Sunday, April 30, 2006

Spring Sizzler Miscellenia

Stafford Motor Speedway kicked off its 2006 season with the 35th annual Spring Sizzler and it was pretty much as advertised. Doug Coby's win was doubly dramatic in that it was his breakthrough win on the Mod Tour, and it came at the track at which Coby became a competitive race driver, from his debut in Late Models upward in the track's ranks.

Short track racing in New England is a rich tradition, albiet something of an underground one - the publicity given over the years to New England sports legends in the realms of baseball, hockey, football, and basketball remains vaster than that given New England-area racers. Nonetheless, the richness of New England racing's tradition is there to explore, in such names as Ted Christopher, Greg Sacks, Ralph Moody, and Ron Bouchard, just a few of the great short track participants that helped make New England racing as tough and exciting as one can find.

The 2006 Sizzler was a bittersweet event for New England racing, and it says something about Jack Arute Senior that his passing in early April 2006 warranted rememberence on a national race telecast. Notes Lloyd Agor, the defending champion of Stafford's SK Modified division, "He built a great facility and put a lot of hard work into it."

SK-class Modifieds are today a popular staple of racing at tracks like Stafford and Thompson but when Jack Arute Senior first brought this class of racecar to Stafford it wasn't as well received. It nonetheless caught on and is the featured class at the track.

Ted Christopher is undoubtedly the lightning rod of attention at Stafford; in the Sizzler's SK feature he dodged numerous wrecks (which caused some ten cautions in a span of 11 laps) and got into a heated neck-and-neck battle for the lead late in the going with Keith Rocco before grabbing the win. It was the 81st win in the SKs for "Terrible Ted" and keeps him well ahead of everyone else in the lengthy history of the division in career wins.

Christopher ran both the SK and the Whelen Modified Tour race, and one driver he's had some good races with over the years is John Blewitt III, who has driven for several teams over the years, such as the now-defunct Mario Fiore #44 and also Curt Chase's #77, and presently drives his own #66. "We practiced well, but it's tough here in daytime races, it gets slicker than in night races," Blewitt said before the race.

Being a veteran of the Modified Tour Blewitt has seen the tour recently shrink from 20 races to 14, with Stafford, Thompson, and New Hampshire International Speedway making up the bulk of the tour. "It's what you make of it," Blewitt says. "I'd like to see better purses, but that drives up ticket prices, so you havew to draw a line somewhere. It's in pretty good shape, you have good young drivers and a lot of veterans."


The Whelen Modified Series in 2002 found a diamond in the rough in Chuck Hossfeld. Given up for dead career-wise when he was released by Roush Racing after an unsuccessful stint in the Craftsman Trucks, Hossfeld joined Bob Garbarino's Mystic Missile #4 Dodge and pulled off some spectacular wins, none more so than two triumphs at New Hampshire in his first two seasons in the Mystic #4. Entering 2006, though, Hossfeld was looking for a ride. "I didn't have a ride, and we talked with Bob and it went from there. I've won races over the years, I'm proud of the wins, and been close to winning a title, and I want to win the championship, that will definately be gratifying."

According to Hossfeld, "NASCAR is stepping up their effort to get more dates. We've got different series that are taking some cars away, but I think it's overall going in the right direction."


Kenny Horton, a former Late Modeler turned SK racer and part-time Tour driver, says that being a short tour, the Modified Series "can pick up some more tracks, but it's very expensive, very difficult to keep going at it. NASCAR is doing what it can, and it's the same with the Busch East tour, and with the Modifieds they may move further down the East Coast with some more tracks. It's a short tour now, but they're working at it."

Horton's weekend was an adventurous one, as he was involved in a melee in Saturday action, then had to dodge the wrecks in the SK feature as well as the Mod Series 200-lapper.


The Late Model feature closed out Stafford's Sizzler and proved to be a good final tribute to Jack Arute Sr. as Rick Lanagan dominated but Woody Pitkat ran him down in the final laps and gunned him down on the outside. It was a good ending to the bittersweet beginning of the track's regular season, with nearly five months' worth of short track action now on the way.

