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
Tuesday March 4, 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.
While I enjoy stock car racing at Pocono, race weekends at the track are also tinged with a bit of melancholy. For more years than I care to recall, all my best buddies and I used to attend one of the Pocono races together, gathering from near and far for the annual “male-bonding weekend.” (Which is a polite way of saying drinking a truly epic amount of beer, carrying on outrageously and, in general, reinforcing every negative stereotype of stock car fans we could manage.) I can’t say whether I’ve been to more races at Dover or Pocono, or that the best races I’ve seen have been at this track, but I can say I’ve had more fun at Pocono than any other track on the circuit.
This of course was back in the era before I wrote about racing for a living. There was no worry about a deadline after the race, no careful taking of notes to prepare columns, and no stomach churning anxiety wondering what I’d write about the event. Hell, there were races I had to check the paper the next morning to remind myself who won. It was back when we went to races just to enjoy the atmosphere, talk trash about the other guys’ favorite drivers (the Elliott and Earnhardt partisans got particularly combative), listen to fast loud cars and scream ourselves hoarse cheering on our favorites.
In that era, no hotel would have put up with our antics but we had an ace in the hole in 1313 Turkey Court, a house in a community nearby the track which I won’t name for fear of getting sued. Let’s just say that on race weekends, that community, knowingly or otherwise, threw open the gates to the barbarians and let them have at it. Most of the roads in the community were dirt or gravel and it was legal to ride dirt bikes and quads through the development. (Though you were supposed to register them and get a badge…badges? We don’t need no steenkin’ badges.) Security was three old guys in blue Toyota pickups that were tied up handling folks even more hard core than my motley crew all day. (Though we once did get a stern lecture that it was illegal in Pennsylvania to fish using a handgun.) The more genteel crowd left the community to avoid the traffic and the parties, and the lunatics took over the asylum.
1313 Turkey Court was built when our buddy John was a kid. The décor was Brady Bunch traditional with a smattering of Mod Squad hip in the orange shag rug and conversation pit. The house had fallen into disuse as John and his siblings grew up. It smelled funky inside. The water ran red with sediment most of the time. The porch was ready to fall off the place. (As my buddies and I discussed many a time while drinking on the same porch about 20 feet off the ground.) But there were eight bedrooms, some with bunkbeds, and a shower of sorts in the morning. Rent was 20 bucks a head for the weekend. Yeah, it wasn’t luxurious but 1313 Turkey Court was our home base for race weekend.
The hard core race fans, myself included, usually showed up Friday to catch qualifying. We were in charge of hanging up the stolen “Welcome Race Fans” banners and all our driver flags. The guys who were there more to party showed up Saturday morning, usually towing some sort of quad or dirt bike on a trailer or in the back of a rusty pickup truck. Saturday was a riding day, or more accurately a wrenching day as we tried to keep our odd little fleet of off road vehicles running or repaired crash damage. Saturday night the traditional menu was burgers on the grill washed down with copious amounts of beer while swapping tall tales and outright lies. On Saturday night, we’d jump in or on whatever was running, ride up to the fire ring and have a big old bonfire to continue the ritual of male bonding. The evening was usually capped off with the Pennsylvania 25, a 25 lap quad race around the community’s ball field. Behind the backstop there was a curved slope that worked perfectly as a banked corner. Throwing of elbows, shortcuts, and miscounting laps to claim you won were all part of the program, as were end over end flips.
In retrospect, we were lucky. No one ever got arrested. No one ever turned up Jimmy Morrision in the bathtub Sunday morning. The worst injury any of us ever suffered was the time Lee flipped Ken’s quad on a rocky hill climb and slid the entire way to the bottom on his prodigious butt. That opened up some nice gashes, which, unfortunately, he insisted on modeling for us. The worst property damage was the time I slid John Henry off a muddy trail during an ill-advised attempt to keep up with the quads and totaled the bed. Damn near flipped the rig so I guess I made out OK there.
You’d think guys who drank that much the day before would have trouble getting out of bed on Sunday morning. Any other weekend, yes, but not on race weekend. Two unlucky participants were chosen as dawn patrol to drive my truck over to the track and stake out a space in the infield. The part I liked best was since it was my truck, I never had to do dawn patrol. Normally the rest of us would get out of bed around 8:00, run through the shower and share a box of Captain Crunch on the ride to the track for breakfast. To make sure the dawn patrol crew caught up with the rest of us, the yearly ritual involved the early guys hauling the keg in the truck while the late arrivers brought the tap. Even in that vast infield, we always managed to hook up. The keg would be tapped and there was great rejoicing. Only in the infield of a racetrack is beer consumption in the morning the norm rather than the exception. Usually I tried to be the responsible one and tried not to drink prior to noon. Normally, I failed to do so.
