Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
For most race fans, the root of their interest in the sport is fast, loud cars. I’m one of them, having grown up in the heyday of the muscle car era. The streets near my home rumbled with the throaty sounds of Shelby and Cobra Jet Mustangs, Hemi Plymouths, 442s, Ram Air Goats, and big block Chevys, some of them modified by Motion Performance just one county over. The first true love of my life was a neighbor’s silver 70 Mach One Cobra Jet four speed missile: I’d wash it for free just to be allowed to touch the car and for an occasional ride in that muscular Ford.
My love of fast, loud cars led to my interest in auto racing. Richard Petty’s Plymouths resembled some of the GTX’s and Road Runners that cruised the beach roads near my home, and David Pearson’s red and white Mercurys looked like the Cyclone my buddy’s dad drove to work daily. It was the cars that hooked me. Learning about the drivers and the strategies of stock car racing was just the icing on the cake.
But growing up on Long Island, stock car racing mainly took place in the far distant South in those days. So, back when my primary means of transportation were a pair of black Converse high tops, a Schwinn with apehangers and a banana seat, and, eventually, a Yamaha Mini-Enduro that I cut grass all summer to afford, I was, at heart, a drag racing fan.
There were several dragstrips on Long Island in that era and during the summer months, our dads frequently loaded my friends and me into a car and took us to see the drags. For a kid addicted to fast, loud cars, it was Nirvana cubed. Most of the cars that raced weekly looked just like the muscle cars that cruised the streets of my hometown; and not only that, but an added attraction were all the old-time hot rods running in the gasser classes. If I recall, in that era there was a lot of enmity between the hot rod types and the late model racers. The hot rodders felt anyone could buy a fast car off the showroom floor, while the late modelers felt it took a real man to build one up from scratch, assembling a variety of parts not meant to fit together easily.
Hey, I was a kid back then; I didn’t take sides. I just liked cars, and the faster and louder the better. It didn’t matter to me if it was a ’30 Ford Coupe, a ’41 Willys, a ’57 Chevy, or a ’70 Road Runner. If it was fast and loud (and especially if it could lift the front wheels during the launch), I loved it. Afternoons and evenings spent at the drag strip were the highlights of my youth.
The class cars were cool, but when the big name drivers in the fuel classes came to run grudge matches, that was the best. I remember watching guys like Wild Willy Borsch in his Winged Expressed altered, Jungle Jim Lieberman in a series of blue Chevy funnies and, of course, the heroes to my generation Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen running their Hot Wheel-sponsored Plymouth floppers. The funny cars in the day were nowhere near as fast as they are today, but they were plenty fast. Watching a pair of the FC cars run side by side down the strip so fast that it seemed impossible restored my youthful belief in magic way back when. The noise, the fire, the smoke — iit was all pretty heady stuff.
And yes, I still remember seeing my first bad wreck at the strip. It was a red, white and blue shoebox Nova that got crossed up in the traps and hit the guardrail hard. That little Chevy began rolling time after time, shedding parts in every direction before grinding to a stop upside down. The rowdy crowd instantly became dead quiet as the ambulance and rescue team rushed towards what was left of that Chevy. After an eternity, the normally hysterical announcer, all at once sedate, announced the driver was live and conscious, able to speak to the medics. He’d suffered some bad injuries, but he was being taken to the hospital and was expected to survive.
A deafening cheer went up through the crowd and along the staging lanes. I still remember what was left of that Chevy being dragged back down the return lane to the pits and wondering how on earth anyone had survived such a violent wreck. That sight led me to investigate the interiors of the cars in the pits a bit more closely. (Yes, back in that that era an eleven-year-old could walk right up to a race car and eyeball it that way.) The rollcage, the drivers’ restraints, the fuel cells…all that stuff began to fascinate me in the same way the stuff that made the cars fast did. After all, I went to those meets to see the daredevils walk out on the tightrope. I didn’t want to see them fall.
Make no mistake about it, the NHRA has always been a safety conscious organization. Wally Park originally formed the sanctioning body to get drag racing off the streets — where it put both racers and innocent lives in danger — and onto the strips. Right from the get go, the NHRA developed their traveling safety team, the Safety Safari, which might be the premiere such organization in racing today. These guys are flat on it. They are rolling before the wreck even finishes, beating back flames and making every possible effort to extract the driver from his car as quickly as possible. At this point, it’s rare to meet a Top Fuel driver who hasn’t been rescued by the Safari at least once. Considering the rescue crews’ response times at Pocono, those guys would be advised to watch a few NHRA events to see how it’s done.
But it doesn’t stop there. Even as far back as the fourth grade, I attended lectures conducted by State Troopers in full uniform telling us kids who were into cars to take our rods to the strip rather than race them on the street for safety’s sake. Those lectures had some effect: I did in fact race a series of class and bracket cars at Atco back in the day, though admittedly, we ran ‘em in the street as well because it paid better.