"Jack Senior is watching from a better place right now," Lloyd Agor said.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Does Evernham Need To Start Questioning Mayfield?

NASCAR's Talladega weekend began amid several bouts of bad news such as the need to hastily haul out backup cars to fill out the BGN field and the hostile local reaction to the proposed NYC Speedway.

One overlooked story, though, concerns Jeremy Mayfield. He has won five NASCAR races, but in 2006 he has been all but irrelevent. Needless to say, he's worried about it, and apparantly is waiting for Ray Evernham to step in. "Ray's on top of everything that goes on, and yet we're this far into the season and I don't see the urgency right now for some reason of why we're running bad."

Evernham for his part has said he has talked to Mayfield about the dismal performance of his #19 Dodge, this while Kasey Kahne's #9 has won twice with the end of April and #10 Scott Riggs, though it has not shown much muscle either, has nonetheless climbed a ladder after failing to make the Daytona 500.

That Mayfield is struggling in the #19 is pretty old hat by now. Jeremy Mayfield's career has been a bizarre mix of great potential and uninspiring performance. Being hired by Cale Yarborough's team in mid-1994, Mayfield ran well at times, winning a pole at Talladega, before jumping into Michael Kranefuss' Ford in September 1996. Mayfield begfan to improve in his finishes, and when Kranefuss merged his team into Roger Penske's team in 1998 Mayfield broke through with victory at Pocono.

But after that his 1998 season collapsed. He didn't win in 1999 despite several good races, then in 2000 he won at Fontana, this after his Talladega pole run in April of that year resulting in a cheating scandal. He won again at Pocono, punting Dale Earnhardt aside on the final lap, and delightfully skewered Earnhardt's bald-faced lie from Bristol the previous August - "I was just trying to rattle his cage."

But 2000 was an epidemic of blown engines for Mayfield, and in 2001 his relationship with the Penske team soured and then blew up at Kansas when he called out the team for bringing the wrong chassis to the track.

Mayfield joined Evernham for 2002, and for the most part struggled. Just as everything looked lost, Mayfield finished second at Dover in 2003, and began a strong run of finishes. When he won at Richmond in 2004, he made NASCAR's inaugural playoff format, but once there never went anywhere. He nailed a fuel-mileage win at Michigan in 2005 and made the playoffs again, and again went nowhere.

Mayfield has been the one constant on a team that has seen several changes in crew chiefs, pit personnel, engineers - for all practical purposes Evernham has turned the team upside down trying to get consistent performance out of Mayfield.

Eventually, one has to begin questioning Jeremy Mayfield on that team. Evernham has seen what is working with Kasey Kahne - can Mayfield adapt his driving style to what works for Kahne? Perhaps Evernham should press Mayfield on matters in that regard.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sharia Black Humor

You have to laugh at the lengths to which sharia goes to kill free speech, shown in sharia's attack on a brothel flying Islamo-Arab flags. Of course this tragicomic incident says a lot about the inhumanity and intolerance of Islamo-Arab imperialism.

Who's Cooking What Intelligence?

The line is recited in rote fashion - Bush cooked pre-war Iraq intelligence.

The case of CIA "leaker" Mary McCarthy brings up the question, Who's cooking what?

FOLLOW-UP: The whole Mary McCarthy brouhaha brings to attention the CIA's disinformation war against the Bush Administration, and it is worth examining the CYA culture of the Agency.

Gassy Gas-Price Rhetoric

So for the second time in two years fuel prices are exceeding $3 per gallon, and it's gotten a lot of people in a lather. This, though, is what happens when people get jittery about the workings of the market. There was jitteriness about the economy after the 2001 Islamo-Arab acts of war euphemistically called the 9/11 attacks, but the economy didn't skip a beat. Gas prices spiked to $3 last year and then dropped below $2 per gallon for awhile during this past winter.

It isn't stopping political jitteriness. Republicans who should know better are once again getting it backwards by demanding interference in the market instead of getting production increased while the Democrats do the only thing they are capable of doing on any issue - they're demagoguing it.

While some areas of energy policy do need a look, ultimately one can solve a lot of problems by simply leaving the market alone. The market can help in the area of oil sands, a source of fuel far more promising than biofuels, popularly pushed as alternatives to oil-based fuels but which aren't adding up in mileage.