We’d usually have four and a half hours to kill prior to the race. The first few years we’d run my truck, the mighty John Henry, through Pocono’s notorious mud-bog wide open making like Moses through a Red Sea of filth. John Henry was an honest truck, a mid 80s Ford with 4 inches of suspension lift, 35 inch tires, 4.11 gears, a granny gear four speed and the big six. Darn thing never got stuck. Only an official crackdown by the black shirts (Pocono’s notoriously bad tempered and abusive security goons) ended the merriment. By that point old John Henry would be so muddy that you couldn’t tell what color she was. Once done playing alpha male baboon of the mud pit, we’d reposition the truck, and set up camp. By infield standards our rig was a Cadillac. Ken has worked as a machinist and a carpenter during his life, and built us a platform a full 10 feet long and as stable as the state of Utah. (Though it made the truck a little funky to drive over 70 MPH, especially on dirt roads doing bootlegger turns.) We’d add a tarp on one side as an awning, and a tarp on the other side which in combination with the driver’s door being left open served as our restroom. That solved the most perplexing problem of infield race watching, how to process beer while maintaining modesty and not missing more than a lap per relief break. It caused another problem in that every year I’d tell whoever pulled the dome light bulb out of the truck to keep from draining the battery to put it in the ashtray so I could find it after the race. And every year that bulb got lost.
Three boom boxes tuned to MRN on the platform kept us apprised of what was going on. I had the only scanner and binoculars most years. We started our infield tenure in the 1st turn which is the Wild, Wild, West of the Pocono infield. Eventually as we grew older we moved up towards turn 3 where we could see the Long Pond straight, the tunnel turn and part of turn 3. There’s nowhere in that infield that you can see all of the track, even from the lofty perch John Henry afforded, but the fact that areas where you can’t see any of the track fill up with people anyway says something about infield culture at Pocono.
But as the minutes leading to race time ticked off there was an energy that built up in the infield you just have to have been there to understand. The fireworks erupted more often. Fans of various drivers hollered taunts back and forth between rigs but it was all good-natured. Trivial bits of information on the latest news on the circuit was swapped back and forth. Contests to see whose stereo was loudest drove the noise level to deafening well before the engines of the racecars ever started. Atop our platform there was much backslapping, sidesplitting laughter, and high fiving as we got geared up for the afternoon ahead. One man’s Hell is another man’s Heaven. I loved the chaos, the unpredictable nature of the infield, and, admittedly, the displays put on by morally lax women at frequent intervals. I loved meeting new folks and swapping stories. I loved the atmosphere where if you found yourself short of anything (other than beer and ice) someone nearby was always willing to lend things to a stranger. I used to bring along two bottles of suntan lotion, the most forgotten item in the infield, to share with others once I got myself lathered up.
By the time the Star Spangled Banner played the first casualties were already sprawled out unconscious in lawn chairs or even just laying in the dirt. All of us filled a fresh beer during the pace laps so we could celebrate with foamy soaking toasts as the cars came by us driving in anger for the first time, kicking up a tremendous cloud of dust and making the earth rumble beneath us. Honestly we were like a pack of kids waiting at the top of the steps on Christmas morning when we heard the field take the green, all but jumping up and down in place, grinning ear to ear. It was a magic moment, followed my memorable afternoons we’d talk about until the next Pocono race weekend bought the clan back together.
Over the years the numbers of our little posse slowly diminished. The infield price got out of hand and the guys who weren’t hard core race fans felt ripped off. The traffic got to be too much of a headache. Guys would sleep over Sunday night and get out of bed at 4 AM to drive home to make work Monday morning. Everyone but me got married and produced offspring who had soccer games and horse shows the weekends of racing. Lawns needed mowing. Jeff Gordon dominated too many races. ( I still recall in 1996 when Gordon won his first Pocono race, Brent just shook his head. Brent was about as hard core a Dale Earnhardt fan as you’ll ever meet, and he looked at Ken and I sadly before proclaiming, “That kid is good. Too good. I hate the little….”) It was the first anti-Gordon statement I’d ever heard.