While my affections eventually were swayed towards stock car racing, I’ve always been a drag racing fan as well. For me it’s a busman’s holiday, being able to watch the NHRA races without worrying about having to write about them afterwards. I watched drag racing and attended the occasional Nationals as a fan just because I still dig fast, loud cars. Over the years, I’ve watched the rails evolve from front engines to rear engines and the funny cars go from steel bodied altered wheelbase, injected door slammers to the current generation of flip bodied tube framed blown monsters. I’ve always had a weak spot for the funnies because, like most casual drag racing fans, I’m a huge fan of John Force. Force is to drag racing what Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt combined are to stock car racing. (Though he’s won more titles than either of them). Drivers like Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch would do well to study tapes of Force’s post-race interviews. Win, lose, or draw, he’s always “on,” grinning ear-to-ear no matter what you ask. When you talk to Force, he shows other drivers how it’s possible to speak your mind and openly display your true personality without being a jerk. My favorite pearl of wisdom from the inestimable Mr. Force is, “If you learn how to play pool drunk, you can never shoot worth a damn sober.” Force thanks his sponsors, apologizes for having done so, then launches into a series of stream of consciousness rants that bounce to and fro like a pinball.
To those of you aren’t fans of drag racing, it seems like it’s a terribly simple form of motorsports. In fact, an old saw postulates that the first drag race was staged the first time the owners of two of those new-fangled automobiles lined up beside each other at a stop sign. All drag racers do is hit the throttle when the light goes green and hold the steering wheel straight for a quarter of a mile, right? Sure, and all stock car racers do is drive fast in circles. The head games during staging, the technique of the launch, trying to ride a 3,000 horsepower rodeo bull as it gets squirrelly at half track and starts shaking the tires, and pedaling furiously away is an art form all to itself. The reactions, courage, and cunning of a championship level drag racer rival any other form of motorsports, even if each run lasts less than five seconds when it all goes right.
But despite the emphasis the NHRA has always placed on safety, right now the sport of drag racing is in the same sort of grim period that stock car fans endured back in 2000 and 2001 when we lost Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt. Last year Eric Medlen, John Force’s son-in-law and teammate, was killed in a testing wreck in Florida. Last Fall, drag racing fans watched in horror as two of the sport’s biggest names — John Force and Kenny Bernstein — were involved in a top end wreck at Dallas that left Force badly injured.
Last Sunday, Scott Kalitta’s funny exploded in flames at the top of the track, sailed through the sand trap, and erupted in a ball of flames. Kalitta died as a result of his injuries. He leaves behind a wife, two young sons, a legion of fans, and his dad and cousin, both of who are stars of drag racing as well.
Being from the Northeast myself, I have heard from several friends who were at Englishtown on Saturday, and their accounts of the scene and mood at the track are all similar to my recollections of seeing my first bad wreck. First, a gasp goes up through the crowd. Then, there’s stunned and reverent silence as fans wait anxiously for word on the driver’s condition. (Though in this era of cell phones, I don’t doubt countless people were frantically calling friends to tell them, “You won’t believe what just happened…”) There was a palpable anxiety in the stands at Englishtown as the wreck, particularly that fireball in the aftermath of it, was as bad as it gets. But over the years, drag racing fans have seen countless cars explode into flames, break in half, or roll over violently at speed, only to see the driver emerge from the wreckage and wave to the crowd moments later. As time passed with no definitive word on Kalitta’s condition, people began fearing the worst while still desperately hoping for the best. Sadly, fear overcame hope as news spread Scott Kalitta died during that fiery crash.
Drag racing fans were hit by this news the way a lot of us faced the death of Dale Earnhardt back on that dark day in February, 2001. Even today, drag racing remains a lot like stock car racing used to be in the good old days. For the price of a ticket, fans can go stroll the pits and stand behind the taped lines to look at the race cars up close and personal as they are rebuilt between rounds. For anyone who’s ever rebuilt an engine over a long weekend, watching those mechanics tear down and reassemble a blown decedent of a 426 Chrysler Hemi in a half hour is nothing less than awe-inspiring. What’s more, NHRA drivers don’t hide in their motor coaches. They’re right there in the pits, working the tape lines, signing autographs, posing for pictures, pressing the flesh, and exchanging a few pleasantries with their fans. I’m told by some of Kalitta’s fans that he was a master of the tape line. If you waited your turn, you could have your autograph, your picture, or your brief conversation and, for those few brief seconds that the two of you talked, Kalitta made you feel like a new friend and the most important person to him in the universe right then and there. Kalitta was a no-nonsense sort of guy who faced life wide open, but he made time for his fans and appreciated their support.