The gas that is the rhetoric about gas prices needs to be shut off and calmnes brought into the debate.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

From The Ashes Of Phoenix

Phoenix International Raceway's first Nextel Cup weekend of the season went off with the usual short-oval rough stuff and with quite a few stories in the background, such as Jeff Gordon griping about not being chosen for Goodyear tire tests.

None, though, was more bizarre than the story from Peter DeLorenzo's website that one of the sport's participating manufacturers was preparing to quit the sport with Toyota coming in. The story had no byline, as is common at the site, and didn't name the manufacturer supposedly preparing to quit. While Jayski vouched for DeLorenzo's credibility, it was also noted that DeLorenzo is controversial and has a history of being anti-NASCAR.

That's putting it mildly, for the site's NASCAR-bashing and IRL-bashing is continuous and for the most part illogical. The site is in love with road racing and with high-technology vehicles, yet never can proffer a particularly believable argument for either in contrast to NASCAR and IRL's more retro-tech approach - has there ever been a road race or a high-tech racecar series that saw better racing than IRL on most intermediate superspeedways or NASCAR at the restrictor plate tracks, or even NASCAR Modifieds at New Hampshire?

One theme of the manufacturer story is railing against NASCAR's tightness on car specs and what kind of technologies can be raced; the site regularly rails against NASCAR's aero-matching rules, yet has never explained how car shapes would have been different without aero-matching, nor has it bothered to wonder if technology has really benefitted racing - as Brock Yates wrote in 1986, costs and absurd performance levels have forced the banning of multitudes of technological items such as Wankel engines from many racing series. That there is a limit to technology's usefulness in racing is something DeLorenzo's site never bothers to consider.

The story asserts that the manufacturers have seen a continuing decrease in sales as their NASCAR involvements have increased, clearly trying to draw a connection that the manufacturers have wasted enormous sums of money on a pointless racing series. That declining car sales have more to do with influences outside of their NASCAR involvement is of course ignored by the site.

There is, though, one galling truth in the story - NASCAR has done a poor job the last number of years helping all of racing. Nowhere is this more graphically shown than in its feeder divisions, whose neglect is hardly a secret in NASCAR circles. It also shows in the escalation of costs at the Nextel Cup level, which NASCAR has not reigned in.

Certainly there is need for NASCAR to start spending serious money on its feeder divisions, far more than it presently is, and also to start cracking down hard on how much money teams can spend at the Nextel Cup level; with the effectivenes of revenue sharing in other sports, that avenue needs to be explored as well.

The reality is that manufacturer involvement benefits all involved, not just NASCAR, and that there are limits to what should be brought into the sport. This is something the site needs to come to grips with.


The Busch Series is the most publicized example of NASCAR neglect of its feeder divisions, as Buschwackers continue to monopolize things. Jason Leffler's stellar run nearly ended the Buschwacker run but came acropper in a series of late-race melees, ultimately leaving Kevin Harvick the winner, the beginning of a weekend sweep.

The Busch brothers, meanwhile, continue to make waves. Kyle Busch made more waves in the Arizona 500k for the wrong reasons, while Kurt Busch and teammate Ryan Newman once again struggled at the end of a rough race. The steady decline of Penske Racing stands in contrast to the surge of Kasey Kahne and rejuvination of Bobby Labonte and the Petty team. Their surge gives hope that the rest of their programs will likewise begin clawing forward, though one still has questions to ask of Evernham Motorsports' Jeremy Mayfield.

It all added up to a pretty memorable weekend at Phoenix, and left fans eagerly awaiting November's second round, an eagerness that helps explain why tracks get two dates a year. It also showed how flat short ovals, often maligned for inferior racing, can be pretty competitive as well.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Busch Series Conundrum

The continued deterioration of what began as NASCAR's Late Model Sportsman series - today known as the Busch Series - has brought increased attention toward what to do, and some rather odd ideas are springing up. The oddest is converting BGN cars to "pony" car specs - Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Toyota Solara.

