Friday, January 30, 2009

Offseason? What offseason?

I leave Tuesday to go to Daytona Speedweeks, starting my 13th season covering NASCAR in specific and motorsports in general. That’ll be the first official trip for work I’ve made since the 2008 Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Several of my friends who regularly read this blog will undoubtedly tell me how little they care about what I did this “offseason.” But I don’t mind. It’s nice to know they’re reading.
Anyway, when I started thinking about what I’ve done just over the past few weeks, I have to laugh at all of those folks who think all I do is “watch cars go around in circles.”
Charlotte and the surrounding area certainly is an interesting place to cover motorsports.
Right after the holidays, for instance, I went to Concord and visited the headquarters of DIRT Motorsports. These are the folks who run the World of Outlaws sprint car and late model racing series, which means they put on as many races in as many different places each year as just about anybody.
One of the guys who works there is named Josh Wells. A couple of weeks later, I talked to Josh’s wife, Amber, who works for NASCAR. The reason I wound up talking to Amber is that she was one of the people on the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River. A couple of days after she told me her incredible story over the phone I got to meet her in person at the NASCAR research and development center during the Sprint NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Seeing Amber there, high and dry, was one of the highlights of that week.
At that same stop on the media tour I also got to meet the young men and women who’re in the 2009 Drive for Diversity class. One of them is a young woman from Texas named Kristin Bumbera, and I walked up to tell her a story.
I was at All-American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., last summer for twin late model features because another Drive for Diversity driver, Paulie Harraka, is a friend of our radio show on Sirius NASCAR Radio. In the first feature, Bumbera and Harraka raced each other bumper to bumper for 20 or 30 laps and both of them had smoke boiling out of the rear ends of their cars because they were running so hard.
I told her that story and about how I gave Harraka grief for losing that battle in the first feature – Paulie won the second. Bumbera’s eyes flashed over and she started telling me about how her car didn’t last in the second feature or things might have turned out different. I went and found Bobby Hamilton Jr., for whose team Bumbera will race this year, and told him I think he’s got a winner.
The day after the media tour ended my wife and I piled in the car and went to Kentucky to see Wessa Miller and her parents, Booker and Juanita. A year ago on the weekend before I left for Daytona, I decided to try to find the family of the girl who in 1998 gave Dale Earnhardt the lucky penny that he had in his car when he finally won the Daytona 500. Wessa was that girl – she was 6 then – and the story I wound up doing is one of my all-time favorites.
The Millers live in Phyllis, Ky., a little town in the very eastern edge of the Bluegrass State. We spent two afternoons with the family, with whom we’ve become friends. People who read about Wessa and her family wanted to help and they’ve contributed a lot of money to, which the Millers have used to keep their van running and fix up their house to help make Wessa a little more comfortable. All they want me to do is make sure everybody knows how grateful they are to all those who helped. Juanita saved every envelope that came with a donation and she worries every day that she hasn’t yet had time to send each of them a thank you note. Rest assured that eventually, she will.
We got back Monday and I went to the N.C. Motorsports Association’s awards banquet, where you couldn’t help but be impressed by the breadth and scope of how far the motorsports industry reaches into my home state.
Tuesday I went to see Ray Evernham’s new museum and shop in Mooresville, where I met the men who’ll help him run East Lincoln Speedway this summer and also talked to my old friend Doug Herbert, who with help from people like Evernham is planning to challenge land-speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats later this year.
Wednesday I went to Hendrick Motorsports and watched a bunch of people who are all WAY smarter than I am shake a car like it was a can of paint at Lowe’s (hey, it was the 48 car) on a seven-post machine. My aim was to learn as much as I could about how one of those things works, and if I went there every day for six months I might figure out where the off-on switch is.
I was also trying to find time this week to go up to Denver, N.C., to see the shop where the winning car in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona was built. Michael Colucci’s JMC Racing, which fields the Porsche-powered cars for the Brumos team out of Jacksonville, Fla., is working out of the Max Crawford shop until Colucci’s new shop there is finished in the next week or so. Because the move is imminent, though, I had to settle for talking to Colucci while he was driving around in a rainstorm in South Florida.
Speaking of Florida, coming up I’ve got another story about something that David Reutimann has bought and donated to a children’s hospital in St. Petersburg that was built in somebody’s garage in Mooresville. It might be the coolest thing I’ve seen since the end of the 2008 NASCAR season.
OK, that’s enough for now.
Besides, I need to pack a suitcase.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some interesting ideas in new Truck rules

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been making a considerable amount of noise over the past few days as the series and its teams scramble to get ready for a new season.
The big news, of course, comes in the form of new rules aimed at helping teams manage costs. NASCAR will limit teams to 12 active crew members for each race, a total that includes driver, crew chief and spotter, and will allow only five men over the wall on any pit stop. Teams can no longer change tires and add fuel on the same stop. And beginning after Daytona, they can’t go more than three straight races without using an engine that has been used in a previous event.
Those rules make sense, at least at first glance. I have for a long time wondered why the Sprint Cup Series doesn’t take a cue from the Nationwide and Truck series and set limits on things like how many sets of tires a team can use in a race weekend.
I am not sure an “active crew” limit works in Cup since multicar teams could play all kinds of games with such limits. But I am in favor of just about any idea that takes the racing off pit road and puts it back on the race track
We also now know where Mike Skinner will drive in 2009.
Skinner was with Bill Davis Racing, but when that team was basically sold out of business a few weeks ago Skinner was cut loose on the market.
He has wound up in the No. 46 for Randy Moss Motorsports. That team announced earlier this week it’s switching to Toyotas. Tayler Malsam, who is 19, will drive the No. 81 truck as Skinner’s teammate.
“Being able to bring Toyota over there is the biggest thing to me,” Skinner said. "I've had a great relationship with Toyota and the Tundra brand and support from them since the Truck Series started with Toyota in 2004. To be able to keep that marriage alive and keep Toyota as our partners, that means a lot. That's what I bleed, that's what is in my veins.”
Another veteran driver, Stacy Compton, will race with Wyler Racing in the No. 60 Toyotas this year. Shane Sieg will drive the No. 15 for Billy Ballew Motorsports in the first four races as the team looks for more backing to keep going beyond that. Richie Wauters will work as crew chief with that team while Doug George will work with the No. 51 that Kyle Busch will drive in selected races.
* * *
The No. 96 Fords at Hall of Fame Racing has picked up sponsorship for five more races from Academy Sports & Outdoors. The company will be on the car at Bristol, Darlington, Daytona (July), Atlanta and Talladega. This deal supplements’s sponsorship of the team.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Motorsports group salutes Childress, and he salutes the fans

The primary purpose of the North Carolina Motorsports Association's annual banquet Monday night was to honor Tribute Award winner Richard Childress and the winners of the group's other annual awards. But that wasn’t the whole story.

It was also a reunion of people who don't see each other as much as they'd like and a pep rally for an industry that has taken some economic body blows in the past few months.

"It's hard to argue that North Carolina isn't as critical to motorsports as any other state out there," NASCAR president Mike Helton told several hundred people at the Concord Convention Hall at the Embassy Suites hotel for the program. "Being with this group reminds you that what we do has a home."

Richard Petty, who won the Tribute Award last year, helped present it to Childress this time around. Childress, who marked his 40th year as a Cup Series team owner in 2008, was recognized for his six Cup championships and other on-track accomplishments as well as his other business and philanthropic efforts.

"I remember the gas crisis back in the early '70s and the credit crunch in the early '80s," Childress said.

"We were racing then and we're still racing now. We persevered through those challenging economic times and 9-11.

"There is a lot of strength in this industry and in this great nation, and we'll continue to be strong. And, we should always remember to thank our fans, whose dedication is the reason we've been able to prosper all these years."

Ten other awards were given during the evening:

- Two-year education program, Central Piedmont Community College.