Kalitta was an interesting sort of guy. He grew up around racing at the heels of his father Connie “The Bounty Hunter” Kalitta, one of the sport’s most colorful personalities. The younger Kalitta didn’t have to race to put food on the table; in fact, he’d amassed a fortune comfortable enough to retire on at a young age from business interests outside the sport. He didn’t have to race to prove anything to anyone, either; Kalitta won NHRA Top Fuel Championships in 1994 and 1995. Kalitta did retire from drag racing twice after that, once for nearly two years and the next time for almost three. And when he did come back, he didn’t return to the sport for the glory or a paycheck. Kalitta returned to drag racing because it was an all consuming passion for him. Recently at Joliet, Kalitta made his first final round appearance since 2004. Even though he lost to Tony Pedregon in that race, the joy and enthusiasm Kalitta displayed in his post-race interviews made it sound like he had never been to the big dance before, rather than that of a driver on the tail end of his career who’d scored major championships.
Most of us can understand the pursuit of things we feel passionate about. All of us accept different levels of risk to do the things that thrill us, whether it’s strapping into a 3,000 horsepower missile for a four second ride down the quarter-mile, cruising the back roads on a Harley, or technical rock climbing. On the more sedate end of the scale, others will risk a potentially life-threatening case of Lyme disease to hike through a meadow in pursuit of sighting a bird we’ve never seen before. (I’ll stick to the Harley. That Lyme Disease is nasty stuff.) Others seem determined to live without risk, hoping to die safely in bed at a ripe old age. I don’t get that mindset, personally … I cannot see myself dying at the age of 100 in my own bed lying there considering the chances I never took, the dreams I never chased, and the roads I feared to travel. All of us set up our own standards of potential reward versus risk we are willing to accept in order to live a joyful life.
Scott Kalitta accepted the risk involved in doing what he loved; and after spending time with him, it’s clear he drove cars faster and louder than even the most devoted car guys will ever get their hands on.
It’s sadly ironic that Kalitta’s birthday was February 18th, the same date on which NASCAR’s legend Dale Earnhardt passed away. Dale was 49 when he died in a wreck; Scott was 46 when he died Saturday. According to actuarial tables, most of you reading this will live to be older than either. But most of you will never live a life as full, textured, and rewarding as Earnhardt or Kalitta.
When the funny cars run at night, flames come out the tips of all eight header pipes. In drag racing parlance, that’s “all candles fully lit”. A driver on a successful run will have all eight candles lit from starting line to finish line despite the mechanical mayhem that is fuel racing today, basically a pair of scud missiles launched down the strip to see if either makes it before they explode. And that brings to mind the famous poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light!
So to Scott Kalitta’s family, friends and fans, from stock car racing fans everywhere, we know your pain and you are in our prayers just as we were in yours seven years ago. And to Scott Kalitta, from a casual drag racing fan and a big fan of fast, loud cars, thanks for all the thrills you provided. It lasted all too briefly, but oh, what a lovely light. Godspeed.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
awesome article matt, well worth the time it took to read.
when i read of scott’s death sunday morning my heart ached for his family. i remembed seeing his dad race and the summers i spent at the local drag strip in maryland and then going to englishtown several times for the races. i then remembered all that had happened in drag racing the past year and got sad. seems like their cycle is now, as stock cars was 7 & 8 yrs ago.
one consolation is scott was doing what he loved.
picasso on the internet! strong work matt
As a long time follower of drag racing, I commend you on an excellent article on Scott and all who “live it on the edge” at our chosen endeavor. You sir have great insight!!
What can I say Matt? One othe best pieces you have ever written.
Awesome article, Matt – well done!
Fantastic article, Thanks!
AWSOME..The pen was in the correct hand for the writing of this. It was if you had walked through my memorirs and wrote this. Only the best could writen something that will last forever.
Thank you Matt, for that wonderful and touching piece. I had to wipe away some tears, here. Drag racing has always been my first love, as my father raced in Pro Stock in the 70’s before I was born, and I went with him to the track when he was crew chief for friends cars in the 80’s. I have the same memories you do of the loud, fast cars screaming down the track and loving every second of it. I’ve been a NASCAR fan since 2002, but I’ve been an NHRA fan since my dad carried me around the pits on his shoulders in the late 70’s. I currently work for a company that provides engine parts for NHRA racers, and my boss knew Scott and his family personally. We have all been hit hard by this, just like Eric’s death last year, and we hope with the new advances in technology that Force’s programs are coming up with, this will be the last racing death we have to endure. One change I would suggest, is to put SAFER barriers all the way down the sides of the track. That might help prevent serious injuries like Force suffered last year. But I dont know what to change to prevent an accident like Scott had. Anything strong enough to stop a 300 MPH race car is probably going to do more damage upon impact.
Great read Matt but Eric Medlin was not John Force’s son in law. Robert Hight is his son in law.