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.
Folks who’ve been reading (enduring?) my missives a long while know that I don’t frequently do columns that are autobiographical in nature. I figure you’re here at Frontstretch to read about racers and racing – not writers. But as I searched for something to write about this week, I was led in this direction by one of my FS colleagues, Jeff Meyer’s, recent decision to take a hiatus from his popular Voices From The Heartland column. Jeff gave the reason for his decision as no longer having the same interest or passion about our sport given the changes made over the last few years, and the resultant less than compelling racing we’ve endured since Brian France went from the Boss’s Idiot-Boy son kept safely out of the way in Hollywood to the Boss. (Trust me, if Clarence and Little Stevie were to stage a mutiny and replace the Boss with Justin Timberlake, the results couldn’t be any worse for the E Street Band.)
Well, Jeff isn’t alone in his declining interest in the sport. I hear from fans who feel the same way all the time. I see evidence of the sentiment in declining TV ratings and empty seats at the track. I hear it at the local taprooms, where conversation about NASCAR, once a staple that occasionally got so heated fistfights loomed (I do tend to hang out in the worst sort of joints, where the beer is cheap and the women are cheaper) has all but tapered off. And I feel it myself. There were countless pretty Sundays last year I just wanted to chuck it all, go ride the Harley, or head down the shore for a weekend instead of watching a single-file parade.
So why do I keep doing this job? I get asked this question all the time. Usually, the wording is along the lines of, “If you hate NASCAR so much, why do you write about it?” (I’m going to have to admit that “NASCAR, Love It or Leave It” attitude has always gotten my Irish up.) Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t hate NASCAR. I hate current NASCAR management and what they have wrought. I, in fact, love stock car racing in its purest form – and I have for decades. I’m still convinced if Brian France were given a new job description that involved his taking the orders for the deli at lunchtime, other NASCAR officials could pull us out of this tailspin. And I remember when…
I remember when the start of the season was something my friends and I started counting the days down to as soon as we sobered up after the New Year’s parties. (Which admittedly sometimes took until mid-January.) We’d start our betting pools and debate endlessly over the phone who had the best chance to win the 500. Friendly rivalries were a natural occurrence back then. My brother-in-law Kenneth P. has been one of my best friends since the early eighties, long before he started even dating my sister. (Or maybe it took me awhile to realize he was dating my sister… I dunno.) Kenny was a diehard Darrell Waltrip fan in that era; I’d been a fan of Bill Elliott since 1979. While Darrell was stacking up championships, Bill was winning Daytona 500s. Every February, I’d hope DW would never win a Daytona 500, and Kenny hoped Bill wouldn’t win another one. In 1985, when Bill won all those races, DW still won the title. Kenny was insufferable for the following year, so I was really counting down the days to Daytona that season. Most of us would call out sick the Thursdays of the 125s, we were so reluctant to miss a minute of the action – and the racing didn’t disappoint.
Nowadays, the season kicks off at Daytona, then moves on to Fontana and Las Vegas. As I see it, that’s one of the stupidest moves NASCAR has made in this era. Talk about a momentum killer at the start of the season – especially given the late start times for West Coast events. Back in the day, the season started at Daytona, then moved on to Rockingham, Richmond, Atlanta, Darlington, Bristol, North Wilkesboro, and Martinsville. Talk about a great slate of races! Before the first pitch was thrown out in MLB, fans’ fascination with the NASCAR season had been heated up white hot.
Kenny and I would always try to hit the Richmond race as our first event of the season, as Dover and Pocono were just too far away to wait. Luckily, we had an ace in the hole in that regard. I have four sisters, all of whom I love dearly. I’m a year older than Maryellen, who is eighteen months older than Jeanne, who is eighteen months older than Donna. Our tail gunner Charlie was Kat, who is four years younger than Donna. In the early ’90s, Kat and her husband moved to Richmond. As DINKS (dual-income, no kids) back then they had a magnificent house about twenty minutes outside of city limits.
Kenny and I heard Kat was moving to Richmond and immediately hollered, “Road trip!” Now, Kat is no great NASCAR fan. She feigns some interest because of my obsession, but as the only family member not living in the greater Philadelphia area she loved having mom and her siblings visit. If attending a race was going to get big brother and Kenny to come spend a long weekend, she was going to find tickets for the race.
