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AUTO RACING : Are Shorter Races Due for NASCAR?


Television loves auto racing. And it would love it even more if races were shorter.

A three-hour package is preferable to events lasting four hours or more, particularly in NASCAR's Winston Cup stock car series.

Now, it seems the first shots in the battle have been taken.

The newest races on the Winston Cup series are this year's 300-lap event on the one-mile oval at Loudon, N.H., and the Brickyard 400 on Aug. 6, 1994, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will cover 400 miles.

More significant, though, is the announcement that the spring race at Darlington, S.C., -- the TranSouth 500 -- will be shortened to 400 miles.

The reason that could be considered a major breakthrough for supporters of shorter events is that Darlington is owned by International Speedway Corp., which also owns Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, and operates Watkins Glen International.

For years, promoters of lengthy races have been wondering why they should ask fans to pay the same money for shorter events if the powers that be in Daytona wouldn't do the same with some of theirs.

The shortening of the Darlington event leaves the door open for such places as Rockingham and Dover -- which both run physically demanding and equipment-breaking 500-lap races on one-mile ovals.

"It's the smartest thing they ever did in their life," Rusty Wallace said of the move by Darlington. "If all the rest of the racetracks follow that, it'll save us a lot of money and put a better race on.

"These endurance races don't make any sense to me. ... It won't affect the way we race (at Darlington). You'll still feel like you've run all day long. ... At New Hampshire, we ran 300 laps for a million-dollar purse and it was a great race, a three-hour race."

Darrell Waltrip agreed: "You've got to realize that we'll be able to race so much harder. On a hot Sunday afternoon, taking 100 miles off will put a little more life in everyone."

DALE EARNHARDT, who owned a 304-point lead over Rusty Wallace and 307-point margin over third-place Mark Martin going into Saturday night's race at Richmond, is on track to win the Winston Cup championship by the biggest margin since the mid-1980s.

Most of the point battles in recent years have gone down to the wire, but it was Earnhardt who put everybody away early in 1986, winning the title by 288 points over Darrell Waltrip.

Before that, the biggest margin was 386 points by Cale Yarborough over Richard Petty in 1977.

Alan Kulwicki's victory margin of 10 points over Bill Elliott last season was the closest finish ever.

IT COST ERNIE IRVAN a lot to follow his instincts and move from the Morgan-McClure Motorsports team to Robert Yates Racing.

First, it cost the 34-year-old driver what had been a strong friendship with team owner Larry McClure. On top of that, the split reportedly cost Irvan more than $400,000 from his own pocket to buy out the final year of a five-year contract.

Why did he do it?

"I thought this is what I needed to do to win a Winston Cup championship," Irvan said. "You know, you make more money racing with a team that's capable of winning a championship.

"Everybody wants to sit up at that table at the Waldorf-Astoria and be the guy they're honoring. I felt like a move was needed for Ernie Irvan to win a championship."

After finishing fifth at Darlington in his first drive in the No. 28 Ford, Irvan said, "It's exciting. Every time I get in the car we learn more and more."

BOBBY ALLISON, who fields cars for Jimmy Spencer, is back at the track these days, trying to put all the family tragedy behind him.

The Allison family has been hammered in the past 13 months by the deaths of both sons -- Clifford in a 1992 race crash and Davey in a July helicopter crash -- and Pop Allison, Bobby's father. After Davey's death, Bobby and Judy Allison took off for two weeks in a motor home.

"We were just riding," Allison said. "It didn't make any difference where we were going. It seemed to be a big relief that we were on the road and moving. That made life a little bit easier."

Finally, though, they had to come home. Eventually, Bobby had to get back to running Bobby Allison Motorsports.

He was back at the track two weeks ago at Bristol, Tenn., and again last week at Darlington.

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