Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ford exec: IndyCar not a goal

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jamie Allison, Ford's director of North American motorsports, said the manufacturer currently has no interest in joining competitor Chevrolet as an engine-provider to the Izod IndyCar Series and will concentrate, he said, on "production-based racing."

Ford currently support programs in NASCAR, the NHRA, and professional rally and drifting domestically and internationally, but wouldn't benefit from expanding into open wheel racing, Allison said.

"We were approached. We had conversation. We gave our feedback," Allison said. "We see affinity of our customers with production-based racing and the showcase on our technology. That's why we're focused on the platforms we have today, and today is a sign of all the excitement regenerating in the new rally car and rally cross, X Games. We plan to take advantage of putting our cars, as well with the technology in our cars, to showcase what we do. I'm sure Indy is right for many manufacturers, but at this time our priority is to focus on the stuff we have."

Chevrolet and Lotus announced recently their intention to join Honda as engine-providers beginning in 2012.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Camp Hornaday grads reach a crossroads

Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were asked at the championship weekend press conference today about their short term as roommates living at Ron Hornaday's house. Here's my story on the topic from February, 2007 for the St. Petersburg Times.

 Maybe Ron Hornaday should have charged rent.
Eight years ago, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were two unknown Southern California expatriates jostling for bathroom time in Hornaday's always-bustling Lake Norman, N.C., home, hoping they would someday find a NASCAR job steady enough to afford such a place.
Johnson was an off-road truck racer from El Cajon, with a line on a Busch Series deal. Harvick, from Bakersfield, was driving in the truck series and working on a budding relationship with Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s team owner, Richard Childress. But until they figured out exactly where their careers would go, Hornaday, then a star for Earnhardt's truck team, and wife Lindy made sure they had a pillow for their head and a steak on their plate.
"Their door was always wide open for anyone who needed a start," Johnson said.
Johnson, 31, begins the Nextel Cup season as the defending Daytona 500 and series champion. Harvick, also 31, is the defending Busch Series champion, a threat for a first Cup title after finishing fourth last season, and a burgeoning car owner. He's Hornaday's truck series owner, in fact.
"I guess the food wasn't too bad at Ron's," Harvick laughed. "His place must be a good way to get your career started in the right direction."
"I'd always feel bad because I wanted to pay rent, but they wouldn't have it," Johnson remembered. "I found myself washing a lot of dishes and taking out a lot of trash so I could feel like I was earning my keep."
Harvick had dreams like anyone else, but in 1998 he was happy to have a home and a full-time ride in the truck series with Spears Racing.
"Heck, I thought I was on top of the world, just enjoying myself," he said. "I was 22, 23 years old and doing what I wanted to do."
Anywhere from two to five drivers crashed at Hornaday's at any one time. They called it Camp Hornaday.
Lindy was a phenomenal cook, Harvick said, and Hornaday had a flare with the grill.
"Yeah, the steak with dill seasoning, salt, butter, onion and mushroom," Johnson said. "The funny thing with dinner at the camp was four of us would be sitting there eating and then all of a sudden it could be six, seven or 30 and he'd just keep cooking."
The ski boat and tubing gear were the entertainment. There was jug fishing for catfish and that big old bass that taunted Johnson.
"Ron had sunk this thing out by his dock to try and get fish to hang out by it," he said. "There was this huge bass that would hang out there right under the water, and we could never catch him. One time I finally grabbed a net and I was like, 'I'll get that damned bass.' Never got it."
Hornaday met Johnson at a General Motors function in Detroit and invited him to stay a few weeks as he prepared to take a job driving a Busch car for Herzog Racing. He stayed four months.
"I could have gone out and found some kind of apartment ...," Johnson said, "but it was so nice to have some place to come home to."
Hornaday, now 48, brought Johnson to lunches with drivers and executives, helping him weave into the Charlotte racing community. Johnson befriended Jeff Gordon in 2000 and signed with Hendrick Motorsports for 2001, becoming an instant success at the Cup level.
Hornaday was instrumental in Harvick's career well before he ever made it to North Carolina, helping him land his deal at Spears. Finally signed to a Busch deal at Richard Childress Racing, Harvick won three races and finished third as a rookie in 2000 and won the championship in 2001. That season he replaced Earnhardt Sr. at the Cup following his death in the Daytona 500. Running both series last year, Harvick won a second Busch title by an astounding 824 points.
Harvick is fiercely loyal to Hornaday, hiring him as a truck series driver and running a program for him last season though he had no sponsor.
"I guess Kevin's paying me back now," Hornaday said.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tony Kanaan on possible NASCAR trucks future

What is the status of your discussion with Kyle Busch of racing for his NASCAR truck series team?
Right now it's just talk. I'm going to go watch the race in Homestead. But obviously, I'm still trying to get something in IndyCar. That's where I have been all my life. I've been in talks with a lot of teams, but financially it's a very difficult situation for everybody. A lot of teams don't even have the budget for a full car, forget about paying me. So I've got to explore all my options. Me and Kyle know each other because we shared the same sponsor (Mars) and did a lot of the same functions. He has his own truck team and doesn't do all the races, so he called me up and I said, "Why not? Let's talk." People are making a big deal like I am going there already. Well, I've got to listen to anybody. Right now I don't have a deal. If I did I would have said 'no'. It's still baby steps. Right now I don't think he even has the sponsorship to run it, as well. You need to put all the ideas together.
When did he call, because originally 2005 IndyCar series champion Dan Wheldon had been linked to that supposed opening?
Two weeks ago. He's probably talking to other people as well, not just me. He's looking for a driver to do seven or eight races that he's not going to do.
So there's been no formal offer?
No, not even talk of doing a test or anything. It was a friendly phone call. "Come over. Come watch it. Maybe then we'll sit down." And it wouldn't be a full-time job unless he can find a sponsor to put trucks out there and it would be financially worth it for him to run a full season. I can't say that right now.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Travis Pastrana trying to cross another item off his bucket list?

