Archive | Off The Wall

Off The Wall: Where Do We Go From Here?

Off The Wall: Where Do We Go From Here?

Dirt is for Racing, Asphalt is how you get there. Asphalt is for racing, Dirt is for Planting Potatoes.

When I was a much younger version of myself I fell madly in love. It was a torrid affair that burned white hot for almost 40 years. Sadly, later on, we grew apart and when another entered the picture I tried balancing both – but it was hopeless. It was one of those sad partings like Dave Mason sang about – “There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys, there’s only you and me and we just disagree”. Like in the song I bear no malice and after several years apart, I’ve gained a nostalgic fondness for my former partner, sadly that has now turned to fear and worry, because if something is not done soon, my former love may soon die and I do not want this for pavement racing. Yes, dirt and I get along extremely well – some nights we have our spats, eg. Eldora going away in hot laps, but that doesn’t mean pavement racing should not and can not prosper as well.

I fell in love with pavement watching the supermodifieds at Nilestown Speedway in 1966, that turned into a white hot affair when I went to Delaware a week or 2 later. As the years went by, I went to the macadam meccas, Indianapolis, Daytona, Michigan, Atlanta and along the way developed a belief that the real gems were short tracks like Oswego and Toledo with my favorite of them all being the very high banked 1/4 mile oval that is Anderson Speedway in Anderson Indiana. It is where my favorite pavement race is held each year – The Little 500. A race that features 500 laps of insanity and mayhem, starring 33 sprint cars their insane drivers and equally whacked crews and push truck drivers – push trucks on the track during green flag racing anyone????? Besides the American tracks I mentioned, we have some pretty cool pavement joints around here. My personal favorite being Delaware  – I love the different radii of the turns, the long back stretch and the bank off turn 2. Basically the characteristics of a track built not by a clean sheet design – but the characteristics of a track that has grown and evolved over the years.

As mentioned I fell in love with dirt track racing, that was in the late 90’s  – In hindsight that really steams my clams, because I had people whispering in my ear to go check out Eldora in the early 80’s. I’ll never forget busting my butt crewing on Graham Kells supermodified at Toledo in 1990 when this couple came up to Graham in the pits and said, “Graham, when are you going to get rid of that thing and get a sprint car and go run the dirt?” – I thought that was about the looniest thing I ever heard. Why give up big blocks and radical offsets and go back to uprights and small blocks – Hello, the 1950’s called they want their racecars back!!!!! By the way, the couple was Ken and Cheryl Pelkie who later played a major part in growing sprint cars in Southern Ontario.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago…..

Other than terrible car counts, and “crowds” that are sometimes greater than the car count all is well in pavement world. So what can be done??? At the Canadian Motorsports Expo I spoke to a couple of pavement folk and asked where does pavement racing go from here? Off the hop there were 3 suggestions that the tracks could do, that would both save the tracks and competitors time and money. The first is cut warm-ups to one session per division and limit the session to 3-5 laps. Pavement warm-ups are a waste of time and equipment. I used to be livid when we raced pavement, if we did not get at least 3 warm-up sessions. Go to an Outlaw show, they will go to a track they have never seen,do 5 warm-up laps come in, adjust, and set a new track record in qualifying. The second is cut the intermission (singular) to a reasonable duration (under 15 minutes).This is one area where asphalt could have it all over dirt tracks – Other than a post rain drying session, they never require ‘grooming” through the night – nobody likes to watch a grader doing hot laps.Pavement track operators have a much greater ability to run a clean, tidy show that most dirt track promoters would envy. Finally, It floored me when I heard Raceceivers are not fully implemented at every pavement track, that is the height of lunacy. For crying out loud it is 2014. Stop screwing around with blackboard line-ups!!! Ask almost anyone that has run a Raceceiver and they will tell you at one time or other it probably saved on a ton of repairs (or worse) – everybody wins with these things!

The last comment I will make is regarding the quality of racing itself – in short – it sucks. I don’t know what the answer is – but I do know this – when I go to a race their better be a ton of cars on the track by feature time. I will tolerate crappy heats and even no B main, BUT a 9 car feature is embarrassing and pathetic. I know only one easy answer in this regard – and it seems to be the most difficult to do. HAVE THE TRACKS WORK TOGETHER AND COMMONISE RULES. Right now pretty much any dirt track sprint car in North America can be loaded onto a trailer and run at any other dirt sprint car track in North America. That has to be the goal of every track operator in North America. For example get the late model chassis rules in line and separate the divisions cost wise, through motor and tire rules. Maybe they are close on this, I don’t know – but if I can’t tow a Delaware “late model” to a California “late model” show and race there – then somebody is doing something wrong. FYI – I have Stock Car Racing Magazines from the early 70’s where this was a predominant issue.

I am concerned that I am coming off as arrogant – that is not my intention. Dirt racing has its share of issues and problems, the difference is, that it seems to be healthier crowd wise and car count wise and thus has a little more “wiggle room” to make mistakes. In all honesty I believe that the pavement situation is becoming increasingly dire and if things are not corrected real soon, there will be nothing to correct. Please prove me wrong pavement guys!!!!!

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: A Lack Of Respect

Off The Wall: A Lack Of Respect

By Peter Turford – I really believe with the lack of respect shown to the Southern Ontario Sprints by some teams and several speedways that they are the Rodney Dangerfield of Ontario motorsports. Here is why I love the Southern Ontario Sprints so much.

As far as being an open wheel racing fan goes, I grew up in the best of times and worst of times. When I was 6 years old there where 3 speedways running supermodifieds within an hour’s drive of my home in Stratford ON. When I was 9 there were none. There was a bounceback for almost 3 years when Jack Greedy first promoted Delaware. Unfortunately, by the time I was a teenager, supermodifieds were all but dead and buried in Ontario. There would be the odd “special” and even attempts to go weekly at Speedway Park and Delaware but it never “took’. In general if I wanted to see full size open wheel racing I had to travel to Oswego, NY or Sandusky, OH. The Late Models that replaced the supers locally, would turn the track at speeds closer to that of a hobby car than a supermodified. By a late model I mean a late 60’s early 70’s Camaro or Chevelle with more dents and bangs in it than you would see on a street stock today. They just never did it for me – I realize I am the exception and many people loved the Earl Ross, Norm Leliott, Biederman and Junior Hanley era – but I was and remain an open wheel guy. As I grew older I would drive by several late model tracks to get to Sandusky Ohio, or Oswego New York. I spent more hours and more dollars traveling to those tracks than I care or want to admit. Most times I felt I saw a good show and I believed that the time and money were worth it. I figured my race watching and participation was forever limited to this until 1996…….

That was when I first heard rumours about a new racing series being started by Jon Banas and others in Ontario. It was to be 360 sprint cars run on the dirt tracks in Ontario, two of which were to be new facilities allegedly being built, one on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford and one was to be part of the new Grand Bend Motoplex being built on the site of the old Grand Bend Dragway (never happened). The other track that was to be involved was South Buxton Raceway near Chatham (which up until that time I had never heard of). The thinking was to match the rules of the other nearby racing series in Michigan (SOD) and New York (ESS). The cars(chassis) would be available for minimal cost as used chassis and parts could be picked up at the Fremont (Ohio) and Silver Springs (PA) flea markets for pennies on the dollar. Another important key to success is that the series for all intents and purposes would be built around the small block Chevrolet (like all other sprint car series). In short a guy could go hard core racing with less than 10 grand in his car. We’re talking full up, fuel injected, open wheel racing where the motors were loud and the cars were fast. The very things that I loved about the supermodifieds and drew me into the sport all those years ago.

I attended that first ever SOS race at South Buxton as an official with the series – worked as the cone man (in those days the cone was on the backstretch) did safety tech and even wrote up a race report – which was never published and was lost long ago. But I do remember John Naida and Jerry Whitney putting on a spirited deal which I believe Whitney eventually won. The car count was 11 and the club was on its way. Over the years the club grew in fits and starts, but usually with the right trajectory. Like all racing organizations there were complaints about inadequate purse, handicapping rules/tech enforcement etc. But eventually the club was performing with full fields and in front of full houses.

As it grew, the club was seen by many as anochronistic, pay spread through the field, last to adopt cockpit adjustable wing sliders, last to allow titanium brake rotors, banning piggyback shocks, never getting off the very hard and unracy American Racer MC-3 (that would last forever). Most saw this as regressive – my belief is that these rules took some of the “money” factor out of racing. The thinking being if you can’t hook up the power , you don’t need the power. I will also believe that as the years went on, the teams that would most benefit from those rules, with few exceptions, never fully supported the club.

I will say this, 10 years ago when my son expressed a desire to go racing – I could not find a more viable nor cost effective option. I still believe that to this day. Like in all racing you will never make any money, but you will go broke later racing with the SOS than in any other form of racing. There where many nights when something dumb happened and we had a craptacular night – BUT – the SOS pay structure spread through the field like it is, allowed us to keep our show on the road. I believe that even today, SOS tow money pays better than 10th spot in a World of Outlaws B Main.

The last few years have been tough for the SOS and yet SOS President Mike Ferrell and his team keep plugging along. Tracks continue to do well by the series, but for some reason the SOS is still on a bit of slippery ground. My personal belief is that the SOS does not have and has never really had a strong sales type guy pushing things along. At one time I tried to be that guy and it just wasn’t me – and I think Mike would say the say about himself. The club has always tried to be upfront and work with integrity with the teams and promoters and while I feel this is the right way to do things it is probably not the most advantageous. I believe the majority of promoters still would rather be sold a line of crap when booking a show than have someone undersell and over deliver. I can’t remember how many times the SOS would go in put on a solid show, the promoter would be pleased “promise” to book us for next year and by November have amnesia, or that promoter would be out, a new one in place and having to start all over again.

