Thursday, July 31, 2008
This evening my son Will sent me the following article and I thought it good enough to include here. My daughter and sons and I as well as my team mate Jon are truly blessed to live here in the San Francisco Bay area and the opportunities it affords us both in business and in pleasure. While this really is one of the best places in the world to live considering the large array of endless possibilities to do just about anything you can imagine within a few miles of driving, the best part of all is we get to call some of the finest and most historical racetracks our very own and to do with as we please. And don't forget, we have a whole bunch of other state of the art tracks within a few hours drive as well.
The following article written by David Caraviello from NASCAR.COM pretty much tells it like it is.
The fog clears, revealing an unlikely racing hotbed
SAN FRANCISCO -- There is not a more breathtaking urban landscape in all of America than the one that unfolds before you from this city's Municipal Pier, a crumbling old structure curving out into the mouth of San Francisco Bay. But the wood rot underfoot is completely eclipsed by the view, a 360-degree panorama that takes in the majestic Marin headlands, infamous Alcatraz Island, the busy waterfront, and skyscrapers and townhouses climbing toward Nob Hill. And then there's the bridge, that spectacularly understated art deco masterpiece, gracefully spanning the strait for which it is named.
It's an always enchanting, sometimes strange, often eclectic and occasionally tremulous place, an unthinkably dense metropolis perched at the edge of a peninsula that seems much too small to accommodate it. Even stranger is the fact that there's a major NASCAR racetrack only 30 miles north of what has to be one of the least driver-friendly big cities in the world. During the sport's annual pilgrimage to the region, you half expect mandates forcing the Sprint Cup teams to field hybrids, and charging them $40 a night to park in the Infineon Raceway garage.
This isn't Southern California, where car-clogged superhighways rule. Up here, discounts abound for alternatively-powered vehicles. A drive from the airport to the Golden Gate Bridge requires a stop-and-go journey over surface streets. There are two kinds of parking -- nonexistent and exorbitant. Every other word on the radio is "green." Don't even ask about the price of gas.
It's all enough to make you think that the good citizens of the Bay Area are a bunch of Prius-driving, left lane-blocking eco-whackos who equate the internal combustion engine with the Ebola virus. And without question, a few of them are. But out here in the bluest part of the bluest state, where Big Oil is public enemy No. 1 and where protesters have literally lived in trees for more than a year to block the construction of a new sports center at the University of California in Berkeley, there's a little secret -- a lot of people like to drive fast. Very fast. In big, roaring, gas-hoggin' cars.
How else to explain the preponderance of racetracks in this part of Northern California? There's not one but two major motorsports facilities, Infineon up in the Sonoma Valley and the sports-car mecca of Laguna Seca down the Pacific Coast Highway in Monterey. Out in far eastern Alameda County there's Altamont Motorsports Park, which in its 42 years has seen names like Andretti, Foyt and Unser compete on its half-mile paved oval, and still hosts the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Up along the delta in Contra Costa County there's Antioch Speedway, a quarter-mile dirt track which hosts, among other things, the kind of dwarf cars that Sunday's winner at Infineon, Kyle Busch, grew up driving.
Ken Clapp, who has served Infineon Raceway in a variety of capacities was enshrined into the facility's wall of fame.
Farther east is the site of revered old Stockton 99 Speedway, former home to NASCAR's Southwest tour and weekly racing division, and the oldest quarter-mile paved oval west of the Mississippi River until it closed last year. The region stretching from San Francisco to Sacramento is a hotbed of quarter-midget racing, which jump-started the career of Vallejo native and four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon. There are drag racing clubs based in the Silicon Valley. And there are numerous other tracks, places like Placeville Speedway and Madera Speedway and Shasta Raceway, remote enclaves of speed among the mountains and redwoods that draw racers deeper into Northern California or out toward the Nevada line.
