Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Click Baldwin's spirit made him a legend

Click Baldwin lived a legendary life.

Baldwin, owner of the Carolina Harley-Davidson Buell motorcycle dealership in Gastonia, died Tuesday night from injuries he suffered when he crashed his motorcycle near Lolo, Montana.

Baldwin was riding with a group of friends from the Hamsters USA motorcycle club on the way to the 68th annual Sturgis Rally in South Dakota. As he pulled out to pass a 1999 Honda Civic the car turned left and Baldwin hit it with his 2009 Harley. He was taken to a hospital in Missoula for emergency surgery, but did not survive.

Baldwin was born in Salisbury, but he grew up in the little Gaston County town of Belmont. He, his wife, Diane, and their family built their motorcycle dealership into one of the top operations in the Southeast, and Baldwin was well known in motorcycle circles as an outstanding builder of custom bikes.

But what made the 54-year-old Baldwin truly legendary was his spirit.

He and NASCAR driver Kyle Petty were long-time friends, and Baldwin was part of the small group that helped inspire Petty's annual charity motorcycle ride across America.

"Back in 1995, he and I, along with a few other close friends, were just a group of guys that wanted to ride our motorcycles across the country," Petty said. "We found out that we could raise some money for charity while doing it and the Kyle Petty Charity Ride was born. While it had my name on it, Click was a driving force behind the ride."

Baldwin, whose actual first name was Clifton, took part in every one of the Petty rides, including one that wound up recently in Savannah, Ga. He did far more than ride in them, he helped organize them and worked tirelessly on them. He helped line up motorcycles for riders and pretty much did everything he could to make sure the rides were a success.

"Words cannot describe what Click Baldwin has meant to me, my family and the Victory Junction Gang Camp," Petty said. "There has never been a more giving human being. He was more than a friend, he was like a brother to me."

Baldwin had many friends in the NASCAR community. He sold them motorcycles and helped whenever and however he could in the causes they supported. He sponsored "poker runs" and other charity events for causes such as the Holy Angels nursery in his hometown of Belmont and gave freely of his time, his energy and his money when any of those things were needed.

Petty said it as good as anybody ever could.

"We've lost a great one," Petty said.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Race will provide answers about tire decisions

INDIANAPOLIS - Let me say a couple of quick things about the whole tire issue before today's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard gets started.

If this race turns into a debacle, NASCAR and Goodyear will have to deal with that. The story may not pan out to be a big deal at all. The track conditions may improve and the Pocono tires that have been brought in as a backup plan may not be needed.

But right now, there are two things that should be said.

Given the circumstance that exist before the green flag falls, it seems to me that NASCAR and Goodyear and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have dealt with this about as well as they could.

They've all worked together and made a back-up plan. They've got a plan to try to make things as fair for everybody as is possible given the cards the conditions are dealing them and that's about the best they can do.

On the other hand, the question is whether enough has been done to keep the situation from developing the way it has.

It's easy to say now that NASCAR should have brought the car of tomorrow here for a full-blown test to see if the new car would create different challenges. NASCAR and Goodyear did to a tire test here, and nothing apparently jumped out at them or you'd think they would have reacted then. If 45 or 50 teams had come to test and there had been more signs of excessive tire wear, maybe things would have been different. But who knows?

In an abstract sense, you can say that NASCAR is too big of a deal to leave things like this to guesswork. And you can say that Goodyear's job is to bring a tire that works to every track. That latter is clearly more easily said than done.

Goodyear has to walk a fine line between providing tires that will last and tires that can be raced on, and sometimes that line is a moving target. To get things right here, the tire has to work for how the track is going to be at the end of today's race. That target might be missed here today.

The way things are in our world these days, people want to know who's to blame when anything goes wrong. If this were talk radio, I am sure I would have an answer on that for you - talk radio always knows who to blame. (Usually, by the way, that's the liberal media.)

But basically in this deal I think everybody what they thought they ought to do, and we're just about to find out if they got it right or not.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Officials in Kannapolis rush to defend removal of 'worn and dirty' flags

Not long after my previous blog about the “Dale Trail” banners being yanked down in Kannapolis got posted, I got an e-mail from John Cox, the president and chief executive officer of the Cabarrus Regional Partnership.