- Four-year education program, Belmont Abbey College.

- Workforce diversity, Winston-Salem State University.

- Regional marketing, Food Lion Auto Fair.

- National marketing, NASCAR's Home Track Campaign.

- Event facilities, Z-Max Dragway.

- Economic development, Mooresville – South Iredell.

- Safety innovation, Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe program.

- Small company, SRI.

- Large company, CV Products.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Joe Gibbs -- Racing menace?

It's a good thing for Joe Gibbs that Arena Racing is not under NASCAR jurisdiction, for there's no doubt that Gibbs might be on double secret indefinite probation and owe a hefty fine after the way he drove this weekend in Hampton, Va.
OK, that's a slight bit of overstatement, but what happened when Gibbs raced Interstate Batteries major domo Norm Miller is pretty darn funny.
The plan was for Gibbs and Miller, two long-time buddies, to compete in a 10-lap match race in the half-scale Cup cars used in Arena Racing. The cars race indoors on a one-tenth mile aluminum track.
What possibly could go wrong?
Miller's company provided Gibbs' racing team with its first major sponsorship deal and the two are long-time friends. They'd raced each other on personal watercraft before, but not in front of people and television cameras.
So the race starts with Miller in a green No. 18 car, of course, and Gibbs driving a black No. 20. Miller started from the pole and Gibbs was chasing him.
After five laps, Gibbs goes into turns 1-2 a little too hard and slaps the outside wall. His car wiggles but he gathers it in and tries to go low into Turn 3.
That's when the fun started. Gibbs got in a little too deep -- ala Joey Logano in the Toyota Showdown the same night -- and the nose of his car hit the left-rear of Millers'.
Now before the race, Gibbs' wife, Pat, had implored her husband to be careful. "Whatever you do don't wreck Norm," she said. "She sponsors your race car."
Well, so much for that advice.
When Gibbs' car hit Miller's, the No. 18 tumbled side over side in a complete roll and slammed into the outside wall. To his credit, Gibbs stopped immediately to make sure Miller was OK. He was OK, but somehow Gibbs was declared the winner.
"I was out of control," Gibbs said, showing another sign he's new at this driving buisness. Drivers rarely acknowledge anything like that. "I had been thinking that I needed to get into the corner deeper."
Miller, remarkably jovial about the whole thing, had a retort for that.
"He got in deeper," Miller said. "He got in behind me and on top of me and underneath me, too."
Here's a link to the video:


Sunday, January 25, 2009

NASCAR made a call, so it must be 'what-if' time

If you saw the end of the Toyota All-Star Showdown for Camping World East and West series cars Saturday night, chances are you've decided whether NASCAR made the right call or not.

Me, I am just interested to see that NASCAR did make a call.

You need to check out video replays of the finish on TV or the Internet to get a true appreciation of what happened. But in brief summary, Peyton Sellers had emerged from a three-way battle with the lead with Joey Logano and Matt Kobyluck chasing him over the final laps.

On the last lap, Logano was second entering Turn 3 and dove way low on the track, hoping to pass Sellers. As they came through Turn 4, Logano's car slid up the track and into Sellers' car on the outside. The move took Sellers into the outside wall, crashing him.

Logano righted himself in time to get across the finish line first just ahead of Kobyluck, who had eased back enough to miss the Sellers-Logano incident that he saw developing.

After the race, though, Kobyluck was declared the winner. Logano was penalized and moved to last place for his move.

There are a lot of ways you can go with this one. You could point out, for instance, that Logano's move wasn't particularly different from the much-celebrated move Carl Edwards tried on Jimmie Johnson on the final lap of last season's Cup race at Kansas.

The result, however, was quite different. Edwards went up the track and hit the wall, but he didn't hit Johnson. Johnson went on to win and Edwards finished second.

You could argue, I guess, that if Edwards' move was OK then Logano's should have been, too. But the result does matter. Edwards wound up not doing anything that damaged the chances anybody else had to win. Logano did. It's like in basketball, when you have a "no harm, no foul" concept, and that's perfectly reasonable.

Some people seem to be taking great pleasure in the fact that NASCAR took the win away from Logano because it was Logano. Because he's 18 and already has a Cup ride in the No. 20 Toyotas this year, some fans feel Logano is getting too much, too fast. Some fans go further, saying Logano is NASCAR's newest "chosen one," and find glee that he would be on the wrong side of a NASCAR call.

On the other hand, some fans might see that Logano went all-out to win in what was a non-points event where winning is supposed to be what matters and will find a new appreciation for him.

What I wonder is whether in the same circumstances NASCAR would change the winner of the Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Given the same circumstances and the same results, the call should be the same. But I doubt it would be.

One last point: The driver who was disadvantaged by what Logano did at the finish Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway was Peyton Sellers. He's the guy who had the lead with just a few yards to go, but he wound up 14th as the last car on the lead lap.

Even in taking the win away from Logano, there was nothing it could have done to make things right for Sellers. So was there any justice, ultimately, in what took place?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Picking is easy, but just on part of first hall class

Let's review your feedback about who should be in the first class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame when it opens next year.

It comes as no surprise to me that there was a pretty solid agreement that Bill France Sr., Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and David Pearson should be in the first class. I think those four are absolute slam-dunks and always have.

It also makes sense that the decision on a fifth inductee is split. Junior Johnson, who would be my fifth pick unless somebody makes a strong case I can't imagine, had only a slight advantage over Lee Petty, the patriarch of the Petty family.

I had Lee Petty and Bill France Jr. in my second year's class, mainly because I think putting a member of each of those families in the hall in the each of the first two years strongly emphasizes their contributions while still touching all the bases.

From that point on, there was a wide range of support. Fireball Roberts, Tim Flock, Smokey Yunick, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and the Wood Brothers were in the next tier. It actually did surprise me a little that Allison and Darrell Waltrip didn't get more support than they did.

Some fans think more than five a year should be inducted. I like that number for two reasons.

First, it ought to be hard to get into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We'll be seven or eight classes into this and people will still not have made the cut that most everybody agrees deserve recognition.

The second reason is the induction ceremony itself. If you're going to have 10 people going in at once, if you give each inductee his due, then the ceremony is going to last four or five hours. Nobody needs that.

A couple of people complained that I didn't put Bill Elliott on my list of candidates. That's because Elliott is still driving. I did list Terry Labonte, though, and he might do some racing this year. Just to be clear, Bill Elliott will be in the hall as soon as he is eligible.

That got me to thinking about guys who might be in the same category. Which active drivers have already done enough to make them certain hall of famers?

Jeff Gordon, of course, is first on that list. He'll have at least four championships and perhaps somewhere around 90 to 100 wins, if not more, before he's done. That's a no-brainer.

There's Elliott, as I said. I would add Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson to the list. Bobby Labonte is close.

I didn't have Ray Evernham on my list because I still consider him active, too. But he's an automatic. Like him or not, Chad Knaus will be there some day.

Motor Racing Network anchor Barney Hall was on my list and he's still active, but I think Barney is The Man and I couldn't make the list without him.

Maybe Ken Squier, Chris Economaki and Hal Hamrick should have made the list, too, but it's hard for somebody in the media to be objective about the media.

Feel free to keep offering your feedback here, and don't forget that after the list of the first 25 nominees comes out in June fans will get the chance to actually vote on the first five and have those votes count. The fan ballot will count as one of the 48 votes that decide the first group of inductees.

Now this would be a bad sign ...

There was much talk this week during the NASCAR media tour about the issue of driver accessibility in NASCAR.

Some track owners expect drivers to do more with and for fans to make the ticket-buyer's experience more fruitful. Some drivers have volunteered to do anything they can (within reason, of course) to help in that regard, and NASCAR president Mike Helton said he's proud of the way the drivers make themselves available given the demands on their time.

Still, if you're Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Carl Edwards or Jimmie Johnson, you're never going to satisfy everybody. If you sign 500 autographs, the first person told it's too late to get in line is going to get mad.

