iRACE Sparky Plug's Mail Bag 10-03-97

Wars and Rumors of Wars (Oct. 3, 1997) -- Well, we're paying for our laziness. Bailing out of this week's mailbag column only led to another monster-sized dumptruck load of letters, so we're up against the same opponent we faced on Monday. We...

Wars and Rumors of Wars

(Oct. 3, 1997) -- Well, we're paying for our laziness. Bailing out of this week's mailbag column only led to another monster-sized dumptruck load of letters, so we're up against the same opponent we faced on Monday. We won't procrastinate this time.

Before we get to that though, the Sparkster will take advantage of this late Thursday night edition of Sparkymail to offer a few thoughts on the breaking story about the new U.S. Road Racing Championship -- created, according to the press release, "to unify North American road racing."

As if the CART-IRL civil war weren't enough, now race fans face a SportsCar-USRRC battle. Whether either of those two struggles will be a fight to the death -- the death of one or the other sanctioning body, that is -- remains to be seen. If this sports car fight shapes up like the open-wheel version, the proponents on one or both sides will at times say things that lead the listener to believe their side represents the only right and sane way for things to proceed, and the other side is (a) all wet, (2) incompetent and (c) already in its death throes.

Boy. It's getting to be almost as much fun as covering player strikes, NCAA investigations or the off-field antics of the Dallas Cowboys.

Stay tuned.

Now, to the letters.

* * *

First, some of you guys had some things to say about Sparky's comments about the Marlboro 500. First, Greg Salter (, or says the Sparkmeister doesn't fight fair:

Sparky's original quote: "Boy, the way those CART guys were spinnin' and crashin' on Sunday at the California Speedway, and the way drivers were being carted (no pun intended) off to the hospital with frightening regularity, you would've thought you were watching an IRL event."

My mail: "Gimme a break! While I agree that 240 is too fast for any track and speeds need to be curtailed, I wonder what race YOU were watching? Correct me if I'm wrong, but there were only THREE crashes during the California 500, taking out 4 cars. 3 crashes over 500 miles. I hardly call that 'frightening regularity.'"

Sparky's rebuttal: "You certainly don't have to agree with the Sparkmeister on that or any other subject, Greg, but our count for the weekend -- not just the race itself -- was six major incidents. With all due respect to your opinion, we think six crashes and the number of drivers who required hospitalization is much too great a toll for any racing weekend, even an extended one like Daytona Speedweeks or the now-long-gone Month of May in Indianapolis..." Now from me: But now you've changed it. Please note, your original message said ON SUNDAY. Then, in your reply, you were talking about the WEEKEND. I totally agree that there were too many serious crashes on the weekend. But you were originally talking about the race, and quite simply, 3 crashes during a 3-hour, 500-mile oval race is pretty good, especially when compared to most NASCAR and IRL races.

Well, Greg, you're just too sharp for us. But we will emphasize that three terrifying crashes is three too many -- and we've searched our memory banks, and can't recall a restrictor-plate race at Talladega or Daytona or any IRL event where there were three crashes of the magnitude of the Arie Luyendyk-Arnd Meier smash-up. And we don't remember a casualty list like Fontana's since the '61 Modified-Sportsman 300 at Daytona, where something like 39 cars wrecked and ambulances were literally shuttling injured drivers (thankfully, none was seriously hurt) to the hospital. OK, you win our Monday argument on a technicality. By the way -- might you be a lawyer? (Matt Dreese) had a question for Sparky, then a comment on the 240-mph thing:

Sparky, is Kenny Irwin racing this weekend at Charlotte? How can I find this out and how can I find out which of the remaining races he's running? By the way, the IRL sucks and as for 240 mph, yeah, it's a little fast but how much do those guys make to drive those cars??? How do you put it -- nothing ventured nothing gained. I thought it looked pretty cool on TV. (yeah I was the other person watching!) I don't want to see drivers getting hurt, but I think they should look more at the safety features than the speed alone.

Matt, you probably know by now (sorry we're late) that Kenny isn't running Charlotte. Besides the Richmond and Martinsville races, in which he was mighty impressive, young Kenny is slated to compete at Rockingham, on Oct. 26; Phoenix, Nov. 2; and Atlanta, Nov. 16. We're anxious to see how he does on the big tracks -- he did right well in the Raybestos/Liberty Racing truck at Texas. Now, regarding your remarks about the high speeds at Fontana, we hope you realize that critics of auto racing would be frothing at the mouth to get ahold of your letter as an example of how race fans have a Roman circus mentality, and like to watch cars crash. We're sure CART would be receptive to your thoughts on how to make race cars safe in 240-mph crashes. While you're at it, why don't you check with the FAA and let them in on the secrets of making crash-safe jet airplanes, too. Have you defenders of the high speeds forgotten that virtually every driver who raced at Fontana said the cars were too fast? Or don't their opinions count?

