Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 Year-End Motorsports Miscellenia

Various racing thoughts while wondering if Drew Bledsoe is laughing his ass off at Tony Romo's recent collapses, if Faith Hill is still stewing about Carrie Underwood, if Tony Romo can dodge opposing defenses enough to cuddle with Underwood, and if Keith Olbermann will ever get his sanity back......


Kirk Shelmerdine got rebuked for running a Bush-Cheney sticker on his racecar by the FEC, though he got a humorous defense of his action by one member. Given how venal politics can be, is it any wonder a Democratic activist would call attention to something like this? It also brings to mind this tidbit from Greg Fielden's photo history NASCAR Chronicle - Roy Tyner ran a Kennedy-Johnson sticker on his car during the 1960 Grand National season, a sticker reflecting his own views on the Presidential race rather than any kind of sponsorship deal. Given how close that fateful 1960 election proved to be, one can reasonably say Tyner's vote swung the election.


Doug Richert is a pretty amazing crew chief. Preparing for Red Bull Racing's 2007 assault on the Winston Cup Series with Talladega winner Brian Vickers, Richert will be involved in his 28th season as a major league crew chief. Richert has run a pretty hard gamut; he was pressed into crew chief duties in June 1980 for Dale Earnhardt when J.C. Elder quit Rod Osterlund's team; Richert helped Earnhardt win the 1980 title but the collapse of Osterlund's team left him adrift; he worked at Richard Childress' team before moving over to the Neil Bonnett #12 Chevy of Junior Johnson. The late 1980s and early '90s were lean times for Richert's crew chiefing career - he reunited with Osterlund in his ill-fated two-year return to NASCAR 1989-90 - but it the formation of the Craftsman Truck Series that anded him back onto a major league stage as he was signed up by Dale Earnhardt Inc. and driver Ron Hornaday. That success eventually saw Richert come to Roush Racing and Greg Biffle, and the tandem exploded to eleven wins together.

Now Richert takes the reins of Red Bull Racing's #83, and some of their adventures can be chronicled here.


Remember when it used to be that a driver needed five years before it could be determined if he'd be a power in the sport? A graphic illustration of how irrelevent age and experience have become -

In 1992-3, of the sport's thirteen different winning drivers, six had more than seven years Winston Cup experience while a seventh, Mark Martin, ran his rookie year in 1982, fell off the tour in mid-1983, then came back in 1988. Jump to 1999; of that season's eleven winners, only four had more than seven years experience. In 2006, only two drivers had more than seven years experience - Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Brian Vickers all had less than five years experience, and all but Kahne won races in their rookie season - in fact, one has to go back to 1998 and ill-fated Winston Cup washout Kenny Irwin to find the only other season in the last eight years a rookie failed to win.

So to say the hiring of Winston Cup quitters Ricky Rudd and Ward Burton for rides in 2007 is a mistake should be restatement of the obvious - and yet the reaction of fans that I've seen shows that this point isn't clear to a lot of people.


Is the Erin Crocker Error - err, Era - over yet? Apparantly not, as she tested in ARCA's late-December Daytona test and appears to have been demoted to ARCA with the disbanding of her Truck team. Given how poorly she did in her 2005 race outings, can anyone profess surprise that she was a washout in the Trucks? It makes one wonder what anyone could see in her as a racer, beyond following the gender mau-mauing of "diversity."

I could say she looks like a dorky version of Amy Grant, but that would be an insult to Amy Grant.


From the Whatever happened to.....? files - whatever happened to Bob Rahilly and Butch Mock? In the 1980s they had one of the unsung teams of NASCAR, the Rahmoc Racing Pontiac #75, a car that won with Neil Bonnett and should have won with Morgan Shepherd.


How far back has Ken Schrader been racing? The old Car & Track TV series filmed him at a NAMARS midget race during Speedweeks 1975.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been airing episodes of Car & Track in edited form and it's the best thing SPEED Channel has besides live race coverage.


Well, Happy New Year everyone.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

NASCAR's True Markets

NASCAR's attempt to get a speedway built in Kitsap, WA is still going nowhere fast despite continued effort, and that they're still even discussing such a project shows how off-track NASCAR has become with regard to its own identity.

NASCAR still thinks the Pacific Northwest and New York City are necessary markets, this despite the failure of Ontario Motor Speedway and Riverside International Raceway in the LA area and the mediocre popularity of the tracks at Fontana and Chicago. No one who supports building tracks in the Pacific Northwest and NYC can cite any instance where sponsors either left the sport or did not participate because of lack of speedways in so-called "big" markets like New York City, nor can one think of where the Fontana and Chicago tracks have brought in new sponsors or any serious influx of new fans.

The California area certainly has racing history, but not in LA or the big cities; it's been like it's been everywhere else in the US - the rural areas. Blogger MD80891 has noted how Hanford Speedway in central California was in a demographic far more suited to racing than big cities; the same is also true of Kansas Speedway and Kentucky Speedway. Most of NASCAR's other tracks are in superb racing demographics - a track like New Hampshire International Speedway would go nowhere in the greater Boston area, but in rural New Hampshire it sells out every year and is within easy communting of Boston, so that major market does get served. The same is true of Pocono, located within fairly easy range of NYC and Philly and which sells out every year even with its two Winston Cup dates so close together.

Rockingham was closed ostensibly because that demographic was saturated, although that argument is just a smokescreen by NASCAR's powers-that-be, shown by their effort to let Darlington die out. Darlington was cut to one date in 2005, but a funny thing happened - the fans refuse to let it die. Indeed, one can see where Fontana will eventually have to give back its second date to Darlington, since Fontana really isn't doing a good job supporting two dates and is in a poor racing demographic to begin with - and if anyone tries to cite Will Ferrell's abysmal NASCAR movie as proof that Fontana has helped expand NASCAR's demographic is more delusional than I thought.

One can even argue that a big superspeedway in California should never have been built near LA, but instead in the Hanford area. Certainly a Talladega-style superoval at Hanford would suit the sport's West Coast needs far better than Fontana has.

In the final analysis it comes down to what it's come down to for the sport forever - it is not suited to big urban demographics and should stop pretending to be something it isn't. It needs to stick to its true rural identity; go after rural areas and especially shore up those demographics the sport already has - which means keeping the dates presently taken at those tracks that serve the sport's true demographic.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

NASCAR Aerodynamics: A Short History

Amid all the controversy over the Car Of Tomorrow, it's worth looking back at the history of NASCAR aerodynamics, especially when one considers that the modern aerowars of NASCAR dated back 40 years ago this past season.

In 1966 NASCAR's factory wars had hit a rough stretch following the Chrysler boycott of 1965; the 1966 season would be marred by a Ford boycott. At Daytona Speedweeks, though, the Ford and Mopar contingents were out in full force following Dan Gurney's Riverside victory in the Wood Brothers Ford. Richard Petty dominated the 500 and this began a strong comeback year for Chrysler's Motor Parts division after the '65 boycott.

Largely unnoticed at that time, however, the 1966 Daytona 500 saw the introduction of a new bodystyle that would ignite a war of aerodynamics that would rage on and off for decades thereafter. The 1966 Dodge Charger was quite different from the other bodies campaigning the 500 - the nose was flatter than the other brands and the roofline and trunk area were one single sloped piece. The Charger campaigned primarily on big tracks, and in the first half of the season the car proved unstable. By the Firecracker 400 NASCAR had allowed Dodge teams to fit a tab, about two inches in height, to the rear deck to trap air onto the trunk area and thus stabilize the car. This rear spoiler proved valuable as Sam McQuagg drove Ray Nichels' Charger to victory.

Leeroy Yarbrough won the National 500 in Jon Thorne's Charger and Buddy Baker drove Ray Fox's #3 Charger to win the 1967 National 500; most Mopar big-track wins, however, still came with Plymouths, notably Petty Enterprises victory in the 1966 World 600 with Marvin Panch and three wins at Darlington with Richard Petty; Tom Friedkin's #14 Plymouth meanwhile added a dramatic comeback win in the 1967 600 with Jim Paschal.

Though the Charger was hardly a dominant car, its aerodynamic sleekness was directly copied by Ford for the 1968 season. Ford debuted fastback Ford Torinos and Mercury Cyclones, sporting the exact same body shape of the Charger 500 but with narrower side windows. Ford fought long and hard all season with Mopar and dominated the superspeedways; only the two Charlotte races, won by Buddy Baker in the Fox #3 and Charlie Glotzbach in Everett "Cotton" Owens' #6, went to Mopar that year; both were won in 1968 Dodge Chargers, sporting longer noses and flatter trunk areas than the '66-7 Charger.

When Richard Petty switched his Plymouth team to Ford for 1969, Chrysler went to work to reclaim the superspeedways, and in September came out with the most famous aero warrior ever to hit stock car racing - the Dodge Daytona, a shark-nosed high-winged monster that easily set new speed records. The Daytona ran four big-track races in late 1969, winning the boycott-marred Talladega 500 (Richard Brickhouse in the Ray Nichels #99) and the season-ending Texas 500 (Bobby Isaac in the Nord Krauskopf-Harry Hyde #71).

Chrysler then built Plymouth's twin to the Daytona - the 1970 Superbird, sporting a slightly wider nose than the Charger. Intended almost entirely to win back Petty, it succeeded, and Petty got the backing to run two cars on big tracks. Pete Hamilton bested David Pearson in the Daytona 500, then swept Talladega. Richard, meanwhile, recovered from a spin to win at Rockingham, then dominated Riverside, then took down wins at Trenton, the Dixie 500 at Atlanta, and Dover in the Superbird. The Daytona, meanwhile, won the Atlanta 500 with Bobby Allison in Mario Rossi's #22, the Yankee 400 at Michigan by with Charlie Glotzbach in Ray Nichels' purple #99, and the Southern 500 by Buddy Baker in the Cotton Owens #6.