But there's another perspective, too. It was offered by National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher. He was discussing how the NHRA lets fans into what amounts to a team's pit stall as cars are being worked on between rounds. Most drivers stand there and sign autographs during those times, and Schumacher has no problem with that.

The problem, he said, is when you don't have a line of people wanting you to sign.

“When I see a driver with no line, I think, ‘There's your option,'” Schumacher said. “You could suck.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

But, really, what did you expect them to say?

I could make some of this blog's loyal NASCAR haters happy this evening and rip Brian France and his top lieutenants for their presentation Thursday afternoon on the final stop of this year's NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway.

You know what I mean. I could write something like this:

CONCORD, N.C. - To the great surprise of several hundred of people who've lost their racing-related jobs in the past three months, NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer Brian France said Thursday that everything is just peachy in the sport right now.

That's not what France said. But NASCAR officials declined to dwell on the economic issues facing the sport at Thursday's stop. Video screens at the NASCAR reasearch and development center greeted reporters with the words "NASCAR: Strong Through The Turns" and France and the other officials who spoke tried to keep things upbeat without sounding naive.

I guess some people who think Brian France is an idiot or Satan or whatever would have preferred seeing the chairman wearing sackcloth and ashes or weeping and rending his clothing in some sort of public display of dismay over how things have been going and how they're going to go in the future.

Sorry, didn't happen.

"It has been an interesting and challenging offseason for everyone," France said. "The Daytona 500 is just around the corner, and fans will once again start debating the on track topics rather than the off track topics."

If you hate France, that's called trying to bury your head in the sand. But if you're realistic about it, you have to ask what else there is that he could have really said?

It would do nobody any good for NASCAR officials to sit down with 200 reporters and talk about how bad things are. How would that help anybody?

"Despite the fact that there are no major changes," France said, "the NASCAR management team has been extremely busy this winter working with teams and tracks to face the challenges of the economy and keep our sport moving in the right direction."

That's as close as we got to an outright statement that things have been pretty bleak for a while, but as I wrote before the media tour began the thing NASCAR needs to do right now is begin turning attention away from all that and back to the track.

Good racing and good stories might not help NASCAR's economy turn around, but it sure won't hurt, either.

I am not giving France and the NASCAR brass a pass on their performance. One thing France said particularly didn't sit right with me.

"You know, you're seeing the economy has spotlighted teams that were struggling mostly in performance on the track, and now that sponsorship is even more difficult to come by," he said. "It will spotlight those teams that in the last few years for one reason or another, maybe no fault of their own, circumstances, bad luck or whatever, just simply haven't performed at the level that they need to, and that economic model is under a lot of pressure with sponsorship that is contracting."

Here's that, in English: Some teams haven't been winning might not be worth saving. That's a little Darwinian for me.

Good vibrations and more from the tour stops

Just a few observations about the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway:

I don't know that we'll go anywhere this week where the vibe will be better than it was at Wednesday's stop at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Optimism abounds on the media tour, even during these troubled economic times. Everybody expects to have a great season and that's how it should be. What made Stewart-Haas Racing different was that it seems everybody there figures they've wound up in a situation that's much better than they otherwise might have.

Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman both expect to be competitive this year. Whether or not that's what happens is one of this season's great questions.

But there's no doubt that Stewart, Newman and their teammates are embracing the challenge that's before them. Someone there told me a cool story. The new signs for the outside of the shop just went up the other day, and as he was leaving there after dark one day this week somebody saw Stewart pull over, get out of his car and go over and just look at the illuminated sign.

* * *

It just seems so impossible for anybody to come into NASCAR as a new team owner these days and compete with the sport's multicar super teams, but you have to remember that when they started, Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs all started with single teams.

Gibbs has won championships with Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart and still has two drivers in Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin who have to be considered likely candidates to make this year's Chase.

"I think it can be done," Gibbs said when asked if he thinks a new owner could make it today. "But it is different.

"You have people who come to you saying they’d like to be in the business and the difference is when we started we had 17 people, total. Today it would be 50 or 60 anyway. The size of everything makes it tough. You need a partner when you start. But the more healthy teams and the more sponsors it is for the sport."

* * *

I do not know why Mark Dyer left his job as president of Motorsports Authentics abruptly on Wednesday, but I do know it would be a very bad thing for NASCAR if he doesn't find some place else to go in the industry.

Dyer is one of those guys race fans don't know a whole lot about but who does a lot of good things for the sport. Dyer was one of those who helped devise the Chase for the Sprint Cup format and he also helped pushed the idea of having an official NASCAR Hall of Fame. He played a big role in picking Charlotte as the place where that museum is being built.

* * *

Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick got a special gift from his employees at a gathering this week where the team prepared for its 25th anniversary season. The very first chassis built by the team was located and brought back to the shop in Harrisburg, where team members restored it without Hendrick knowing about it.

They painted the body all silver in honor of the silver anniversary season and presented it to their boss.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TV blackouts? Not practical and not very likely

Take it easy folks. There won't be any local blackouts of NASCAR telecasts. At least not for a while.

Bruton Smith was asked a question Tuesday. Actually, it started when somebody asked him if race tracks maybe got a little too aggressive in adding seats when times were booming in stock-car racing. Smith said he didn't think so, which should come as no surprise because he's built more seats than anybody in the last 15 years or so.

In saying that, Smith said, "Maybe television has become too good." He meant that the quality of racing coverage on NASCAR makes it harder for people like him to convince people to get up out of their recliners and put up the money and energy it takes to actually come to the track.

That question was then followed up by one about whether NASCAR should consider mirroring the NFL policy of blacking out games in a team's home market if the seats aren't all sold.

"That's exactly what should happen," Smith said.

Well, no, it's not.

When you do something, there needs to be a good reason. About the only reason to go back to the practice of local TV blackouts for races is to help the race track sell tickets to people who live nearby. Given all the drawbacks to the overall picture such blackouts would bring, that's not a good enough reason.

It's no surprise that fans would hate that idea. The reason fans hate it is the reason Smith thinks it makes sense. Fans want the option of not going to the race closest to where they live and still being able to see it.

Fans, in fact, feel like they have a God-given right to see it for free on television at their homes. Fans, in fact, think they ought to be able to see it for free with no commercials.

They don't care if that makes no economic sense. They don't have to. They're fans.

Why blackouts won't work these days is that the television networks won't stand for it. First off, two races a year would be blacked out in the Los Angeles market because California Speedway isn't about to start selling out its races. Texas has so many tickets it's not going to have many sellouts, either, and Dallas-Fort Worth is another huge market that Fox, TNT and ESPN/ABC don't want to lose from their ratings.

The money television pays into the sport now is so important to NASCAR's financial structure the sport isn't going to do anything television would hate that bad.

It'd also be hard to come up with a policy on blackouts. The term "sold out" is rarely applicable for races. Grandstand seats can all be sold, but aside from short tracks that have limited or no infield tickets available, tracks will keep selling infield tickets as long as people are willing to buy them, just about.

What constitutes a sellout for the purposes of determining a blackout? It's just too messy.

Blackouts weren't that rare before NASCAR got its first comprehensive television deal in 2001. Charlotte race blackouts were almost always threatened up until the last minute to lure the last few ticket-buyers out of their homes, and some blackouts were never lifted. Indianapolis race fans hardly ever get to see a race live because the speedway there thinks blackouts work the same way Smith thinks they would.

This whole thing is one of those little "media tour moments" that will cause a ripple and quickly go away. Don't lose any sleep over it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Speedway execs lighten up, but aren't sure drivers should

I never had been among those who believe that race car drivers need to have fist fights to make NASCAR popular, but then again I don't have hundreds of thousands of tickets to sell each year, either.

A group of men who do have that task gathered Monday afternoon at the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway to talk about the state of the racing economy and they did have a funny exchange on that very topic.

