A unified stance in divided sport: IRL is entertaining

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

March 31, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

While the Winston Cup boys were bumping into each other at Bristol Motor Speedway last Sunday, the drivers in the Indy Racing League were giving a pretty good demonstration of what wheel-to-wheel racing in their sport can be.

Defending IRL champ Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier raced side-by-side to a heart-stopping finish in the Yamaha Indy 400 at California Speedway. Hornish won by .0281 of a second.

Too bad so few saw it. Only about 15,000 fans showed up.

The IRL's next race is at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway on April 21. It has been said there is a strong base of open-wheel race fans in this area. If you're one of them and you've been caught up in taking sides in the CART-IRL split, give it a rest. Even CART race teams are crossing over. Give yourself a treat. Go to Nazareth. The IRL competition is close and fun. And if you're a CART fan, you'll eventually want to know who these guys are anyway, because slowly, inevitably, the day is coming when they'll be in one series again.

Wait and see.

Tinker, tinker

The Winston Cup Series has this weekend off, but NASCAR officials aren't resting. They've announced a quarter-inch increase for the rear spoiler height on the Ford Taurus to be used in next month's race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The Chevrolet, Pontiac and Dodge teams' rear spoiler measurements will remain as they were at the Daytona 500.

The move could have been anticipated. After being given a half-inch decrease before the Daytona 500, Fords dominated the finish of the race.

Car owner Jack Roush, who has four cars in the top 10 in points, led the Ford teams' protest.

"I'm very disappointed that NASCAR has chosen to make this particular rule change," said Roush. "The indication from the race and the data at Daytona was that the Fords were at a huge disadvantage. Until the change at Daytona was made, the Fords had demonstrated a difficult time being competitive with the other manufacturers. Now, they have taken that away from us."

Kurt Busch, who won for Roush at Bristol last Sunday, took the change in stride.

"I guess this is what NASCAR feels they need to do to make things equal," he said.

This season, Dodge has three victories, Ford two and Pontiac one. Chevrolet is still looking.

Mixed message

NASCAR has been awarded the 2002 American Legion National Commander's Public Relations Award in recognition of the sanctioning body's tradition of patriotic displays during the televising of pre-race ceremonies.

Still, NASCAR might be the only major sports organization in the country that has yet to contribute financially to help the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

NASCAR spokesman Herb Branham said it is important to remember individuals within the company have made sizable contributions of their own. To me, that only seems to make NASCAR's slow response more questionable. At the time of the disasters, NASCAR said it would make a contribution when it became clear where the money would do the most good. Six months later, that is still its stance.

NASCAR, a very rich company, may well reach a point where it can say its money isn't needed at all.

Almost laughable

I've been trying to avoid getting into this, but letters keep piling up. So here goes. A group of NASCAR fans is protesting and boycotting the sanctioning body's official Web site and bombarding the media with letters because there is now a charge for viewing the Racecast portion - produced by Turner Broadcasting - of the site. Before this season, the access had been free. Now, it costs $29-and-change for the season.

One protester writes, "It seems obvious to me that Mr. Teddy Come Lately Turner ... could care less about racing or the fan, and that his sole purpose for coming to NASCAR was to suck as many nickels and dimes out of our pockets as possible."

Well, hello. The entire purpose of the sport - of every professional sport - is to suck as many dollars out of the fans as possible. That's why they charge admission. That's why they sell all those hats, shirts, jackets and every other thing they can think of.

The only mistake the big businessmen made in this situation was initially allowing fans to see for free what they were planning to sell. That led to a lot of people thinking they had a right to the free show. We should all know by now nothing in racing is free.

Another way to spend

Fanz Enterprises is forming a fan-owned Winston Cup race team. Fanz is giving individual NASCAR fans their first opportunity to own stock in a multi-car team intended to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company is offering a maximum of 2.5 million shares of its common stock at a price of $10 per share. Racing fans can become part-owners by buying a minimum of 25 shares.

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