My final thought is this, right now we are overwhelmed with sprint car racing in Ontario – and that is all well and good. But don’t take it for granted – we used to be overwhelmed with supermodified racing and later super late models – things can change in a hurry. Support what we’ve got.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

TurfordJan1813

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: Burning Rubber

Off The Wall: Burning Rubber

By Peter Turford – Disclosure – the following applies mainly to sprint car racing – I believe there are truths buried within that apply to all aspects of the sport – but pleased be warned it is biased towards sprint cars.

I know that I must sound arrogant when I rant on about how foolish those that “run” our sport can be, but when it comes to tires, our sport’s leaders bring short sightedness, greed and stupidity to a whole new level. Let me start by saying I am the world’s biggest believer in a spec tire. I have no desire to see a race won by the guy that picked out the one “special” tire that no one thought of using or that he had stored in his shop for the last 3 years. I prefer to see a race won by preperation, set up and great driving. I don’t care who has the most tires in their trailer. The leaders are correct about 1 thing we NEED a spec tire to keep our sport alive.

In today’s sprint car world, chassis prices and availability are still relatively “sane”, a decent chassis, new or used is pretty much within everyone’s price range. Motor costs are high and unless they get a killer deal on a used motor, the cost of high horsepower and driveability is beyond the range of most working stiffs. While motor costs have done their best to kill the sport – the finishing move or “1-2″ punch is tire costs. This is not news and was recognized many years ago. I know that almost 30 years ago, in 1984 the Northeastern pavement modified world was in an uproar when a spec tire was introduced by 3 speedways that had gotten together and introduced the tire – a law suit was instigated – and subsequently settled in the tracks’ favor. I’m going from memory but I believe the crux of the lawsuit was that a tire rule restricted fair and open competition – the tracks argued succesfully that the initial process was open to all companies to bid on becoming the spec tire. This opened the door fully to the idea of spec tires across North America.

To my mind, a good spec tire has several characteristics, they are, the tire has great wear, its grip does not deteriorate after a few heat cycles, the initial cost is relatively low, and is not easily blistered. In addition to the above, a spec tire does NOT have to be a revenue generator for the track or sanctioning body, does not have to be free to a few “chosen ones”, and does not have to provide enough grip to compensate for a team’s inability to set up the car well enough to win, nor should it provide adequate grip to allow teams to really hook up the car to make use of the aforementioned high dollar motors.

The last several years has seen both Goodyear and Hoosier dominate the top levels of the sport. I never understood why Goodyear jumped into Sprint Car racing the way it did. It basically promised huge dollars to tracks and sanctioning bodies to become the spec tire of choice. To me this was unwise, because, in terms of total national sales, I don’t believe there are that many sprint car tires sold on a given weekend to impact the bottom line of a company the size of Goodyear – and when you are “buying” the business with track and point fund subsidies I just don’t see how it would be truly profitable for Goodyear. Please, please don’t tell me this was a marketing tool, because all that this did was provide the company with continued humiliation and embarassment whenever a tire failed – and in some cases a whole field of them would fail. This is not limited to sprint car races, Goodyear has often seen itself badmouthed by NASCAR teams and drivers in the past, and I believe the F-1 fiasco at Indianapolis several years ago (unrelated to Goodyear) would be a warning shot to any tire company considering a high profile racing endeavour. In terms of marketing tires, when it comes to motorsports there is minimal upside and pretty much all downside. When your tire works well and causes no problems, no one notices, when you have a failure with the whole world watching EVERYONE notices. After Sammy Swindell losing a Knoxville Nationals and later a Kings Royal to exploding Goodyears do you think many Swindell fans buy Goodyears??? What’s even worse in the 80’s and early 90’s Goodyear was one of Sammy’s biggest backers to the point they were strong arming Indy car teams to give Sammy a shot. The sad part about Goodyear leaving is, while they had wear and blistering issues – the tire seemed to provide good racing and lots of passing.

It is not argued that Goodyear bought their way into the sport, pretty much at the expense of Hoosier. Speaking for myself, I did not shead many tears for Hoosier. Hoosier were essentially the ones that perfected the art of buying their way into a track or series usually via the track or series’ point fund. To their credit, Hoosier usually brought along a good, well performing tire that most competitors were happy with. My feeling was they did their job a little too well, in most cases the Hoosier was usually a GREAT one night tire, but I am not aware of many race wins on a used Hoosier – I know someone somewhere will tell me about multiple race wins on used Hoosiers – but it ceratianly was not the “norm”.

For the above reason(s) my all time favorite spec. racing tire was the American Racer MC-3. Most racers HATED it – it is harder than a hockey puck, it does not hook up easily, the cost is low and the tire lasts forever. In some cases teams change MC-3’s after YEARS not races. They never contributed to a points’ fund that I am aware of – they just sold the tire at a fair price, teams ran them forever and never went out of business because of tire bills, crashes and blown motors maybe – but not tire costs.

Based on all of this – you would think I would be thrilled at the idea of American Racer potentially becoming the World of Outlaws spec tire. Actually I am scared to death for the sport. My honest belief is that the WoO has never done anything based on long term sustainability or for the overall good of the sport. If they do something and it works out well for everyone that is great – but most every move they make is based on short sightedness and squeezing the teams for their own benefit – look no further than the World Finals at Charlotte, the teams get to race for 3 nights and get paid for 2 – nice eh? I predict the following, the American Racer tire will perform at or about the level of the Goodyear, the cost will be ridiculous to help subsidize the points fund – so that puts us back where we were with Goodyear – but here comes the worst part – American Racer has not bribed, cajoled or conned every other series or track across the US to switch to them so far JUST the Outlaws – this is going to get messy as Knoxville and Pennsylvania have all announced they are going back to Hoosier!! It is going to get ugly folks.

The only hope I see is this, as I type this, the WoO have NOT OFFICIALLY announced a switch to American Racer – so maybe they are really giving this a good think. IF they do switch to American Racer maybe they will keep the cost low and forgo worring about points fund contributions – especially with STP now on board as title sponsor. Let’s hope that for once they do the right thing………

Totally unrelated – Once more I got my ass handed to me on a platter during the Ontario Oval 250 at the Hamilton Indoor Kartway – but fortunately, go kart racing is a lot like sex – You don’t have top be good at it to have fun. Thanks again to Greg Calnan and to my fellow competitors please accept my apologies in advance for the next time we get together.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Off The Wall: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

By Peter Turford – I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who upon me meeting their favourite driver come away disappointed by the driver’s personality.  From what I have seen, at least at the Outlaw level, the miracle is, that any of these driver’s can be sociable at all. A driver’s personality is by necessity combined with an arrogance and competitive spirit that is off the charts. There is no rule that says that because a person can handle a racecar – that they are going to have bright cheerful, bubbly personality, two current drivers that come to mind, Sammy Swindell and Donny Schatz will never be known for their “warmth”. The only guy that seems to be unflappable in this world is Jac Haudenschild.

This is not a new phenomenon. In the 1950’s through to the mid 70’s the top driver at Oswego Speedway was Nolan Swift. Swift made two statements in print that I have never forgotten – The first was in or around 1962 when future Oswego great, Jimmy Shampine bought his first racecar from Swift – Swift basically said to himself, “That kid is too nice to ever make it as a racer”. The other Swift quote came as his career was winding down when in answer to a question along the lines of, “What was one of the toughest things for him to learn in racing” – he answered – “Learning to have compassion for my fellow competitors”. Shampine did prove Swift wrong – but the point is, to my mind Swift indeed felt that for the majority of his career, nice guys did indeed finish last – and even more importantly mean, nasty, guys finished first – and at least on the racetrack I believe he was willing to be that guy. But to Swift’s credit he was sociable with the fans.

A guy that pretty much nobody could stand in the 70’s and early 80’s while he was on the way up was Geoff Bodine. His focus and drive were legendary. From the time Bodine stepped into a racecar his obsession was getting to the top. In 1972 he figured “the top” was Indianapolis so he made Oswego Speedway his Saturday night haunt, bought an ex-Indy Rear car originally built by Floyd Gearhardt and went supermodifying – when that didn’t work he returned his focus to Modifieds and inched his way toward Daytona. He worked tirelessly on his equipment and was the most anti-social SOB at the racetrack because of his laser focus on the car and what it was doing. He did not care what he had to do and who he had to beat to win. One year at Thompson Speedway he and the late great Richie Evans had a still legendary wreck-em race coming to the line. It was so bad Bodine’s wife was often terrorized in the grandstands. Once Bodine finally arrived at the top, he seemed to mellow – I’m not sure if it was the fact that he was no longer carrying the whole program on his shoulders, or that he had arrived at his long sought destination. Other than the clown show he and his brother Brett put on at Indianapolis one year, little has been seen of the old Bodine act. A while ago Bodine was the Grand Marchall at the Race of Champions at Oswego – and all reports are that he was thrilled and honoured by the title – and was most appreciative of the fans.

