Pontiac gives look at car of future

April 12, 1994|By Tom Higgins | Tom Higgins,Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Pontiac teams on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series tour generally have had a tough time this season.

Among drivers Kyle Petty, Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip and Wally Dallenbach Jr., there have been only three top 10 finishes. Two were by Petty -- a fifth in the Pontiac 400 at Richmond and an eighth place in the Goodwrench 500 at Rockingham. The other was by Waltrip, fifth Sunday in the Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Raceway.

However, help appears on the way.

A few days ago Pontiac officials treated racing team members to a tour of the General Motors Design Center in Warren, Mich. The forthcoming car that popped eyes most was a fiberglass model of a future Grand Prix.

"It's a really, really pretty car," said Petty, driver for the Charlotte-based team owned by Felix Sabates. "It's a lot different from what the Grand Prix [Pontiac's Winston Cup model] is right now. The new car is a cross between a Grand Prix, Grand Am and Trans Am with a little bit of Bonneville thrown in.

"It's hard to look at it and say, 'That's a great race car,' because of the way NASCAR rules change. Under the present rules, it'd probably be a pretty good race car."

Trouble is, the new design Grand Prix isn't scheduled to make its debut until the 1996 Daytona 500.

* TOUGH TESTING: North Wilkesboro Speedway, where the First Union 400 is scheduled Sunday, has taken an expensive toll in testing the last two weeks.

First, Jimmy Spencer slammed into the Turn 3 wall when the throttle stuck on his Ford fielded by a team owned by Junior Johnson. Spencer sustained a cracked right shoulder blade and the car essentially was destroyed.

Then, 1993 Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett, experiencing a luckless season along with his Joe Gibbs Racing team, crashed in two different Chevrolets. Both machines were heavily damaged.

The 400, incidentally, will have a track record $703,912 purse and if any provisional starting opportunities are exercised to increase the field to 36 or 37, it will be the largest number of starters at the historic track since 37 started in 1966.

* GRAVE-SHAKER: There have been some unusual "title sponsors" of Winston Cup races through the years. Add another to the list: The United Auto Workers.

Pocono (Pa.) Raceway's 500-miler on June 12 now has the name UAW-GM Teamwork 500. The United Auto Workers and GM also will present a $5,000 teamwork award each race from the Pocono event through the remainder of the season. And the operation showing the best teamwork overall during the season gets a $50,000 bonus.

"We're pleased to have such an organization as UAW-GM come aboard," said Brian France, NASCAR's vice president for marketing.

Can't help but wonder, though. What would the late NASCAR founder, William H.G. "Big Bill" France, Brian's grandfather, think?

France was anti-union. In 1962 he banned the late Curtis Turner for life for trying to organize the drivers and affiliate them with the Teamsters. France later reinstated Turner and he won N.C. Motor Speedway's inaugural race, the American 500, in 1965.

* LOAD AT INDY: Insiders have been speculating that about 100 cars will be entered in the Brickyard 400, the Winston Cup inaugural at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 6.

A source close to the Indy track said that speedway officials in preliminary planning are figuring on all 96 garage stalls being filled.

Where will so many machines come from?

"A lot of guys from ARCA [the Automobile Racing Club of America] and NASCAR's Winston West are planning on upgrading their cars to Winston Cup standards and entering just for the chance to run at Indianapolis," the source said.

Only 40, plus up to three possible provisionals, will start the 400.

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