IOWA PRE-RACE Almost anyone flying to Florida (without benefit of a corporate plane) or going north from there will, likely as often as not, pass through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It's a fun place to be (only ...
Almost anyone flying to Florida (without benefit of a corporate plane) or going north from there will, likely as often as not, pass through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
It's a fun place to be (only momentarily) early on a Monday morning when all the suits start heading out of Atlanta for the four corners of the U.S., if not the world.
(Sometime while wearing a tie-dye shirt, walk into a Delta Crown Room that's already filled with a sea of blue or grey suits. Now, that's a pure hoot.)
At night, especially after 7 p.m. or thereabouts, ATL starts slowing measurably and, instead of faceless crowds, one might innocently cross paths with and be able to talk to someone they know even though going separate ways.
A few months ago I had just turned the corner on ATL's B ('as in Bravo') Terminal at about 9 p.m. when, lo and behold, Jim Matthews of Riley Matthews Motorsports was hanging, waiting for an already delayed flight.
His head was kind of tilted, hanging to one side. At first, I thought it was due to his cell phone being crammed between ear and shoulder, but when the cell phone came out, his head was still on a tilt.
After pleasantries were exchanged, the subject of his misaligned head/neck came next.
"Just finished the Iowa test," Matthews said, "I'm hoping to get home tonight before everyone rolls up their runways."
"So, Jim, what's with the 'angular head,'" fired back your intrepid journalist, who wasn't about to let him off the hook with some tangential chatter.
"I just told you," he said, "We just got done with the Iowa test."
Matthews, seeing your intrepid journalist's mind seize like an engine with a stuck piston, started describing the 1.3-mile track - especially the oval-track portion.
Ah, yes, the light bulb started glowing then.
The track's relatively short course - a good portion of it running through 12- to 14-degree compound banks - tended toward trying to separate a driver's head from his shoulders. Such becomes difficult, of course, being attached by muscles - some of which were "stretched" a bit more than the opposing others.
After 50-laps-or-so, according to Matthews, it was starting to get difficult just to keep his head from flopping over.
"Tethers," I fired back, thinking of what sprint car drivers wear just about all the time and what some stock car drivers must also occasionally wear.
As far as I know, there have been only about eight teams who practiced at Iowa Speedway prior to day - Matthews' No. 91 Pontiac-Riley being one.
Those who have either since "conditioned" their necks or who bought some tethers will do best here. (Local tether-sellers likely have experienced a run on the merchandise, today.)
If you're Mark Martin, you might just win.
He's been around a short track or two, you know, and Southard's No. 3 Performed Line Products Lexus-Riley is a solid car. The only problem for the team is they're apparently going to try to give three guys seat time - regulars Randy Lewis and Randy Ruhlman as well as Martin.
Say what one can or may, when a bunch of other cars are turning sub-45-second lap times, taking the time to put three drivers into any car will doom it to also-ran status. That's just the way it is.
You and I will know why; the average pilgrim (or sponsor) won't, though.
Otherwise, I can see the headlines now: "Gainsco Express Derailed by Martin and Company"
IT'LL STILL BE TOUGH
So, the No. 99 Gainsco Pontiac-Riley team shows up on the "promoter's test day" Thursday at Iowa and (surprise!) goes faster than an ambulance-chasing attorney, though just a tick slower than Scott Pruett and the No. 01 Telmex Lexus-Riley which runs a 42.167 seconds (110.987 mph) over the 1.3-mile, nine-turn track.
The problem, if any, is that Thursday's times were all unofficial. Friday will be the day when it counts most.
The 99 is on a roll of such nature that it brings to mind the Little Old Lady who in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles agonizingly pleads aloud if anyone will "Please, do something!"
Oh, how fast one can turn on a winner?
Speaking of Stallings.
Bank robbers will actually use baseball caps in a usually vain attempt to disguise themselves.
It'd surely work on Gainsco No. 99 owner Bob Stallings, who doesn't even come close to looking like the same Bob Stallings without one.
Stallings doesn't wear one unless he's sitting in his pit-side, war-chest chair and the difference is remarkable.
Never have I seen anyone look more out of place in baseball cap than Bob Stallings. Then again, there's the gangstas.
After missing three races for conflicting race events here and abroad, Jan Magnussen will be again teaming with Max Angelelli in Wayne Taylor's No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac-Riley.
Magnussen's "replacement," Jonathan Cochet, is a proven, fine driver but sportscar racing includes the ability of one driver to compromise his "ideal" setup in favor of his teammate's tastes. Getting to that point isn't as easy as one might see on the surface.
Now, imagine you're Angelelli - or the team engineer, for that matter - trying to get accustomed to one "compromise" when another is interjected?
That's probably been the team's biggest challenge in 2007.
The SunTrust car should bear some close watching this weekend because Angelelli, recently being most familiar with Jan's style, will be a little more comfortable with what works for Jan - and vice-versa.
At Daytona International Speedway during the Brumos Porsche 250, a frustrated-sounding Chip Ganassi said, "I just don't know about him."
"Him" was Memo Rojas, who is Scott Pruett's co-driver in the No. 01 Telmex Lexus Riley.
Though the two haven't finished out of the top-10 since Pruett and Rojas joined after the Rolex 24 At Daytona (which Pruett won with Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran; Rojas finished 21st with Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon), the duo hasn't won either.
Ganassi likes to win and isn't particularly thrilled to do otherwise especially while Pruett's championship points lead is being chipped away, bit by bit. A win would certainly help Pruett claim his second DP championship and help Rojas not only keep his job, but possibly advance to other future high-caliber racing opportunities.
GT IS RACING, TOO
Sitting sixth in GT points, Andy Lally and RJ Valentine have scored three GT-class race victories in their No. 66 TRG Porsche GT3 Cup, which is exactly three wins more than GT Points leader Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins.
If not race victors, Edwards and Collins have pretty much been the model of consistency, having yet to finish out of the top-10 in their No. 07 Pontiac GXPR fielded by Banner Racing.
Sylvan Tremblay and Nick Ham match Lally and Valentine's winning performances, yet the drivers of the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 sit third and fifth in points, respectively behind Edwards and Collins, too.
Dirk Werner, who drives the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports' Porsche GT3 Cup car, is second in points (one win) and Bryce Miller, who's teamed with Werner since the Homestead-Miami speedway race, sits in fourth, also with one win.
The good news is that 17-points or less separate first from sixth place in GT. With half the season to go it's anybody's game. So don't just be watching the Daytona Prototype boys.
However, the whole no-win win deal reminds one of 2003 Nextel Cup champ Matt Kenseth, who as a model of consistency was largely credited with single-handedly bringing about Nextel Cup's "Chase."
Can a Rolex Series "Championship Countdown" be far away?
Written exclusively for Motorsport.com by DC Williams