The argument in favor of this is that it constitutes a clean slate with completely different cars from Nextel Cup. Such a change, it is argued, "would limit the value of running Saturday Busch races to gain data for the Sunday Nextel Cup race."

This, though, is false. The data gained from running Saturday races is far too great for switching racecars to alter, especially given limitations on testing that NASCAR refuses to recognize are a failure and the biggest mistake they've done in over twenty years. NASCAR pony cars would not handle so differently from Winston Cup cars to dissuade Buschwacking - if anything, we're seeing the answer to that argument in the entry of Winston/Nextel Cup drivers in Truck races that serve as Saturday undercards at certain tracks.


That such ideas are getting some consideration indicates that the kind of hard, unpopular, but effective changes that a conundrum like this require are being ignored. This is not what real leadership entails. Leadership entails making unpopular decisions, because unpopular decisions tend to be the right ones.

The unpopular choice is the one that will actually work - an outright ban on Nextel Cup participation in BGN races. Banning the Buschwackers has always been recommended by series regulars going back to L.D. Ottinger and Jack Ingram in the 1970s, back when the series was not the touring series it is today and when drivers like Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, and Lennie Pond drove Winston Cup and Sportsman races (and usually won them at places like Charlotte and Daytona) and teams like Petty Enterprises, Junie Donlavey, DiGard, Junior Johnson, and Rod Osterlund entered Sportsman cars.

How can banning Nextel Cup participation help BGN? For starters, it frees up purse and sponsorship monies that can better serve BGN regulars, and also switches press coverage toward series regulars. The immediate counter-argument is that there are virtually no legitimate BGN regulars as drivers or teams to make a viable series now. This is true, and a damning indictment of NASCAR and the Buschwackers. Undoing the damage of four-decades of Buschwacking is a daunting task, but it is one that NASCAR can undertake by switching some the their TV and other outside revenue into BGN purses, promotions, searches for sponsors for teams - all the big and little things a sanctioning body is supposed to do for a series anyway.

Pony cars are not the answer for BGN - the answer is for NASCAR to put its foot down and ban Buschwacking, then start spending serious money on the series.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

NASCAR's Washington State Speedway May be Aborted

The much-ballyhooed speedway in Kitsap, Washington that International Speedway Corporation wants to build may be aborted. ISC wants heavy public financing for the speedway and Washington State politicians and voters don't want to help pay for it.

They may be right, based on past experience with publically-financed sports stadiums. And as far as racing goes, the proposed track and its proposed New York City sister track are bad ideas. NASCAR has already penciled in two Nextel Cup/BGN weekends for its proposed NYC Speedway, but to get those dates it has hinted at taking some dates away from tracks like Martinsville.

Given the speedway fratricide the sport has endured the last ten years - North Wilkesboro and Rockingham are gone, Darlington is down to one date, and we've endured the spectacle of speedway lawsuits regarding Texas Motor Speedway and more recently Kentucky Speedway - few people support the idea of taking dates away from established speedways in favor of these newer tracks which don't promise particularly good racing to begin with. And one has to wonder why so much money is being invested in proposed new speedways instead of being spent on more pressing needs within the sport, such as its feeder series like BGN, the varied short track touring series, and even the Trucks, which need better purses and promotion and more sponsors.

The sport does not need new tracks. It needs to stay where it is and start reinvesting in its immediate problems.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

NASCAR Goes Soft Again While Foyt IV's Career Fizzles

NASCAR has once again taken the cowardly way out. Instead of forcing drivers to toughen themselves up and accept slam-drafting for what it is - a necessary racing tactic that increases the competitiveness of the racing - NASCAR will require teams to remove steel plates from their front bumpers for Talladega, to soften them in the hope that if a team pushes another car it will buckle their bumper enough to hurt aerodynamics.

Predictably Jeff Gordon was front and center praising the change, and as usual there will be no media coverage of a contrary viewpoint, a viewpoint that takes the drivers to task for complaining instead of sucking it up and racing, a viewpoint that points out a glaring fact that refutes the Lindsey Lohan act - not one accident has ever occurred because of push-drafting.