To really put yourself in the position of a World of Outlaws driver think about this – Other than a lottery win, or running a Ponzi scheme (Insert Chris Luck’s name here) – in general, the person who has managed to earn enough spare cash to be able to finance a World of Outlaws team is probably an extremely motivated, type “A” personality, hard working (minimum 12 hour day) individual, who is probably spending anywhere between a 1/4 million and a million dollars per annum to put a team on the road. When you are spending that kind of dough and busting a nut to earn it, you expect results. You are paying the driver to produce and expecting wins – How much would you be looking forward to the post race phone call to tell your owner you finished 5th? The car owner does not care if you finished 5th to greats like, Kinser, Swindell, Schatz and Saldana – he just wants to know why you did not win and what you are going to do about it for the next time. The driver knows he has been given the best equipment the owner can afford and if he does not win, he knows there are 30 guys in line looking for the ride.

The driver is also under more financial pressure than most realize. This should not be a shock, but there is not really a lot of money that can be made driving a sprint car. There are few quality rides available and the purses have not really climbed over the years.  Yes, on a good weekend the winner of a WoO show working on 40% will probably pocket 4 grand of the 10 grand winner’s purse – but the WoO purse drops quickly 40% of 2nd place is 2 grand and it only gets worse. You say 2 grand for a night’s work isn’t bad – no it isn’t, all you have to do to get it, is outrun the aforementioned messr’s Swindell, Kinser etal. Oh, and by the way you are either running a Motorhome up and down the highway, staying in a lot of Motels or racking up frequent flyer miles, while eating in a lot of restaurants – none of which is cheap.  That is not even touching medical costs, and lost income in case of injury. With very few exceptions, these guys are not getting rich, so every position every practice, time trial, each dash and especially feature finish is important from a financial point of view – a mistake of any kind can cost a driver thousands. So on top of the pressure the owner puts on the driver, there is also a lot of financial pressure.

Here is where things can get really touchy, you’ve got a high strung car owner, a ton of financial pressure and now there is usually a 3rd party involved – a crew chief. I personally believe that 90% of crew chiefs honestly believe they can drive a car better than their current driver. They also believe their current driver is nowhere near as good as the last guy that drove for them or some other driver in the past. I remember once reading in Open Wheel where following Steve Kinser’s winning of several consecutive wins Karl Kinser’s long time stooge Paul Elrod commented that Dick Gaines had once won more in arrow than Steve (apparently Steve Kinser in his prime was not immune to this crap). It also seems that a lot of crew chiefs don’t care what the driver wants or thinks they need – they know better. Maybe they do – but it isn’t their butt in the seat. There are some good ones out there – but I think they are the exception rather than the rule. As Leonard Lee once told a team that was hiring him, “prepare to be underwhelmed”. But the point remains – it is rare that a driver and crew chief click – and even when they do, they can still spend a lot of time at war – apparently the aforementioned Steve and Karl Kinser fought like cats and dogs.

The worst part of this is – most drivers on the outside would give their left one to be in the position of most any professional driver Outlaw or otherwise. The pressure on these guys is absolutely ridiculous and for the most part unfathomable and comes from several different directions – the car owner, the financial reality, the crew and the driver’s themselves (I haven’t even gone into what happens when an official’s call goes against them). Combine the pressure and the necessary inborn competiveness and arrogance and you have the cocktail to produce a not very nice guy – ESPECIALLY at the racetrack. I truly believe that the reason a lot of guys would like to race for a living is because they have not sat down and truly thought about what it really means and entails.

I will say one thing – I prefer the guy that is focussed, not nice, intense competitive SOB to a phoney – You’ve all met them, the seemingly nice guy, who says all the right things, and would stab their mother in the back for a ride. The miracle to me is that we even got guys like Jim Shampine, Jac Haudenshild, and Rick Ferkel. Guys that went fast and were also somehow genuinely nice, decent people.  I’m even more grateful for the “characters”, who, in spite of everything were good for a giggle, Kevin Olsen, Kenny Schrader, Jack Hewitt and Stan Fox spring to mind. How those guys could do what they did, accomplish what they did and in such a carefree manner is beyond me.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: I Like What I Like

Off The Wall: I Like What I Like

By Peter Turford – First off- Thanks to everyone who responded to my latest jottings with so many positive comments, it was most gratifying. This time around I am continuing on the same line, the various racing divisions – but more from a fan’s perspective.

I am not a racing fan, I’m a snob- there, I said it – I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth and I have grown to accept it. I first realized it a few years ago – but the point was underscored one day while I was spending too much time on Facebook.  I came across a posting that included a picture of what I considered a horrendous looking dirt modified of some description – I thought to myself, that is one of the dumbest looking racecars/tanks I have ever seen. Then I read the comments – everybody noted how “bad-ass” and “cool” the thing looked. I thought to myself – “How can I be so right while the rest of the world is so wrong?” The remainder of what you read is from my perspective and I do try to be open minded, but I am afraid my biases still come through loud and clear…..

You see, I’m a sprint car snob- and pretty much all other forms of racing too me are “not worthy”.  To further underline my snobbiness winged dirt sprinters are more fun to watch than non-wing sprinters (all other sprint car snobs disagree with me on that one) both are far superior to pavement sprinters, but in a real piece of convoluted logic I prefer non winged pavement sprinters to winged (don’t ask me how I got like this). The point of all this being, for a lot folk, we are not race fans we are fans of “divisions”, and like I said previously, nothing divides like divisions. I did switch from being a supermodified fan to becoming a sprint car fan when the SOS came along in the 90’s and filled a void in the Ontario oval track world that the supermodifieds had ceased to fill. If you get me in the right mood I will watch TQ’s, Supermodifieds and Indy Cars on an oval, but that is about it. I truly envy many of my friends that when they talk about racing their general attitude is, “It’s all good”. Even my sprint car obsessed son rolls his eyes at my lack of love for dirt late models.

What I don’t know is how in the hell I got this way. I always find it curious that when there was not a lot of racing on TV I was quite happy to watch mud buggies race through the “Sippy hole”, I’d watch NASCAR Garage, hydroplanes, ISMA Kelly Girl series, basically just about anything motorsports related. Now that there is so much racing on TV and yet all that I will watch is the odd World of Outlaws show. But in the early days of Wide World of Sports and later TNN and the American Sports Cavalcade I’d watch anything and everything (figure 8’s from Islip, NY anyone?). When Speedweek came along I was in heaven and couldn’t get enough.

I believe with racing it is all about perceptions – you ask a late model or modified fan why they aren’t into supermodifieds or sprint cars, in most cases, their first comment is because they need to be push started and it is slow monotonous and boring watching cars be pushed off. For me that is all part of the rush, part of the build up that something awesome is about to unfold – I always thought the cover of the October 1977 issue of Stock Car Racing magazine showing an Oswego Supermodified Feature push off said it better than anything I could ever write.  Conversely, as a sprint car fan, nothing ticks me off more than watching a fender car with a starter spin out – sit there – wait for the yellow to come out – then the car “magically” gains the ability to restart and tag the end of the field.

But it still begs the question, why do we like what we like? I think in a lot of cases it goes back to what we grew up with. For me it was supermodifieds, so that meant to me a car should have an open cockpit, the widest tires possible, the loudest, most powerful engine possible and while not mandatory, the engine should in all good conscience be in front of the driver. I also think that means, in my case at least, I would rather see cars go lightning fast and give up a little as far as close tight racing. When the late models came on strong in these parts a lot of people felt it was more competitive racing – I would watch and be amazed that anyone found this entertaining, it all seemed so “slow” to me. My other strong belief, that is rooted in my early love for supermodifieds, is that I have never bought into “Rubbin is Racin”. There is no skill or bravery required in running into a fellow racer when there is a ton of tubing and tin protecting the wheels– BUT – Have 2 guys banging wheels when there are no fenders for miles around and my hair stands on end every time!!!

In general, I don’t really know why I like what I like – I love speed – and by that logic I should be a straight line fan – and I certainly enjoy Nitro funny cars and dragsters , but drag racing never grabbed me and refused to let go. I love racing that when I watch it – I go “Jeez, I could never do that” – which to me means I should love motorcycle racing of all forms – again I enjoy it, but I would never jump through hoops to attend a MOTO GP or Supercross/Motocross race. I like technology – but only to a degree – so I have no real love for sports cars or F1. Enough with the self analysis – what I am trying to say is that I TRULY don’t know why I like what I like – but, I know it when I see it – and damn, I am picky.

One thing I do know – No matter what the car, what the division, I fully understand that the guy in the seat is probably pooping his pants because he is still going into the corner waaaay faster than a sane person would ever think of going – whether it is in a 1200 lb sprinter or a 2 ton bomber. For that reason I never look down my nose at competitors in any division when they are going about the business of racing – unless they do something dumb – like yanking their helmet off and hanging it on the roll cage hook specially installed for this purpose, before they drive back to the pits, so they can look like “Cup” guys – that is dumb (I’ve got lots more of these).

So enough with the self absorbed, self analysis, next go around we’ll try and get into something a little more fun and positive. I will say I enjoyed Indy and it is nice that all the local tracks are now up and running – but I am sure saddened by the announced retirements of Dr Dick Bergren and Bob Jenkins, two guys that have given their all for the sport – no matter what division….
The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: Subtraction By Division

Off The Wall: Subtraction By Division

By Peter Turford – It is an age old axiom that a great way to vanquish your enemy is to “divide and conquer”. Automobile Racing is the only sport that I know of that purposely does this to itself proving once again that racing is the dumbest sport ever and getting dumber on a daily basis. The dumbness started when the second car was built. You see the only 2 cars on the planet had a race and when the guy that lost got out of his car he said, “That wasn’t fair, his car used gasoline and mine runs on diesel – we need to have a separate division for diesels”. So the second diesel showed up – they had a race – the loser then said we need a separate division for the cars with more than one cylinder… It has been all downhill since.

