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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING / SHAV GLICK

For This Course, These Drivers Will Need Their Street Smarts

September 04, 1998|SHAV GLICK

From the high-banked superspeedways of Winston Cup to the short tracks of the Featherlite Southwest Series, some of the best of NASCAR will tackle a new assignment this weekend by racing through a street course laid out in the shadows of the Coliseum.

LA Events, the same group that puts on the Los Angeles Marathon, has turned its creative juices to motor racing. The result is a three-day Labor Day weekend festival, the Ford Los Angeles Street Race, featuring the Kragen Z-One 200 on Monday with the largest purse in the Southwest Series history, $153,300.

Mark Martin, runner-up to Jeff Gordon in Winston Cup standings, will make an overnight dash from Darlington, S.C.--after driving in the Southern 500 Sunday--to Los Angeles to run a Ford Taurus on the 1.4-mile circuit that winds through Exposition Park. He will fly here for Monday morning qualifying.

"There really is no time to prepare for these races mentally," Martin said Thursday. "I'm going to take the fastest airplane we can get and go to bed as soon as I get there. There is nothing you can do in the short term to prepare physically for something like this.

"It's more about your lifestyle. If you eat right, get plenty of rest, exercise and take care of yourself on a regular basis, a trip like this is not quite as bad."

If he wins the Southern 500 and the No Bull 5 bonus, Martin will be coming here more than a million dollars richer. Martin, Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt are all eligible for the bonus because they were the first five finishers in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Gordon won a similar bonus in the Brickyard 400.

The Darlington race also carries a purse of $1.89 million.

Ken Schrader and Chad Little, two other Winston Cup drivers in the Darlington race, will also be here, Schrader in his own Chevrolet and Little in a Ford.

The Kragen 200, which will be 89 laps for 200 kilometers--124.6 miles--is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m.

Also on the course during the three days will be the American City Racing League, Professional Racers Organization and Ultra Wheel Spec Trucks.

Most of the entries in Monday's main event, race No. 12 of the Southwest Series, will be tour regulars such as M.K. Kanke of Granada Hills, Keith Spangler of Chatsworth and series leader Steve Portenga of Sparks, Nev.

The race, NASCAR's first venture into downtown Los Angeles, has also attracted such notables as Willy T. Ribbs, the first--and only--African American qualifier for the Indianapolis 500; Ron Hornaday Jr., two-time Southwest Tour champion and current NASCAR Craftsman Truck series leader; Butch Gilliland, defending Winston West champion and a winner two weeks ago in Monroe, Wash.; Kevin Harvick, winner of the Winston West race at Fontana; and Boris Said, another Craftsman Truck driver.

"I think it's great that guys like Martin and Schrader are coming out here to run in our race," said Kanke, who will be in a Pontiac. "Every time I race against them, I learn a little more, and you never quit learning until you get out of the car."

Kanke, 36, has been racing around Southern California since he was 16, hauling his cars first to Saugus Speedway, then Ascot Park and Mesa Marin in Bakersfield before joining the Southwest Series four years ago.

"People keep asking me why I never headed for Winston Cup or the Busch series, but I'm a hometown sort of a guy. I never had any desire to leave my family, my wife and my children. I run my truck business out of the home in Granada Hills and race on weekends. That's the way I like it.

"My wife [Chris] and the kids [Monica, 7, and Cale, 2], travel with me wherever I go. We load up the motor home and head for the racetrack. They love it as much as I do."

Kanke, who grew up watching races with his grandparents at Riverside International Raceway, had an early hero in stock car champion Cale Yarborough, which accounts for his son's name.

"Cale's the one who told me you never quit learning how to drive a race car until you get out of it, and that's been my motto ever since," he said.

Kanke, who was the series leader for most of the early season after winning at Madera and Mesa Marin, has had mechanical problems in his last four races and now trails Portenga by 87 points with five races remaining.

Schrader, 10th in Winston Cup points, won a Southwest Series race last February at Phoenix and will be in the same winning Chevy this weekend.

"It's an old car, vintage 1992, but it's won four races, three at Phoenix and one at Sears Point," said Schrader, who won a Craftsman Truck race at Saugus in his last Los Angeles appearance.

"I heard they wanted some Winston West drivers to run in L.A., so I decided to fly out. There's only so many of us who'll race anywhere, but the way I look at it, it's no hardship. Instead of coming home [Concord, N.C.] from Darlington and playing at the lake until it's time to head for [next week's race] Richmond, I'll fly out to L.A. with Chad and do some racing Monday."

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