Thursday, January 28, 2010

NASCAR and TMC - One Month From Now

A lot of sports activities will be crammed into the short month of February. The Super Bowl, the winter Olympics in Vancouver, NASCAR's Speed Weeks and Daytona 500, and several critical college hoops games affecting March Madness will all occur between now and then.

Perhaps the most relevant event for me, however, will happen one month from the posting of today's blog entry: February 28. The Shelby American Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway!

I'm not much of a gambler (at least not at the tables), and I've been to Vegas enough times to scratch my itch. But I'm always up for a race weekend at a track I've never attended. Until this trip, the track farthest west where I've attended a race was Texas Motor Speedway where I watched the inaugural Busch and Cup races in 1997. I've driven by California Speedway and Sears Point - but not to a live event. So getting to cross Vegas off my list of tracks to see will be great.

As with any TMC trip, I'm doing this as frugally as possible. (Please don't call me cheap. It sounds so crass.) Our itinerary looks something like this:
  • Friday, February 26 - Fly to Vegas for free (using Delta SkyMiles)
  • Pit stop at area retail store (see below for more details)
  • Check-in at Excalibur with deep-discounted, race fan special, multi-day rate special
  • Redeem 2 free drink vouchers in casino lounge as part of hotel package
  • Saturday, February 27 - Sam's Town 300 Nationwide race with free tickets (where we'll get to see everyone's favorite race diva compete - and no I'm not referring to Vegas' own Kyle Busch)
  • Saturday night - Well, I can't tell you. Because as everyone knows, some things that happen in Vegas stay in Vegas. (Others end up on a blog, Twitter, cell phone camera, or in your bloodstream.)
  • Sunday, February 28 - NASCAR Shelby American Sprint Cup race with free tickets
  • Monday, March 1 - Sport sunglasses, pop a couple of Goody's Orange Flavor headache powders, wash it down with a luke-warm, leftover Schaefer, and settle into my cross-country seat on Delta with eyes closed for the long trip home.
I haven't stayed at the Excalibur before, but the reservation staff has been super to deal with so far. Plus, they are right next to New York New York, MGM Grand, Luxor, Tropicana, etc. So we will have no shortage of places to roam if we want to leave the castle.

For those wondering about the additional key detail of the trip - yes I've done my advance scouting for Schaefer. My initial plan of action involved packing a couple of ceremonial cans in my luggage as I did when I last traveled to San Diego.

Instead, SUCCESS! Schaefer is still distributed in Vegas, and Lee's Discount Liquors about 5 miles south of the strip sells it. So guess where our first stop will be upon arrival at McCarran Airport Friday afternoon?

While I'm excited about going to this track for the first time, the place already has one strike against it. Unlike most tracks in the south, mid-Atlantic, and even New Hampshire, coolers are prohibited inside the Vegas track. [cynicism] I'm sure we'll have the good fortune to see the track sell cold ones at a reasonable price. [/cynicism]

So far, all our plans are falling in line nicely. Now, if we can just figure a way to wrangle a ride in the convertible with The King and his ladies...


TMC

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20 - This day in Petty history

Yesterday, January 19, 2010, was kind of a weird day in the annals of Petty racing. The announcement during the NASCAR media tour wasn't earth shattering. As a matter of fact, it was pretty much old news. Richard Petty Motorsports announced it had formally finalized its "merger" with Yates Racing. (I'm still not sure how the contribution of Yates Racing to RPM equals a merger. Seems to me it was more of a bailout for them. But whatever.)

Two surreal elements about the news for for me were:
  1. the King had a sudden family situation he had to attend causing him to miss the presser and
  2. the presence of Paul Menard sitting on stage wearing a Petty-emblazoned shirt. Has it come to this? To get sponsor money, the Gillett/Petty contingent had to sink this low? Soulpatch Paul may well end up making former Petty drivers such as Rick Wilson and Buckshot Jones look like HOFers.
(Photo from Lynne Allmendinger's TwitPic.)

But that was January 19. Its done and over with. On to January 20th and the rest of the season. which brings me to this entry.

An even bigger press conference was held 364 days ago that did make me sit up and take notice. On January 20, 2009, Richard Petty announced the merged Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises teams had been named Richard Petty Motorsports. Petty Enterprises was no more.

