Monday, June 29, 2015

Racing's Home Tracks: Part 2 of a IV-part Trilogy

NASCAR's insistence everyone have a "home track" has metastasized into a full-blown epidemic.

After bringing awareness of this crisis to the masses two weeks ago, I wanted to continue with many more cringe-worthy examples.

During the recent Save Mart 300 in California, we were led to believe by PRN Radio and FoxSports1 on-air folks that at least four drivers claimed Sonoma as their home track. Though to be fair, the persistent matching of Cup drivers ... and teams ... and sponsors ... and manufacturers ... to a home track isn't limited to just PRN and FOX.

We were told Jeff Gordon began his racing career at Sonoma - despite having moved to Indiana when he was 14 years old.

The Dinger - A.J. Allmendinger - obviously claims Sonoma as his home track.

Never mind his home town of Los Gatos, California is 90 miles away.

Sophomore Cup and Target Racing driver, Kyle Larson, also claims Sonoma as his home track...allegedly.

I guess it's irrelevant his home track before making the transition to NASCAR was Calistoga Speedway.

Oh. Wait. Maybe it's Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, California.

Finally, Target Racing's former driver (and current GEICO discounted participant), Casey Mears, has claimed Sonoma as his home track...

...when he wasn't claiming Auto Club Speedway in Fontana as his home track.

Mears isn't the only driver confused about his home track - nor the only Chip Ganassi Racing driver to be confused. Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway was (and still is) indeed the home track for two-time Daytona 500 winner, Sterling Marlin. After all, he was a multi-time track champion at Nashville, made his first Cup start there, piled up tons of late model wins, helped his dad Coo Coo Marlin at the track, etc. He was able to make the transition to Cup after cutting his teeth at Nashville, and he continues to race at Nashville.

But Nashville fell off the Cup schedule after 1984. No problem. Sterling was assigned Bristol as his replacement home track. The facts of (1) his never running a weekly series at the track and (2) the 5+ hour driving distance from his home made little difference to the PR folks.

The city of Chicago was poetically labeled by Carl Sandburg as The City of the Big Shoulders. That statement needs to be true to hold aloft the legacy of all the drivers who claim Chicagoland Speedway as their home track - regardless that it isn't for any of them. (The fact Chicagoland isn't even in Chicago is a different thought altogether.)

Future NASCAR Hall of Famer (tongue deeply in cheek), Danica Patrick, is originally from Roscoe, Illinois - 2 hours from Joliet, IL. Such the sweetie, she kindly adopted Chicagoland as her home track as if it were a puppy.

Danica has long since left Roscoe, and apparently now calls Scottsdale, Arizona home. I think. Regardless, Phoenix International Raceway is now her home track - simply because she bought some real estate nearby.

Paul Menard's home track is the Milwaukee Mile in his home state of Wisconsin.

Whoa, easy there you wild and crazy guy. Milwaukee isn't on NASCAR's Cup schedule and never has been. You should know better than that. Looks like his PR team learned that factoid, and NardBurns was assigned Chicagoland as his true home track.

The roots of Venturini Motorsports go back to the 1950s. The team's drivers have been stalwarts of the ARCA circuit for decades. So where is its home track? Chicagoland of course - the track that opened in 2001.

Whew, time for a sanity break.

I've never a particularly big fan of Jamie McMurray. Haven't jeered him - I just haven't pulled for him either. Normally my response to him during driver intros is a tepid ehhh. But I may now become a Big Mc fan. Jamie recognizes just because he IS from Missouri doesn't mean Kansas Speedway is his home track. Kudos Jamie, well done.

But just because Jamie Mc gets it doesn't mean others do. Let's continue...

Yuengling, the country's oldest brewery, has only been involved with NASCAR since 2014. Yet, the beer - BEER! - has a home track.

Hell, not only is it absurd for a beer to have a home track, Yuengling isn't even the original beer sponsor at Pocono. What brand was? Oh yes: Schaefer.

Speaking of a sponsor for Ty Dillon, he let loose an eye-rolling whopper in 2014 by stating Atlanta Motor Speedway is his second home track. 

Why? Because he went to AMS as a kid and it's "so close to my house in North Carolina." The distance between Atlanta and Dillon's NC home is approximately 350 miles. Ty, you were so close in your estimate of distance...or not.

The absurdity continues with this beauty from Auto Club Speedway. They announced themselves as the home track for Rusty Wallace's driving school. That "news" was about as goofy as Rusty posing as an analyst on ESPN broadcasts and MRN Radio.

