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NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Process

Last Thursday, The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing announced the annual induction process for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, scheduled for opening in Charlotte N.C. in 2010.
The yearly Hall of Fame classes will have five inductees selected by a voting panel consisting of NASCAR industry leaders, manufacturer’s representatives, former competitors, the media, and race fans.  Inductees will be chosen from an annual list of no more than 25 candidates.  The main criteria for nomination and induction? NASCAR accomplishments and contributions to the sport.
To be eligible, former drivers must have competed 10 years in NASCAR and be retired from racing for a minimum of three years.  Non-drivers must have worked at least 10 years in the industry.  Potential candidates with shorter careers may be considered if there are special circumstances.
“With the excitement already building about the physical layout of the Hall of Fame, this will add to the excitement on another front, regarding this impressive, historic project,” NACAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said.  “We have established an orderly induction process that is inclusive, involving various industry constituencies and most importantly the fans.”
After a 20 member nominating committee selects its list of candidates, the voting will entail a total of 48 ballots. Twenty ballots will be from the nominating committee, 27 ballots will come from a group consisting of former drivers, former owners, former crew chiefs, manufacturers, and media. One ballot will represent the results of a nationwide fan vote.
Plans call for the inaugural list of candidates to be announced in June.  Voting will be completed by Sept. 15, with the results announced in October.  The first induction is scheduled for May 2010 when the NASCAR national series comes to Charlotte for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600.
In addition NASCAR’s Board of Directors will designate a special Hall of Fame exhibit, coinciding with the hall’s opening, honoring the sports “Founding Members,”   individuals who helped build the sport from its roots, enabling current accomplishments.  Founding members will be permanently recognized at the Hall of Fame and the original group can be added to in the future.  Founding members will be eligible for nomination to the Hall of Fame.
So who would you choose for the five founding members?   The five nominees you seem to hear the most are: NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, and Junior Johnson.  Looks like a slam dunk for these five to me.  There could be some discussion about Junior Johnson, but when you consider his total contribution to the sport, as an innovative mechanic, winning team owner, his part in bringing R J Reynolds Winston brand together with NASCAR’s  management, not to mention his place as the living, breathing embodiment of the lore and legend of the sports background, he seems a solid choice. .  
Ok, there’s not too much to argue about on the five founding members, but where do you go from there? That’s when it gets interesting and the endless debates begin.  Every fan has their own favorites and memories.  For what it’s worth, my next five would be Mechanical wizard Smokey Yunick, and drivers Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts, and Lee Petty.  If it were my vote, I think team owner Carl Kiekhaefer, whose Mercury-outboard sponsored Chrysler 300’s ran roughshod over the competition in  the mid fifties, should be in the second group. Kiekhaefer’s organization was the prototype of the modern NASCAR race team.
Kiekhaefer’s drivers and crew were always sharply dressed in white uniforms while the uniform of the day for most crews was Levi’s and a T shirt.  The team's gleaming white Chryslers were hauled to the track in shiny white vans emblazoned with the Mercury Outboards logo.  Tim and Fonty Flock, along with Buck Baker, drove to 30 wins in 1956 behind the wheel of Carl Kiekhaefer Chryslers.  Then as quickly as he arrived, Kiekhaefer folded his tent and quit the sport.  Under the ten years in the industry ruling he would not qualify for the hall.  
So if we can’t have Kiekhaefer, my fifth pick for year two would be Sanford North Carolina’s Herb Thomas.  Along with Marshal Teague, Thomas set the circuit on fire in the early fifties with their twin “Fabulous Hudson Hornets.”  A three-time Darlington 500 winner, Thomas won the Grand National Championship in 1951 and 1953.

Rocky Lives!