Cox sent along a copy of an e-mail sent by Kannapolis city manager Mike Legg in which Legg says banners honoring the late Dale Earnhardt aren’t coming down because David Murdock wants to show his North Carolina Research Center to some “important” visitor this weekend and doesn’t think NASCAR-themed banners are a good match for the new science research park project.

Legg called a story about the banners in The Salisbury Post and other reports about the matter “inaccurate or incomplete.” Cox sent a copy of an e-mail Legg sent to a Kannapolis citizen trying to clear things up.

“Let me assure you, the City of Kannapolis has absolutely no desire or plans to change our ongoing commitment to honoring Dale Earnhardt and his legacy,” Legg wrote. He said the city council put $25,000 in this year’s budget to enhance the plaza where a statue honoring Earnhardt stands.

Legg said that the “Dale Trail” banners were removed “because they were worn and dirty and the CVB (Cabarrus Convention and Visitors Bureau) believed that they needed a fresh look.”

Legg said there are plans to “enhance” the Dale Trail in Cabarrus County and Kannapolis.

“Thoughts are to include a driving CD taking people to all the points of interest along the Dale Trail,” he wrote. “Also thoughts are being discussed of installing attractive informational markers at key interest points (Ralph Earnhardt's grave, the D.E. Plaza, etc.). There is also the possibility or a new Dale/NASCAR banners being created to honor the sport and the legacy of Dale. This notion of the banners being removed permanently is simply false information.”

I told Cox that it seems like a convenient coincidence that the decision was made to “freshen” the banners right after emails exchanged this week about the banners in relation to Murdock’s weekend plans.

And if Earnhardt’s hometown is going to honor his memory with new banners, maybe next time Kannapolis shouldn’t let them get so “worn and dirty” they need to be taken down all at once.

Maybe the new research center can someday develop a fabric that won’t get worn and dirty as quickly and everybody will have a nice synergy to talk about.

“Even though we are certainly proud of the changes going on in the City of Kannapolis and our new and exciting future, we are in no way abandoning our history and heritage,” Legg wrote.

“On the contrary, we continue to search for ways to enhance the preservation of our past as well as improve our future.”

Duh-huh! That 'best face' has egg all over it

It looks like we've had another outbreak of idiocy.

According to The Salisbury Post, Kannapolis is taking down banners relating to the late Dale Earnhardt apparently because billionaire David Murdock is bringing an important guest to town this weekend and he wants to see the town put on "it's best face."

The rumbling is that Murdock is bringing Oprah Winfrey in to look at the North Carolina Research Center, the science research park that Murdock's company, Castle & Cooke, is developing on the site of the former Cannon Mills.

Apparently there have been some e-mails exchanged among city officials in Kannapolis and members of the Cabarrus Convention and Visitors Bureau that "Dale Trail" banners celebrating the fact that Kannapolis is the birthplace of one of NASCAR's greatest drivers doesn't jibe with the efforts to turn the city into a home for science.

You know, because anybody who likes NASCAR is stoopid.

Good grief.

First, in case you haven't noticed, there's a pretty fair concentration of smart people who work in the NASCAR shops and live in homes in Cabarrus and surrounding counties. NASCAR teams have dozens of engineers and highly trained experts in things like fluid dynamics. A brand-new, state-of-the-art, rolling road wind tunnel just opened in the county a week ago and race teams from all over the world are signing up to bring their cars here for high-tech research.

Second, if Cabarrus County wants to be the "home of science" then why doesn't it tell its hotels and restaurants not to serve those "NASCAR people" who come in not only when there are races in town but all year round to see things like the Dale Earnhardt statue that's in downtown Kannapolis.

Surely these nitwits with the up-turned noses don't want the dumbed down dollars from race fans to taint those collected from all the "smart" people who come into for Murdock's new deal.