Think about motorsports, we have 3 major types of circuits, drag racing, road courses and oval tracks. Oval tracks can be further divided by size and surface. Short track ovals alone have about 4 billion types of stock cars (think everything from a 4 cylinder off the street to a wigged out super late model), about a million types of “modifieds” and only about 150000 open wheel divisions give or take.

In my beloved sprint cars alone it gets truly bizarre, there is no longer such a thing as just a sprint car. Sprint cars are now all pretty much divided up by motor size, 410, 360, 358’s 305 & crates, you also have them divided by surface, dirt vs tar and then on top of that winged vs. non-winged. Here comes the insane part, there is very little fan cross-over for all of the above and minimal team cross-over. Prior to 1980 a sprint car was a sprint car was a sprint car – Karl Kinser would take his car and win a 500 lapper at Anderson Indiana’s high banked ¼ mile paved oval, then, take the same car and kick tail at The Indiana Fairgrounds dirt mile, with or without a wing (the wing was probably made from plywood and old road signs). 

How did we get ourselves into this mess? As in most cases a lot of it is economics – and we all know with racing (and most any sport) the normal laws of economics do not apply. I truly believe it was not the high cost of 410 racing that gave the 360’s a foothold – It was the HIGH COST OF WINNING with a 410. When winning in 360 racing costs closed in on the costs of 410 racing the 305’s got going. There is always some guy that feels he has to be the “big fish” and if he can find a pond small enough he will jump in it. There is also the guy that knows how much he can spend and he is the guy pushing for the new series with a rulebook designed around what he has to spend. Once the guy has the series up and running “Big fish guy” will come in and the cycle will begin anew. As an aside I would like just one person to explain to me how specialized pavement sprint chassis have helped that segment of the sport out.

Stock Cars, pavement or otherwise are a real text book in this type of mess. Remember stock cars in Ontario in the late 60’s and early 70’s drove the supermodifieds under because they agreed to race for less money the supers. This was based on the false belief that the tin top guys had less money in their cars. Ever since then, they have fought an ever losing battle trying to balance between keeping things affordable for the competitor while providing entertainment for the fan. Think of those 4 billion divisions there are across the full spectrum of “taxidom”.

Back to economics, the purse should control spending not the technical rules– but again, because of the fish vs. pond thing it fails to work. Using sprint cars as an  example, if one track pays $1000 to win the next track pays $5000 to win and the last track pays $10,000 to win, it should not matter what the engine rule is (removing travel from the equation for now). If a track is paying $1000 to win then nobody should be dumb enough to pay over 10 grand for a motor, $5000 to win maybe you top out at 25 grand motors and for 10 grand to win all bets are off.

Back to the “big fish”- In any sport the owners are dumb. In most sports, the heart replaces the brain of otherwise intelligent businessmen. Look at the NHL owners, NFL and NBA owners – those sports all need a salary cap to survive and keep the team owners from spending more stupidly than they already do. They bargain with their respective unions expecting the unions to “partner” with them on salary caps to keep them from further shooting themselves in the foot. Normally they blame the unions for not protecting them from themselves – but I digress.

In racing we have unconsciously tried to use a combination of the purse and the rules as a salary cap and it just does not work. As I have stated before, we have a load of people willing to spend $60,000 on a car in hopes of winning a grand or 2. What I truly believe our sport needs is some sort of “cap” system. Unfortunately I do not know how this could ever be done – because besides being economically stupid, sports owners have also proven they are willing to spend ridiculously to try and circumvent any cap system.

The closest to a cap I have seen is back in 2008 when the nut jobs competing at Oswego were spending over 3 grand per shock absorber, the track brought in a rule limiting the shocks based on retail value (I think it was $750 which is still nutz). The other thing is of course motor claims – which for one reason or another does not appear to work all that well either – I don’t know why – I guess we should ask one of the IMCA modified teams that tow using a NASCAR style stacker trailer that would make Rick Hendrick blush. Crate motors have to my knowledge never really caught on – I think partly due to cost vs. return i.e. too little power for too much money.

Unfortunately, I think this is one road we have gone too far down to ever turn around. I personally have no real solution. Because racers are involved and after-all that is how they roll.

One final note:
I am currently developing a new racing series – The rules are: Bone stock Black 2007 Chevrolet Cobalts only – must be standard transmission, with 2 winter tires on and must have over 333,333 K on the odometer.
 

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: This And That

Off The Wall: This And That

By Peter Turford – When I was a kid I loved to fight – but there were 2 problems – one, was my parents would kick my butt  for getting into fights and because I was tall for my age there was no gain. Two, when I won I was supposed to win because I was just a big bully, and if I lost I was a real loser because I got beat by someone smaller. In short, one lesson I took from this was when you are a runt – fighting is win-win. That is why my feelings towards Danica Patrick went from “ho-hum” to total distaste when she did her ‘pout march’ down the pit lane at Indy a few years ago when she was going to allegedly confront Ryan Hunter Reay after he “caused’ her to be taken out of the Indy 500. Had she got to Hunter-Reay he was in a total “no win” – if he took her crap he was a wuss, if he popped her in the chops he was beating up a girl. I defend to the death Danica’s right to confront Hunter Reay – but it was a BS move to do it in front of the main grandstand at Indy and the television viewing audience.

Mainly for the above reason, and the fact she has done nothing since to change my opinion of her,  you can put me squarely in the “anyone but Danica” camp. Now sadly, I feel the need to defend her – and that alone makes me want to take a shower. What is with all the venom and vitriol directed her way for having the stones to climb into a dirt late model and go play with boys at Eldora? Some of the comments and crap posted on the intereweb are so far past ridiculous it is beyond comprehension. I am one of the many that strongly feel that dirt track racing is an undervalued motorsports segment. I feel what Tony Stewart has done with the Prelude to the Dream has been nothing but good for dirt track racing and congratulate him for doing it as well as those competitors that choose to race in it. Not one of those competitors has anything to gain by running that race. They all have made their name elsewhere and should be commended for jumping at the chance to go play in somebody else’s “sandbox”. If you want to go after anyone, go after the ones that have “other commitments” when invited such as Mr Ashley Judd or how well has “Juneyer” run at Eldora – just sayin’.

Moving on…..

Do you remember a few years ago when we had the sports card boom??? I am seeing a similar phenomenon now – It is the Oswego Speedway Program boom. A few years ago old Oswego Speedway programs would show up on E-Bay and they would generally sell from between $5-15 depending on year etc. The prime years generally being 1967-1973 era. To my mind it worked well all the way around, someone was able to clean out their basement, while someone else got a nice piece of niche racing history without paying a ridiculous premium. In the last few months prices have been rising and are now officially ridiculous. The pinnacle was reached last week when a 1970 Oswego Program with John Casey on the cover went for $51!!!! Don’t get me wrong,  Johnny Casey ran a beautiful ex-Indy roadster and has solid gold credentials when it comes to the Can-Am midgets as both a driver and sponsor, but he did not have a spectacular supermodified career. I cannot believe anyone would pay that kind of money for an old pile of paper – This coming from the guy whose $50 bid was trumped!!! Before you go rushing down to your basement and pulling out your old C.A.R. Weekly’s remember this – this is not some sort of boom sweeping the nation – it is an artificial price spike caused by 2 or 3 zealous fanatics – of which I am unfortunately one. That being said, gimme a call when you figure on a price for the C.A.R. Weekly’s.

Speaking of supermodifieds, I see we have another sanctioning body entering the fray –thank Allah, you can never have too many organizations (that was sarcasm). My personal belief is that the supermodifieds could benefit from being a little less unique. Here is my short take on the supermodified situation.  Sprint Car racing has a couple of things going for it, engine rules commonality essentially based on the small block Chevrolet, economical off the shelf chassis and components.

Running a supermodified is not overly expensive if you are a fabricator/ engineer extraordinaire. Unfortunately not everybody that wants to race is Jim Shampine, Clyde Booth or Joe Hawksby Jr. some of us are mortals. Yes we love the efforts and works of the mechanical genii, but there just aren’t enough of those guys around – smart enough to figure this stuff out, have the skills to do the necessary fabrication and be dumb enough to be involved in racing. I don’t know the answer to the problem as there is an inadequate demand for someone to start the Maxim, J & J or even XXX of supermodifieds. But at the very least why not commonize wing size and design with the sprint car world so someone can order a wing for $600 or buy a decent used one for $250??? Why not look at allowing ASCS 360’s or even 410’s to run against the big blocks? I can’t even believe that you can still get big block parts and pieces – but I do know this, you can buy a heck of a 410 or 360 motor complete from top to bottom for under 20 grand, and when you are done with it there is a huge resale market for it. There are also limitless parts and pieces available at a good price. You don’t have to replace big-blocks just look at providing an alternative. From what I have seen there does not even seem to be the recognition that there might be a problem in radical offset land so I’ll just shut up and let the people far smarter than I figure it out.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: That 70’s Glow

Off The Wall: That 70’s Glow

By Peter Turford – While I try and pretend to not be like other old guys who are constantly pining for the past – I got thinking about the year 1970. It was not so much about the great racing that was going on then – because in a lot of cases the racing really wasn’t that great. My thoughts where more along the lines of being an 11 year old kid – having a limited knowledge of the sport’s past, seeing where things where at and dreaming of where things were going –you just knew it was gonna be great. There was even a frequently repeated slogan “Auto Racing the sport of the 70’s”. History shows us that for several reasons 1970 was something of a Zenith. This was true in NASCAR, Indy Car, Road Racing and even locally with my beloved supermodifieds.

