Friday, December 28, 2007

Roundup of random thoughts, events

Has anybody ever figured out what a new "Lang Syne" looks like?

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The second annual Legends Helping Legends fund-raiser is set for Saturday, Jan. 19 at the Memory Lane museum in Mooresville.

This year's beneficiary will be 1983-84 Busch Series champion Sam Ard, who is battling Alzheimer's Disease. Last year's event raised money to help pay medical bills for longtime racing announcer Bill Connell.

More than 50 racers and other celebrities were there at last year's event, signing autographs and swapping stories with fans. At least that many are expected for this year's event.

Admission is $8 and that includes a tour of the museum's more than 150 vintage racing and other vehicles. The museum is at 769 River Highway in Mooresville, about 1.5 miles west of Interstate 77 off exit 77. Go to for details.

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Speed is gearing up to provide almost daily updates of NASCAR's testing season in January. It plans 22 half-hour shows beginning Jan. 7 leading right up to its 100-plus hours of coverage of SpeedWeeks from Daytona.

Speed will have shows Jan. 7-11, Jan. 14-17 and Jan 21-22 from Cup, Truck and Nationwide series testing from Daytona. It will then air 30-minute recaps of each day's activities on the Sprint/Lowe's Motor Speedway media tour on Jan. 23-25. It will be at tests in Las Vegas on Jan. 28-30 and at California Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Then, Speed will do its team previews Feb. 4-6.

Each of those shows airs at 7 p.m. John Roberts will anchor the testing shows.

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The Station Casinos in Las Vegas have Jimmie Johnson as a 4-1 pick to win the 2008 Sprint Cup title, with Jeff Gordon at 9-2 odds. Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are each 8-1 and Tony Stewart is 10-1. One longer shot that looked tempting to me was Kyle Busch at 22-1.

I don't know how they make odds, but I was thinking the other day about how you'd handicap which manufacturer might produce the champion this year. With Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick and the Richard Childress Racing teams also in Chevrolets, you have to make Chevy the favorite, but by how much?

I came up with this, doing it by percentages. I'd say there's a 40 percent chance this year's champion will drive a Chevrolet. With Joe Gibbs Racing in Toyotas, I'll say Toyota is the second choice at 25 percent, then Ford with the Roush Fenway Racing drivers at 20 percent. Dodge would be 15 percent in my preseason forecast. The Penske guys, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, could do it but Kasey Kahne would really have to have a dramatic rebound to be a factor. He's 38-1 in Vegas, by the way. Juan Pablo Montoya is 75-1.

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It might not be on TV like Barrett-Jackson, but there will be a major auction of sports cars and race cars Jan. 19-20 at the Cabarrus Arena in concord.

Among the items on the block will be racing equipment from Richard Childress Racing and Bill Davis Racing as well as other NASCAR teams. Also for sale will be more than 50 low mileage 2006 and 2007 Hertz Shelby GT-H Mustang coupes and convertibles.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

NASCAR drivers fare poorly on Autosport list

Autosport is a British magazine that covers motorsports on a worldwide basis. The people who work for it know far more about what's going on around the wide, wide world of racing than I ever will.

I know that a guy like me who has seen one Formula One race live and probably has seen a total of three minutes of World Rally Championship competition on television in his life has no standing when it comes to ranking the world's best drivers. That's why I don't - and won't - try to do it.

Autosport, however, does. The magazine is out with its list of the world's top-50 drivers for 2007 and it should surprise no one that F1 drivers dominate the rankings.

But 12 of the top 18? Twelve?

F1 champ Kimi Raikkonen is first, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. World Rally drivers Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb follow in the top five.

OK, here's where I think these blokes get a little wacky.

Jenson Button, who finished 15th in the F1 standings, is sixth. The rationale, apparently, is that Button had junk (by F1 standards) to drive this year and did a decent job in it.

Dario Franchitti, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series winner, is seventh, followed by IndyCar runner-up Scott Dixon.

Does it occur to anybody that there's a name that ought to be at least somewhere along here in this part of the list - at the very least?

Jimmie Johnson won 10 races and the Nextel Cup championship. There's no question that he beat better competition in his form of U.S. auto racing than Franchitti did. But even if you give Franchitti points for winning America's most significant single race, doesn't Johnson have to be ahead of Dixon?

Johnson, though, is 20th. That's right, 20th.