If the Mainstream Media - MSM - and its coverage of everything from the Iraq War to Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to gasoline prices consistently takes the doomsday approach and never gets the story right as a result, then the Race-Stream Media - RSM - is also guilty of lack of ideological diversity and of thus not getting it right.

Put the proverbial gun to the heads of RSM types and tell them to name a wreck that was caused by push-drafting. They may grope for an answer but will not be able to come up with one.

On push-drafting, at least someone got under Tony Stewart's skin at Daytona, a refreshing change from a generally tepid Race-Stream Media. Why they don't take the drivers to task more often is a mystery. Criticism of participants in the other sports by their press corps is no rarity; why should the Race-Stream Media so consistently avoid taking drivers to task in print?


On another note, the fizzling of AJ Foyt IV's racing career continues with his release from his BGN ride. It is disappointing that AJ IV's career is going nowhere at the present. His IRL days never saw any kind of respectable numbers, but being with a team all but devoid of sponsorship meant he could never get anything going to start with; on those few occassions when he had good racecars, he raced well.

Foyt IV once boasted he would not race "taxicabs." Circumstances made him change his tune, but he may have been right before, since he realistically hasn't shown any potential in a stock car. What will happen to him from here on remains to be seen, but one can't have much confidence that AJ IV will last in NASCAR now.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

NBC Looks For NASCAR Bigots.......And Can't Find Any

The Mainstream Media's credibility has been on the wane for over forty years, from its slipshod coverage of the Vietnam War and Watergate onward. Outlets exposing the Mainstream Media and its lack of credibility did exist then but were heavily outnumbered, a situation that isn't quite the case today with many alternative sources of information.

The latest example of dishonest Mainstream Media is Dateline NBC and its "sting" attempt at the Virginia 500 at Martinsville. It sent decoy Muslims (they were Sikhs, the closest they could get to "actual" Muslims) with hidden cameras into the crowd to see if anyone would speak ill of them. They went looking for anti-Muslim bigotry, in short. Alas, they couldn't find any.

The reason for this story is the prejudice against non-minorities that exists in the MSM. NASCAR Nation is stereotyped as a "race of rednecks," as if anyone even knows what the word means. Dateline calls it a legitimate story to find anti-Muslim sentiment, thus exposing the manipulative mindset behind its prejudices.

The problem is that the legitimate story is not anti-Muslim sentiment, but Muslims, and in the context of this story, particularly American Muslims. There has been talk of anti-Muslim sentiment, but it is Muslims who should be taken to task, not NASCAR fans.

What has the Muslim community done? What has it done about its own prejudices? What has it done about antisemitism? What has it done about the issue of Islamo-Arab imperialism? What has it done to help improve the lot of its own people? This story shows the problems that exist with the Muslim community in the US.

American Muslims overall seem to have done quite well for themselves and integrated into America. But issues such as these deserve greater attention than bogus "stings" against NASCAR fans.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Right NASCAR Rules Packages

As NASCAR continues debating what to do about potential tire trouble at Charlotte the varied ideas have predicatbly gotten lukewarm reviews from crew chiefs. The most controversial idea involves restrictor plates, with crew chiefs repreating the common refrain about not slowing corner speeds down and "we'll just run wide open here."

Restrictor plates continue to get bad press even though they work. It is repeatedly pointed out that they were used at New Hampshire in September 2000 and the race lead changed hands only once, on the opening lap, after which Jeff Burton led all 300 laps. That it had nothing to do with restrictor plates is never given a second thought, even though the mantra remains that restrictor plates somehow impede ability to pass because of reduction in throttle response. That theory, though, went down the drain from the 1988 Daytona 500 onward, and even at that NHIS race Bobby Labonte squeezed ahead of Burton for the lead on two seperate laps; Burton sidedrafted back around Labonte and beat him to the stripe both times, so officially the lead never changed.

The talk about running wide open at Charlotte ignores that they're for all practical purposed already wide open, a handling "sweet spot" teams regularly strive for, since wide open usually means perfect handling. Also ignored is that slowing the straightaway speeds won't mean faster corner speeds; corner speeds stay the same, the difference is the cars can take the corners harder because they're more secure to the track with slower straightaway speeds.