But the 1969 Talladega boycott continued to affect the sport in 1970 because the speeds involved on the speedways was a major factor in that boycott; it was after testing in mid-summer that Bobby Allison, Bobby Isaac, David Pearson, and Paul Goldsmith suggested a power restrictor for carburators to slow the cars. At the Yankee 400 NASCAR debuted the restrictor plate, run on all tracks the rest of that season and on and off until mid-1974.

Ford's decision after 1970 to withdraw from the sport led to Chrysler's drastic cutback to two cars in 1971 and abandonment after that. NASCAR also restricted the winged Mopars to running 300-CID engines in hope they would be abandoned. The 1971 Daytona 500 nonetheless saw Mario Rossi campaign a Daytona with Dick Brooks as driver, and the car fought for the lead and came home in the top ten despite wreck damage. NASCAR then banned the winged cars outright; only on USAC's stock car tour did the winged cars continue; among wins for USAC winged stock cars was Roger McClusky at Pocono in 1972 in a Plymouth Superbird.

Even without the winged cars, though, the aeroization of the sport by 1971 had been astonishing. 1969 Mercuries were campaigned by most Ford teams while Mopars had the 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner or Dodge Charger, both arguably the best balanced cars aerodynamically, with the Dodge having a slight edge due to a sleeker nose. Between the bodies and the use of restrictor plates, the draft that had been notably less effective in the previous four or five years came back with a vengeance, seen in 48 official lead changes, an all-time motorsports record to that point, at the '71 Daytona 500. The draft was also effective at the new Ontario Motor Speedway two weeks later as the lead changed 28 times officially and more than that unofficially.

Charlotte Motor Speedway president Richard Howard, however, introduced a new angle in May with a 1971 Chevrolet driven by Charlie Glotzbach. The Chevy, built by Junior Johnson after he'd liquidated all his Ford equipment, bore some aerodynamic resemblence to the Plymouth Roadrunner and was competitive out of the gates, leading 70 laps at the World 600 and campaigning 13 races that year, winning at Bristol.

The 1970s were for the most part devoid of major aerodynamic changes. Chevrolet evolved into the common means of competitive transportation by 1975, and in that year a subtle change was made, as the slope-nosed Laguna S3 debuted at the Daytona 500 and won with Benny Parsons and the L.G. DeWitt #72 team. Used most often, though, was the notch-back mid-70s Monte Carlo, whose greater frontal resistance compared to cars like the Laguna or even the 1974 Dodge Charger provided a handling edge on the majority of tracks.

The late 1970s did see a significant aerodynamic change. For the 1978 season NASCAR banned the Laguna S3; it also allowed teams to campaign Chevrolet engines for the 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 and Buick Regal and Lesabre. The Western 500 at Riverside that January was a smorgasboard of body styles including Olds Cutlasses, '74 Dodge Chargers, Chevrolets, 1976 Mercury Cougers, and the 1978 Ford Thunderbird campaigned by Bud Moore's #15 team. Cale Yarborough won the Western 500 in an Olds and said, "The Olds is quite a racecar."

The Cutlass sported a distinctive twin-nostril grille on a sloped, slightly rounded nose, making it the sleekest car on the speedway. The Regal and Lesabre meanwhile sported a sloped grille not unlike that of the Laguna S3, but with flusher headlight covers. The Ford Thunderbird was similar in styling to its Mercury cousin but much bulkier.

For Dodge, however, the only choice available was the 1978 Magnum, featuring a notch-back, sloped headlights, and a large protruding grille. Parts supplies for Dodge teams were drying up by then, and in preseason testing the Dodge's handling sent up a red flag - "The Magnum is undriveable at 190," Richard Petty said in January 1978. Drivers of the Olds Cutlass said the same thing - "I can't drive the Olds, it moves around too much," said Donnie Allison that January. For the Cutlass, a major problem was the open rear quarter windows, which many said packed air inside the sloped rear glass.

For Daytona Speedweeks spoiler sizes were incrementally increased to add some stability, and the racing proved to be competitive. The 125s were won by A.J. Foyt in a Buick and Darrell Waltrip, driving a '76 Monte Carlo because "it's a proven product." The lead bounced around back and forth, sometimes four times in one lap, in the Twins, and Waltrip edged Petty in the final lap of his Twin where the lead changed hands twice - Waltrip after the Twin stated, "Richard Petty has the fastest car here," but in the 500 Petty pulled a three-car draft away from the field only to blow a tire and wreck out at Lap 60. For the 500 Bobby Allison won in Bud Moore's Thunderbird, using a handling edge to pull away from the sleeker Olds Cutlasses.

Complaints about instability caused NASCAR before the Atlanta 500 to add over an inch to the size of rear spoilers, and for the next three seasons the aero wars were a sideshow to the overall on-track competition. The Olds Cutlass won two Daytona 500s, the 1979 Atlanta 500, four of six starts at Talladega, and the 1978 Michigan 400, to go with a plethora of short track wins by Yarborough in 1978. By mid-1979, though, Cale had switched to the Monte Carlo for short tracks and intermediate supers, as the Monte Carlo proved a better handler than the slicker Cutlass - thus were NASCAR teams acquiring an understanding of downforce, though it would be much later that the term, and understanding of it, became a major componant of the garage area.


It was 1981 that an even more pivotal aerodynamic change was made. NASCAR mandated a complete changeover to 1981 bodystyles with 110-inch wheelbases, a change that turned into a running controversy as almost no bodystyle of the time was stable enough to race - proven in graphic fashion by a series of airborne melees at Daytona in preseason testing and preliminary racing before the 1981 500.

NASCAR increased spoiler sizes to over five inches in height by the start of the 500, which helped keep the cars on the ground. It also cracked down on the one bodystyle suited to racing, the 1981 Pontiac Lemans, a slope-backed racer campaigned by Bobby Allison and Ranier Racing and which dominated Speedweeks before losing the 500 on fuel mileage. By the Atlanta 500 the Lemans was allowed less than three inches of spoiler, and the car was effectively stricken for the season after that. Buick Regals all but monopolized victories, while the tank-like 1981 Ford Thunderbird pulled down seven wins that year, enough to help persuade Ford to reenter the sport for 1982, while Pontiac did the same.

Chevrolet soon followed, and debuted the flush-nosed Monte Carlo at Daytona Speedweeks 1983, a car that quickly replaced the Buick Regal as the common means of competitive transportation. Ford, meanwhile, did even better, debuting the raindrop-shaped Ford Thunderbird. Sporting a very rounded nose and roofline, the style owed more than a little debt to the '81-2 Pontiac Lemans that had caused so much controversy in the 1981 Daytona 500. Fords won four times in 1983 and again in 1984, but it was 1985 when Bill Elliott and Melling Racing exploded into prominence with their Thunderbird, campaigning a car that likely was 7/8ths scale, as the car proved undraftable almost everywhere and racked up 11 superspeedway wins; only a total collapse in the short track portion of the season's final third stopped Bill Elliott from an easy 1985 championship.

But that success detonated a new aero war in 1986. Buick and Oldsmobile stepped up their NASCAR efforts with slope-backed cars, Chevy debuted the Monte Carlo with radical sloped rear glass bolted onto the trunk area, and Pontiac came out with the even meaner-looking Grand Prix 2+2, sporting a flush grille and enormous sloped rear glass. Computer engineering also began entering the sport in a big way, and the long-time practice of "raking" a car's aerodynamics took on greater importance as rooflines and other areas of the cars began to get ground down and slickened more.

This combined with escalating horsepower to increase speeds well past 200 MPH, and a series of airborne melees tore up a lot of cars until Bobby Allison ripped out 100 feet of frontstretch fencing at Talladega in May 1987. NASCAR tried smaller carburators for the two remaining races at Daytona and Talladega that year, only to see Ken Schrader flip into Harry Gant and almost into the fencing in the trioval in the Firecracker and then Brett Bodine get upside down at Talladega in late July.

With the aero wars came a noticable weakening of the draft, which was now affecting ability to pass as the drafting wake off of a car that had been over 300 feet in the early 1980s had by 1987 shrunk to less than 100 feet. NASCAR now mandated restrictor plates for its two largest superspeedways for 1988, and spoiler size began to increase again as GM debuted its GM10 bodied racecars, rounded machines such as the Chevrolet Lumina. By 1993 spoilers had grown to 6.5 inches in height, and at that year's Daytona 500 it helped make drafting more effective, to where the lead changed hands 38 times officially and Dale Jarrett, driving for second-year team owner Joe Gibbs, gunned down the Lumina of Dale Earnhardt in one of the greatest Daytona 500s ever seen. The bigger spoilers also helped improve the draft a tracks like Charlotte, where the World 600 proved to be a spirited race-long battle, and Pocono, where that July the lead changed two to three times a lap on at least five seperate laps.

Speeds, however, were escalating even more, between horsepower, aerodynamics, and the introduction of radial tires during the Goodyear-Hoosier tire war of 1988-9. A series of airborne melees hit the sport in 1993, and when rookie Johnny Benson tumbled down Michigan's backstretch that August, NASCAR tested Ken Schrader's car with a restrictor plate at Charlotte. The plate was 1.25 inches in diameter, larger than that used on the big supers, and did not slow the car used by more than five MPH. Other drivers lobbied against using the plate, recommending instead that spoiler be reduced to five inches in height and the front airdam be raised to five inches off the ground. The reasoning was that the bodystyles were making so much downforce that corner speeds were too high; reducing downforce, so the argument went, would force drivers to lift for the corners and thus slow the cars. This became known as "the 5&5 rule," and in its first race, the National 500 at Charlotte, it failed spectacularly - the cars proved unable to close up on each other and Ernie Irvan, driving Robert Yates' Ford, led almost the entire race, the worst runaway at Charlotte since Leeroy Yarbrough's runaway win in 1966.

