Ganassi works out a loan to get J. Vasser, T. Stewart

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

May 13, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Networking is everywhere. Not just in business offices, but at race tracks, too.

Chip Ganassi has proved that over the past week.

How? By getting Winston Cup car owner Joe Gibbs and CART owner Pat Patrick to loan him their respective drivers, Tony Stewart and Jimmy Vasser, for the Indianapolis 500.

Ganassi had originally planned to defend the Indy 500 title (he won last year with Juan Montoya driving his car) with oval-track rookies Bruno Junqueira and Nicholas Minassian. But when two of CART's three oval track races were canceled this season, he went looking for experienced oval drivers with Indianapolis experience.

He found Stewart, the 1997 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year and Indy Racing League champ who finished ninth in the 1999 race, and Vasser, a veteran open-wheel driver who drove Ganassi's second car at Indy last year.

It might have been an outrageously expensive package to put together. But Ganassi said in a news conference this week, "It didn't break any banks."

The deal came together because of conversations and friendships.

"Andy Graves made the initial contact, I would say, with Tony," said Ganassi, referring to his Winston Cup team manager. "He brought it up to me and said, `hey, you know, if you're thinking about doing that, Stewart said something to me.' I said, `Oh, OK, yeah.' He said something to Tony. And then Joe and I are friends, and Jimmy, Pat and I are old friends.

"A deal like this has to be done with someone's blessing," Ganassi said. "It was just a matter of Pat and I sitting down and - really for Pat and Joe both - from a team owner's point of view, you have to cover a lot of what-ifs."

Gibbs needed assurance that Stewart's commitment to the Coca Cola 600 later the same day would be the top priority. And Patrick, no doubt, needed assurance that Vasser would be able to keep his CART commitments.

For some, a deal might not have worked out. But between men like Ganassi, Gibbs and Patrick, who have been networking for years, it did.

She's a 10

Kelly "Girl" Sutton, the Goodies Dash driver from Crownsville who has multiple sclerosis, recorded her first top 10 finish last weekend. She started 18th at Orange County (N.C.) Speedway and led for 10 laps before finishing 10th in the 29-car race.

"I was very excited," said Sutton. "But even more exciting is that my sponsor has decided to add the July 6 race at Daytona to my schedule."

Last February, Sutton, 29, achieved her lifelong dream of competing at Daytona International Speedway. Now, she will get to do it again.

Just an opinion

Why is CART surprised it is being sued for not returning the purse money and sanctioning fees to Texas Motor Speedway, after calling off its race there two weeks ago? CART wants us to see TMS in a negative light, saying the track is suing because it is more interested in money than safety.

But the culprit seems to be CART for not taking good care of its drivers in the first place. It should have tested the track to make sure its drivers and cars could handle Texas before agreeing to race there.

And, certainly, most people must think CART has erred badly if it thinks it can keep purse money for a race it never ran.

Outlaws coming

The Pennzoil World of Outlaws will stop at the Hagerstown Speedway Saturday night. The ITSI super late models also will be on the program. Race time is 8 p.m., with gates opening at 5 p.m.

Danny Lasoski is No. 1 in the Outlaws standings after 14 events, and will be going for his third "A" main feature of the year. Lasoski won at Hagerstown two years ago. Mark Kinser leads all Outlaw drivers with five feature wins, but is second in points. Kinser holds the one-lap Hagerstown record at 14.945 seconds.

Both will be challenged by defending Pennzoil World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser. Recognized as the "King of the Outlaws", Steve is fourth in points and looking to end a near seven-year Hagerstown dry spell.

Reserve grandstand tickets priced at $30 for the top five rows are now on sale. General admission tickets are $26. For more info, call the speedway office: (301) 582-0640 or check the Internet at www.hagerstownspeedway.com.

A high point

Driver Nick Woodward, the 2000 NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Atlantic Seaboard Champion from Preston, Md., made his family happy last weekend when he graduated from High Point University with a degree in business.

"They have played a big part in my schooling," Woodward said in a prepared release. "If I make honor roll, I can race. That was always the deal we had. They have been able to provide me with a great education and pushed me to get a college degree. On top of that, they have supported my racing career and pushed me to be successful in that part of my life."

Woodward said he is now looking forward to "buckling down and concentrating on racing."

Nuts and bolts

Ever wanted to take a train ride, but never had a good reason? Now is your chance. NASCAR and Amtrak have announced they are joining forces for the Winston Cup race at Dover Downs International Speedway on June 3. Though Amtrak doesn't usually operate trains to Dover, it will run a special route on race day. The closest place to jump on "The Monster Mile Express" is Wilmington, Del. It will also leave from New York; Newark, N.J.; Trenton, N.J., and Philadelphia. For connections from Baltimore, call Amtrak at 800-872-7245. ... Paul Tracy and Cristiano da Matta are tied for the CART FedEx Championship points lead.

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