FIGURING IT OUT About as surprising as the Sun also rising is that - if recent reports prove true - NASCAR will purchase the Grand American Road Racing Association, a sportscar and motorcycle race-sanctioning body. A lot of folks have long ...
FIGURING IT OUT
About as surprising as the Sun also rising is that - if recent reports prove true - NASCAR will purchase the Grand American Road Racing Association, a sportscar and motorcycle race-sanctioning body.
A lot of folks have long believed that Grand-Am's Rolex Sportscar Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 is built in NASCAR's image and, to some extent, such is true.
James C. France, son of NASCAR founders William H.G. and Anne B. France, today is that company's vice chairman and executive vice president. James France additionally is chairman and chief executive officer of International Speedway Corporation.
An early NASCAR spinoff, ISC promotes and hosts motorsports entertainment activities at its 12 tracks in the United States. ISC also owns Motorsports Radio Network - the largest radio network of its kind (yet, for the life of me, doesn't broadcast Rolex Series races) - as well as other entities like caterer and merchandiser Americrown Service Corporation.
ISC-owned tracks host more than 30-percent of the 2008 Rolex Series schedule.
And, to add one more boring business detail, James France is a major Grand-Am stockholder.
"Jim" France has been involved in motorsports most of his life. Beyond stock cars, he clearly supports sportscar and motorcycle racing. And we're not talking just as a businessman, either.
Beyond NASCAR and ISC, France was for years involved in the minutiae of race operations - particularly in motorcycles - and the man actually competed in dirt-track racing.
With no intended disrespect, someone doing it in the dirt - whether car, kart or motorcycle - must be about one bubble off of level, as demonstrated by just about any conversation with Motorcycle Hall-of-Famer Jay Springsten, winner of three consecutive AMA Grand National Championships.
Nevertheless, add it up and, wow, we're talking major, lightning-bolt-strike surprise here that NASCAR and Grand-Am might be sitting under a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g . . .
For this conspiracy theorist it gets even better: the Rolex Series is even more closely related to NASCAR than each just sharing one or more principal stockholders.
Like the NASCAR Sprint Cup race cars, Daytona Prototype rules demand a driver's seat position be orientated more toward his car's centerline than to the car's closest "driver door" - only the DP's configuration came first.
Remember NASCAR's melting inner-door "foam?" The whole idea of that "crush zone" and the soon-changed material within came from the DP. Why did the Cup car's foam melt whereas the DP's did not? Proximity of engine exhaust pipes; the Sprint Cup car's exhaust exits at a point under the car-door area whereas the DP's exhaust is at the car's rear.
How about cockpit fire suppression?
The wing on a Sprint Cup car and the Daytona Prototype share the same dimensions and are manufactured by the same company.
The Cup car's exterior air-handling aspects - particularly from external entry points like the car's front clip - came from the DP.
Oh, if only we could sometime put a Rolex Series DP and Sprint Cup Series' car side-by-side.
Indeed, after asking, NASCAR's R&D initially disregarded Grand-Am "techie" advice on the design of initial Cup car air intakes and the resultant configuration so changed the car's front-end atmospheric pressures that the nose planted. And I do mean "planted." In essence, the car had great difficulty in moving (to put it delicately).
"Sucked that front-end right to the ground," said one observer soon afterward.
(For you gifted physics types: being what it is, "sucking" isn't exactly a term Sir Isaac Newton would use, but colloquialisms being what they are ...)
There was a time when Roush Yates Engines' chief DP engine guy, John Maddox, seemingly couldn't give away one of his outfit's Ford engines. By most observations, Maddox made the Maytag Repairman look like a groupie god.
Maddox was a pretty dispirited boy at one point (note to Mrs. Maddox: it had absolutely nothing to do with "groupies," or the lack thereof).
Then, in 2005, a frustrated Kevin Doran - who concluded he wasn't getting nor would he ever get the same TRD-built engines as that delivered to the Telmex car of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix y Jose Sabates - on the golf course one day wondered aloud as to what engine he might switch. The person to whom he spoke suggested "Ford."
"No one else is using their engines," Doran responded.
"That would be part of the reason for speaking with them," said that certain golf freak, who likewise has meddled in (some would say "interfered with") the Rolex Series since its inception.
"Another reason, beside it being a stout engine, is that it's produced by Yates and they're in for the long haul," said the person possessive of great golfing and racing wisdom.
(Note: at the time, the Roush and Yates engine manufacturing operations merger was still around the corner.)
While Doran soon afterward broke the ice, with Ford in the engine bay Krohn Racing driver Jorg Bergmeister won the following season's DP driving championship and his co-driver of that year, Colin Braun - who would've otherwise rightfully shared that DP driving title - is firmly in Roush Fenway Racing's NASCAR driver lineup.
Indeed, a similarly talented Michael McDowell in 2006 likewise rode (with co-driver Memo Gidley) the No. 19 Ford-powered Rob Finlay Crawford DP to a seventh-place championship points finish (despite his altogether missing Infineon) and into NASCAR the following season.
Today, McDowell is with Michael Waltrip Racing and helping fill the vacuum created there with Dale Jarrett's retirement.
The connection between the two series runs to more than just principals and drivers.
In a story that has been told previously on Motorsport.com, it herein now boils down to a symbolic three syllables: Iain Watt.
Hired in 2007 by Gillett Evernham Motorsports from Eddie Cheever's Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Coyote Daytona Prototype race team, the chassis engineer provided Gillett Evernham drivers Kasey Kahne and Patrick Carpentier with chassis that actually worked with the drivers and not against them. Why? Watt had deep knowledge of aero and other DP-ish aspects of the Cup car.
When Hendrick Motorsports started developing its fleet of 2007-2008 Sprint Cup cars, as its fulltime test driver it hired veteran sportscar ace Max Papis - who won the 2004 DP driving championship with Scott Pruett.
Beyond their raw talent, is there little wonder Johnson and Gordon would figure so prominently in the 2007 Cup Chase?
The publicly quiet Rick Howard, part of the Rolex Series' Childress-Howard Motorsports (aka, "CHM") Daytona Prototype team announced earlier this year, has deep and longstanding NASCAR roots. Everyone who's anyone in a NASCAR garage knows Howard. By the way, does anyone know anything about Howard's partner, that Richard Childress fellow?
Want more? Think, seek and ye shall find.
Remember the old racing adage, "How do you make a million in racing? Start with $10 million."
Also remember, please, that NASCAR is the first motorsports sanctioning body to implement a formula that actually has made many, many millionaires out of otherwise talented high-school escapees who literally had nothing else to lose in the first place. It's about time sportscar racers have a better chance to make some serious money, too.
In the meantime, forgive me for not fainting when the "N-word" and Grand-Am recently appeared together.
DC Williams, Exclusively for Motorsport.com