July 4, 2012
Editor-in-Chief's Note: We are taking a break this week in honor of this country's Independence Day. We'd like to thank all of the men and women in the military around the world who help keep this nation free, and we'll see you back here next week with a new issue of AE. You can find me on twitter (@PeterMDeLorenzo), however, as I occasionally provide 140-character bursts of commentary over the course of this week. - PMD
Road racing could be NASCAR's salvation, if they'd just wake up and smell the coffee.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 6/25, 11:00 a.m.) Elkhart Lake. For enthusiasts who prefer their racing with left and right turns and elevation changes it may be a hard thing to swallow, but the best pure road racing on the U.S. racing calendar happened this past weekend as NASCAR ran its Sprint Cup series in Sonoma, California, and its second-tier Nationwide Series in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
All of the continuing aggravations about NASCAR's way of doing things - the excruciatingly glacial pace of meaningful change when it comes to embracing new technology, the ridiculous length of the Sprint Cup schedule, the cookie-cutter tracks, etc., etc. - melt away when its top two series take to road courses. The competition is simply spectacular and riveting and the way road racing should be.
The battles around the spectacular 4.048-mile Road America circuit were non-stop, with a mix of NASCAR up-and-comers and road racing "ringers" spicing up the action. It was good to see Danica Patrick drive the best race of her career at "America's National Park of Speed" and Nelson Piquet Jr. get his first NASCAR win, but beyond that it's clear that NASCAR at Road America is a very, very big deal - for the fans and for NASCAR itself.
When I talked to George Bruggenthies, Road America's president, the impact of NASCAR road racing is clear: "It's our biggest weekend now," he said. And that's saying something, as Road America doesn't lack for a full calendar of attractive racing weekends.
Longtime readers of this column know I have been pushing for more road racing on the NASCAR schedule for many years. The veil of sameness that hangs over NASCAR like a wet blanket is fueled by the organization's intense desire for predictability. NASCAR has systematically purged interest out of their schedule, replacing quirky local tracks with character in favor of 1.5-mile long sanitized speed bowls with as much character as a new pair of boots. And it is hurting fan interest and more important, it's hurting the gate.
The NASCAR powers that be don't cotton to outside input and they don't like being told what to do, and that's unfortunate because this is one aspect of their racing that they need to listen to and study very carefully. Besides shortening its death march of a Sprint Cup schedule - deleting at least three races total - NASCAR operatives at the same time need to add three more road races to the schedule (without adding to the newly reduced total), including at least one in the Chase. That means eliminating second visits to certain tracks on the schedule, but NASCAR would be dramatically better off for it.
Anyone who truly appreciates real racing has already figured out that the best show NASCAR puts on is always at its road course events. Which makes it all that much more mystifying that an organization that's consistently about The Show, can't figure it out how to take advantage of that.
That's the High-Octane Truth for this week in motorsports.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Dave Friedman, Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Riverside, California, January 17, 1965. Junior Johnson (No. 27 Holly Farms Poultry Ford) rounds Turn 6 in the Motor Trend 500, which opened the NASCAR season that year. The battle between Dan Gurney (No. 121 Wood Brothers Augusta Motor Sales Ford) and A.J. Foyt (No. 00 Holman-Moody Ford) was fantastic. And A.J.'s massive wreck later on in the race was one of the worst of his career, a crash in which he was very lucky to recover from. Dan Gurney would go on to win his third stock car race in a row at the southern California track and he would eventually win a total of five stock car races at Riverside in one of the sport's most dominant performances. Junior Johnson would finish second that day, and Marvin Panch (No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford) would come home third. Interesting stats? The race took 5 hours, 41 minutes and 42 seconds to run (!) and Gurney averaged 87.708 mph over the 185 laps. There were two cautions, seven lead changes and attendance was announced at 61,474. Great videos of the race here, and a POV lap of the famed Riverside circuit here with commentary by Skip Scott.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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