The 1970 NASCAR season was memorable for several reasons, Ford and Chrysler were engaged in an all out war that would show all of us how far a car company was willing to go to “Win on Sunday”, a major speed barrier would be surpassed on the newly opened world’s fastest speedway in Talladega, AL and many Indy Car stars would run with the NASCAR boys on occasion (occasionally winning). Ford and Chrysler entered into battle with a total of almost 20 teams receiving direct or indirect factory support. There were very few sponsors because sponsorship was not needed, as the major teams were all funded by the factories themselves. The engines of choice were 426 Hemis and 429 Fords but it was the body design where the full on craziness took place. The Torino Talladegas and Mercury Cyclone Spoilers for 1969 sported a modified grill and hood to improve aerodynamics. Dodge and eventually Plymouth then took things to “crazy” when they came out with the Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird. These cars featured aerodynamics taken to the extremes of 1970 aero knowledge – which in this case meant droop snoots and rear wings. It was in one of these beasts that Buddy Baker broke the 200 mph closed course mark at Talledega. It seemed like the best of times – within months the fun would be over. NASCAR founder, Grand Poobah, Pope, King, Ayatolla, and Boss Hawg,“Big” Bill France said “whoa” and the crazy body designs were gone! But that wasn’t all that happened, Ford and Chrysler then cut back their support dramatically and the “Factory teams” dropped to The Petty’s running 2 cars in 1971, while The Wood Brothers and the Holman Moody team were essentially what was left of Ford’s racing effort.  NASCAR slowly recovered and rebuilt itself through the 70’s – but it took nearly 10 years. To my mind the 1970 season with the Winged Cars, 200 mph laps, Big Block engines and full factory involvement was one cool season – you would have broken my then 11 year old heart if you would have told me that, 40 years later the cars would be going no faster, ALL the bodies would be the same regardless of manufacturer, and that most driver contracts would prevent them from running in any other series (with one major exception – Tony Stewart – no wonder most old pharts like me love him).

By 1970, Indy Car racing was seeing an influx of dough with corporations such as STP, Phillip Morris tobacco along with Firestone and Goodyear taking on the role of Ford and Chrysler in NASCAR. NASCAR’s Donnie Allison and Lee Roy Yarborough ran Indy along with F-1 drivers Jack Brabham and Dennis Hulme (Hulme would be badly burned in practice and make no qualification effort). There were 13 different chassis marquees* qualified in the Indy 500 with McLaren now joining the fray. The other two bright spots, a beautiful new state of the art copy of Indianapolis was built on the left coast at Ontario California, and a new 2 ½ mile facility was being constructed in the East at Pocono PA both with Indy Cars planned as their prime attraction. In a way the ultimate fates of the facilities is surprising. Pocono was a rather spartan facility built up slowly by the Mattioli family while Ontario had it all, including a celebrity filled opening day crowd. Today Pocono thrives, courtesy of NASCAR, while Ontario barely limped into the 80’s – and is now long gone and all but forgotten.

In reality Indy Car Racing had probably started its slow glacial decline prior to 1970. For all intents and purposes USAC had banned the innovative yet controversial turbines by 1969. Because of increased corporate involvement the “gentleman” car owner was also on his way out. The interest shown at Indy by the Formula 1 and Stock Car folk was on the wane (having peaked in 1967) and the chassis variation would soon become very limited ,eventually arriving at where we are today, like NASCAR, with one “spec” chassis and. Saddest of all to me was the fact that the Championship Dirt Car races were dropped from the schedule for a litany of reasons (none of which were good).

If you were into Road Racing in 1970 it was indeed a golden era, never to be improved upon and never to be repeated. The original Can Am series was in full song, and in the Trans Am series the factory wars were raging. The Can Am series was based on the premise of “If a lot is good, too much is even better”. The Can-Am featured huge aluminum Big Blocks, tires as wide as Oprah on her worst day, and the best drivers in Europe and North America. The 1970 Can-Am series featured one of the most perfect looking cars ever built The McLaren Mk 8D (I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder). It also featured the scariest looking – the first AVS Shadow – basically a go Kart with a big block Chevy glued to the back of it, a titanium beast, and various attempts at turbocharging – but perhaps the wildest of all was courtesy of Texan Jim Hall who got the bright idea to hook a snowmobile engine to his Chapparal 2J and use it to work as a vacuum to then suck the car to the track – the first ever use of “ground effects”. The racing itself usually only consisted of one Team McLaren car racing another, with the rest fighting for 3rd. That being said, it was a great exercise in mechanical excess and ingenuity. The Chapparal was fast but the vacuum seemed averse to such things as stones/gravel on the track. All of that being said, the season got off to the worst possible start when Bruce McLaren was killed in a testing accident of the aforementioned Mk 8D. By 1972 Penske would show up with gobs of money and tons of Porsche factory support that included a 1200 hp motor and make mincemeat of the series. The $500000 McLaren annual budget would soon be dwarfed by the Penske/Porsche 2 million dollar budgets. By 1974 the series would be as dead as a Toronto Maple Leaf fan’s play-off hopes.

The 1970 supermodified season had to be a can’t miss. Former supermodifed driver and construction company operator Jack Greedy had taken control of Delaware Speedway shut the joint down midway through the 1969 season and tr ansformed the ¼ mile oval into a half mile. He was basically building “Oswego” North. The track was as “State of the art” as you could get. The lap times were in the high 18 to low 19 second range. Every Friday night, competitors included top Ontario, Michigan and Ohio teams and starting in July, New York legend Nolan Swift would also be a regular – the only hot shot of any renown not showing that year was Jim Shampine who was making mincemeat of the Oswego competition on Saturdays, but was running a modified close to home on Fridays. London supermodified legend Harvey Lennox was also out of retirement competing weekly at Delaware as well. But get this, probably half of the field consisted of Cars that had raced at Indianapolis within the previous decade and they were the most glorious Indy Cars of all, “The roadster”.  The last car that Jimmy Bryan ever drove in an Indy 500 was owned by Hank Jameson and driven by Al Mitchell, several other cars with storied Indy histories would compete as well, Norm Mackereth’s Kuzma roadster was driven by AJ Foyt in his sophomore Indy season, Lennox’s ride was Rodger Ward’s 1963 Indy ride, etc. If that wan’t enough Doug Duncan and Johnny Spencer built a rear engine car that was as state of the art as any car seen anywhere – it even featured a pioneering attempt at ground effects.

By 1971 fields and crowds were on the decline Swift was no longer making the long haul from Syracuse, and perhaps worst of all, Pop Degraw was no longer selling his hot dogs at the track. Part way through the  1972 season the supers were gone and would never again have a season long weekly home in Ontario – various attempts were made to try and make the supers work but it never really happened. Speedway Park near Hamilton gave it a go in 1973/74 and Delaware tried with Tri-Sac out of Michigan in ’78. The ostensibly cheaper late models were on the rise. The Late Models also appealed to the non hard core fan as they were slower, thus easier to follow and had nice big easy to read numbers.  To the double digit IQ folk they could “race” closer as a guy would now “pass” by driving into the corner too hard, lean on any car running the higher groove and come out of the corner with the position.

In 1970 we had stout NASCAR fields with heavy factory involvement cars turning laps faster than they would be 40 years later, an Indy car series with sponsorship on the rise and exciting new facilities coming on stream, the Can-Am series in its prime. I honestly believed by 2012 – Stock Cars would be running at 250-300 mph – same for Indy Cars, Can AmCars would be running with 2000 plus horsepower and supermodifieds would be turning sub 15 second laps at Delaware on a weekly basis – Oh and I would be champion of each of these at least 3 times by now – but I digress. Instead, by 1971 each of these series began a decline – seeing the Can-Am dead by 1974, USAC gone for all intents and purposes from Indy Car sanctioning by the end of the decade (save for Indianapolis) and supermodifieds all but dead and buried in Canada after 1972 – except for the odd “special” event. Only NASCAR survived, but ended up in a much dumbed down, lowest common denominator form that now needs cars running into jet dryers to keep people talking about it. Oh, and I never got to be champion of anything – but I did race at the Indianapolis Motor speedway twice – okay, it was in the Indianapolis 500 Festival Half marathon – but I did race at Indy…..

*1970 Indy 500 field chassis; McLaren, Gurney (Eagle), Bignotti (Colt), Lola, Foyt (Coyote), Brabham, Gerhardt, Laycock (Mongoose), Grant King (Kingfish), AJ Watson, Clint Brawner (Hawk), McNamara, Vollstedt,and Cecil

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: I Was Just Thinking…

Off The Wall: I Was Just Thinking…

By Peter Turford – I was just thinking… I sure miss the Indoor Midget shows at Niagara Falls – Thank Allah we have another badly needed Casino in place of where the races were run– Apparently the Casino less than a mile away was not adequate.

Internet message boards are the worst thing to happen to racing since rain-outs. For every insightful, worthwhile comment, there are about 10 “eye-rollers”, and 10 or 20 mean spirited comments that do nothing to build our sport and only frustrate and annoy the sponsors, promoters and participants.

I love the fact that the internet has given us the ability to obtain instant race results, but there was something to be said for the excitement of the arrival of NSSN, New England Speedway Scene, Wheelspin, Open Wheel and MARC times via snailmail– all with week or more old race results and photos – I sure miss those old papers.

If you have ever wondered why there is so little sprint car racing on TV nationally and/or locally here’s the poop…. The reason is that production costs are insane – there is no possible way to cover the costs of taping and editing such a show – when advertisers can get their message out to more eyeballs for less money via a variety of other shows and media. While I agree that webcasts are cheaper to produce and great for racing fans – I think they merely play to the “converted” and provide no new fans for our sport.

