The Herald-Dispatch |

At the Track
We'll note happenings at the national and local levels of racing.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Where to place the blame?

Was it Tony Eury Jr. or was it Dale Jr.? That, my friends, is the question.

Dale Junior's dogs Stroker Ace, left, and Killer, right with his back to the camera, don't care as long as "daddy" brings home bonesmoney every week.

For months, shoot, a year at least, the JR Nation screamed to ditch Tony Eury Jr. and find a better crew chief. Now, with the help of Rick Hendrick, fans get their wish for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver. Hendrick yanked the daunting duo apart earlier this week.

The pair of juniors have had tempestuous relationship over the last couple years – yelling at each other through the radio during races, countermanding each other’s suggestions in the pits and being just plain cantankerous.

But the next question is, will JR roll over and play possum on the track to say it wasn’t his cuz’s fault he couldn’t win. Of course if it wasn’t the cousin’s fault, that would mean Junior just couldn’t drive well enough to win.

All seemed well during All-Star week, when I visited JR Motorsports. His dogs were hanging around, there was a cool wax-likeness of Junior in the JR store and lots of stuff to buy to provide bonesmoney for the dogs, kibble for the cats and hay and grain for the cows Earnhardt keeps.

But back to the question...

Goodness knows, it couldn’t be the Hendrick equipment. Everyone else in the stable has won – even the “Old Man,” Mark Martin. And Stewart-Haas hasn’t showed poorly on-track with Hendrick equipment under it’s hoods.

There are three choices to place the blame – the equipment (not likely), the crew chief (probably) or the driver (maybe). You make the call.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In search of the Holy Grail

A Hall of Fame is the place were rare artifacts are housed and the NASCAR HOF will be no different. Buz McKim is the Historian and spoke recently to the NASCAR Members Club annual convention.

There are already so many things loaned and donated to the Hall, some exhibits will be rotated on a two-year basis, he said. He estimates 95 percent of the items are on loan.

This man is a walking, talking, breathing history of racing - all racing - with a memory like a steel trap. I mentioned we only had one asphalt track in West Virginia and he finished my sentence with, "Ona Speedway." We think we're not an integral part of race history. Lots of people blow off Ona as a track and make fun of it. Not Buz McKim, he can tell you who raced there and when.

And he was a big help as a ringer in the final quiz event on my Yellow Flag "Lucky Dawg" team in the Chase for the Championship. That's him second from the right, a couple of the Lucky Dawgs flanking him. That's me with him a little further down the blog.

But back to the Hall.

One of Buz's favorite things is Dale Earnhardt's handwritten application to NASCAR, dated 1975. It was found in Daytona. It revealed he was living with his mother, Dale Jr. was three months old, he had been a high school wrestler, his superstitions were the color green and peanuts, and asked about his ambition beyond racing, answered, "none."

Well, alrighty, then.

The one thing he really, really, really wants for the Hall is what he termed his "Holy Grail." He's not even certain it still exists, but he wants to find this in a big way.

The 1954, gold-plated NASCAR card, numbered 1, belonging to Bill France Sr., is that one single item they want more than just about anything.

So if you are in possession of that artifact, that special card, that Holy Grail, let him know.

But who's going in as the first class of 5 in the HOF? Who knows and Buz wouldn't say his favorites. He did say everyone from every aspect of racing will be considered for induction. It's about what that person brought to the sport, the impact they made, not their name or if they were a driver.

The guy driving every Saturday night at a dirt track, living out of his car, splitting a cheeseburger, small fry and small Coke with his girlfriend because he didn't win is eligible. (That's a Tony Stewart story, documented in several articles and books.)A crew member, crew chief or pretty much anyone related to racing in any way can be nominated and included.

Well, look around your garage and attic for that #1 card, or if you don't have that, anything that might be rare or unusual and let Buz know at the HOF.

It opens next April with the official big opening in May, 2010.

For more about the NASCAR Hall of Fame, log on to:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tires, drugs, the COT and aggression

Yep, here we go again, the never-ending discussion about tires and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There will be tire testing June 1-3 and June 15-16, according to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Director of Competition. He spoke at the 4th Official NASCAR Members Club convention last week in Charlotte.

And Stewart-Haas Racing will be in it, just not Tony testing the tires. Ryan Newman will participate in the test. Tony's been, shall we say, a wee vocal about Goodyear and their tires?

Pemberton said the track is diamond ground and it the toughest surface in racing, and that's why it's so tough on tires. Fine, it's hard and wears hard on tires. Just build a tire that can go more than 10 or 12 laps, OK Goodyear?

Last year's Brickyard was a waste of time, money and racing.

On to other topics with the Director. . .

The drug testing policy has been up for discussion recently. Actually, while we were at the convention it hit the news head on and in a big way. Thank you Jeremy Mayfield.

The policy has become more aggressive than the in the past, Pemberton said. Drivers, crew members and NASCAR officials are subject to randomly-generated testing. The 60 people chosen and tested weekly are scrutinized for over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs and (duh)illegal substances.

It's just one of them racin' things, aggressive driving versus good, hard racing.

"It's a fine line," Pemberton told the crowd of nearly 100 racefans gathered Friday morning at Joe Gibbs Racing. "We don't want to micromanage, and I don't want to make that call."

So how do you tell the difference? With all the cameras and monitors he looks at during the races, you can see every expression on a driver's face. "You can see the whites of their eyes and facial expression and see their intent."

"It's all about winning and points," he said of the COT. The COT provides an annual savings of at least $1million per team.