The 5&5 rule was quietly dropped after 1993, but in 1998 it came back, and was run for the entirety of the season. In the interregnum, meanwhile, Chevrolet came out with the 1995 Monte Carlo, a rounded, muscular bodystyle deliberately built with downforce as a primary goal. A controversial change to the car's rear deck allowed it to destroy its opposition in 1995 en route to 21 wins, but it also led to a precendent in NASCAR circles - after the Atlanta 500 in 1995 NASCAR confiscated one model of each competing make and tested them in Lockheed's windtunnel, this after Ford lobbied ferociously about the Monte Carlo. "(Billy) France felt like the manufacturers had lied to him," noted Shaun Assael in Wide Open: Days And Nights On The NASCAR Tour, and when they provided aerodynamic numbers he didn't understand, it was the final straw - he now determined that NASCAR would set the aerodynamics of the cars, not the manufacturers.

Windtunnel testing now became a norm of NASCAR and a series of spoiler changes came to equalize the three makes involved in the sport. Ford was eventually allowed to lower the MN12 Thunderbird's roofline and came out in 1996 with a flusher nosepiece, eventually going from eight wins in 1995 to 13 in 1996 and 17 in 1997; in the process they won 1997's manufacturer championship, one of six they'd win over the period of 1992-2002.

Pontiac, meanwhile, came out with a new Grand Prix in 1996, but the car teethed badly in its first year; initially submitted to SABCO Racing in latter 1994, the Grand Prix was to have been built for testing by March 1995, but SABCO refused to build one and eventually Petty Enterprises and Bahari Racing built the prototype, the project losing six months of lead time. The Grand Prix's unique aerodynamic characteristic was its twin-nostril nose and also its rear deck, sloped upward at the taillight areas and downward in the middle, an interesting approach to reducing drag without sacrificing downforce. The Grand Prix needed a new nosepiece by June of 1996, but broke through to win at Phoenix with Bobby Hamilton and the #43, and when GM switched Joe Gibbs' team to Pontiac for 1997 development of the car accelerated; in 1999 JGR and its two-driver tandem of veteran Bobby Labonte and rookie Tony Stewart erupted to eight wins while John Andretti and the Petty #43 rallied to win Martinsville and he and teammate Kyle Petty combined for some 18 top ten finishes. Also making noise that year was Ward Burton and the Bill Davis #22 Pontiac, contending almost everywhere for top tens.

As for the draft, it made a mini-resurgence in the 1995-6 period. "Drivers were telling me, 'Man, I can't believe what the draft's doing now,'" Ernie Irvan said during World 600 weekend in 1995; this was reflected in a hotly contested 600 and also a pair of hotly contested Pocono races in which the lead changed multiple times a lap on several occassions.


The aero wars took a few new twists in the early portion of the 21st century. The most spectacular twist came when NASCAR tested several cars with a strip across the roof and a wicker on the rear spoiler, designed to add drag and slow the cars down more. This roof spoiler package was tested in the summer of 2000 and debuted at Talladega in October 2000; the Winston 500 turned into the most exciting and celebrated race ever seen as the draft became unstoppable and the lead changed hands 49 times among 21 drivers. This package ran on the plate tracks in 2001 with tentative plans to begin integrating it onto other tracks after that, but the death of Dale Earnhardt and a massive wreck at Talladega in October 2001 set off a surge of driver demands to eliminate the roof spoiler package. NASCAR dropped the roof spoiler after that, though it came back for the Busch Series' plate races in 2004 and again proved supremely effective in improving the competitiveness of the racing.

The longer term twist came in 2003 when NASCAR mandated a basic aerodynamic shape for all makes, a process called aero-matching by NASCAR but more derisively referred to as common templates elsewhere. Following a 2003 season in which Ryan Newman won eight races and did so on several occassions by not pitting under late yellows and stretching his fuel, NASCAR cut spoiler to five inches for 2004 and less than that for 2005, in yet a third edition of the 5&5 rule, this after ferocious lobbying by Ryan Newman's erstwhile teammate Rusty Wallace. NASCAR involvement in the aerodynamics of the racecars then reached an ultimate degree with the design of the so-called "Car Of Tomorrow," a design-by-committee hybrid of a racecar and a racing Truck sporting a grotesque gap in the front airdam, a raised roofline, squared body, and wing on the rear deck.

The COT has tested throughout 2006 and has proven unraceable everywhere it has tested, but NASCAR to date has publically made clear it will campaign the car beginning in 2007. Whether this timetable actually comes to fruition remains to be seen (Robin Pemberton's recent denial of a report that NASCAR would delay introduction of the model comes across as the sanctioning body putting out fires instead of a believable response) as another chapter in NASCAR's aerodynamics history opens.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Iraq And Ignorance

Two items worth a look. First is Victor Davis Hanson's analysis of a potential increase in American forces in Iraq and also this look at basic ignorance of the enemy in the war against Islamo-Arab terror. The latter piece reinforces a point Hanson makes - the danger of liberal-inspired internecene warfare here in the US sabotaging our effort at victory in Iraq.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

NASCAR Magnum Opus

He's done it again - blogger MD80891 may be the most insightful NASCAR writer there is right now, and this magnum opus examination of various issues in the sport shows why.

Zor And Zam's Second Thoughts

Check this examination of a former war protester's mea culpa. It shows an understanding of the often-varied mindsets of war protesters and the conflict that rages within some of them.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Continuing COT Soap Opera

It may be the off-season as far as NASCAR goes but the reality is there is no such thing as an off-season anymore; teams build cars, test, and do everything short of racing during the interregnum between Homestead and Daytona.

The 2006-7 interregnum has taken on added importance because of the scheduled debut of the Car Of Tomorrow, the unpopular car/Truck hybrid scheduled to run 16 of 36 races in 2007. The importance of this off-season, though, has taken on more of the flavor of a soap opera as the rumor has raged that NASCAR will delay scheduled implementation of the COT, a rumor denied by Robin Pemberton of NASCAR. The denial, though, only stokes the rumor more, for it shows the truism that where's there's smoke, there's fire.

The truth of the matter is that the Car Of Tomorrow has been confounding its NASCAR creators to the point that a serious alteration of its 2007 schedule may be inevitable, whether through delay of its debut or a reduction in the number of races it runs. The costs involved and the great difficulty many teams have had in building them are just part of the issue; the bigger issue ultimately comes back to the machine's basic utility as a racecar.

Designed to be safer and less aero-dependent than present-generation racecars, the Car Of Tomorrow has consistently failed in on-track testing; nowhere has the car shown any improved ability to pass compared to present-day cars, and aero-dependency has arguably been worsened with the car's design. Certainly the gapped airdam with splitter practically begs for aeropush, while the rear wing has proven nothing as far as improved ability in dirty air. And the mythology the COT was built around - that the Craftsman Trucks are the best racing in NASCAR and that the cars should thus be squared up - is just that....mythology. The reality is the Craftsman Truck Series long ago wore out its novelty and has not provided that much memorable racing over most of its twelve seasons.

There is also the reality that NASCAR has created the COT to solve problems that have far simpler solutions. One of the most glaring examples lay in the gapped airdam with splitter; it is designed to deter use of ultra-soft springs in the front, springs that cost in four figures. But if NASCAR is that determined to prevent their use, why not simply issue less expensive springs to teams at the track every week? Granted this may not be the most ideal solution, but it's certainly far less expensive and more practical than the COT.

NASCAR's approach to the COT is reminiscent of NASA. Gregg Easterbrook has noted that NASA "constantly investigates low-cost Shuttle alternatives, finds a way to make them expensive, then abandons the project." This is a good encapsulation of NASCAR's inefficient approach to solving problems in general and to the COT in particular.

Under Brian Z. France NASCAR has pushed bad ideas and stuck with them despite manifest realworld evidence of their ineffectiveness - the Chase For The Championship is of course the signature example. Here, though, the reality of the idea's failure is beginning to catch up to NASCAR - dropping TV ratings and track attendence show no signs of improving as long as the Chase remains, and this inevitably adds up in lost revenue for the sport. The other major bad idea the sport has pushed - schedule realignment and its direct by-product in tracks in New York City and Kitsap, WA - has hit a dead-end, and thus the fundamental unsoundness of a bad idea has begun to catch up to NASCAR.

For the Car Of Tomorrow, that there has been so much trouble getting models built is yet another sign of a bad idea's fundamental unsoundness starting to catch up to NASCAR. Chances are there will be some races in 2007 where the COT competes in anger (a proposed usage of COTs in a non-points race at Daytona has been proposed), but even here there is reason to think that NASCAR may wind up with second thoughts about this bad idea, for Pemberton's denials notwithstanding, there is too little to gain from sticking with the Car Of Tomorrow.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Greg Engle Takes On The Blogosphere

Check this magnum opus look at the sport in response to writer Greg Engle. And Engle doesn't stop there as shown by his response here.

It shows the contrast in the Race-Stream Media's take on the sport compared to that offered by those with a more objective view.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Baker's Balderdash

The Iraq Study Group under James Baker released its report and it leaves almsot everything to be desired. It looked bad upon its first impression, while another impression shows the institutional lack of will to win in Washington, and the more one reads it the more holes one finds, to the point that the only summation one can make is the report is a waste of paper.

The basic objection one must have to this report is simple - it assumes we can't win in Iraq so we thus shouldn't try. How one can think that is puzzling, because when one cuts through the MSM's dishonest reporting on Iraq, the reality is the US effort is slowly and steadily succeeding - the longer democracy is guarded in Iraq, the stronger it will root itself in the region. And ultimately there isn't much in the report that is new or different from what the US has been attemtping all along.

One also has to remember that Baker is part of the "realist" wing of the foreign policy establishment, the wing that never recommeded actual action to protect US interests, even when this recommended inaction blew up in our face. That this "realist" wing isn't shows in what it misses.