The men are all the presidents and general managers of the respective Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks around the country. Eddie Gossage of Texas Motor Speedway, Steve Page of Infineon Raceway, Ed Clark of Atlanta Motor Speedway, Marcus Smith of Lowe's Motor Speedway, Jerry Gappens of New Hampshire International Speedway, Chris Powell of Las Vegas Motor and Jeff Byrd of Bristol Motor Speedway joined their boss, SMI chairman Bruton Smith, on the dais.

Gossage talked about the $20 tickets his track is selling for some of the backstretch seats for its Cup races, saying he knows it would be infinitely harder to get fans to come back once they decide they can't come any more than it would be to give them a ticket they can afford and keep them "from losing touch with the sport."

It's hard to argue that, but it's also true that the business of cutting ticket prices when sales are "soft" right before a race is a tricky proposition. If I paid $100 for my seat last year and then renewed it for this year at that same rate, I don't want to hear that the guy sitting next to me waited until two weeks ago and got his seat for $50.

Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, of course, but that can make it harder to keep those renewal rates up in the 90 percent range that Byrd said he has with his non-corporate clients at Bristol.

Burton Smith said it's really simple to know what to do when times are tough.

"I don't care what you're doing, if you're selling hot dogs on the corner. What you do is work harder," he said, "You sell, sell, sell."

All tracks are doing that, of course. Byrd and members of his staff have literally been going to Food City grocery stores in Tennessee and Virginia and selling tickets to fans in those stores - "one-at-a-timing," as they called it in the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou."

But that doesn't mean the tracks couldn't use a little help, and the ones the folks on Monday's program said they could use some help from are the ones fans really come to see - the race car drivers.

"This idea of running and hiding and not signing autographs, I don't like that," Smith said. "I think we have to overcome that."

Byrd and Gossage said, and their colleagues nodded in assent, that drivers seem more willing to help out with the season coming up than they have been in a long time.

That's when the day's best exchange happened.

"You take Jimmie Johnson," Smith said, speaking of the three-time defending Cup champion. "He's my neighbor and he's a great guy. I like him, I like his wife.

"But one thing that would help would be for Jimmie to get out of the race car and just go slap somebody sometime. He could slap me."

Gossage said he believes the sport is beginning to pay a price for becoming "corporatized" over the course of the past several years.

"These guys are a colorful bunch, but not publicly," Gossage said of today's drivers. "It's nothing that can't be fixed pretty quickly.

"Jimmie could punch somebody. He could hit me, but it would be better if he'd hit another driver. If he wants to hit me, he can hit me."

Smith said it was good of Gossage to volunteer. "Can I hit you?" Smith asked.

As the laughter died down, Gossage said he'd be OK with taking one from the boss.

"I would like to own some car dealerships," Gossage said. Smith owns hundreds of them.

Smith said he doubted that would happen. "I have more lawyers," Smith said.

Gossage thought about that and said, "I think maybe you have hit me a time or two."

Unfortunately, Smith still has a good memory.

"Well," Smith said, "you set me on fire one time."

That's true. When Lowe's Motor Speedway first turned on its lights, Gossage was working for at the track and had arranged to have Smith throw a ceremonial switch that was rigged with some pyrotechnics. A spark from that actually set Smith's hair on fire briefly.

That, pretty much, was the end of discussion.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Who do you love? Name your hall of famers

NASCAR will induct five people each year into its Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., beginning with the inaugural class in 2010.

We're giving you a list of some of the people who'll be among those considered. We'd like for you tell us who you think should be put into the hall in its first three years.

Add your picks, five for each year, to the comments section of this blog. We'll compile your results and post them next week.

Some of the candidates

Bobby Allison - The 1983 champion won 84 (some historians say 85) races in NASCAR's top series.

Davey Allison - Bobby's son won 19 races in just 191 starts in a career cut short by his tragic death in a helicopter crash in 1993.

Sam Ard - Ard won the 1983 and '84 championships in what is now NASCAR's Nationwide Series before injuries cut his career short. He won 22 times in just 92 starts.

Buck Baker - Won the 1956 and 1957 championships in what is now the Cup series and scored 46 career victories.

Buddy Baker - Known for his prowess on the sport's fastest tracks, Baker won 19 races and recorded the first official closed-course lap topping 200 mph in a stock car.

Geoffrey Bodine - Won 18 races in the Cup series and helped develop several revolutionary changes to the basic NASCAR race car. Also won 55 modified races in one year (1978).

Neil Bonnett - This winner of 18 races was one of the sport's most popular drivers who went on to a career as a television analyst before being killed in a racing crash.

Harold Brasington - Brasington, against conventional wisdom of the day, built NASCAR's first superspeedway in Darlington, S.C.

Red Byron - Won the first championship in what is now the Cup series in 1949 with a leg that had to bolted to the clutch after he suffered injuries as a tail-gunner in World War II.

Jerry Cook - A six-time champion in NASCAR's modified series, he won 342 races in a career that spanned three decades. He still works with NASCAR in an administrative role.

Clay Earles - Legendary owner of Martinsville Speedway, the only track still on the Cup schedule that was part of the first season of that series in 1949.

Dale Earnhardt - A seven-time champion who won 76 races and the hearts of millions of fans who still consider him the greatest NASCAR competitor of all time.

Richie Evans - No driver won more NASCAR championships than Evans, who won nine of them in the modified series - eight of them in a row from 1978-1985.

Tim Flock - Won two championships and 39 races in 187 career starts, giving him the second-best winning percentage (20.9 percent) of all time in the Cup series.

Raymond Fox Sr. - One of the great car and engine builders in NASCAR history, he was a crew chief for such drivers as Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Bobby Allison.

Bill France Sr. - "Big Bill" was the man who brought organization to stock car racing with the founding of NASCAR. He served as its iron-handed and iron-willed president for more than 20 years.

Bill France Jr. - Followed in his father's footsteps and led the sport from 1972 until he turned over the reins to his son, Brian, three decades later. Saw the sport through a period of explosive growth.

Barney Hall - The voice of NASCAR on Motor Racing Network, he has been bringing racing to listeners for nearly as long as NASCAR has existed.

John Holman-Ralph Moody - Owners of the Ford factory-backed team that dominated NASCAR in the 1960s. Their cars won 96 Cup races and two championships with David Pearson.

Harry Hyde - One of the sport's legendary crew chiefs, he worked with Bobby Isaac and Tim Richmond and won 56 Cup races. Hyde also played a major role in helping Rick Hendrick get his NASCAR start.

Jack Ingram - A five-time champion in the NASCAR late model and Busch series, Ingram won 31 races in the latter and was its all-time leading winner when he retired.

Dale Inman - Won eight championships as a crew chief, including seven with Richard Petty. His other time came with driver Terry Labonte.

Bobby Isaac - Won 37 Cup races, including 17 in 1969 and 11 the next year when won the Cup Series championship.

Ned Jarrett - Winner of 50 Cup races and championships in that series in 1961 and 1965. He ran only seven full seasons before retiring as a driver and going on to a long career as a broadcaster.

Dale Jarrett - Won the championship in 1999 and retired with 32 career victories, including Daytona 500 wins in 1993, 1996 and 2000.

Junior Johnson - The winner of 50 races as a driver, he went on to a long career as a team owner and crew chief, winning three championships with Cale Yarborough and three more with Darrell Waltrip.

Carl Kiekhaefer - Although he was a NASCAR team owner for just two years, he was among the first to have a multicar team. His cars won 52 of the 101 races held in 1955-56.

Terry Labonte - The winner of 22 races, Labonte won his first Cup title in 1984 at the age of 27 and then his second in 1996 when he was 39.

Fred Lorenzen - One of the first great stars in NASCAR's superspeedway era, Lorenzen won 26 races in his career highlighted by his tenure with the Holman-Moody Ford factory team.

