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NASCAR Is Driven by the Greybeards at 38.9 Average Age

AUTO RACING NOTES

July 09, 2000|MIKE HARRIS | Associated Press MOTORSPORTS WRITER

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek saying in racing is that age and treachery will overcome youth and enthusiasm every time.

Maybe that's a little overstated, but experience certainly seems to count in NASCAR's Winston Cup series.

As the stock car series begins the second half of its 34-race season today in Loudon, N.H., the average age of its driving regulars stands at 38.9.

That is by far the oldest average age among the world's top racing series.

The average age of drivers in the Indy Racing League is 32.7, while CART's drivers average 30.0 and Formula One 28.5.

All of those are slightly younger than the previous season's average ages, except for NASCAR, which rose from 38.5.

"There was a time when NASCAR drivers were like guys in other sports," said Jeremy Mayfield, who recently turned 31. "They'd hit about 34 or 35 years and they'd hang it up.

"Talking with some of those guys, they said they didn't do it because they felt bad or felt they couldn't do it anymore. They did it because that's the age everybody else was retiring in other sports."

But Mayfield points out that it's no longer uncommon for Winston Cup drivers to race into their 50s, and with some success.

"Look at Harry Gant, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip--I think more drivers are looking harder at the future," Mayfield said.

Sterling Marlin, who tuned 43 on June 30, said, "If you stay in shape, I'd say you could pretty much go on forever.

"When it's time to retire, you'll know it. You might sit there and argue with it for awhile, but you'll still know it."

Thirty-five-year-old Shawna Robinson, mother of two young children, said driving careers last longer because people live healthier lives today.

"Today's drivers are different from the ones of 10 or 20 or 30 years ago," said the ARCA regular and Winston Cup hopeful. "They were pretty tough when NASCAR started, but I think drivers are generally in better shape and healthier these days than they were at any other time."

She said drivers are looking for any edge they can get.

"If you have a stronger driver with better endurance, then that puts you ahead of everybody else," Robinson noted. "That's the reason drivers spend more time with workouts and personal trainers these days. I think most of us eat better and eat healthier. You have to."

Johnny Benson said he is surprised and happy to hear that NASCAR's average age is so high.

"Actually, that makes me feel good. I'm 36 so I have a ways to go before I even reach the average."

Referring to the age differences among the series, Benson added, "I think it all boils down to the type of driver needed to get the job done. I think in those open wheel series it's important the drive have the good reaction time, reflexes and the desire to take that car into a corner without regard.

"I think in NASCAR that stuff is important also, but experience means more than it does in those other series. I think the secret to our racing is also reflexes and daring, plus it is understanding what our car is doing. It isn't so much how far can you take a car into the corner as it is 'How can I make our tires last so that they will still let me go in the corner at the same way on lap 60 as I did in the first few laps?' "

He said it's also important knowing what makes a car run better.

"Those other series have all kinds of engineers and computers to tell them what the car needs. In our deal it's the seat of the pants of the driver that has to make all those calls. That's what experience is all about."

*

Zoning Out: Heading into the race in New Hampshire, 49-year-old Dale Earnhardt trails series points leader, 36-year-old Bobby Labonte, by just 52 points.

With his eighth place finish last Saturday night in Daytona Beach, Fla., Earnhardt has posted seven consecutive top-10 finishes and now has 14 in the first 17 races this season.

Richard Childress, Earnhardt's longtime car owner, insists that the seven-time Winston Cup champion's surge toward the front is no fluke.

"We've done some good things the first 17 races," Childress said. "You can always say that if this happened or that happened. But we've had a tremendous team effort every step of the way.

"Now we'll begin to turn it up another notch and get Dale into the zone."

*

Stat of the Week: Of the 10 Winston Cup races held at New Hampshire International Speedway, six have been won by drivers named Jeff. Jeff Gordon has won three times--most recently the second race of 1998--and Jeff Burton, the defending winner of this weekend's race.

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