Action in the pits

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Daytona was a bit weird for me, as it was the rare time that I have been at a race without photo credentials. That meant that I didn’t have my go anywhere access, but my media creds still offered unlimited access to the pits, unlike some other series. As Sunday rolled onwards and teams packed up and went home, the empty pit stalls became perfect spots to shoot the action in the pits. I decided to stitch together some stop action footage and through in a soundtrack of the on track action. I hope you like it!

NASCAR – The Good Guys, The Bad Guys, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Wrestling

With the impending approach of the Daytona 500 and the official start to NASCAR’s season I have been watching and reading all the news reports coming out of the different teams/stables/garages, and the more I read, the more it felt like watching the opening act before a wrestling match at Wrestlemania.

I keep seeing the drivers walking down a long entry way, fireworks going off, loud music blaring, and the drivers dancing around like a prize fighters in  firesuits, making their way down to their cars. As they walk by, the NASCAR Sprint Cup girls try and get a few words from them.

Monica Palumbo stands off to the side holding the mic and asks Kyle Busch ” How do you think things are going to go out there today Kyle? Are you driving a real car or just a toy today?” KyBu rips the mic from her hand and shows off his Zorro like cape he is wearing “Well Monica it goes like this, anyone who gets in my way is going into the wall, YOU HEAR THAT HORNADAY!?”

Monica politely responds “Hornaday raced on Friday night in his Truck Kyle, he’s not racing today.”

“I don’t care if he’s not racing, I’ll find him in the garage and PUT HIM IN THE WALL!” he says and stomps off towards his car readying himself for the battles in his head.

Next down the ramp is Kurt Busch, and before he even gets to the mic you can hear his profanity laced rant starting. “Is this gonna take long Monica, you know I f*&^@ng hate to wait. I’d call you a Mother F*%$@er too but we all know that can’t be the case. I had better win today or someone is going to get a f*&$#ng earful when I get back to the garage! So everybody better stay out of my way if they know what’s good for my crew chief’s life this time!!” And off he goes to his #51 Thank a Teacher car way in the back of the field.

Next out is Jimmie Johnson. His smiling good looks and bright blue Kobalt firesuit seem amiss amongst the boos and jeers he gets from the crowd. “And here comes our 5 time champion, Jimmie Johnson” announces Monica. “I don’t know why they boo me” says Jimmie “I am one of the good guys. The referee’s never call me on my questionable actions because I am good for the sport, I win a lot, and I NEVER break the rules…. that’s my crew chief’s job” he says with his trademark smile. ” I guess you can’t make everyone happy, so I’ll just go out and win another race just to make them hate me some more.”

Next out is Tony Stewart. Monica gets an extra special smile as she announces “Here he is, our current and reigning Champion TONY STEWART.”

The crowd gets on their feet, there is a dramatic pause before the music starts, and just when you think no one is coming out, the curtains part, the pyrotechnics go off, and a little guy with a big smile, and a wink comes walking down the ramp.

“So are you ready for another hot season Tony? Do you think you might get a win before the chase this year?” she asks.

“Well it’s like this Monica.  I was the best before Jimmie and now I am the best after Jimmie, I have a new crew chief to blame things on if stuff goes wrong, and I am man enough to take all the credit when I win.  My plan is to go out there and make my opponents tremble with my candid remarks and by telling them that I have an advantage over them, and then never telling anyone what that advantage is, gotta keep them on their toes you see.  That should give me enough of an advantage to win today, I hope I don’t have to fire another crew chief if I win however.”  he says with a final wave to the crowd as he walks off to his race car.

Carl Edwards enters next doing a series of tumbles and back flips down the ramp dancing around like a Lucho Libre and smiling his trademark 1000 watt smile.  Ever the gentleman, he walks over to Monica and puts his arm around her waist as she begins her quick interview.

“So Carl, after being the second runner up twice in your career so far, how do you plan to get your championship this time?”

“Well Monica, as one of the good guys I will try not to break any rules, I will drive faster than everyone else, I’ll even turn left better than everyone else, and I will not let Tony Stewart intimidate me with his confusing talk about advantages.  I will make sure that Brad Kesolowski and I tangle enough to keep the crowd happy, but not so much that his dad tries to beat me up after the race.  Then I will finally get NASCAR to approve a nitrous boost on my car so that I can boost to the front after hanging around the back all day long and win every race from the tail end of the lead pack.”

The crowd goes wild as he finishes and waves his hands in the air, realizing too late that the crowd is cheering for Dale Earnhardt Jr who stands at the top of the ramp waiting for him to finish.  He runs off to his car as Jr makes his way down the ramp to the tune “We Will Rock You” and crowd noise so loud that you can hear, and feel, it reverberating around the track.