OK, I know Europeans think NASCAR uses "saloon cars," dinosaurs in terms of technology. I know that they look at American sport the way we look at soccer and rugby and cricket, as curiosities. I know that American writers would tend, perhaps, to give NASCAR drivers more credit that perhaps might be deserved should one of us make such a list.

But the two-time defending champion of America's top series is 20th, behind the third-place guy in IndyCars (Tony Kanaan in 16th)? Jarno Trulli, ranked 17th, finsihed 13 in F1. He wouldn't have even made the Chase for the F1 Cup!

Jeff Gordon is 25th, two spots behind Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais, however, will drive in F1 in 2008.

Want to bet he suddenly moves way up on next year's list while Franchitti, who's coming to NASCAR, plummets?

Matt Kenseth is 36th and joins Johnson and Gordon as the only NASCAR drivers in the rankings.

Any list like this is subjective, of course, but if there was any way you could prove to me that there are 50 people racing in the world today who're all better than Tony Stewart, I will eat a copy of every page of every issue of Autosport magazine ever published.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More from the racing offseason

The last time Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Pruett were teammates for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Montoya bumped Pruett out of the way on his way to winning a NASCAR Busch Series race in Mexico City.

That won't happen at the 2008 Rolex 24 at Daytona because Montoya and Pruett will be sharing the same car along with Dario Franchitti and Memo Rojas in America's premiere endurance event.

Montoya, Pruett, Franchitti and Rojas will drive the No. 01 Ganassi-owned car in the race on Jan. 26-27.

Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, who drive for Ganassi in the IndyCar Series, will drive the No. 02 Daytona prototype along with Salvador Duran and Alex Lloyd as the team looks to make history with a third-straight overall title in the race.

Montoya, Pruett and Doran won the overall title in 2007. Dixon, Wheldon and Casey Mears were the overall winners in 2006.
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One lucky race fan will be get two tickets to every race during Daytona's Speedweeks and will participate in the victory lane celebration following the 50th running of the Daytona 500 after being chosen as the "Mayor" of Speedweeks.

To campaign for this post, fans must tell Daytona International Speedway "in 100 words or less" why they should be selected. Essays may be mailed to:
Mayor of Speedweeks
c/o Daytona International Speedway
P.O. Box 2801
Daytona Beach, FL, 32120
Entries also can be emailed to or dropped off at the Daytona 500 Experience. Fans can also get information on-line at

The entry deadline is Jan. 7.
In addition to tickets to all Daytona races, including the Rolex 24, the winner will wave the green flag for the first Rolex 24 practice session to officially kick off Speedweeks and participate in other prerace and postrace activities at the track.
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Mike Wallace will still drive the No. 7 car sponsored by Geico insurance in 2008, but he'll be driving Toyotas for Germain Racing.

"We are very proud to have GEICO and Mike Wallace join our race team," said Mike Hillman Sr., general manager of Germain Racing.

Wallace is just back from Los Angeles, where he was working on more commercials featuring his nephew, aspiring racer Lauren Wallace.
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Mitchell Stimpson, who drove street stock cars at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, was shot and killed in his home in Yadkin County last week.

Stimpson's daughter, Lauren, discovered her father's body after the shooting. Her mother died of cancer recently as well, leaving the 13-year-old without both parents.

Members of the racing community have started a trust fund at Wachovia bank branches to help Lauren Stimpson. Donations can be made to the Lauren M. Stimpson trust at Wachovia branches.
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Bobby Hamilton Racing and Arrington Manufacturing have formed a partnership that will lead to the relocation of the team from Mount Juliet, Tenn., to North Carolina. The team was formerly owned by Hamilton, who passed away in January.

BHR will continue to be run daily by Lori Hamilton with AMI management group. It will also continue to field the No. 4 and the No. 18 Dodges in the Craftsman Truck Series.

"This partnership allows us to grow for the future," Lori Hamilton said. "In the past few months, we realized how vital it is to our future success to be located closer to NASCAR and its community. Joey Arrington has always been a team player for our organization. Bobby always valued his knowledge and experience in the sport. It is a natural fit for our organizations to work together and take this team to another level."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Could Busch series prosper without big names?

Catching up with stuff I'm falling behind on...

Carl Edwards collected $1,218,597 from the points fund for winning this year's Busch Series championship at Friday night's banquet, bringing his total winnings for 2007 in that series to $2,485,582.

