World Women’s Day: Tonia Attard, US Editor

 

Tonia Attard, US editor

I have always had a thing for speed. Even when I learned to walk, I didn’t—I ran. That can perhaps be traced back to my parents, both of whom worked in various types of racing during the 60s and 70s.

It could also just be the way I’m made: the way the sound of a engine shattering a still morning stirs my soul like nothing else can, the way rounded fenders and wide wheels make my heart skip a beat, that’s just me. I would rather be elbow deep in an engine at a dirt track than out shopping any day.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy doing things that are typically considered to be feminine—I do—just not as much as working on cars and watching racing: and by racing, I mean real racing, as it was when legends thundered down the hallowed walls of epic tracks like Indy, Monza, Monte Carlo, and the little dirt tracks of North Carolina.

I’m an indiscriminate race fan. If it has wheels and rolls and can be raced, I’m pretty much game. Again, perhaps that is attributed to the people I grew up with, or perhaps it’s my own competitive nature. I will watch, on television and live, any racing I can: dirt cars, sprint cars, NASCAR, Indy Car, hill climbs, and of course my favorite—Formula 1. There is nothing like Formula 1, the sounds those car make are the stuff dreams are made of, and they have been in my dreams for more years than I can count.

There is something special about every series: something magical about the sideways slide of a dirt car, the high banks of Daytona, and the vastness of Indy. There is nothing, however, like the feeling that emanates from Monza when the Ferraris roll onto the track, nothing like the tight corners of Spa, or the complicated nature of Hockenheim. Formula 1 is something special, something intangible, something…dare I say, magical? It is, and for any fan you need not explain it further.

That all being said, without question Michelle Mouton is my favorite female driver. Yes, I realize she was a rally driver (did I mention I love rallying too?) but she was a damn good one. I knew the first time I saw her drive I was seeing something special. She could really drive, and she still can. There is no need for her to pose for PlayBoy or lay across a car for attention—she could drive one, and her driving spoke for itself. She was brilliant and bold and always behaved with class, while still remaining fun and exciting, both on and off the track. She hung the rear end of her Audi Quattro over the edge of Pikes Peak without fear and gave the men a run for their money every time she was in the car. As if that wasn’t enough, she could work on her own car too. She was a mechanic, a driver—and to this woman, a hero.

Speed is still my thing. I drive too fast (although carefully, of course) all the time. I live for those moments of open road when I turn my car loose and I can revel in the sound of the engine. I wait impatiently all winter for the next spring when the sweet sounds of engines roar to life and my soul smiles again.

A modern look for a classic track

Every racer has their favorite track, as does every fan—and indeed every journalist. Mine would be Phoenix. Phoenix International Raceway, otherwise known as PIR, is one of the most fun tracks NASCAR visits. Nestled into the foothills of the vast Arizona desert, the one mile oval produces some of the best racing the series has to offer.

Phoenix is a classic track. It hosts IndyCar, NASCAR, the sprints and midgets for the Copper Classic, along with a number of other series and races. The greats—Foyt, Andretti, Earnhardt—have charged down its low banks and battled against its walls. In the early days of the track Native Americans would watch the race sat on horseback in the surrounding hills, and you had to be careful walking in the infield because it was filled with rattlesnakes. It was a track with character, charm, and just a touch of the Wild West. There was no lifting at PIR—it was flat out racing, and it was incredible.

In recent years, the track had undergone scrutiny. The death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon brought mutterings of an out-dated track that were heard within several series’. However, the track continued to hold two NASCAR events annually and remained a fan favorite. Still it was a surprise when officials announced that the historic Speedway was going to undergo a major facelift—one that would carry the track into the future.

Included in the renovations will be a revamping of the infield that will include a fan zone and hospitality area. Seating will also be improved, including a new pedestrian tunnel, to give fans a more complete experience and the ability to see most all of the race from the infield or their seats. The plans also held what the officials referred to as “Canyons” which consist of elevators and escalators to increase the fan experience by giving them additional access to restroom facilities and the new expanded concessions located in a newly created midway area.

In addition, the start finish line will be moved to what is currently Turn 2 to accommodate the changes that are coming. The entire structure is going to get a make over, with increased safety features for drivers, teams, and fans.