Ralph Shaheen cited various sources in tweeting on Sunday that freestyle motocross/rally star Travis Pastrana would soon announce a deal with Michael Waltrip Racing to attempt some sort of NASCAR event. Waltrip coyly tweeted a few vague Pastrana messages later in the night and rally sources told me that something would be announced within a week. A source at Red Bull, which would seemingly have been the outlet for Pastrana's eventual NASCAR dalliance, considering their five-year relationship and the fact the energy drink company owns and sponsors a two-car Sprint Cup team, claimed no knowledge of the possible deal on Monday.
Bottom line, however, is whatever NASCAR endeavor Pastrana undertakes is not likely a precursor to a full-time switch to stock cars. A rally racing zealot who still competes in the X Games, stars in action movies and is trying to get a screenplay financed for a film, Pastrana told me in September he is not interested in being constricted into a 36-week NASCAR schedule. He is quite interested, however, in eventually attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500, because, "as an American, that's something you need to do."
Pastrana's NASCAR ambitions are all about the bucket list.
"I'd love to try everything," the 27-year-old said. "That's the cool thing about Red Bull is I kind of have that at my fingertips to try different stuff. I ran Baja (the 1000, on a motorcycle), but I'd like to run the car sometime just to see how it is. I'd like to do enough NASCAR to maybe do a Daytona. I haven't tested with Red Bull or anything. Rally is way more exciting than NASCAR will ever be, but just to have the opportunity, to have a bucket list kind of thing, my bucket list is going to be pretty epic. I am pretty excited about it."
That list includes:
"The biggest thing was always winning a 250 supercross championship. That'll never happen. ... Climb Mt. Everest. Still maybe. Race Daytona, win a rallycross championship, win a motocross championship, win Motocross of Nations, jump out of a plane without a parachute. Check. About three quarters of my list as a kid is checked off, but I still have a quite a bit to do. I'd love to win Monster Jam World Finals."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

From the vault: When Gillett’s lofty ambitions turned to NASCAR

St. Petersburg Times (Aug. 4, 2007)

All Pete Rozelle could do was so say no. The worst would be hanging up on a daring 27-year-old looking for a new direction. But he didn't, thinking that this George Gillett Jr., founder of a successful software enterprise and very recently formerly of a Chicago-based marketing firm, was of the Gillette - as in razor empire - family.
"I said, "Do you have a pro football team for sale?' " Gillett recalled of his seminal 1966 cold call to the then-NFL commissioner. "He said, 'No, but I've got part of the Miami Dolphins you could buy.' ... They say the rest is history."
Forty years later, Gillett's empire (worth an estimated $250-million in 2006) includes the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, part of the English Premier League's Liverpool Football Club, several ski resorts, nearly 30 car dealerships and several organic foods companies. On Monday he will add a NASCAR team to his portfolio, buying a majority interest in Evernham Motorsports, which fields three Nextel Cup entries and a Busch Series program.
Gillett, 68, an elusive but affable Midwesterner, has marked his career by taking chances on known commodities in need of a new approach. The expansion Dolphins' season-ticket base mushroomed with him as a minority partner as the team drafted the likes of Bob Griese and built the foundation for a championship in 1973, though Gillett had by then sold his share.
Gillett's knack for marketing player personalities helped make the Harlem Globetrotters a national draw. He sold the team in 1976 and used some of the proceeds to buy Green Bay's Packerland and its inventory of poorly marbled dairy cattle. He made a fortune, convincing consumers to buy his "lean beef," an unheard of notion at the time. A reported billionaire by 50, he declared bankruptcy in the mid '90s, but came back partnering in a company that made Lunchables a school lunch staple.
Gillett, often assumed to be a French-Canadian because of his last name and his hockey team, became the first non-Canadian owner of the NHL's Canadiens in 2001. This year, he and Texas Rangers/Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks partnered to buy perennial soccer power Liverpool for about $430-million and plan to erect a $400-million stadium.
Gillett didn't try to reinvent hockey or soccer in places where they are holy, and he said he knows better than trying to fake his way through motorsports with partner Ray Evernham, though he is a fan.
"It's fair to say Ray's primary emphasis and time commitment will be on the racing side," he said. "The key for us is that there's some things that we know and some things that we don't, and I'm not going to tell you we know anything about pro football drafting any more than I know how to make a car go fast. What we do is we concentrate on the things we do well, which is take care of the customer or the fan base."
Gillett's interest in racing shouldn't be lumped with a spate of recent NASCAR mergers and partnerships: Red Sox owner John Henry and Roush Racing, Newman/Haas/Lanigan and Robert Yates Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Ginn Racing. A self-described "best crasher in history," Gillett and buddies raced their personal cars at Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin as younger men; he sponsored late Midwest legend Larry Detjens and co-sponsored the car Buddy Lazier used to win the 1996 Indianapolis 500.
He has close ties to the France family that founded and runs NASCAR. When in need of a racing metaphor, he conjures vintage names that come from years of interest, not quick study. And he already carps about other drivers running into Evernham cars.
"Papa and Mama (France) and I knew each other pretty well and we talked about doing something as late as 1976, doing something in and around NASCAR," Gillett said. "Three and a half years ago we started actively looking at making an investment or being a partner in NASCAR, but we weren't interested in just coming in and bringing money."
Dean Bonham, of Denver-based Bonham Group sports marketing group, called Gillett "one of the most interesting personalities in the business of sports" after assisting on a failed bid to buy the NBA's Nuggets, the NHL's Avalanche and the Pepsi Center in 2000.
"Nothing keeps him down for long," he told ColoradoBiz magazine. "He's as passionate and enthusiastic about the business of sports as anyone I've met in my career. I think he was disappointed, but it was on to bigger and better things once the deal didn't go through."
An intermediary introduced Gillett to Evernham, who won three championships as crew chief for Jeff Gordon. But as an owner, his team had bogged down in recent seasons. Evernham complained this spring that he would need 50 more employees to compete with resourceful megateams such as Hendrick Motorsports. Negotiations intensified five months ago and his immediate personal connection with Gillett may have signaled in what he called "the cavalry."
"We've become friends. But again, it's a big business proposition, and it has to work good for everybody," Evernham said. "I want to win the Cup. I don't care if I have 100 percent or 1 percent (ownership). My goal when I started this thing was to win the Cup and I am going to do whatever it takes to do that."
Kasey Kahne won six of the eighth-year organization's 13 Cup races when he finished eighth in points in 2006. The team hasn't won since and Kahne (28th in points), Elliott Sadler (22nd) and Scott Riggs (23rd) are well out of Chase for the Championship contention. Aerodynamics issues with the new Charger have bedeviled the team the past two years and more employees would help. Evernham is getting divorced, and Jeremy Mayfield, fired by the team last year, said in a civil suit that Evernham had neglected the team as he focused on developmental driver Erin Crocker. Gillett said he had not known about the relationship.
"What's happened with Ray, is he's obviously been distracted the last year, year and a half of his life," Gillett said. "He's not been able to devote as much as time to the racing side. The business side and personal matters have distracted him, and while he's very good at business, it's not something he enjoys that much and he doesn't have the same level of superiority - at least he doesn't think he does - that he does on the racing side."
Gillett and Evernham are both partners and friends. (They had a half-serious bet to drop their pants at the start/finish line at Indianapolis if Everhman's cars did not perform well, but both thought better of it, Gillett laughed.) But both are in this deal to further their own ambitions and advance the whole.
"He loves to kid and he loved to be kidded," Gillett said of Evernham. "And my style and my son's (Geordie's) style is we're very open and no one is immune from comments, kidding or criticism. When we discovered Ray was self-deprecating in terms of his recent performance, that he had a great sense of humor, that was really what sold us. We'd already done enough investigation to know that he is an absolute genius at making cars go fast. That was never a question.
"The question was, would he have a sense of humor? ... Because there's no way - unless your name was Richard Petty or Fonty Flock or Marshall Teague, one of the early guys when you could get winning streaks going - but in the new NASCAR, it's significantly more competitive and a lot more even. So you're not going to win every week, so you've got to be able to laugh every week, don't you think?"
That might have just gotten a lot easier at Evernham Motorsports.
Read the full Gillett interview at
Fast facts (circa Aug. 4, 2007)
George Gillett Jr.
Age: 68
Hometown: Racine, Wis.
Net worth: Approximately $250-million (2006).
What he owns: Coleman, the largest supplier of meat and processed meats in the organic industry; Wheat, Montana, comprised of organic farms, flour mills, bakeries and delicatessens; seven ski resorts; nearly 30 car dealerships; the Montreal Canadiens (NHL) and their home, the Bell Centre (since Jan. 31, 2001); this year he bought interest (with Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks) in Liverpool Football Club (English Premier League).