Banjo Matthews - An accomplished modified driver in his own right, Matthews made his NASCAR name as the builder of race cars. From 1974 through 1985, his cars won 262 of the 362 Cup races held.

Bud Moore - Moore was the car owner for Joe Weatherly's 1962 and 1963 championships. His teams won 63 races in nearly 40 years of competition.

Raymond Parks - The champion car owner in Cup's first season in 1949 and a true racing pioneer. His cars dominated Lakewood Speedway near Atlanta, one of America's first truly great racing ovals.

Benny Parsons - One of the sport's finest gentlemen, Parsons won 21 races and the 1973 championship. He then had a long career as a broadcaster, spreading his passion for racing to fans watching at home.

Jim Paschal - Counted two World 600 (now Coca-Cola 600) victories among his career total of 25 wins. Paschal was among the competitors in Darlington's first Southern 500 in 1950.

David Pearson - "The Silver Fox" won 105 races, second on the all-time list, and three championships. He also won 64 superspeedway poles, first on the all-time list.

Lee Petty - The man who started the Petty dynasty won 54 races and three championships in what is now the Cup series. He never finished lower than sixth in the championship standings.

Maurice Petty - The chief engine builder for the Petty family's team for more than 20 years, he was named mechanic of the year seven times in a career that saw him help his brother, Richard, win five championships.

Richard Petty - "The King." He won 200 races, a record, and seven championships, which is tied for the record. In 1967, he won 27 races, including 10 straight at one point. Yes, those are records, too.

Tim Richmond - One of the sport's most flamboyant personalities, he emerged as a star in 1986 when he got seven of his 13 career wins. He missed the first part of 1987 with an illness, though, and died in 1989 from AIDS.

Fireball Roberts - Known as the sport's first true star attraction, he won 32 races in a 15-year career that ended when he was severely burned in the 1964 World 600, wounds that eventually took his life.

T. Wayne Robertson - In 13 years as president of sports marketing for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Robertson led Winston Cup into its modern era of popularity. He helped bring about the sport's all-star event at Charlotte, which will run for the 25th time this year.

Paul Sawyer - Sawyer began promoting races at the state fairgrounds in Richmond in 1955 and guided that track through more than 40 years of great competition and explosive growth.

Wendell Scott - The only black man to ever win a race in NASCAR's top series, Scott won 128 features on short tracks in his native Virginia while racing in an era when his every success came against a strong headwind of racism.

Ralph Seagraves - Seagraves helped bring R.J. Reynolds into NASCAR in 1971, marking the beginning of what is considered the sport's "modern era." RJR's backing of the sport was critical to its survival and eventual growth.

Bruton Smith - Promoted races for two decades before, along with Curtis Turner, building what is now Lowe's Motor Speedway. That track, now marking its 50th season, was the cornerstone for what is now a far-flung racing empire called Speedway Motorsports.

Herb Thomas - The first driver to win two championships (1951 and 1953) also was a three-time winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington. He won 48 races in his career.

Curtis Turner - He won 17 races in his career, but is often said that he never lost a party. One of the most colorful drivers in NASCAR history, many feel he had as much natural talent of any driver who ever lived.

Red Vogt - One of the greatest auto mechanics of all time, he used his talent to make cars go fast when carrying "moonshine" through the Georgia hills and other cars to go fast when they raced in the Atlanta area.

Rusty Wallace - Ranks eighth all-time with 55 career Cup victories. Wallace won the championship in 1988 and also won a total of 18 races in 1993 and '94.

Darrell Waltrip - A three-time champion who won 84 races and never saw a microphone he didn't like, Waltrip has made his name known to a new generation of race fans as a television analyst.

Joe Weatherly - The 1962-63 champion in NASCAR's top series, Weatherly had 25 career wins in that series. He also won three motorcycle racing titles and a modified title before coming to stock cars.

Humpy Wheeler - NASCAR's version of P.T. Barnum, Wheeler has been around the sport since his childhood. He began promoting races at small tracks near where he grew up in North Carolina and went on to help shape Lowe's Motor Speedway into one of NASCAR's most exciting tracks.

Rex White - The 1960 champion of NASCAR's top series ended his career with 28 race victories, leaving him among the top-25 race winners of all time.

Wood Brothers (Leonard and Glen) - Seventeen of the drivers named to NASCAR's list of the 50 greatest of all time have driven cars owned and prepared by the Woods, who were among the first to emphasize speed on pit stops.

Cale Yarborough - Three-time champion and the winner of 83 races in his career, Yarborough was the embodiment of determination in a race car. He won the Southern 500 five times and the Daytona 500 four times.

Robert Yates - A championship-winning engine builder with roots in the Holman-Moody operation, Yates became a team owner and began working with Davey Allison. Eleven years later he won a championship with Dale Jarrett. His other drivers, including Ricky Rudd and Ernie Irvan, top many who's-who lists.

Smokey Yunick - Perhaps the most famous - or infamous - racing mechanic of all time. He worked with Herb Thomas and Fireball Roberts and worked against - and often with great success - the people who wrote NASCAR's rules.

Friday, January 16, 2009

NASCAR changes Shootout again, suffers more foot wounds

Bless NASCAR's heart, it's trying to fix something that is broken beyond repair and it just keeps digging the hole a little deeper.

The new format it came up with for the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona was never the best idea NASCAR's ever had. It had to come up with something since the old way of qualifying for the event - winning a pole for a Cup race - is now part of a sponsorship deal for a beer company (Coors) that's a direct competitor for Budweiser.

You're not going to have a Budweiser-sponsored event featuring Coors Light Pole Award winners. It's just not going to happen.

So NASCAR decided to let the Shootout "emphasize" the manufacturers by making the top-six Fords, Chevrolets, Dodges and Toyotas in each year's owner points make the field for the next year's Shootout.

The timing of that, of course, turned out awful since manufacturers' involvement in the sport is not actually something some of them want to call attention to right now, but NASCAR wasn't in position to know that last summer when the change was made.

It's sort of a flawed concept anyway, though. Martin Truex Jr.'s team finished 16th in points last season and he's not in the Shootout. But the No. 10 car that finished 37th last year and isn't planning to run a full schedule in 2009 is. Justifying that is a stretch.

Then came Friday's addition of "wild card" teams for each manufacturer, expanding the Shootout field from 24 to 28. NASCAR added stipulations that got Tony Stewart, who drove last year in a Toyota but will start '09 in a Chevrolet for a team he's never turned a lap for, into the Shootout.

You can argue that Stewart's inclusion is sort of righting a wrong, since he's a former winner of the event and under the old format that would have had him qualified.

But what Robby Gordon is going to be allowed to do makes no sense. Gordon would have been in the sixth car eligible among Dodge teams. But he's not driving a Dodge any more. He's switching to Toyotas. Only, he's still got a Dodge left that he's going to drive in the Shootout. And NASCAR is OK with that.

Now Juan Pablo Montoya finished nine spots ahead of Gordon in the 2008 owner points and would have been eligible in the No. 42 Dodge. But Montoya is switching to Chevrolets and his team apparently doesn't want to run a Dodge one more time. I guess you could argue that it's the driver's and team's call, but it's still a mess.

NASCAR keeps talking about how much it loves the fans. If you can't come up with something better for the Shootout format, why not just let the fans vote on who should race in the Shootout? Give the fans 10 picks, by vote. Fill 10 more spots with the drivers highest in the previous year's standings who aren't voted in and run the race.

That's not the best idea in the world, but given the mess NASCAR has on its hands now it clearly isn't the worst.