That's not the $15 million plus Jimmie Johnson won for winning the Nextel Cup title, but it's nice money. David Reutimann got $714,350 in points money for finishing second, and the top 10 drivers in the final standings all won more than $1 million in total earnings this year.

Some fans are tired of seeing guys like Edwards, who is also of course one of the sport's top Cup drivers, come in to what the fans see as a proving ground for young drivers and cherry-picking off the big money.

But one track president thinks it needs to be pointed out that the reason that big money is there in the first place is that drivers with the kind of notoriety that Edwards are competing in the series.

"If the (Busch) Series wants to run in front of big crowds, on national television and for big purses, you have to have names people recognize and want to see," said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. "There was a time when drivers like Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton were racing in (Busch) Series events with stands capable of holding 8,000 people and paying total purses of $100,000. They were learning their craft and making their name."

Gossage compared it to seeing Bruce Springsteen play earlier in his career in front of 1,000 in some small venue in New Jersey. He said NASCAR needs to decide what it wants the series that will be called the Nationwide Series beginning next year to be.

"If they want it to be major league, they have to have names that will cause people to buy tickets and television networks to televise the races," Gossage said. "...Or they can go back to being a minor-league series and run at 6,000 to 8,000 seat speedways for $100,000."

The man makes a heck of a point.

Coca-Cola has extended its marketing partnership with NASCAR through 2017, which means that it's not about to roll over now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a deal with Pepsi brands. Look for Coke Zero to have a bigger presence in the sport as part of the new deal. Coke also has a new 10-year deal for pouring rights at International Speedway Corporation's tracks, and that will include naming rights to July's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races at Daytona.

Three of the six men elected to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame's 2008 class have strong NASCAR ties. Red Byron was the first champion in the strictly stock (now Sprint Cup) series in 1949. Everett "Cotton" Owens won more than 100 modified races in the 1950s and then became one of stock car racing's great team owners. And Ralph Seagraves helped begin R.J. Reynolds Tobacco's long-time involvement in motorsports sponsorships. Also elected were Art Arfons, who set the land speed record three times and worked for five decades in drag and powerboat racing; drag racing legend Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, who is known as the father of the National Hot Rod Association's pro stock series, and Frank Kurtis, whose Kurtis-Kraft company produced some of the greatest midget race cars ever built.

The Chili Bowl from Tulsa, Okla., one of the great events in all of motorsports and the highlight of the winter months, will be available for viewers on pay-per-view for the first time this year. The Jan. 12 event brings in around 250 midget cars to compete indoors. Tony Stewart is the defending champion and he and Kasey Kahne are expected to be among this year's entrants. It will be shown on HBO Pay-Per-View, beginning at 8 p.m. Ordering information is available at Viewers will need digital cable or satellite service to order, but you don't have to have HBO to get the telecast.

Tommy Johnson Sr. does his best to keep me up to date with stuff going on in the National Hot Rod Association, especially when it involves his family.

Johnson's son, Tommy Jr., got some big news this week when drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein announced he would step out as a driver in a funny car sponsored by Monster Energy Drink and Lucas Oil and put Tommy Johnson Jr. in that ride.

Bernstein, a six-time champion in top fuel, drove the funny car last year and planned to drive it again in 2008.

"I was only contemplating driving one more year," Bernstein said, "but when Tommy became available at the end of the '07 season, we started to give the situation a lot of thought. ... I guess we can always look to win one more race or one more championship, but in reality, I've had a great career and many talented crewmembers who have helped mold my success through the years. For me at this stage of my life, the right decision is to step away from the cockpit."

Johnson has NHRA victories in funny car and top fuel. Next year, he will compete against his wife, Melanie Troxel, who is making the move from top fuel to funny cars in 2008.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Nationwide Series car? Here's a spoiler

Catching up, in a midweek sort of way:

  • A Nationwide Series crew chief told us on the Sirius NASCAR Radio show I do weekday mornings that some teams have already been given previews of what the new car for that series is going to look like. The Nationwide car will be built on the same chassis as the Cup Series car of tomorrow, but the bodies will be different. And, at least right now, the Nationwide cars will have spoilers and not wings. The new car will be in use in the Nationwide Series in 2009.
  • The season's final Cup statistics are done and the top 49 drivers in points all won at least $1 million. The top 42 all won at least $2 million. Bill Elliott was the sport's first $2 million man back in 1985 when he won the $1 million bonus from Winston and took home $2,383,186 as the runner-up to Darrell Waltrip, who was the first champion to top $1 million with $1,318,375 that same year.
  • Jimmie Johnson won twice as many races this year as he did last year and repeated as champion. But he won more money in 2006 -- about $560,000 more. A big reason for that is that he won the Daytona 500, NASCAR's richest race, in 2006.
  • When the space shuttle Atlantis goes up Thursday, it will carry three racing flags. When those flags come back to earth, one of them will be given to winner of the Daytona 500, the Daytona 500 Experience (formerly Daytona USA) will keep one and NASA will keep one.
  • I gripe about travel a lot, I know, but I have to admit I sort of enjoy the game of trying to get around the country to cover NASCAR races without spending any more of the company's money than I really need to. You find a decent hotel room about five miles from the track for a race next fall, on the side of the speedway away from which most of the traffic comes in, for $71 a night. You reserve a car for two weeks out of the Orlando airport for half what it would cost if you rented from another company that's basically under them same corporate umbrella. It's annoying, though, when you can buy an airline ticket for a trip to Las Vegas that connects through an airport for $300, then come back and try to buy a ticket to get off the plane in that same airport for a race there and they want $500. It costs $200 more to NOT keep going? How does that make sense?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

NASCAR Champions Week comes to an end

Friday, 11:45 p.m.

NEW YORK CITY -- A few final thoughts and comments from NASCAR Champions Week in New York City.

--I'll write more about this in my Sunday column for the Observer, but I didn't think this year's Nextel Cup awards ceremony was terrible. In fact, I thought it had several really nice moments.
The drivers' speeches were still pretty much lifeless, but it's hard to thank everybody you need to thank and get in anything resembling humor or real emotion in the time they're allotted.
I am all for the idea of shortening the proceedings, and for the second straight year they got it all in in under 3 1/2 hours. But in streamlining things they've cut into the time spent on the champion and his team. I think that's wrong.
There's no way the championship crew chief's speech should be part of the Thursday luncheon and not the Friday ceremony itself, for instance. And I still say the crew members from the winning team should have seats right down front, on the floor, instead of way up in the third balcony.

--Before David Spade tried to tell jokes at the ceremony, nobody had died this year in Nextel Cup. Here's how bad it was. Tom Brokaw, the former NBC News anchorman, did a very moving tribute to the late Bill France Jr. and other people in NASCAR who had died in the past year and HE was funnier doing that than Spade was.

--Speaking of Spade, you reckon it was a coincidence that a sizable portion of one of his routines consisted of jokes about Las Vegas? That's where Bruton Smith -- and others within the sport -- say they'd like to see the champions celebration moved to.

--I thought Dr. Jerry Punch did a nice job as host. He kept things moving and didn't needlessly inject himself into the proceedings.

--Kelly Clarkson has sold 11 million records. For the sake of the customers who bought them, I hope she sounded better on each of them than she did in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria Friday night.

--No, I didn't get into the presidential suite this week. Jimmie Johnson said that might happen in the wee hours of Saturday morning near the end of the post-banquet champion's party, but I wasn't there when the party started, much less when it ended. I had to come write a story and file this blog. Plus, I'm old.

--One of the best things that happens to a Cup Series champion is he gets from Goodyear that is a 1/12th scale model of his race car made in 24-karat gold. It's a stunning trophy, done in remarkable detail. Goodyear hosts a reception before the banquet begins and the car is on display there. Every driver looks at it and sees some little thing reproduced inside the cockpit that only he'd notice. It's just a remarkable piece.

--A couple of NASCAR's public relations representatives spent much of their week in New York City chewing out people in the media over stories they've written or done recently, complaining about the media being too negative about the sport. What NASCAR ought to be worried about is how fewer and fewer media outlets are not only no longer sending people to New York to cover the banquet, they're cutting out their NASCAR beats all together and letting wire services provide what lesser coverage they're allocating to the sport.

--Is it possible to have a chapped face? I know it's a cliche but the way the winds blow down in these canyons between the buildings up here it seems like you're always walking uphill and into the wind, especially when it's blowing cold.

--The Rockerfeller Center Christmas tree seems to have a preponderance of blue lights on it this year. I don't know if that's by design or not. It's just an observation. I've walked past it six or eight times since they lit it up Wednesday night and that's the first thing that hit me.