Baker's Balderdash is about all one can say about this report. One can cite more credible alternatives to Baker's Balderdash - especially when one sees the report's contradictory nature - but there is ultimately one recommendation needed -

Win The Iraq War.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Few Doses Of Iraq Reality

The story that won't go away is the real story of Iraq. Amid the spectacle of terrorist attacks is the reality of hunting down the terrorists and killing them, and also the reality of continuing US success in rebuilding Iraq. Of course we have the spectacle of foreign policy "realists" who refuse to get it that winning is the realistic policy, not quitting masked as "redeployment." Foreign policy "realists" need a dose of reality themselves.

Also in need of a dose of reality is Nancy Pelosi, displaying a preposterously weak grasp on the reality of the Islamo-Arab enemy. A look at the history of Islamo-Arab imperialism is something in order as well.

Then there is the MSM, so desperate for the US to lose that it is becoming more and more audacious in its bogus reporting, as shown by a Washington Post story on an alleged classified report claiming the US has lost in Ramadi.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Getting Some Clarity On Iraq

With the elections mercifully over, the compulsively readable Victor Davis Hanson offers some big-picture clarity on Iraq. He also notes that for all their stupid rhetoric, the Democrats' lack of a credible alternative to Bush policies may mean they'll show lots of bark and little bite.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Homestead: One Hand Clapping

Homestead kicked off NASCAR's season finale with the Miami 200 for Craftsman Trucks, and a Truck season that can best be described as anticlimatic ended in fitting fashion, with another ho-hum triumph by Mark Martin and the inevitable driving title by Toyota's top dog, Todd Bodine. Not that the race itself was anticlimatic; it turned out to be downright exciting as Brendan Gaughn made a gallant effort not only to win anything for the first time since 2003, but also to salvage something out of a Truck Series lacking in compelling competition and increasingly facing a future as a one-marque series monopolized by the Toyota invasion.

Toyota's enormous edge in technology, money, and everything else a manufacturer can muster to win racing championships is as bad as many feared when the company first entered the Trucks in 2004. Mark Martin's win in a Jack Roush Ford is sympomatic of the lost cause that is the possibility of victory for a non-Toyota marque; it took Winston Cup Truckwacking for other brands to have any chance at winning in the Trucks. Terry Cook and Rick Crawford salvaged something for Ford and Ron Hornaday salvaged a pair of wins for Chevrolet, but other than this every other non-Toyota win was by a Winston Cup interloper.

The Truck Series saw 14 drivers win races, certainly a strong number, but with almost no non-Toyota winners among series regulars, the stat has a misleading quality to it. And for the interminable future it won't change, because Toyota will get almost nothing in the way of opposition next year, as GM is cutting back its less-than-credible effort in the Trucks via ending direct team sponsorships, while Ford's piddling effort shows no sign of improving and Dodge's enemic one-team campaign went winless in 2006 and likewise shows no future.

Forgive me for one hand clapping for the Trucks, but the series that held so much promise ten years ago can't be said to be on any upswing right now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rumsfeld, Phony Generals, And Idiot Intel

Two looks at the crucifixion of Donald Rumsfeld warrant attention. This look at the military's responsibility for things that have gone wrong in Iraq shows the absurdity of claims that Rumsfeld somehow ignored his generals in assessing progress in Iraq, while this more general look what are derisively called quitter generals raises some good questions about just how much effort some military leaders put into actually trying to win in Iraq.

It must be emphasized again that yes, there are serious problems in Iraq, but there still has been too much real progress there to quit, and still too much potential to succeed to quit. That we have irresponsible politicians willing to cut and run is bad enough; why we have generals willing to cut and run is beyond me, but a reminder of the generals' revolt is in order to see where Rumsfeld got stabbed in the back, as it were, as also seen here.

Speaking of stabbing in the back, it appears the Cover Your Ass CIA got help from the New York Times, and the release of intelligence documents from the Saddam Hussein era of Iraq has stopped. This is wrong, because those documents show the assumptions the CIA usually made with regard to Iraq and how wrong those assumptions always were.

Adding to idiot intel is Congressional interference. The irresponsibility of leftist politicians shows in their recent jockeying following the elections and with liberal editorials that continue to get Iraq wrong. Interestingly, the stock market rose sharply immediately after the elections on the belief that a Congressional stalemate will mean less interference in the market - not necessarily a faulty analysis. One should hope that a Congressional stalemate will mean they don't interfere with defeating the enemy in the Middle East, as much as some powerful people on Congress clearly wish to do. We have to prove we have staying power because that's what wins.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Ground Fraud

James Bowman has a brilliant skewering of the "documentary" genre in movies nowadays, noting the crass propaganda purposes alleged "documentaries" are intended to serve. The genre's decline can be traced to Bert Schneider's awful and inaccurate Vietnam War film Hearts And Minds from 1974, and it's only gotten worse with Michael Moore and his ilk.

Bowman skewers two such propaganda "documentaries," This Film Is Not Yet R-ated and The Ground Truth. The latter is yet another antiwar film centered on Iraq featuring alleged "veterans" so traumitized as to turn against their country's cause. One unnoticed lesson from Vietnam is that there is no such thing as an antiwar veteran, best shown in the book Stolen Valor and also the book Why We Were In Vietnam. This being the case, it is impossible to take the testimony of the men offered in The Ground Truth seriously, especially given their supposed naivete about what to expect in a war and also given the richly documented good the US is doing in Iraq, notably in the varied writings of Karl Zinsmeister in such works as Boots On The Ground.

The most offensive line in the film is one alleged "veteran" who, discussing the deaths of his buddies, says, "I tried to tell myself they died for a reason, but I couldn't think of one, I couldn't justify it to myself." Yeah, sure. If he was in Iraq, he saw the savagery of the Islamo-Arab enemy, he saw how we are striving to rebuild a dysfunctional culture into one of true peace; he saw the good we are doing there. Moreover, not one soldier in Iraq is anything remotely resembling an involuntary participant. And with regard to Vietnam, the above is exactly true there as well, with only one caveat - there were draftees there, but they constituted less than half the number of those who served there.

Is it too much to ask Hollywood to for a change do a pro-US movie, or a pro-Iraq War movie, or a pro-Vietnam War movie?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Reality Check For Brian France

Leave it to someone from well outside NASCAR's mainstream to give a much-needed reality check to Brian France. The consistent decline in ratings and attendence gets a hard look here and the reality check thus comes up. The sport won't bounce back because of a new TV deal with a network - ABC/ESPN - that long ago lost ability to cover sports well, nor will it bounce back because of Toyota, though the presence of another manufacturer can never be a negative.

If Brian France has any sense, he needs to ask some hard questions - why did the sport need to go after the pinkhat crowd? Why can't hard-fought races be entertainment enough; why the contrivances of The Chase For The Championship etc.? And where is the hard-fought competition, anyway? Where are the lead changes? Why the marketing overkill? Why not cooperate with other racing series for the benefit of racing in general? Why the Drive For Diversity, when such campaigns elsewhere never work? The inevitable result of the Drive For Diversity is beginning to show.

Brian France is in dire need of such a reality check.

But then right now Brian France has something more immediate to worry about.

If They Change Strategy........

If, in the wake of Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, they change strategy in Iraq, they should give serious consideration to this sharp, if overly pessimistic, analysis by Armed Liberal, who notes some areas that should have been noticed by others earlier, notably a surprising lack of interaction between American soldiers and Iraqis. He also makes a good point about relying too much on the fact of elections rather than what happens beyond them, though one shouldn't underestimate how the fact of elections, even in the face of a determined enemy effort to stop them, struck a major blow to the enemy's ability to terrorize - after all, elections in Central America during Soviet Russia's guerrilla war by proxy there in the 1980s struck a blow that helped with their evenutal defeat by the end of that decade.

BTW, aren't the antiwar types protesting Iraq some of the same ones protesting US resistance to Communist incursion in Central America back then?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pre-Phoenix Miscellenia

With the Phoenix 500k beckoning, some miscellenia -


Matt Borland will not be with Ryan Newman's #12 team the rest of this season. While his departure is reported to be for "personal reasons," it doesn't take much effort to suspect that it's more than that, since the Borland-Newman effort in 2006 has been spotty to say the least.

Borland has been Newman's crew chief throughout his Winston Cup career, and when Roger Penske elevated rookie Newman to the WC level in late 2001 the signs of greatness became clear with a runner-up finish at Kansas. A win at New Hampshire in 2002 followed, and Newman was ready for the next level.

That came when Dodge brought Penske Racing into the fold, in the process sabotaging the One Team approach they'd had from their Truck debut in 1996. Newman and Borland erupted to eight wins in 2003, but the seeds of their downfall were planted by the jealousy of their teammate, Rusty Wallace, who stopped cooperating with the Newman-Borland effort and furiously lobbied NASCAR for a reduction in downforce on the cars and softening of tires - Newman periodically won races by not pitting for fresh tires and thus stretching his fuel, an option made possible by the larger downforce and harder tire package the sport had in place in 2003.

When NASCAR reduced downforce and went with softer tires in 2004, it was advertised as making the racing better. That it did not achieve this result was clear from the start, but for Ryan Newman the results were worse than that, as he slipped to just two wins in 2004 and only one in 2005. He became one of the most prolific pole-winners the sport had ever seen but it never mattered as his races week after week became exercises in frustration. Entering the final races of 2006 Newman is winless, and one cannot feel much confidence in him breaking this skid.

If Borland does not come back to the Penske team, a new chapter in Newman's career will have opened, but one will have to wonder, regardless of who is crew chief is, whether Newman really has the capability of recovering from the downfall from his one season of dominance.


One should also ask questions about Mark Martin. At the National 500 he plowed into J.J. Yeley as Yeley ducked off of Turn Four to pit. Blame was laid on Yeley, who'd earned the ire of many drivers over the season in general and at Richmond in particular based on scanner quotes. But at Texas during practice Tony Raines began to pit and Martin plowed into him.

