Cale Yarborough always has been his own man. Built like a pro football player, the three-time Winston Cup Champion can be daring. How do you think he became the only driver in Winston Cup history to win back-to-back-to-back titles?
"Being daring, that's what makes life exciting," said Yarborough, on a break from putting up new storage buildings on his 4,000-acre South Carolina farm.
His latest venture is adventurous. Yarborough is part of a group that announced Tuesday it plans to begin a new stock car racing series in 2003 called Team Racing Auto Circuit (TRAC). There may be critics, but Yarborough's words reflect his confidence.
"Oh, it's going to work," he said. "It's well-funded. It's on the Stock Exchange. It's got excellent management. We've been talking about doing this for about two years, and the timing is perfect."
The formal announcement was made in Charlotte, N.C., where the Winston Cup Series has gathered for this weekend's The Winston All-Star race.
"But we're not going after NASCAR drivers," Yarborough said. "There is a tremendous amount of young, untapped talent out there, and the team concept we're developing is excellent. This is going to be an opportunity for anybody, anybody who wants to get into stock car racing."
The team concept Yarborough mentioned is a unique twist - in motor sports. The series will be operated as a single-entity, much like Major League Soccer and the Women's National Basketball Association. But franchises will be sold, as are franchises in the NFL, NBA and NHL. TRAC hopes to start with eight to 12 multiple-car teams based in major television markets. One is planned for Washington.
Each team will represent the city or state where it is located and participate in series of regular-season races, followed by a postseason championship race.
"Perhaps the casual, potential fan in Washington or Baltimore will become interested in the team based in its area and begin following other motorsports, like NASCAR," said Bradley Ruskin, a partner in the New York City law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP, who is helping to organize TRAC. "We see TRAC as a complementary sport to Winston Cup."
The operating budget has not been set. But Ruskin said the venture's backers have put up large sums to cover costs.
Those backers include Robert J. Wussler, former CBS president and co-founder of CNN; Yarborough; Wendell Starke, former Invesco chairman; Michael Kranefuss, former director of Ford Motor sports and current Winston Cup and ARCA car owner; and Danny Ford, who coached Clemson to a national college football title in 1981.
"Our goal," said Ruskin, "is to attract more women and minorities - as drivers, as well as fans - and more [car] manufacturers beyond the Big 3 to better represent what the public is driving."
Organizers have a long list of "potential" tracks they hope will host races, including Richmond and Pocono international raceways and Dover Downs International Speedway.
Dr. Joseph Mattioli, Pocono's owner, told the Philadelphia Daily News he has no dates available. But Richmond president Doug Fritz, busy preparing for a June 30 Indy Racing League event, said he would "be glad to talk to anybody."
At Dover, president Denis McGlynn said in a statement, "For the time being, Dover will continue to promote the events it currently has."
Still, many tracks need races.
"It's going to be exciting racing, like IROC [International Race of Champions]," Yarborough said. "The aerodynamics will be the same on all cars. We'll build fast, safe, driveable cars and deliver them to the teams to maintain."
Yarborough, a Winston Cup team owner after retiring as a driver, said he will not be a TRAC team owner.
"I've done that," he said with a wry laugh. "It wasn't much fun."
In this venture, he's a director, a spokesman, and an investor. And, he added, he is going to have some part in building the cars, too.
As for NASCAR, John Griffin, the organization's managing director of communications, said, "We're declining to comment. There is simply nothing to say."
The NFL took the same approach to the XFL. Now, the NFL doesn't have to worry about the XFL. Time will tell if the approach will work for NASCAR.
Local talk show
Local race fans might want to tune to WNST-1570 AM between 9 and 11 a.m. Saturdays. You'll find "The Checkered Flag," a locally produced radio show devoted to auto racing. Hosts are Gene Sweeney Jr. and Brent Harris.
Sweeney, a Sun photographer, is a graduate of the Skip Barber Driving School and has raced motorcycles and Formula Fords. Harris, a sports producer for WBFF-TV, covered auto racing at Dover and at other tracks while a television reporter in Salisbury.
Hagerstown Speedway will feature the Mid-Atlantic Championship Series (MACS) for the sixth annual Richard "Boney" Bonebrake Memorial next Saturday. Gates open at 5 p.m. Race time is 7 p.m.
Past winners of the Memorial race that honors Bonebrake, a successful racer in the tri-state area for nearly 50 years, include Charlie Schaffer, Gary Stuhler, Todd Andrews and two-time winner Jeremy Miller.
Nuts and bolts
Among the odds released for the Indianapolis 500 by World Features Syndicate Inc., are: Winston Cup driver Tony Stewart, driving for Chip Ganassi, 5-to-1; CART champ Gil de Ferran and 1999 IRL champ Greg Ray, 6-1; pole sitter Scott Sharp, 8-1; CART's all-time winningest driver Michael Andretti, 15-1; two-time Indy winner Al Unser Jr., 30-1; and Sarah Fisher, the only woman in the field, 50-1.