Moonshine to big time in three dimensions

ON MOTOR SPORTS

March 07, 2004|By SANDRA McKEE

Put on the 3-D glasses at the Maryland Science Center at the Inner Harbor and two things happen: You find NASCAR's Nextel Cup racing virtually in your lap and you get to go for some daring, breathless rides.

The film, NASCAR: The IMAX Experience, which opens Friday, is a documentary and reality show in one.

It begins with a 1940's car chase that is supposed to suggest the good old days, when racing legend Junior Johnson - among others - would outrun the law on North Carolina's back roads.

It's a fun ride, and for those who know the sport and its personalities, there is an inside joke. The actors in the front seat of the car with the moonshiners are actually current Nextel Cup drivers Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson, and the two men in the sheriff's car chasing them are NASCAR president Mike Helton and NASCAR managing director of competition Gary Nelson.

Knowing the sport helps with this movie because many of the sport's stars are not identified, but even those not familiar with stock car racing will enjoy the film, judging by the reaction of a number of other viewers the other day who were not stock car racing fans.

With actor Kiefer Sutherland's voice-over leading the way, the audience is taken on a journey through the teams' modern workshops, the technical development of the engines and a day at the races.

There is wonderful footage on pit road, demonstrating the tight quarters that crews work in, the speed with which they work and the dangers they face. And there is thrilling footage that puts the viewer right in the car, in the race. The engines roar and you feel it in your chest.

It's an interesting film in that NASCAR, which several years ago did what it could to disassociate itself from its moonshine roots, appears to have gotten over it and is now embracing the past.

NASCAR also allowed a segment on the 2001 Daytona 500 that took the life of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, showing the emotions of the moment through Fox broadcaster Darrell Waltrip's commentary. The actual footage of the wreck, however, is not shown.

That accident, as most know, spurred criticism of NASCAR's safety record and began a push for better safety measures in the sport. In this movie, which was made in association with NASCAR, the sanctioning body's concern for safety is noted and NASCAR is applauded at least twice for its safety efforts.

The film is about 45 minutes in length and, if more actual racing footage had been included, it could have gone on much longer.

Altenburg starts

Third time's the charm? Ellicott City driver Jeff Altenburg hopes that's the case as he begins his third year with Tri-Point Motorsports' Mazda factory-supported team in the Speed World Challenge touring car class.

Altenburg will be driving a Mazda 6 when the season begins in the 52nd annual 12 Hours of Sebring, March 17-20.

"If we don't have the cloud following us around the way it did last season, we should be a contender for the championship," said Altenburg, who finished fourth in the series standings last season despite setbacks that included wheels falling off, a lost transmission and a car fire.

Altenburg's teammate in a second Mazda will be Shauna Glorioso-Marinus, who last season became the first woman in the series to produce a top-three finish (she had two third places) and the first to win a pole.

Challenging circuit

For Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) drivers in the area, the news is good from Summit Point, W.Va., as Motorsports Park president Bill Scott announced the opening of a road course called the Shenandoah Circuit.

"It's the most challenging new track in America," Scott said. "It will have exciting elevation changes and incorporate an exact replica of the famous Karussell at Germany's world-renowned Nurburgring." The Karussell is a harshly banked, hairpin turn that is said to crush a driver in his seat as he accelerates. "The new circuit will be very challenging for the drivers," said Scott.

He should know. Driving in the Formula Vee, Formula Super Vee and Formula Ford categories, he won two world championships, a European championship and three U.S. championships between 1968 and 1972. Those efforts included winning at Nurburgring - and a lot of other places. Over 124 races between 1965 and 1972, he won 42 times and was in the top three in 35 other events.

The new course will have a 1.7-mile racing surface that can be converted to a 2.1-mile course for school and club events.

The original 2-mile racing course and 1.1-mile Jefferson (training) circuit will still be available, as well.

The first scheduled event on the new course will be an American Motorcycle Club race July 16-17-18.

Big day at speedway

Though Hagerstown Speedway opened last weekend and will run big block modifieds and late models today, it will have it's official opening next Sunday. The program will be the first this season to feature all three of the track's regular divisions - late models, late model sportsman and pure stocks.

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