Sticking with the southern California track, ACS is always stated by the lemmings as the home track for Toyota. TRD builds engines nearby, crates them, and then ships them to North Carolina.

This news asserts Martinsville Speedway was former driver Jeff Burton's home track. Burton and his brother Ward are from South Boston, Virginia. Early in their racing careers, both ran the half-mile South Boston Speedway regularly. South Boston still hosts races today. From 1960 through 1971, 10 10 Grand National / Cup races were held at the track. Until 2000, least one Busch ... errr, Xfinity Series race each year was scheduled at South Boston. Jeff raced in eight of those events and could rightfully have called South Boston his home track - but not Martinsville.

I'll close with a Triple Crown of head-scratching, home track, hilarity courtesy of Chevrolet.

The brand has been involved with racing for decades. Drivers from coast to coast and north to south have raced a Bowtie. Yet, Chevy itself has a home track? Sure, why not. And where else would it be but Michigan International Speedway.

Wait - we talkin' NASCAR or Indy car? Indy? Oh then I'm sure Chevy meant that other Michigan track - the Raceway at Belle Isle. Yes, the track where CART hosted races beginning way back in ... well, not that far back ... in 1992.

And to reinforce Chevrolet's enduring love for its home track, it has yet a third one - the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


Monday, June 15, 2015

NASCAR's Homeless Drivers

The first couple of Mötley Crüe albums were instant, hair-metal classics. Then commercial success set in, and we got schlock ballads such as Home Sweet Home.

Speaking of Home Sweet Home, the PR machine of NASCAR's multiple teams, sponsors, and media partners seem hellbent on forcing upon us the schlock idea every driver must have a home track.

At one time, one could argue this was a truism. Drivers who started their careers in late models on the bullrings of America often found themselves back at that track in a next-level NASCAR ride.

Some of those tracks included places such as:
  • Fairgrounds Speedway - Nashville
  • Birmingham Speedway
  • Hickory Motor Speedway
  • Soldier Field - Chicago
  • South Boston Speedway
  • Myrtle Beach Speedway
  • McCormick Field - Asheville, NC
  • Bowman Gray Stadium - Winston-Salem, NC
  • Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds - Spartanburg
  • Stateline Speedway - Busti, NY
NASCAR itself promotes a number of home tracks that host annual racing schedules under NASCAR sanctioning - none of which currently host a Cup race.

Matter of fact, I can't think of any race on NASCAR's top three series' schedules held at a track that also hosts a regular slate of racing for the locals. On the Cup side, I believe the last "home track" to host a Cup race was Nashville - and that relationship ended in 1984.

The home track branding has progressed from illogical to silly to now absurd.

I understand NASCAR wants to showcase the expanded range from which it now draws its drivers.
  • The Busch brothers are from Vegas
  • Denny Hamlin is from Virginia
  • Carl Edwards is from Missouri
  • Jimmie Johnson is from California
But Kyle and Kurt did not cut their teeth on the 1.5 mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Carl Edwards was a substitute school teacher and part-time racer in Missouri. He never raced at Kansas Speedway until he hit the big time.

I was elated when Richard Petty Motorsports visited victory lane again in July 2014 when Aric Almirola won the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400. But I hung my head when I read Daytona was his home track simply because it was a two-hour drive on I-4 from his Tampa home.

On Friday before qualifying for the 2015 Michigan race, Richard Petty Motorsports tried to have us believe Ohioan Sam Hornish, Jr. claims Michigan Speedway as his home track.

Jimmie Johnson raced off-road trucks before jumping into a Busch Series car in 2000. He didn't bang around on Saturday nights at California Speedway.

But what really blows my mind is that JJ's crew chief, Chad Knaus, apparently has a home track of his own: Chicagoland Speedway.

Dale Jr.'s home track is obviously Kannapolis Motor Speedway. Right? Wait. I'm pretty sure Cup ... and the X-Series ... and the trucks do not race in Kannapolis - and never have. So I guess it makes perfect sense Jr.'s home track would be Charlotte Motor Speedway an hour or so down the road. Hold on a sec - but then wouldn't that be the case for everyone who lived in the Charlotte / Lake Norman corridor?

Ahhh. Richmond International Raceway. Home of the multi-time track champ Denny Hamlin. No? Well, maybe he was a multi-time winner on those sweltering summer Saturday nights at RIR. Didn't happen either? Hmm. Hamlin began racing at the 3/4-mile Richmond track only after he joined Joe Gibbs Racing.