Maybe if the racing was still as exciting as it had been the guys would have hung on. But eventually the hassles began outweighing the fun for some. We were down to a hard core group of three with an occasional guest, but it was still our tradition. Then I got a job working the garage area (but still running out to hang with the guys during the race under special dispensation from Derek that I could submit my columns Monday after I’d had time to see the video of the race.) And when Dale Earnhardt died, that was the end of it. Two of the last hard core threesome no longer cared as much about racing without Dale out there. I’ve got nothing against Jeremy Mayfield, but in retrospect I sure wish Earnhardt would have won that race in 2000 he led at the white flag for the sake of my friends who were attending what was probably their last stock car race. Especially since they had to stay overnight Sunday due to the rain delay.
Old John Henry has been sold now after many, many trouble free miles, when old age started demanding a softer ride, air conditioning and an automatic. 1313 Turkey Court burned to the ground two years ago last autumn (not while we were in residence) and a lot of memories went up in smoke with it. When the front-end loaders scooped away the debris they added our platform that had once been the envy of many of our fellow infield denizens to the scrap heap. I miss those wild weekends, though I guess I’m old enough to know better now.
Looking back though, I really miss those race weekends. I miss the excitement of counting down the days until it was time to head north. I miss the phone calls with the guys making plans. I miss the arguments over which driver was better, the buzz in the infield, that first lap toast, and slapping someone in the back of the head and pointing to indicate a pass for the lead or a wreck from atop the truck. I miss laughing during a race and not taking things so seriously I couldn’t take a few minute break under the awning while my buddies top side yelled down what was going on on the track with varying degrees of accuracy. I miss heading to the go-kart track about a mile from where we stayed the evening of the race, having our own little stock car race, and getting thrown out. (We got thrown out every year I can remember. I recall a track employee telling me he’d never seen a wreck that flipped three go-carts before. His tone of voice didn’t indicate he was impressed.) I miss those raw in the center bugers, the bonfires, and the quad jumping competitions. I miss the draw of being there at something so special no hangover or cottonmouth could keep you in bed a minute longer. I miss the taste of that first beer in the morning. I’m a professional now I guess. That stuff doesn’t wash.
Sometimes at the track I’ll see a group of guys headed for the infield, beers in hand, stripped to the waist, carrying souvenir used tires, and laughing between themselves grinning ear to ear. I’ll look at them and smile myself. I’ve got better access, but they’ll have a better time, even if they don’t know who finished sixth that day. Sometimes we take this sport too seriously and suck the joy out of it. It’s all about hanging out with your buddies, enjoying the greatest show on earth, and going home grinning. Sometimes I need to remind myself that’s the case. But I guess I knew that well enough back in the days of hanging out at 1313 Turkey Court. I wonder when I forgot.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Not much to talk about today, huh Matt?
This column falls into the “frankly, my dear” category.
I take exception to jaymatt’s comment. Unless you are not very old, that is the way all of us older fans started our addiction to racin’.
Matt, thanks for reminding me why I’m still a fan.
Forget what jaymatt
Ah Matt, you can’t bring up things like “mud bogging” and such!
While I never ever took part, the various venues “back-in-the-day”, such as Talladega “the naked mud-slides”, Watkins Glen “the pit” (where every year they burned a bus or RV of some sort) to even turn one at INDY, a place to avoid at all costs if you lived a “decent” life!
Can’t say I’m not glad they toned these areas down, but by the same token, they were always fun to visit!
Great story. It brings back memories of the many weekends my buddies and I spent in the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway in turn 2. I may publish those stories someday, but I’m holding off until I’m sure it won’t cause any arrests, divorces, or paternity suits. Man, those were some great times.
Great story Matt. It is good bring up good memories of fun with friends at the racetrack before the era of too high prices, million dollar motorcoaches, and dry, un-entertaining races and drivers. Young Jaymatt must be a sore loser because he missed those good times.
Refreshing and interesting, better than writing ALL JR.,ALL THE TIME like other writers and websites.
And here I thought you would lump Pocono in with the rest of the tracks you think are “boring”. I guess its different when its your home track, eh?
I think this must be exactly why my dad resents me for changing his race-going habits with my birth…(not trying to make you feel old!)
I too enjoyed it Matt. It brought back the many memories I have of Rockingham NC. That was my first introduction to racing in the early 80s. Boy I miss those days, those friends and that track. Now, if and when I go to a race it’s a Dover or Richmond smash-n-dash. Oh, we have fun, but not like the old days at The Rock.
ah so you were part of the turn one committee
Great read! I have spent a lot time in different track infields but the was always something special about the goings on in Pocono’s infield especially when you camped there for three days in a truck camper which had 4wd which let you stay where motor homes feared to tread
Nice piece of writing, Matt.