Phoenix is one of those classic tracks. It has helped shaped the history of not only NASCAR, but IndyCar and other series’ as well. Andretti’s last win; dodging rattlesnakes in the infield while waiting for the Copper Classic to start; watching the entire field of stock cars wrap around the perfect oval—it has memories for me, and for many race fans, that comprise some of the fondest moments of our lives and helped fan the flames of our passion for racing.

To some it will be hard to see the classic track change, especially the moving of the start finish line—there is always something about that changing that particular aspect of a track that is unsettling. It is important we hang onto those memories and enjoy them, without forgetting that time marches on, and racing is always evolving. The renovations of PIR are moving it into the future—they are modernizing a classic—and in so doing preserving the past while embracing the future.

Tonia Attard

Tony Stewart: Retirement and Racing

Tony Stewart is a rare thing—a real racer. Not just a driver, but a racer. For some people there may be no difference but to those who really love racing—in whose hearts the engines always roar—the difference is obvious and it is paramount. It is what makes the driver they call Smoke,well, Smoke.

As the 2017 season begins, for the first time in a long time, Stewart will find himself somewhere other than the driver’s seat of his Number 14 Ford. The decision, while not taken lightly, has been a good one for Stewart especially after a serious back injury at the beginning of last season. On several occasions Stewart has mentioned that “It will be nice to be at the track and not be sore and not be uncomfortable sitting on the pit box.”

He looks forward to being able to focus on the cars, the team, and the development of both as Stewart Haas Racing enters a new season. The team has been working around the clock to prepare the new Fords after a switch in manufacturers and is optimistic the new cars will be ready to win by the time Daytona rolls around. Clint Bowyer will be taking over the seat for Stewart come February and Stewart is eager to lend his knowledge and expertise wherever he can.

It’s not uncommon for racers to have a challenge when it comes to retiring from racing. The fact that Stewart can’t walk away from NASCAR is not, however, what makes him a a racer. What makes him a racer is the over 80 midgets, sprint cars, and late models. Stewart will still be racing and doing so on what he loves most: dirt tracks. Tony Stewart may be retiring from NASCAR but he’s not retiring from racing—he can’t. What flows through his veins, his heart, is as wild as the dirt cars he drives. He is a racer, he has a need not just for speed, but for actual racing. It is one of the things that make him the racer he is. The guys in his sprint car shop have, along with the Cup team, been working hard to give Stewart the cars he needs to win on small tracks across America, including the ones he has never raced on before. It’s these tracks that Stewart is most excited about racing on.

“I know it sounds like I’m a rookie driver, but I kind of feel like one,” Stewart said. “There’s a bunch of tracks and a bunch of events that I’ve not raced at before that I’m going to finally get to go to.”

That is what makes Stewart a racer, that ready to drive anything that rolls, anywhere, anytime. He has retired from the Big Leagues of NASCAR to run as hard and as fast as he can on every small track—in every car—he possibly can.

The Top 5 Daytona 500s

Every February, in the midst of what is often the coldest part of winter, the first rays of sunshine are delivered with the roar of engines. The Daytona International Speedway opens its gates, brilliantly colored flags snapping crisply in the warm breeze, to fans and race teams alike. It is here that heroes will be made, legacies built, and dreams come true. It is a Speedway like no other, steeped in the rich history of American stock car racing, while offering the first glimpse of the season that lies ahead. As race fans prepare for the 2017 Daytona 500 let’s take a look back at the top five 500 finishes.

1. 1998: Dale Earnhardt finally wins the 500:

After 20 years of what seemed like the worst luck when it came to the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt finally won. For a multitude of years it seemed like everything that could go wrong for Earnhardt did—he had flat tires, wrecks, even a collision with a seagull. He won every other race at Daytona except the 500. He seemed to know how to run every line on the high banks except the one that would win the big race. Finally, on his 20th try, the checkered flag fell on the black No. 3 car and history was made. Every member of every team lined pit lane to congratulate The Intimidator on his way to Victory Lane. It was an epic end to an epic race for an epic Champion.

2. The 1979 Daytona 500—and the fight that followed.

In 1979 NASCAR had its first televised race—that year’s Daytona 500. The race was a wild one and as they neared the finish Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison were rubbing and racing side by side. The two wrecked and slid chaotically onto the grass. Tempers immediately flared and what ensued is one of the most famous—or infamous—events in NASCAR history. Allison and Yarborough threw down and started a fight that would be the envy of any Mixed Martial Artist: fists were swinging, helmets were used as weapons, and tempers rose in crescendo of fury much to the dismay of the broadcasters and the delight of fans everywhere. The fight helped to endear NASCAR in the hearts of Americans everywhere.

