Racers are staying busy

Happy New Year, and may your favorite driver/team/car make be the 2006 Champion!

I got a couple of emails from column readers last week, requesting more coverage of events. One reader wanted me to write more about all aspects of racing (and is apparently a fan of my announcing efforts at Reno-Fernley Raceway -thanks!), while the other asked for more non-NASCAR coverage, particularly off-road events.

So in response, here's some information that should keep both NASCAR and off-road fans happy. NASCAR bad boy (and veteran off-road racer) Robby Gordon is starting the Dakar rally today. This 5,000 mile trek starting in Lisbon, Portugal winds through North Africa, taking on some of the roughest, most desolate country in the world and crossing the borders of several nations.

Gordon is driving a brand-new Hummer H3, built in less than 90 days. The specially built Dakar Hummer H3 features a rear engine layout designed by Gordon himself using empirically-developed "Baja Technology," and sports better than 450 horsepower. Friday the car went through tech inspection, a far more grueling test than even NASCAR's "Room of Doom" inspection station.

"We weren't sure just how this new racer would be accepted by the ASO" (the French organizers of this race), said Gordon. "Our H3 Dakar Hummer is a real departure from the types of vehicles normally seen in this event, but the race officials were great - we made it through in record time, about nine hours."

Since the race normally takes about two weeks to complete, watch for results here in mid-January.

Gordon isn't the only Nextel Cup star to use his time off to play in a different racing venue. Newly-crowned Nextel Cup champ Tony Stewart will return to his open-wheel roots at the Tulsa, Okla., Expo Center Jan. 11-14 to try for his second O'Reilly Chili Bowl Midget Nationals title.

Stewart won the prestigious event in 2002, and wants to add a second Golden Driller trophy to go with his second NASCAR championship trophy. It will be Stewart's 10th appearance in the event that features more than 250 of the best Midget racers in the country, among them Stewart's NASCAR rival Kasey Kahne in his sixth start in the event.

One of the traditional feeder organizations for NASCAR stars is being downsized as more and more new drivers are coming from the open wheel dirt and karting ranks. NASCAR has announced a downsizing of its Elite Division regional touring series, which has seen reduced car counts in recent years.

The four Elite Division tours will run a reduced schedule in 2006 and will be discontinued in 2007. The move will allow NASCAR to focus more attention on the Grand National and Modified touring division, according to NASCAR VP of Communications Jim Hunter.

A couple of weeks ago we mentioned that Rusty Wallace and other NASCAR stars would be driving in the 2006 Rolex 24 Hour endurance race at Daytona. Drivers from other series will be involved as well.

Former Formula 1 driver and Indy Racing League team owner Eddie Cheever will be fielding a car this year and getting back into the driver's seat. He will be joined by IRL racer Patrick Carpentier and former Champ Car star Christian Fittipaldi in a Lexus-Crawford Daytona Prototype. I will keep you abreast of other teams and drivers involved in the race as I get the information.

Those of you who only follow NASCAR may never have heard of him, but one of racing's most famous engineers passed away last week at the age of 72. Keith Duckworth was co-founder of Cosworth Engineering, one of the greatest engine-building firms in the history of the sport.

An ex-RAF pilot, Duckworth got his start in racing with Colin Chapman's Lotus organization, then teamed up with Mike Costin to form Cosworth. When Formula 1 went to a 3-liter V8 engine formula, the Ford Cosworth DFV engine won 156 races and 12 championships in the years between 1965 and 1983, more than any other powerplant. Cosworth engines have also powered a number of Indy Car stars over the years, as well as providing engines for several other racing series. The Racing Division of Cosworth Engineering lives on in the hands of Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkoven.


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