Who knew that tony, antiestablishment San Francisco was the hub of a region with such a need for speed? Ken Clapp did. The retired former NASCAR vice president, who was enshrined in Infineon Raceway's wall of fame last weekend, (June 25, 2008)
played a large role in founding the facility 40 years ago, and delivering that first Cup event 20 years later. But the inaugural 1989 race, won by Ricky Rudd, wasn't the first time that NASCAR's premier series had competed in the region. Herb Thomas won a race at the fairgrounds in Merced in 1956. Events were held at Oakland Stadium three times in the early 1950s. And in 1954 the ageless Hershel McGriff won the first of three races contested at Bay Meadows Speedway in San Mateo, one short fuel run away from the intersection of Haight and Asbury.
So the gearheads have always been here, albeit in a diffused state until Clapp and some gutsy investors built the undulating road course at the intersections of highways 37 and 121 that pulled them all together. Clapp, who had promoted hundreds of races at short tracks across the region, knew the market for racing was there, even in an area not necessarily known for it. One of his former weekly series tracks, the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose, had been among the national leaders in car count and attendance. Now, the success of the facility originally known as Sears Point International Raceway speaks for itself. The track owns the record for largest crowd at a single-day sporting event in Northern California.
So sorry, San Francisco. Like it or not, you're a racing town. That sound you hear is an engine rumbling, not sea lions barking or the Pacific breaking upon Ocean Beach. Who knows, maybe that cable car driver maneuvering down Powell Street secretly harbors ambitions of becoming the next Carl Edwards. Maybe that radical college professor who by day rages against carbon emissions sleeps in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt at night. In this city, much stranger things have happened.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
It's OFFICIAL! Legendary driver Hershel McGriff, the very first driver to win La Carrera Panamericana and his lovely wife Sheri, will be accompanying my wife and I to San Miguel de Allende where Hershel will be honored at the gala Panamerican banquet at the Concurso de Motor Sports in San Miguel de Allende on October 18. What a special treat this will be for anyone attending the the first Concurso de Motor Sports Panamericana in San Miguel de Allende this year. Traditionally San Miguel de Allende is where a much needed layover for competitors and teams who are part of the Coyote Convoy led by North American La Carrera Director, Gerie Bledsoe, find time to relax and acclimate themselves to the beauty of Mexico prior to heading south to the Guatemala border. San Miguel de Allende is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico and has been voted one of the top travel destinations not only in Mexico but in the world. Click here for a list.
The event will be a weekend of classic cars, vintage motorcycles, and motor sports entertainment. In addition to recognizing Hershel the Concurso will raise funds for groups providing assistance to the children of San Miguel de Allende and the area. During the fund raiser Hershel will be interviewed in a question/answer type format by a panel headed up by Gerie Bledso and let me tell you, having spoken with Hershel numerous times, I can guarantee Hershel is an amazing speaker so this is going to be great! Can it possibly get any better than this? I think not.
When I was a young boy growing up in rural Oregon I was all but cut off from the rest of the world when it came to all the hero's that most young boys grew up idolizing. Most boys worshiped sports legends like Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Willie Mays as well as others from football teams naturally being fondest of the teams from their state. But Oregon had no famous NFL or baseball teams but what we did have was Hershel McGriff. While other boys were playing ball I could be found racing my go-carts on country roads or cow pastures pretending to be Hershel McGriff. Like myself Hershel grew up around the lumber business in Oregon and he even bought some logs from my father's mill over the years. Little did I know that one day I would find myself traveling to Mexico to take part in honoring the man I have idolized since my early childhood.
I can't begin to tell you how exciting this is for me. Just think... Hershel won the very first La Carrera Panamericana and now after 58 years he is returning to be recognized for his amazing feat.
McGriff's career is one that pre-dates NASCAR and spans seven decades of racing. NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. said, "Hershel started with us about the same time NASCAR was founded and he has always championed NASCAR's cause since day one. He was quite a race-car driver through the years and even more importantly a great ambassador for the sport and we hope he continues as an ambassador to our sport."