Newer fans might find this hard to believe, but it was once quite difficult to get tickets for Winston Cup races. Families had had renewal rights for generations and clung to them like heirlooms. But for various reasons, sometimes they couldn’t attend, so Richmond would sell those tickets as “non-renewable.” Kat actually snuck through a chained fence to get the tickets to the first race we attended as her guests, and she’s usually a pretty straight shooter. Eventually, she developed contacts to make sure there were always four or five tickets available to those races.
Kenny and I would take half-days Friday, jumping in the car and driving down to Richmond and Kat’s palace. Now back in those days, there was no GPS. He’d man the wheel while I’d navigate, using an Exxon road map replete with greasy KFC fingerprints after the first ride. We’d have Bruce, the Dead Jimmy Buffett and REM cranking for the ride, and a few libations to pass the time. (Don’t yell at me…I was just navigating… poorly at times as we always seemed to take an extra lap of the Washington Beltway.) Naturally, seeing my sister was a thrill, and she’d cook spectacular meals while we’d stay up late catching up. But Sunday was the big deal. That first year, we followed the herd and got caught in miserable traffic. I do recall cracking a beer in the backseat and having a fellow in a pickup truck rushing over to ask if I could spare two beers, one for him and one for his buddy. They were already out of brew and hadn’t even reached the track. Poor planning on their part, I’d say. In exchange, he promised to lead us to a secret parking area where we could avoid much of the post-race traffic. The deal was struck, and from that very first year our party would park behind the MAB building across from the track’s main entrance. You had to walk a ways, but we were all young back then. Post-race, we’d take the backstreets until well clear of race traffic, me again serving as navigator while Kenny criticized my incredible ineptitude at the task. Yeah, we’d cruise through a few sketchy neighborhoods, but we were usually home in a half-hour, well before most fans had even cleared RIR’s parking lot.
The big thrill, of course, was the quality of the racing. Richmond was on a roll in that era, and many of the best races I’ve seen in my life were at RIR. February in Richmond can be tricky… and downright cold. I recall one event – Terry Labonte won, so it must have been 1995 – it actually hurt to sit on the concrete slab that was my seat as a howling wind lowered wind chills into the teens. But nobody gave a damn. If the air was cold, the racing was hot, and we were all on our feet between caution periods, anyway. Even Kat was caught up in the moment, cheering on the leaders who were normally running side-by-side, inches apart for lap after lap. At RIR, it didn’t matter if you were a Yankee. If you were a race fan, you were a friend, and the electricity in the crowd was contagious. I remember one race when the pretty young lady seated beside me insisted on hugging me (and everyone else within reach) every time Dale Earnhardt passed for the lead. I remember screaming, cheering on Dale all afternoon which Kenny found tremendously amusing. I wasn’t a fan of Earnhardt in that era, but I really, really like blonde women with big racks and Southern accents hugging me. How much? I gave her my last beer. Poor planning on my part, I’d say.
Our Richmond trips were not without incident. I upset some uber-Baptist Henrico County sheriff’s department police lady by exiting the track with an open beer. (Alas, no comely blondes seated beside me that day.) She pointed to a trash can with her night-stick and told me to throw it away. I did… after I’d stood there and chugged it down to the last drop, of course. She was of the mind to arrest me, but her partner pointed out if they arrested everyone violating the open container law, they were going to need a lot of buses to transport us all… so I went free.
Another time, the day of the ultra-cold race I decided that that I needed to take Kat and Rob to a nice dinner on the way home in exchange for their hospitality. As I remember it was a raucous dinner, a great meal, and thankfully quite warm inside which made it all that much better. When the check arrived, it was a bit higher than I expected but the food and service had been great and I could feel my fingers again. I laid down my credit card… and that’s when a confused waitress told me the establishment didn’t accept them, as noted by a postage stamp-sized sign in the door. Around me I could see other panicked diners facing the same dilemma, frantically searching for ways to pay for their meal. Luckily for me, I tend to travel with a decent amount of cash just in case I find a project car along the way, so between Ken and I we scraped up enough money to pay the bill (Kat caught the tip) because back in that era, your ATM card was useless if you were more than 25 miles from home. Nowadays, wait-people still look at me weird when I sit down at a new place and ask if they take plastic… but I never want to be piling quarters into stacks to pay for dinner again.