This from Bob DuCharme (

Saying that Villenueve wouldn't complain about 240 MPH on a great big oval is inferring a bit too much from his complaints last June. He was complaining about the means (screwing around with the tire width, etc.), not the end (slowing the cars). I've never seen him complain about new chicanes, although it's obviously not an option on an oval.

I also think that his opinions on these matters carries a little more weight considering how he lost his father.

Keep up the good work.

Thanks, Bob. You make some valid points -- two of which we would like to add a comment or two. First, regarding the chicanes, Bud Moore once suggested making the stock cars use the Daytona backstretch chicane as an alternative to the restrictor plates. We thought it was an absolutely fascinating idea. Second, regarding the death of Gilles Villeneuve, that's one of the most puzzling things to us about Jacques' presentation of a devil-may-care attitude, and also about the lack of compassion he has shown when drivers such as Olivier Panis are badly hurt. Seems to us that he, more than most of us, should appreciate the element of danger in auto racing.

* * *

Brian (go Jacques!) Redman ( thinks Tommy Kendall got what he deserved when Mike Borkowski knocked him out of his way, and out of the lead, at Pikes Peak Sunday:

Sparks, I couldn't agree with you less about Borkowski's "shunt" of Kendall in that last lap. Tommy had been splitting the cones and hammering on poor 'old' Mike for long enough and got just what he deserved. As for that forced exit onto the grass being "just racing," look at the tape again: it wasn't a matter of Kendall driving his line, he quite purposely forced Mike off the track, and then had the unmitigated temerity to suggest that SCCA should penalize him for applying some retributive justice. My racing buddies and I were I jumping out of our chairs, cheering. Not to take anything away from Tommy's great drive from the back, but he was a pretty sore loser in the end, considering the rough ride he'd given M.B., and the fact that he's already been crowned for the year. Sheesh, let someone else play already.

We don't have to look at a replay. We stand by our opinion that side-to-side contact is just racing, if for no other reason that the "pusher" is just as much at risk as the "pushee" with regard to holding his line, cut-down tires, etc. If Kendall does this in earlier stages of the race, he's being overly aggressive; on the last lap, it's a fair tactic, just like Jeff Gordon's nudge of Rusty Wallace at Bristol, or the contact between Emmo and Little Al at Indy in '89. You don't have to agree, and certainly you don't. But we repeat -- we think Borkowski's retaliation was a cheap trick. We're not making any big deal about it, or suggesting that SCCA should have taken the victory away from him; we didn't like it when NASCAR imposed a five-second penalty on Ricky Rudd at Sears Point, giving the late Davey Allison his only road-course victory, in 1992; that came after Rudd bumped Allison from behind, spinning him out of the lead, in the hairpin. There's no doubt in our mind that Rudd's bump was unintentional; likewise, we have no doubt that Borkowski's was deliberate. Still, we don't begrudge Borkowski the win; we just don't like the way he got it. We may have missed a lap of action or two this year, but we don't recall Kendall having to wreck anybody to get any of his 11 victories.

By the way -- did you used to drive F1? Just wondering... that name, you know.

* * *

Here's a quick-and-easy question for the Sparkmeister from Maureen McCauley (

Sparky, how would a fan go about getting tickets to the Winston Cup championship dinner at the Waldorf in N.Y.? Thanks.

Sorry, Maureen, but the only way you get in the Grand Ballroom on NASCAR Night is by invitation. Or, if you're like Sparky and a buddy of his from Charlotte, you can dress up and try to crash the party. This buddy we're referring to (his first name is Dave, but we won't say any more than that) has been to about a half-dozen banquets, and if we can believe him, he has never had a bona fide invitation to it. We haven't had such good luck; we've been given the heave-ho every time we tried it. Maybe it's the overalls we always wear under our tux jacket.

* * *

>From comes this observation:

I'll say Hello and send you some feedback! I'm an avid F1 and CART racing fan and follow your page religiously. But I'm also a fan of Vintage Car Racing. I would agree that compared to the other two forms of racing that I mentioned it could be almost classified as Club Racing. As a member of the Austin Healey Club Of America, with a membership of in excess of 3,500 members world-wide, I attend car related events all over the country on a regular basis. The conversation will always turn to many forms of racing. As a group we appreciate Vintage car racing because it relates to our love of Vintage sports cars. Perhaps a list of race tracks and events that take place around the world be a possiblity for next year?

