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Thoughts On Asphalt, Streaks And Turbos

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 26 2012

Denny Hamlin beat the Sprint Cup field, and the bulldozers, to the finish line at Kansas on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

A couple of random useless thoughts and opinions on racing:

Can’t remember a time when asphalt was making a big buzz the way it has been this year. No kidding, pave jobs are making headlines.

And, stirring debate: My aggregate is better than yours. Oh yeah, well my substrata is less prone to delamination than yours. Is not. Is too.

Last weekend at Kansas Speedway, with no Danica Patrick at the track, the decision to repave was hot topic No. 1 among drivers, speedway officials and the media. Dragged into the debate were such issues as raciness and financing.

Drivers were most concerned about the former. They like the current Kansas pavement because, they say, it has matured and now promotes good racing. (Not sure how they felt after the STP 400 on Sunday as the race was pretty much a dog.)

Some media were saying – but not reporting – the only reason Kansas is repaving is because they can get some kind of “tax break.” Nothing wrong with the track, they argued (without actually checking the surface themselves or talking to engineers who were on-site and available), purely a money grab.

Work begins on the the repave of the Bristol repave.

This week, Bristol announced it is going ahead with a reconfiguration of the reconfiguration that it had performed on the half-mile short track in 2007. This latest project will apparently involve scrapping (and scraping) the top groove of the track; the one where the progressive banking comes into play.

The project comes after the undeniable decline in attendance at Bristol, the highly debatable contention that racing is worse and a track-conducted survey of fans and their insistence that the old Bristol is better than the new one.

Me, I think Kansas needed a repave. After talking with the engineer and after checking in on the tarred cracks in the surface over the last couple seasons, I think the surface is about trashed. Raciness and funding sources are valid debate points, but the contention that it is about ready to come up is not.

Me, I think reconfiguring Kansas to progressive banking could produce better racing. Certainly better than what we saw Sunday. It improved racing at Homestead and it improved racing at Las Vegas.

Me, I think the repave at Bristol will not achieve the ultimate goal of filling the grandstands. I think for the time being, the days of stuffing 160,000 people into that wonderful place are over and has very little to do with the on-track product. Martinsville, a short track which has not been messed with and which still features the kind of hug-the-apron, bump-and-run racing which Bristol used to feature and is just up the road, has a hard time selling all its tickets even though it seats only 60,000.

Me, I enjoyed last month’s race at Bristol. I like two- and three-wide racing.

As my colleague, John Sturbin, correctly pointed out this morning, the reconfiguration of Bristol is not one which will restore it to its former self. That Bristol featured 36-degree banking. That is, it featured the steepest banks in NASCAR.

Me, I think NASCAR has entered an era of constantly changing technology in terms of both cars and tires. It is technology that seldom results in better races for fans and, often, has the opposite effect.

To attempt to augment those changes by reconfiguring racetracks could prove costly and is likely doomed to failure.

Robert Hight will go for his fifth-straight NHRA Funny Car victory this week when the thousand-footers compete in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas.

It seems here that winning four straight – and four of the first five – events is not creating enough buzz

Robert Hight celebrates fourth win of season in Concord. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

around the auto racing community.

Take this week’s announcement that IndyCar Series driver Will Power was voted in as winner of the prestigious first-quarter Driver of the Year Award. Power has won two straight and two of the three events on the IndyCar schedule and has done it in impressive fashion.

But only three other NHRA drivers have ever won five races in a row and they are hands-down first ballot Hall of Famers when you consider their names are Don Prudhomme, teammate and boss John Force and two-time Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon. Only five drivers have won four races in a row when you add Hight and 2012 International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Kenny Bernstein to that trio of drivers.

Me, I think four is more than two and once again I find myself at odds with my media peers as I voted for Hight in the DOTY balloting.

Drag racing in the pro ranks has become a very tricky proposition. Again, because of technology and rules and a narrowing margin for mistakes, it has become very tough to put four good, trouble-free rounds together, let alone four winning national events in a row.