Nobody, but nobody would have picked the Cardinals to make it to the Super Bowl. Talk about your over achievers.
The Cardinals with their first playoff appearance in franchise history barely snuck into the playoffs with a 9 and 7 record.  Pride swelled in the hearts of the long suffering NFL doormat.  Playoffs, we’re in the playoffs!
Someone forgot to tell the Cardinals that they are not on the same level with the perennial powerhouses of the league. Like the 'little engine that could' from the children’s books we read our kids when they were tiny.  There is no quit in this group of athletes.
   Last Sunday they closed the deal by jumping out in front of the Philadelphia Eagles 17 to 3 at the half, and then withstood a valiant comeback effort by the Eagles who put up 19 unanswered points in the third quarter and early part of the final quarter.  The Cardinals finally put the game away with a 14-play scoring drive and then making a 2 point extra point attempt with just over two minutes to go in the game.  Final score Cardinals 32 Eagles 25. 
   The opportunistic Cardinals won the turnover battle with three turnovers on the day. They go into the Super Bowl plus 9 in turnover, takeaways for the playoffs.   Oddly enough as the Cardinals prepare to head to Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl, last season's Super Bowl was played at the Cardinals home field.  With the Cardinals in this year's season-ending classic, that leaves just the Browns, Jaguars, Texans, Lions, and the Saints as the only teams in the NFL that have never  played in a Super Bowl .  
   Founded in 1898, the Cardinals hold the distinction of being the United States oldest professional franchise still in existence.  They became a charter member of the National Football League in 1920.  At that time the league was known as the American Professional Football Association.  In 1922, they became the Chicago Cardinals and moved into Comisky Park, which they would share with baseball’s White Sox for the next 37 years.
The then Chicago Cardinals won the NFL Championship in 1947, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21 at Comisky Park. They would repeat as division winners again in 1948, but this time they would lose the league championship game to the Eagles, 7 to 0. 
   They became the St Louis Cardinals in 1960 and 28 years later in 1988 made the move to Arizona.  Throughout all those years they were never able to repeat their success of 1947-48. That is, until last Sunday.  Sixty years after their last championship game, the Cardinals once again have the attention of the entire nation as they prepare for Super Bowl XLIII.
 

By Pete Barber

47th Rolex 24 at Daytona kicks off 2009 Speed Weeks

 Race fans winter waiting is just about over.  The 2009 racing season gets underway Saturday with the traditional season opener, the 24 hour round the clock Rolex 24 endurance classic featuring the Grand Am series cars.
Last year Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates became the first team to win the Rolex 24 three consecutive seasons. This year they are back to try to make it four in a row.  The team has two entries in this year’s race. The No. 1 TELMEX/Target Lexus Riley will be driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Pruett, and Memo Rojas.  Montoya and Pruett have won the event the last two years.  The No.2 Target/TELMEX Lexus Riley will be driven by Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Alex Lloyd.

A number of NASCAR drivers will test their sports car prowess in this year's Rolex 24.
Three-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will drive the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley in the featured Daytona Prototype category.  He’ll share the cockpit with team regulars Jon Fogerty and Alex Gurney and open wheel champion Jimmy Vasser. The team finished second overall in last year’s race.
Other NASCAR national series competitors who have lined up rides are Casey Mears, who won the 2006 event as part of the Ganassi Racing team with Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Pruett, Kyle Petty, A J Almendinger, and Colin Braun.

NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner Roger Penske has entered a Porsche/Riley joining fellow Cup owners Chip Ganassi and Richard Childress in the field.

An interesting entry is the Spirit of Daytona Racing Porsche Coyote entry to be driven by motorcycle veterans Jason Pridmore, Scott Russell and Jeff Ward.  The No. 9 entry is decorated with AMA Pro Racing decals.  Things are totally different for the two wheel competitors.  From the fenders to the seat belts, it’s a different world on the 3.56 mile road course for Pridmore, Russell, and Ward.

“I didn’t think it was going be as awkward as it was, being tightly strapped in,” Pridmore said.  “On a bike, if I’m going through a turn, I’m used to turning my head and looking through the corner.  In a car, I can’t do that as much.  Just sitting in the car for the first time, one of my first comments to car owner Troy Flis was, “I’ve watched this race on TV for the last six years and wanted to drive in it. Now I’m in the car and I’m like, 'why am I here?' "

All three drivers have a storied past at Daytona International Speedway.  Russell, whose nickname is “Mr. Daytona, “is a five-time Daytona 200 by Honda winner.  Ward, who has also competed in open wheel and stock cars has raced Supercross at Daytona, while Pridmore anchors the trio of motorcycle champions with two 750 Supersport victories at Daytona.

