Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: The Lights of the Pace Car Are Off on 2009

Didn’t we talk just, like, two Thursdays ago? Has it actually been over two months since Thanksgiving? Is the Christmas season really over a month gone in our rearview mirror? Was that the Arizona Cardinals I saw in the Super Bowl?! And, as great of a driver as he may be, is Jimmie Johnson not the clumsiest dude you’ve ever seen? That makes two offseasons in a row, you know.

These are the questions I ask you. Now, it’s time for us – this grateful writer and you, the NASCAR fan – do rehash our annual talk. Fanning the Flames was created to provide you an outlet to ask questions, voice concerns and blow off a little steam. In short, this is your column as much as it is mine (I just format it on Wednesday nights). Without your input, this column no longer exists.

So, let me know what you’re thinking. Let’s talk for a third year. You don’t have to ask questions (although no question is excluded from consideration), I just ask for your participation. Let’s have a free flow of ideas – your thoughts and mine – and we’ll call it conversation, not Q&A. What’s happening in the sport of NASCAR today that really irks you? How would you fix it? Who picked out the putrid green on Carl Edwards’s new ride? What gets you cranked up on race day and makes you proud to be a fan from Monday through Saturday? Which method or product did Chad Knaus use to regrow his hair?

This is your chance to put yourself out there. Ever sent an email or letter to Daytona Beach? Well, have you ever received a reply? Fanning the Flames presents you the opportunity to sound off… and you will be heard.

Now, let’s get this season kicked off:

My family and I have been going to the Daytona 500 for the past 10 years. Due to an illness in the family, we are unable to go this year. We will be going to Florida on Feb. 19-27. Are there any short tracks or late model racing going on then that you know of? We run a late model in Massachusetts and will miss New Smyrna this year. – Theresa Dickerman

A: See? Theresa here knows how to use this column to her advantage. And luckily for her, Florida’s the place to be if you’re looking for a race in February. Here are a few hot spots I found, Theresa, but there are likely a few others. In case I missed something, check out Florida Short Track Report to do a little extra digging. Without knowing exactly where you’ll be heading, I picked out a few random spots:

East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa on Feb. 19-21; Auburndale Speedway in Winter Haven on Feb 21; Citrus County Speedway in Iverness, also on Feb. 21; The Winternationals at Southern Raceway in Pensacola from Feb. 19-21; Ocala Speedway in Ocala has its kickoff to the season, a $3,000-to-win United Dirt Late Model Challenge Series 50-lap Late Model Clash (as well as three other divisions) going on Feb. 27; and DeSoto Super Speedway in Bradenton is racing on Feb. 21.

Google any one of these tracks to get the specifics on start times, admission fees and divisions running.

Where are some of the fired crew members ending up? Are some of the big teams hiring? – Fireball

A: Believe it or not, a few of the big boys are; though it’s certainly not a job hunter’s market. My compadre here at Frontstretch, Doug Turnbull, talked to Greg Biffle at Goodyear’s Atlanta tire test back in late January, and Biff told Doug told that Roush Fenway had added some new people after laying off towards the end of 2008. Also said one of the hauler drivers at RFR was wearing a Petty Enterprises jacket – and he didn’t even recognize him.

How ‘bout that? A new hire!

And of course, with all the small startup teams – from Tommy Baldwin Racing, Mayfield Motorsports and NEMCO to Prism Motorsports, the Bodine Brothers’ new outfit and Front Row Motorsports’ two cars – there is some opportunity out there, even if those companies are working on a skeleton crew or will fold by April.

Sadly, though, there were many more crew members let go than are being hired. Some are volunteering at different shops, trying to prove their worth. But the layoffs went deeper than just race shops and their personnel. Those in the satellite industries that provide services for, cater to and do contract work for NASCAR operations also continue to feel the crunch. In short, Fireball, it will still most likely get worse before it gets better.

With the economic troubles affecting the sport, many people thought car counts would be down. However, from the sound of it, there are going to be several single-car teams trying to sneak into races, including [owners] Phil Parsons, Derrike Cope and Jeremy Mayfield. Is this tough economic client actually going to provide a greater opportunity for some new owners to get into the sport? – Mike N. Ford

A: Hey, 15 new certified teams heading to Daytona should tell us something. The thing is, we all know some are start-and-parkers while others – as I mentioned earlier – will fizzle out in short order.

I will say this, though: I look at start-ups like Tommy Baldwin Racing and Mayfield Motorsports, and I see at least a glimmer of hope. Front Row Motorsports may have given itself a breath of life in aligning itself with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. JTG Daugherty Racing decided to make the jump up the ladder when the market was right, landing into Michael Waltrip Racing’s world. And Hall of Fame has no doubt pulled itself from the brink of extinction by joining forces with Yates Racing and landing Bobby Labonte.

The aspiring team owner with the available cash, right connections, and will to see the dream through will buy in now, while the equipment can be had for cheap and every principle in the show is lining up to form a technical alliance of some sort. Much like the stock market, the sport may never be lower, and an investment now could reap windfalls in five years.

My family and I have never been to a NASCAR race, and we have been huge fans for the past nine years. I found out last week that we won a trip for four to the Las Vegas race at the end of February and the first of March 2009. We will have a suite to watch Sprint Cup qualifying, the Nationwide race and the Sprint Cup race. We also have tickets to the garage and to the Winner’s Circle.

I was wanting to know if you could tell us who the Grand Marshals were going to be for both races, and who was going to sing the National Anthem for both. Do you, by chance, know when they film Trackside Live and NASCAR Raceday on SPEED TV? We would like to get some pointers for what to do so that we can make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Thanks!!! – Rob Stevens

A: Actually Rob, thank Jeff Motley, the Senior PR Director at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Jeff told me just yesterday that Carroll Shelby – yes, the Carroll Shelby of racing lore as well as Mustang and Viper fame – would serve as grand marshal of the Shelby 427 Cup race. The Sam’s Town 300 Nationwide event will have its grand marshals confirmed this week.

As for national anthems, there will be an American Idol-type contest to choose the performer for Saturday’s race, and one has not been selected as of yet for Sunday.

SPEED has not finalized its schedule yet, Rob, but check its website a couple days before you leave and I’m sure it’ll be up.

And by the way, take an hour or two to leave the comfort of that suite, walk through the tunnel that goes under the frontstretch and check out the Neon Garage. I’ve covered races in Vegas both before and after the infield renovation, and the place is like no other. The Neon Garage, in particular, provides the coolest access for the fans to the garage area that I’ve seen.

OK, that’s it for me. By this time next week, we’ll have results to discuss. And speaking of which, lay off the Shootout, folks. It may not be what we’ve had in the past, but it’s freakin’ prime time Cup racing under the lights at Daytona! Really, is that any reason to complain?

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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