Worth noting - The USAR Pro Cup Series, which lost Hooters as its title sponsor after last season, has been sold to a group "representing interests closely associated with the Series as well as established organizations within the motorsports marketing community." The series is still looking for a title sponsor, but plans are for the series to be back on the track in 2009. ... Anybody who has bought a ticket to May’s Coca-Cola 600 or who comes to the track and buys one on Wednesday can get a voucher for a ride-along in a Jeff Gordon Racing School car that day from 4 to 8 p.m., while supplies last. The offer is valid for only one ride per ticket account. ...Mike Ashley Racing bought the Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster team from 3B Racing. Antron Brown will remain as the driver of that National Hot Rod Association team's car.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Siegel is right pick, but it will take support

NASCAR hit a ringing double on Wednesday, making a deal that puts Max Siegel in charge of managing the Drive for Diversity program.

In hiring Siegel, stock-car racing's leadership took a big step toward bringing a level of credibility to its diversity initiative. But as much as I thnk of Siegel, I will tell you right now that his name and his efforts alone can not turn the hire into the home run that NASCAR needs in this important at bat.

Siegel left Dale Earnhardt Inc., where he was president of global operations, to go back to Baker & Daniels, an Indianapolis legal firm where he'd worked from 1992 through 1994. That firm, with Siegel leading the effort, will take over management of the Drive for Diversity program.

In no way do I mean this to be criticism leveled at Access Marketing, which managed the diversity program in its first five years. The folks who ran the program with that company did about as much as they could have given the level of financial commitment the program has received. You can only do so much with what you get.

I hope Siegel's appointment means that NASCAR is going to get serious about diversity. If that's not what happens, I don't think Siegel will stay on the job very long. I don't think he's going to put up with being a show pony for a program if has no real backing.

I've said it before and I still believe that NASCAR needs to put a lot money behind the whole function of driver development, and diversity is a big piece of that process. Developing drivers of all colors and genders is an investment in this sport's future, and especially in these tough times NASCAR needs to put its money where its future is.

NASCAR officials will tell you that they don't think it's proper for the sanctioning body to pick out drivers to support financially over others. But that's the whole reason the Drive for Diversity program was set up to be run by an outside agency like Access Marketing and now Baker & Daniels in the first place. NASCAR supports the program and then the program picks the drivers and administers the financial support.

That structure works just fine, or at least it could. But NASCAR's level of support could be - and absolutely should be - ramped up.

I think 5 percent of every deal NASCAR has or makes with an "official" sponsor should be earmarked for driver development. If it costs a company $2 million a year to be the "official" tofu of NASCAR, then $100,000 of that should go toward driver development.

That sounds like a pittance, but the 5 percent rule should apply to every deal NASCAR makes - including the title sponsorship deal with Sprint and the television contract. Sprint's deal is supposedly right at $70 million a year. That's $3.5 million for development. The television contract averages about $500 million a year. That's $25 million. (All of that shouldn't come out of NASCAR's share of the TV money - the 2 percent should come off first before the drivers and owners (through race purses) and the tracks get their share. Everybody should be contributing to this.)

According to a list on, there are about 50 "official" sponsorship deals in place. At $100,000 a pop (and that's just a wild guess), that's another $5 million for development. So we're at $33.5 million. Even if that's 10 percent off, we're still looking at $30 million a year that could be used to help develop young drivers.

I think if NASCAR gave Siegel that kind of nest egg and set him loose, the return on that investment would be huge down the road.

Anybody who compares where DEI is today to where it was when Siegel came on board and hangs that on Siegel doesn't even begin to know the whole story. That boat was already taking on water and Siegel bailed as hard as he could. The fact that there was enough of DEI left to merge with Chip Ganassi Racing had a lot to do with what Siegel did there.

Siegel quickly built a lot of respect in this sport, and it's good for NASCAR that he's staying in racing. No industry needs to lose people with Siegel's talent and character, and NASCAR certainly would have missed having a black man like Siegel working with it on one of the most important issues this sport faces.

I have no doubt that Siegel will go to work addressing those issues. If he gets the backing he should get, I have no doubt he will help make a real difference.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Playing the what-if game with NASCAR

I know that the "what if" game can be one of the most pointless things in the world, but NASCAR developments in the past month or so make it hard not to think about how different things might be if just a couple of things had gone a different way.

** If Adam Petty had not been killed in a practice session at New Hampshire International Speedway in 2000, how much easier would it have been for Petty Enterprises to maintain its racing identity in a way that's profoundly different from what form it will take as part of a merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports?

If Adam had demonstrated any aptitude at all in a Sprint Cup car, I think he would have be a rival for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in terms of popularity. Popular drivers at that level have a leg up when it comes to landing and keeping sponsors, and with solid sponsorship comes the kind of resources a team needs to run competitively.

** How different would things be, also, had Teresa Earnhardt gone for a deal that would have given Dale Earnhardt Jr. ownership of the team his father started?

It sounded like a far-fetched deal at the time. Why would Teresa Earnhardt give her stepson more than half of a team without Eanhardt Jr. paying for it? But, little more than a year later, that's precisely what happened when Tony Stewart got majority ownership of Haas-CNC Racing. Stewart's connection with the team increased its value to the point where everybody in the deal came out to the good, at least in theory.

It'd be hard to argue that the same thing wouldn't have happened at DEI, wouldn't it? Would DEI be better off than it is now? It certainly seems that way, at least.

** Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but boy, did I back the wrong horse Saturday night.

Originally I wanted to go to the Speedway Club at Lowe's Motor Speedway for the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series banquet for the 2008 season, but I was brought into the mix for covering the Carolina Panthers' NFL playoff game instead.

As it turned out, it looked like several of the Panthers had other engagements and didn't show up against the Arizona Cardinals. But that's another topic for another blog.

Ricky Weeks picked up $12,500 for winning his fifth straight Clash series title, nipping Dennis "Rambo" Franklin for the title.

Weeks won five races and had 14 top-five finishes. Three of his wins came in the season's six-race championshp series. Franklin had three wins and 13 top fives in his first Carolina Clash series season.

** The American Speed Association's Southeast Asphalt Tour has announced that it will wrap up its 2009 season at the seventh annual North South Shootout Nov. 5-7 at Concord Motorsport Park.

The race will become part of a weekend that already features one of the season's most anticipated races for open-wheel modifieds from up and down the East Coast.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Some big pieces still missing in preseason puzzle

Now that everything seems to be settled with the merger of Gillett Evernham Motorsports and the race team formerly known as Petty Enterprises, the biggest question still hanging out there is what the merged Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is going to wind up looking like on the race track.

We know that Martin Truex Jr. will drive the No. 1 Chevrolets with Bass Pro Shops as the sponsor. Beyond that, though, everything else is just about a guess.

Juan Pablo Montoya will drive for the team, too. He told us on Sirius NASCAR Radio this week that he'll be in the No. 42 car, as he was last year when it was a Dodge. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will use Chevrolets.

My guess is that Montoya is going to wind up with Target as his primary sponsor. Target was on the No. 41 car last year and that car has loomed as the major open seat in the sport for the entire off-season. With drivers looking for jobs you would think that if something wasn't going on a driver would have been plugged into that slot by now.

I don't know if the 18-race deal Montoya had with Wrigley's might be combined somehow with the Target deal or if the Wrigley's money might be used on another of the merged team's cars. That's one we'll have to wait on.

When Bobby Labonte announced he had parted ways with Petty Enterprises and the No. 43 Dodges the logical move for him was Earnhardt Ganassi and that "open" 41 seat. Again, if it had been that simple it stands to reason he'd be there already.

What I've heard in the past 24 hours - but have not yet got confirmed from anybody connected well enough with the team for me to swear it's what is going to happen - is that Labonte will wind up in the No. 8 Chevrolets.

Don't know the sponsor, but I've also heard he'll be reunited with one of his former crew chiefs, Doug Randolph, in that deal.

Where does that leave Aric Almirola? Well, sort of in the same boat AJ Allmendinger is in, I reckon. I think Earnhardt Ganassi is trying to put together at least a part-time deal for the No. 41 that they hope could grow into something full time down the road for Almirola. That's what Allmendinger will wind up with if he agrees to go into the "fourth" Gillett-Petty car.