Monica can barely be heard as she asks Dale Jr. “Jr it has been 126 races since you have found your way to the winners circle, what’s your plan to end your drought this year?”

Jr. stands quiet for a minute in thoughtful contemplation, “Well Monica, I am coming off a good year with some excellent momentum.  I have a good relationship with my crew chief Stevie Baby, and we’re going to go out there with a new attitude and all the skill I have and we’re going to win us some races this year.  Even if I have to start looking like one of the bad guys and get more aggressive out there, people will know I am coming up behind them, and maybe I’ll rattle a few cages this year like my daddy used to do.  It’s going to be a whole new season for me and I am going to take it one race at a time, and of course I am going to win at Daytona this year.”

The crowd roars and stands on their feet as he walks away toward his car, waving to the crowd and surfing on the sound waves as they get even louder than before.

Monica faces the crowd once more with the brightest smile she can smile “So there you have it folks, our drivers have had their say and now they are preparing their cars to race… there only 2 things left to say “Drivers START YOUR ENGINES!! And lastly ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE?!?!”

Happy 83rd to James Garner

Hollywood star James Garner was born on this day way back in 1928 and went on to have an acting career that has spanned 5 decades and includes close to 100 titles. For most car enthusiasts though, there is really only one that matters: John Frankeheimer’s epic racing movie, Grand Prix. Ok, perhaps his role alongside Steve McQueen in The Great Escape is up there too.

In Grand Prix, Garner played American driver Pete Aron, as he worked his way through the international Grand Prix racing circus. During the filming, it became evident that the actor was as good a driver as many of the professionals that surrounded him in the movie. This revelation led to some real life racing back in the States including the 24 Hours of Daytona.

From all of us here in The Garage, Happy Birthday James Garner!

The Lightweight on the podium again at Canadian International Auto Show

It is known as The Lightweight. The reality is that this blue and yellow bomb is a heavyweight in the history of North American road racing. I’m sure many visitors to the show just saw a cool old racecar. I saw the Belle of the ball!

This 1967 Chevrolet Camaro is the 14th Z28 ever built and was originally transformed into a race car in the service department of Gorries Chev in the east end of Toronto for team owner Terry Godsall. One of Canada’s top drivers of the day, Craig Fisher, campaigned the car in the Trans Am portion of the ’67 Daytona 24 hour endurance race. Fisher finished 2nd in the Trans Am race, scoring the first series points for the Camaro. The 13th production unit was being raced by the Roger Penske and Mark Donohue duo.

After the destruction of the 13 car, Fisher joined Penske and he and Donohue co-drive the 14, but not before Penske & Donohue worked their magic on it. The car was acid dipped and received a Traco V-8 and was painted in the blue & yellow Penske Sunoco colors. Between Fisher and Donohue, the car won 2 of the final four races. In the final race, the car lapped the entire field. During post race tech, it was discovered that the car weighed 250 lbs. less than the 2,800 lb. minimum. Somehow, silver-tongued Penske talked his way out of any penalties and kept the win.

At the beginning of the ’68 season, the bosses at GM wanted Penske to run a 2-car team after the lone car dropped out of the Daytona race. Godsall’s car received the updated trim that ’68 models had and went back to war for the Sebring race. Of course the ’67 car was still under weight, so the new car went through tech twice, with different numbers. When it came time to qualify, the process was reversed, with The Lightweight qualifying with both numbers! In the years that followed, The Lightweight changed hands several times and was actively raced in Trans Am until 1972 when it was put into storage.

Canadian vintage racer Jack Boxtrom found the car in 1980, restored it and went vintage racing. Alabama racer Pat Ryan and his son Sean have been campaigning The Lightweight in vintage events since 1989 under the banner of Unfair Advantage Racing, named after the book written by Mark Donohue.
I saw The Lightweight race at Mosport a number of years ago, but it was a real treat to get up close to it at the Toronto show. It isn’t very often in life that we get to have a brush with true greatness and this car is a testament to the things that great minds can do when they work together.

You’ll find more details about this incredible piece of history in the Globe and Mail, superbly written by Bob English.

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NASCAR – The Season is Almost Upon Us.