Love her or hate her, the Indy Racing League's glamour gal, Danica Patrick, is part of a four-driver team entered by Richard Childress Racing.  Joining Patrick in the No. 2 Pontiac Crawford is the newest member of Richard Childress Racings Sprint Cup team, Casey Mears, three time Rolex 24 winner Andy Wallace,  and Rob Finlay.  
It will be Patrick’s second Rolex 24 start. She competed in the 2006 Rolex 24 with Howard-Boss Motorsports, driving a Porsche Crawford with Jan Lammers, Allan McNish and NASCAR’s Rusty Wallace.

“I had such a good time,” said Patrick of her 2006 Rolex 24 start. “So many drivers come together for this event. Of course everyone wants to win and do well.  But there’s such camaraderie at this event, different from at least my IndyCar season.  I just had a really great time and the cars are wonderful to drive and just the difference of doing a 24 hour race.

“Unfortunatly, I think we were running maybe third when we fell out of the race. We were doing pretty well but we only made it nine hours.  I was getting ready for my second stint.  It was just really cool and I’m really grateful to come back.   To be with a great group of drivers like this, we have a great chance at winning this race.”

For those wanting to watch on TV, SPEED and FOX TV will share live coverage of this years Rolex 24.  FOX opens with 90 minutes beginning at 3:00p.m. Saturday, coverage will then switch to SPEED at 4:30 p.m.

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Tire testing in Texas and family friendly ticket prices

With NASCAR’s mandate to eliminate testing at NASCAR sanctioned tracks for the 2009 season, last week's Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway marked the first opportunity for any of the teams to log some track time.

Two-time Texas Motor Speedway winner Jeff Burton, 2004 Sprint Cup Series Champion Kurt Busch, Yates Racing’s Travis Kvapil, and David Reutimann from Michael Waltip Racing participated.   The lineup gave Goodyear a representative from each vehicle manufacturer in the Cup series.

While Goodyear was gathering data on the tire it plans to use this season at Texas, the four drivers were not only assisting the tire manufacturer but also collecting data that could be valuable to their team’s fortunes for the Samsung 500, set for Sunday April 5th.

“I had to tap my computer screen a few times because I could not believe it was 72 degrees here today, and that was perfect because it emulates the temperature we will probably see here in April,” Busch said. “Testing days are limited and with us being able to get on a track that we race on with the potential tire that we will use in April makes it a vital day. Track time is one of the things you put on the top of your list. These days are few and far between, and we are very happy to be here.”

For Reutimann, he has been limited to testing his dirt track car.  “The opportunity to get back to the track and prepare for the upcoming season was long overdue,” he said.  “It seems like a long time since I’ve been in a car.  It’s good to get back.”

The new testing policy provides an opportunity for smaller teams like Yates Racing to gain ground on the competition.  Kvapil said the new testing procedures will help close the gap between the smaller and larger teams. “In years past, the larger teams continued to spend money on testing, but the new rules will help level the playing field.  Our group is pretty pleased with the new rule,” Kvapik said. “The other teams that did all the testing last year are not going to get those big steps ahead of us.”

Kvapil said the information from this past week's test session will go a long way in improving the team.  “It’s very important to take home all the information we can,” Kvapil said. “It gives us a chance to try a few things, try a few ideas. To come to a place like Texas where it’s fast and you really have to be up on the wheel is exciting.”

Shocked by the large number of empty seats on race day last season,  and conscious of the bleak economic forecast for the coming racing season,  many of the tracks  have announced  substantial price decreases for some sections of their grandstands for the 2009 season.

For the first time in memory even Bristol Motor Speedway, the toughest ticket in NASCAR, has tickets available for their Cup races this season.   With the new low price policy you can buy tickets for the upcoming Daytona 500 for as little as $55.  It’s their lowest ticket price since 1995. 