The IndyCar Series heads to Sao Paulo, Brazil, this weekend for it first cross-border road trip of the year but it does so with a couple of “interesting” situations going along as baggage.

The two biggest involve engines and engine suppliers.

The first is the situation revolving around General Motors. GM has filed a protest. But it is tough to figure out what precisely it is protesting.

It involves turbochargers, apparently, but a release issued by INDYCAR said only the protest is “regarding INDYCAR’s April 18 decision to approve use of a 0.74 A/R compressor cover for the single turbocharger.”

GM is utilizing a twin-turbo setup this year while Honda is using single, larger turbos.

The GM setup has proved much quicker on the street and road courses – it has won all three races this year – and it appears Honda has been granted relief.

Roger Penske, owner of the three Chevy-powered cars which have swept the early-season races, complained that INDYCAR is allowing Honda to run an unapproved turbo and said that decision is hurting the integrity of the sport.

Honda team-owner A.J. Foyt responded that Penske is turning the issue into a political one.

The protest is scheduled to be heard today.

Me, I get a little weary when it comes to making constant adjustments to level the playing fields.

I think that – to a point – it is up to the competitors on the downside of the playing field to bring things back to level. I think that should not be the rule-makers’ job.

Also dogging the series is the status of Lotus as the third engine-builder.

The Lotus teams have, well, sucked. From the sound of it, teams using the Lotus engines are not enjoying life because of that.

After repeated engine woes forced him to an early exit at the race in Long Beach last time out, driver Alex Tagliani of Bryan Herta’s Barracuda – BHA Lotus team, said, ”Normally I never finish a race where I’m speechless, but I don’t know what to say. In Barber (Motorsports Park in race No. 2), we didn’t even do 100 meters. The team is pretty upset and it’s a shame. I think the car was decent in the race. We made some passes and I think the car would have been good to have a decent finish if we ran the whole race.

“I’m behind the team 100 percent and I’m going to drive every lap like it’s qualifying. I’m always going to do my best, but I feel so much for the team. The results are not representative of our team. It’s very difficult at the moment.”

Herta’s team will not make the trip to Brazil because only the top 22 teams in points will have expenses to Sao Paulo paid for by the series, and his is 24th after Long Beach.

Barracuda will soon throw in with Honda.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, it was announced this week, has already bolted from Lotus.

Rumor is, Lotus, down to just Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing team and HVM, could pull out of the series after the Indianapolis 500.

DRR officials said in a release this week, “Lotus remains completely committed to IndyCar and has worked diligently to rise to the challenge. Given the circumstances of the regulatory requirement to supply multiple teams, the late timing of Lotus’ entry and the unanticipated difficulties caused by the change of ownership, Lotus has made the decision to reduce the number of cars it runs. As a result, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will run the Lotus engine for the final time in Brazil.”

Chances that another engine supplier will enter the series any time soon seem remote at this point.

Jamie Allison, head of Ford Racing, has steadfastly insisted that his company is not interested.

Over the weekend at Kansas, one Toyota official said his company is absolutely not interested in returning to INDYCAR, though another TRD official just winked and said you never know.

Me, I like open-wheel racing. No, love open-wheel racing. On ovals and on the twisties. I continue to hope that INDYCAR gets things turned around and enjoys another era of relevance and prosperity.

But, me, I also agree with an old INDYCAR colleague with whom I had a long talk at Kansas. He just shook his head about the above topics, and others, and mourned that the series just keeps blowing its own feet off instead of racing fans’ socks off.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 26 2012
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Doc G says:

    Great article. I miss relevant open wheel racing. Growing up near Belleville KS, open wheel racing was all we knew. Seeing the stars of Indy each year locally (Foyt, Unser brothers, that era) made us feel a part of the Indy 500, staying glued to the radio every year. The truth is Tony George began and nearly finished the slow motion suicide of big time open wheel racing in America. He is living tribute to the necessity of the inheritance taxes on the rich-determined to show his mettle in the family business, he nearly destroyed it and Indy car racing. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle. IndyCar will limp along but will never be the dominant form of American auto racing again.