Friday, September 24, 2010

From the vault: A.J. Foyt 10, Grim Reaper 0

(AUGUST 3, 2007) -  A.J. Foyt remains hard to kill. But the 72-year-old Texan, one of the greatest drivers ever, had another close call on Thursday in Waller, Texas.
“I came awful close this time,” he said. “It scared me.”
Foyt, working dirt on a bank, plunged sideways into a lake on a 35,000-pound bulldozer when the earth collapsed.
“It was such a helpless feeling when that dirt broke away and I was going down and down,” said Foyt, who estimated the bulldozer dropped upside down into the lake about 15 feet.
“The dozer had a steel cage on it which probably saved my life,” said Foyt, “because without it, the dozer would have crushed me. But the cage also made it hard to escape. I had to crawl through the front of it and it was hard to do under water with all my clothes on and with my bum legs and all. I’ll be honest, I was panicked a little bit.
“If I hadn’t made it to the top of the dozer, they would never have found me because it was completely under water. I didn’t want to swim to the bank ‘cause it was covered in vines and steep and I was already out of breath from getting out of the dozer. I knew I’d get too tired trying to haul my big butt outta there. But as I was calling for help, I saw a water moccasin [snake] swim by. I started splashing like hell then. After about 15 minutes someone heard me and stopped to help.”
Foyt refused medical treatment and spent the next four hours trying to extracate the bulldozer, according to a team release. Three wreckers were needed to pull it out.
“There’s never a dull moment in my life,” said Foyt in the understatement of the century.

Some of Foyt’s other brushes with the great beyond:

January, 1950 – Foyt nearly drowned when his boat capsized outside of Galveston; he clung to a buoy for nearly eight hours before being rescued. Foyt had put a lifejacket on earlier because he’d been cold. His buddy didn’t and drowned on his 16th birthday.

January, 1965 – He flipped down an embankment in turn nine at Riverside (CA) Raceway when the brakes failed on the Nascar stock car he was driving. The track doctor pronounced him dead at the scene but fellow driver Parnelli Jones noticed movement and scooped the dirt from Foyt’s mouth that had been suffocating him. He sustained a bruised aorta and broken back among other injuries.

June, 1966 – He became trapped in his burning rear-engine Lotus Indy car when it hit the wall at Milwaukee in practice. Suffered second and third degree burns.

Circa 1968 – He was attacked by a lion in the infield at the fairground speedway in DuQuoin, Ill. The lion, on display while race cars qualified, broke away from its stake in the ground and lunged at onlooker Foyt, taking him down. Foyt was bruised and badly scratched. Foyt raced later that day but had to change into a different uniform after the lion inflicted multiple lacerations.

May, 1972 – He was run over by his own race car when he jumped out of it during a refueling stop at DuQuoin Fairgrounds because the car caught fire. He sustained burns, plus a broken leg and ankle.

July, 1981 – He nearly lost his right arm to the Armco guardrail in an Indy car crash at Michigan Speedway. He spent the autumn painting miles of fencing on his ranch as his therapy for the badly broken arm.

July, 1983 – He crashed his stock car in practice at Daytona but won the Paul Revere 250 sports car race later that night. Woke up the next morning and could barely move—he’d broken two vertebra in his crash the day before.

September, 1990 – He sailed off the mile-long straightaway at Elkhart Lake, WI’s Road America when his brakes failed. His car crashed into a dirt embankment, missing a huge rock boulder by about two feet. He sustained severe injuries to his lower legs and feet from which he still suffers.

August, 2005 – He was attacked by a swarm of Africanized Killer Bees while clearing land in Hempstead, TX. Sustained over 200 stingers in his head and went into systemic shock but refused to go to the hospital.

From August 3, 2007 Lug Nuts blog item, St. Petersburg Times

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First photograhic evidence of illegal modification to Clint Bowyer's race car

Finally, an excuse to use this picture again. Couldn't she have pushed away the wrecker and the other drivers bumping him?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Travis Pastrana, Mt. Washington and me

Here's some video from last week when I was allowed behind the scenes as Travis Pastrana tested a Vermont SportsCar Subaru up the 6,288-foot high, 7.6-mile-long Mt. Washington Auto Road outside Gorham, N.H. The highlight of the first day was a ride up the 149-year-old, twisting, undulating, edge-of-the-face-of-God road with Pastrana in a street car. I won't lie. I watch Nitro Circus, and I was therefore a little apprehensive. The two-page waiver didn't didn't alleviate any of the concern. But it was a great experience. Keep checking for the Pastrana profile I am eagerly working on since returning.

As for the video. This was done with a Flip right out of the box, while trying to maintain conversation, see everything with my own eyes and sort-of poke at an interview at 50-plus mph on a road fit for goat herds. So please excuse the amateurish lack of quality in these snippets.
Base of the mountain on Tuesday. The road had not yet been closed to the public as we started up.

And up ...

Check out that first step.

Off the asphalt and onto the 15-percent of the road still unpaved. The sensation of speed is amazing here.
The road never ends. Pure exhiliration as we continue nearer the summit and the finish line near the weather observatory.

I mention to Pastrana just before this clip begins that it appears a nuclear bomb has been detonated at the summit, as the vegetation has been replaced by fields of granite boulders. Co-driver Marshall Clarke had apparently said the same thing earlier. I'm a trained observer.

Still going. ...

Big finale.

And into the parking lot at the summit.

Standing atop a pile of rocks at the summit.

A pseudo 360-degree panorama just as Pastrana begins a brief photo session with the marker atop the mountain. I've seen the proofs. A very cool shot came out of that one.

