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Pedley: Off Season Means Too Much Time To Think

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, December 30 2011

Richie Evans is in the Hall and the subject of great TV piece. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Some thoughts on a couple of off-season burgers that may have fallen through the grate:

– The SPEED television network’s series of pieces on the drivers who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January has been very good. They have been of the type of quality that television seldom (never?) affords to the sport of auto racing.

Produced by the NASCAR Media Group, the series has, so far, featured bio pieces on three of the five drivers who will be inducted next month – driver Cale Yarborough, crew chief Dale Inman and driver Richie Evans. In January, pieces on inductees Darrell Waltrip and Glen Wood will be aired.

It was the Evans piece which was perhaps the most captivating. Not because he was the most famous of the the group. On the contrary. It was super interesting because Evans was the least famous of the group – at least, that is, on a national scale. He never drove a Cup car though he obviously had the skills to do so.

Evans has been called The King of the Modifieds. He was street racer from Rome, N.Y. who built and raced his own cars. He won nine championships, 28 track championships and an estimated 475 races.

But it was his away-from-the-cockpit life which made for compelling viewing at SPEED. Evans was a party guy. Good looking and flashy in an American Disco era of the 1970s and ’80s which celebrated lifestyle excesses. He drank and caroused and partied to a degree which would send today’s sponsors sprinting to for cover. Apologists have called him fun-loving.

Not all interviewed on the SPEED piece were apologists. Evans, who died in a practice wreck at Martinsville Speedway in 1985, has an ex-wife who seemed particularly non-enthralled with Evans’ “fun-loving” nature.

And that was one of the things that made the piece so good. Evans was a human being living in a time, inhabiting places and participating in a sport, that was not nearly as sanitized as is the current NASCAR scene. Very interesting piece on a very interesting man.

Note: A NASCAR Hall of Fame voter, I did not put Evans on my ballot for the shrine’s third class. I figured there were more national players who needed to go in first. Also, I figured there were other regional drivers with big numbers of victories and track championships who were equally worthy.

But I do not have a problem with those who did vote for Evans and I certainly have no problem with regional drivers, wrenches, owners and promoters earning entry to the Hall. They are absolutely a major – essential – part of the sport. And, Evans is as good a place as any to start when it comes to honoring all those wonderful regional shoes.

And he sure made for captivating viewing.

– Wonder what life would be like around racing if Twitter had been in existence back in “good old days”.

Kasey Kahne got into trouble because of his thumbs. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

Which brings us to an open letter to Kasey Kahne: People read the things you post, dude. Among the readers are people who are sensitive to the point of being irrational. They are much more concerned about their personal sensitivities than your right to speak your mind. Take a breath, and a second look, before hitting “send”.

– Went easy on the holiday shopping this year. Saving up for that dream racing vacation of a lifetime; the 2013 Formula 1 Grand Prix of New Jersey. (Note facetious tone.)

The event which promoters described as being held at a street-circuit which will remind people of Monaco. The one which has yet to announce funding sources. The one which, when introduced at a press conference earlier this year,  featured the New Jersey governor repeatedly bullying a reporter who had the guts to ask questions about race specifics.

This event has the potential to be this generation’s CART Hawaiian Super Prix.

Let’s see, Northeastern race fans: Attending an F1 race in beautiful, clean, continental Montreal with its charming Gilles Villeneuve road circuit or New Jersey?

You think things got tacky around the Austin event this year? Wait ’til next year and Jersey.

– Five 2012 races which actually will happen as scheduled that I am especially looking forward to:

1. The Rolex 24. It’s the 50th anniversary edition and will feature interesting new cars and teams on the track and hyper interesting old cars and drivers as part of festivities. Hope it rains.

2. The Daytona 500. It will be an interesting kickoff to a season of interesting change. Can’t wait to see

Clint Bowyer has a new home. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

how Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and AJ Allmendinger do in their new rides. Can’t wait to see how Danica Patrick does in her first year in Cup. Can’t wait to see if Junior pulls things together. Can’t wait to hear Tony Stewart press conferences. Can’t wait…

3. The Indianapolis 500. Because, it’s the Indianapolis 500. It’s still the one and only. Sorry NASCAR heads, race day at the 500 is, by far, the ultimate racing experience.

4. The NHRA U.S. Nationals. Had to miss it last year. Will not miss it this year. Every pro-series run is charged with pathos. Every non-pro car has a story behind it. Teams and drivers at all levels are available to talk cars and racing and actually do so face to face with fans for almost a whole week.

5. Sebring. Did my first 12-hour race in 2011. Hoping to do second in 2012. The race has become an over-looked gem. It will be celebrating its 60th anniversary next year. Audi is bringing the instant-classic R18s for the first time.  Toyota and Oreca are teaming up. Peugeot returns. The race will be the starting point for the FIA’s World Endurance Championship as well as the American Le Mans Series opener. And, as always, the street cars in the corrals around the track will get the slobber flowing in abundance.

– Best off-season quotes (both come from IndyCar/NASCAR/GRAND-AM team owner Chip Ganassi):

1. Asked his thoughts about the job INDYCAR boss Randy Bernard is doing, Ganassi said, “There’s a lot of facets in this sport that someone coming in from the outside has to learn. No one has been a more willing learner than Randy Bernard.

“Look at the things that have gone on since he came into the sport. We come with a new car, a new engine formula, a new rules package, new way of buying and distributing the cars and undertaking the testing. Obviously the Las Vegas tragedy. The guy, just about every time he comes up for air, he gets pushed back under the water again.

“The good news is I think Randy’s shown great ability to breathe underwater. So he’s doing fine, I think.”

2. Asked what he thinks makes IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti unique, Ganassi said, “His sunglasses. He’s got some different sunglasses than those other guys. Have you ever seen them? He and his wife’s sunglasses get mixed up sometimes in the drawer, and it’s really scary. I’m serious. That’s not a joke.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, December 30 2011
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