What has happened to Mark Martin to get involved in two such incidents within a month of each other?

In a related development, Roush's game of musical crew chiefs continues with the #26 and #99 efforts swapping over chief wrenches - Bob Osborne goes to Edwards and Wally Brown to McMurray. Musical crew chiefs is a game that rarely goes well and tends to be a sign of desperation. The comparative fall of the Roush effort from 2005 can of course be traced to the hiring of Jamie McMurray, the talented but underachieving racer from Joplin, MO to replace Kurt Busch in the 2004-title-winning Ford. It became clear by May that McMurray was not fitting well with the Roush effort, and getting all five cars to run on the same page was disrupted enough that, even though the organization is among the biggest in racing, it's become less of a sure thing to see a Roush Ford win.

So the question becomes - does McMurray need a new crew chief, or does he have to adjust his driving style to what works for the Roush oragnization?


There's been more talk from Greg Pollex about Buschwacking and how an eventual conversion to "IROC" body styles - Mustangs, Camaros, etc. - may help alleviate the practice. I'm amazed it has not been pointed out that those body styles in NASCAR trim won't handle that differently from what is run at the Winston Cup level; one should look at tracks like Stafford Speddway in CT where Late Model drivers jump into SK Modifieds and vice versa - Todd Owen is the best individual example - and get a performance edge because they ran the previous feature that night and gained that extra realtime track knowledge.


Kyle Petty had been sleepwalking for some time as a racer. Critics have often put the mouth to him that he was never serious nor talented enough to race Winston Cup, and that isn't fair. What is fair is to say he had not pushed the pedal hard enough the last few years, especially when Robbie Loomis took control of the racing arm of Petty Enterprises and Bobby Labonte, a driver whose style and personality get along with Kyle's close enough to make mutal feedback work, joined the #43.

When the playoff period of the Winston Cup season began, they made a crew chief change, slotting Paul Andrews with the #43 and bringing Bill Wilburn to the #45. To say that it's worked well is an understatement, especially for Labonte and Andrews, whose competitive spark has been rather astounding. More importantly, what Wilburn has brought to Kyle's effort has been not just changing chassis geometries and other hardware aspects - he's brought a take-charge approach as a crew chief. And the improvement in Kyle Petty's driving has become tangible, to where entering Phoenix Kyle can put some distance back into the top-35 lock-in area of owner points. From where Kyle had fallen this season, this is improvement upon which to keep building for 2007.


The story goes that NASCAR dyno-tested Truck engines after Texas and Toyota outpulled everyone else in power. The question thus becomes - given how thoroughly Toyota has crushed everyone else in Trucks, will there be a change like the cylinder-width reduction that hurt Dodge's effort after 2002?

And so it is with Phoenix around the corner.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Liability That Is Liveshot

Two good pieces examine the bizarre junior Senator from Massachusetts after his slam on American servicemen who are serving in Iraq.

Of course "bizarre" is something of a relative term given the tenured senior Senator who's survived cheating at Harvard to slandering American servicemen himself during the battle of Hamburger Hill (which earned a brilliant skewering by Dylan McDermott in the 1987 movie about that battle) to his infamous car crash where he left Mary Jo Kopekne to die to his endless leftism in general. Even so, John Forbes Kerry is a piece of work, the heart and soul of the Democratic party while at the same time being one of its more graphic liabilities.

Of course Liveshot Kerry gets his comeuppance.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A More Optimistic Epistle On Iraq

With mid-term elections coming we're hearing a lot of paincky talk about how Iraq is lost, that the US has failed, and so forth. A more optimistic epistle is needed, because Iraq has come too far from Saddamite tyranny to collapse or be allowed to collapse.

"Iraq has slipped into civil war," reads one of the standard assertions. Even today the MSM and the Democrats don't know what a real civil war looks like and even the most pessimistic accounts of Iraq don't come close to a real civil war. And virtually no one has noticed that escalation of violence by guerrillas and anti-democratic militias is aimed almost exclusively at US TV cameras. Given the abysmal quality of the MSM's coverage of the war it's pretty obvious that the enemy wants to make it look worse than it is, and is succeeding with the MSM.

There is also the cheapshot coverage of Donald Rumsfeld and the rote that he must be fired as Defense Secretary, that he no longer has the respect of the services, etc. That a great deal of resentment comes not from ineptitude on his part but from a military establishment that is generally resistant to change (remember the campaign for the Crusader artillery gun that Rumsfeld vetoed, for one) is of course never considered; his big "blunder" in Iraq likewise has less to it than the critics think.

We of course also hear the rote that "we didn't send enough troops." That we're building a national Iraqi army, that it has been involved in taking charge of fighting the enemy, and that we've generally been on the offensive against guerrilla and militia holdouts, is of course glossed over.

The reality is things are very tough in Iraq, that the task of finishing off the enemy is very daunting. But the fact is we ARE succeeding, even though so many don't wish to notice. We are succeeding because we have finally taken the initiative against Islamo-Arab imperialism and the enemy knows we are succeeding. General Wesley Clark has put out commericials repeating the rote that the war in Iraq has increased terrorism, ignorant as always about the difference between offense and defense and ignorant that the enemy is now on the strategic defensive. Osama Bin Laden hasn't been captured - so what? His organization is in ruins, his two largest base nations (Iraq and Afghanistan) are no longer bases or sanctuaries for him, and the only "attacks" he's able to launch are small-scale acts of violence with little strategic value or effect.

The Democrats want us to lose because they don't take the threat seriously, not now and not before. They fear US success; they don't have genuine concern for American lives - they speak unctuously about slain American servicement only to score propaganda points, as shown by John Kerry's insult to American servicement presently fighting in Iraq.

The reality is we are in Iraq because we have to be, and we need to stay the course, because doing so will achieve success. The Islamo-Arab enemy knows this, and this is reason enough to support winning in Iraq.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Borges Gets Burned

Incredibly, someone has published a piece on Broadsheet Bully Ron Borges trying to take his side of his controversial career, though few can take it seriously, especially when Borges tries to defend his infamous January 2006 intimation about Bill Belichick by claiming he was referring to golf trips by Belichick during Superbowl 39 week. Problem is that defense doesn't wash with the truth of the matter with Borges, and one gets the impression Borgie's lame excuse is because his intimation (unspoken but all too obvious to those who heard and read the transcript of the conversation in question) of a love affair by Belichick with a married woman blew up in Borgie's face with a recent divorce lawsuit by the estranged husband of the NY Giants' former secretary, a lawsuit that has swept up Belichick.

Borges is a regular guest host on Michael Felger's ESPN Radio afternoon show in Boston and his growling description of Bill Belichick as "a putz" on the November 1, 2006 broadcast (this in connection to Belichick not issusing a fawning praise of former PK Adam Vinitiari) is in keeping with the lack of credibility of Borges.

It's why, contrary to the puff piece on Borges, he's not needed for Boston sports - or anyone else's.

Texas At Ten Seasons

Texas Motor Speedway hosts its twelfth Winston Cup race as it completes its tenth season. The track's still-short history has been checkered to say the least, and ultimately leaves a less-than-delicious taste in the mouth.

The track's arrival in Winston Cup remains a bitter chapter in the sport's history; when Bruton Smith bought half of North Wilkesboro Speedway it was to close it for Texas, a track he'd begun building in early 1995. Bruton claimed that NASCAR's Billy France promised him a Winston Cup date, a claim France long denied and for which Bruton never produced any proof. Shuttering North Wilkesboro gave him a Texas date, but Bruton wanted two dates, and a lawsuit by a track shareholder (who most believe was merely a front for Bruton) eventually blackmailed NASCAR into cutting the Southern 500 and limiting Darlington to one race while also cutting Rockingham to one race and finally shutting the track down after February 2004. No doubt Kentucky Speedway would never have filed a lawsuit of its own had Texas not effectively bullied NASCAR into granting their wish.

Texas' genesis in the sport thus is a stain on the sport's history.

The treacherous transitions to and from the turns became an issue in preseason testing in 1997 and erupted in a crash-strewn Texas 500 in 1997. Some alterations were made after 1997 but broken drainage hampered 1998 qualifying and more melees in the ensuing race fed rumors that it would cost the track its Winston Cup date - though even then most could see that Mike Helton of NASCAR lacked the spine to carry out anything close to such a threat.

The turns were banked higher at their transitions after 1998 and the treacherous nature of its first two seasons was over, but the track even after that has never been a good racetrack for stock cars. Competitive stock car races at Texas have been almost nonexistent; the 40-lead-change barrier has yet to be approached, never mind broken, at Texas.

But Texas' Jekyll & Hyde personality turns on a dime when the IRL races there. A scoring breakdown in 1997 led to the embarassing spectacle of the wrong car winning the race, but in 1998 a vivid multilap battle for the lead ended in victory by A.J. Foyt's team driven by Billy Boat, and in June 2000 the IRL's Alamo 300 exploded into a nearly-unprecedented epic of sidedrafting for the lead, ultimately won by Scott Sharp over Robby McGehee.

Panther Racing, formed by John Barnes with help from former football quarterback Jim Harbaugh, arrived in force at Texas in 1999, winning with Scott Goodyear; Goodyear then won at Texas in October 2000 after a hot battle at the finish with Eddie Cheever. But it was Sam Hornish who put Panther Racing's stamp on racing history with an even greater epic war for the win ending in a photo-finish in October 2001, then did it again in October 2002 in yet another photo-finish win, this one over future Penske Racing teammate Helio Castroneves.

As the draft has weakened for IRL cars the last few years the intensity of racing at Texas has dropped dramatically, and Texas cut its second IRL date after 2004; even so the IRL at Texas remains must-see racing.