Rally cars have license plates.
Pretty self-explanatory.
 The next morning, Pastrana smashed the record for quickest trip up the mountain, covering the course in 6 minutes, 20 seconds and .47 hundreds on his first attempt in this car. He averaged 72 mph. Fifty had seemed like light speed the previous day. Amazing. The previous record of 6:41.9 was set by Canadian Frank Sprongl in 1998. He and co-driver Marshall Clarke were unable to attempt any further full runs as clouds and fog socked in the summit.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide, truck series schedules


Feb. 12 Daytona International Speedway (Budweiser Shootout At Daytona *)
Feb. 13 Daytona 500 Qualifying
Feb. 20 Daytona International Speedway
Feb. 27 Phoenix International Raceway
March 6 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
March 20 Bristol Motor Speedway
March 27 Auto Club Speedway
April 3 Martinsville Speedway
April 9 Texas Motor Speedway
April 17 Talladega Superspeedway
April 30 Richmond International Raceway
May 7 Darlington Raceway
May 15 Dover International Speedway
May 21 Charlotte Motor Speedway (NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race *)
May 29 Charlotte Motor Speedway
June 5 Kansas Speedway
June 12 Pocono Raceway
June 19 Michigan International Speedway
June 26 Infineon Raceway
July 2 Daytona International Speedway
July 9 Kentucky Speedway
July 17 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
July 31 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Aug. 7 Pocono Raceway
Aug. 14 Watkins Glen International
Aug. 21 Michigan International Speedway
Aug. 27 Bristol Motor Speedway
Sept. 4 Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sept. 10 Richmond International Raceway
Sept. 18 Chicagoland Speedway
Sept. 25 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Oct. 2 Dover International Speedway
Oct. 9 Kansas Speedway
Oct. 15 Charlotte Motor Speedway
Oct. 23 Talladega Superspeedway
Oct. 30 Martinsville Speedway
Nov. 6 Texas Motor Speedway
Nov. 13 Phoenix International Raceway
Nov. 20 Homestead-Miami Speedway
* – Denotes non-point event.


Feb. 19 Daytona International Speedway
Feb. 26 Phoenix International Raceway
March 5 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
March 19 Bristol Motor Speedway
March 26 Auto Club Speedway
April 8 Texas Motor Speedway
April 16 Talladega Superspeedway
April 23 Nashville Superspeedway
April 29 Richmond International Raceway
May 6 Darlington Raceway
May 14 Dover International Speedway
May 22 Iowa Speedway
May 28 Charlotte Motor Speedway
June 4 Chicagoland Speedway
June 18 Michigan International Speedway
June 25 Road America
July 1 Daytona International Speedway
July 8 Kentucky Speedway
July 16 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
July 23 Nashville Superspeedway
July 30 O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis
Aug. 6 Iowa Speedway
Aug. 13 Watkins Glen International
Aug. 20 Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Montreal
Aug. 26 Bristol Motor Speedway
Sept. 3 Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sept. 9 Richmond International Raceway
Sept. 17 Chicagoland Speedway
Oct. 1 Dover International Speedway
Oct. 8 Kansas Speedway
Oct. 14 Charlotte Motor Speedway
Nov. 5 Texas Motor Speedway
Nov. 12 Phoenix International Raceway
Nov. 19 Homestead-Miami Speedway


Feb. 18 Daytona International Speedway
Feb. 25 Phoenix International Raceway
March 12 Darlington Raceway
April 2 Martinsville Speedway
April 22 Nashville Superspeedway
May 13 Dover International Speedway
May 20 Charlotte Motor Speedway
June 4 Kansas Speedway
June 10 Texas Motor Speedway
July 16 Iowa Speedway
July 22 Nashville Superspeedway
July 29 O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis
Aug. 6 Pocono Raceway
Aug. 20 Michigan International Speedway
Aug. 24 Bristol Motor Speedway
Sept. 2 Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sept. 16 Chicagoland Speedway
Sept. 24 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Oct. 1 Kentucky Speedway
Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Oct. 22 Talladega Superspeedway
Oct. 29 Martinsville Speedway
Nov. 4 Texas Motor Speedway
Nov. 18 Homestead-Miami Speedway

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pull up a chair

Too bad NASCAR chairman Brian France and Izod IndyCar series counterpart Randy Bernard aren't scheduled to actually appear together at tonight's Texas Motor Speedway 2011 schedule bash until a post-ceremony photo opportunity. We're not looking for the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate – lip sweat notwithstanding – but two directors chairs and some lively banter from the leaders of North American racing's preeminent series could have been entertaining and informative. France and Bernard are acquaintances, anyway, so there should have been no formalities, maybe even a little playfulness – if allowed – over the wow-factor of each series' announcement tonight.
Night racing in April? Yeah, whatever. We're racing twice in a day!
But alas, just a photo op. Too bad.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Excerpt from Sept. 23, 2009 Chitwood bit

Joie Chitwood's biggest leap of faith continues to benefit the IRL, even after he made another and left for a new job this summer.

As NASCAR's Chase ramps up toward what may or not be a climactic finish on Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the IRL's season will culminate at the same track in two weeks with three drivers within a nose piece of a title.

Defending series champion Scott Dixon leads 2007 champion Dario Franchitti by five points and Ryan Briscoe by eight.

The race virtually assures another close points finish, a hallmark of the simple system the IRL has employed -- with a few adjustments -- since its formative days in 1996. And it all started with Chitwood auditing a race result.


Chitwood wasn't sure he'd made a prudent decision. He'd grown up riding stunt bikes in his Tampa family's traveling daredevil show, broken away on his own to finish an MBA, and here he was lugging boxes full of medical supplies for this start-up racing circuit at a makeshift track at Walt Disney World in 1996.

"I get hired for three months to help out at Disney World Speedway. I'm carrying TVs, all kinds of stuff," he said. "I'd just graduated with a finance degree. I'm thinking, 'My wife is going to kill me. This is not what I signed up for.'"

The gamble eventually proved worthwhile. The IRL prevailed in the bitter but equally destructive civil war with Champ Car, and Chitwood rose from an administrative head -- "I was in charge of entry blanks, credentials, prize-winning, insurance, everything you didn't have enough of " -- to the presidency of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was more than a name plate on a desk for a man who had "been to every track in the country" as part of his family's show. His grandfather, and namesake, had contested seven Indianapolis 500s from 1940 to '50, finishing fifth three times. He felt a kinship with the place and what was a restoration project for its image and national relevance.

His departure in August -- to become vice president for business operations with International Speedway Corporation -- removes another set of hands that helped hold the fledgling circuit together. But he's left a few things behind, among the most important, the simple, yet fair scoring system that has produced several compelling championship battles in recent years.

And to think it all began when he used his finance degree to work while vetting a USAC points report in the league's second season.