The guys in Ann Arbor tell me that is in the works. Sparky's glad to hear it. We love vintage racing. We wish we could be in Daytona this weekend for the events planned there! Rest assured, some coverage of vintage racing is planned. Sparky suggests that you, and other vintage racing fans as well, send information to iRACE.

* * * is not one of meek opinions, as evidenced here:

The best thing IROC could do would be to include some road courses. Let them ninny NASCAR drivers learn how to turn right and go up and down hills.

Sparky couldn't agree more that IROC needs some variety in its venues. We hear it's going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year, and that's all well and good, but it's just another oval. However, we are pretty tired of hearing blue-nose comments from road racing afficionados who think that racing on ovals is somehow less demanding of racing skills than a road course. Bunk, we say. For one thing, we'd put Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin and Wonder Boy Jeff Gordon up against anybody in road racing; unless you also want to change the type of IROC race car, we'll still bet on those guys and several other "NASCAR Ninnies" to win as many as they lose -- and to hold their own, no matter what type of race car you pick. For another thing, short oval racing is as difficult a form of motorsports as any. Don't believe us? Come on out and try your hand at Hickory Motor Speedway, Eldora Raceway, Evergreen Speedway, Devil's Bowl Speedway or some such short track, paved or dirt. What? Did you say, "No, thanks"? Oh, c'mon, it's easy; you said so. You can do it. You can whip those "ninny" oval track drivers; anybody can do that stuff.

* * *

Deb Drake ( has a comment about iRACE's Scorch index:

Hey, what about the IRL guys? If you can include the BGN series, you can certainly include the IRL...

The big problem, Deb, is the small number or IRL events. Scorch is based on a driver's performance in the six most recent events. When the IRL beefs up its schedule, it will be included.

* * *

Jason Cohen ( has a technical question for Master Mech Sparky:

I was wondering if there was an advantage to using high timing numbers in the lower gears, then lowering it in the high gear.

There absolutely is an advantage, Jason, but it's being done for you already in your engine. If you've got a classic, that's exactly what your vacuum or centrifugal advance in your distributor does -- advances the timing at low RPM, and retards it as revs go up, for optimum ignition timing. If you've got a new model machine, or if you've put electronic ignition on your classic, then the computer is doing the timing changes for you. The only thing we know about that further enhances that picture would be the drag racing "stutter box," which is basically a high-tech electronic method of helping the driver "pedal" the car and maintain optimum traction coming off the line. Hope we've answered your question, Jason. Happy motoring.

* * * is one of several folks who have inquired about the condition of midget and sprint car driver Danny Drinan, who took a tumble on the high banks in Rossburg, Ohio:

I hope you can help me find out Danny's condition. We were in Eldora last night when he had a terrible accident. They helicoptered him out and I can't find anything out about him. That was the second time we saw him wreck badly (the first being at IRP) and I am really worried about him. He was hanging out of the car when it went over and it looked really bad.

We are USAC fans and think it's a shame that there is no more news on the sprints and midgets for the fans. Can you do something about that, too? There are a lot of us out here who would really like to know more about this great series.

Thanks! Sharon

iRACE contributor Steve Smith addesses the incident in a column he did for us recently: "Drinan spent a few days in Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, and was released," according to Steve. We share your interest in USAC's midgets, sprints and especially the Silver Crown cars -- Sparky loves those machines! We think the iRACE game plan for '98 includes those series.

By the way, you may be interested in this tidbit regarding Doug Wolfgang, who suffered a fractured neck the other week in a Frigidare All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car "A" main at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill. The 45-year-old driver is expected to make a full recovery, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

* * *

Conrado Malburg ( tries to put the ol' Spark on the spot:

Hi. I am from Brazil and I want to know which of the three Brazilian top drivers is the best. Helio Castro Neves, Tony Kanaan or Cristiano da Matta? I know that Tony Kanaan is in the championship lead; I know that Helio Castro Neves is the only one that can beat him; I know that these two drivers races for the best team, Tasman; but I also know that Cristiano has the same amount of races won in this season, and has won the Spirit of Mario Andretti trophy. I already have my opinion, but I want to know yours. Who is the best? -- Sincerely, Conrado Trajano Malburg

Conrado, Sparky will try to tap-dance around your question. We happen to have a pretty high opinion of all three drivers, based on what they've done this year in Indy Lights. We think Clint Mears, David Empringham, Hideki Noda and Lee Bentham also showed great talent by getting themselves into victory lane this year. We think that in this case, just as in other comparison situations, it's virtually impossible to determine who's the best -- and maybe irrelevant, too. They're all good, they're all our heroes. Just root for your favorite, and the higher opinion you have of his opponents, the more satisfying his victories will be.