Unfortunately, Rob’s job meant he and Kat had to move from Richmond to Atlanta, home of another fine track but a bit far for a long weekend’s drive. I haven’t seen her again since. (Yes, of course, actually I have. We just haven’t gone to any more races together. She lives in Chicago now, and why would I drive halfway across the country to go to a race at Joliet?)
Fast forward to 1997. A fellow by the name of Mike Calinoff read your humble scribe’s letter posted in the late and lamented Winston Cup Scene paper. He decided he wanted to give me a go as a writer for the newspaper he was publishing back then. The pay wasn’t great, in fact I think I lost money on the venture, but it came with a promise of garage area access for the races. Together, we started the first of many NASCAR websites he owned and operated. In 1998, we decided that we were going to kick things into high gear. If the race was within driving distance of his Charlotte apartment, I was going to be down south covering the event while he worked as a spotter (first for Brett Bodine, then Ricky Craven and eventually Matt Kenseth).
Daytona wasn’t within driving distance, so the first race I covered was Rockingham, the second race of the year. Garage access was cool. I was still new enough at the game, I was like a golden retriever puppy bounding into the garage wanting to run in every direction to take it all in. But Mike had a special surprise for me. I had been (doubtless without Brett Bodine’s knowledge or NASCAR’s approval) promoted to “Assistant Spotter” for the Paychex team. My tasks were menial: I had to run and find Mike bottles of water when he got thirsty, and using a marker, I’d note the number of laps left to run in ten-lap intervals late in the race. Because I was listening to both the MRN broadcast and the team radio over my headset, I’d also let Mike know if a car was experiencing mechanical issues ahead of Bodine’s car. Then, I’d drive Mike home. Normally, he was so worn out after spotting a race he’d be asleep before we left track property.
It was a rare privilege. I don’t care what you paid for your ticket, there’s no seat better in the house than atop the spotters’ stand at places like the Rock, Martinsville, Darlington, and Bristol. It’s a view damn few fans or media members ever get to experience, and one I doubt I will ever be able to enjoy again. But I’ll never forget those afternoons with a hawks-eye view of the action.
Down in the garage, I tried to do the job while Mike was busy. But I was crushed to learn that just because I had a proper media credential didn’t mean Earnhardt was going to have a private half hour chat with me to give me a front page story. The guys who would talk to me when they weren’t busy were team members, the guys who didn’t get the glory; the tire changers, the transporter drivers, the mechanics and the rest. I started a series of “Behind the Scenes” interviews, and the guys seemed to like that. They could see their name, their wives’ names, what they did, the sacrifices they made, and their lives outside of racing on the internet on or in the paper. Even after all these years, the guys I interviewed for “Behind the Scenes” remain some of my best and most loyal sources for the inside scoop.
Like those Richmond races, travels with Calinoff were not uneventful. It was a gamble every week that I was going to get past security to the spotter’s stand wearing my official team uniform shirt and headset, while Mike dressed up in his street clothes but with a proper credential. Kyle Petty’s spotter in that era, who was the size of a mountain, almost decked me when Bodine got into Petty one race. He wanted to know if I was blind. I finally had to tell him my mike didn’t even work. He was going to have to hit Mike. Another time, we all packed into the elevator at Bristol for our ride down out of the stratosphere, and the combined weight tripped a breaker on that elevator so we were all trapped between floors. Remember, this was by and large a group of largish men who’d been standing sweating in the sun all afternoon (and only one of them had a loyal gopher to go find water) plus, we were packed in there like sardines. Imagine finding yourself buried under a cubic ton of dirty socks and drawers…
Then, there was the Friday night after qualifying at Darlington that first year. Storms had been threatening all day, but they got qualifying in. Mike and I were headed back to Charlotte afterwards… and he was hungry. It was a challenge to find the right place to stop because it was Lent, and as a Catholic I don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. I can’t do pizza because of food allergies, so Mike finally suggested a place he knew with a good salad bar. I’d forage through the salad bar while he had a steak. While we were having dinner a wild thunderstorm, maybe the worst I’d seen in my life, commenced outside. I mean, it was raining so hard you couldn’t see the car in the parking lot. The winds grew increasingly violent, and then the rain turned to hail the size of golf balls. Mike was methodically enjoying his dinner while I was picking up on the anxious vibes of the rest of my fellow diners. Then, the lights went out and the manager was screaming for all of us to get down under the tables and away from the windows because a twister had been sighted in the area. I didn’t need any more coaching. Grabbing my beer, I was under that table and praying like I’d never prayed before. I remember that telltale freight-train sound not far away and fumbling for a cigarette. Meanwhile, Mike was calmly reaching up from under the table to reach more French Fries.