My perfect sprint car qualifying system would be a bastardization of the World of Outlaws and the CSCN – Group qualifying by heat to determine the heat line-up, heat races and a B main – top 10-12 cars depending on the number of heats would do a redraw – No dash, no individual time trials, and because the heats are grouped the changing track conditions are nullified. I think it would be the quickest, fairest and most balanced system possible.

I’d sure love to have been a fly on the wall during this whole implosion of Jason Meyers’ team – When Steve and Karl split it – it made sense as Steve was off to NASCAR land – This one is just bizarre – a team on top of the sport torn asunder for no apparent reason.

I learned one thing helping the team of Sam Hafertepe and my son Daryl this summer – Even when you win, the tires don’t dismount themselves, the car still has to be washed and the maintenance still has to be done, you may do the work in a better mood – but apparently the old saying is true, no matter how good or bad you did in the last race, the needle always goes back to zero – and the result of the last race has nothing to do with the next race.

I learned something else this summer helping Sam and Daryl –I had always thought there was not a lot of difference between a good and bad sprint car driver – I no longer believe that. I still believe on a heavy track early in the night there is not a lot of difference between the best and “average”, but when it comes down to “go-time” you still need someone that will stand up in the seat. I also believe there are a lot of “drivers” out there but few real “racers” – I know that is a cliché. Proof can be found when you go to a big show at Knoxville or Eldora – time trials will see little difference from fastest to slowest, frequently you will even see a few guys of little renown put down a really fast one – but come feature time it is usually the same guys in the show and the same guys at the front. I know in our case Sam was frequently in first or second in a car that sometimes really wasn’t that good.

It sure sucks that in the last few months we have lost 1960 Indy Champ Jim Rathmann and Michigan short track legend Joy Fair. I hate that we are losing the heroes of my youth one by one. – There appears to be no let up in sight either.

The Superbowl is my favourite event of the year – because it means the racing season is about to begin –The closest I’ve actually come to watching the thing is when I watched Springsteen during the halftime show a few years ago.

 Stephen King’s latest literary effort 11/22/ 1963 – details a time traveler’s efforts to change history by preventing the assassination of JFK – If I get to travel back in time – here’s my top of the list “corrections”

– I would have prevented Jack Brabham and that stupid rear engine Cooper from showing up at Indy in 1961 and gotten a rule written preventing all future rear engines from entering Indy.

-In 1967 I would have gotten word to Andy Granatelli that he needs to get more work done on the transmission bearing for his 1967 turbine effort that came within 3 laps of winning that year’s Indy 500. I know turbines have not proven to be practical for passenger cars – but I think that with a 1967 Indy win – alternative engine development would have been “jump started” – FYI my 1961 ban on rear engines would not have affected this, as the 1967 STP turbine had the engine beside the driver.

Jim Shampine would never have driven a modified at Oswego’s 1982 Classic weekend – and supermodified evolution would not have been for all intents and purposes stalled that night. I firmly believe with “state of the art” tires and motor, and Shampine at the controls – if his 1976 roadster was rebuilt it would win today – as it was, it did win in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
Richie Evans would have skipped Martinsville and the Modifieds would not be merely hanging on as well.

In about 1962 I would have strongly urged Roger Penske that his efforts would be better suited to horse racing, Polo or something like that – potentially saving the Trans Am and Can Am series and any other series where Penske would come in and out spend the competition forcing the competition into 3 options; stratospheric spending, running second or worse yet, quitting in disgust. Usually the series would end, shortly after Penske himself had quit, leaving a “Sherman’s  March through Georgia like mess in his wake- Only the equally big spenders in NASCAR and F-1 have managed to prevent him from leading to those series’ demise.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

 

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: The Amazing Shrinking Purse

Off The Wall: The Amazing Shrinking Purse

By Peter Turford – A couple of years ago my favourite driver finished 3rd in The King’s Royal at Eldora – It was a great night, a lot of fun and of course we figured with a couple of “breaks” we might have even won the thing. The only downer was when I found out that 3rd place, in this $50,000 to win race only paid $7500. Part of the reason for my dismay was the fact, that in 1984 the first Kings Royal paid $50,000 to win – In almost 30 years that top prize has not gone up, so I figured the payoff through the field had been improved.  The crowd was the usual humungous throng – I don’t think the ticket prices or concession prices were at 1984 levels though. Don’t get me wrong I know that speedways are money pits and if a promoter does well with one show it may mean that he is only recovering from a “bath” a few weeks before – I get that. What bothered me more was that it basically symbolized that in a major way our sport has made little progress in 30 years.

When I think about where things are at today I realize that in a lot of ways things have only gotten worse. I guess the first time it hit home was 5-6 years ago when word came out that Race City Speedway near Calgary was going to try and stay open – but the one caveat for the racers is that the track would pay NO PURSE!!!! The next move along these lines was when Oswego Speedway lowered its weekly purse – In 1969 the track was the top paying weekly track, paying $1000 to win and $6000 to win the Annual Classic 200. In 2011 I believe the weekly purse now pays $2000 to win with $15000 going to the Classic winner.  By contrast, if the 1969 purses were adjusted for inflation they would be $6000 to win a weekly show and $36000 for the Classic win.*

In my time as SOS President we were forced to take a decrease – we were the lowest paid travelling sprint car series around (except one year when our car counts skyrocketed – the SOS purse and fee is based on car count).  But being the lowest paid series around still wasn’t enough, the promoters squealed like pigs and balked at having to give 2 free pit passes/team – they just could not stand the sight of 2 people walked through their pit gate gratis – so we had to suspend the practice.

I don’t think that any of the local travelling series has the Jutzpah to seek a purse increase for a couple of reasons – the tracks can’t afford it and there is so much competition for “Dates” among the various series, that no one is willing to attempt to get a purse increase as there is always another series willing to come in cheaper. There is apparently always a “Cheaper whore in town”.

On the National scene we see that the ASCS National Series has now cut its purse and I’ve heard that the World of Outlaws is looking at taking a cut to try and gain mid week shows. This does not exactly spell progress. Who is to blame? The series, the teams or the tracks? Actually the blame rests on the shoulders of the race fans – there aren’t enough of them and they don’t want to pay $100 a ticket.

Until we truly break out of this recession (depression???) I don’t see the sport and purses growing in any big way. There may be small pockets of growth but I see nothing that makes me truly optimistic that we are about to turn any corners. On the good news front we still have car owners will to pay $40,000 for a motor that will generally race for $1500 to win or less – thus it appears that the owners are still prepared to spend. I was at the Fall ASCS National show at Devils Bowl TX last year , the quality and quantity of equipment was staggering –I think the reduced purse for that series will have minimal effect on car counts.

So maybe the message in all if this is, promoters can cut purses and it will not have any discernable effect on car count. The cost of racing vs. purse ratio has been out of whack forever, so why would we expect it to get better now. But the more grim and depressing message is this – We aint growing kids.

* based on the inflation index from dollartimes.com

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: Thoughts On The Wheldon Disaster

Off The Wall: Thoughts On The Wheldon Disaster

By Peter Turford – People have rightfully pointed out that the real tragedy in all of this, is that Dan Wheldon has left a young widow as well as leaving two very young children fatherless. My question is this, how come when tragedy befalls a top driver people can’t do enough for a surviving family – but if it is not a top driver the compassion seems somehow less apparent? I still think back to 1982 when one of my all time heroes, Jim Shampine was killed at Oswego – the outpouring from the racing community was huge – among other things, the Speedway printed up photos of Jim, that were sold at the speedway with all donations going to Shampine’s family – a great gesture – BUT compare that with the year before when over-achieving, back marker Russ Sauter was killed qualifying for the 1981 Classic. There was a jar set up for donations in a corner of the souvenir stands. Admittedly, I don’t believe Russ had any kids, but he did have his crew person/girlfriend Brenda who I’m sure could have used some help. I know some in the community did come forward and did more than their share to help – but the support seemed rather muted. My point being, the racing community can be incredibly caring and compassionate – but please remember when a backmarker at a Saturday night short track dies, his family suffers the same as Wheldon’s family and often has neither the resources or access to assistance that a “name” driver’s family has – please keep this in mind if this horrible fate ever befalls a local backmarker and his family.

I have read so many stupid comments and remarks regarding this mess that the mind truly boggles. Everybody wants to blame someone or something for this. The dumbest comments, regard running Indy Cars on high speed ovals. What would this crowd have done to Formula One in the 60’s and 70’s??? Watch this video if you want to know what things were like “in the good old days” of “pure” F-1 racing – note: not for the squeamish – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N9-QrRl1Uk . The worst part is, things were even worse in the 50’s – Look up LeMans 1955 if you require further proof. So instead of foolish, uninformed, half baked comments why not wait until the full investigation is carried out by those with some knowledge and expertise – and see what they recommend. Only, 3-4 weeks ago you could not find an Indy Car fan – now we’ve got “experts” on the subject everywhere – especially in the area of safety.

Finally, they did do the right thing when they shut the race down after the news broke of Wheldon’s death. If anybody still felt like watching a race, or participating in that race in any manner after that mess they are in need of some serious counselling. I am fully aware of all the races in the past that have resumed after a fatality has taken place. Myself, I have no stomach for it – I did not always feel as strongly about this – but Jeff Krosnoff’s fatality in the 1996 Molson Indy changed all that for me. That catastrophe happened right in front of where I sat with my then young boys. I was not certain he was dead, nor did I know that race would be halted – but we just packed our chairs and left after seeing the mess and realizing the full severity of it.