What is needed aside from the plates is a package that brings drafting back into Charlotte's playbook; drafting was a factor throughout the 1960s and 1970s until the slickness of the cars reduced the strength of the draft from the early '80s onward; it briefly returned in 1995-6 with the switch to GM's controversial W-body racecars. The roof spoiler package BGN runs at the plate tracks would seem to be a way to go there.

Also needed are better tires, and some (notably Chris Economaki, the nation's dean of race reporters and racecasters) have noted that NASCAR tires are too narrow for the cars to be secure to the track. Widening tires is a step worth exploring.

At NHIS the NASCAR Whelan Modified Tour has put on consistently superior racing from NHIS's debut in 1990, and their package is akin to the roof spoiler package combined with wide tires. NASCAR's fendered classes don't necessarily need as much tire as the Modifieds possess, but the principle is certainly easy to spot.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Pocono Shows How To Work With Other Tracks

Overlooked by many in racing lately is this interesting tidbit - Pocono Raceway's working deal with Barrie Speedway in Canada. Amid continuing track wars, the disbanding by NASCAR of several touring divisions, and the general struggle of American and Canadian short tracks in the last few years, Pocono's promotional alliance with Barrie Speedway is a breath of fresh air.

Many in racing seem to have lost sight of the fact that racetracks can and should work together, because both local tracks and superspeedways benefit from each other. Pocono's cross-promotions with Barrie should be expanded to other area short tracks when and where practical, and other superspeedways would be well-advised to engage in cross-promotions with local tracks.

New Hampshire International Speedway, for one, can cross-promote with numerous New England-area tracks like White Mountain Motorsports Park, Star Lee & Hudson Speedways (all in NH), Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine, Stafford and Thompson Speedways in CT, and Seekonk Speedway in MA. Talladega Superspeedway can cross-promote with Alabama-area short tracks; California Speedway can cross-promote with bullrings in the southern California and Arizona areas; and on down.

Given the alliances race teams have been forming the last few years - the Dodge One Team concept that somehow got lost in the shuffle, the RAD alliance between RCR, DEI, and Andy Petree, and others - it makes sense for speedways to work together and cross-promote, for their own benefit and that of racing at large.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

More Fuel Cell Follies?

Amid the usual wreck-torn Martinsville weekend came a rumor that NASCAR will mandate smaller fuel cells for Charlotte, the road courses, and Atlanta. The idea appears to have sprung from less-than-encouraging tire testing on Charlotte's new surface between slight increases in speed and greater than expected wear. The hope for the two superspeedways is to necessitate fuel stops before tires wear to the point of failure. On the road courses the idea's rationale is harder to discern.

That small fuel cells are still seen as a reasonable rule change is puzzling after we've seen them in action in the last 14 restrictor plate races. Put in place at Talladega in October 2002, the idea of 13-gallon cells was to necessitate more pitstops and thus break up the gigantic battles for the lead characteristic of plate racing. But in that first race, the idea didn't work - the field pitted and shuffled back together each time; only in the final laps when potential race winners such as John Andretti, Bill Elliott, and a host of others had to pit for a final gulp of fuel did the pack thin out. In its next race, the 2003 Daytona 500, crashes kept erupting just before green-flag fuel stops were to occur. Indeed, the most striking aspect of smaller fuel cells is that the number of cautions has skyrocketed, invariably nullifying the need for green-flag stops; one gets the impression that the drivers, seeing they have only about 100 miles at most to run before needing to pit, fight much more savagely to get into the lead and thus be in a good position to pit, which displays the irony involved, in that the smaller fuel cell has done something much needed for racing - made the drivers race harder for the lead.

At places like Charlotte and Atlanta, the need for cautions is even greater, because the field does get spread out and a large number of cars are trapped out of any contention for the win, and the wrecking doesn't go down. It isn't difficult to imagine drivers fighting harder to get into a good position to pit.

If that is what results from use of smaller fuel cells, then it is an idea of definately mixed results but nonetheless with enough going for it to warrant trying. All the same, don't be shocked if the 22 cautions incurred in the 2005 World 600 turn out not to be that much higher than in 2006.


UPDATE - As Keith Olbermann might put it, it's a final.