road course at Reno-Fernley is also active, with nearly every weekend booked for the season. If you would like to experience high-speed road course driving, a great way to start out is with the Reno Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA).

In preparation for its first track day at Reno-Fernley, the club is holding a Tech Day and membership drive at Summit Racing on Glendale Boulevard in Sparks next Saturday, April 15, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. The club can tell you all about its time trial and racing programs, and get you signed up for its April 29 time trial event at RFR.

Instruction and assistance will be provided for novice drivers at the event, and SCCA membership is required. For more information, visit http://www.renoscca.com or call John Evans, (775) 828-0608 or Dave Deborde at (775) 267-4845.

April is Car Care Month, but here’s what to do if your vehicle is beyond help. The NASCAR Foundation has recently launched its Vehicle Donation Program. Crew Chief Club members Tommy Baldwin, Matt Borland, Jimmy Elledge, and Greg Zipadelli are involved in the program, which will accept used race cars, street cars, trucks, and RVs, running or not. Donations are tax deductible. The donation process is quick and easy, and can be done online at http://www.nascar.com/foundation.

My DVR and VCR have been getting a workout these past few weekends, with NASCAR, IRL, and F1 races overlapping, and this weekend doesn’t look to be any different. I’m going to be in real trouble when the weather turns nice and yard work beckons.