Oh Little Joey - ye Logano of Connecticut well-heeled lineage. Did you realize the 2015 Daytona 500 winner proudly claims New Hampshire Motor Speedway as his home track? Never mind JoLo - like Denny at Richmond - didn't race on the surface of his home track until joining Joe Gibbs Racing.

Tony Stewart's home track is of course the Brickyard. Why? Because he is from Columbus, Indiana - an hour south of Indy. And because he is among the double-handful of NASCAR drivers who have raced in the Indianapolis 500. What other reasons do you need?

Matt Kenseth claims Madison International Speedway in Wisconsin as his home track. What a prepost... Oh, never mind. Kenseth is a former track champ at MIS so this one is actually legit.

Jersey boy Martin Truex, Jr. is unique in that he has at least two home tracks according to the lemmings: 
  • Dover because Delaware is a few hours from Jersey.
  • Loudon because well ... you get the picture.
Even Busc ... I mean Nationw... err X-Series drivers get a home track. Chris Buescher's: Texas Motor Speedway. Number of races on the track: five.

Home tracks aren't limited to just drivers. Teams - corporate entities - equity ventures - apparently claim them too. Roush Fenway Racing's home track is Michigan. I'm not exactly sure why. I'm pretty sure Roush Fenway didn't grow up racing dirt late models or quarter-midgets. Perhaps the company's corporate charter is registered in Michigan. Umm, somehow I doubt that too.

Furniture Row Racing is based in Denver, Colorado. Their home track - logically of course - is Kansas Speedway. Wait. What?? Yes, it seems because NASCAR no longer sanctions a race in Colorado that FRR claims the next closest track: Kansas Speedway. Yes, the track that is 600 miles away with zero attachment to the team's owner, crew or driver gleefully raises its hand and proclaims "Yep, that one's ours!" I think whoever came up with that connection inhaled way too much on a trip to Boulder.

Is the home track phenomenon limited to NASCAR? Absolutely. Positively. Not. Even the straight-line crowd gets to cling to a track they never ran as their racing careers evolved. Take Antron Brown from the NHRA for example...

I expect the home town nonsense to continue. If you read it on Twitter, hear it on TV, see it in article, etc., feel free to borrow King Arthur's great line in replying to the individual.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

June 2, 1961 - Paschal Wins Spartanburg

Julian Petty's greatest success as a car owner took place in 1958 with Bob Welborn at the wheel. At the end of the season, Petty apparently sold his racing equipment and disappeared from the track. He returned, however, within a couple of years paired with Jim Paschal - who later would drive for his brother Lee as a teammate to rising star Richard Petty.

NASCAR's Grand National drivers rolled into Spartanburg, SC's Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds on June 2, 1961 for a 200-lap, 100-mile race. A Who's Who of NASCAR legends made up most of the top 10 starters.
  •  Joe Weatherly in Bud Moore's Pontiac won the pole. 
  • Cotton Owens started alongside Little Joe. 
  • NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker and Jack Smith made up row 2.
  • Another pair of NASCAR Hall of Famers, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson, timed 5th and 6th.
  • Yet another NASCAR Hall of Fame duo, Rex White and Richard Petty, started in the 4th row.
  • Doug Cox and Darel Dieringer rounded out the top 10.
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
When the race began, Owens beat pole-winner Weatherly to the first turn. He was able to power around Little Joe, and Cotton led the first five laps. Weatherly got his groove back, and he passed Owens on the sixth lap and built a comfortable lead as he paced the field for about the first third of the race.

Hometown hotshoe Cotton continued his pursuit of Weatherly. Around lap 70, Owens put a bump-and-run on Weatherly as he took the lead. Weatherly spun, and he then wiped out Richard Petty as he attempted to get going back in the right direction. Both were done for the night.

Once Weatherly and Petty parked their cars, Cotton began his domination of the remainder of the race. With a few laps to go and the checkers in sight, however, Owens broke a wheel - likely related somehow to the earlier incident with Weatherly. Maybe, maybe not.

Either way, Cotton's misfortune meant good times for Jim Paschal in Julian Petty's #14 Pontiac. Paschal took the lead from Cotton and nabbed his first victory in three years. Prior to Spartanburg, Paschal's last GN win was in July 1958 in a Chevrolet at McCormick Field in Asheville, NC  - coincidentally fielded by Julian.

Cotton limped along to settle for second - two laps down to Paschal. Maurice Petty finished third for his best career finish as a driver. Chief started near the end of the field, and his 3rd place finish came with an assist from his older brother. Richard took over Maurice's #41 Plymouth in relief after his own Plymouth was sidelined following the wreck with Weatherly.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive