Team Lexus gets visit from a VIP

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

April 14, 2002|By Sandra McKee

If you remember the morning of April 6, it was very cold. But it didn't seem to bother the Lexus team crew as it practiced pit stops in front of its shop off Lord Baltimore Drive in Woodlawn.

As Lexus' chief engineer, Nobuaki Katayama, climbed into the car for the final driver's change, team owner and driver Chuck Goldsborough told him, "Smile and say Honda's bad," and turned his thumb down to reinforce his point.

Goldsborough races in the Sports Touring Class of the Grand Am Series, a sports car series sanctioned by NASCAR. In that series, he races against Hondas and can afford to laugh at them and the rest of the competition: His team sits in first place in driver, owner and manufacturer points standings.

Last weekend, the team was entertaining Katayama, the designer of the Lexus IS 300, which is driven by the public and raced by Goldsborough. Katayama also designed the successful Toyota Supra.

"Because of the aerodynamics of this car and because of the very strong background it comes from and because this car is fun to drive, I am not so surprised by its success," Katayama said.

Katayama, 54, has been the chief engineer on the Supra and IS since 1994. It was his idea to expand his trip to this country - for a meeting in California - by a few days to make a stop here and tour the Lexus team's shop.

What he found was a friendly bunch in a new 7,600-square- foot shop. Though the team is factory-backed - meaning Lexus provides engine and parts budgets and engineering contributions at the tracks - Goldsborough and Lexus spokesman Wayne Szabo declined to say how much monetary support is involved.

Goldsborough said much of the support his team has is from sponsors who provide services in exchange for signage on the race car. But there are seven cars in this team's garage - four for the Grand Am Cup, two for the World Challenge Series and a spare - and lot of quality equipment to work with. Seeing this operation in terms of Busch or Winston Cup operation, you probably would estimate it at well over $1.5 million or $1.6 million.

Still, the team's success is driven by the dedication of volunteer labor that ranges from Will Stanley, a 15-year-old from Pasadena, to Jack Geisinger, a Florida retiree who flies to every race.

"This is the way all those NASCAR teams started," Goldsborough said as he ran through the list of his 20 workers who all work day jobs, including Avonn Dorsey, an employee of Sun Microsystems in Laurel, and crew chief Josh Parker, who doubles as a mortgage banker. There have been dentists and lawyers, too. "We couldn't do this without our volunteers," Goldsborough said.

Dedicated youth

Busch driver Brian Vickers is a determined young racer who admires determination in others. So when his associate sponsor, U.S. Army Automotive Center, offered him the chance to visit the Pentagon on April 24, Vickers said an instant yes.

"I can't wait," he said. "I love helping my sponsor, but on a personal note, it's just cool to go. I've studied the Pentagon at school in history classes. And then, there's 9-11. I'd like to see what happened and know what happened."

The school Vickers was referring to in that phone conversation is Trinity (N.C.) High School. And he was doing that studying just last fall. Realizing he would be starting his Busch driving career this season, he doubled his workload at Trinity to finish his class work before the season started. He will graduate with honors next month.

At 18, Vickers is the youngest driver in the three top NASCAR series - Winston Cup, Busch and Trucks. Two weeks ago, racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, he missed his high school prom.

"That's just part of my job," he said. "You do what you have to do. It's like with the Army. Part of my job is to help them recruit, and I see so many young people at the races, probable recruits, and guys who have been in the Army. It's pretty cool.

"I've thought about going in the Army, myself. But it depends on the time. If it got bad enough and I was needed, I'd go. I'd be honored to go."

For now, however, he is just going to go racing and try to carve out enough time to make his graduation. It's scheduled the same weekend he'll be racing at Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.

"But it's only an hour away, and I'm hoping to be able to get away from the track in time to drive there," he said.

New winners, races

Last weekend, three Marylanders won for the first time at Hagerstown Speedway, and next weekend the track will team with Winchester (Va.) Speedway to make history

James Adkins of Waldorf won the late model 25-lap main event to give car owner Charles Buckler his first win in 20 years. Also earning long overdue first victories were Robert "Pete" Weaver of Williamsport in the Hoosier Tire late model sportsman feature and second-generation driver Jeff Johnson of Hancock, who won the Ernie's Salvage V8 pure stock event.

Next weekend, Winchester, Va., and Hagerstown speedways will present the Winchester/Hagerstown shootout on Friday and Saturday nights. Promoters Doug Timmons of Winchester Speedway and Frank Plessinger of Hagerstown Speedway worked out a plan for two weekends of racing between the late model drivers of each track.

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