T. Labonte at fault in Rudd's view

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

September 05, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Dale Earnhardt certainly caused a stir last week when he bumped Terry Labonte out of the way at Bristol. When he got to victory lane, the fans booed him so loudly, he probably had a momentary identity crisis.

Was he Dale Earnhardt, seven-time champion who has long demonstrated his penchant for roughhouse racing? Or was he the man nearly everyone loves to boo, three-time champ Jeff Gordon?

Going into today's usually raucous Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C., there is still a lot of talk about Earnhardt's last move at Bristol, and nearly everyone has an opinion.

Even Ricky Rudd has one, and his might be the most informed, given he's been in Earnhardt's shoes. And his opinion is counter to nearly all of the others.

According to Rudd, Labonte made the mistake, not Earnhardt.

Rudd was involved in a similar incident in 1991 in Sears Point, Calif. But after he spun out Davey Allison to win the race, NASCAR penalized Rudd 15 seconds and gave the victory to Allison.

"Essentially, [NASCAR] put me back to where I was before Davey and I touched," Rudd said. "My feeling then was it was every man for himself on the final lap. NASCAR said that wasn't the way it was. I didn't agree then, but I took what they said and moved on. Maybe it's changed since then. I don't know."

But Rudd, who has won at least one race in each of the previous 16 years (a NASCAR record), had no trouble with NASCAR letting last week's finish stand.

"I knew what was going to happen [between Earnhardt and Labonte]," Rudd said. "I think everybody in the place did. [The outcome] all depended on who survived what was going to happen.

"I think the mistake Terry made was passing Dale [early]. He should have just run square with him and then blown him away in the fourth corner and he'd have had the race won. He should have used just a little bit of head there."

What Rudd means is that Labonte knew his opponent. He knew all about Earnhardt's old-fashioned, anything-goes style of racing when victory is on the line.

"Terry had new tires and he was coming," Rudd said. "But you have to look at who you're dealing with. You don't give Earnhardt an opportunity to get you back."

Rudd grinned.

"Who would have ever thought we'd need a race at Darlington, especially the Southern 500, to calm everybody down?" he said.

What's so exciting?

Auto racing? For many women (and some men), the sport may seem about as exciting as watching nail polish dry or grass grow.

To help change that, Arlene Martin, wife of Winston Cup driver Mark Martin, has joined forces with Janet Prensky to produce a new book called "Every Woman's Guide To Auto Racing."

"In another incarnation, I was the first woman to do a sports radio talk show in Boston [in 1993]," Prensky said. "It was a little scary for them, but in the process I found out that there really is a difference between the way men and women enjoy sports."

When the offer came to work on a women's sports fans series of books starting with auto racing, Prensky was willing to give it a try.

"OK, I failed my driver's test three times and I had never been exposed to auto racing," she said. "But it was funny in working with Arlene, who is southern. I found out that when she married Mark, she didn't know what was so exciting about cars going in circles, either.

"Of course, she'd already figured it out, but now we both know what all the fuss is about."

The book uses humor to delve into the sport's history and all its working parts.

Nuts and bolts

Racing pioneer Louis Smith, 83, who was voted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame last year, will be a guest on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Wednesday.

Greg Ray has moved into the lead in the Indy Racing League point standings, bumping Scott Goodyear into second. "I'm disappointed," Goodyear said. "But at this point, we've got to take it race by race."

Gordon is going for an unprecedented fifth straight Southern 500 victory today. Only Cale Yarborough has won five Southern 500s, but Yarborough's first was in 1969, and his fifth 13 years later.

Speaking of Gordon, he'll be appearing on the ABC special "Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden" on Sept. 14 at 10 p.m.

Lunden spent the weekend with Gordon, crew chief Ray Evernham and the rest of the team at the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.

"I think we made a fan out of her," Gordon said. "I know she made fans out of us."

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