Racers won't miss Michigan track

NASCAR has its restrictor plates to hold down speeds on the big ovals at Daytona and Talladega.

CART's equivalent is the Handford Devicea a big, barn-door sized rear wing that induces massive drag and slows the cars at

tracks like Michigan International Raceway. It also makes a huge hole in the air, which results in lots of drafting and slingshot passing, which in turn makes the racing more exciting - for the fans, anyway.

But in both NASCAR and CART, drivers are not fond of "exciting" racing, because it's their butts on the line at more than 200 miles an hour, not the fans'. As last week's Toronto CART winner Michael Andretti said when asked if the show was worth the risk, "Well, maybe for you, but when it is my legs and my life, probably not."

Today will be CART's last race at Michigan for the foreseeable future, and the drivers won't miss it. As Andretti said, "I am relieved that we won't be going back there because the way the rules are and everything, the way the racing is - we all go in there and hold our breath for the three days that we were there hoping and praying that nobody gets hurt. I don't think that's


Of course, the controversial popoff valve spacers will be back on the CART engines at Michigan, but don't expect it to make much difference. CART mandated the spacers at Detroit because of suspicions that Ford and Honda were able to divert airflow through the engine in a way that allowed them to get more than the 37 inches of boost that the rule book allows. The spacers

were seen as the solution to that problem, but Honda was able to get the rule rescinded for three races, giving their engineers (and Ford's) time to re-map the engine management systems to compensate for loss of the (alleged) extra boost.

If NASCAR restrictor plate races are exciting, last week's race at the new Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet proved that one-groove racetracks make for boring races. Nevertheless, the stands were full, and the Chicago area fans seemed to be enjoying themselves. Maybe those of us who follow racing too closely forget how exciting even a boring race can be to the neophyte fan.

The Tobacco Settlement provisions have begun to tighten their stranglehold on racing sponsorship. Winston announced last week that it was dropping its NHRA sponsorship after many years. Tobacco companies can now only sponsor one major sporting series, and it was no contest between NHRA and NASCAR's Winston Cup, given the numbers. Winston Cup is now the most popular form of motorsport in this country, and Winston, after all, is doing this not for love of racing but to sell cigarettes. So they're going to put their money where they can reach the largest number of potential victims, er, customers.

However, the NHRA is talking to several companies both inside and outside of the sport about sponsorship for 2002 and beyond. "There are a number of companies that are extremely interested in us," said NHRA President Tom Compton. "We've got a number of incredible opportunities and we're extremely confident that we will have an announcement long before the end of the season and hopefully before the end of the summer."

Although Compton could not divulge the names of any of the interested parties, nor the amounts involved, he was looking forward to having some new opportunities available to him with companies that are not constrained by the provisions of the Tobacco Agreement.

Local Racers in the news: Congrats to Sparks driver Steve Portenga, former track champion at our local Champion Speedway, on his Winston West victory at Colorado National Speedway last Saturday. And get-well-soon wishes to former

Susanville, Calif. resident and long-ago Champion Speedway competitor Mike Skinner.

Skinner will be out of his Richard Childress Racing ride on a

race-to-race basis, replaced by Robby Gordon, until he recuperates from a broken ankle and concussion suffered in a frightening and fiery crash at Chicagoland last weekend.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal's motorsports columnist.


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