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Tuesday Memo: Somebody Find Skaife

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 11 2009
Marcos Ambrose has become one of NASCAR's top road racers. Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Marcos Ambrose has become one of NASCAR's top road racers. Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Let’s see what’s in today’s Tuesday Morning Memo:

* You think some NASCAR team owner out there ought to be scrambling right now to come up with the telephone number of Mark Skaife? Think that owner should have the check book out and the seat-fitting department on high alert?

Perhaps, because judging from what we have seen on the road courses of NASCAR the last two years, Skaife just might be able to do some teams in the series, some good.

In case your local cable provider hasn’t gotten around to upgrading your service to include auto racing from Australia just yet, you may not have heard of Skaife.

The deal is this: He won three straight Australian V-8 Supercar championships earlier this decade. He is the Jimmie Johnson of Down Under.

So what?

So Skaife’s run of Australian V-8 Supercar championships is better that of Marcos Ambrose and Ambrose over the weekend, put on an absolute driving clinic in NASCAR.

Ambrose, who won just two straight V-8 Supercar championships, made driving big old heavy V-8 stock cars around Watkins Glen International look effortless. Uncommonly effortless.

See, there is a growing number of full-time American NASCAR drivers who are mastering road-course racing. Drivers like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.

And there are the ringers, I mean specialists, who come in twice a year and show that road racing and stock-cars do not necessarily make for better comedy than competition. Drivers like Boris Said, Ron Fellows and Max Papis.

But for making 3,400-pound cars look graceful and beautiful on technical courses like Watkins Glen International, Ambrose stands alone today.

On Saturday in the Nationwide Series race, he put nary a wheel out of place at the 11-turn, kitty-litter-trimmed 2.45-mile Watkins Glen track.

He passed, he turned, he drifted, he used his anchor, he hit his marks with sniper-like accuracy and won with style.

And he did it all in equipment that just had to be inferior to the Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports stuff that those who finished behind him were using.

On Monday, he finished second in the Sprint Cup Series. He finished right behind Stewart who again, presumably, was driving much better equipment than was Ambrose. Stewart certainly had better tires than did Ambrose and probably a better game plan.

And not long afterward, there was Ambrose giving some of his American counterparts a lesson in losing with grace and class.

The weather-extended Watkins Glen weekend represented a break-out weekend for Ambrose.

And Skaife? When last heard from he was Down Under testing at Winton and aiming for another top spot at Bathurst. Oh, that Skaife.

Memo to self: Check Wikipedia and see if Australians refer to North Americans as people from Up Over.

* For the most part, auto racing translates pretty well to television. It takes you places you can’t get and wouldn’t want to get while keeping track of action that can be highly chaotic.

There is one thing which has never translated well about the sport however, and that is the speed involved.

Long camera shots make high-speed, razor’s edge racing look like main street cruising. And it’s even worse on road course where viewers can get no sense of cornering speeds or braking forces. You can tell people all day long that the race cars are, in essence, making turns into your driveway at speeds their family cars are going on the freeway.

Unfortunately, the thing that brings the speed aspect to life is a crash.

The one involving Jeff Gordon and Sam Hornish Jr. was a tough-to-watch example of that. From the long-lens shot, it looked like Hornish simply drifted up out of Turn 9 and gently toward the tire barriers.

And then, his appeared to explode. It was stunning to watch.

Memo to self: Widen the driveway next weekend.

* What do you mean you can’t relate to Sprint Cup cars anymore? They are essentially the same as your family car which carries the same name.

Oh, except they don’t have a speedometer. Or a gas gauge. And they don’t have windshield wipers and their tires won’t allow them to be driven in the rain.

Other than that, identical.

Except they have no doors, they have push rods, nets instead of windows, no horns, no leather option…

Memo to self: Fix that splitter on the wife’s car before the weekend rolls around.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 11 2009
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • Stu says:

    Interesting article. I have great respect for Marcos because I think breaking into Nascar requires skill, patience, perserverance and respect – and these qualities are not easy to come by.

    Did Marcos have it before he left? I think so but it wasnt obvious like it is now. He has shown his maturity, application and desire to get more which differentiates himself from most drivers.

    If he only ever wins one more race in Nascar, I hope it’s an oval as that will satisfy him.

    Then we can wait for the next Aussie to take it a step further.

  • mikko says:

    Skaife is retired now and as referred to above was never up to MA speed. He (skaife ) had the full backing of the the most opulent over budjeted team going around as well so although his credentials are there theyre not gonna hold much water today.

    Plenty of potential talent around though.

    • Jim Pedley says:

      Mikko: I think Skaife has come back out of retirement to run Bathhurst. That is what an Australian newspaper reported, at least.
      Also, using Skaife’s name was to make a point about Ambrose driving in the V-8 Supercar series. I did not literally mean he should be hired by a NASCAR owner.
      – JP

  • Trevor says:

    Firstly in my opinion Skaife has never been better than Ambrose.
    (But that’s my opinion :)).
    He has, however, always been a great driver regardless of comparison.
    Very fast, very smooth and kahunas the size of coconuts!
    One track to really show viewers speed is the track you mentioned, Mount Panorama, Bathurst.
    Across the top of the mountain and right on down towards the daunting Forest Elbow you get a real idea how hard the drivers push.
    The more recently added Chase at the bottom of Conrod Straight is real heart in the mouth stuff!
    The television footage is first rate and puts you right in the hot seat.
    Being a public road driving your family car around the track any other day really drives home the skill these drivers have.
    The elevation of the track and the sharp corners make it damn scary at legal speeds!
    Anyway enjoyed the post.