The twister bypassed that restaurant, but set down with devastating and deadly consequences not far up the road – though we wouldn’t learn that until we saw the 11 o’clock news that night. As we left to head home, I remember telling Mike that I wasn’t sure I could drive. He punched me in the left arm and told me, “It was just a tornado. That crap happens down here sometimes.” He then took note of the hood, roof, and decklid of the purple Cavalier rental car I’d hired, laughed and told me that he sure hoped I’d sprung for the optional accident insurance. I had, but it was a tough sell back here in Pennsylvania trying to explain why the once pristine if hideous rental unit I was returning looked like it had been beaten with a ballpeen hammer stem to stern. I think I’m still on Enterprise’s Double Secret Probation list.
It’s odd for me this season because I’ve been getting a lot of emails and comments on my columns asking me if I’ve gone soft. Some even accuse me of going over to the dark side. That’s not the case. It’s just I realize now that the end of my career is a lot closer than the beginning. If things don’t improve real soon… maybe even closer than I realize. By April I ought to be my usual cranky, cynical, negative self grinding my teeth looking for more invective to sling NASCAR’s way, accusing them of everything short of buggering lambs in the control tower while they drive our sport down the way the Union Army leveled Richmond on May 10th. But not only is my career more in the rear-view mirror than through the windshield… so is my life. There’s only so many more shore weekends and Harley rides I’m going to pass on to get pissed off, even if I do “pissed off” pretty well. I used to love the start of the stock car race season the way I love cold beer, Harley Davidsons, and fast, loud classic cars… just not so much anymore. So Jeff, save me a rocking chair on your back porch and throw another six pack in the fridge. They can take our sport away from us, but they can’t take the memories away as long as we can remember when…
And, oh, the stories we could tell,
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Great Article Matt…I really enjoyed the read!!
I agree with Tim – a very enjoyable article. Reminds me of my Christmas gift two years ago from my wife – a trip from SoCal to Bristol’s March race. Driving through three states, the beautiful countryside, rain so hard I could barely see the road, a great race, and Chinese food for a post-race dinner at our motel. Great memories.
I know it’s not pertinent to the story (great column, by the way), but why in the heck would anyone leave Darlington on a Friday night before a big race weekend to go to Charlotte? There are plenty of hotels in Florence about 10 miles up I-20. Hell, we always slept in our cars, our trucks, tents, or in some cases, wherever we found ourselves in the morning. Of course, I was about 20 or 30 years younger in those days
On a side note, I’ve been through a South Carolina tornado myself, so I know what you were going through. Scary as hell.
Great article. I actually like reading people’s personal stories related to racing.
Being a newer fan (since ’01), I sometimes feel like I showed up late to the dance after all the pretty girls have left.
BTW – Actually Justin Timberlake would made a better NASCAR czar than you know who – At least he would be smart enough to bring in experts and producers to make the racing more exciting.
Michael in SoCal said: a trip from SoCal to Bristol’s March race. Driving through three states
How do you go from SoCal to Bristol, TN, and only drive thru three states?
Great article Matt. Its awesome to hear about the “good old days” from someone who was there.
My friends and I still get pumped about the start of racing. We have a big Daytona 500 party each year. I’m currently 1st in my NASCAR pool – thanks to the cool Jamie Mac pic – and don’t think for a second that I didn’t rub that in everyones face.