NASCAR, though, remains the track's bread-and-butter, and the 2006 Chase may come close to clinching in November 2006. Kasey Kahne is the early favorite but Jimmie Johnson has begun coming on strong, and the wildcard of non-Chasers has intensified with Tony Stewart's wins and strong efforts by Bobby Labonte.

Whatever the outcome, it will get a typically opulent Texas celebration as the speedway continues on from its troubled first ten seasons in the sport.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Resign, Senator Kerry

By now you've probably heard about John Kerry's insufferably insulting "joke" about American soldiers in Iraq. Of course Liveshot's "joke" reflects the bigoted hatred of the US that permeates a Democratic party willing to falsify heroism to disparage an important mission, a hatred that is spread far and wide by the Mainstream Media and which gets consistently sympathetic treatment in Hollywood, whether it be subtle or in the case of Michael Moore anything but subtle.

That liberalism does not want the US to win in Iraq or anywhere else for that matter is the hate that the MSM - or as it may be referred to encompass its Hollywood/entertainment industry allies, the Dominant Media Culture - will make sure dare not speaks its name. But for all the Dominant Media Culture's spin, they cannot change that it is a hate crime the same as that inflicted on MSM-approved "victim" groups.

This explains the MSM's abysmal coverage of Iraq, a nadir of which is reached in Newsweek's deceptive "We Are Losing" cover story on Iraq. The hatred of the US is so vast that the MSM will never allow coverage of the war that even hints that the US was right to invade Iraq or right to stay there and win the war, never mind coverage that indicates that we are in fact winning. It is the reason for the rise of the blogosphere, as welcome a break on the Dominant Media Culture's stranglehold on information as any to come along in decades.

As for Seantor Kerry, he has forfeited any right to continue to serve in any governing capacity in this country. He has fought the "good" fight for the interests of America's enemies from Soviet Russia (of which the North Vietnamese/Vietcong were allies in aggression) through Islamo-Arab imperialism, and has expressed that basic contempt for legitimate powers through his insufferable insult to defenders of said legitimate powers.

Resign, Senator Kerry. Do the right thing for once in your life.

FOLLOW-UP: a very funny correspondance to Liveshot.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Can You Trust The MSM On (Or In) Iraq?

No, you can't. The shoddiness of MSM reporting in Iraq gives new meaning to the Vietnam-era term of derision for soldiers deployed behind the front lines - REMFs.

These MSM REMFs too often dwell on what supposedly went wrong before, except that's not what really matters.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

US Still On The Offensive In Iraq

First it is necessary to repost this October 17, 2006 entry:

Liveshot Kerry recently gave another canned speech claiming Iraq is a "mess" and wailing about American casualties. Predictably there is a lot more to it than the MSM lets on, because what we're seeing is that the US is still on the offensive (strategic and tactical) in Iraq and the trends of recent show the enemy is indeed losing.

Of course several recent books would have you think otherwise, until one looks more closely at them.

FOLLOW-UP: Here is an interesting analysis that points out that the kind of war we are in is not one that has short-term solution but which nonetheles can produce victory.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Car Of Tomorrow Revolt Now Out In The Open

I guess we can say that opposition to the Car Of Tomorrow within NASCAR has come out into the open, especially since NASCAR's own website published a piece detailing how widespread opposition to the concept really is. It's a little bit remarkable that NOL would can the spin on the COT and actually give some honest analysis of the issue. I say a little bit because the COT's failings have become too manifest to deny.

Apparantly the recent Homestead test was something of the final straw as far as glossing over the COT's failure on the racetrack. Once again the Car Of Tomorrow refused to drive well, refused to show much ability to pass, and it pushed in dirty air worse than present-generation cars. So the question thus becomes - with the car's universal record of failure in testing, can NASCAR continue this farce?

NASCAR has been pretty pigheaded on the COT - John Darby's comments in particular are pigheaded - shown by the fact it has allowed testing to continue as it has and is sticking with its schedule of phasing in the COT over the next three seasons. Somehow, though, I'm at a loss to believe that NASCAR really will go through with what is so clearly a bad idea - phasing in a racecar design that is fundamentally unsound.

Comparison with 1981's forced introduction of shorter-wheelbase cars has some validity in that those cars proved more dangerous than the late-70s models the teams had been running. The key difference then is that it wasn't economically feasible to hold onto the late-70s models. Such is not the case with the Car Of Tomorrow - there is no economic reason to convert to this model, never mind having any other kind of reason to race it.

There simply is no valid reason for the Car Of Tomorrow, and why NASCAR remains in denial about it continues to frustrate people involved in the sport.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Some More Iraq Stuff - Lancet Fraud Rebutted

This is a repost from October 11:

Check out two interesting takes on Iraq, particularly this skewering of Bob Woodward's book and also Glenn Reynolds' look at the most recent picture there with links to some much-needed dissenting analysis on the feeling that the US has lost momentum in Iraq of late.

There is also the incomparable Victor Davis Hanson with this rebuttal to claims the US has no strategy in Iraq and also a look at a book optimistic of ultimate US success there.

FOLLOW-UP: The repost was necessary to lead into this rebuttal to The Lancet and its preposterous 665,000 figure for Iraqi deaths since the defeat of Saddam Hussein; see also this rebuttal.

Get The Bidwells Out Of The Arizona Cardinals

To comprehend the embarassing 24-23 loss by the Arizona Cardinals to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, you should read this 2004 examination of Cards owner Bill Bidwell's Mob connections and also find a copy of Sports Illustrated's July 26, 2005 print issue for a scathing look at Mike Bidwell, Cardinals VP.

The NFL needs to help someone in Arizona who is a real football person and who wants to purchase the Cardinals from the Bidwells, for this team will go nowhere with the Bidwells.

Mea Culpa circa 2016:The Cardinals since then have gone to a Superbowl and posted consistent playoff seasons, especially from 2013 onward.

Brian France In Denial

Brian France remains in denial about the recent erosion of popularity of NASCAR. His comments about maintaining two annual dates at Fontana, drops in attendence, and drops in TV ratings display the denial that has permeated his tenure in NASCAR. Sagging attendence he blames on fuel prices, pointing to Talladega's sellout crowd and some other tracks. That, though, doesn't wash because attendence was down at Talladega last year when fuel prices were lower and this past May Talladega attendence surged to a sellout even with the spike in fuel prices.

He further blames lack of promotion of the sport by outgoing TV partner NBC, except the ratings are down across the board, with Charlotte's National 500 ratings down some 14%.

Fontana has not sold out any race since 2003 and attendence there has never struck anyone as really animated. That it may be because it is not a good racing market and that the competitive product NASCAR presently has isn't that good does not seem to be taken into consideration.

I've never seen much outside confidence in Brian France, and certainly he's done nothing to date to give me reason to think he knows what he's doing. The Car Of Tomorrow, the Drive For Diversity, expansion into new markets - all are programs that don't work yet continue to get the push from him. The COT's recent test at Homestead went the way all the other COT tests have gone - the car pushed badly, could not pass, and was slow. Fontana is not a good racing market, and NASCAR's rather heavy-handed push for tracks in New York City and Seattle has blown up in their face, proving that new markets are not worth the effort that should instead be used in shoring up existing markets. The Drive For Diversity is the same as everyone else's drives for diversity - pursuing a project in order to make someone feel better about themselves.


Ironically, it dovetails with the firing of Steve Lyons by FOX Sports for innocuous remarks to Lou Pinnella during a baseball playoff game - Lyons was fired because his remarks were said to be "racially insensitive" even though a listen to the full conversation showed no such insensitivity - and why anyone is supposed to be "sensitive" to start with is a mystery. The firing of Lyons was motivated strictly by wanting someone to feel better about themselves.

Thomas Sowell had a book subtitle for such an attitude - Self-Congradulation As The Basis For Social Policy. It's not the way a network is supposed to operate, and it's not the way for a racing sanctioning body to operate. Brian France needs to come to grips with all of this.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Stefanik's Seventh Off Terrible Ted's Terrible Finish

Thompson Speedway's World Series of Racing was supposed to be the final race of NASCAR's Whelen Modified Series season, but a rainout at Stafford's Fall Final forced a rescheduling to October 28th, so Thompson became the penultimate race on the Mod Tour's season. But while it was not the last race of the year, it still proved to be the decisive one in the race for the Mod Tour's championship.

Mike Stefanik entered Thompson's XTRAMart 150 99 points ahead of Ted Christopher, and that Terrible Ted was in any contention for the championship is one of the stories of the American motorsports year; when his former team under Jimmy Galante disintegrated in mid-June, Christopher's chances to even finish the racing season looked over, until Ed Whelen opened his #36 Chevrolet to Christopher and Teddy responded with his patented racing strength. Stefanik's muscle, however, was enough that at Thompson, Christopher had to win the race and hope Stefanik had a poor finish in a 32-car field.

As it happened, for a long time it appeared it would play out this way. The 150 was the final card on Thompson's annual October smorgasboard of short-track action, and the tone for this year's affair was set in the first fearure, the Pro Stock 50-lapper, where Fred Astle Jr. and Dave Berghman were the point men of the field but found that the high line of the banking was the fastest line; on several occassions Berghman squeezed alongside Astle down low but could not get any particular bite on the bottom.

The roughness of the day quickly established itself with numerous spins and wrecks; Scott Rutherforth spun three times in the first 30 laps but it all got worse when he collided with James Longley and Dennis Krupski down the frontstrtech; he flipped over, rode his left-side door for some 100 feet, then landed on his roof entering One, bounced off the wall, and then erupted in flame as the car slid down the banking.

It was after this red flag that Berghman made the winning move, passing Astle on the two-abreast restart from the high line. On a Lap 42 restart Astle used the high line and retook the lead but the pass was nullified when Wayne Dion crashed and the lap was not completed, so Berghman held the lead and didn't let Astle snooker him again to the checkered flag.