* * * has a thought about a U.S. Grand Prix at Indy:

it only makes sense that the home of the greatest indy car, stock car and drag race should also be home of the greatest road race too.........enough said. -- Scott

Not everybody agrees, Scotty. Sparky has some reservations himself, based mainly on our lukewarm feelings about oval/road course combinations. However, one that we think works well is the New Hampshire International Speedway layout, which uses some of the former Briar Motorsports Park track. The road course actually runs outside the 1.058-mile oval's perimeter, into the hills alongside the oval's backstretch, giving that track some of the flavor of a true road course layout. But read on...

Kieron Kevin (K.K.) McKindle ( picqued ol' Sparky's interest with these comments:

I must categorically disagree with you about F1's place on road-courses instead of street-circuits. But I definitely agree with you concerning the road-courses inside of ovals! I for one pray that Mr. E will never allow F1 cars to ever enter the Brickyard. I personally would like to see them in the streets of Las Vegas or back in Long Beach. The Melbourne circuit is one of the best I have ever seen anywhere! Now let's see the U.S. beat that!

I also would like to say that, in my humble opinion, I think you use the word NASCAR way too much! Yikes!

Formula One is the Olympics of Motorsports! CART is only second best, and as far as cars with fenders go, give me a Mercedes CLK over some stodgy NASCAR anytime. Formula cars are like bikini models while NASCARs look like some big mama in a moo-moo!

America does its best to bury F1 because it is flat-out scared to death of it. Just watch the butchered coverage of it on ESPN. They wouldn't know how to present an F1 race if they were ever actually at one.

I have the answer for all of these problems: The all-new Formu2a America Street & Track Road-Racing Series, Llc., FASTR-RS F2A CHAMPIONSHIP, North America's revolutionary goal-specific F1 training series, "Where Art & Technology Join in the Science of Magic!" at Visit it and give us a shout!

Most Sincerely, KKMcK

Well, KK, where to begin? First of all, our mama and daddy taught us to be suspicious of anybody who told us they had all the answers to everything -- and some of your comments lead us to believe we wouldn't cotton to some of your answers. Does that sound a little down-home hillbilly to you? Well, shucks-gosh-darn, that must explain that habit Sparky has of using the "N" word too much -- Hey! Wait! "NASCAR," not that other "N" word! Geez, the ripple effect of that O.J. trial is endless! Anyway, if we haven't offended you to the point that you've quit reading already, let us suggest that there isn't nearly as much fear of Formula One in the U.S. as there is apathy. A lot of Americans don't have enough interest in F1 to be scared or it, or even to dislike it with any gusto. And this may be hard for you to grasp, but a whole lot of us down here in the motorsports proletariot like F1 despite its high-toned lah-de-dah, and counts and countesses, and jet-set B.S. We suspect that, despite the nose-in-the-air demeanor of many F1 folk, from "Mr E" on down, the guys who build, work on and drive F1 cars are people who appreciate fast cars and good competition. We suspect if they'd grown up in Terre Haute, or Spartanburg, or Wisconsin Rapids, or maybe in Petaluma or Albuquerque, they might be turning wrenches or the steering wheel on a sprinter or -- Bernie, forgive me! -- even a "stodgy NASCAR." Given that, we can relate to them, even if they or their admiring upper-crust public might think we are inferior forms of the species.

In all honesty, we couldn't find out much on your website that would tell us just what the Sam Hill "Formu2a America Street & Track Road-Racing Series, Llc., FASTR-RS F2A CHAMPIONSHIP" is. Maybe that's just one more indication of our ignorance, but we don't know much more about your deal than we did before we clicked on the URL. We did find a hotlink to "," which looks pretty cool as an all-around reference. Just in case somebody asks us (we don't want to appear any dumber than we already is), just how the heck does one pronounce Formu2a"? "Form-You-TOO-Ah"? "Form-You-Too-AAY"? Or is it "Form-You-TWAH"?

We hope you've got a little bit of a sense of humor, KK. We've been accused of providing smart-aleck answers in the past, and we try to throttle down a little bit, but your comments really pushed some of our buttons. Sorry about that. Write back and tell us more about Formu2a America, OK? We promise to be nice.

Sparky's mailbag is pretty full this week. To catch the rest, check out

Sparky Plug

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Series General
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Olivier Panis , Steve Smith , Tony Kanaan , Mario Andretti , Gilles Villeneuve , David Empringham , Hideki Noda , Mike Borkowski , Mark Martin , Cristiano da Matta