We go to races – not as many as we used to because our jobs get in the way sometimes. Nothing like the drunken college weekends at Martinsville. I can top your open alchohol container story… trust me.
And our pride and bragging rights are closely tied to our favorite drivers. I root against Tony Stewart – call my friends when he wrecks or passed for the lead, and we make gentleman bets via text on the over/under lap for a michael waltrip caused accident.
In fact, everything you miss about NASCAR I currently enjoy. So… what is it exactly that you’re missing?
TALK ABOUT HIPOCRACY!?!?!
Matt, how many times have you bashed Brian France, and Michael Waltrip for their so-called alchohol related incidents? Violating an open container law is just as much of an alchohol related crime as anything else.
“Grabbing my beer, I was under that table and praying like I’d never prayed before…As we left to head home, I remember telling Mike that I wasn’t sure I could drive. “ I SHOULD HOPE NOT! God forbid you “chirp” your tires pulling out of the parking lot.
Dansmom: Does operating a jet ski inebriated count? I have made many a historic journey with half a case of delicious bud light in me. It helps me navigate better.
Preach on Matt.
I remember back in the day when myslef and friends were the same way about the start of the season. Those days are gone, and Nascar has a long way to go to bring them back.
Dansmom- THe reason I didn’t want to drive was a bad case of shaken nerves. Mike doesn’t drink so usually when we had meals together I’d have a beer waiting gor a table and one with my dinner.
Three things I hope I never hear again.
Trouble, turn four, Waltrip!
Yeah Matt, I sigh do remember when. Sometimes I think that’s why I keep watching; you know, like when you keep watching the same film clip over and over hoping that somehow, the result will be different? Thanks for sharing your memories, as it stimulates us older fans to think back to what got us hooked on this sport in the first place. What’s really troubling is that in SoCal local tracks are an endangered species. So even if you’re disgusted with the “Big Show” it’s the only way to get your fix. Maybe if there’s enough backlash, that will create opportunity for entrepreneurs to open new short tracks. I’m ready to patronize Saturday night racing again!
It’s pretty much over for me. Oh, I tune in now and then and I read your column, Matt, but mostly I yawn and move on to something more exciting like Olympic curling or golf. Fork it, NASCAR is done. I’ll take the ALMS series any day. It’s more fan friendly, better regulated, and has more professional drivers. Plus, Sarah Palin doesn’t attend the races and Ashley Judd does.
But those days are long gone and it has nothing to do with the economy.
It has to do with the stupid moves by Brian Farce and what he has done to our NASCAR. The assinine Chase Format has destroyed racing completely. There is no insentive any more to go out and win races. It use to be that they raced for Victories, Trophies and Glory. Now they race to save enough points to hopefully race in the last 10 races maybe.
The Crap or Tomorrow Car which has now becoame the Crap of Today Car is another reason we left, it provides nothing but piss poor racing. But what can expect from a kit car and kit engines.
Also Toyotas entrance into the sport has driven us away. No offence but Toyota isn’t an American Manufacturer no matter how many spins you try to put on it, They are Japanses Company and the Money people spend on them doesn’t stay in the US it goes to Japan. They have managed to do to NASCAR what they have do to every other racing series thay have entered…. destyored the series.
TV coverage just keeps getting worse and worse each week.
The old grey mare just aint what she use to be.
It’s very sad to see, but I guess all good things come to an end.
We tuned in this year and saw a “glimer” of hope during the 500. But that’s gone now and it’s just Brian Frances Business as usual…
Thanks for another amazing article, Matt. Don’t get me wrong, I love “thinking out loud”, but these columns are my favorite. Thanks again!
I swear … and for years I’ve been swearing … that my real name is “Matt McLaughlin” and I write these columns in my sleep!! Matt, once again, you have expressed my own personal sentiments far better than I ever could!! Keep up the great work!! From one loyal listener of Bruce, The Dead, Buffett, and R.E.M. to another … … …
great article matt brings back alot of memories of days and races gone bye not sure about the racin now so many tracks where there was excellent racing have gone by the wayside never understood buying a track where there was good racing just to take their race date now we deal with all the cookie cutter tracks keep on matt really enjoy your articles