Random Thoughts While Waiting For The Brickyard

I am willing to admit it when I'm wrong, and I admit that my initial prediction that the Brickyard 400 would never achieve its presently prominent status was off the mark.

Having attended enough Indianapolis 500 races, and enough oval track stock car races, I suspected that once NASCAR fans realized that no matter where they sit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- no matter how much they spend for tickets -- they can't see the whole race track, they'd cool to the Brickyard.

Get a good seat at virtually every other oval track in the country, and you can -- with binoculars, anyway -- keep up with the far corners. Not so at Indy.

But that does not seem to be an issue. The pomp and the circumstance and the general air of racetrack nobility that permeates IMS seems to be enough.

For most fans, anyway. I attended the Brickyard 400 last year, but I won't this year. I'll watch it on TV. I'm not willing to trade pomp and circumstance for the ability to keep up with what is going on, as seen with my own eyeballs.

On Safety: The upshot, then, is that this Saturday we'll see the second most important NASCAR race of the season, following only the Daytona 500 in prominence.

Though Indy is a very fast track, it's wide and relatively safe, and hopefully there will be no need to test the latest NASCAR modification -- an engine kill switch mounted within a thumb's reach for drivers, and mandatory throttle shaft stops to help prevent sticking throttles, which is what is suspected as the cause of the independent crashes that took the lives of Busch Series driver Adam Petty and Cup driver Kenny Irwin.

Some drivers are also using a toe hoop that allows them to actually pull the accelerator up with their toes, if it sticks in a full-throttle position.

None of these are new ideas. I have a toe hoop on my road-racing car, and had one on my oval-track Chevelle, neither of which are remotely cutting-edge vehicles. But as I learned once -- fortunately with no damage to me or my car -- sometimes when a throttle sticks, it does so at the carburetor, and pulling the accelerator back up makes no difference if the cable is kinked somewhere between your foot and the engine.

Drivers already have a kill switch, but it is typically on the dashboard, requiring them to remove a hand from the wheel to use it. And the use of the mandated throttle stops is also nothing the vast majority of teams aren't already doing.

That is not to say these changes are a bad idea, because they aren't. The best way, though, to deal with stuck throttles is to keep them from sticking.

The heat, the tight confines of the engine compartment, the vibration and the speed with which repairs must be made suggests that we could always have stuck throttles.

One potential solution, though, would be to adopt the technology high-end passenger cars such as BMWs are using, and that is drive-by-wire technology. With a car such as the BMW 740, the accelerator is connected to the fuel injection (another problem, as NASCAR insists on maintaining a dogged reliance on carburetors) only by a computer, not by a cable or rod. Your foot tells the computer how fast you want to go, and the computer tells the engine.

Obviously, the possibility exists for the computer to go haywire, but failsafe technology has been effective in civilian use, though admittedly that is a far cry from the heat and vibration and general rigors of racetrack operation. But it's something to think about. As long as the accelerator is connected to the engine via cable or rod, and as long as there are physically moving planes inside the carburetor, the occasional stuck throttle will occur.

On First Time Winners: Man, we've been blessed with a bunch of them so far
this season, and hopefully that will continue. Just this past weekend, it was Rubens Barrichello in Formula 1, Cristiano de Matta in CART, Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR Busch Series.

By the time virtually every driver reaches the pro ranks, they've won at racing in some series, somewhere. Busch first-time winner Ron Hornaday won so many NASCAR Craftsman Truck races during that phase of his career that you'd think earning his first Busch victory would be no big deal.

Hornaday's face in victory lane told a different story. Until a driver wins in his or her chosen series, there is always that nagging concern that since they haven't, they can't.

Darrell Waltrip once told me that a first win is even more important for the team than it is for the driver.

"Every driver worth his salt just knows he can win every race, if only he had the car, or the pit stops, or the right breaks. He has to have that level of confidence in himself. But your team doesn't know you can win, until you actually do."

Next MRN Broadcast


Upcoming Cup Broadcasts

© 2017 MRN. All Rights Reserved

FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

ISC Track Sites