The Champions Walk of Fame outside DIS – Image courtesy of JDTImages.ca

And so it begins.  After our long winter hibernation the sport we love is returning to our living rooms to give us the thrills we have been denied through this long cold winter.  Saturday night at 8PM will be the un-official start to the NASCAR season with the running of the 2011 Budweiser Shootout on the freshly paved surface at Daytona International Speedway.  Not only will we get to see cars running on the hallowed grounds of Daytona, but we will be getting a sneak peak of how things are going to run at the Daytona 500 only 8 days later.  The newly repaved surface has been the talk of the drivers who participated in the 24 hours of Daytona and spectators of the race as well.  With drivers able to go anywhere they wished on the track and still have grip to pass without sliding up into the wall, the ability to run cars 3 and 4 wide through the corners (still not a recommended move in my opinion), and a smooth surface that most drivers dream to get to race on, this is shaping up to be one heck of a spectacle.The last few weeks before the season every year there is a feeling that seems to build amongst NASCAR fans.   An anticipation we can almost taste.  The Toyota Invitational race from Irwindale California just a few weeks back actually gave me goose bumps when all the engines were started by the Grand Marshall’s (Michael Waltrip) command.  I expect nothing less for the shootout this Saturday night and for the racing in the week to follow.  This is our Superbowl, the biggest week in the NASCAR racing schedule.  Even though only one of the races is an actual points race, the Bud Shootout and the up coming Gatorade Duels, which run one week from today, are the biggest bragging rights races of the season, I would say even bigger than the All-Star race in May.

Watching the media day coverage gave me even more in sight as driver after driver who has run test laps at Daytona talked about the speeds of a 2 or 3 car hook up vs a single car running flat out.  The team advantage will certainly be a big player in the Daytona 500 this year.  Martin Truex stated during his interview,  “It’s going to be good to have teammates to work with this year.  The track is so smooth, it is the complete polar opposite of what we raced on last year.  Obviously the track is a lot faster and everyone is going to be able to run wide open.  Guys will be making moves simultaneously without knowing what other drivers are doing around them and that is where the trouble is going to happen.”

With the amount of sponsor changes this year you are probably going to need a playbook to follow who is who for the first few weeks.  Kevin Harvick changed his primary sponsor from Shell/Penzoil to Budweiser while Kurt Bucsh has swapped numbers out of the Blue Duece in the #22 and picked up Harvicks former sponsor.  Marcos Ambrose will not be in the #47 this season but instead will be wheeling the #9 car around while Kasey Kahne leaves the #9 behind for the #4 for Red Bull racing.  Make sure you know your drivers number  before you get up to cheer. While Tony Stewart did no change numbers this year he did swap sponsors.  He decided to drop Old Spice form his sponsor list and picked up Mobile 1 instead in hopes that they will be able to give him more team support over the season.

Then we have some of the behind the scenes moves with teams like Hendrick Motorsports.  Swapping around crew chiefs from 3 of his 4 teams, team owner Rick Hendrick hopes that placing drivers with new crew chiefs will stir things up and hopefully bring him more wins from his teams other than Jimmie Johnson.  Dale Earnhardt Jr will be working with Steve Letarte this year, Jeff Gordon will be working with Alan Gustuvson and Mark Martin will have Lance McGrew.  Dale Jr looks hopeful that he will have better communication with Letarte and that it will show with on track placement and finishes better than his average of 21st in the 2010 season.

In the Nationwide series this year we will have some new blood to keep our eyes on, and with the points changes there will be a lot more competition between the regulars.  Travis Pastrana will join the ranks of the Nationwide series and along with his presence will come a ton of fans.  Talking to people who are fans of other venues of racing be it Rally Racing or Drift racing or just racing in general there is a level of excitement about Pastrana’s presence that I have not felt in years of watching this sport.  Watching Travis run at the Toyota invitational showed that he has the skill and patience to move up through the field in stock cars.  While he ran mid pack around 18th place for most of the race, when the last 25 laps got under way he moved his car from mid pack to up front and scored a 6th place finish in a field of All Stars from the lower tiers of NASCAR.  After the race however Pastrana did something you rarely see at a NASCAR race.  After all the other drivers had filed out of the track Pastrana was still courting the media and giving interviews and as they finished he pointed up to a group of his supporters and yelled up “I am coming up there to see you guys!”.  10 minutes later after running around the track to get there,  he shook everybody’s hand and thanked them for coming out and supporting him, took pictures and signed autographs until his PR guy found him and dragged him away.  This is the kind of publicity that NASCAR needs to get more butts in the stand in years to come.

Danica Patrick will make her return to the Nationwide series as well running the first 5 races of the year until Indy Racing gets under way and returning to stock cars at the end of open wheel season to complete the Nationwide season.  Look for her to improve on her best finish of 21st place as she gains in experience in the bigger cars of NASCAR.

It looks like we’re in for an excellent week of racing once we get this show on the road and if you can’t tell…… I am busting for it to start =)