Unrelated quick note – A few weeks ago I wrote about the WoO and their rules re teams competing in non WoO shows–Jason Sides has announced he is bringing suit against the WoO regarding this matter. I think the final verdict of this could have some major fall out in several directions– many of which are probably unanticipated by both the plaintiff and the defendant. I assume both sides would prefer a quick out of court settlement – vs. trials and appeals etc – I’m sure neither side wants this to turn into a multi-year, make work program for lawyers. Let’s hope for some common sense and a settlement/resolution that works for all concerned. –Such as I suggested previously…..
 

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: If I Were Boss For A Day

Off The Wall: If I Were Boss For A Day

By Peter Turford – When they offer to make me boss of the World of Outlaws – I’m going to tell them that the job could never be filled because if you are crazy enough to take the job you would be too crazy to do the job. That being said, prior to the door hitting me in the behind on the way out, I will generously offer them some key words of advice – drop the damn dash, fer cryin out loud give your teams some freedom before history repeats itself, and finally, for the sake of all that is fair and right, I will suggest they drop the double file re-starts.

The dash is officially the dumbest race in Motorsports (it makes a school bus train race seem brilliant by comparison). That is one race that most teams enter with minimal potential upside and a ton of potential downside. For some teams, there is the potential of possibly moving forward in the starting line up for the feature – while at the same time they are risking cashing/destroying what is obviously a good running car (or the car would not be in the dash in the first place) – and what does the dash pay???? NOTHING – Regardless of where you finish. What does it add to the night for the race fans – usually anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour – no, the race does not take that long, but the time spent from the checkered flag of the race before, to the checkered flag of the dash is close to that. The fans are there for the feature – yes in some case you get a “gem” of a dash – but that is normally the exception rather than the rule. The All Stars don’t run the dash and I much prefer it – I am speaking as a person that hates to see sleeping kids carried out in their parent’s arms before the feature is even run.

If you are an old fart like me and followed supermodifieds, the names Bill Johnson and Joe James will bring a smile to your face. They were the aliases Andy Brown (NHL goaltender and fine supermodified chauffer) and Nolan Johncock (yes he was Gordon’s cousin) used when running supermodifieds at Delaware and Oswego. They did this because they were trying to get their careers going in USAC sprint cars and getting caught running anything other than USAC (i.e. an “outlaw” show) was the quickest way to lose your USAC license – so out came the aliases (10 bonus points if you remember Jack Conely’s alias). More than anything else, it was this draconian rule that Ted Johnson took advantage of to create The World of Outlaws. The idea being, that if you run the Outlaws, the teams could come and go as they pleased without penalty and all would be treated equally badly. Once names such as Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell gained enough cache, Ted wanted to keep them from straying from the Outlaws and over the years the World of Outlaws began morphing into 1970’s USAC. Teams are still free to stray from the Outlaws, BUT… if you have run a non WoO show without their blessing.– don’t expect any points monies at year’s end – even if you have 100% attendance, and finish in the top 10 in points. I do understand the reason(s) behind this – I understand it costs the promoters a lot of money to bring in the Outlaws – and they expect certain value for their money. For example, it would not be fair for Ohsweken to pay $80,000 to bring in the Outlaws, and then have Merrittville put up a $20,000 to win, sprint show with a $40,000 total purse – they could theoretically steel Kinser et al if the Outlaws did not protect themselves and their promoter partners. The Outlaws do grant certain teams permission to run in certain non – WoO shows – but historically – those that do not get permission feel this reeks of favouritism when certain teams do get to run certain races, while others are not allowed, apparently for no apparent reason. To me there is a solution that would work in everybody’s interest and that is to emancipate the teams to a limited extent and allow the them a certain number of “free races” cap it at 5 or 10 and as long as the teams submit in advance in writing and don’t miss any WoO shows what is the problem? They could even cap the number of teams entering non WoO events – and make it first come first served and do it above board. As long as it was done transparently – what is the problem??? I really think the WoO is missing an opportunity for themselves here as well. I remember when Brian Ellenberger dropped off the WoO tour the first thing he did was capture a local feature. I really think this helps drive home the point to the fans about how good the Outlaws really are. Ellenberger by anybody’s estimation really had a tough time competing at the Outlaw level and yet can walk in and win at a local level. So what happened here, the promoter got an Outlaw driver, the fans saw what he can do, while realizing what he was up against and Ellenberger picks a win – to me this was great advertising for the WoO as well – it seems to me everybody won on this deal. This would also allow teams to run events that may be important to them yet not important to anyone else- for example Tony Stewart owns Eldora – maybe he wants to have his guys – Kinser and Schatz, run an NRA 360 race – I doubt many other WoO drivers are chomping at the bit to run a 360 show with no extra purse – but it would sure mean something to Tony and the NRA as well as the fans. I have a dream that at sometime in the near future they Outlaw teams will be able shout, “Free at last, free at last”.

Is there anything dumber than 2 wide restarts for sprint cars? If you are a fan, I’m sure it is great, if you sell parts to teams it is even greater, if you pay the bills it is the worst thing to happen since soft tires. I have heard various brilliant arguments for this such as, “Well (insert series name here) does it- why can’t sprint cars”??? “The fans love it – and hey they are the ones paying the bills”. “It sure helps the show when someone is running away with it.”

First off, the other series that do the double file restarts are not running 1200 pound race cars, with 900 hp and open wheels on small dirt tracks- in other words the danger potential is nowhere near as great. So the fans love it? Unfortunately, I have yet to see one fan come down and cut a cheque to replace a front axle, rear axle assembly, frame or driveline destroyed by a two-abreast restart. I know they paid their $30 to get in the gate – but now there seems to be a sense, that needless wrecks and carnage should be included in the ticket price. My last point is – so what if someone is running away with the show??? Maybe they did their homework better than everyone else and might just deserve to be rewarded.  They’ve already lost any lead that has been built up, the lapped cars they passed that 2nd place hasn’t passed are now taken out of the equation – one slight stumble on the restart should not wipe all of that out. If I wanted to see “manufactured excitement”, I would get a lobotomy, hopefully lowering my IQ 30 points lower than it already is, get the dentist to remove several of my teeth and go watch NASCAR (jeez that was even more harsh than usual). I guess maybe to recreate excitement at Indianapolis they should be going to 3 wide restarts??

This weekend I’m off to Williams Grove for The National Open– maybe I will offer the World of Outlaws my “tips” in person……
 

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: “A Really Big Show”

Off The Wall: “A Really Big Show”

I know it has been awhile since I’ve scribbled anything – in short, my excuse is that I have been awful busy chasing my son, Daryl, up and down the road. Daryl is the only crewman for Sam Hafertepe Jr , who this year is running a “true outlaw” schedule. Since Daryl is the only crewman and they are already over 60 races so far this year, I try to help out on occasion – mainly by doing stuff that takes a strong back and weak mind. Everybody tells me that I should write about those travels, but for some reason I am hesitant to do so – maybe some other time. On with my whining du jour…….

Back in the day, Ed Sullivan would tell us we were about to see “A Really Big Show” – I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am becoming increasingly less enamoured with “Really Big Shows” – when it comes to Sprint Car racing. The recent Kings Royal at Eldora really drove the point home for me.

The Kings Royal has been a traditional must see event for me, and for some fans this tradition goes back to the 80’s. How can you not like the idea of a race paying 50 grand to win, with 50 top 410 sprint cars including all the top World of Outlaws teams, plus the best teams that the All Stars and the various Ohio area tracks can send to Rossburg. Combine this with 50 or so 360’s running with the NRA and beautiful sunny weather and what have you got? Some of the worst racing you will ever see that was only salvaged by the drama of the leader exploding a tire in the last 150 yards of the race.

When it comes to dirt track racing the first thing that makes the big show suck is that because the heat line-ups are usually determined by time trials, the time trial draw has a disproportionate impact. Unless the track surface has been miraculously prepared there is a heck of an advantage or disadvantage if you draw 50th versus drawing 1st. Unless a person is Superman (or Steve Kinser in 1985 or so) when you draw 50th, in a lot of cases you might as well load up and go home right then and there. You are going to be digging out of a hole all night – sometimes drivers and teams are up to this challenge and can overcome it – but it is not uncommon for a track to lose a half a second to a second when 50 cars pound on it.  All of that being said, I really wonder why when there are more than 25 cars time trialing we can’t drop back to 1 lap time trials – it’s not like it wouldn’t be the same for everyone – it would wear the track out less for the later time trialers, wear the track out less in general, and it would speed up the show.

The second thing that makes the big show suck is that the cream generally rises to the top, so while the fans get to see some cars they generally don’t get to see – by the end of the night it is usually Schatz, Meyers, Swindell, Kinser et al battling for the lead. But before you can get to this point you have had to sit through 5 heats of 10 cars each.

Which brings me to my next point. The big sprint car shows often take longer to run off than a NASCAR 500 miler – between 5 heats and C & B mains, a “dash” as well as the feature it can be a long night – and anybody who has sat through one of these marathons with me, can tell you how much I enjoy it when they top all of that off with “track work” and/or intermissions. I do not have an 8 hour attention span and at my age, my beauty sleep is of upmost importance. Not only does it make for a long night, but it also pounds the daylights out of the track, greatly increasing the chances of a “rubber-down” parade.

I am a strong believer in a quick fast paced show – and the best recent example of that was the July World of Outlaws show at Ohsweken – The checkered flew on the WoO feature around 9:30. There were maybe two Eldora names not at Ohsweken that I missed, Dale Blaney, and Tim Shaffer. 

