Race drivers get used to changing track conditions from race to race but Dennis Aase, Dan Gurney's veteran Toyota test driver, is carrying his to extremes this week.
Aase will be driving a turbocharged Celica GT down Miami's Biscayne Boulevard Sunday in the Lowenbrau Grand Prix in 85-degree heat. Two weeks ago, he was in Anchorage, Alaska, driving a VW Super Beetle on the ice in 18-degree cold.
Aase, 43, was a guest driver in Anchorage's annual Rondy Grand Prix, a series of six races through the streets of Alaska's largest city. He won all six. Each of the races was 25 laps on a one-mile course, making a total of 150 miles.
"I'll say this, it was different from anything I'd tried before," Aase said upon returning to his home in Orange. "Instead of using concrete blocks, or steel barriers, for walls, they piled up snow around the course, wet it down with a sprayer and had an instant four-foot ice berm. Then they salted the road down to give some traction and away we went."
The biggest hazards, he said, were bars of ice that lay hidden beneath the slush and had the same effect as an oil slick on pavement.
"You had to be extra careful not to hit one of those ice bars the wrong way because when you did, you were liable to slide into the ice berm--and the ice doesn't act like concrete or steel where you can be lucky and keep your car sliding along the barrier," Aase said.
"They call the slick spots black ice and when you hit one, you don't want to be accelerating, braking or turning. If you're doing any of those, you're in real trouble. The ice tends to grab a car and spin it around. It also can tear it up.
"The problem is, because of the salt and water from the melting snow, you can't see the black ice. You've got to develop a feel for it.
"Saturday night, after the first three races, everyone tried to find a warm garage to try and get their car ready for Sunday. It was really cold. Usually the races are a sideshow to the Fur Rendevous dog sled race, but this year there wasn't enough snow for the dogs so the auto race got all the attention."
All the cars use special tires, although they are not studded, as ice racing tires are.
"The tires are designed for the cold so that the compounds are no good above 40 degrees," Aase said. "If you are inside where it's 70 degrees and pick one of the tires, your hands will be as black as if you'd picked up coal."
During the last 15 years, a number of drivers from the Lower 48, as the Alaskans say, have been guests at the Rondy GP, among them Bob Bondurant and the late Swede Savage. Mexican Pedro Rodriguez also competed once.
Sunday, in Miami, Aase will drive a 475-horsepower Celica in the Camel GTO race, a 45-minute sprint around the 1.87-mile course through Bicentennial Park.
Chris Cord, Gurney's other driver, will be in a similar car. They will be racing Willy T. Ribbs in a Ford Thunderbird, Elliott Forbes-Robinson in a Pontiac Firebird, Bruce Jenner in a Ford Mustang, and Alan Glick and Jack Baldwin in Chevrolet Camaros.
The Miami races are part of the IMSA Camel GT series, which will visit Riverside International Raceway April 26-27 for the Times/Ford Grand Prix of Endurance.
SPRINT CARS--The California Racing Assn. will open its 41st season this weekend with a two-day program during the California Mid-Winter Fair on the Imperial County Fairgrounds in El Centro. This marks the 29th year the season will have started on the 3/8-mile clay oval. The 46-race CRA schedule will open with 30-lap features Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Former El Centro winners entered are two-time winner Mike Sweeney, Jimmy Oskie and CRA champion Eddie Wirth. The CRA night opener is set for Saturday night, March 15, at Ascot Park.
OFF-ROAD--Two San Diego area favorites, Tommy Croft and Monte Crawford, will attempt to hold their season leads Saturday night when Mickey Thompson takes his Off-Road Championship Gran Prix to Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. After two of nine races, Croft, a former motocross champion, is leading Lee Wuesthoff of Mequon, Wis., by a single point in the Super 1600 class, and Crawford tops the Ultrastock class in his VW Golf. Toyota driver Steve Millen, leader in the Grand National Sport Truck class, will compete against another tough field. Entries include Glenn Harris and Indianapolis 500 driver Pete Halsmer, in Mazdas; Jeff Huber in a Ford, Roger Mears and Sherman Balch in Nissans and Ivan Stewart in another Toyota. The unlimited single-seater class will be run for the first time Saturday night.
POWERBOATS--America's longest and fastest powerboat race, the Parker 7-Hour Enduro, will be held Sunday along a 6 1/2-mile stretch of the Colorado River, a few miles north of Parker, Ariz. Defending champion is Mitch Lembke of Orange, who drove a 21-foot tunnel-hull powered by a V-12 Jaguar engine. It was the first time in more than a decade that an inboard powered boat had been able to beat the outboards. Also entered are former division champions Alan Stoker of Stanton, Greg Foster of Orange, Fred Bowden of Monrovia and Lee Holden of Sepulveda.
MOTOCROSS--The final event of the 10th annual Skoal Bandit Golden State Nationals will be run this weekend at the Quail Canyon track near Gorman. Standings leaders are Jim Tarentino of Los Angeles in the 125cc class, Russ Wageman of Canoga Park in 250 and Phil Larson of Bremerton, Wash., in 500. Sportsmen will race Saturday, professionals on Sunday.