DC's Saturday in Monterey, home of the "Corkscrew"

HE'S BA-ACK Still recovering from back injuries sustained at the end qualifying for the Rolex Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve show at April's Long Beach Grand Prix, Memo Gidley was nonetheless hanging around Mazda Raceway Laguna...

HE'S BA-ACK

Still recovering from back injuries sustained at the end qualifying for the Rolex Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve show at April's Long Beach Grand Prix, Memo Gidley was nonetheless hanging around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca paddock this weekend, watching teammate Michael McDowell and Gidley stand-in Guy Cosmo.

"The doctors are saying I'm ahead of schedule," in his recuperation from his injuries, Gidley said. "I won't be back in time for (The Gainsco Grand Prix at) Phoenix but I'm expecting clearance to run at (Sahlen Six Hours of the Glen)," he said.

Last week, after capturing Daytona Prototype qualifying race top honors, McDowell and Cosmo went on to finish fourth in their No. 19 Playboy/Uniden Ford-Crawford at the VIR400 presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve at Virginia international Raceway.

Looking none the worse for wear, Gidley credited his physical conditioning for keeping his injuries to a minimum.

LBGP, Too

Grand Prix of Long Beach queso grande Jim Michaelian also was in the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Rolex series paddock Saturday.

A racer at heart and in practice, Michaelian is hardly out of place in any race car paddock but in this case Michaelian was looking to get the ball rolling for another Rolex Series' Daytona Prototype appearance at the 2007 LBGP.

Nothing on a 2007 deal was announced after he and Grand American Road Racing president Roger Edmondson ended their talk but both agreed it was a positive meeting.

BUILDING THE FUTURE ROOKIE

In one of those economic facts of life that some love and others hate - depending on where one situates on a fence side -- fewer and fewer people can afford something as the cost of that something rises. It's true in the purchase of houses and true in the pursuit of motorsports racing, where NASCAR's Nextel Cup is probably one of the best present-day examples.

Thus, as the cost goes up, the "little guy" starts being outspent by progressively larger "bigger" guys.

Take, for instance, Petty Enterprises, which was the "Big Gorilla" of its day when King Richard sat atop his Cup-racing throne, but is a little guy today when compared to the Roush and Hendrick racing juggernauts (present position notwithstanding, Petty Enterprises has turned the corner and is moving ahead to someday soon again relive past glory).

Ultimately, the cost of something determines who can play in the first place. And of those who could play in the first place, some of those will ultimately find the cost of playing growing too great for them to sustain their playing on the same field.

Such is not only true of competitors but of sponsors, too. Some just can't afford to pay the freight in present-day Nextel Cup -- or, even, the Busch Series -- and are finding other places to put their limited but still substantial resources to work.

On Saturday, a former Nextel Cup player, MESCO Building Solutions, parked their sponsorship business in Grand American Road Racing's Rolex Series.

MESCO is providing a $10,000 winner-take-all rookie of the year award -- whether Daytona Prototype or GT-class rookie - who compiles the greatest amount of driver points.

No, MESCO's participation isn't the headiest, most spectacular special-award purse ever seen in the history of motorsports. Yet, MESCO likely is one of the first in a wave of former upper-echelon NASCAR sponsors which choose not to or can no longer pay the freight on that side of the fence and who will start coming over to play in Grand American's sand box.

MILKING SOME FUN TIME

"The rest of the month is going to be pretty intense," IndyCar Series driver Scott Sharp said Saturday - in what may go down as one of the great understatements in motorsports' history. "So, before I start the pressure-packed next few weeks, we're out here to have some fun, first."

Sharp was referring to May's annual motorsports-world focus on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Indy 500, which goes green May 28 but for which rookie orientation begins Sunday and qualifying starts on Saturday, May 13.

Before 2001 Indy 500 polesitter Sharp hops into his No. 8 Delphi Fernandez Racing Honda-Panoz IndyCar for this year's run at the pole, he and father-in-law Greg Pickett are just looking to have some fun in a Muscle Milk car.

"As much fun as one can have while not winning," said Pickett, who knows a thing or two about winning ... and having fun. The neat thing about this "fun" time is that it'll be the first that Pickett and Sharp have teamed to drive a sports car.

The 59-year-old Pickett, who is the only driver in Trans-Am history to have won at least one race in each of four consecutive decades, bought a Pontiac-powered Riley DP and is co-driving it with Sharp in this weekend's U.S. Sports Car Invitational at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

"We haven't come here with the expectation of winning," Pickett said. "Instead, we're going to have some fun. Scott and I are really close and we just couldn't pass on the opportunity to race together here and, hopefully, a whole season together in 2007."

"Right now the car is a little behind on the developmental and update curve. But whatever it takes, whether it's update, update, update or buying a new car, we're looking to be competitive in 2007 because I don't believe anyone in this paddock can beat Scotty if he has the right wheels to drive."

Their No. 31 Muscle Milk/Cytomax/Xcyto Energy Drink-sponsored Pontiac-Riley finished 20th in Saturday's qualifying race and while a desire to make it go faster was at the heart of the crews' focus, Pruett and Pickett were enjoying a family get-together.

"My eight grandchildren are here and we're just enjoying being together," Pickett said. "This is one of the really wonderful aspects of being in the Rolex Series paddock -- it's a place where families can come together and have some fun."

Besides being a successful race car driver, Pickett has for years helped other race car drivers (like Memo Gidley) with nutritional products made by his company, CytoSport, which also had other athletes like endurance bike racer Lance Armstrong under its wing.

Come to think of it, Elliott Forbes-Robinson drinks CytoMax and just darn well might be a major reason behind his doing so well even at an advanced age. I'd be willing to bet Pickett wouldn't disagree.

Also a big CytoMax fan, starting with the 1998 Indy 500 - his fourth at the time - Sharp has only once started outside of the race's top-10 starting spots but has otherwise been snake-bit with finishes that have largely been outside of the top ten - until last year's seventh-place finish. One just gets the feeling the likeable, capable driver is due. Big time.

Whatever the case for Indy and elsewhere: count the Pickett and Sharp team as yet another team that has joined the Rolex Series' Daytona Prototype class.

Be part of something big

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Scott Sharp , Memo Gidley , Guy Cosmo , Elliott Forbes-Robinson , Michael McDowell , Greg Pickett , Jim Michaelian