With the high line proving to be the fast way throughout the myriad features of the day, the Mod Tour proved not to be different in that regard. Tony Hirshman led early before Christopher asserted himself. The 150, though, soon became a battle of attrition as a multicar melee erupted in One past Lap 50 and involved Doug Coby and Renee Dupuis among others. As the race soldiered past Lap 100 both Hirshman and Stefanik's day almost ended in the final 50 laps in a five-car melee on the backstretch when Hirschman skidded sideways and Bobby Grigas III plowed over his left-front tire; Stefanik spun behind this wreck and didn't hit anything - and from such breaks are championships often won.

Christopher cycled through numerous pit sequences for the leaders amid the numerous yellows and as the race wound through its final 25 laps he had the lead and steadily inched away, while racing for second was John Blewitt III, the NHIS Mod Tour champ, with whom Christopher had had some encounters before, notably an incident at Thompson earlier this season.

Amid all this Mike Stefanik found it hard sledding just to stay in the top ten. When Billy Pauch Jr., driving the #06 Dodge, crashed with eight to go (and putting the period to his rough, spin-marred day) it set up a four-lap spurt to the finish......

And it changed the entire dynamic of the race and the points battle. Blewitt III stayed tight with Christopher and with two to go Blewitt made the move off Two, clawed up to Christopher's door bars, and then both cars fused together and hammered the wall in Three, a wreck that effectively ended Christopher's title hopes. It also handed the race to Reggie Ruggerio, who escaped a nasty pileup on the last lap involving Matt Hirschman and darkhorse Richard Savory, who'd hung tough all race long in the top five.

The Reg's win was a popular one with the crowd, while Stefanik was definately relieved to have finished the race. "I guess it is over as far as the points go. The car got tight and the front end got bent up in (Hirschman's) crash. I went spinning in the infield with Tony Hirschman. I saw the 09 (Grigas) make it three wide and felt it would become ugly. It spun through the infield and it bent up the front and the car wasn't as good as it had been."

The race was comparable to a minefield. "There were a lot of guys paying back for anything that happened to them tonight," Stefanik said. "There was very aggressive racing. It didn't used to be like this. It seems a lot of people owe people things and aren't afraid to pay them back. I don't like seeing racing like that, I like it the way it used to be because it seems like it's getting rougher and rougher."

"You could pass on fresh tires," Stefanik continued, "but it seemed like everyone was so tight they had to use all the racetrack."

With his seventh Modified Series title, Stefanik now has nine titles in NASCAR touring competition when one remembers his two Busch North championships in the late 1990s. "Nine championships ties Richie Evans, and he was always my hero. He gave me a break when he let me drive his car when I was 21. Having Richie Evans have the confidence in me to let me drive his car was pretty awesome."

No doubt, Mike Stefanik will be spoken of in the same sentences as Richie Evans in the ranks of NASCAR greats.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bill Elliott Spouts Off

Bill Elliott's new book has come out recently, and a lengthy excerpt attacking NASCAR's safety record got published recently. Soon after the excerpt's publication, Elliott failed to qualify for the National 500 at Charlotte; cynics might snicker about the coincidence.

It is of course a coincidence. As for Elliott's excerpt, it deserves some analysis, because the major area of concern in the piece is NASCAR's continuing refusal to build a traveling medical staff for its races. NASCAR uses in-house track medical teams for its races and this is a sore spot with Elliott, who gives the strong impression to the reader that drivers are almost in as much danger from track medical teams as they are in actual crashes.

Elliott relates how his wife Cindy led an effort to form a traveling medical team and mobile trauma unit for NASCAR in 1996-7, an effort rejected by NASCAR. The more one delves into this issue, though, the less impressive becomes the argument for a traveling medical staff.

Elliott relates "you end up with a well-intentioned hodegpodge of local paramedics who have little knowledge of the specific safety and health issues that arise (in racing crashes) and little personal knowledge of the drivers and their records." Elliott cites an incident in the last few years at an unnamed Winston Cup race "where so many track workers crowded the car that EMTs could barely get to the driver."

In the case of medical people with little knowledge of the drivers and their records, a few years back a medical worker with a Winston Cup track (requesting anonymity) related to me that one big reason for this is that the drivers didn't even bother to meet the medical people or provide them with records; with race weekends becoming preposterously shorter the drivers are taking less and less time to meet the medical staffs at racetracks.

Elliott relates the story of Alex Zanadri's September 2001 crash in Germany where his legs were sliced off and Steve Olvey of CART's medical team saved his life. But can anyone seriously argue that the in-house medical staff of a Winston Cup track would somehow botch such an effort? Having lived through such near-disasters as Bobby Allison's 1988 Pocono crash and Stanley Smith's near-fatal melee at Talladega in 1993, I cannot for the life of me believe that a Winston Cup track would not have saved Zanardi's life as well as Doctor Olvey and his team.

Citing Indycar racing's traveling medical unit and their safety record ignores that Indycar racing endured a bloody period in the 1990s and early portion of the 2000 decade where drivers and spectators were getting killed almost every year, from Jovy Marcelo to Scott Brayton, to the near-fatal skyborne melee involving Alessandro Zampedri at Indianapolis in 1996, to Jeff Krosnoff and Gary Avrin's deaths at CART's Toronto GP, to Emerson Fittipaldi's near-paralyizing and career-ending crash at Michigan, to the deaths of spectators some 25 rows up the grandstands by flying wheel assemblies at Michigan and in IRL's aborted 1999 Charlotte race, to Greg Moore's death at Fontana, to Sam Schmicht's accident, to Zanardi's crash, and to Kenny Brack's near-fatal tumble at Texas. If you cite open wheel racing's safety record, don't be so smug as to assume it's really that much better than NASCAR's.

The Elliott excerpt at times becomes almost an infomercial for the Car Of Tomorrow as he argues for roomier cockpits - I'm still puzzled about that whole issue because I've never heard of an incident where a driver was trapped in a car specifically because the roofline was too small. He then goes off on the tired old rant about restrictor plates and how they supposedly cause more accidents because fields are more congested. Elliott forgets the fields were not congested in the 1970s restrictor plate era even though lead changes skyrocketed, and he also forgets that the fields in the first five or six years of the modern plate era weren't particularly congested. And as for the safety argument, it never worked because it has never been the "big one" melees that have caused injury - it's always been the "smaller" wrecks in more strung-out circumstances at other tracks; if anything the drivers are safer in those packs at Talladega than they are strung out at places like Atlanta and Charlotte, which have seen many a wreck in which being strung out merely gave a car a running start before impact - such as the wreck that all but ended Tina Gordon's career in 2004, Micky Hudspeth's severe melee at Atlanta in 1996, and many others.

Elliott says that NASCAR's use of restrictor plates "(is) using the cover of safety to manipulate the field into three-wide racing and closer finishes.....(the result is that) NASCAR (looks) more and more like hockey." Establishing a competitive parameter that maximizes the number of cars battling for the win - uh, isn't that part of what race sanctioning bodies are supposed to do? And looking more and more like hockey? That's a compliment, because competition at its best looks a lot like hockey - hockey is about coast to coast puck movement, hard checking, lots of shots on the goal, and goals. In racing, that kind of intensity is supposed to be the norm, and then some.

What transpired at Talladega with 63 lead changes among 23 drivers is the template for what great racing is supposed to be - this race makes all the other races not run at Talladega or Daytona this decade look dull. How can one not prefer this kind of racing?

Elliott thus misses the overlooked key element of the safety debate - the cars are some 25 MPH too fast almost everywhere they race. Why does NASCAR racing need 180-plus MPH speeds at Charlotte or Chicagoland? Why isn't 150 at a place like Pocono fast enough? Reducing speeds may not be foolproof - nothing is - but can it really not be more effective than the safety changes that have already been implemented?


Elliott also gets to Dale Earnhardt and the breakage of his seatbelt in his fatal crash. Some mythology needs to be cleared up here - my understanding is that Earnhardt's belt was properly installed. The story goes that he was using a pull-up belt, where the adjuster is underneath the driver, as opposed to more common pull-down belts; Earnhardt switched to pull-up belts after he tumbled in his Busch car during 1989 Speedweeks practice and the adjuster cut into his chest.

And in noting NASCAR's reactive record on safety, Elliott inadvertantly cuts to a real heart of the matter in noting how NASCAR did not take action on pit safety until the death of Elliott's crewman Mike Rich in 1990. This actually shows where NASCAR often gets it wrong. In examining what to change in the wake of Rich's death, virtually no one noticed the effect brought on by NASCAR's then-still-new rule closing pit road when a caution flies. Before 1989 drivers often dove into the pits before taking a yellow, and pit crowding was far less frequent than today. The rule closing pit road led to far greater pit crowding and several scary pit crashes ensued - Jimmy Spencer rammed into the air by Darrell Waltrip at Talladega in 1989; Stanley Smith hit by Jim Sauter and plowing into Tracy Leslie's pit crew with Leslie's car on the jack at Talladega in 1990; several pit collisions during 1990 previous to the fateful November 1990 Dixie 500. Pit collisions have continued, most notoriously at Homestead in 2001 that led to the requirement for pit crews to wear helmets.

Elliott has missed the point that this all illustrates the absurd approach NASCAR has often used - instead of attacking the core problem (here the pit closure rule), it attacks symptoms. It's as if NASCAR does not want to admit they were wrong to implement the pit closure rule to begin with, and this myopic approach has colored a lot of NASCAR's management of the sport since the early 1990s - the field freeze and lucky dog rules, both ostensibly related to safety but which provide ample opportunity to manipulate the racing, are further graphic examples - both came because of Dale Jarrett's crash at NHIS in September 2003 where the leaders, alerted to the wreck, slowed down only to see Michael Waltrip suddenly bull forward to lap a car and thus nearly cause another problem; it was blame the rule instead of the actual guilty party (here Michael Waltrip).

