Monday, May 29, 2006


Other than the memorializing and the long weekend, Memorial Day weekend means auto racing. Yesterday was a full day of it. The Indy 500 in the early afternoon, the World 600 later in the day.

Yesterday was one of those rare occasions where the Indy 500 was the more exciting race. There were several lead changes at the end of the race. For a couple of laps it looked like Michael Andretti was going to end his winless streak at the Brickyard. That would have been special -- Michael Andretti holds the record for leading the most laps at the Indy 500 without a race win. Then Andretti's son Marco, an Indy rookie, blew by him. Then Sam Hornish tucked in behind Marco, shot around him as the finish line approached, and nipped him at the line by about a car length.

The World 600 was a little bit of a letdown for me. My favorite driver, Tony Stewart, crashed early, cracked his shoulder blade and was down for the count. Kasey Kahne took the lead with 29 laps to go and won by a fairly large margin. His win ends a 29-year Dodge drought at Lowe's Motor Speedway and is also the first Dodge win anywhere this year.

A couple of racing stories have caught my eye recently...

I'm sick and tired of articles like this one: "Is Danica in Danger of Being Anna-ized?" It's comparing Danica Patrick to Anna Kournikova, the tennis player who was much better at being beautiful and famous than she ever was at tennis. Yes, Danica is still winless in IRL racing, but remember that it took a racing legend like Al Unser Jr. three years to crack the winner's circle. Danica has finished in the top ten in her first two Indy 500s. This year she got into trouble with her pit stops. She got out of sequence and twice she pitted under green only to see caution flags come out a little later. She probably wouldn't have won, but she would have finished better than eighth if her luck had been a little better. If she goes five or six years without a win, let the Kournikova comparisons come then.

An article in the Christian Science Monitor, "Stock Cars Get an Overhaul," introduces us to NASCAR's latest innovation, the "Car of Tomorrow." The goal is to make a safer car and to make the races more competitive. Many of the races have turned into just long parades of cars. Get out of line and you lose your place in the draft and start falling back. Improved aerodynamics have also negated the slingshot effect seen at the end of Sunday's Indy 500. NASCAR would like to see a return to more side-by-side racing. They think the Car of Tomorrow is the answer...
"This is probably the biggest thing we've done in the competition area in 20 years," says NASCAR Chairman Brian France. "We're anxious to get this done and get it done correctly."

In short, the new race car, developed by NASCAR's research-and-development arm, includes a number of safety innovations (the driver's seat moves four inches closer to the center of the car; protective cages are taller and wider) and offers a possible solution to the endless engineering and body types that turn tracks into no-passing zones. By employing a more upright windshield and a thicker, boxlike front bumper designed to create drag, the new car should ensure that no lead is safe.

"Competition is going to get better," says Humpy Wheeler, a longtime racing promoter and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., a publicly held operator of NASCAR tracks.

"Purists don't like it, but purists only buy 20 percent of your tickets," he says. "I need the other 80 percent, too. And they want to see cars passing each other on the track. This new car will give us that."
(photo: David Crigger/AP)


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