An Open Letter To NASCAR Fans…



Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus


Dear Friends:

Much is being made of NASCAR’s impending return to New Hampshire International Speedway this weekend for the “New Hampshire 300.” Apparently, a significant portion of the Winston Cup community - and a full 100% of the media corps - expects to freeze to death tomorrow, or at least lose a vital appendage or two to frostbite.

“I’d say put your chains on, because I'm sure it’s going to be snowing,” said Virginian Rick Mast recently. “Knowing the Bahres and their luck, I'm sure the snow will be a foot deep by the time we get there.”

Rick, you don’t know the half of it. As a native New Englander, I know what late November is like around here. And buddy, you’re in for a treat. One year ago, the records show that last year’s temperature in Loudon, NH, the day after Thanksgiving was a balmy 17 degrees - yes, that’s Fahrenheit - with an average wind speed of 11 mph. Under those conditions, exposed skin turns black in less than 20 seconds.

Just kidding. Hahahahahaha.

And it’s not just the people that are going to suffer. Motorhomes, the lifeblood of NASCAR, also do not respond well to sub-freezing temperatures. Running water quickly turns to ice, making hot showers (or even cold showers, for that matter) completely out of the question. Lines freeze, then rupture, leaving you with an impromptu hockey rink underneath your beloved Prevost motor mansion. And you know that other tank? The one that holds the - shall we say - used water? That’s gonna freeze too, leaving you with a 600-pound block of “yellow ice” to deal with before you head for home. But don’t worry. You’ll probably be incoherent from exposure by then.

“Oh come on,” you may be saying. “The New England Patriots play football 90 minutes south of NHIS, and their fans have been known to take their shirts off during the game. How cold can it really be?”

The answer, unfortunately, is very cold. Brutally cold. Nose-running, mind-numbing, polar bear cold. So cold that only the extremely foolish -- or the thoroughly intoxicated -- venture out, with or without a shirt.

I live here in Vermont, land of ski areas, maple syrup, and the eight-foot snowbank. A place where “ayuh” is a word and moonshine is an atmospheric condition, not a beverage. And while I admit there are mornings when rising at 3 a.m. to shovel a thousand pounds of slush out of the driveway seems a tad… well… oppressive, there must be something to be said for it. After all, thousands of you “down country” folk pay cash money to roll around in it each winter.

We thank you for that.

To those of you still determined to join us tomorrow, I offer a few helpful hints:

1) Dress in layers. Undershirt, long johns, turtleneck, windbreaker and parka above the waist, ski pants, two pair of socks and insulated boots down below. And don’t forget the mittens and toque. Those unfamiliar with the terms “long johns,” and “toque” should remain south of the Mason-Dixon Line for their own safety.

2) Plan ahead. Many native New Englanders keep an “emergency kit” in the trunk of their car; comprised of a snow shovel, emergency flares, blankets, and enough food to keep you alive until spring. Slim Jims and Coke, though tasty, are of limited nutritional value, and should be left at home.

3) Put the weight in back. When the roads are slick, it pays to keep the weight in the rear of your vehicle. Many native New Englanders load sandbags onto the back of their pickup trucks to increase winter traction. Locking your mother in law in the trunk serves a dual purpose that we will not discuss here.

4) Steer into the skid. Snow and ice make an oil-slick racetrack seem like child’s play, but the same general rules apply. To some, steering into the skid seems illogical. After all, do gazelles run circles around sleeping lions? Do flies land on rolled-up newspapers? Of course not. But we insist on steering into the skid, and somehow, it works.

5) Don’t lift. Local law enforcement officials report that during the winter, 90 percent of all motor vehicle accidents are caused by people attempting to slow down. With this in mind, we recommend that you never, ever lift off the accelerator. Pedestrians be damned.

6) Don’t stick your tongue on an aluminum seat. Trust me on this.

Steadfast adherence to these rules should give you at least a 50-50 chance of returning to the Land of Dixie with nothing more than a few blackened fingertips and a lingering case of snow blindness. And the way I see it, if this thick-blooded, lifelong New Englander can sweat his ample backside off in the 100-degree heat of Daytona every July, a few of you goose-pimpled rebels can survive a single day where the roar of the race cars is drowned-out by the chattering of your own teeth.

See you soon.


Short (Track) Subjects…

…As has been rumored for weeks, Ray Evernham Motorsports and Ultra Motorsports announced a new partnership this week. The agreement calls for Evernham to continue fielding the #9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid for Bill Elliott, as well as the #19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid with Jeremy Mayfield as driver. Ultra Motorsports will field a new #7 Dodge with Casey Atwood as the driver, with a sponsor to be named later. The deal also involves a combined engine program, support from Evernham Marketing Services for sponsorship development, and management of team personnel by Evernham.

