Thought of USGP Has Sparky Buzzin'
(Sept. 22, 1997) -- Even if it develops into nothing, the recent talk about a Formula One race for Indianapolis Motor Speedway or Road Atlanta has Sparky's pistons purring.
One of the most embarrassing things in auto racing -- even worse than Mark Martin's haircut or Ted Musgrave's paint job -- is the fact that one of the world's great motorsports series, one with a pulsating history of exotic international locales and vibrant champions, does not have a stop in the United States.
Grand Prix racing has its detractors. Critics will say it doesn't match the competitive nature of Winston Cup or even Indy-car racing, but that's not the point. It's a different animal. It's international. It's intriguing. It's wildly expensive. It's royal families dropping in on the paddock. It's flags of many nations waving. It's drivers with egos so big they can't put a roof on the car.
Formula One looks good racing on the streets of Europe, but we'd prefer a real road course -- Road Atlanta, a fast, historic track near a major metropolis, would fit the bill -- for the U.S. of A. No offense to Indy (which then could boast three major events), but Sparky can't get too excited about those artificial road courses forced onto oval tracks.
Right now, though, we're not really in a position to be picky. Let's get the thing back on these shores somewhere.
...Sparky's spies continue to hear grumblings within the Winston Cup Ford ranks about the Taurus. Although Rusty Wallace's abbreviated test of the new model at Daytona wasn't meant to put up big numbers, the Ford braintrust had to be a little concerned about the lack of performance there. (Mark Martin's Thunderbird looked awfully good rolling at Dover Sunday). And Daytona SpeedWeeks will be here before you can adjust your wedgie (er, excuse us, wedge).
There isn't going to be a lot of opportunity to tweak the Bull, and Sparky can pretty much guarantee a lot of squabbling over the car once all of us roll onto the Atlantic shore in mid-winter.
It is not a time that Sparky anticipates with a great deal of joy. Politicking over new car models is one of the most horrid activities in NASCAR racing. Right up there with traffic at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
...There is a great flurry of excitement in Daytona as NASCAR prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary next season. Books, magazine specials, television events and speedway observances are being planned, and we wouldn't be surprised to see quite a few diecast models unleashed on the nation.
Sparky understands that many of stock car racing's old-timers will be invited to participate in some of the activities, and we will be interested to see the sort of approach NASCAR takes toward retired driver Tim Flock in all this.
Flock, a Hall of Famer, is undeniably one of stock car racing's greatest drivers of the early days. But he had several run-ins with NASCAR, and he was involved in one of the biggest run-ins of all -- Curtis Turner's attempt to unionize drivers in the 1960s. Turner and Flock were banished from racing, and there remains bad blood between Flock and NASCAR over the incident all these years later.
This is a wound that should be healed for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration. And the first move should be NASCAR's.
...The frequency of "You hit me first -- No, I didn't" incidents in Winston Cup is likely to increase next season with the recent announcement that Busch Grand National driver Buckshot Jones plans to run a selected schedule of races on NASCAR's top circuit.
Although obviously a driver with talent and daring, Jones has made a nuisance of himself in Busch racing this year. On two occasions, he retaliated against driver Randy LaJoie on the track, once on the cool-down lap at Talladega and again during a caution after a crash at Bristol.
NASCAR has collected fines from Jones and placed him on probation, but it is obvious from his comments that he could be convinced to engage in some on-track debate again if the occasion develops. Winston Cup needs more charge-to-the-front, risk-a-fender guys like Jones, but it doesn't need his Wild West form of justice. People can get hurt.
...By now, y'all know it doesn't take much to fire up ol' Sparky, but after a long weekend in southern New Hampshire, we feel like somebody's been mashing the accelerator with the fuel too rich.
Now, before you go hootin' and hollerin', hear me out all the way first. The folks up in the Granite State are a terrific bunch -- even at the toll booths on the few major interstates that they have, the collectors are friendly and polite.
And Bob and Gary Bahre, owners of New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, are at the top of the list of track owners and promoters. Since they opened the place in 1990, they have made improvements prior to every race, and now that facility is certainly one of the best tracks, overall, that Sparky has visited.
The track is out in the middle of nowhere, and pretty far from most of the sleeping quarters, but Sparky found a few more great feeding holes this trip; you just have to search them out.
There is, however, one major sticking point that had Sparky pretty fired up and ready to burn up a cylinder as the wonderful weekend went on. It's a lack of full respect for NASCAR Winston Cup and motorsports in general from the major media in the biggest city near NHIS -- Boston.
You see, this past weekend's Country Music Television 300 at NHIS was its second Winston Cup event this year. That's because ol' Bob Bahre was crafty enough to outsmart Mr. Crafty himself, Bruton Smith, out of half of (our heart be still and may she rest in peace) North Wilkesboro Speedway. NASCAR went along with the moving of those two Cup dates, one to Smith's Texas track and one to NHIS, because the boys in Daytona said they felt they "needed those two major markets." Well, that's all well and good, but somebody better wake up and realize that if you go by the television and print coverage, the "major market" of Beantown barely knew Winston Cup was in the backyard.
Sparky and his spies were outraged that the three major network affiliates for ABC, NBC and CBS barely, if at all, mentioned the race in sports reports all weekend. Our buddies who cover racing for the two largest newspapers in New England -- The Boston Globe and Boston Herald -- showed up willing to write day and night, but they were limited to a ridiculously small amount of space all weekend.
Now, even Sparky has an open mind and realizes the timing was a bit off. The New England Patriots went to the Super Bowl in January with Bill Parcells as their coach and on Sunday night, "the traitor" Parcells returned for the first time with the lowly New York Jets. But talk about media hype. Poor Tuna couldn't have a bowel movement without 50 vultures there trying to record the proceedings.
And tell me why, if the Pats are Boston's team, why do they play down in Foxboro and, according to Sparky's spies, are a few dotted lines away from packing their bags and moving even farther down the road to Providence?
But that also doesn't explain why a fight with Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, preseason NHL hockey and high school sports got more coverage in both newspapers and on television than the Winston Cup race. And don't give us that crap that there's no racing fans around Beantown and New England. If that's the case, why are all those small tracks dotted throughout the six-state region still in business? Why is there a Busch North Series and Featherlite Modified Tour? And why would two Winston Cup race weekends pull in roughly 280,000 people? The people buying those tickets ain't all from North Carolina, ya know.
The smaller papers, radio and TV stations seem to be getting the job done, and pretty well. But something needs to be done with the big-city folk. The racing fans of New England and throughout the country, NASCAR, racing teams, everybody in the sport, needs to flood the phone lines and fill the mail boxes of the newspaper editors and TV sports directors and station owners to make sure racing gets the coverage it deserves (not just highlights of crashes, either). Maybe some of racing's faithful sponsors could put on some heat, too.
No offense to the Bahres; Bob and Gary are great businessmen and care a ton about the teams and fans. But if Beantown doesn't come around, then maybe the Florida braintrust should reconsider two dates up there.
With Winston Cup dates a premium, there's people around the good U S of A who would practically kill for a race. And with each passing day, another track is in the works -- and the weeds at North Wilkesboro get longer.
Send mail to Sparky at firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Chris Poterala - email@example.com Community Developer/Computer Guy (313) 997-0500, ext. 17