Hearts beat to different rhythm at Dover

On Motor Sports

August 01, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Race car drivers who have to spend two hours or more circling Dover Downs International Speedway's high-banked, one-mile oval seldom wind up telling stories of the heart.

But before the MBNA Mid-Atlantic 200 today, at least two Indy Racing League drivers were talking about their hearts, though they were telling two totally different stories.

Eddie Cheever, the former Formula One racer who reinvented himself as an Indy car driver in 1990 and won the 1998 Indianapolis 500, talked about his heart rate. A man who works out strenuously and regularly, Cheever said his resting heart rate is 50.

"And when I'm in a race, my anaerobic rate climbs to about 165 or 170 by the end of a race, as I use more oxygen," he said. "But at Dover last year, I reached 165 in the first 10 laps. At Dover, you never rest. You're pulling 4 G's in the corners. It's a combination of high banks and a ton of cement. It's furiously fast, extremely unforgiving and the most physically demanding track we run.

"I think they should give a prize to anyone who finishes."

Cheever, who owns his team, is fourth in points, 31 behind leader Scott Goodyear. He hopes to have a better day than last year when he felt his heart rate soar. He attempted to pass rookie Greg Ray and found himself crashed in the early going. His other car, driven by Robby Unser, also crashed.

"I had just come from the big prize-money win at Indy and proceeded to leave Dover with $800,000 less on my balance sheet," Cheever said. "It was the fastest dissipation of assets in my life -- with the exception of my divorce."

Which brings us to another story of the heart. This one from Stephan Gregoire, who is making his last start as a bachelor.

"With only 11 races on our schedule, it's easy to find romance and be romantic," said Gregoire, who will fly home to France with his fiancee, Virginie Houot, Tuesday. "But in my case, I met Virginie before I started pro racing."

She was 14 and he was 17. Now, 12 years later, they will be married in Vittel, a small town 200 miles east of Paris.

"I never did actually ask her to marry me," Gregoire said. "We just, from the beginning, fell into accepting that one day we would."

Houot saw him run his very first race, and she is at Dover today to see this one.

"It was I who suggested we get married," said Houot, who will earn her MBA from Butler University in December. "Stephan is not a big tradition keeper, so I had to talk about it to make it happen."

A three-year IRL veteran, Gregoire drives for the Dick Simon-owned team and also thinks it is about time he won a race.

"I think winning would be a very nice wedding present," he said.

A real sport now

If everyone still "wants to be like Mike," then NASCAR can rest easy after Thursday. That's when Nike, the shoe company for which Michael Jordan has made sales pitches for years, is expected to announce its "Nike Team of Drivers" during a news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR sources indicate seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt -- and his stable of drivers, son Dale Jr., Winston Cup driver Steve Park and Craftsman Truck driver Ron Hornaday -- Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart and, perhaps, Darrell Waltrip are among the Nike team members.

Computer literate?

Three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon is supposed to be the most hated driver on the circuit -- you can even find drivers in the garage area who will take shots at him, Jarrett and Rusty Wallace among them. And you can always hear massive boos at the tracks whenever his name is mentioned.

So, why have race fans voting for new inductees in the Talladega/Texaco Walk of Fame at Talladega (Ala.) Motor Speedway made Gordon the points leader among active drivers in this year's vote?

"I cannot explain that," said track spokesman Rick Humphrey. "I guess he has a huge fan base -- somewhere. I don't know the act vote count, but Gordon has over 5,000 votes, while Waltrip is in second with a little over 600."

Humphrey said that for the first time this year the voting is being done on the Internet -- www.talladegawalk.com.

Could it be that Gordon's fans are younger and, therefore, computer savvy?

Two inactive drivers will also be inducted at the Oct. 16 ceremony, and the current leaders in that category are Harry Gant and Lee Petty. The walk was established in memory of Davey Allison, the native son who died in a helicopter crash there in 1994.

Rider sells team

Winston Cup car owner Chuck Rider has sold his No. 30 Bahari Racing team to retired Boston businessman Jack Birmingham.

"I've been a fan and looking for a business interest in the sport for some time," said Birmingham, 57. "This seemed like a challenge."

Driver Derrike Cope will finish the season, but isn't likely to return next year. And Barry Dodson has been hired as crew chief. Dodson is returning to the Cup circuit after a near four-year, self-imposed absence.

Nuts and bolts

Summit Point (W.Va.) Raceway has been a busy place this weekend and will continue to be today with WERA National Challenge & Sportsman Series Races. Registration was to open at 8 a.m., followed by practice sessions and 15 races beginning at noon.

Two weeks ago, CART car owner Steve Horne and his chief engineer, Diane Holl, decided to return to a hands-on race operation and let their young engineers handle the testing. They can't complain about the results. Their driver, Tony Kanaan, earned his first career victory at the Michigan 500 last weekend.

Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ernie Irvan will try to capture his third straight pole for the Brickyard 400. Irvan is the only two-time pole winner in the stock car event there and holds the track's Winston Cup qualifying record with a speed of 179.394 mph.

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