Everyone has the opportunity to run with the COT, making a more level playing field. (Note to self: yeah, more level. Roush and Hendrick $$$ versus everyone else. Sure.)

The need for different cars for different tracks is less. Small changes in the wing and endcaps allow adaptation to different tracks, he said. The wing can be changed up to 6 degrees.

"The cost to building a car was like a runaway train," Pemberton said.

Well, that's our talk with Robin Pemberton. There's still a discussion with Buz McKim, Historian of the under construction NASCAR Hall of Fame, and our trip to the Research and Development Center.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Not a bad time at all

There are some advantages to being in the NASCAR Members' Club. Last week was the 4th annual convention of the club and those attending had access to people and places most fans don't.

The NASCAR Research and Development Center is a magical place that inspects every racecar, declares some illegal and comes up with safety strides to better protect drivers and fans. It's also the place where those questionable parts are stored under serious lock and key and cars placing first and second in each race, plus a randomly chosen one are taken weekly for inspection. The Members' Club was there for a tour. The public can't go there at all.

Without special contact, going to the All-Star stage for driver and team introductions doesn't happen. The Members' Club was there. OK, you get sprayed with Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Miller Lite, and ash and gritty particles of fireworks rain down on you, sticking to your skin and in your hair.

Ever want to give Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Director of Competition, a piece of your mind or ask questions about the whys and why-nots? For 30-minutes, he stood in front of the more than 100 members seated in Joe Gibbs Racing's dining room and answered everything asked. He addressed the white line, drug testing and a plethora of other issues.

Or, ever want a private tour of a driver's shop? Tammy Kahne, mom of Kasey "blue-eyed Budman" Kahne, did just that. The members who ventured to his newly-completed shop got a tour by his mother. Staffers were working hard to get photos hung, shop areas organized and Kasey's favorite things moved in before the big opening this week. As most moms are prone to do at times, she divulged little - if at all - known information about her famous son.

Want to visit the NASCAR infield garage area? Members went there while tech inspection was happening. They dodged crews and racecars for nearly 45-minutes, watched work in progress on the cars. That's a pretty chaotic place during inspection.

And there was a private party for members at Dale Junior's public nightclub, Whiskey River. Everyone can go there any night of the week, but this was just for the members, and mechanical bull riding ensued, as did raising money for Victory Junction Gang Camp.

There's more on all this to come in the next few days. The nitty-gritty, so to speak.

It was a great half-week of activities, making new friends and renewing friendships from previous years.

It will happen again during All-Star Week 2010. The club staff will have a hard time topping 2009, but they will try.

And by the way, members went to a race, too. Oh, yeah, Tony Stewart won - his first as owner-driver.

Not a bad time for a Tony fan. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

All-Star notes

Here's your invite to the All-Star festivities:

There’ll fun, fun, fun before the NASCAR All-Star Race next week.
The Pennzoil Victory Challenge will pit drivers against each other to see who can provide the fans with the smokin’-best burnout.

In the contest are DW, Happy Harvick, The Biff, Rowdy Busch, “Budman” Khane, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon. They have 30 seconds of freestyle demonstration.

Judges for the event are Ric Flair (WOOO!), the Mountain State’s own Randy Moss, Jimmy Spencer and Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry (Montgomery Gentry).

NASCAR drivers are well known for their causes off-track and All-Star week is a great time for the fans to get involved.

The Martin Truex Jr. Foundation, Second Harvest Food Band and the Ryan Newman Foundation will be collecting canned goods, non-perishable food items and pet food.

The drivers’ foundations will be set up across from the entrance to Lowe’s Motor Speedway to receive items. Fans taking part will be eligible to register for the ultimate fan basket with merchandise from the two drivers.

There are guided shop tours available from several companies, including Lowe’s Motor Speedway, departing the Z-Max Dragway at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. beginning Wednesday, going to Ganassi, JR Motorsports, Roush-Fenway and Hendrick.

It’s been lots of fun hearing Nature Boy Ric Flair be the spokesman for the All-Star Race, bringing his own style of excitement to the promotion. A Charlotte resident, Flair said on NASCAR Live last week you can’t live in Charlotte without being a racefan.

The race is being promoted like a prize fight, going so far as to give drivers nicknames just like wrestling. Dale “Wahoo” Junior, Kasey “Night Train” Khane, Kurt “Vegas Violator” Busch, Clint “The Destroyer” Boyer.

We can feel fairly safe in saying the depictions of most drivers their heads on someone else’s body. Except maybe Tony Stewart. That one’s plausible, a little doughy with strong arms. Possible. Judge for yourself.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Seriously, it was a joke!

Let's address this one last time. I don't want to hear it at the track, get stopped in church and asked this again, or overhear it at another table in a restaurant.

President Obama has no bearing on NASCAR. He is not forcing any car manufacturer out of NASCAR. He probably won't even know NASCAR exists until next year when he hosts the champion for a 15-minute photo op. Sorry, he doesn't strike me as the type of person who has a clue about stock car racing, he seems pretty mainstream on sports.

Seriously. It was a joke in Car and Driver.

I'll admit, when Crime and Courts reporter Curtis Johnson sent it to me April 1 (people, first clue), I was incredulous. Then I re-read it. Above the byline was Happy April 1 (second clue). We know the President has been throwing his weight around with the automakers, getting one CEO to resign. But really, declaring two carmakers can't race in NASCAR? Seriously. You really think the France family, Richard Childress or Rick Hendrick would give it a second thought?

Seriously, it was all a joke. Here's the link to Car and Driver and the coverage the story got in the days after April Fool's Day.