The other thing that's going to be interesting with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is to find out where the people who had the various leadership positions at Chip Ganassi Racing withi Felix Sabates and Dale Earnhardt Inc. will wind up in the new structure.

Every question you ask about the situation seems to wind up being referred to Ganassi, so you wonder the people from DEI like Max Siegel and John Story fit into the new structure. Or, at least I do.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Team exec: 'It's all settled' with Sadler; Allmendinger deal pending

Elliott Sadler will remain in the No. 19 Dodges, Reed Sorenson will drive the No. 43 and the team resulting from the merger of Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Holdings is working with AJ Allemdinger on at least a partial schedule in a fourth car for 2009.

Tom Reddin, chief executive officer of GEM, confirmed all of that Friday morning in an interview on "The Morning Drive" on Sirius NASCAR Radio.

"We have been busy," Reddin said. "We're at the goal line now. We're done as far as all the loose parts."

After weeks of rumors, speculation and reports about what might be happening, Reddin detailed much of what will happen as part of the merger.

The surprising development in the story within the past 48 hours has been that Sadler will not be supplanted by Allmendinger in the No. 19. Last week, Sadler's attorney indicated the driver was willing to take legal action alleging breach of contract if that took place.

"Let me put it like this," Reddin said. "I know that in my family every now and then we have our differences. But we get those settled and resolved and we move on. We had some differences with Elliott, but we're a family and we have everything resolved. ... It's all settled and we're moving forward, full bore."

Reddin said the team was impressed with Allmendinger when he drove the No. 10 Dodges for GEM in the final five Cup races of 2008.

"We are working on a deal with him," Reddin said. "We have always wanted to add a fourth car and we have at least and eight-race package for that for 2009. We have sponsors for four cars for Daytona, and we were very impressed with AJ. On the competitive side he just jelled with us and he's a great guy. We hope we can work it out and get four cars on the track at least part of the time (in 2009)."

Reddin said the team has sponsorship sold for "a majority" of the races for the No. 43 that Sorenson will drive. The number for the possible fourth car has not been determined.

Reddin said the name of the merged team is still being determined, but that the Petty name will most likely be part of it.

"Richard (Petty) was up at the shop yesterday with Dale (Inman) and Robbie (Loomis) and we're really excited to have them coming on board," Reddin said. "I think having them will bring a certain level of magic in terms of working with our drivers on the mental side of the game. The difference between being a good driver and being a winner is the kind of thing that Richard can help us with. ... When he walks around the shop people just stop in awe."

Reddin said he believes Chrysler will live up to its racing commitments in 2009.

"Dodge has told us they're 100 percent behind us for 2009," Reddin said. "Looking beyond that, we'll take on a day-by-day basis. There is a lot going on with all the manufacturers.

"But we're a Dodge team for 2009. ... We're counting on that. I think that's a big question for the whole industry."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Arena Racing taking the season off in Charlotte

There won't be any Arena Racing in Charlotte this season.

Ricky Dennis, the founder and chief executive officer of Arena Racing USA, said that Charlotte remains "an important city" for the indoor racing league, but that he's still looking for the right person or group to own and operate the local franchise.

The league is competing in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia and in Grand Rapids, Mich., this season. The start of the 2008-09 schedule in Charlotte was originally set for November, but was then pushed back until after the first of the year at least before the call finally came to remain dark this season.

"I've always heard it said that if you like the way you're doing things, then keep doing them the same way," Dennis said. "We're talking to a couple of people and we talked to some of our teams down there, and they agreed it would be better to take our time and get the right people in place."

Dennis said part of the evolution has been the realization that what is learned by other minor-league sports franchises applies to the concept of indoor racing, too.

A weekly racing series track, he said, schedules races for a particular night each week and hopes the weather cooperates so people will come out on that given night and buy a ticket. Minor-league baseball and hockey franchises, on the other hand, put greater efforts into season tickets or other ticket packages as well as group sales to even out the weekly ups and downs of attendance.

"We want to reopen down there in the fall of 2009," Dennis said of Charlotte. "So now is the time to get started. It is our desire to discuss right away this auto racing/entertainment business opportunity to anyone interested in a ground-floor opportunity."

If you want to learn more about Arena Racing USA, visit the website at

JR Motorsports secures sponsorship in 2nd series

The JR Motorsports team picked up some sponsorship in the Nationwide Series on Wednesday when expanded its involvement. will be the primary sponsor on 20 Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports and seven Sprint Cup races with Hendrick Motorsports. It also will be an associate sponsor on Mark Martin’s No. 5 Sprint Cup Chevrolets. will sponsor Earnhardt Jr. in two Nationwide Series races in the No. 5 Chevrolets. It will be on Brad Keselowski's No. 88 Chevrolets for 18 Nationwide races and seven Sprint Cup races in the No. 25 Chevrolet. Lance McGrew will be crew chief for that Cup effort.

Keselowski's Nationwide car now has sponsorship for the full season. Unilever is on the car for 11 races and Delphi Corp. is on for six.

Cars and stars

Darrell Waltrip and Dierks Bentley are among the latest additions to the lineup for the Sprint Sound & Speed festival this weekend in Nashville.

The event begins Friday at the Sommet Center with a concert featuring Montgomery Gentry, Rodney Atkins and Julianne Hough. Saturday includes an entire day of autograph sessions, live auctions and show-car and sponsor displays at the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Petty, Michael Waltrip, Ray Evernham and David Stremme will be joined by Waltrip, Ernie Irvan, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Bobby Hamilton Jr., Brad Keselowski, Burney Lamar, Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli, Brian Frisselle and Doug Herbert. Bentley is part of the list of country music celebrities now scheduled to attend.

Tickets are available through or at Proceeds go to Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.


Darlington and Talladega have announced ticket price reductions for upcoming events. Darlington has lowered prices to $35 for nearly 9,000 seats for the Southern 500 in May. Talladega has cut prices on 20,000 tickets in the Gadsden and Lincoln grandstands to $40 for the AMP Energy 500 on April 26.

... General Motors has renewed its sponsorship of Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona 500 on a year-by-year basis but at a significantly reduced rate, the Detroit News reports.

... reports that Dover has torn down its inside wall on the frontstretch and replace it with one that includes SAFER barriers. The track will also slightly widen its pit road and add a 43rd stall to it. In the past the 42nd and 43rd cars in the starting lineup had to share a pit stall because there were only 42 spots on pit lane.

... Another National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel team announced it was shutting down Wednesday as David Powers Motorsports and Caterpillar announced they had agreed to end Caterpillar’s sponsorship of the team for driver Rod Fuller. Team owner David Powers said he is selling the Top Fuel and show car program assets.

"During these difficult times, I need to focus on homebuilding," Powers said. "During my 26 years in the homebuilding industry, these are the most challenging times I've been through." Fuller finished sixth in the 2008 standings.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

JR Motorsports picks up sponsorship

The JR Motorsports team picked up some sponsorship in the Nationwide Series on Wednesday when expanded its involvement. will be the primary sponsor on 20 Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports and seven Sprint Cup races with Hendrick Motorsports. It also will be an associate sponsor on Mark Martin’s No. 5 Sprint Cup Chevrolets. will sponsor Earnhardt Jr. in two Nationwide Series races in the No. 5 Chevrolets. It will be on Brad Keselowski’s No. 88 Chevrolets for 18 Nationwide races and seven Sprint Cup races in the No. 25 Chevrolet. Lance McGrew will be crew chief for that Cup effort.

Keselowski’s Nationwide car now has sponsorship for the full season. Unilever is on the car for 11 races and Delphi Corp is on for six.

* * *

Darrell Waltrip and Dierks Bentley are among the latest additions to the lineup for the Sprint Sound & Speed festival this weekend in Nashville.

