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Said Will Do Just About Anything

June 27, 2004|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

SONOMA, Calif. — Drivers in NASCAR's Nextel Cup series, and their families, love coming to Infineon Raceway once a year for a road race in picturesque Sonoma wine country.

Some visit local wineries, some golf at Pebble Beach, some see a Giant game. Others prowl Golden Gate Park and San Francisco's art museums, or ride the cable cars. Some go shopping in stylish Sausalito.

Boris Said went to San Quentin prison.

And in keeping with his adventurous spirit, he talked guards into letting him lie down on the infamous execution table in the Death Row gas chamber, the same one where inmates condemned to die are taken.

"It was pretty eerie," said the bushy-haired 41-year-old road racing veteran from Carlsbad, who will drive in three races this weekend as an aftermath to his San Quentin visit Thursday.

"I'll tell you one thing, after walking around in the prison compound and seeing some of those guys, like Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, in shackles, it gave me a warning. I won't be doing anything stupid to get in trouble, like fighting over road rage, not after seeing the insides of San Quentin."

The 1.99-mile Infineon road course, which winds through the Sears Point hills with 10 turns and some nasty downhill right-handers, occupied all of his time the last several days. On Friday, starting at 9 a.m., he practiced in his Southwest Series car for two hours, in his Nextel Cup car for two hours, qualified on the pole for the Southwest Series race, qualified a disappointing 18th for today's Dodge/Save Mart 350 Nextel Cup race and then practiced another 45 minutes in his Southwest car.

Saturday proved disappointing to Said. After dominating the Snap-on-Tools 200, leading for 53 laps of the scheduled 64-lap Southwest Series race, he spun out while leading two laps from the finish. When he spun on the horseshoe turn at the bottom of the course, he was hit by Nextel Cup veteran Kevin Harvick, allowing David Gilliland of Riverside to slip by and win the race.

"The back tires just got loose and after I got hit the car wouldn't start," said Said, who immediately hustled to his Trans-Am car to qualify for today's race.

Making it two out of three for poles, Said's speed of 94.709 mph put him in the No. 1 spot for today's Trans-Am. Alongside him will be the comeback kid, Tommy Kendall, who did 94.339.

In today's Dodge/Save Mart 350 Nextel Cup race, Said will start in the 10th row, alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. and just ahead of last year's winner, Robby Gordon, which should make for interesting viewing as they try to fight their way through the field on the narrow, twisting course. Jeff Gordon will start on the pole in quest of a fourth win at Infineon.

After that, Said will switch his thought pattern and climb into one of Mike Davis' Huntington Beach-based Ford Mustangs for the Trans Am 100.

"It's not as easy as it seems," he said. "Driving three different cars is like having three different girlfriends. They all have special needs and you have to be responsive to each.

"And maybe the most irritating part is having to change uniforms between each session. Sometimes we only have five or 10 minutes, and it seems like when the next session is about to start, I'm still tying my shoelaces. I wish they were Velcro. It would help a lot. I don't even have time to grab a bite."

Today's race will be Said's first this year in a Nextel Cup points race, but he drove a Chevrolet in the Bud Shootout last February at Daytona International Speedway as a reward for winning the pole in last year's Infineon race.

"Winning the pole here last year was probably the most significant thing in my career. The Bud Shootout was my first time on a superspeedway oval and I think it may have opened up a new career for me.

"The Centrix Financial people, who are sponsoring my car here on the road course, have said they want to put me in a car for an oval race later in the year, perhaps California Speedway over Labor Day. It would be a big step for me."

Waiting for that opportunity has not slowed Said, whose 2004 schedule is probably unmatched for versatility.

He has driven a NASCAR stock car in the Bud Shootout, a BMW GT car in the 24 Hours of Daytona, various other BMWs in Europe, a Chevrolet in the Southwest Series, a Ford Mustang Trans-Am car at Long Beach, another Mustang in the World Challenge cup at Laguna Seca, and coming up, a Chevy Corvette with Earnhardt Jr. here in the American LeMans series, and a Nissan 350Z in the Grand Am Cup at California Speedway.

"Two weeks ago, on the long course [15 miles] in Nurburgring, Germany, I had what was probably the greatest race in my life," he said. "It was the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, it rained about 16 of those hours, and I finished second in a BMW with Pedro Lamy and Duncan Huisman. The only guy who beat us was Hans Stuck, our BMW teammate.

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