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A Memorable Memorial Day Weekend It Was

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 30 2012

The Indy 500 winning car of Dario Franchitti is rolled through Gasoline Alley and out to the grid on the morning of the 500. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

In no particular order, one person’s list of top racing-related moments from what is one person’s favorite week of racing of the year:

– Pre-race at Indianapolis. There is no debate about which is the biggest, most important and most spectacular auto race in America. It’s Indy and it’s not even close. Daytona is big and feels big on race day. But it looks and feels like just a big, important automobile race. Indy on race day makes Super Bowl Sunday at whatever stadium it’s at, whatever town it is in, whatever Roman numerals follow its name, seem positively puny and insignificant. Had to watch it all on TV this year it hurt like crazy not to get that live race morning fix.

– Voting for the next class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This day gets more special every year. Geez, what an honor to be in that room with those people making those choices for that purpose. Once again, I apologize to the other voters for taking so long to make up my mind and being the last one to turn in my ballot. But I take pride in knowing that I may be the only person on earth who has been able to slow up Richard Petty and Junior Johnson.

– Passing through the tunnel and into the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Racing is not just watching loud cars go fast. It’s also about history and tradition. It’s about people, places and things.

The Richard Petty Motorsports cars of Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose take the green flag to start the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of those places. And – no offense to Lowe’s – doesn’t it feel good to call the place Charlotte Motor Speedway again? Plus got to park next to the Budweiser Clydesdale horses and got dizzy watching the mother of all high def big screens that sits on the backstretch.

– Getting up early to watch the Grand Prix of Monaco. There are years when I follow every bit of minutia flowing out of of Formula 1. There are years when I could give a crap. But Monaco is part of that Memorial Day Weekend Sunday Slam. It’s the event that gets it all going. Don’t even have to watch it flag to flag. Just need to renew contact with one of those events which is essential nourishment to the racing soul.

– The Global RallyCross Championship event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Got the first taste last weekend and liked it very much. The attraction was, assuredly, a long-time affinity for the World Rally Championship. Especially the WRC of the early 1980s. The Group B days when the cars got so light, powerful and dangerous (for drivers and spectators) that they were actually banned. (Actually got to see – and painfully showered by gravel from – “Killer B” Peugeots at Pikes Peak in mid-’80s.) My feeling on WRC: Best drivers in world. Got a good 20 minutes with Marcus Gronholm in Charlotte and can attest that Finns do indeed have senses of humor. Gronholm’s old WRC rival, Sabastien Loeb, by the way, won the Rally of the Acropolis over the weekend.

– Hearing fans erupt when Leonard Wood’s name was announced at the Hall of Fame. The actual announcing of names comes in the early evening at a kind of theater in the round setting at the Hall. Dignitaries have seats in front of a dais where NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France reveals the candidates one by one. Fans pack the areas around the room. When Wood’s name was announced, the fans shouted their agreement. And Wood, well, there was no doubt that the vote was cool with him. Very nice scene. Also, it was a nice scene over at the Wood Brothers garage at CMS as people came up to shake hands with Eddie and lne and just look at the 21 car on Thursday.

–  Seeing Richard Petty’s mood after his cars swept the front row at Charlotte. After his two drivers, Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose, won the pole and outside pole respectively for the 600, The King got caught up in the moment and that was a good thing. Somebody asked Almirola a question and before the young driver could open his mouth at the presser, Petty launched into an answer. All in the vicinity – Almirola, RPM director of operations Sammy Johnson and crew chief Mike Ford – just smiled. You do that when benevolent kings speak their feelings.

– Watching the Ganassi cars roll during race day at Indy. May was shaping up to be an embarrassment for

The dust rises as field takes the green flag at the start of the Indy 500. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team and drivers. Slow in early practices, slow in qualifying. Slow everywhere – until Carb Day. Suddenly, then, fast. And on race day, fastest. How? Why? The thought here turns to Mike Hull, TCGR’s team director. The guy found speed where none had existed days before. It was fascinating to watch and ponder. And, as unpatriotic as this may sound, also have to feel good for Honda. HPD engines kept IndyCar is business after others bolted. And it did so admirably, building engines that were reliable and powerful.

– Memorable for wrong reasons: Ashley Judd getting way to much air time to “analyze” the race; Lotus being black flagged for being too slow at Indy; Michael Schumacher pole bummer; pit lane problems with new cars at Indy; Travis Pastrana pratfalls at CMS; John King losing his gig; only four people at Gronholm presser; A.J. Foyt’s facial expression after Mike Conway ran over crew members and then crashed to end great run through the field.

– One final observation; Go with 80/20 ground beef when grilling hamburgers. Just a ton more flavor than the good-for-you less-fat version.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 30 2012
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