"After the Phoenix race, I'm kind of putting together what the prize money should be and I catch a mistake with the USAC points after the race that no one else caught. And I'm a little bit like, 'What if I do it, and it's wrong, it's going to affect how you pay out prize money'," Chitwood recalled. "So I kind of write out a little memo trying to be politically correct, but basically catch a mistake."

Indy Racing League officials decided to form their own sanctioning body before the 1997 season and Chitwood was tasked with Speedway historian Donald Davidson to concoct an original system for awarding points for race finishes. They tinkered with the USAC model, applied some ideas to the results of past CART seasons.

"So we took the last year and started running some things and came up with 50 to win, 40, 35, 32, then down by a point, and that's how we did it, basically," Chitwood remembered. "But it wasn't like we just did it. We looked at some other models, at what other people were doing and came up with something that seemed to make sense. You have a benefit for winning, but fifth place wasn't a detriment and it seems like it worked out well."

Very well. Since 2006, the eventual champion has won by fewer than 17 points. Sam Hornish Jr. won his third title in 2006 on a tiebreaker when he and defending series champion Dan Wheldon tied atop the standings. Franchitti won by 13 points, Dixon by 17. There have been two ties since 1996.

All of which greatly pleases IRL president of competition Brian Barnhart, for whom there is beauty -- and validation -- in simplicity for a series that brandishes both in its constant struggle for viability against NASCAR.

"It was well thought out, because it balances out the emphasis on winning and it rewards some consistency and it plays out very well," he said. "And I think our points battles over the past several years have certainly validated our points system, and we don't need to do anything to contrive competition or reseed or do anything in terms of artificially trying to create excitement. It's not to say someone can't come in and dominate. They can, but we've been very fortunate the sport has been exciting and on the edge the last couple years, and we've come down to the last race."

Read more:

Chitwood has come from Tampa stunt shows to run American racing’s two biggest arenas

(2005 article from when Chitwood was in his second year as president and CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway)


St. Petersburg Times, 2005

Joie Chitwood admits his 36 years have been unusual. Born into a family that barnstormed the country for four decades as the stunt-driving Chitwood Thrill Show, a staple of state fairs and dragstrips, Chitwood grew up in Tampa, attended Jesuit High School and went on to earn a bachelor's degree at the University of Florida and an MBA at USF.

Daring to think big, and yearning to use his education to return to his family roots in racing (his grandfather raced seven Indy 500s from 1940-50), he applied for jobs at just two places when he finished school: Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hired by Indy Racing League founder Tony George to help open a speedway at Walt Disney World in 1996, Chitwood has climbed the company's ranks until being named president and chief operating officer of IMS last year.

It has been a long journey from the go-cart he drove in the family show as a 5-year-old. This week, Times auto racing writer Brant James talked with Chitwood about his memorable life and career.

How did the family come to be the Chitwood Thrill Show?

My grandfather (also Joie Chitwood) was a race car driver, raced in the '40s. During World War II, racing was outlawed. There was a gentleman out there that ran a stunt show and his name was "Lucky" Teeter. He died performing a stunt in a show, and his widow went to my grandfather and asked if he would help her sell the show. He was an out-of-work race car driver (so) he decides to buy the show. By 1950, the stunt show is barnstorming. He has shows going all over the United States at fairs and speedways, so he retires as a driver and becomes a full-time stunt man.

He had two boys, Joie Jr. and my uncle, Tim. I'm Joie III. At some point during the early '60s, my grandfather moved the family down to Florida. We need a place to work on the vehicles (during the winter) and being in Pennsylvania doesn't really work well when your schedule is May to October.


What was your role in the show?

When I was 5 I started driving a go-cart. When I was 8 I started driving a mini-Indy. At age 12 I started driving a Chevette, and after that I started doing everything, whether it was standing on the side of the car when Dad was driving it on two wheels, or driving the car on two wheels, or performing reverse spins, or doing a 180.

You're the caretaker of a venue that millions of fans are passionate about, more like a Fenway Park than a normal speedway. What's that like?

I've run other racetracks and it's always about generating attention for your property. But here at Indy, if we do anything it's newsworthy, and if it were to occur at another track, no one may care. But whether we repave the track, or we grind the surface or we change a day or a schedule time, there's always a consequence. Is it going to cause this or that? People are very passionate about this place. They have great memories. They always talk about, "I remember when I saw (A.J.) Foyt win his fourth race" (or) "I was there when they broke 200 mph." And so that passion translates into attention.


What I probably enjoy most is (that) I feel like I have a connection to this place. Because my grandfather raced here - he finished fifth three times, he is credited with being the first man to wear a seat belt in the Indy 500 - there is that special connection. I feel like I have some history here, and it's not just a job for me.


I would imagine there are some amazing perks to your job.


No. 1 is during the prerace activities. We typically drive some old cars around the track from the museum. One of my grandfather's race cars that he drove in 1946 is in the museum - it's called the Noc-Out Hose Clamp Special - and a couple of years ago I got to drive that around the track. So give or take 50 years of history, I'm driving around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the morning of an Indy 500 in a race car that my grandfather finished fifth. So that, by far, is the greatest of activities.


Will the U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race be back after the disaster this year (just six cars raced after tiremaker Michelin advised its seven entries that their tires would be unsafe without last-minute changes to the course)?


We've made a significant investment in that sport. With what it took to build the road course and Gasoline Alley suites and all the improvements to make it an FIA-acceptable road course, we made an investment that we're not looking to be over. But (we) have to make sure having (the event) here is good for us, the city of Indianapolis and the fans. Obviously, the quality of the last race wasn't up to anyone's expectations. We don't want it to go away, but we have to make the right decision for all involved, and right now we're trying to see if it's possible.


Is it Indy or nowhere for U.S. venues?

My feeling is there is no other place than Indy where an F1 race could be successful in America. In terms of our property, our ability to hold fans, the history, the uniqueness, I don't think having an F1 race in Las Vegas or wherever would really match up to what we have here. So I think it really would be very tough to be successful anyplace else.


What do you most miss about Tampa?

So many things. Spanish food. I love Cuban sandwiches, deviled crab, stuffed potatoes, black beans, you name it. It's something Indianapolis doesn't have much of. I miss the water. I used to live five or six blocks from the water in South Tampa right near the WestShore mall. I miss the SEC. I always enjoyed that Tampa, although it's a good-sized town, it always felt like a small town to me. I always had that good feeling about it. My wife (the former Susan Garner) is a fourth-generation Floridian, from Arcadia, and they're quite rare, and she misses it very much.