Third, if Murdock thinks Oprah Winfrey or whoever he's bringing to town this weekend is going to make decisions about a community about what kind of banners might be hung up on the poles along the street, that's even more insulting to the intelligence of that person than it is to the good people of Kannapolis and to the good race fans who ought to feel fairly well insulted by this whole silly mess.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Confessions of a back-slidden blogger

I know I have been recalcitrant on updating the old blog this week, but I do have a legitimate excuse.

Actually, I have THE legitimate excuse.

We’re moving.

I pick that tense with significant remorse since it is an on-going enterprise. The movers, God love them, came Wednesday and stuffed so much stuff in their truck that it’s a wonder it could still roll. But we’ve still got enough leftover at the old abode that I am spending my “off” Saturday driving a significantly smaller but still rented truck filled with the stuff we’ve still got to catch up on.

Moving is like going to the dentist, only more expensive.

Why, you might ask, would we put ourselves through this? My wife’s dogs, which aren’t terribly bright to start with, are having significant difficulty figuring out the answer to that. They’ve been confused all week.

The answer is quite simple, actually. His name is Eli.

The wife, Katy, and I have a grandson who’ll turn 2 in October. He lives in Oakboro, N.C. and we lived in Gastonia. It was about a 60-mile drive, each way, to see Eli and that was just entirely too far.

We’ve picked up and traipsed off to Stanfield, which I like to tell people is located in suburban Locust. We were west of Charlotte. Now we’re east and just a smidge south.

If you go to the end of our street and hang a right, you go past Stanfield Elementary School and swing a right through downtown Stanfield. No, there are no stop lights. Stay on that road a while and it becomes – I swear – Big Lick Road. One more right and a left or two and within about 15 minutes we can be at Eli’s. Or he can be here.

Eli has his own room at the new house, and as he gets a little older I hope he uses it a lot.

He’s the quintessential little boy. He’s got one of the best climbing gears I’ve ever seen. He runs just about everywhere he goes with a little sideways gait that makes it look like he needs to have his wheels aligned and balanced. He loves tractors and says that word as well as any other word he says with the possible exception of “paw paw” (which drives Katy a little nuts, to be honest with you).

We took him over to see the Kyle Petty Charity Ride stop in Charlotte the other night and the sight of a couple hundred motorcycles was the kind of sensory overload I love giving him.

One of these days, I’ll take him to a baseball game in Atlanta or to see the Carolina Panthers or the North Carolina Tar Heels play. (There are some N.C. State fans in the weeds of his side of the family, but I think Eli’s smart enough to see the light on that one.) And yes, I am quite sure he’ll be adding “race car” to his vocabulary soon.

Things will get back to “normal” some time next week. I head up to Indianapolis Thursday for one of my favorite race weekends of the year, and I am sure a lot of stuff will be going on there.

For now, though, I’ve got boxes to pack.
And move.
And unpack.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No room for selective enforcement

Saturday night, just before the 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, a NASCAR official stood in the way of J.J. Yeley's No. 96 Toyota preventing him from joining the field for the start of the race.

As the field was taking its pace laps, Yeley was allowed to join the back of the pack. But just after the green, the team was ordered to bring the car in for a stop-and-go penalty. Then, on its first pit stop, the team got a speeding penalty.

The word from NASCAR, as the race was starting, was that Yeley's team had made a suspicious switch of the container holding Yeley's drinking water. One of the old stock-car tricks in the books is to put lead inside a water container to be used when the car is going through inspection. Once the car is weighed and cleared, the real water bottle is put in and the car is a little bit lighter.

NASCAR apparently thought Yeley's team was up to something like that. So NASCAR showed the Hall of Fame team who was boss. It applied the kind of "justice" that some people still think is colorful, if a bit heavy-handed.

The problem was, Yeley's team wasn't "up" to much of anything. Somebody changed the water container after inspection because they wanted the water Yeley would drink to actually be cold -- or at least cool -- during the race.

Now if the NASCAR procedure is for an official to be there for any such switch so he or she can be sure there's no hanky-panky, and if the team made the switch without an official present, the team was wrong. Procedures should be followed. But procedures also should have penalties associated with them, and those penalties should be such that it's not about NASCAR officials acting on some punitive whim.

