Fiery Spencer gears up for race at Richmond


Auto Racing

April 28, 2002|By SANDRA MCKEE

FONTANA, Calif. - Here it is, a rainy day in Southern California, and you're at a speedway waiting for a racetrack to dry. You need energy. Who do you go see?

Jimmy Spencer. He can be a fireball. He is spontaneous. He is the man who never forgets. He'll tell you that. He's already told a national television audience. He said it last year after the Busch race at Talladega Superspeedway in response to a final lap run-in with Mike McLaughlin that cost him a win.

Fenders collided in a mad romp to the checkered flag. McLaughlin won. Spencer fumed. He promised the ploys McLaughlin used to beat his Yellow Pontiac would never be forgotten.

"Jimmy Spencer never forgets," he said, and he meant it.

Fans seem to have loved his passion.

"It's helped me sell a lot of T-shirts," he said, smiling, sitting in his team's truck, waiting out the weather. "It's a good saying, because I don't forget. [McLaughlin] cost me the win there last year, and I was upset about that. ... I just said something in the heat of the moment, and it stuck. It wasn't meant to be derogatory toward anybody. I just meant that whoever wants help some time, I'll remember who helped and who didn't help.

"Look at Jason Keller at Daytona. He helped me a lot at Daytona, and somewhere down the line, he'll get the favor returned. I don't forget about that, either. I don't forget about the good things or the bad things. You give and take in this sport. You don't just take, take, take, take all the time."

There are, of course, those who think Spencer takes plenty of liberties on the racetrack. Just ask Kurt Bush, who relished paying Spencer back during his victory in the Winston Cup race at Bristol for a perceived injustice Spencer seemed to have forgotten.

No matter. At Richmond International Raceway on Friday, Spencer will try to remember something else, the key to winning. He has won two consecutive Busch races at the three-quarter-mile track. He loves the short-track racing. And he loves the Richmond track, in particular, because a driver can make a pass on it.

"You have to be persistent," he said. "But there's a high groove and a low groove there. It's one of the most fun tracks we go to."

Fun has a lot to do with Spencer and his racing. If he isn't having fun, and if he didn't feel he had a chance to win, he wouldn't get in a race car.

At California Speedway this weekend, Spencer pulled double duty, just as he will next weekend in Richmond. In all instances, he said, he believes he can win both the Busch and the Winston Cup races.

"Everywhere I go now, I think I can win," he said, without puffing up his barrel chest. "We've been very competitive everywhere. It used to be, when I raced Winston Cup, I didn't feel I could win every one. But now I do."

Big rigs coming

The American Tractor Pullers Association returns to Hagerstown Speedway on Saturday in a sanctioned event that will count toward the ATPA season points title.

Three classes of pulling action are on a schedule that begins at 6 p.m.

This will be the first point pull of the season for both the Big Rigs and the ATPA East Coast Pulling Series. The pulls are produced in conjunction with the Washington County Tractor Pullers Association, which is based in Hagerstown.

The Big Rigs Pulling Series features the most powerful modified semi trucks in the United States. In the field will be four-time world champion and reigning national champ Tom "Diesel Doctor" Lindsey from Duncansville, Pa.; his wife, Dana, who drove "Red, Hot and Rollin" to the No. 2 place in the ATPA National Big Rigs points race in 2001; Big Rig 2002 World Champion Don Snyder of New Springfield, Ohio, and Elson Martin of Hagerstown with his Mack Truck named "Thunder Dog."

Also on the program will be the Limited Pro Stock Tractors, made up of specially modified tractors that use diesel fuel, and the modified four-wheel-drive trucks, which have engines up to 650 cubic inches and alcohol-injected engines.

For more information on the Big Rigs, log onto:

Nuts and bolts

Indy Racing League driver Scott Sharp has 98 points and is in fifth place in the league standings after becoming the fourth different winner in five races last weekend.

Defending IRL champ Sam Hornish, who has won twice, is the points leader with 154, and Gil de Ferran, last year's CART champion, is second with 149 points, despite looking for his first victory.

De Ferran's teammate, Helio Castroneves (145 points), has one victory and is in third place, with Felipe Giaffone (105) fourth.

Winston Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. won last weekend in Talladega, Ala., and said he has a special reason for wanting to make it two in a row today.

"This race is the day before my dad's birthday, so it has some special meaning to me," he said. "I'm not that great with dates, but I will always remember April 29. It means so much to me - and I hope we can win one in his honor."

Driver Tony Stewart, who had to get out of his race car at Bristol a month ago because of back pain from a crash a week earlier, is experiencing a recurrence of the pain.

"It's because I spent five straight days in the race car last week," he said. "There was practice, qualifying and racing at Talladega, and then testing for two days at Richmond before coming out here."

Shawna Robinson, who has been running at the back of the field since a 24th-place finish in the Daytona 500, said she expects improvement in the second half of the season.

"If we don't improve mid-year and on, then we're not doing what we need to be doing," Robinson said. "At the beginning of the year, it's all about team and driver growth. Mid-season on, we should really be showing results from where we started."

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