McGriff's fascination with racing stemmed from an early interest in cars that developed while growing up in Sioux Falls, S.D. He owned a motor scooter when he was about 9 years old and drove farm machinery while working summer jobs before becoming a teenager. "My dad let me use the family car when I was 12," McGriff recalled of living in a time and place that did not require a drivers' license. "I bought my first car when I was 13."
His first race was at 17 years of age after his family had moved to Portland, Ore. He borrowed his father's car to compete at Portland Speedway in September of 1945. "They advertised this 250-lap race at Portland Speedway, which was dirt," McGriff said. "My dad agreed to let me use his car, a 1940 Hudson. The following year I was offered a 1946 Ford coupe. In the meantime, they had blacktopped the track. I won that race, a 100-lapper.
One of what McGriff considers his biggest accomplishments came in 1950 when he won the Pan American road race in Mexico. His encounter during that event with fellow competitor Bill France Sr., led to a lifelong friendship. "From that time on we were always pretty close," McGriff said. "I think I learned a lot from him. He was so knowledgeable and looked so far ahead."
That same year, France invited McGriff to compete in the first Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. After driving his car cross-country, McGriff raced it to a ninth-place finish and then drove it home to Portland.
Busy building a successful lumber business, McGriff was basically away from racing from 1955 to 1967 before eventually getting involved again. During his racing career, McGriff competed against some of the best names in NASCAR including three generations of the Petty family. He went door-to-door with Lee Petty early in his career, later raced against Richard Petty and even competed against Kyle Petty.
Perhaps McGriff's most remarkable talent was on a road course. With 14 wins, he was the all-time leading race winner at Riverside International Raceway. He also won the first-ever NASCAR Winston West Series street race on the streets of Tacoma, Wash in 1986.
Never one to shy away from a challenge or an adventure, McGriff also carried the NASCAR banner overseas on more than one occasion. In addition to competing in a NASCAR Winston Cup car in the 24 Hours of LeMans in France, he raced in Australia and Japan.
Besides his accomplishments on the track, McGriff was also noted for his efforts off the track. His contributions to the sport were reflected with McGriff being presented with the NASCAR Award of Excellence.
McGriff's popularity among fans was indicated by the record 12 consecutive years, from 1981 to 1992, that he was named as the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Winston West Series.
McGriff, who was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, leaves his name etched throughout the NASCAR Winston West Series record book. In addition to winning the series championship in 1986, he is third on the list of series career victories with 34. In terms of pole positions won in the modern era (1971 to present), McGriff leads the way with 35. His record 12 victories in 1972 still stands as the most in a season as does his record that year for winning the most pole positions, with 12. McGriff also set a record that year for most consecutive races won with five and for the most top-five finishes in a season with 22.
In the modern era alone, McGriff started 236 NASCAR Winston West Series races, one short of the record. He is second in that era for top-fives, with 96, and also second on the list of top-10s with 144. McGriff led 4,094 laps of competition in the modern era, which also ranks second for that time span. When he visited victory lane at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1989 he became the oldest driver to win in the series at 61 years and four months old.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Unless you're Wiley Coyote being in the right place at the right time can be very rewarding and memorable. One such time for me was a weekday back in the 70's when I was standing at turn 11 at Sears Point. I was waiting for Bob Bondurant who had his racing school there at the time. As soon as he was finished with some business we were going to take my Shelby around the track and discuss some business. While I waited I couldn't help but notice some guy driving a 280Z and using a short-cut he was practicing coming into the turn over and over. Every once in a while he would come in way too hot, loose control and spin out but finally he dove into the corner so hard he ended up wiping out the front end of the car.
While all this was going on there was a crew of guys working on some formula cars that belonged to Bondurant's driving school who looked as if they were too busy setting up the formula cars to care about what was taking place on the track. After I walked up to them pointing out what had happened to the car on the track one of the guys ran over to a big shed and yelled, "YOU GUYS BETTER HURRY UP... HE JUST WRECKED ANOTHER ONE." Several of the guys in the building stopped what they were doing and drove an identical race prepped 280Z down to the corner where the driver stood waiting as a tow vehicle was hooking up to the one in the tire wall.
