France Okays Date Swapping, Smith Fumes

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

 

Bruton Smith is not happy with Bill France, Jr.

There’s no news there; the two have been - at best -- cooperative adversaries for years. France’s International Speedway Corporation owns a majority of the tracks that his other family-owned entity -- NASCAR International - holds Winston Cup races at each year, while Smith’s Speedway Motorsports owns most of the rest. The tug-of-war between the two came to a head last year when SMI stockholder Francis Ferko filed suit against NASCAR - reportedly with Smith’s blessing -- claiming SMI’s Texas Motor Speedway was promised a second race date by NASCAR that was never delivered.

Last week, France launched the latest volley in the ongoing war of words between ISC and SMI, suggesting that races might be moved from existing tracks to newer venues in 2004. He specifically mentioned Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte - both SMI properties - as two tracks that could lose one of their annual events, along with two of his own speedways; Darlington and Rockingham.

Specifically, France suggested Smith could instantly secure that coveted second race date for his Texas track by taking one from Atlanta and transplanting it in the Lone Star State. He stressed, however, that there would be no race-swapping between his company and Smith’s. In France’s words, “We are not going to take ISC races and give them to SMI, or vice versa."

NASCAR’s stated intent is to expand its reach into major national markets that are currently not served, said Vice President George Pyne. Those markets reportedly include St. Louis and Nashville, where shiny new tracks are already in place, hosting NASCAR Busch and Truck Series races. The sanctioning body is also said to be interested in adding a second race at California Speedway, possibly by taking an event away from Darlington, Rockingham, or Dover.

“We don't foresee any new dates being added to the schedule," said Pyne, adding that NASCAR’s Winston Cup schedule is already near terminal volume. “What we are going to do is be more proactive in meeting with our track operators (to see) if there are opportunities to continue the geographic distribution of our events to a more national approach."

Not surprisingly, France's race-swapping suggestion was rejected by Smith, who said there is "zero chance" of a race leaving Atlanta. “We have spent more than $100 million in improving the Atlanta track, making it first class and fan friendly. Each race has a considerable economic impact on Atlanta, and we're not going to go into that community and take a race away,” he said. “NASCAR should be giving Texas a second race because the track deserves it."

Even if SMI did agree to shift events between its tracks, however, France said each move would be subject to NASCAR approval. Previously, France vetoed a request by SMI to move a Winston Cup race from the Infineon Raceway road course to Las Vegas, opting instead to remain active in the important California market.

In addition, France said NASCAR is considering later start times for Sunday afternoon events, or even moving races to prime-time Saturday night time slots; all to appease the sanctioning body’s television partners. Even stock car racing’s crown jewel -- the Daytona 500 -- is apparently subject to change.

“Could there be a prime time Daytona 500? Yes,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton. “It's something we have to be open-minded about. Saturday night (or) 3 o'clock Sunday start times…are the types of things we can use to grow the sport."

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It looks like Busch North Series youngster Paul Wolfe is finally catching a break.

NASCAR Winston Cup Series crewchief Tommy Baldwin, who will upgrade his part-time Busch Series team to full-time status this season, announced this week that will also field a limited Busch North operation with Wolfe at the controls. In addition, Wolfe will also pilot Baldwin’s Dodges - sponsored by Tops Friendly Markets -- in three Winston West series races, beginning at Phoenix International Speedway on February 2nd.

The team will operate out of Mooresville, North Carolina -- where Baldwin’s Busch South ream is headquartered - and plans to contest the Busch North races at Watkins Glen, Stafford, Thompson, Adirondack, NHIS, Dover, Lime Rock, Holland, and the new Lake Erie (PA) Speedway. Their Winston West schedule includes races at California Speedway, and both events at Phoenix.

Wolfe, a native of Milford, NY, is understandably excited about racing for the team, co-owned by Baldwin and former NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour regular Eddie D’Hondt. "We are surrounding ourselves with the best of the best,” he said. “We have a great sponsor on board, and we are excited about our prospects for 2003."

Wolfe has been impressive in his limited slate of Busch North events over the past three years, most notably at the “Magic Mile” in Loudon, NH. He recorded six top-10 finishes in eight BNS starts last season, along with a pair of Bud Poles at Nazareth and Dover. His best finish was a runner-up showing on the Monster Mile.

Up until now, Wolfe’s Busch North career has been guided by legendary northeast crewchief Dick Glines, who called the 25-year-old “the purest talent I have even seen behind the wheel of a race car.” That’s high praise indeed, coming from the man who won numerous NASCAR and ACT championships with driver Robbie Crouch.

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Look for New Hampshire International Speedway to announce a sponsorship deal for at least one the Loudon ovals two Winston Cup races, beginning this year. Our sources in the Granite State say that NHIS President Bob Bahre will announce a multi-year deal with Osram Sylvania next Thursday in Boston.

Track officials have refused to either confirm or deny the story, which could ultimately lead to night racing at NHIS in the not-too-distant future. Osram Sylvania is a major manufacturer of lighting fixtures, and could conceivably assist Bahre in turning the Loudon oval into a prime-time racetrack.