If only you could step away from the negativity every week, and remember why you love(d) NASCAR.
Everytime you slam FOX, Digger, the car, Goodyear, Toyota, Fontana, Loudon and Chicagoland, just remember that there are tens of thousands of fans in the stands and in the infield who are making foamy toasts as the cars pass by for the first time in anger, and could care less about the packaged product on TV.
Go to more races, man. I won’t hold it against you if you don’t remember who finished sixth in the Monday column.
But I want my sport back. I want NASCAR racing to provide with the joy it once did over all those wild weekends at Pocono. I want to feel that if I invest the money to head to the track on my dime there is at least a reasonable possibility that I will leave feeling entertatined not ripped off. In saying that I am not asking NASCAR to respond to my wishes but to the wishes of a ton of long time fans who no longer feel the same passion for the sport. If I were the only one that felt this way I’d be an aging crumudgeon whose crap nobody would read. My readership has maintained and grown. NASCAR ratings, both on TV and in the stands are down.
I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong that the sport is now in the Titanic mode and the band is playing. I’d love to be able to write every weekend that the race was outstanding or even if it wasn’t next week it probably will be. But NASCAR racing has gone from the occasional kernel of unpopped popcorn in the bag to sifting sifting through the sands of the beach for an occasional gem. Or that’s how I see it. To all the fans still enjoing the races, whether it be with a soaking first lap toast of beer with the boys or with a loud cheer with your wife and kids on the couch sipping your cup of Folgers, God bless you. I am truly happy you can still enjoy the races.
Me, the same sort of joy I once found in NASCAR racing I normally only find these days on the saddle of my Harley cruising the back roads of Chester County on wrecning on a classic car in the garage. So yeah, maybe it is time I retire. But I just keep hoping that maybe, just maybe, the next race is going to be a classic that’s going to leave me joyous. I’m not a casual fan. I am a NASCAR addict and I have been for about 44 years. Kicking the fix that has defined my adult life isn’t easy. But it’s looking more tempting with every sorry ass race featuring dancing gophers and such I sit through grinding my teeth wishing I was riding instead. The path to the exit is well worn.
As Jackson Browne once wrote:
But suddenly it’s so clear to me
I smile again every time I read this story…thanks, Matt!
Man Matt…Your article made me cry. I’ve mourned so much for NA$CAR over the years. First Dale (still do that one), and what use to be, and the excitement and passion I use to have for the sport. It’s become so lack luster that I’ve recently forgotten about the race until it’s already started. Now maybe that’s cause I recently hit the half-century mark and memory is shot. Killed too many brain cells in the 70’s and 80’s. We had the rare gift of knowing the NASCAR that our parents knew. Not may changes, only the box ugly cars of the 80’s (but Earnhardt’s lumina still intimindated) and stinking plates. We did have deaths we mourned then, so saftey evolved until 2000 and 2001. Today the Earnhardt in the series continues to struggle, there’s whispers of Gordon’s retirement, there’s hardly any independent sole ownership teams in existance and NA$CAR is doing it’s best to kill off those guys. Toyota is here and it’s all iroc cars, all the time. Iroc has gone away…how long til Cup goes away? The economy stinks, and I’m sure we all know of someone, if not ourselves, who has lost their job. You know, we need something to help with the stress…to escape it for a few hours. I guarantee you that bankruptcy of GM will be on the race shows this weekend. I know we can’t escape it all, but a break would be wonderful. But IROC racing is not the answer. Whom ever gets th lead on Sunday will fly away until the first yellow flag pit stops. Then it will repeat.
“…Titanic mode and the band is playing.”
They’re playing ‘Let’s go Racing Boys’, right?
Nothing is ever as good as we remember it. It’s called getting older. Nobody want to, so we cling to memories of when we were more energetic and youthful. Even if those memories are fabricated. Nothing will ever be as good as when you were in your prime. More than likely it really wasn’t that good. Even reading these comments. Hardly anybody is commenting on the racing, they are just remembering partying with friends in the infield. They are remembering days they wish they could relive because they are feeling old. This has nothing to do with NASCAR and the entertainment value it provides today.
NA$CRAP Sucks. Brain France sucks. The chase sucks. The COT sucks. Kryle Boosh sucks. Kryle Boosh fans suck. NA$CRAP is Dying and that in itself is the most entertaining thing about it these days