One of the actual 280Z's driven by Paul Newman and Sam Posey.
About that time Bob Bondurant came out of his office and so I asked, "Do you have any idea who that crazy son of a bitch is?" After looking to see who I was pointing at he began laughing as we hopped in my car. Then he said, "Drive on over there and we'll say hi to that crazy son of a bitch." As I pulled up Bob yelled out, "You keep this up and I will have to charge you for a new tire wall." Bob looks back at me to see my eyes bulging out of my skull and says, "Paul, come on over here. My friend wants to know who the crazy son of a bitch is that keeps spinning out." It was none other than Paul Newman. Back in those days Paul kept an entire stable of identical race cars in the building next to Bondurant's school known back in those days as, "The Shed." After a few minutes of friendly exchanges between the two of them and a hand shake we said our good byes and headed on around the track. Needless to say it's a day I will never forget.
A couple days ago it saddened me to learn executives at Newman's Own, the company started by Paul himself, are addressing the issue that 83 year old Paul Newman reportedly struggles with cancer. The actor told friends as far back as 18 months ago that he was battling the disease, according to the Associated Press. Recently, Newman pulled out of directing a stage production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
In some ways I honestly wish I hadn't heard or even learned about this. I wish there was a way I could thank him for the 15 minutes of awe that has lasted me a lifetime. Not only has he inspired countless numbers of fans over his illustrious career but he has been such an elegant spokesman for racing and one that truly knew what he was talking about. Thanks for the memories.
My good friends over at ARTEMIS IMAGES invited me to post some more awesome photos. They also said they have put up almost 3000 images from this years race and practices and are in the process of getting the database updated with specific information on each car, bike and driver. And they also said, "We look forward to seeing more vintage racers next year." THANKS AGAIN ARTEMIS IMAGES! In case any of you haven't checked out their prices, I don't recall seeing such a great bargain.
Driver of the #145 1949 Cadillac Sedanette known as “Blena Azul” or blue whale, John Daniels, gets a kiss from his wife(?) after completing his rookie run in the newly inaugurated Vintage class at the Hill Climb. John and co-driver Bob Youngdahl, finished 6th in class with a time of 15:21.600. This Cady was designed by Carl Wells and was ‘rebuilt’ from the ground up for racing in Mexico. Competing in the La Carrera Panamericana three times so far reaching a top speed of almost 170mph. This image is part of the Anna Chevarria photographic collection.
For auto racers memories come in all sorts of packages. Some are nothing more than a plastic or marble trophy or plaque while others may be in the form of something akin to a Christmas present or a gift certificate and sometimes even a cash reward is earned. For many of us the best memories are nothing more than exactly that... remembering an exact day or weekend or even just a split second when the excitement was overwhelming. Then again some of my fondest memories of racing are those that can be framed and hung on the wall or shared with friends and family and don't forget those sponsors. There are even some events when a photo can really make someones day as in those times when we are lucky enough to be asked for an autograph on a hero card or 8X10.
If you are like me, I can't begin to tell you how many times that I wished I had a photo of one of my old cars or how about wishing we had one from that time we went all the way to.... Well, you get the drift. Like most racers, our time is so limited while at the track the last thing on our agenda is finding time to walk around the course shooting cars let alone getting premium shots of our own dirty work on the track and even if we did, most of us do not have the permission to get to parts of the track where the cool shots are to be had let alone have the high end camera equipment necessary to get them.
Taking all this into consideration many of us in Northern California now have a void in our sport, one that will most certainly be missed since his untimely passing this week. Of course I am talking about a man that over the years many of us have called our friend, Norm Cabana of Head-On Photos. As the official NASA photographer Norm was the best we have ever had. As anyone that knew Norm will tell you, he always had time to smile, shake your hand or share a story. And if that wasn't good enough his love of his work which also included his family and friends was as good as it gets. I consider myself fortunate to have numerous photos that Norm and his crew made into some of my most precious memories. Thanks to Norm those memories will remain as exciting in the years to come as they were the split second they took place.
