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MOTOR RACING / JIM PELTZ

Irwindale Still Accelerating

March 10, 2006|MOTOR SPORTS

A busy weekend of racing around the world includes opening night at Irwindale Speedway, a local half-mile track that launches its eighth season Saturday night.

The Formula One season also begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, over a 3.67-mile road course on the island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.

And NASCAR heads to the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Sam's Town 300 Busch series race Saturday and the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 Nextel Cup race Sunday.

Some of the top Nextel Cup drivers, including Kurt and Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne, raced at Irwindale as they were climbing through NASCAR's ranks, as did Busch series rookie-of-the-year contender Burney Lamar.

Irwindale's schedule includes a variety of NASCAR-sanctioned racing, such as super stocks, mini-stocks, late models and super trucks.

"We've built a pretty strong fan base" over the years, Speedway General Manager Bob DeFazio said last weekend as the track put on a D1 Grand Prix drifting event, which drew an overflow crowd of about 10,000.

"The good news is that they're telling a friend, so we've been fortunate to continue to grow every year."

Saturday will be "Shav Glick Night," honoring the longtime racing writer with The Times who retired Jan. 16. Glick will be saluted at the speedway, which issued an open invitation to everyone Glick wrote about during his career.

Irwindale Speedway also features a public drag strip, open Thursday nights. Conceived mostly as a community service to curb illegal drag racing on the streets, the strip steadily grew in popularity "and that was a surprise," DeFazio said.

"For $20, you go through a tech inspection -- which is basically a safety inspection -- and race your car," he said. "It's a great accouterment to the facility."

For the Saturday night NASCAR races, Irwindale's gates open at 4 p.m. and the first race goes off at 7. Ticket prices start at $15 for adults, $12 for children and kids 6 and under are free.

Formula One

Can the Spaniard repeat? As the series' 19-race season begins in Bahrain, fans are debating whether Fernando Alonso -- who became the youngest Formula One champion last year at 24 for the Renault team -- can do it again.

It won't be easy. Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher -- now the oldest F1 driver at 37 -- returns for his 16th season in his Ferrari. Last year's runner-up, Kimi Raikkonen of Team McLaren-Mercedes, is back as well.

Alonso also plans to join the McLaren-Mercedes team in 2007, and has said he wants to hand another championship to Renault before leaving.

Scott Speed becomes the first American to race in Formula One since Michael Andretti in 1993. Speed, 23, of Manteca, Calif., is part of the Scuderia Toro Rosso team that took over the Minardi racing operation.

NASCAR

Nextel Cup series leader Jimmie Johnson will try to maintain that edge by repeating his 2005 victory at Las Vegas.

Johnson opened this season by winning the Daytona 500, then ran second in the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway in his Chevy on Feb. 26. He has 355 points. Dodge driver Casey Mears is second with 316 and Matt Kenseth, who won the Fontana race in a Ford, is third with 308.

But just as Kenseth and his Roush Racing teammates have dominated the California Speedway lately, so have they done well in Las Vegas, Roush drivers having won five of the eight Cup races held in Sin City. Kenseth won two of those, in 2003 and 2004.

Elsewhere

* This weekend's Goodguys March Meet, which features more than a dozen classes in drag racing at the Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, was postponed a week because of a forecast calling for rain and unusually low temperatures.

The event had been scheduled for tonight through Sunday, but was rescheduled to ensure safe racing, officials said. The series' 600 competitors include about 250 drivers from Los Angeles County.

* Drivers Chris Bingham and J.C. France issued public apologies for fighting after a crash during the Grand American Rolex Sports Car series race last Saturday in Mexico City.

"My actions were precipitated in the heat of the moment after a significant collision," Bingham said.

France called it a "dust-up" between "passionate people in exciting circumstances."

Both drivers were suspended from the series' next race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 25.

* Actors, pro athletes and others driving in the celebrity race before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach next month will be practicing and qualifying April 7.

The group is expected to include actors William Shatner, Patrick Dempsey and Antonio Sabato Jr., athletes John Elway and Martina Navratilova, and extreme-sports stars Bucky Lasek and Dave Mirra.

They will be driving for charity in race-prepared Scion tCs for 10 laps around the 1.97-mile street course, starting at 12:15 p.m. April 8.

* Supercross and motocross veteran Mike LaRocco, 35, plans to retire after a 19-year career and 145 top-five finishes. The Honda rider's last race will be May 6 in Las Vegas.

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