The event begins Friday at the Sommet Center with a concert featuring Montgomery Gentry, Rodney Atkins and Julianne Hough. Saturday includes an entire day of autograph sessions, live auctions and show-car and sponsor displays at the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Petty, Michael Waltrip, Ray Evernham and David Stremme will be joined by Waltrip, Ernie Irvan, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Bobby Hamilton Jr., Brad Keselowski, Burney Lamar, Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli, Brian Frisselle and Doug Herbert. Bentley is part of the list of country music celebrities now scheduled to attend.

Tickets are available through or at Proceeds go to Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Briefly: Darlington and Talladega have announced ticket price reductions for upcoming events. Darlington has lowered prices to $35 for nearly 9,000 seats for the Southern 500 in May. Talladega has cut prices on 20,000 tickets in the Gadsden and Lincoln grandstands to $40 for the AMP Energy 500 on April 26. … General Motors has renewed its sponsorship of Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona 500 on a year-by-year basis but at a significantly reduced rate, the Detroit News reports. … reports that Dover has torn down its inside wall on the frontstretch and replace it with one that includes SAFER barriers. The track will also slightly widen its pit road and add a 43rd stall to it. In the past the 42nd and 43rd cars in the starting lineup had to share a pit stall because there were only 42 spots on pit lane. … Another National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel team announced it was shutting down Wednesday as David Powers Motorsports and Caterpillar announced they had agreed to end Caterpillar’s sponsorship of the team for driver Rod Fuller. Team owner David Powers said he is selling the Top Fuel and show car program assets. “During these difficult times, I need to focus on homebuilding,” Powers said. “During my 26 years in the homebuilding industry, these are the most challenging times I’ve been through.” Fuller finished sixth in the 2008 standings.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tommy Baldwin plans to roll out new Cup team

Veteran NASCAR crew chief Tommy Baldwin believes he sees an opportunity in the sport’s current economic climate, so he announced Tuesday that he is starting a new Sprint Cup team in 2009.

The team will be based in Mooresville, N.C., and operate under the Tommy Baldwin Racing banner. Baldwin said the team plans to run full-time in the Cup Series using Toyota cars and engines from Arrington Manufacturing.

"With tough economic times upon us, the timing for starting this team is right," Baldwin said. "Our overhead is low and we have a great group of talented mechanics and specialists to choose from. We can offer sponsors the chance to get into NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at a fraction of the costs, without compromising on-track performance, due to our low overhead."

Baldwin, 41, did not name a driver or a sponsor.

"We will do everything we can to support NASCAR and its fans," Baldwin said.

"We are thankful for the opportunity NASCAR offers as we are able to prepare our own car to compete in one of the nation's top sporting events.

"That's what makes NASCAR so different from the other major sports. It's still attainable to be an owner, if you are willing to put the work in, and I'm no stranger to hard work."

Don't expect 'racy' in newest NASCAR 'reality' show

Before NASCAR debuts a new racing season, a new racing-themed reality series will make its debut Jan. 24 on the TLC cable network.

"NASCAR Wives" will feature four women - DeLana Harvick, Kelley Elledge, Angie Skinner and Shana Mayfield - in one of those behind-the-scenes shows aimed at giving viewers a peek into their "real" lives.

A story in the Hollywood Reporter said that the concept of the show "mixes racing with the 'wives genre' peppering cable primetime, such as Bravo's 'The Real Housewives of Orange County.' But since the show is being produced by NASCAR Media Group, I don't expect it to be quite that - and you'll pardon the pun - racy.

DeLana Harvick, of course, is married to Cup driver Kevin Harvick. Kelley Elledge is the sister and key business adviser to her brother, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and was married to NASCAR crew chief Jimmy Elledge. Angie Skinner is Truck Series driver Mike Skinner's wife. Shana Mayfield is married to Jeremy Mayfield.

The first show will air on the same night at TLC carries the Miss America pageant. The balance of the season will air beginning sometime this spring.

Massaro's role expanding with ESPN

Mike Massaro is coming off pit road, for the most part, and taking on a larger role in ESPN's “NASCAR Now” program.

Massaro will still work as a pit reporter for some Nationwide Series races, but his new main role will be as one of the hosts of the "NASCAR Now" program. He and Nicole Manske will share the primary host role on a rotating basis with Allen Bestwick continuing to lead "NASCAR Now's" Monday roundtable discussion shows.

Vince Welch will become one of ESPN's four primary pit reporters, joining Dave Burns, Jamie Little and Shannon Spake.

ESPN also announced that Marty Reid, lead announcer for ESPN's coverage of the IndyCar Series the past three years, will be the play-by-play announcer for Nationwide Series events for much of the second half of the season, after ESPN begins its 17-race coverage of the Sprint Cup Series.

Jerry Punch will continue as play-by-play announcer for the Sprint Cup coverage and for the Nationwide Series in the first half of the season. The rest of the network's cast of analysts and prerace show commentators will return.


Clint Bowyer, the 2008 Nationwide Series champion, will join Jeff Burton and Stephen Liecht in sharing the No 29 Nationwide Series car for Richard Childress Racing in 2009. Crew chief Dan Deeringhoff will move from the No. 2 team that Bowyer drove with last season to take over the No. 29. ... Tickets for Labor Day weekend activities at Atlanta Motor Speedway will go on sale at 9 a.m. Wednesday at ... Kalitta Motorsports says it will have only one full-time National Hot Rod Association team in 2009, the Funny Car driven by Jeff Arend, unless it finds more sponsors. Doug Kalitta's Top Fuel car will run on a race-by-race basis as the search for backing continues. Top Fuel cars driven by Hillary Will and Dave Grubnic also will not run unless and until sponsorship is found.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sam McQuagg dies at 73

Sam McQuagg, the 1965 rookie of the year in what was then NASCAR’s Grand National Series (now Sprint Cup), died Saturday morning. He was 73.

McQuagg competed in 62 races in NASCAR’s top series, getting a victory in the 1966 Firecracker 400 at Daytona in a Dodge owned by Ray Nichels.

He won more than 250 feature races at local tracks, highlighted by his 1963 season at Thunderbowl Speedway in Valdosta, Ga. That year, McQuagg won 35 of 37 features and caught the eye of a woman named Betty Lilly of Valdosta. She gave McQuagg $25,000 and he used that to finance his rookie NASCAR campaign in 1965, when he had five top-10 finishes.

McQuagg was leading the Southern 500 during his rookie year when Cale Yarborough tried to pass him. Yarborough wrecked, flying over the guardrail and rolling several times before ending up in the parking lot. Yarborough was not injured.

McQuagg got a shot with the Dodge factory-backed team in 1966 and then drove for car owner Cotton Owens the following year. At Darlington in 1967, McQuagg wrecked in his own car, rolling several times and going over the guardrail. He scaled back to more local track racing after that and made his final Cup start in the 1974 World 600 at Charlotte..

McQuagg worked as a commercial pilot after retiring as a racer. He was a member of the Jacksonville Speedway and the Georgia Automobile Racing halls of fame.

Patrick, Howard together again in endurance race

Danica Patrick will race in the Rolex 24 for the second straight year, joining the lineup for a car co-owned by NASCAR team owner Richard Childress.

Patrick will compete along with Casey Mears, a former Rolex 24 winner, as well as Rob Finlay and three-time winner Andy Wallace in the Childress-Howard Motorsports No. 2 Pontiac Crawford.

Three days of testing for the Jan. 24-25 event began Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. Three-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is among the other drivers participating this year, as are Kurt Busch, Scott Pruett and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Robby and the rally update

The Dakar Rally began its 16-day journey scheduled to cover more than 6,000 miles on Saturday.

NASCAR’s Robby Gordon completed the stage in 2 hours 50 minutes 40 seconds, leaving him 17th in the overall standings, 14 minutes 25 seconds behind the leader. The stage went from the start in Buenos Aires to Santa Rosa de la Pampa in Argentina.