Daytona International Speedway president Robin Braig made the announcement saying, “A limited number of tickets to select areas on the famed Superstretch for the 51st annual Daytona 500 will be rolled back from $95 to $55. The roll back of ticket prices in select areas for the Daytona 500 is a significant and important step for race fans,” Braig said. “These are challenging times for everyone and we hope that these adjustments in ticket prices will make it more affordable for race fans to witness the excitement and pageantry of the Daytona 500 in person.”

Locally, Richmond International Raceway announced a ticket restructuring for the Henrico Grandstand for the 2009 season.  More than 18,000 Sprint Cup Series tickets will be affected in the restructuring.

Tickets currently on sale for the May 2nd Crown Royal Sprint Cup Race and for the foreseeable future will be affected.  Rows 1-5 of the Henrico Grandstand are now just $40, and rows  6-15 are now $55.  This represents 50% and 25% decease respectively. from the May 2008 price.    
“We have the best, most loyal fans in sports,” said RIR president Doug Fritz. “We recognize that times are tough and we want to offer our fans a lower entry point to be able to continue to enjoy the thrill of live NASCAR Racing.”

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



 

Field fillers, start and park cars, welcome to 2009

Unless newly elected president Obama can pull a giant rabbit out of a hat quickly, 2009 is going to be a doozey of a year. We’re going to see cutbacks and downsizing in all phases of the economy.  
Name an industry;  they’re looking for a bailout. The government printing presses have got to be cranking full speed 24-7 printing more money.  In 2009 the chickens have come home to roost.  
NASCAR is no different than any other industry in these tough times, with perhaps one exception. After decades of being very much a niche sport that car guys followed and enjoyed for years, in the 1990’s Wall Street and the TV networks discovered the sport.  A sport that had been all about racing for nearly half a century suddenly became all about MONEY.  Sponsors' Money.  Big bucks from a seemingly endless array of corporations anxious to get involved in the fastest growing new vehicle to get their name in front of their potential customers.
The pickup trucks and box trucks once used to tow the team’s car on trailers to the race tracks were replaced by gaudy chrome plated tractor trailer rigs, complete with crew lounges and satellite TV.   Cinder block garages behind the team owner’s houses gave way to monstrous palaces, each more architecturally beautiful and grand than the ones before, many complete with auditoriums and observation walkways for fan visits.  
Driver and crews piling six or eight into a van to travel to the next race, forget it. The teams soon had their own fleet of jet planes.  Drivers traveled in their own executive jets that rivaled the transportation of any Fortune 500 C.E.O.  Five or six men to a motel room. Not on your life.  Drivers and crew chiefs stayed in their own personal million dollar motor coaches at the tracks.  Each driven to the next venue by a paid driver while the driver arrived via his personal Lear Jet.  
It was fun while it lasted.  The key word is WAS.   Happy New Year.  It’s time for a big time reality check.  If nothing else, 2009 is going to sort out the racers from the pretenders.
The belt tightening goes all the way from NASCAR headquarters itself, down to the race teams.  
Even the major teams Hendrick, Roush-Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Richard Childress Racing have reduced staff.   More than 700 racing related jobs have been lost so far, according to the N.C. Motorsports Association.  More are expected as the year goes on.  
Sports Business Journal reports that NASCAR typically has 48 corporate sponsors, or partners. They go into the new season with ten fewer.  They have no representation as the official, rental car company, quick service restaurant, home improvement store, and photo copy store, among others.
Heading into the season-opener at Daytona, everyone will show up, looking sharp and putting their best foot forward.  The reality of the economic situation will quickly begin to set in during the following weeks.   At this point only 37 cars are reported committed to running the entire circuit.  Of those, only 29 cars are fully sponsored for the season.  That leaves a big question about the car count as the season progresses.  
Will NASCAR be able to maintain 43 car starting fields?
It seems inevitable that we will be returning to the era of field fillers and start and park cars to fill out the field.  
In the 60’s and 70’s there was a regular group of independent drivers who made a living following the circuit, running a few laps and pulling into the pits. They kept expenses down by not paying a pit crew, very little wear and tear on their cars or tire bills to deal with and made a living from the purse money at the bottom of the field.  
The Nationwide series saw a fair amount of that this past season.  The latest issue of Car and Driver Magazine has an excellent article about this practice as it currently exists on the nationwide circuit.   It quotes Cup and Nationwide driver Kenny Wallace saying, “The start and parkers only come out during financial hard times.  There’s a lot of money to be made in start and park. “
With the dearth of sponsors and last place on the Cup circuit paying in the neighborhood of $60,000, drivers like 67 year old Morgan Shepherd may go on forever.
You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