To give you an idea of how far back the Petty organization goes, here are a couple of additional January 20th Petty-related trivia items:

January 20, 1974 - Hershel McGriff raced a 2nd Petty Enterprises #04 Dodge Charger to a 10th place finish in the Winston Western 500 at Riverside. Richard finished 2nd in the race. (Ignore the photo caption. That is not Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach in the 04.) For those unfamiliar with McGriff, here's some context for you:
  • He raced in the first Southern 500 at Darlington in 1950.
  • He raced at Portland International Raceway in Juy 2009 - at age 81!
  • 'nuff said.

January 20, 1963 - Jim Paschal, in a 2nd Petty Plymouth, loses a wheel and barrel rolls over the fence in the Riverside 500. Fortunately, he wasn't injured badly and returned to run several more races for the Pettys - and won his share of them.



TMC

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review of 2 Racing Books

In terms of reading, I'm starting off 2010 better than I ended 2009. Reading used to be a positive habit for me a few years ago, but I've slacked off the last 2 or 3 years. With a renewed interest beginning this year, I started with appropriately enough a couple of racing-related books.

The first one I read was Ray Fox: Sly in the Stock Car Forest by long-time motorsports writer Godwin Kelly.

Even though I consider myself an "old school" fan, my knowledge of NASCAR is really from about the mid 1970s forward. What I know about racing in the 1960s and before is pretty limited to the Pettys. I knew about Ray Fox, but I didn't know much about his contributions.

Mr. Fox is still alive, lives in Florida in his 90s, and assisted Kelly with the book. Fox built cars, crewed them, and owned them. Though he never won a championship as an owner or crew chief, he did oversee some great wins. The book covers some great wins by drivers piloting his cars such as:
  • Junior Johnson in the 1960 Daytona 500
  • David Pearson in the 1961 World 600
  • Buck Baker in the 1964 Southern 500
  • Buddy Baker in the 1967 National 400 (his first career win)
After his tenure as a competitor, NASCAR hired him many years later as an inspector. Fox pulled some pretty crafty mechanical tricks on his cars though he denies he ever "cheated". Like NASCAR did with Gary Nelson and Robin Pemberton who tricked NASCAR inspectors on more than one occasion themselves, I guess the France family decided "if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em" and hired Fox as one of their own.

One of the things I found most interesting was how drivers jumped around from ride to ride within a season. Multi-year, driver-owner contracts really didn't exist back then. Also, certain year-end accolades didn't mean jack squat when a new season rolled around. David Pearson was rookie of the year in 1960, but he didn't have a steady ride in 1961. He pulled together a car owned by himself to soldier on, but he had his greatest success that year in a limited schedule for Fox.

Here's Ray Fox with then ARCA rookie Joey Logano a couple of years ago...

As fun as it was to read about Fox's contributions, his wars with NASCAR, his friendship AND rivalry with Smokey Yunick, it was equally difficult and frustrating to read such a poorly written book. Kelly frequently repeated himself between chapters and sometimes even within chapters.
Also, the book didn't seem to have a solid flow to it. The book didn't have to flow chronologically - though the book did make a reasonable attempt to do so. And it wasn't as if Kelly was just compiling random stories either. The stories were relevant and interesting, but the structure of it wasn't the best. I'm guessing Kelly wrote and then edited his own book.

The second book I read was Dr. Steven Olvey's Rapid Response: My Inside Story as a Motor Racing Life-Saver. While I've been a life-long fan of NASCAR racing, I've always had at least a minor interest in other forms of racing including the open-wheelers of Indy racing. Olvey was the long-time Director of Medical Affairs for USAC when it still sanctioned Indy cars. He later took a similar position at CART when a group of owners broke away from USAC to start the rival, yet ill-fated, competing sanctioning body.

Many folks - drivers and writers - have said that in the 1960s and before, drivers knew wrecks that looked bad were likely even worse than they looked. The mortality rate amongst Indy racers in that post-war through 1960s was unacceptably high.

Olvey's book flows naturally and quickly from the late 1960s through the bankruptcy of CART in the mid 2000s. He covers some of the most incredible crashes, injuries, and unfortunately deaths in open wheel cars - Emerson Fittipaldi, Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, Alex Zanardi, Nigel Mansell, Greg Moore just to name a few.

He also describes the monumental safety advances made over that span of time - better seats, placement of gear shifts, height of the carbon fiber tubs, HANS device, a dedicated, adoption of on-site medical/trauma care (something NASCAR still doesn't have), advanced treatment of orthopedic injuries, concussion and other brain injury research, etc.