Norm loved what he did and together with his family he built his business into something all of us recognizes for nothing short of passion. I remember one day as I walked into his trailer Norm yelled, "Hey come over here and check this out!" One of the guys had taken a photo of a car in a fast turn at Thunderhill and it was so detailed that you could see a lug nut coming off the car. If that wasn't cool enough he had it in sequence. This was the kind of passion guys like us would not capture in a million years had it not been for the likes of Norm and what he will long be remembered for.
I am sure I am not alone when I say that if there is one thing that would really make me smile it would be to see that yellow trailer parked at it's usual spot the next time I come to the track. Hopefully Norm's sons will continue on in their father's footsteps. Norm was always so proud of his boys and he talked about them all the time. Just another quality of Norm you just have to admire.
God's Speed Norm. We all miss you but you will never be forgotten.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Thanks to Kevin Jones I have a great video to share. What I love about this video is the La Carerra cars in the beginning and how it leads into racing in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. And after you are done watching that one CLICK HERE to watch Kevin's latest in-car video.
Thank you to John Coyle at CarDomain for the photos.
Yes sir C.J. "Chip" Johns gets around and if you think he looks unable to keep up with the younger crowd then think again. Chip raced with us in last years La Carrera and he and his entire crew were a lot of fun not to mention a wealth of knowledge due to their veteran status in La Carrera. In a previous post I wrote not only about Chip but also about some of his escapades. If they were not interesting enough I would like to remind those who may have forgotten or didn't know, just six short months ago Chip was hanging out at his cattle ranch down in New Mexico and in the process was directly in the path of a cattle stampede! I kid you not! And in the process he was beaten up pretty good. In Chip's own words he said, "I got stomped by several of my darling cows a week ago Friday. Broke the damn leg in 4 or 5 places crushed the knee cap etc. Am having some reasonably serious surgery tomorrow morning and expect to be in the hospital until wed or so. Then "only three months" on crutch's." It's hard to keep a good man down.
The next thing I know I am looking at his face standing on the top of Pikes Peak having a cold one! Anyone who has ever seen the inside of Chip's beautiful ranch house will know that rock sitting on the front of his car will find a spectacular resting place along with countless other keepsakes.
A special thanks to editor John Coyle from CarDomain for the awesome photos of the La Carrera cars while running at Pikes Peak.
Be sure to notice there are as many as five pages to click on.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS TAKEN AT HOTEL PARKING LOT
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS TAKEN AT TOP OF HILL
CLICK HERE FOR PIKES PEAK SCENERY
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Lucha Libre Racing: Carrera Panamericana with Soul
We first met BaT frequenter Michael Emery when he showed up at a SF bay area rally co-driving a Datsun 240Z that we had featured on the site. Not long into the conversation we learned that Emery had also campaigned a 1967 Datsun Roadster in the 2006 La Carrera Panamericana under the banner of Lucha Libre Racing, and we are psyched that he is headed back to Mexico this October to compete once again.
We like Michael’s easy-going attitude and entry level Datsun racer. His approach seems the most in keeping with the spirit of BaT — proof that not everyone needs a 500hp Studebaker Hawk to enjoy the race (though it would be nice). The shot below shows the Roadster on a timed stage during the 2006 event.
This year Lucha Libre is looking to take the race one step further by combining their passion for the Carrera Panamericana with fundraising for local Mexican students. They’ve set up a program where you can sponsor the team, buy school supplies for the kids, and get Lucha Libre schwag in return (click here for details and the latest news).
The Datsun team isn’t looking to win the event, but they are looking to have another shot at the experience of a lifetime. For those of us that keep promising ourselves that we will one day run the Mexican Road Race, Lucha Libre is a great example of how to pull it off.
Stay tuned to BaT for updates on the team’s performance at the event. We wish these guys the best.