Race Weekend Central

Potts’s Shots: The Worst Pace Car, Where There’s Smoke, No Fire & Hot Hondas

Let’s start with a leftover question from Charlotte. Reader Keith Peebles wants to know “Why wasn’t Tony Stewart fined for reckless driving in the pit area on pit road during this year’s World 600?”

Keith, I’m wondering what you mean. All I saw Smoke do was a quick donut to turn himself around after he got spun on pit road. He did that without interfering with anyone else, or putting crew members in jeopardy. Maybe I missed what you were talking about; but if it’s the pit-road contact, there was no penalty needed.

Our colleague Vito Pugliese commented recently on the fact that the Corvette pace car at the Indianapolis 500 had more horsepower than the racecars themselves, pointing out some really bad past pace car choices in the process.

I had to respond by telling him about some personal experience with one of those.

The absolute worst, in my opinion, was the Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible in (I think) 1988. I’m sure they strengthened the frame on the one used at the 500, because they always make some modifications to the cars that went on the track. After the race, Ray Skillman Oldsmobile got one of the replicas. Ray, being a good friend of ours at Indianapolis Raceway Park, offered it to us for use as a pace car.

According to our mechanic who checked it out, they had simply cut the lid off of a two-door hardtop without any other modifications to speak of. That resulted in some weakening in the frame. I took it out on the road course, a couple of other staff people tried it and we ended up calling it the “flexi-flyer.”

After our first USAC race that season, their pace car driver came to us and said, “Get something else – that thing’s trying to kill us!” I wouldn’t say that GM admitted to the problem, but they provided a two-door hardtop for the rest of the season.

The neat thing about it was that it had a pretty potent powerplant, one of those “quadra-something” four-cylinders. It sat in our garage for almost a year and I must have asked a dozen times if I could take the engine out of it before they came and got it. I had plans for that rascal.

Moving on, a man calling himself “Old Farmer” says that “Except for the plate races, the NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the worst of the year, and they ought to move it to the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway (nee IRP).”

I couldn’t agree more. And now, the Nationwide race is going to be on the big track; go figure. As I’ve said before, the late Bob Daniels once proposed that we run what was then the Busch Series on the oval Saturday night, followed by the Cup cars on the 2.5-mile road course Sunday.

Another friend in Indianapolis asks, “Do you think the Honda teams were ‘sandbagging’ at Indy? They were behind Chevrolet until Carburetion Day, and suddenly they’re faster.”

Race teams, sandbagging? Surely you jest.

Well, the owners say they weren’t, on the record but in explaining what happened the head of Honda’s racing effort actually admits there was something to that effect. They made some improvements to their engines, but apparently made them only to those that were going to be used in the race and the teams didn’t install them until after qualifying.

With a long distance and the new car making passing somewhat easier, they obviously figured they could get up front without much trouble.

In all the times I happened to be involved with a race team, I was only accused of sandbagging once.

That was at Salem in a USAC stock car race, when I was helping Larry Moore with the GW Pierce Plymouth. We qualified second to Roger McCluskey in Norm Nelson’s factory-backed Plymouth, made some adjustments and won the trophy dash. In the feature, Larry got about four car lengths on McCluskey and then took a Sunday drive for almost 90 laps. When Nelson took the blackboard out and told Roger to go after him, I signaled Larry that he was coming.

Moore kept that four-car length advantage. It was McCluskey who accused us of sandbagging.

Watching that Indy 500 reminded me of an incident at IRP in 1985, the first year we had the Super Vees run as part of the Night Before the 500 USAC midget race. I was flagging a Super Vee practice session when I heard somebody yell at me. I turned around, looked down and it was Al Unser Jr.

“How do you get in the infield,” he asked. With cars zipping by, I replied, “VERY carefully.”

I waited a bit before telling him about the pedestrian tunnel at the head of the front straightaway.

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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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