At Infineon, another race team changed an engine after a practice and then told NASCAR it had done so. Part of the single-engine per event rule is that the team tells NASCAR first, then NASCAR looks to make sure the engine being changed actually has a problem and isn't just one the team doesn't like having in its car.

Again, if the team violated the procedure it deserves to be sanctioned for that. Maybe it loses practice time at the next race. Or maybe it's penalized a lap or two at the start of the race. Whatever, but the penalty should be set forth in simple terms.

What actually happened, though, was that NASCAR officials were angered by that team's temerity. So after the race at Infineon, that team was the "random" team selected for postrace inspection. (After each race, the top five plus one team chosen at "random" go through postrace teardown.)

After the next race at Loudon, oddly, the same team was the postrace "random" pick. And again, after the race at Daytona, the same team got picked again by "random."

NASCAR showed them, right?

Well yeah, but is that right and is that fair? Is that the way things should be officiated? I don't think so.

There's a scene in "Days of Thunder" where the man playing the Bill France character tells rival car owners about an inspection process on shipping docks where produce is allowed to rot before inspectors who would clear it ever even look at it. The stuff never failed inspection, it was just ruined before anybody ever touched it. The owners in the movie were being warned that's the kind of treatment they might get if they didn't toe the line.

It's common for a team that somehow feels it has somehow crossed NASCAR to fear that it's going to get a handful of speeding penalties in a subsequent race. That's not officiating, that intimidating. And it has no room in a truly professional sport.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What if Stewart switch were reversed?

Any time a driver of Tony Stewart's stature switches race teams, there are a lot of aspects to the story that sometimes get lost in the swirl.

In this particular case, though, there's one I can't help but keep coming back to. What if the manufacturer roles in this saga, which is finally unfolding this week, had been reversed?

What would the fan reaction be if Joe Gibbs Racing had still been running Chevrolets and Toyota came in and culled Stewart from that team to set him up with his own Toyota operation?

My guess is that reaction would be apoplectic.

Remember when Toyota was coming into NASCAR and everyone was talking about how that manufacturer was going to upset the entire business model of the Cup garage? Toyota would throw money around and make everybody pay more to keep drivers and top crew members instead of losing them to the new "menace?"

Yes, Toyota did get the Gibbs team to move from Chevrolet to Toyota. But that was at the end of the Gibbs contract with General Motors, at a time in which the team was free to take a deal from Ford or Dodge, too, if those manufacturers had stepped up.

Now, in the first year of that deal, Stewart is going back to the Chevrolet camp. And I don't care what anybody says today at the news conference at Chicagoland Speedway announcing that he's going to own part of Haas CNC Racing, GM's fingerprints are all over this deal.

Stewart has sprint car teams affiliated with General Motors and the Gibbs team's move to Toyota put him with one foot in each camp. I am not saying it doesn't make perfect sense for Chevrolet to want him to pick a side, or for Stewart to have loyalties to the people who're already working with him in those other series.

Stewart had another year on his contract, but apparently that didn't stop somebody from GM from suggesting that there might be opportunities for him if he could jump ship. Maybe Stewart sought out those opportunities, but either way it's clear that Chevrolet's racing folks have been working with a driver who had a contract for a Toyota team for 2009 on another option for that season.

I have no question in my mind that fans would be howling with outrage if Toyota did the exact same thing to a top-tier Chevrolet, Ford or Dodge driver in the same circumstance.

I stay on NASCAR pretty hard about being consistent, so it's only fair to ask the fans to not to have their own double standards, too.

Friday, July 04, 2008

This idea may sound shady but it beats my weather forecast

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - OK, so I was wrong when I said it would rain Friday at Daytona. All that means is I am now fully qualified to be a television weatherman.

* * *

I've been thinking about it all day and I still can't figure out why there are people who begrudge Mark Martin the right to change his mind and come back to run a full season in Sprint Cup in 2009. Apparently some people believe that every decision a driver makes in his NASCAR career must be final.