3. 1988: An Allison 1-2

In 1988, on the 30th running of the Daytona 500, Bobby Allison came across the line in first. What made the win so special was that his son, Dave Allison, came in right behind him in second. The win was an emotional one for everyone. The Allisons, often affectionately called The Alabama gang, were a beloved institution in NASCAR. On top of that, the win highlighted one of the pillars of the sport: family. Nothing like a father-son finish to make every fan feel like they are part of the NASCAR family.

4. 1976: Battle of Legends—Pearson Vs. Petty

In 1976 the Daytona 500 had one of its most famous finishes. It a race that had been a battle from the get go, Richard Petty and David Pearson banged their way through the race. As they came to the final lap both cars spun into the infield spewing grass and debris all around them. In the midst of the chaos Pearson managed to get his battered car started again and limp across the finish line as Petty watched helplessly from the wreckage of his mangled car.

5. 1959: The first official 500 and the Disputed Winner

The 1959 Daytona 500 was the first official race at the brand new Speedway. After years of racing on the fabled sands of the beach, now NASCAR had a state of the art facility and they were eager to show it off. The race did not disappoint and Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp fought hard the whole race, battling so closely that as they crossed the finish line it was almost impossible to see who the winner was. In fact, NASCAR named Johnny Beauchamp the winner on the spot and the call would have stood had Lee Petty not called upon reporters and photographers to dispute the decision. After days of pouring over the pictures the decision was reversed and Lee Petty was named the winner.

One thing is for sure, the Daytona 500 always delivers edge-of-the-seat, heart-pounding, engine-roaring excitement. From the very first race to this year’s chapter, the 500 is always history in the making.

Source: www.nascar.com

www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com

Daytona International Speedway

Seven Sundays to the Speedway

 

In seven Sundays the glorious crescendo of sound the is start of the Daytona 500 will take place. As the countdown to the 2017 season begins there are a few things of note for race fans.

First and foremost, Dale Earnhardt Jr will be back. Yes, the newly we, fully healed, Dale Jr. will be back behind the wheel of his Nationwide 88 car. After a serious concussion that sidelined Junior for most of the season last year, NASCAR’s most popular driver will return to racing in the new season.

Next, the premier series in NASCAR will no longer be called the Sprint Cup series, it will now be known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The change in title sponsor was officially announced in December along with a change in logo that will be revealed in the near future.

Third, Clint Bowyer will be taking over the number 14 car for Tony Stewart. While seeing Bowyer in the car may take a little getting used to, Stewart-Haas racing has gone out of their way to promote Bowyer and present an optimistic view of the upcoming season.

Lastly, on a sentimental note, Richard Childress is heading for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. A drivers strike propagated Childress to start his own team back in 1969 and he never looked back. After building an empire alongside Dale Earnhardt Sr. which changed the face of stock car racing, Childress has continued to be a positive force in NASCAR. Congratulations to Richard Childress and team.

As the 2017 looms on the horizon, race fans everywhere can feel the rising tide of excitement that comes with the first roar of the engines and the first rotation of wheels. Hopes, dreams, and expectations all build in a tremendous crescendo that makes every fan’s heart beat just a little faster. No doubt about it-this season should be something to see.

By Tonia Attard -‪@audilvrs7 ‬

Source. NASCAR.com

Photos Daytona International Speedway

Sunshine and Speedways

For any race fan the off season seems to stretch into eternity. Much like winter itself, the offseason seems gray, bleak, and cold even when rumors of seat swaps and tire testing offer embers of warmth that hint of what is to come in the new season. Even a short couple months without racing is too much for the real race fan and from the moment the last engine falls silent every fan counts the days until the walls of Daytona will again reverberate with that glorious sound.

This is part of what makes Daytona so very special, not only to NASCAR fans but to all race fans. It is the first race of the new season across all disciplines of motorsport. It is the ray of sunlight that breaks through the clouds of the off-season and offers the first hint of the season that is to come. The sun is warm, the cars are hot, and absolutely everyone is ready to race. Whatever your motorsport passion, the Daytona 500 kicks open the door to the new season like no other race could.