When covering the injuries or describing a scene where a driver has perished, he does so with clinicial objectivity, respect, and without morbid sensationalism. Some degree of detail is needed to describe the scenes to the reader, but he does so without getting overly gruesome. (Video clips of many of the accidents described in the book are also on YouTube - if you can handle them.)

Not knowing much about Indy cars, I don't really know many ticky-tack inaccuracies the book may have. Two little ones I noticed should be mentioned but really don't detract from the overall book.
  • One, he refers to CART's cancellation of its race at Texas World Speedway. - TWS is in College Station, TX. Texas MOTOR Speedway is in Ft. Worth.
  • Two, he says Dale Earnhardt was trying to keep Jimmy Spencer and Sterling Marlin away from his race-leading teammate, Michael Waltrip as the laps wound down in the 2001 Daytona 500. - Spence was in the race but waaaay back. Not sure who Olvey was referring to. Mikey was employed by DEI, but he was not Earnhardt's teammate. And I'm not sure where Dale Jr. was as Olvey wrote his memories of that day. I'll cut him some slack because he admitted in his role with Indy racing, he had very limited knowledge about NASCAR. Yet an editor should have caught these obvious flaws.
I recommend both of the books be read. If you want to learn more about the early days of NASCAR, the Fox book should be considered - but be forewarned you won't be reading any Pulitzer-prize winning prose. For pure education and a quick read about motorsports in general, the Olvey book is great. If its a coin toss for you as which one to get first, go for Olvey's book.

TMC

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Schaefer and NASCAR...The Sequel

A two-year, multi-person, arms-race search for an elusive photo of a Schaefer beer sponsored NASCAR ride culminated in finding one last summer. Cooperation came from a fellow searcher/friend, racing history writer/blogger Rick Houston, and long-time NASCAR car owner D.K. Ulrich. I blogged about it, and the story of our successful search for a picture of Al Loquasto's #99 Schaefer Buick was featured on Rick's website, StockCarHistoryOnline.com.

Based on what I had learned about Schaefer's limited involvement with Loquasto's career including their one Cup race sponsorship of him, I thought our search was complete. Wrong.

A couple of months ago, another friend e-mailed me to say he'd scored a picture of a second Schaefer-sponsored car. I wasn't willing to believe it at first because I thought our research was thorough. But the pics tell the story. The Pontiac Grand Prix was driven by Joe Ruttman in the 1989 Daytona 500. Chuck Wellings is listed as the car owner. His only other race to field an entry was the 1990 Daytona 500 - again with Ruttman.

As the first picture shows, Joe almost never made it to the big show. He tangled with Mark Gibson in the #59 and spun during his 125-mile qualifying race. But he recovered well enough to finish 9th and comfortably earn a transfer spot to the 500. From there, Joe went on to finish a respectable 13th.

After the first picture was found, once again the hunt was on for more photos. This time the search didn't take near as long as it did for the Loquasto car. A couple of my fellow Petty fan brethren responded within just the last couple of weeks with a video capture of the rear of the car and a full-blown, high-resolution side view of the car - including a great view of a completely laid-back spoiler and the use of Hoosier tires.

Even though Schaefer was scattered, smothered, and covered on the hood and the rear panel, the "official" sponsor of record appears to have been Machinist's Union. All the sources we searched leading to the finding of the Loquasto/Schaefer car didn't turn up this additional car because the union sponsorship prevented a successful Google search for Schaefer.

While I am pleasantly surprised to locate yet another Schaefer car, I'm even more pleased it was Joe Ruttman who piloted it. I had the opportunity to meet Joe at Nashville Speedway back in my teenage days when he drove the Levi Garrett Chevy for owner Ron Benfield. No question about it - the photos of the Schaefer car are far more flattering than the look of my youth.

TMC

Friday, January 8, 2010

Review of Richard Petty Audio Scrapbook

In 2009, Richard Petty's Audio Scrapbook was released - a 4 CD, 4 hour narrative of the history of NASCAR, Petty Enterprises, and Richard Petty. Petty's cousin and long-time crew chief Dale Inman sat in on the story telling sessions. The long-time voice of MRN Radio, Barney Hall, moderated the script.

As a Petty fan, I wanted to get the CDs as soon as they were released. But I was patient and added the scrapbook to my Amazon wish list. Sure enough, my mother bought it for me for Christmas. God bless her.

