iRACE Sparky Plug 97-09-02

Sparky Sends Out the Labor Day Roses (Sept. 2, 1997) -- While Sparky is usually hoppin' mad about one thing or other after each racing weekend, this day-after-Labor-Day is more peaceful than usual. It's amazing what a long weekend away from...

Sparky Sends Out the Labor Day Roses

(Sept. 2, 1997) -- While Sparky is usually hoppin' mad about one thing or other after each racing weekend, this day-after-Labor-Day is more peaceful than usual.

It's amazing what a long weekend away from the fax machine, a couple (OK, a few) spicy sausages, mounds o' potato salad and some great racing will do for the old soul.

We'll start with the really big event in a weekend full of them: Say what you will about Jeff Gordon, but you can't tell us he's an average driver in excellent equipment after what we saw Sunday. He had the second-best machine in the top two at the end of the Southern 500, yet he used some good ol' fashioned grit to block Jeff Burton, then hang onto his car for the million-dollar victory.

Which brings us to this about Jeffy.

Call Sparky an ol' softy (shaddup, not his head -- his heart), but it was nice to see him win the Winston Million.

Before all you Jeffy-bashers get your undies in a bundle, let's take us a little look at the way Boy Wonder has been cruising the pits in recent weeks.

For all of his public image as easy-going, polite, can't wait to to walk the old lady across the street, the last few weeks have had this kid wound up so tight, Ex-Lax couldn't help.

To put it in simple terms, the day-to-day fun of racing hasn't been there. He can't run from his car to hide in his trailer fast enough. Except for a couple of obligatory signings for kids and such, life doesn't exist outside the trailer. If it isn't ESPN or MRN, the media doesn't exist 'cept for a few quotes from his PR people.

A couple of Winston Cup observers have remarked it's been weeks since he's smiled away from the checkered flag, the cameras or Benny Parsons (who is still the smartest dresser in TV racing -- Jack Arute is third and everyone else is second). And they've remarked it seemed like it's not a matter of if, but when, the grind of being Jeff Gordon(.com) is just going to make him explode.

Granted, the wear of his schedule is getting to Jeffy. Heck, this is a guy who had to ask for an August vacation back in January so Brooke could take him on a trip. Team owner/friend Rick Hendrick's legal and health problems haven't exactly helped. And the constant Jeffy-bashing that took off at Bristol in April after his last-lap bump of Rusty Wallace has magnified with each and every win.

But an impressive Winston Million win might allow Gordon to finally relax and become more at ease with himself and the world. We'd hate to see Jeffy end up bitter and aloof in public -- like Ernie Irvan.

Along with Gordo's trap-block, another impressive sight from the weekend was the NHRA's U.S. Nationals in Indy. The event featured high speeds, good crowds and plenty of strong story lines.

Kenji Okazaki started things off Sunday, knocking off Funny Car heavies John Force and Tony Pedregon en route to becoming the first driver born outside the U.S. to win the Big Bud Shootout.

Then Jim Head put behind him the ghosts of previous tragedies that claimed two of his friends to take a big win in the Top Fuel finals on Monday. Good stuff, in front of a record NHRA record crowd to boot.

And while Sparky is impressed with the way Alex Zanardi has turned what was a close CART PPG Cup race into a three-race coronation, we wonder if somebody spiked Zanardi's prerace shower with Water Joe last weekend.

Granted, Zanardi has been allowed to make some crazy moves in the past, like his winning leap across a turn at Monterey last year. But his feistiness on the tight Vancouver street course makes us wonder if he's headed to Formula One, where everybody's guessing, or to Winston Cup, where all the dollars are there for the rubbin.'

Okay, lessee. Ernie to the Skittles car, Hamilton to Kodak, Park gets Pennzoil. Sterling looks to be headed for Coors Light, and John Andretti for STP. It's getting where you can't tell the players without a Wall Street Journal...

One thing we're not joking about is in wishing the best to Dale Earnhardt after his troubles at Darlington Sunday. Earnhardt is legendary for his toughness and willingness to drive, but the second-guesser in us is wondering how bright it was to let him onto the track, especially after he dozed off a couple times on Pit Row before the event started.

But there's no point in rushing to judgment now. It's a gut this story will unfold further, and we can rush to judgment then.

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Visit the Sparky Plug Archive at: http://www.irace.com/newsview/1997/sparky/sparkyindex.htm

-- Chris Poterala - potsie@irace.com Community Developer/Computer Guy voice: (313) 997-0500, ext. 17 fax: (313) 997-7030

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Series General
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Ernie Irvan , Rusty Wallace , Jim Head , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Alex Zanardi , Benny Parsons