The first Daytona race was held in 1959 and was won by the legendary Lee Petty, father of the one and only Richard Petty. The race was so close that even NASCAR owner William France thought that Johnny Beauchamp might have won it. Petty would not be denied though and with the help of the press proved he was the champion.

Before that race, which is the official start of the race at a permanent track, the race was held half on the beach and half on the pavement with consideration being given to incoming tides when necessary. In 1961 it was known as the 500 and not only an American, but a motorsport, tradition was born.

By the 70s it was another Petty, Richard, that was making waves at the famous Speedway and a new era in stock car racing was born. David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, and at the end of the decade, Dale Earnhardt, were all up and coming and racing like there was no tomorrow. Legends such as A.J. Foyt, Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti came down to race the hallowed banks on the beach and take part in America’s Race. The Daytona 500 had arrived and race fans everywhere were embracing the hard racing stock car drivers.

In the 80s and 90s it was Earnhardt. There were contenders like Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliot but there was only one Earnhardt, the Man in Black, the one man who took that time in racing and made it his. He defined an era and was the definition of what a racer really was. He was the meaning of “Rubbing is Racing” and fans either loved him or hated him but he propelled NASCAR, and the Daytona 500 to a level like no one else. Despite that fact, it took Earnhardt 20 years to win the actual 500. He had won every other race the Speedway held but the 500 had eluded him until February 15th, 1998 and on that day all racers, and race fans, everywhere celebrated with the man they called the Intimidator.

As is the case with life, racing is ever evolving: Jeff Gordon and his like ushered in a new era, and once again Daytona led the way, changing rules and regulations as new fans were drawn to the sport and technology marched forward. Gordon became a regular in victory lane, as did Jimmy Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Junior. Fans still clamor to watch the first car make the first run, to have the sunshine and the roar of an engine break the long cold spell of winter, and to have the brightly colored, vastly sponsored cars illuminate the grayness of the off season.

Now the drivers are younger, faster, more technologically advanced, but lack the ability to feel what Petty and Earnhardt could through their hands, their instincts, and their hearts. NASCAR, and racing as a whole, has changed, both for better and for worse, but one thing has not changed—every February fans across the globe still turn ever excited, ever hopeful, and ever grateful eyes to the high banks of the Daytona Motor Speedway as she kicks open the door to a new season of racing.

Tonia Attard

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Battles Concussion Woes

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be vacating the Rick Hendrick 88 car for unforeseeable future. Earnhardt, who on Friday made his first public appearance to discuss his diagnosis, revealed that he will not be returning to racing just yet, but was eager to do so.

“I just want to get better. Nothing else is a priority. Our intentions are to get cleared and get back to racing. I’m not ready to quit.” Earnhardt promised as he discussed his desire to heal completely and return to his car, his team, and to winning.

Earnhardt has missed the last three races, including the Brickyard 400. Former champion and teammate, Jeff Gordan, has been piloting the 88 car while Junior has been recovering from the symptoms that have plagued him on and off since his wreck in Michigan on June 21 where he hit the wall after tangling with A.J. Allmedinger.

During the press conference Junior expressed how much his missed his team and that he was willing to do whatever was needed to get back in the car and be competitive. According to the most popular driver in NASCAR, his doctors are diligently working to further understand his condition and help him to not only recover, but be stronger as a result of the injury.

Junior has been very communicative with his fans via podcast and social media, keeping them updated on any information he is given, as well as helping them to understand the choices that he is making. While at first Junior experienced push back on his decision to step from the car, the importance and ramifications had he chosen not to do so, are now widely accepted and respected. In addition, Junior choosing to address the issue of his concussion and take responsibility for his well-being has had a ripple effect throughout a sport known for their racers pushing through injury to race. In fact, Junior’s father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., was considered to be the strongest, toughest driver around, being called “one tough customer” after he broke his ankle on a Sunday, had an operation on Tuesday, and was back racing the next weekend. His reputation for being tough enough to take anything and race created the slogan for Wrangler jeans, who happened to be Earnhardt Sr.’s sponsor at the time. Earnhardt Sr ignited a revolution, separating mere drivers from real racers and making an era in racing all his own.

Now, however, the sport is looked at differently and Junior’s concussion, and response to it, is a prime example. As Junior takes time to heal, racing experiences a shift in focus and priorities, a revolution of the sport that once again is brought on by an Earnhardt.