To race so soon or not, decisions vary

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

September 16, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The world of motor sports didn't know what to do with itself this weekend.

Race or not race? Which was right? Which wasn't? Sometimes answers seem easy -- and hard.

Easy to say: Don't race because you want to make sure you respect the victims of one of the biggest horrors this country has ever faced.

Hard: Race, because you don't want to seem to be giving in to terrorists, whom some view as rejoicing every time they hear of another regular activity in our country being disrupted.

NASCAR chose to follow the lead of the NFL and postpone all of its races, "so families could be together" to pray and reflect.

"I am really glad NASCAR did the right thing," said Winston Cup driver Dale Jarrett. "Our team all felt like we did not need to be out trying to entertain anyone this weekend, and our sport is a form of entertainment.

"I'm proud that NASCAR made the right decision. This allows our NASCAR community to be at home with our families during this very difficult time."

The Indy Racing League postponed its race at Texas Motor Speedway. But Championship Auto Racing Teams, with all of its teams already in Germany for yesterday's race, decided to go ahead.

And so did the ARCA stock car series, which was to race today at Toledo Speedway.

"I guess I knew what I felt in my gut and heart," said ARCA president Ron Drager. "And then I listened to President Bush. I listened to Mayor [Rudolph] Giuliani. And that made me feel even more strongly about what the appropriate thing to do is this weekend."

The president said we won't be intimidated by terrorists. And the mayor of New York told the people to go out, see a play and enjoy their families and their city.

There is no arguing with the reasoning of either side. The desire to both honor those killed and injured and to show strength to whomever made us cry in pain and anger is the same.

In the end, it will be our return to normal, everyday life that makes us all healthy and strong. Whether it is this weekend or next matters little.

Formula One reacts

In Monza, Italy, the tragedy has left the Formula One community in a somber mood during this weekend's Italian Grand Prix.

"It is difficult to find the right expression to describe either what happened there or how we feel about it," said series champion Michael Schumacher. "I am sure the feelings about the events on Tuesday are much the same amongst us all. Naturally, our sympathies are with the people over there. We offer them as much support as we can offer.

"Looking forward, we can only expect tough times to come. Let us hope things get better and that we can learn from what has happened to ensure that they don't ever happen again."

The next F-1 race is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sept. 30, and some drivers voiced concerns about racing in this country so soon after terrorist attacks.

"I'm worried, because we are going to race in a country which is in a state of emergency," French driver Jean Alesi told the Associated Press.

"There's a big danger for the drivers and fans since no one knows what will happen," added Ralf Schumacher, who drives for Williams-BMW and is Michael's younger brother. "An event that has 100,000 spectators and without special security precautions, as is the case here, could be a target for attacks."

But Juan Montoya, a past CART champion, sees it differently.

"It should go ahead," Montoya said of this year's U.S. Grand Prix. "What happened there is crazy, absolutely mental, but the worst thing they could do is try to stop the event. If they did that, it would mean more joy for whoever did it. It's a tough decision, but they should try to keep going. For a weekend, or a few days, it could take the minds of a lot of people off [what happened], and might even give them a bit of joy."

Cars and materials are to be shipped to the United States from Milan's airport by Friday. Ferrari officials said tight security and difficult trans-Atlantic flights might create problems.

Stiffer penalties

Jarrett, noting how insignificant everything seems at the moment in the face of what has been going on in the nation, still took time last week to participate in the weekly Winston Cup teleconference.

One of the most important questions he wrestled with was the seeming increase in rough driving actions on the Winston Cup and Busch circuits.

"I think we're going to have to do something besides fines," Jarrett said. "Even though $10,000 or $5,000 is still a lot of money, in the whole scheme of things, I don't know if that sends the message that we're going to have to send here."

Jarrett suggested taking away driver and owner points -- but even that, he said, might not be enough.

"From what I've seen over the last few weeks, anyway, it might be time for somebody to sit out a week and realize that we're not going to put up with this," Jarrett said. "Racing and rubbing a little bit and accidents are going to happen at times, but some of the things that I've seen are totally uncalled for, and a message needs to be sent."

Some examples of what Jarrett is talking about came the weekend of Sept. 7-8 at Richmond International Raceway. Winston Cup rookie Kevin Harvick was criticized loudly for his rough driving style in both the Busch and Winston Cup races.

He wasn't fined, but drivers Greg Biffle ($15,000 for fighting) and Jay Sauter ($10,000 for rough driving) were -- and are on probation until Dec. 31.

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