I always miss it. I've always assumed at some point I will be back in Florida. I don't know when, but I would love to make it back there, whether my career here is over or whatever. But Tampa is still home to me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Care for another? Duals unusual but not unprecedented for Indy car series historically

The Izod IndyCar Series' running of dual same-day races at Texas Motor Speedway in 2011 would be new for the circuit in its current incarnation, but not unprecedented for major open wheel racing in North America. That said, it's still rare.
USAC contested Twin 125s at Michigan in 1973 and CART did the same in 1979. CART also held 125- and 126-mile duals at Atlanta in 1979 and 1981.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dodge finds Indy cars intriguing, but doesn’t want to date right now, says CEO Gilles

CEO Ralph Gilles said on Tuesday that he "briefly looked into" the possibility of Dodge joining the Izod IndyCar Series in 2012 as one of at least two engine-providers, but added "right now, my focus is on NASCAR."
Gilles said he "kind of met" with IICS officials at a recent race, and although he came away intrigued by the possible reach into new demographic base, he didn't sound eager to join Honda, the sole engine provider after Toyota and Chevrolet left the series after the 2005 season. Honda officials have expressed a desire to bring in other manufacturers, and league president of competition Brian Barnhart said in July that he and league officials planned domestic and foreign junkets to find them. Gilles isn't ready to commit.
"It is kind of locked up with Honda right now," he said. "From actually studying that viewer base, it is quite different from Formula 1 and NASCAR. There is a unique viewer base there. It was intriguing, but it's a couple years out."
Roger Penske, who fields the only Dodges in the Sprint Cup series, said he would welcome "other investments or other manufacturing opportunities," in the IICS, where he fields a three-car team. Dodge's parent company, Chrysler Group, is run by Fiat, which also controls long-time Formula One participant Ferrari.

Monday, August 9, 2010

NASCAR met with radio silence

St. Petersburg Times (2005)

Line 1 wants to talk about how much Jason Schmidt could help the White Sox.
Line 2 has the Cubs on his mind.
Line 3: Bears.
Line 4: Bulls.
Line 5: Blackhawks. Slow day.
Line 6: Anyone want to kick around whether Tony Stewart can win three in a row Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway? Anyone?
The phone banks at WMVP-AM didn't align exactly that way Thursday, three days before NASCAR makes its annual stop in its eighth-biggest television market, but they might as well have, said Jim Pastor, the general manager of the ESPN affiliate and Chicago's largest sports-talk outlet. Though NASCAR has made a push into larger, nontraditional markets and has done well on television, it has failed to make progress in the daily drone of sports-talk radio.
"We will bring it up more around the big races or when they are at the speedway, but we play the hits," Pastor said. "And ultimately, the listeners determine what the hits are."
That indicates to NASCAR CEO Brian France that although viewership and interest continue to increase, stock car racing has failed to leach into the fabric of America's sporting consciousness. That's the last realm, it would appear, for NASCAR to conquer, and until it does, France seems bothered by what he hears. Or doesn't.
"That's one of the hot topics that occurs in my office every day," France said in a national teleconference. "Because, in fact, we are very undercovered for the size audience we have, not just in sports-talk radio."
There is no disputing NASCAR's popularity on television. According to statistics provided by NASCAR, an average of 6.6-million households, a 9 percent increase from 2004, have tuned in to each race this season. Of the top five cities by households watching - Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Dallas and New York - only Atlanta is a traditional market. In Chicago it has 131,000 households per event (an 11 percent increase), but racing struggles to inspire commuters on the Dan Ryan Expressway and fans in South Wacker Drive cubicles to make the call.
"NASCAR has all sorts of statistics that show it does well on television in major markets, and the interest level is higher than it has ever been before, which is all legit," Pastor said. "But as far as creating a buzz and a presence on sports-talk radio, at least on this station, the thing I would need to remind NASCAR of is in major markets, it's not like in middle markets where if you are not the only game in town, you are the biggest game in town, and here you are competing with two baseball teams, the NFL and the NBA, with a fan base that has been in place a lot longer than NASCAR has. So it's not so much that the buzz is not there, it's just more that the collective buzz that surrounds Chicago, especially during the summer, is divided among any number of things."
France understands that stock car racing is a new taste compared with baseball, football, basketball and hockey. NASCAR was first broadcast on national television in 1979 and was not a fixture until the 1990s.
"In fairness, relatively we've been at it for 50 years but America really discovered us just 10 years ago in a prolific way," France said. "That's going to take an awful lot of time for those not used to covering NASCAR to go, "Gee, this is an important thing.'
"The other thing is, we have a big plus in that all of our races are national events, mega events. That's one other issue: We don't have home teams. So there is a tendency for publications and newspapers and radio affiliates to want to cover just what they think the hometown fan base wants to hear, which is the hometown teams."
Tampa, the fifth-best NASCAR television market last year, has slipped to sixth behind Dallas but has experienced a 10 percent increase to 138,000 households per race. This market's standing is impressive considering its metropolitan area population (2.4-million) is roughly half that of the smallest market (Atlanta, 4.2-million) in the top five.
But even here, it's hard to strike up a NASCAR debate on radio, mostly, WDAE vice president of programming Brad Hardin said, because on-air personalities such as Steve Duemig, Dan Sileo, Ron Diaz and Ian Beckles are "not big NASCAR fans in general and it drives the topics and the direction they go in.
"I think that's why you don't hear a lot of those calls on the air, people are conditioned to thinking, "Steve Duemig isn't going to talk NASCAR, so I'm not going to call and ask him about it.' I think in WDAE that's something we need to beef up. I'm not happy with the amount of coverage of NASCAR we have now."
WDAE airs a weekly NASCAR show syndicated to about 140 affiliates. Rob D'Amico, who produces the show in Tampa, said on-air talent in emerging markets is not "training the listeners."
"I think that's what Brian might have meant. A lot of guys in the business may not know enough about it to talk about it," he said.
The chatter on MVP sways again to the White Sox as Nextel Cup drivers prepare to qualify an hour southwest in Joliet. It's tough to get a NASCAR word in edgewise with a first-place White Sox team, the beloved Cubs and Bears and playoff-qualifying Bulls soaking up the airwaves. Even the lowly Blackhawks hold sway.
"It's below all of them," Pastor said of NASCAR. "It's at the bottom of all of them."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

2007 story I wrote about snake oil salesmen and the lure of new money in motorsports

BYLINE: BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

October 21, 2007 Sunday

The banner slowly circled Lowe's Motor Speedway behind a small plane, at first lost among the usual visual clutter of buy-this-support-that commercialism. It was free speech at low altitude.

"How much does Bobby Ginn owe you?"

NASCAR teams chase sponsorship dollars in an increasingly expensive sport and court outside investment to remain competitive. But the banner, flown last weekend, and the story behind it make for a cautionary tale.

Well-funded businessmen such as George Gillett Jr. and John Henry, who bought majority stakes in Evernham Motorsports and Roush Racing, respectively, could be a lifeline. But owners or sponsors who replicate Ginn's experience could have a destabilizing effect on the core group of teams.

