The Need For Speed
January 4, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Come on Tiger, if you want to talk about a grind, take a look at auto racing. I’m sure taking a break from four-hour walks around beautiful golf courses in balmy weather is necessary, but it doesn’t come close to the exhausting world of professional motorsports.
As soon as the checkered flag flew Thanksgiving weekend in New Hampshire the official start of the 2002 season began. Actually most NASCAR teams began work on the new season even earlier, building cars and developing engines for 2002.
We’ve already seen a handful of Winston Cup and Busch teams test new cars at places like Greenville-Pickens Speedway and Kentucky Speedway in preparation for next week’s annual full test session at Daytona.
Several CART teams tested in mid-December, ARCA held a testing session at Daytona late last month, the Craftsman Trucks practiced at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the scream of the powerful 12-cylinder Formula One engines will begin during next week’s official test gathering overseas.
This non-stop flurry of activity has truly made racing a year-round sport. And despite the cries from drivers, team owners, crew members and even media people, no one seems to mind. I mean, sure, everyone needs a break and spending 20 weeks in a row as the Winston Cup schedule now mandates is borderline ridiculous. But it’s amazing how at least from the drivers’ point of view that only after a slight slow down, the itch to get back to the track comes back very fast.
How else can you explain why Tony Stewart took part in an indoor Midget race last weekend or why Ken Schrader would plan on racing in a Southwest Tour race at Phoenix in a few weeks? Maybe Stewart and Schrader aren’t the best examples since they’re nearly in as many short track, dirt track and open-wheel races during the course of a summer as they are Winston Cup events, but I think most drivers feel the same way. As much as the drivers say they’re worn out during the season, it usually takes only a couple of weeks of hanging around the house before they are looking for something faster to drive than the family truckster.
This week’s announcement that Stewart, Kevin Harvick, John Andretti, Kyle Petty and Robby Gordon will all take part in the 24 Hours of Daytona is additional proof. Rather than savoring their last weekend before the arduous grind of the Winston Cup season kicks in, these guys sign up to take part in a twice-around-the-clock sports car race. I mean Daytona is a nice place and all, but do you really want to sleep in your motor home for three weeks?
The folks who run the Grand American Road Racing Series, which sanctions the 24 Hours of Daytona, are surely pleased by the invasion of the NASCAR stars. Interest grew dramatically last year when Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr. competed in the race, so the influx of Winston Cup drivers in 2002 will surely generate a larger audience.
It’s not like someone is holding a gun to these drivers’ heads and making them compete in other races either. While some Winston Cup car owners probably wince at the sight of their driver strapping into a Corvette or sprint car or dirt late model, it’s the drivers’ choice to race. Most I’ve talked to simply race because it’s what they love to do. It’s funny how people can find the time in their schedules and lives to do something they want to do, but suddenly become overloaded and unavailable when forced against their will. (Your honor I present Exhibit A: Jeff Gordon vs. IROC.)
So while some drivers may be counting down to the start of the 2002 season with apprehension, others are cutting their time off short to climb back behind the wheel as soon as possible. I guess it’s a case of one man’s job being another man’s passion.