In a related story, Bahre said he will resurface the track’s third and fourth turns once again this spring, after two similar efforts last season failed to produce the desired results. An initial repaving the spring was awry after cracks developed in the surface, prompting a second reworking at midseason.

''We'll do it the first of April,'' said Bahre, “(then) let it cure for about four months before the first race in July. It should be enough time. I don't think we gave it enough time to cure last year. 'We only had about six weeks. But this time we'll have four months, which should be enough time.''

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Somebody turn a garden hose on Brooke Gordon.

Brooke, the soon-to-be ex-wife of former Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, turned her battalion of lawyers loose on the entire Winston Cup community this week, subpoenaing records from a number of drivers and teams for use in her ongoing effort to take Gordon for everything he’s worth.

Geoff Smith, General Manager of Roush Racing, said his team filed an order last week to block the move, which would require them to reveal intimate details of individual driver and sponsor contracts. Smith said other teams have also been asked to turn over contracts, and NASCAR has also been hit with subpoenas.

"Those things are the heart of our business,” said Smith. “When we give it to Brooke, we're giving it to Jeff. It's like having the Hendrick (Motorsports) organization inside our team."

In November, Jeff Gordon was forced to turn over papers that estimated his worth at about $48.8 million. Brooke Gordon, whose previous claim-to-fame was flashing her capped teeth in Victory Lane during a brief tenure as Miss Winston, filed for divorce in March. She has asked for exclusive use of a $10 million Highland Beach, Florida, mansion, along with alimony, two luxury cars, and the use of boats and an airplane. She also wants her husband to pay housekeepers, maintenance workers and a full-time chef.

Let’s see; Jeff Gordon puts his life on the line in a high-risk profession, and Brooke is entitled to half his total worth, based on her prior willingness to do what? Oh yes, I remember now. Seems to me there’s a word for women like her, but I’ll not mention it here. After all, she’s got lawyers.

Let’s just say we’re hoping Brooke gets exactly what she deserves, and leave it at that.

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Short (Track) Subjects…

…With less than a week remaining before the engines fire at Daytona, Kevin Lepage remains on hold. The Vermont native has enough cars and engines prepared to run the first 10 races of the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series schedule, but as of now, no sponsorship to do so.

“The cars are ready for paint and lettering, we’re just waiting for the phone to ring,” said Lepage this week. “The Matrix Motorsports Team is ready to hit the ground running, but as of right now, there’s no sponsorship in place to take us to Daytona.”

…Mike McLaughlin is out of a ride before ever turning a lap. Just three months after announcing that he would run a full NASCAR Busch Series schedule with the new Angela's Motorsports team, the former Featherlite Modified Tour champion was left high and dry this week when all the team’s equipment was repossessed due for non-payment of bills.

The team had hired McLaughlin, team manager Clyde McLeod, and veteran crewchief Harold Holly as principals for a planned 2004 campaign, but apparently, neglected to pay for the cars and equipment they had purchased from Robert Yates Racing. “We are all very disheartened by what has transpired the last few days,” said McLaughlin this week. “Despite not being the owners, we feel a deep sense of urgency to make sure everyone is paid what they are owed. We are working on a few opportunities that will allow this team to reorganize and still compete for the championship.”

…Ricky Craven’s sixth Annual Snowmobile Ride for Charity raised a total of $185,122 for five different charities. The Children's Miracle Network, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the National Marrow Donor Program, the Travis Roy Foundation, and Give Kids the World each received a check totaling nearly $35,000. The Newbergh, Maine, native also donated $10,000 to the Greenville [ME] Public Schools, and $1,000 to the Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club.

This year’s Ricky Craven Snowmobile Ride for Charity, held on Moosehead Lake in Greenfield, Maine, raised more than $20,000 more than last year’s edition.

…Veteran driver Rick Mast retired from racing last week, due to the long-term effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"I have a medical condition that will not allow me to race anymore," said Mast. "I stepped out of the car in May, but it wasn’t until November that I was diagnosed with chronic and acute carbon-monoxide poisoning. What it amounts to is that I can not be around carbon monoxide, or the things that cause carbon monoxide."

The Rockbridge Baths, Virginia driver made 364 Winston Cup starts in his career, and is best remembered for winning the Bud Pole for the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994. He said he plans to stay involved in the sport, ensuring that other drivers do not go through the ordeal he has.

"(NASCAR has) started a program looking into this, trying to figure out what's going on, trying to get some data established. (They want to know) what we can do to prevent it in the future. That's the positive that we are taking from this whole thing."

…The Canaan Association of Racers for Racers will hold preseason meetings for their Super Street and Late Model divisions next Thursday night at Bond Auto Parts in Newport, NH. The Super Street division will meet at 6 p.m., with the Late Models to follow at 7:00.

… Officials at Kansas Speedway have reportedly been told by NASCAR executives that "that track would likely" get a second Winston Cup race in the future. The track recently announced that for the third time in its three-year history, all five of its 2003 race events are now sold out.

Other tracks reportedly on the short list to get a Winston Cup race are California Speedway and Phoenix.