"Even in this day of sanitized corporate involvement, there's still the wild card that comes in and self-destructs in 18 months," Peter De Lorenzo, an industry analyst and consultant who publishes, said of Ginn. "(NASCAR) doesn't do due diligence in that regard - certainly not enough."

The citizens of Hilton Head, S.C., sported bumper stickers that read "Honk if Bobby Owes You" in 1987 after the home builder's leveraged buyout of vast holdings failed, laying waste not only to the real-estate market but service industry of the vacation playland.

Now the 58-year-old head of a sprawling Celebration-based resort firm, Ginn re-created that maelstrom in microcosm after buying an 80 percent stake in MB2 Motorsports in 2006. He hired scores of employees, invested in expensive equipment, said all the right things about the long haul. But as debts mounted and he was unable to replace his resort empire as a rotating sponsor on his three-car Nextel Cup team, he laid off almost 100 employees and sold out to Dale Earnhardt Inc. in July, becoming a minority partner rarely seen at the track.

Ultimately, his maneuver had the look of an investor buying a house on the cheap and flipping it, as DEI moved into Ginn Racing's larger shop as part of the transaction. Former drivers Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek have since sued for unpaid wages.

Ginn representatives did not respond to requests for an interview.

He wasn't the first to overestimate his wealth and potential. J.D. Stacy, a Kentucky coal baron who entered the sport in 1977, owned/sponsored a record seven cars in the 1982 Daytona 500. A year later he fled, with lawsuits and vitriolic debtors and owners in his wake.

While bodies such as Major League Baseball and the National Football League control franchise sales and investigate ownership groups, NASCAR claims to yield to the free market.

"NASCAR is open to any team that can show up to the track and get in the show," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. "Throughout our history some owners have succeeded and some have failed. Like most businesses, probably more have failed than succeeded"

The new batch of owners appears sound. Besides Gillett and Henry, who according to the Boston Globe paid more than $50-million for 50 percent of Roush's outfit, British billionaire Robert Kauffman recently bought half of Michael Waltrip Racing, and Arizona Diamondbacks managing partner Jeff Moorad and chief operating officer Tom Garfinkel secured a controlling interest in Hall of Fame Racing. Richard Childress quietly began the trend when he added unnamed investors two years ago.

Each investor has his reasons. Gillett and Henry were longtime fans, but even the most avid hobbyist likely wouldn't venture on a dalliance this expensive without the prospect of profit. Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens and co-owner of Liverpool Football Club, sold the Harlem Globetrotters and a share of the Miami Dolphins when other opportunities interested him. The consolidation of teams and influx of outside investment make this a volatile time, De Lorenzo said, though he noted Gillett has the "deep pockets" to last.

"It's great to have this infusion of money," De Lorenzo said. "But now it's $20-million to run a single front-line car for the season. ... Eventually there is going to be only a handful of teams and I think some of these people who come in, they're going to get over their head and they're going to spike salaries again and they're going to take a lot of people from their current situations and then implode."

Veteran driver Kyle Petty, whose family team has raced in NASCAR since its inception, said "how race people are" has for years made owners vulnerable to snake oil salesmen and the traveling preacher show. Petty said a stranger with an ubiquitous old briefcase began showing up at races in 1988, boasting that he represented a company that wanted to invest $15-million to $20-million in a team.

"A sponsorship was $2-million," Petty said. "Along the road (at Talladega) ... he had a motorhome parked there. You could sit there - I think (team owner) Eddie (Wood) and them went and talked to him - and he invited people out. Darrell (Waltrip) went out there. Everyone went out and talked to them. He came to about 10-12 races right in a row. You'd see him out to dinner with (team owner Robert) Yates, all kinds of people. The guy called the racetrack and got garage tickets and just happened to walk through there and tell people these stories and everybody bought it.

"That's the way race people are. If they think anybody's got money, we're all hookers."

Brant James can be reached at brantjameslives@gmail.

Still confirming if these are being posted in the garage at Pocono ... probably not

"You don't want to end up at the black site under North Wilkesboro Speedway, do you?"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mr. Steinbrenner, line one

George Steinbrenner was evil incarnate in my childhood home. He, as any member of my family would readily assert, "ruined baseball," or at least plenty of summers in Maryland.

It was with that indoctrination that I formed preconceived notions about this gruff, volatile man as I began a career as a sports reporter. On my first occasion to actually speak with him, while covering thoroughbred horse racing for the St. Petersburg Times, I had already scripted out in my mind the inevitable failure of the interview with this curmudgeon before I ever made my first call to the office he kept in Tampa.

But I made the call anyway, asking his long-time secretary if I could steal a few minutes of his time, eliciting a polite but noncommittal tone in her voice. It didn't sound like this was going to happen. Of course it wasn't.

Remembering a bit of advice from an veteran co-worker who had danced with this devil throughout the years, I interjected, "This isn't about baseball. It's about horse racing."

"Oh," she said, more energetically. "I'll tell him."

The call ended and I went about finding another interview subject to buoy the story where Steinbrenner had failed me. Twenty minutes later the phone rang in my cubicle.

"Brant!," boomed the voice.

"George Steinbrenner."

It was ridiculous, a Seinfeld parody. He really barked into the phone in that absurd, abrupt style. More amazingly ... George Steinbrenner had returned my call. And he was a gracious, informative interview. He spoke at length about the joys of the Kinsman Farm breeding and racing operation he owned in Ocala. A man so renowned for milling through free agent talent, managers and general managers like so much chaff extolled the joys of breeding his own horses and the accomplishments his son, Hank, had made as a horseman. He was never emotional or incredibly introspective. But he spoke in factoids and blurbs that illuminated an unexpected facet of his personality. The conversations would end abruptly, as if his train of thought or allotment of valuable time for me had expired. He would declare he had to go, and then he went. But it was always worth the call.

I enjoyed several more interviews with Steinbrenner until the spring of 2005 when one his finest Kentucky Derby prospects, a strapping Wood Memorial-winner named Bellamy Road, was about, I hoped, to become a national story. Steinbrenner told me twice that winning at horses was by far more difficult than baseball, and a Kentucky Derby, though he never actually said it, seemed to be the great undone thing in his life as one of America's last true sportsmen.

Confident of my rapport with Steinbrenner, I promised my editors a tale of how Steinbrenner had built his racing empire so conversely to the Yankees, eschewing high-dollar yearlings, campaigning this homebreds and frugal auction purchases to national success and, again, America's greatest race. I rang his office one April morning, made the typical request with his secretary and waited for a quick reply.

And waited. And waited.

Days passed. Two weeks. Steinbrenner had betrayed me when I most needed him.

A day before my deadline, flailing in my cubicle for a backup plan, I received a phone call.