Toyota All-Star Showdown will be Homecoming for Ron Hornaday

For drivers in the NASCAR Camping World Series, the Toyota All-Star Showdown is a chance to showcase their talent in the biggest event of the year.  For Ron Hornaday Jr, it will be more of a homecoming.  
Hornaday, who prior to becoming a three-time champion in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (formerly the Craftsman Truck Series) spent much of his time in and around the Camping World Series West.   This past weekend he announced plans to compete in next month’s all-star event at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale California.
The prestigious event, slated for Jan 23-24, is considered the Daytona 500 of short track racing.  It will feature two days of racing and will air live on the SPEED TV channel both nights.  
Hornaday’s father, Ron Sr. was a two time champion in the NASCAR Camping World Series West, when it was known as the NASCAR Winston West Series, winning back to back titles in 1963 and 1964. The younger Hornaday made 48 starts in the series between 1989 and 2001,  nearly winning the championship in 1994.
Now he will get the opportunity to return to the series and compete in the sixth edition of the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.  “I’ve always wanted to run it,” Hornaday said. “It’s been a great series.  That’s how I got noticed in the earlier days when I was racing Winter Heat on TV.”  Incidentally Roush-Fenway driver Greg Biffle also got his big break when Benny Parsons spotted him driving in the Winter Heats.
Although he moved on to become a regular in the Camping World Truck Series, as well as in the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series, Hornaday returned from time to time to race in the Camping World Series West through 2001. One of those opportunities was the first NASCAR Camping World Series West race at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale in 1999.  He finished fourth in the event, trailing race winner Steve Portenga, Bill Sedgwick and Butch Gilliland at the finish.
Despite the ten years that have passed since, Hornaday says he has a vivid recollection of the track. “I remember like it was the back of my hand, because it was racing just like Tucson when I kind of made a name for myself,” he said.  “It’s a triple groove race track, where you can run the top,  middle, or bottom.
While he expects the track to be much the same, Hornaday anticipates the competition will be different.  Hornaday joins a list of top short track drivers who have already committed to running in the event, including Camping World East and West champions Matt Kobyluck and Eric Holmes. Also confirmed to compete are 2007 champion Mike David, and four drives who have earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Camping World Series in the past few years, Jason Bowles, Peyton Sellers, Jeff Berkshire, and Austin Dillon .
”Everything’s changed so much,” Hornaday said “Everyone’s learned so much about the cars.  It’s so competitive, I’m looking forward to going out there to put on a good show and give the fan’s a good race.”  Hornaday, who hails from Palmdale California, prior to moving to North Carolina said he looks forward to seeing a lot of old friends.   “I’ve got a lot of friends that I grew up with and went to school with and some have followed my career.  It’ll be great to see them,” he said.
In addition to the Camping World Series, the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown’s two days of racing will include racing in the Whelen All-American Series with Late Model and Super Late Model races.  Hornaday plans on competing in the Super Late Model race,  driving for a car builder he knew early in his racing career.
“The first car I ever bought was from Dave Jackson,” Hornaday recalled. “It’s been about 25 years since I drove one of his cars. It’s going to be neat.  I really appreciate them bringing a car out for me and the opportunity to drive for them.  It’s going to be fun. I’m really looking forward to it.”
In addition to being three time champion in the Camping World Truck series, Hornaday was a two time champion in the former NASCAR Southwest Tour. His racing resume also includes 179 starts in the Nationwide Series and 45 starts in the Sprint Cup Series.

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