Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Watching Elephants

by Tammy

I had a bit of a sick day this weekend, so I'm reposting one of my favorite topics: NASCAR on a road course. Do you love them or leave them?

I’ve spent some time here the last couple weeks explaining how I find NASCAR on television kind of boring. That I don’t get ovals. That I much prefer sportscar racing. There’s one big caveat to this opinion of mine, one big BUT. There’s one aspect of NASCAR that I flat out love, and that’s road courses.

See, I think stock cars on a road course are one of the funniest sights in the world. Certainly it’s the funniest sight in racing, with the possible exception of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales in the pit lane at Sebring (but that’s another story). Stock cars aren’t built to maximize downforce or to corner well. They’re … well, I’m not sure exactly what they’re built for, but road course racing ain’t it.

They look like elephants running an obstacle course sized for gazelles. They lumber around, turning hard, braking hard—looking for all the world like the car’s center of gravity is up near the roof. And I do mean they’re wobbly. (Check that shot from Getty Images if you don’t believe me.)

Adding to the entertainment, the announcers cover the same inevitable points at the two road course races each season, with great excitement:
  1. The drivers have to remember how to shift! On a road course, they’ll be doing so a couple-dozen times a lap, compared to a dozen times in total on some oval courses.
  2. The drivers have to turn right and left! This gets them talking about road courses versus ovals, and which drivers are good and bad at the road courses. This leads to the last point …
  3. We’ve got special guest stars in the field, some road course ringers! The “ringers” are the road course experts who make or have made a career in road course racing (whether sportscar or open-wheel) and who are typically brought in for a ride in a stock car for just the road course races to get a win for the team. If they don’t always win, there are inevitably three or four ringers in the top 10 at ever road course race.
This past weekend brought us some good elephant watching. First the NASCAR Nationwide Series (the minor league) raced at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, one of the most beautiful and historic road courses the U.S. has to offer. Ron Fellows, road course ringer and multiple-time ALMS and Le Mans champion for Corvette Racing, almost took the win in a weird, caution-filled finish. Then on Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (the majors) raced at Infineon Raceway (aka, Sears Point) in Sonoma, California. The winner of that race won by dominating most of the day, but the big story was of fraying nerves, tempers, and behavior. The late-race bumper-car action we saw should make for some interesting wars: of words during the coming week and fenders in the next race. 

All in all, a highly entertaining weekend of racing! But if NASCAR could do one thing for me, it would be to go racing at more than two road courses each year. I don’t think it’s likely, but I’ll keep hoping. Is anyone with me?

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