NASCAR also suffers from the NASA Syndrome - NASA is notorious for taking a simple solution and complicating it up beyond all reason and all recognition. For NASCAR the COT is the prime example. It is meant to improve the racing by reducing aero-dependency, but the use of the simple, inexpensive bolt-on roof spoiler package with a larger rear spoiler with wicker, will achieve the same results but with far greater effectivensss due to vastly increased drafting power. But simple solutions do not seem to be anyone's forte anymore.

The Bill Elliott excerpt ultimately provides another example of the reality that being outspoken is one thing, but not necessarily being right when being outspoken makes the act of being outspoken a liability more than an asset.

Ultimately, methinks Bill Elliott doeth protest too much.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Talladega: Racing Perfection And Controversy

The Autumn 500 at Talladega was everything that is good about racing - racing as it is always supposed to be. Talladega saw 63 lead changes among 23 drivers, the first time in 22 years that a NASCAR race broke the 60-lead-change barrier. The new surface at Talladega worked perfectly after some concern following the Truck 250 that the bottom would be faster than the top - indeed, the most striking aspect of the Autumn 500 was that the bottom groove, while fast, was avoided by most of the cars, which preferred the middle and top grooves.

Talladega, however, also saw a lot of controversy. The lamest was Jeff Gordon's whine act about push-drafting after his wreck. The big controversy, however, came in a last lap that brought back memories of the 1986 Talladega 500 (the whole race brought back memory of that '86 event, the first in motorsports history to break the 20-leader barrier and still tied for all-time most leaders at 26) and also memoriy of the 1979 Daytona 500, a race ironically run on a newly-repaved track. Charlotte Motor Speedway hired extra security for Brian Vickers after he kicked teammate Jimmie Johnson into Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the last lap only added to a controversial career for Vickers, hired by Rick Hendrick to drive his BGN car managed by Ricky Hendrick. After Vickers won a BGN title he was promoted to the #25 Winston Cup car, a car long jinxed by the ghost of Tim Richmond, and nearly got himself fired in May 2005 after a year and a half of subpar effort. He became a lame duck when he signed to drive for Toyota in 2007 and was even barred from team meetings earlier this season, and now he has a Winston Cup victory.

The controversial finish renewed attention to NASCAR's absurd field-freeze rule, as the winner was declared in Turn Three instead of at the start-finish line, never the right way to go about so momentous a decision. It also brought back memory of the Firecracker 250, where DEI teammates Michael Waltrip and Dale Junior were taken out by Jason Leffler on the final lap and Mike Wallace shot into the win - and NASCAR let the field race to the flag. Why they could not let the field race to the line here at Talladega - and this is the second year in a row where the Autumn 500 winner was declared in Turn Three instead of at the checkered flag - is a mind-boggling question not just of inconsistency but of basic competence.


Lost amid the controversy was that the Autumn 500 had a lot of subplots. Carl Edwards and Bobby Labonte, for one, finished at the tail-end of the top ten. Edwards got tagged entering One and swerved into Jeff Gordon, setting off Gordon's melee. Edwards' rally from there to finish ninth was a good effort in a difficult year for the Roush #99.

Labonte, meanwhile, wins the "Where Did He Come From?" award and may rethink the strategy of laying out back all race long - it got him, Kyle Petty, and Dale Jarrett lapped when Elliott Sadler blew a tire and they lost the draft dodging Sadler's errant car. Labonte got his lap back and restarted 22nd in the final ten laps, and posted his sixth top ten of the year, but what may be the most important top ten, for it came on a track where the Petty organization has periodically been very stout but rarely in contention in the restrictor plate era - this was only the Petty effort's sixth top ten in the modern plate era at Talladega.

Now comes Charlotte's National 500, and with 14-gallon fuel cells for this track as well as Talladega, extra pitstops come into play again and a lot of drivers look to salvage something after what this curious season has wrought already.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Pre-Talladega Miscellenia

With the Autumn 500 at Talladega weekend proceeding, some miscelleneous comments -

1 - To no one's surprise, NASCAR before 500 qualifying mandated smaller restrictor plates when drafting speeds jumped to 198 and change on Friday. They of course have done this before, notably in October 2000 when the roof spoiler package, making its debut, made the draft so strong that speeds jumped some 13 MPH from qualifying practice to the draft.

Perhaps the hardest-racing car in Friday practice was Bobby Labonte, who slugged it out with Jeff Gordon and others in a tight eight-car draft and looked to be passing pretty much anyone he wanted. His qualifying run, though, wasn't so spectacular, which at Talladega isn't something to bat an eye over. In race trim, Labonte looked stout.

His teammate Kyle Petty, meanwhile, continued his enormous improvement in qualifying with a strong lap. Now that qualifying has improved, Kyle needs to improve in race trim and show the kind of fight Labonte has shown this season and particular in that practice session.

2 - To no one's surprise, RCR announced that Goodwrench will no longer be primary sponsor of Kevin Harvick's #29, with Shell oil picking up the slack and Hershey's candies occassionally taking over as well. How times have changed in NASCAR - it used to be STP versus Purolator versus Valvoline; now it's Hershey's versus M&Ms - a symptom of what blogger MD80891 calls "market racing."

3 - To a lot of people's surprise came Mark Martin's decision to quit Roush Racing after 2006 and run a 22-race Winston Cup sked for Robert Ginn's MB2 Chevrolet team. The loss of the face of his organization leaves some questions worth asking about Jack Roush and what went wrong with what looked to be a smooth transition for Martin to the Truck series. Though the Roush organization probably won't skip a beat with Martin's departure, the sight of Martin driving for someone else will takes time to get used to.

Talladega thus prepares for its big show on Sunday.

Talladega Truck 250 Anticlimax And Rule Fiasco

Talladega debuted the Craftsman Trucks amid natural hype given the track's new pavement and the prospect of ferocious slicing and dicing for the win by the Trucks. Mark Martin, suddenly a lame duck with Ford, had the pole and looked to be the only chance to deny Toyota a Talladega win. As for those Toyotas, with so many of them and so few competitive Trucks of other makes, one could have expected another Toyota rout.

But then the green flag waved and all the prerace theories began falling apart. Mark Martin took off and held the lead, as most could have expected, but Talladega's form chart has been that the lead changes back and forth in lap after lap of sidedrafting. Out back there was plenty of four-abreast slicing and dicing for position and the field never split into two or more groups; the field stayed together in one huge fleet.

But the form chart was missing something big - the leader was hogging the bottom groove all the way around, and seemingly no one could attack outside and slice into the point. Martin had to pit to get a tear-off off his grille and he lost a lap only to get it back on one of the race's infrequent yellows. Johnny Benson led after the first yellow and pretty much held it with an authority rare for Talladega.

The lead changed hands, but despite some very aggressive push-drafting and some spectacular three-wide passing, taking the lead proved to be exceptionally difficult, with only 12 lead changes among nine drivers - and this segues into the race's signature blown call. After Martin swerved like Ernie Irvan to take away Todd Bodine's passing lane in the final 25 laps, Bodine finally got past but clipped the yellow line before One and got blackflagged.

The yellow line rule has been a problem since its first race in 2001, as a region of the racetrack that had never caused problem before when used as a passing lane is used to eliminate a potential winner from the race. NASCAR has to rethink this rule long and hard because it basically ended the race right there.

Talladega's debut with Craftsman Trucks proved decidedly anticlimatic. One can hope for a lot better from the Trucks come 2007.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

ARCA Puts On A Show At Talladega

The Automobile Racing Club of America became the first racing series to christen Talladega Superspeedway's new pavement in competition - NASCAR's Winston Cup cars were the actual first cars to test the new surface, but that was in their practice sessions; "We're talking about practice," to coin an Allen Iverson catchphrase - and ARCA did so by putting on a show.

And what a show it was. Most media attention was focused on Juan Montoya, the ex-CART champion and ex-F1 driver who timed second for the ARCA Alabama 250 in his stock car debut, the ride of course being preparation for his Winston Cup debut for 2007. The media, though, seemed to forget about Bobby Gerhart, a consistent threat at Talladega and the Alabama 250's pole-sitter; they also forgot about perennial ARCA champion Frank Kimmel, trying for a win at Talladega for more years than he may care to acknowledge.

There were some other subplots to this race as well, such as the Wallace Family Feud between Rusty's son Steven, quickly rising through stock car ranks, and Rusty's brother Mike, driving the James Finch #09 Dodge; both Wallaces put on a show battling for and drafting to the lead, and that subplot mixed perfectly into the big story of this race - the astonishing competitive depth of the race itself.

ARCA is a proud sanctioning body with rich racing history and has seen an astonishing twelve first time winners in 2006. However, there is the hard reality that very few cars in ARCA can acquire the resources needed to run well week in and week out, and for ARCA's Talladega races this has mostly meant a disappoining paucity of competitive cars.

For 2006, however, the ARCA field flexed some unexpected muscle, as the battle for the lead swelled into a 25-car slugfest, the deepest competitive field seen in an ARCA race in years and the tightest, most ferocious battle for the lead seen in ARCA in even more years.

Most attention of course centered on Montoya, racing the field in one of Chip Ganassi's Dodges. He showed the kind of tentativeness at times that is common to rookies but overall handled himself well, especially after barely escaping a scary wreck involving Doug Reid off Turn Four in which Bryan Silas lifted backward off the ground and never scrubbed off any speed as his #11 plowed into the inside SAFER. Montoya got hit in the door but escaped major damage and finished third as the race ended under yellow following a ten-car melee off Four.

Frank Kimmel stormed into the lead just before that wreck and thus nailed down a win at Talladega, and one can expect him to celebrate this win more than most given his quest to win here and also given how ferocious this race was. Juan Montoya, meanwhile, got a lesson in stock car racing he can be expected to put to good use as his new racing chapter turns its pages into 2007.