I sure felt I got my money’s worth at Ohsweken (especially after Tony’s post race comments) and it also allowed for a lot more post race socializing and a lot less yawning by this old fart – it even allows you to drive home in something more than a semi-comatose state.

Next year I plan to be back for the Ohsweken WoO show, as for The Kings Royal – I think I’ll save my money – or maybe spend it on a NASCAR race – just kidding – (about the NASCAR part anyway). I can honestly say this though – I would honestly rather see Rick Wilson battle Warren Mahoney and maybe 15 others at a Brighton SOS show than sit through another Kings Royal like this year’s version.
 

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: Cheaters Suck

Off The Wall: Cheaters Suck

By Peter Turford – “It’s not cheating if you don’t get caught”, “If you don’t cheat you don’t eat”. Those 2 over used clichés raise my ire more than just about any other motorsports one liners. I don’t know if it is my built in Protestant Guilt System or what – but I have never “gotten” cheating. To me cheating means one thing and one thing only – You suck and you are not as good as your competitors, so you have to cheat. If you were any good you would come in and win clean, because on that given day you were better than your competitors – PERIOD.

I don’t get how winning, using tire softener or traction control (electronic or otherwise) when it is verboten, gives any sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. Nothing winds me up more than hearing “the old vets” swap war stories about how they outsmarted the tech inspector and his P&G gauge (displacement checker). The overused story about putting a tarp on the back of the car when it came into the pits, distracting everyone from looking at their oversize front spoiler, or some other variation of the theme, got old a long time ago.

The absolute worst version of cheating happened to a friend of mine – he had a guy build him a 360 sprint car motor that had to run a certain style of intake gasket with no modifications allowed (ASCS intake gasket). He had an engine builder of some renown build him a motor – but the guy did a lousy job and the engine blew – when my friend was tearing down the motor to do the rebuild – he found the gaskets had been indeed altered by the original engine builder. He would have killed someone if he had won a race and then found out he was illegal – especially without him being aware of the alteration.

On second thought an even worse  version of cheating is when it involves safety – Filling the fire extinguisher with Nitrous Oxide, thin roll bar tubing, playing mad scientist with fuel, mercury in frame rails – I have never gotten any of that. What kind of sick person does this???

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE clever interpretation of the rule book, for example when the fuel tank capacity is limited – someone runs a fuel line the size of a fire hose to increase the fuel capacity. Modified driver Bobby Vee once read the rules and saw you had to run stock body panels – he did – and put them on in such a way as to make a huge rear spoiler – they were stock panels – just not in the stock location – good for him (NASCAR was not amused).  In the early 70’s in both Indy cars and Can-Am cars wings mounted on struts were banned – so team McLaren built them into the body work and kicked everyone’s behind until the rest of the teams caught up.

When Team Lotus came out with ground effects in 1977 that wasn’t cheating that was just “smarts”. In the mid 1970’s Jim Shampine took a hard look at his 8” offset supermodified and thought, well if offsetting the engine and drive line 8” is good, 18” would be great! Everyone told him he was nuts, now the only place you will find an 8“ offset supermodified is in a barn or a museum. These are all examples of being SMART AND LEGAL and I truly admire that. Running an oversize engine or oversize fuel injection tubes is not smart – it is cheating – whether you get caught or not.

I think that my growing up a supermodified fan in the 60’s and 70’s also contributed something to my feelings about this. In those days the supers had no displacement rules, no weight rules, no tire rules, no body rules – nothing (I think you had to have a seat belt – but the seat could be an old lawn chair). When you went to a race you knew the guy that won, had the best combination of car, team, driver and luck on that given night – you never went home thinking, Jack Greedy must be running an oversize motor to be winning so much. You might feel the money the top teams were spending was excessive – but you never went home thinking the top teams won so much because they cheated.

I personally believe that there is a ton of cheating going on out there in the world of my beloved sprint cars. When the GoodYear tire came on the scene with the World of Outlaws and several other series and tracks, I thought its hardness and lack of sidewall flex would really bring the driving talent to the fore front. I think in all honesty on both a local and National level it has brought tire soaking and traction control usage to a new level. I wonder how it is that last year 2 guys that have had solid but not spectacular careers suddenly start winning with great regularity – At first, I thought they just adopted better than the other drivers to the new tires – later I found out I was wrong – It is now believed softener and traction control were 2 key items in several team’s toolboxes. One team had their traction control screw up one night and it could be heard everywhere – the team made a show of pulling valve covers but “luckily” finding no problems (must have been the mag). The best though, was when a bunch of stuff from a major team was advertised for sale on Hoseheads Classifieds in amongst the stuff was a traction control device – and using the detective skills of an 8 year old, it was easily traced back to a major World of Outlaws team that shall remain nameless – BIG GAME TREESTANDS.

Finally there is one other issue at work here and that is – who in their right mind would want to be a tech inspector??? In most cases the pay does not cover the cost of gas to the track, when you do catch someone – you get yelled at by them like you are somehow at fault, and quite honestly people like the traction control companies – eg. Davis Technologies they have the time and inclination to come up with ways to make traction control virtually undetectable – how does some poor part timer who is only doing his best to help a track or an organization have a hope of competing with that???

Which begs the question, when you are getting beat night in night out by a bunch of cheaters how long before you climb on the cheating train? Because, after all – If you don’t cheat you don’t eat.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments

Off The Wall: Longing For The Old Indy Excitement

Off The Wall: Longing For The Old Indy Excitement

At one time when the calendar turned to May I was wound up for the entire month in anticipation of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. I would follow practice speeds daily, in hopes that at least one of my heroes could put some old tub in the show and show the world what they could do. Or Gary Bettenhausen could maybe do something in Menard’s Buick and win one for his late dad – Melvin Tony Bettenhausen Sr. In the 70’s I would pray that Canadians Eldon Rasmussen and Cliff Hucul would get in the show – they both did, more than once. The month of May could bring great joy – Pancho Carter putting a Buick on the pole in ’85, Roger Rager making the show in ‘82 using an engine that stated life in a School Bus, it could also bring incredible heartbreak and sadness – the loss of Scott Brayton in ’96.

By the mid 90’s my love of Indianapolis and Indy cars in general was described by my girlfriend as an “obsession” – in hindsight she was right. The obsession only got worse when the IRL was formed, as now, honest to goodness short track racing heroes like Tony Stewart, Jack Hewitt and Steve Kinser were going to get a half decent shot at true big time racing – just like the old days. For awhile, Indy in the early 90’s was great – BUT the costs had risen to the point that most owners could not foot the bill and the era of the ride buyer, the F-1 wannabee/hasbeen that had begun in the early 80’s was now in full blossom and getting worse annually. Either that or there was a pent up demand of fans wanting to see Hiro Matsushita, Dennis Vitolo and Tero Palmroth compete at the top level of Indy car Racing – The IRL would fix that.

For me the arrival of the IRL was the greatest thing ever. For the Toronto “racing media” this was an abomination as now their beloved Molson Indy weekend would lose the cache of any legitimate tie-in with The Indy 500. I didn’t care, for me it could only be good to have an event and sport free of Engine Leases, with Floyd Ganassi and Team Penske pulling strings and getting the super duper turbo Cosworth or Chevy (depending on the flavour of the day), or Lola dealer Carl Hass getting the hopped up turbo Ford for Michigan. Nothing like special treatment to help the richer get even richier (new word I just invented). To me the IRL meant the end of engine leases, ride buyers, stock blocks, and an ovals only Indy Car series. It worked – for about 15 minutes. By 2000 the dream was pretty much dead, it was the beginning of CART II when future NASCAR mid packer JP Montoya carried the day for the Chipster – soon Penske was back and the only good thing about that, was in 2006 when Sam Hornish stole an Indy win from Marco Andretti coming to the finish line. I admit to an anti-Andretti bias – if it was a race between Andretti and the guy that invented reality TV I wouldn’t know who to cheer for.

So now what does Indy mean today? 33 identical chassis, 33 identical motors and 33 drivers I never heard of. Even worse, Tony George, the only member of the dysfunctional family that owns the joint, that had any passion for the place, got turfed out by his own family – The place may as well be owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

I don’t know how you would even begin to fix the mess that Indy Car racing has become – The sponsor ROI is minimal, it costs NASCAR like money to run a team – yet it gets seen by fewer eyeballs, in person, and even fewer on TV, with fewer than half the events of NASACRs and your logo is hard to display when they are no fenders to hang it on– the only worse “Investment” would be in an F-1 sponsorship. So the costs are nuts, no one can relate to the drivers as they have never heard of them and when was the last time anybody came close to breaking the track record??? Jeez at least at one time you could be dazzled by the speed – now you have to go on YouTube and dial up 1996 to see a track record at Indy.

I’m usually a guy that thinks he has all the answers – but this Indy mess – You’ve got me – But all is not completely lost. The 500 is truly a unique event – the Little 500 that is, Anderson Indiana still runs 33 cars of different chassis, with 33 drivers I’ve mostly heard of (I admit it – the engines are pretty much the same – a small block Chevy derivative) all attempting to do 500 laps on a ¼ mile track – Truly the Greatest Spectacle in Racing!!!!! Oh and if you are in Anderson for the Little 500 – why not stay the next day and drive the 45 minutes to that other track – it’s not like it would be hard to find a scalper that will sell you a ticket at less than face – Because you know what – in spite of all that I’ve written, everyone should see the Indy 500 at least once.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Peter Turford at peterturford@yahoo.ca.

Posted in Columns, Off The Wall0 Comments