Some folks get upset when a driver decides he needs to go somewhere else or change his schedule to do what's right for him, for his career and for his family. Certainly there have been some drivers who've stayed too long toward the end of their careers. But I don't know if you could find a single soul in the garage who doesn't believe Martin can still get the job done.

Is it likely that Martin will win a championship in 2009 before going back to a part-time schedule the following year? No. It's not likely. But Martin is good enough that you can't say it's impossible, even in the face of overwhelming statistics to the contrary.

Martin will be 50 when he begins the 2009 season in the No. 5 Chevrolets at Hendrick Motorsports. Only three drivers in Cup history have won races after their 50th birthdays - Harry Gant won eight and Bobby Allison and Morgan Shepherd one each.

But to criticize Martin for "flip-flopping" on his decision to retire from racing misses one important point. Martin never said he was retiring. The fact of the matter is he has for the past two years almost always corrected anybody who said he said he was. He scaled back to a limited schedule and had no plans to change from that until, he said Friday, he got an offer from Hendrick that was so good he was scared he'd regret it if he didn't say yes.

Martin has every right to decide not to live with those regrets.

* * *

Here's a sobering thought for you. Morgan Shepherd is 66 years old. James Hylton is 73 years old. Kerry Earnhardt hasn't driven a race car in a year. All three of those drivers were cleared by NASCAR to compete in Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Joey Logano just turned 18 and has already won a Nationwide Series race. It looks likely that he will be driving a Sprint Cup car for one of the series' top teams next season. Logano was not approved to race Friday at Daytona.


* * *

I might have had this idea before, I can't remember. Either way, it's still a good one. They should let people into the infield "Fan Zone" at Daytona for free for the July race. But they should sell shade to those fans for $10 per square foot.

* * *

This is not a gripe, it's just a little window into life on the road. I got back to my hotel room Thursday night and I had clean towels and everything looked just fine except for one thing. My bed had not been made.

No big deal - I wouldn't have made it if I had been at home. I just thought it was curious. So I come in tonight and the bed is made. There are new towels, again, but the used towels are still in the floor where they were when I left. And the trashcans haven't been emptied.

My guess is that tomorrow night I will have no towels, old or new, and there will be a used vacuum bag stuffed in my closet.

Weather forecasts and failed inspections

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It's noon in Daytona and it isn't raining. Yet.

Friday's schedule calls for qualifying to run from 1:05 for the Nationwide Series pretty much straight through until 6:30 or 6:45 when Cup qualifying would end.

I say would end because the chances of us making it 5 1/2 hours without a thunderstorm are tiny. It's Florida in July.

The schedule here makes no sense this weekend. Qualifying should have started at 9 a.m. Friday for Nationwide cars, followed around noon by Cup cars. That would at least increase chances for people to get a shot at qualifying for the race.

* * *

If Martin Truex Jr. gets a 150-point penalty for the car that NASCAR took from his team here on Thursday, it would put him 221 points behind the cutoff for the Chase. That would be a critical blow.

You know what I think - the team shouldn't be here the rest of this weekend. As it stands right now, in fact, the team hasn't had its car on the track and that's how it should stay.

But that's not going to happen. The team hasn't practiced its backup No. 1 Chevrolet, but even if it doesn't get to qualify later Friday it's guranteed a starting spot.

Every other car that came here this weekend managed to build a roof that got through inspection. The No. 1 team, in fact, had a backup car on its truck that got through tech.

I guess you could say that shows that what happened on the impounded car could be an honest mistake. I never have bought that explanation, but I am also telling you it shouldn't matter. If you can't get a car to the track that passes inspection, you don't race.

In a perfect world, that is.

* * *

How fitting is it that Jesse Helms, the former U.S. senator from my home state of North Carolina, died on July 4?

There may not be a man in history with whom I disagreed politically more often and more strongly. Regardless of that, a man who devoted so much of his life to public service should be honored.

Helms spent his lifetime fighting passionately for the things that he believed would make America better. One thing that's wrong with us as a country today is that we don't honor that as the definition of patriotism, regardless of what side of the issues an American might be on.