Rites Of Spring

So the last tax envelope is filled, the last IRS form signed, the final check written….one of the rites of spring completed for another year. Now, everyone in racing can get back to our shared passion…and get to the track for some edge-of-the-seat action.

NASCAR’s in Texas, at the beautiful Texas Motor Speedway facility, where the beer’s cold, the pickups are plentiful, and the racing’s among the fastest anywhere. Shane Hmiel has earned at least a smattering of respect by putting his Winfuel Chevy on the pole for Saturday’s BGN round at TMS. It’ll be a while, though, before he’s able to rehabilitate his image after the Bristol fiasco two weeks back. Hmiel needs to go fast, stay out of trouble on the track, and keep his mouth shut for awhile to give fans a chance to appreciate his considerable talents behind the wheel and to overlook his youthful indiscretions. He can take a giant step towards earning renewed respect this weekend. Let’s hope he takes this third chance seriously.

Just back from Syracuse, preparing to take on the challenge of calling DIRT’s World of Outlaw Stacker2 Late Models this season on SPEED. Our first of 13 broadcasts will take us to Virginia Motor Speedway in Saluda in a couple of weeks. Got a look at the raw footage that will make up our first telecast, and I must say I was impressed. VMS used to be, way back when I was just starting in this business, Virginia Raceway….and it was anything but a front-rank facility. Now, though, the Sawyer family has had the track for a couple of seasons and they’re well on their way to honoring patriarch Paul Sawyer’s memory. The track is big, smooth, and fast, offering a very nice grandstand and press facility, wonderful lighting, and enough amenities to appear to be a part of Speedway Motorsports’ dirt track portfolio. The WoO Late Models, it appears, are going to get a new challenge from the now-Lucas Oil-backed NARA LM tour. But if DIRT’s plans are realized, I think the World of Outlaws stock car series will remain the sport’s major league.

Champ Car World Series teams, a dozen of ‘em anyway, put in some roadwork midweek up in Portland, Oregon, testing for June’s renewal of the Grand Prix of Portland. Super Mario Dominguez was quickest during the test, continuing the amazing strength his team showed last weekend at their first race together, the GP of Long Beach. Dominguez is extremely talented and personable; with Forsythe Championship Racing, most assume he’ll finally get a real chance to shine and win races in Champ Car. Pat Carpentier was close a couple of times last season in FCR’s 7 car, so the equipment should be more than good enough. Paul Tracy’s dominance as Forsythe’s lead driver hasn’t been challenged the past couple of seasons, but Dominguez could be the guy to do just that. Don’t be surprised if, urged along by tens of thousands of his countrymen, Mario doesn’t grab his first Champ Car victory next month at Monterrey, Mexico’s Fundidora Park. Mexican race fans are the most passionate I’ve ever seen, and if Mario can get himself in the hunt come May 22nd, one suspects he could be carried to the victory on the fans’ energy alone.

I’ve been asked what to make of the word this week that Newman-Haas is entering two cars at Indy for both 500 veteran Bruno Junquiera and CCWS champ Sebastian Bourdais.

It’s a bit hard to believe, given Paul Newman’s oft-cited antipathy for all things IRL. But keep in mind that NH has run Junquiera there the past couple of seasons, and their new associate sponsor, Centrix Financial, will back both cars. It could be seen as a negative politically for Champ Car, but as a race fan I’m excited to see how Bourdais….who continues to astound me with his speed and style…can match up on that huge stage. I think Seabass will be very tough. A 500 victory certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and that would be a huge feather in Champ Car’s cap. It’s sure to make the month of May even more memorable this year. Enjoy the weekend. See you next

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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