…The recent pit road accident that injured three of Ricky Rudd’s crewmembers has resulted in some changes in apparel on pit road. Last weekend, many teams experimented with skateboard, bicycle or hockey helmets for their over-the-wall crews, while Ricky Craven’s Tide team wore full, racing-style helmets, as they have all season.

The crews of Bill Elliott, Casey Atwood, Tony Stewart, Ward Burton, Hut Stricklin, Ricky Rudd, Kevin Harvick, Dale Jarrett and Stacy Compton all opted for the lighter bicycle helmets, citing their lighter weight and improved vision. Look for others to join the trend this weekend at New Hampshire. Bobby Burrell, tire changer, 30 years old from Huntersville, N.C. Bobby Burrell was released from Carolinas Medical Center today. He will continue his recovery from injuries at home. He still has some minor dizziness and many bruises, but is in good spirits and looking forward to being home.

…Richard Childress Racing announced last weekend that Robby Gordon will drive the team's #31 Chevrolet in 2002. The former off-road racer and Indy car star substituted frequently in the car late this season, after former driver Mike Skinner underwent season-ending knee surgery. In addition, 2001 ASA champion Johnny Sauter will run a full NASCAR Busch Series schedule next season in Childress’ #2 Chevrolet. Originally, former Busch Series champion (and 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year) Kevin Harvick was slated to drive the car in nearly half of next year’s events, with Sauter running the balance of the schedule. But after a handful of impressive runs in the car in recent weeks, Sauter has been ungraded to full-time status, with Harvick now scheduled for only a handful of Busch races.

…Chip Ganassi Racing confirmed last week that veteran Jimmy Spencer will drive the team’s #01 Dodge next season, with Target as the primary sponsor.

…Morgan-McClure Motorsports is actively seeking a major sponsor in hope of fielding a second car in 2002 for youngster Bobby Hamilton, Jr. Hamilton is the third driver to fill the seat of the Kodak-sponsored #4 Chevrolet this season, after replacing Kevin Lepage, who replaced Robby Gordon.

“We're looking at (doing) a two-car deal,'' said team owner Larry McClure this week, “and I certainly don't know of anybody I would like to have more than Bobby Hamilton Jr. If something surfaces and we feel like it will compliment our Kodak deal, we would certainly look at it real hard.”

…One of the most recognizable paint schemes in Winston Cup Racing may have its final outing tomorrow at NHIS. Ricky Rudd's Texaco/Havoline-sponsored #28 Ford will likely sport a dramatically new color combination next season, due to the recent merger of Texaco with Chevron Oil, resigning the familiar black “Texaco Star Car” to the recycling bin.

…Speaking of Rudd, the Virginia driver could be headed for off-season back surgery, much like Mark Martin did two years ago.

“My back has been bothering me for a little while," admitted Rudd last week. "I might have to get it fixed this winter. It hurts when I sit in the seat for a long time."

…Dale Earnhardt, Jr., has begun wearing a full-face helmet, abandoning the open-faced style favored by his late father, Dale. Junior’s decision leaves Spencer as the lone remaining NASCAR devotee of open-faced headgear. Ironically, Earnhardt led 171 of the 325 laps at Atlanta Sunday, before falling victim to debris in his eye during his final pit stop.

…Bear Ridge Speedway will honor its 2001 champions on Friday, December 7, when the quarter-mile speedway holds its annual awards banquet at the Hartford Post #26 American Legion in downtown White River Jct.

Orford, New Hampshire, driver Chris Donnelly will be honored as the 2001 Modified champion, after holding off Shoreham’s Jim Ryan for most of the season to capture the title with three feature wins . The Sportsman Coupe championship will go home in the hands of 17-year-old phenom Adam Pierson, who steamrolled the competition in his sophomore season, blasting to nine feature wins en route to the track championship. Adam’s cousin, Ryan Pierson, claimed a season-high 12 victories to win the Bear Ridge Pro Street Stock championshipm, while Chris McKinstry topped the Fast Four title chase with six feature wins.

A limited number of tickets are still available for the December 7 affair, on a first come-first served basis at $20 per person, by calling track owner/promoter C.V. Elms, III, at 603-787-6352.

…Tomorrow’s New Hampshire 300 will mark Ron Hornaday's final ride in A.J. Foyt's #14 Conseco Pontiac. Hornaday is expected to move to the Busch Series next season, splitting time with his son, Ronnie III, in the #43 BGN Chevrolet. Foyt, meanwhile, is said to be talking with Rick Mast about steering the Conseco car next season. Mast should have little trouble adapting to his new surroundings, having driven for Foyt last season.

…Quote of the Week -- "Robby's a winner and a champion. He understands what it takes to be
successful, and that will give the Cingular Wireless program a big head start for next season."
Car owner Richard Childress on his new driver, Robby Gordon, moments before Gordon failed to qualify for the NAPA 500.