If you aren't familiar with the King - particularly his way of speaking - the first thing the listener has to do is simply get used to listening to him. Even after being a fan of his for over 30 years, I've not really had the opportunity to hear him speak for long stretches. If you think today's collegiate and professional athletes have trouble speaking, just wait until you hear the King butcher...well the "kang's Anglish". Between the busted grammar and Richard's verbal-tic phrases such as "yaknowwhatahmean?", "yeah man", and "one of them deals", it takes a while to then really start hearing the stories.

From an overall perspective, its hard to believe how long Richard has been around. He was at the first NASCAR strictly stock race in 1949 where his father ran. And other than a handful of races he missed because of injury or a factory boycott, he was in pretty much every race from 1959 through 1992. Even as a car owner and retired driver, he's still attended the vast majority of the races from 1993 until now.

Having been a fan for as long as I have, the large majority of the stories were already familiar to me. Whoever scripted the scrapbook chose to highlight the most commonly known parts of Richard's career:
  • 1967 season - 27 total wins including 10 in a row
  • 1959 Daytona 500 - won by Lee Petty
  • 1976 Daytona 500 - Petty and David Pearson crash coming to the finish line
  • 1979 Daytona 500 - Petty wins after Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough crash
  • 1981 Daytona 500 - A fuel-only pit strategy call by Inman gets Richard his 7th 500
  • 1984 Firecracker 400 - his 200th win with President Ronald Reagan attending
  • His sponsor relationship with STP
  • His rivalries with drivers such as David Pearson and Bobby Allison
A great call was made to have Inman sit in with Richard. When Richard truly forgot something or maybe mis-remembered a detail or two, Dale wasn't afraid to jump in with a correction. A couple of other good features are phone interviews with Allison and Pearson while Petty and Inman were listening plus a separate interview Hall did with Junior Johnson.

I've got some criticisms of the scrapbook too. Before I mention them, I don't want to dissuade anyone from getting and listening to the CDs - particularly if you aren't familiar with the history of NASCAR, the impact of the Pettys on racing, the hallmark finishes, the rivalries with other drivers and teams, etc.

My criticisms are the result of my already being a dedicated Petty fan - not a casual one. As I already knew most of the stories, I was hoping for some more in-depth discussion of additional watershed moments in Richard's career. For all the stories, records, and trivia I know, I'm always wanting to learn even more.

To sell the CDs, keep the length of the discussions to a pre-determined length, and - maybe more important than all - get Richard and Dale to talk about certain things, many parts of his career were glossed over. For instance:
  • I wish Dale Inman had spoken a bit more about his decision to leave Petty Enterprises in 1981 to join Osterland Racing and Dale Earnhardt.
  • Why of all teams did Richard choose the start-up Curb Racing as the place to go when he finally decided to leave Petty Enterprises following the 1983 season?
  • Linda Petty, Richard's wife, briefly mentioned the death of her brother Randy Owen while crewing Richard's car at Talladega in 1975; however, Richard nor Dale discussed it at all.
  • Kyle's early career at Petty Enterprises was limited to memories from one race - the 1979 ARCA 200 at Daytona. No other discussion of their father-son relationship was covered - on the track or off it.
  • Petty Enterprises often ran a 2nd car during the 1960s and into the early 1970s. I wish Richard and Dale had offered a few more memories about how the drivers were hired - drivers like Jim Paschal, Paul Lewis, G.C. Spencer, Buck Baker, etc.
  • Richard won 2 races with car owner Don Robertson in the late 1960s. Who was he and how did they get together for a deal?
  • Why did Buddy Baker run a 2nd Petty car with #11 vs. a number in the 40s as all other Petty cars had been?

Richard has always struck me as just a laid-back, easy-going, optimistic, glass is half-full, tar heel. Dwelling on negative memories such as driver, crew, and family deaths just isn't his thing. Nor is it mine. However, I think this audio set would have been a good opportunity to capture his thoughts amongst all the other positive memories.

The other criticism I have is Barney Hall's interview with Junior Johnson. It sounds as if it was recorded using a simple recorder without any microphones. Junior is a soft spoken man anyway, and the crude recording made it all the more difficult to hear what he was saying.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the set. If you want to learn more about the history of racing, you should definitely get it - regardless of your thoughts about the Pettys. The concept and organization of the story-telling was solid. I'd love to hear additional audio sets from drivers such as A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, and maybe Cale Yarborough. Had Earnhardt lived, no question I'd want to hear one from him too.

TMC