"George Steinbrenner. Look, Brant, I want to apologize. Apparently there was some problem getting me your message a few weeks back, but I've remedied that situation."

Christ. Had he fired his secretary over a missed message? Had she been Billy Martined? No time for that. (And I never actually did bother to find out. I know. Idiot) The Boss was talking the first Saturday in May and I was hammering out notes barely fast enough to keep up. Steinbrenner spoke with urgency I'd never heard from him over a horse, but he would never admit how much a Derby win would mean to him. Seven minutes into the interview, the egg timer ran out again.

"You need to talk to Eddie Sexton, my farm manager," he said. "He'll talk to you."

Steinbrenner's patience with being the center of the tale quickly vaporized, and he granted just two – that I found - other interviews on the topic, with reporters he'd known for decades.

Sexton was a candid sort whose demeanor fit well with Steinbrenner. He was an extra in Braveheart. Seriously. And the Irishman wouldn't have wasted his time on an interview with a reporter unless ordered. That he told me right off. And then he told me a tale I still relish writing to this day. Because I was seeing the man with new eyes like, I hope, many readers, whatever their preconceived notions had been.

Bellamy Road went into the Derby as a 5-2 favorite but foundered in at seventh. Steinbrenner resolutely instructed long-time trainer Nick Zito to "just keep trying."

I never had occasion to call Steinbrenner again. And maybe for the best. He'd taught me a lesson in perception, though I'd clearly benefitted from a topic that disarmed him. He'd provided me one of the most memorable anecdotes of my career. He'd been good to me, and that was all I could ask. As for that secretary ... I should look into that.

Here's the Steinbrenner/Bellamy Road story from 2005.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ganassi prefers talking about current events, so don’t ask him about Paul Tracy. Seriously

Chip Ganassi is an intriguing interview subject. He is engaging and introspective on subjects that please him or in response to a question he feels displays knowledge or credibility. He can also be evasive or simply intractable if any of those criteria are not met.

Ganassi was all of those at various times during a lengthy scrum with a small group of media at St. Petersburg on Friday, waxing about the future of the Izod IndyCar Series, his team's multi-sport success, how disappointed Juan Pablo Montoya was that rain in Martinsville was keeping a fast No. 42 Chevrolet off the track. Ganassi joking and gabbing disarms the room.

Then a reporter, already thinking better of it, prefaced a question by saying he hated to preface a question with "Paul Tracy said," leading into a query about the value sponsors can currently glean from Indy car teams. The 41-year-old former CART champion has bemoaned on Twitter that he and the likes of Graham Rahal lack full-time rides (in Tracy's case, for three years) while drivers like Milka Duno are in the series. Tracy has evened engaged in a comical tweet war with a fake Milka Duno.

Ganassi's face seized. Cue the brutal candor.

"What the ----'s the last thing Paul Tracy ever did in racing?" he asked. "That's what I want to know. I mean, I like Paul. He's a nice guy, but let's stay current. Can we stay current?"

Reporter redacts Tracy from the preface and asks again.

"The day I start listening to Paul Tracy talk about value for your money I'm in trouble," Ganassi continues.

Reporter cites Ganassi's possible knowledge of such value issued because he'd reportedly been trying to secure funding to sign Rahal, who will soon rejoin Newman/Haas/Lanigan with a new sponsor. Ganassi shuts down inquiries into his business dealings.

Another question about Ganassi perhaps becoming the second owner to join the "500 Club" by winning the Daytona and Indianapolis 500s in the same year led to a cheery story about Roger Penske – the only other member of the club – and the order was restored.

Let's stay current here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sorry for the three-month lapse

I realize that's about three million years in Inter-time. But things have been busy, what with freelancing for seven (not kidding) different wonderful, wonderful! employers.

Kanaan: No regrets over passing on Ganassi ride despite woeful 2009 campaign

Tony Kanaan admits he thinks about it. Can’t help it. The thoughts come rushing harder when he considers the task of restoring not only his No. 11 team, specifically, but Andretti Autosport in general, to a position of authority in the Izod IndyCar Series after a mutually horrendous 2009 season.
Kanaan, 35, might have avoided all of this disarray had he just signed the contract he’d agreed upon with team owner Chip Ganassi in 2008. But negotiations suddenly became brisk with long-time boss Michael Andretti once the Ganassi deal was reported, and Kanaan re-signed through 2013. Ganassi replaced Dan Wheldon with Kanaan’s close friend, Dario Franchitti, whose NASCAR junket had imploded. Kanaan sustained his worst season (sixth in points) in four years and Franchitti won his second series title in three years.
Hindsight would seemingly be a hurtful indulgence for Kanaan. He claims otherwise.
“It was my decision anyway,” he said, rubbing his forehead hard as he sat in his hauler during a recent test. “People say, “Oh, you were going to be in the car that won the championship.” But this is the team that gave me my first opportunity, the team that I feel very welcomed at after the year I had. I don’t know. Maybe if I was Chip, and after the year I had (in 2009) I would be fired by now. You know that. To me, I was more loyal to Michael because I was in the shit when he gave me my job. It wasn’t like I was winning races in 2002 (in Champ Car the season before Andretti initially signed him). I was working for small teams and he had the vision, and look what he built.”
Andretti Autosport, which has been surpassed for wins and championship campaigns since claiming three titles in four years from 2004-07 with Kanaan, Wheldon and Franchitti, remains a team in flux in a era dominated by Ganassi and Team Penske. Internally, Kanaan remains the leader of a team groping for balance under a singular leadership structure for the first time and new competition director Tom Anderson. Both he and Marco Andretti disappointed in 2009. Danica Patrick finished fifth in her best points campaign, but is dallying with a possible NASCAR career. Kanaan doesn’t seem daunted by the process even though he admits he’s likely in the final seasons of a 12-year career.
“I think you know the involvement I have with this team,” he said. “This is like my home, so I chose to be home. And to me, yeah, I could be winning a lot more ...maybe. But would it be nice to say, “OK, we won everything together. Now that we’re struggling, I’m going to leave the ship. You guys have fun.” Racing is very selfish and some people wouldn’t care. I’m not like that. I feel like that I owe Michael a lot and it’s a big challenge for me. Because years from now wins are just going to be wins and trophies are going to be on the shelf and what we build here as people, the people I got attached to, to me it’s more important, as long as I’m still having fun and people are still giving me to the tools and that I feel people are pumped to go and still win races even if we’re not. That’s what matters to me.”
Kanaan takes some solace – some – that Franchitti exploited the opportunity he shunned.
“To make it even better, I think, my best friend, is sitting in the car I could be (in) and he won the championship after turning a situation around that they left him out to dry,” Kanaan said. “So to me it’s the best of both. I’d probably be more sad or pissed off if it was somebody else, but I don’t even mind.”