Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito?: Overwhelming Pace Car at Indianapolis

In a bit of irony, the pace car for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Motor Speedway this weekend will be the Ford Escape. Last year, many fans couldn’t even make it to the track on time – or at all – due to the congestion and traffic routing. Exiting wasn’t much better. Which brings me to another point regarding Kentucky: what was the big push to bring a race there for again? Between Ken-sucky and Bristol’s knee-jerk grind job, how many other events will Bruton Smith botch before it’s all said and done? Do we really need to reward all of this with a second Las Vegas date at his favorite mind-numbing racetrack? Answer: never.

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The big joke this weekend at the Indianapolis 500 was that the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 pace car had more horsepower than the cars that were behind it, 624 horsepower to be precise. NASCAR actually beat IndyCar to the punch on this one too a couple years back when the Shelby Mustang GT500 was used as a pace car at the restrictor-plate tracks for the Nationwide Series.

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As I was watching some of the past Indianapolis 500s the week prior on ESPN Classic, I was struck by the amount of underpowered, smog-laden garbage that was allowed on the hallowed grounds, pacing the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Automotive icons such as the 1983 Buick Riviera Convertible, wheezing out an unremarkable 150 horsepower, or the 1984 Pontiac Fiero, which was most famous for suffocating its occupants with toxic fumes in the event of a fire.

Chevrolet served up a turd or two of its own, with a rather hideous 1990 Beretta, and even Oldsmobile got in on the act with the 1985 Calais. Because what other car conjures up images of northern France, or the site of WWII bombing raids and V-1 rocket launch sites, than a drop top front driver from one of the General’s now-deceased brands.

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NASCAR’s Hall of Fame inductee class of 2013 was announced last week, and while all who were nominated for this class deserved to be in, there was one chosen who could have stood to wait a couple of years – Rusty Wallace. This is not to besmirch Rusty or his accomplishments; 55 wins and a championship is no small feat.

However, NASCAR needs to speed things up with regards to how many get in and when. There is no reason why we aren’t adding five posthumous additions per year to help honor those who built the sport, the lore, and set the benchmarks for all others before to shoot for. Glenn Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Tim Flock, just to name a few, are all worthy and had the numbers, name or contributions to be included by now.

Yes, I understand the need to have those on hand who can actually go up to receive the awards and speak about their battles on the track, however you cannot build a foundation on sand with massive gaping holes in it. Much like the sport it is honoring, the Hall needs some tweaks – and quick.

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We’re about a month out from being halfway through the season, and Dodge does not appear any more closer to finding a replacement team than it was when Penske Racing announced it was jumping ship to Ford for 2013. Could this be yet another swan song and unceremonious exit for one of Detroit’s storied performance brands?

Dodge first sat out the 1965 season when NASCAR boycotted the 426 Hemi until it was turned out in sufficient numbers in production cars, all but Buddy Arrington abandoned the Dodge Magnum following its less than stellar debut in 1978.

When the downsized cars arrived in 1982, only a handful of independents attempted to compete with the ill-fated Mirada, as Chrysler has scrapped virtually all of their racing programs, since the company itself was about to be junked.

Here we are again, on the verge of another Mother Mopar meltdown – and this while winning two races so far this year in Cup, and Brad Keselowski’s Challenger carrying the Stars and Stripes around Charlotte Motor Speedway over Memorial Day weekend.

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You know what’s awful? The camera angles used to cover racing today. I still want somebody to explain to me how CBS was able to cover a race more comprehensively in 1984 with a handful of cameras and zero visual aids. The in-car camera they used back then gave a more accurate depiction and sense of speed and corner angle anything that is used today.

Yeah, I’m sure the sponsors have some sort of say in this, since that is all that is visible for the most part is a solid tight hold shot of one car at all times through the corner while some meaningless statistic obscures the rest of the screen. Meanwhile, as the cars streak by at 190 mph, the tracker atop the screen scrolls by at a snail’s pace.

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In that same vein, one thing that struck me during the Hall of Fame announcement of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence was how these two men in their 70s can still call a race with more accuracy, professionalism and excitement than most of those today. There is no shame in muting the television and cuing up MRN to listen to the play by play of the race. You’d swear there was some actual competition occurring at high speeds.

Squier should be present in the booth at the Daytona 500 to call a few laps each year, much like the Detroit Tigers would have Ernie Harwell call a few innings of a game during his later years. NASCAR still has some of its history and history makers intact; they’d do well to glean some of their knowledge and expertise while they still have the opportunity.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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