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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

It's Business Over Pleasure for Labonte, Jarrett and Others

March 14, 1997|SHAV GLICK

After five strenuous weeks of Winston Cup racing, drivers finally get a weekend off from their regular schedule, so what do they do?

Some of them, including defending Cup champion Terry Labonte and points leader Dale Jarrett, will fly 3,000 miles to drive in a Busch Grand National race on the new Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval.

"This is the first time the Busch cars have ever been west of the Mississippi," Jarrett said. "We want to make a good West Coast presence, and our sponsors are

happy because they are getting into a new market area.

"People out this way have seen Busch races on TV, but this race, and the one coming up at Fontana late in the year, will give them their first opportunity to see us in person. And, too, from a driver's standpoint, this [Las Vegas] track may be on the Winston Cup schedule in the near future, and by racing this week I'll get the jump on some of the guys."

The Las Vegas 300 will be held Sunday at 1 p.m. The Busch race at Roger Penske's California Speedway in Fontana will be Oct. 19.

Sunday's purse of $886,275 is the second largest in Busch Grand National history. The record of $946,319 was established last month at Daytona International Speedway. The winner will receive about $73,000, with the last-place finisher guaranteed at least $10,000.

Other Winston Cup regulars entered include Jimmy Spencer, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte and Dick Trickle, as well as defending Busch series champion Randy LaJoie and series leader Todd Bodine.

"Having this race separate from the Winston Cup series is going to help us tremendously," LaJoie said. "Three of the four new races this year stand alone, and I think that just goes to show how much the series has grown. But we like having the big guys racing with us. It helps make the Busch drivers better."

LaJoie beat the Winston Cup regulars in the opening race at Daytona.

Also on the three-day program will be the Nevada 200 Featherlite Southwest Tour race on Saturday night. At 200 miles, it will be the longest race in series history.

Trickle, in particular, is glad to be in Las Vegas so that he can visit his nephew, Chris Trickle, a promising Southwest Tour driver who remains in the trauma unit of the University Medical Center after being shot in the head while driving on a Las Vegas highway Feb. 9.

Trickle's car will be driven in Saturday night's race by Sean Monroe.

MOTORCYCLES

The way motorcycle road racer Chuck Graves looks at it, if you have had great success on a certain track, keep at it.

Willow Springs Raceway has been the site of many of Graves' victories in his 11-year career, so when this year's Michelin California Championships were scheduled at the 2.5-mile, nine-turn course in Rosamond, he signed up for every race he could.

Graves will be one of the favorites in the two-heat Sunoco Race Fuels Formula USA series, main event of the two-day competition, but he also will ride in six other classes.

"I'll ride four races back to back Sunday morning and then two more before the first heat of the Formula USA," said Graves, who lives in Burbank and owns a manufacturing plant in Van Nuys. "If I finish every race, I'll have done about 100 laps [250 miles] on Sunday, and I'll have to qualify for them all on Saturday."

Graves, 32, set the track record on his Suzuki of 1 minute 22.64 seconds last year, but fellow Suzuki rider Curtis Adams of Whittier broke it with a 1:22.4 second run, which computes to 109 mph. Adams also will be in Sunday's Formula USA race.

There will be two Formula USA heats of 12 laps each.

Formula USA racing was founded in 1986 at Willow Springs by track owner Bill Huth, who decided that motorcycle racing needed a no-holds-barred series for bikes of any size or description. For three years, Huth ran his own race, then sold the rights to Doug Gonda, who established it as a national championship series.

Last year, Formula USA became part of the new 18-race North American Super Bike schedule.

"We do have a few rules now, like a spec fuel, no carbon-fiber brakes and a minimum weight, so it's not entirely unlimited, but it's as close as you can get," Graves said. "I think it relates better to fans, race teams and after-market companies than other series."

NHRA

Driver of the year John Force has been dropped from the Pontiac team under mysterious circumstances. Neither Force, six-time funny car champion, nor a spokesman for Team Pontiac would elaborate after Jim Murray, Firebird brand manager, issued a statement that said, "Only after much deliberation must we inform our fans and team members, that effective immediately, John Force will no longer be with Team Pontiac. It is our desire to move forward on a positive note."

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