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Fires Put Some Heat on NASCAR

July 10, 1998|SHAV GLICK

Wildfires that ravaged central Florida the past month not only forced postponement of Daytona International Raceway's first night race last Saturday, they also might have caused serious problems for the end of the Winston Cup season.

When NASCAR selected Saturday night, Oct. 17, as its new date for the Pepsi 400, formerly the Firecracker 400, it meant that Winston Cup teams must finish the year with races on 16 consecutive weekends. It also put dreaded carburetor restrictor-plate races Oct. 11 at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona back-to-back for the first time.

Those are the only two tracks where restrictor plates are used, a safety device designed to slow the cars to less than 200 mph.

"We're pretty much an every-week series, so I don't know that running 16 races in a row is going to be easy, but we've run long stretches of races before," said Jeremy Mayfield, second to defending champion Jeff Gordon in Winston Cup standings at the halfway point of the 33-race season.

Mark Martin and Ted Musgrave, who have homes in the Spruce Creek suburb of Daytona Beach, learned first hand the devastation of the fire.

"I locked everything up and the neighbors are keeping an eye on [the house] for me," Musgrave said. "The main thing is that we are safe. If the house burns down, my neighbors will call."

Martin said it was scary last week when his son Matt looked out of his bathroom window and saw the fires burning.

"That was a little too close for comfort," Martin said. "We're just grateful for everything the firefighters have done. They have been just remarkable."

Ricky Craven, a teammate of Gordon's who has been sidelined because of post-concussion syndrome, an inner-ear condition that came about as a result of "too many bangs up beside the head," will return to Winston Cup competition Sunday for the first time since March 9 in the Jiffy Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

"I couldn't ask for a better place to get started again," said Craven, a native of Newburgh, Maine, who grew up racing in New England. "The competition has been racing for half the season, and they're into the middle of summer. I really need to get in that Monte Carlo and get some laps."

Craven tested Tuesday at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway, but said what he needs most is seat time in racing conditions.


The Dunlop World Superbike championship, scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway, may turn into a battle of the USA vs. the World.

Riders from the world circuit, headed by points leader Aaron Slight of New Zealand and Pier-Francesco Chili of Italy, winner of two heats last Sunday at Kyalami, South Africa, will face off against American Motorcyclist Assn. riders, including points leader Doug Chandler of Salinas and Ben Bostrom of Granada Hills.

Two Americans, Colin Edwards and Scott Russell, will have divided allegiance. Both are riding for the world championship. Edwards won two races earlier in the year at Monza, Italy, and is fifth in standings. Russell is 10th in the standings.

"Laguna Seca is home for me and I love it," Edwards said. "The Corkscrew [turn] is awesome. I've been through it on my way to success one day, then the next day it's caught me out and I've ended up sitting on a hay bale watching the other guys go by."

Edwards, who raced AMA superbikes for three seasons, doesn't believe that more than two or three national riders have a chance of making the top 10 Sunday. The leading AMA rider, Miguel DuHamel, is out because of a season-ending injury suffered June 21 at Loudon, N.H.


Defending champion Alex Zanardi returns to the scene of his most spectacular 1997 race Sunday to drive one of Chip Ganassi's Reynard-Hondas in the Medic Drug Grand Prix at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport. It was on the 2.1-mile temporary road circuit that he came from 22nd place on the 37th of 90 laps to win the race. This year, Zanardi has won four races, including three of the last four, and has won at all three road courses.


Driving a Dallara-Aurora, Tony Stewart ran 228.505 mph at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the fastest lap ever turned by a new-formula IRL car. It came during night testing for the Aug. 29 race on the 1.54-mile track. . . . U. S. Auto Club midget champion Jason Leffler of Long Beach has signed with Treadway Racing as a future teammate of Arie Luyendyk.


Skip Hudson, one of the pioneers of Southern California's road racing boom in the 1950s and early 1960s, died after a lengthy struggle with cancer June 27 at his home in Dana Point. Hudson, 67, was a longtime racing buddy of Dan Gurney. He won the U.S. Road Racing Championships in 1964 at Riverside, driving a Chevrolet-powered Nickey Cooper, and also won the 1959 Los Angeles Examiner Grand Prix at the Pomona Fairgrounds driving a Ferrari 4.9. Hudson is survived by his wife, Nancy; mother, Eve, of San Juan Capistrano, and a son, Brian, of Oakland.

Bunkie Knudsen, 85, national commissioner of NASCAR since 1978, died Monday of heart failure at his home in suburban Detroit.


When the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has its 25th anniversary April 18, it will have a new look, thanks to the opening of the Long Beach Aquarium. The circuit has been lengthened slightly, from 1.59 miles to about 1.85 miles, and will have 11 turns instead of eight. Tickets went on sale this week for the 1999 race.

Only 21 points separate leader M.K. Kanke and former champion Steve Portenega as NASCAR's Featherlite Southwest Tour heads for one of its smallest circuits, Cajon Speedway in El Cajon, for the Coors Light 100 on Saturday night. The race is 100 laps on a three-eighths-mile paved oval. Ron Esau, a former Cajon Speedway and Southwest Tour champion, will drive the Lucas Oil Chevrolet in the race.

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