Drivers now put spin on what they mean

ON MOTOR SPORTS

April 18, 2004|By SANDRA McKEE

"In the old days, drivers trained on booze and women," the late driver Tim Flock once said, while recalling the earliest days of professional stock car racing. "I remember so many Saturday nights before the races when ... [drivers] partied all night and came to the race on Sunday morning with eyes that looked like two big red cherries."

They'd knock each other around on and off the racetrack. They'd seemingly do and say whatever they wanted. Flock, in fact, raced for a time with a monkey - Jocko Flocko - in the seat beside him.

But in the late 1970s, as major sponsors started coming into NASCAR's top racing series, the sport began to seriously change. Drivers complained the new sponsors were taking the color out of the sport, forcing the men behind the steering wheels to act better, talk better and look better.

In the 1980s, the trend toward better health and better language continued, and in 1992, Darrell Waltrip - a man with a notoriously big mouth - remarked one day in his team's garage that he was being challenged to find more creative ways to express himself.

"There's a way to say what you want," Waltrip said then. "But now you have to be smarter about how you say it."

That was a dozen years ago, but it still applies.

During a conference call leading up to today's Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Nextel Cup driver Kevin Harvick said as much.

It was at Martinsville in 2002 that Harvick lost his temper during a Craftsman Truck race on the Saturday before the then-Winston Cup race. He went after Coy Gibbs on the track during the race, creating a dangerous situation for a lot of people. Afterward, he emerged yelling from his race truck.

Once a scene like that would have been overlooked, but NASCAR racing is long past those days.

The result was a $35,000 fine, a weeklong suspension that began with that Sunday's Cup race and probation throughout the season.

Two years down the road, Harvick sees things more clearly, but added he has not changed his style.

"I'm still me," he said. "You won't find me being plastic or politically correct. I'm just finding a better way to say what I think.

"But, oh my, it's almost scary to sit back and think about it sometimes. I still have my moments where [I] blow up or get mad, but everybody has those moments and it's no different from everyday life. But that moment was a pretty big moment in my whole life.

"To sit home and watch that race and not be in the race was pretty disappointing and just was a big reality check."

At Martinsville today, the half-mile oval will cause fenders to rub, bumpers to knock and tempers to flare.

"NASCAR wants me to be myself," Harvick said. "But you have to be a little bit more creative, I guess you could say, to get your point across without saying something you can't. And there are still moments where you can't put people in danger. You can't do the things you think you should be able to do."

Schetrompf Memorial set

Hagerstown Speedway returns to Saturday night racing this week for the 23rd annual Stanley Schetrompf Memorial Race.

The race, which honors the founder and builder of the track, is sanctioned by the World of Outlaws. It is a 50-lap race for late models and will pay $10,000. Also on the card will be the late model sportsman and the pure stocks. Race time is 7:30 p.m. Gates open at 5 p.m.

Among those competing will be Gary Stuhler, the 2003 track champion, who has won the race six times - including five straight from 1993 to 1997. Among the regular World of Outlaw drivers who will be competing is Scott Bloomquist, who holds the one-lap time record at Hagerstown. He completed the half-mile circuit in 18.312 seconds. The record has stood since June 12, 1998.

Mohler looks to improve

Frederick's Scott Mohler, who set a class record (10.056 seconds, 135.89 mph) in the All-Motor Division at Englishtown, N.J., last year, is hoping he can better his performance this weekend in Florida at the BF Goodrich Tires NHRA Sport Compact nationals at Moroso Motorsports Park.

"We've put the engine that set the record last year at Englishtown back in the car for this weekend's race," said team owner Darrell Cox. "We'd like to set a record and take the win."

The team also has added a new air box to improve the induction into Mohler's Dodge Neon.

Nuts and bolts

Today's Nextel Cup race at Martinsville marks the 20th anniversary of Hendrick Motor- sports' first victory. Geoff Bodine started sixth and won in the No. 5 All-Star Racing Chevrolet. Hendrick has 10 wins at the track and is seeking Cup Series victory No. 119.

Cup driver Elliott Sadler backed up his victory at Texas Motor Speedway with a ninth-place qualifying position for today's race. The question - Is there something to momentum? "What do you think?" he said. "I've only made one race here in my life at Martinsville. What do you think?"

Formula One driver Klaus Graf will run in two to seven Nextel Cup Series races this season for BAM Racing. Graf, 32, will make his first start June 27 in the Sears Point 300 at Sonoma, Calif. "My dream all my life is to compete among the best in motorsports," the German native said. Graf, who was a test driver for McLaren, is the first driver professionally trained for F-1 by European automobile manufacturers to move into NASCAR racing.

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