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The Callahan Report: The End Of Winter Is In Sight

2 January 1998

INDIANAPOLIS: Even though the calendar shows Winter won't be over until March, race fans believe that Winter ends with one famous phrase. That phrase is "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines." Well, race fans . . . Winter is nearing its end.

Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
The speed and rumbling engines stopped just a little over a month ago when Jeff Gordon captured his second Winston Cup title. The sights and sounds of racing action will be here very soon. The smell of burning rubber and methanol will fill the air just about three weeks from now in Orlando, FL as the stars and cars of the Indy Racing League (IRL) take to the track at the three-year-old facility at Walt Disney World (WDW).

The racing at WDW will be a mixed bag of different racing disciplines. As part of the supporting race activities, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series will be sharing the track with the IRL teams. The IRL started sharing racing weekends with NASCAR last year. It was a move that caught on very nicely. The marriage has exposed fans to a whole new breed of racing show on both sides. NASCAR fans have seen just how fast, close, and exciting open wheel racing can be. Open wheel fans had a chance to witness high speed sheet metal swaps along with bump and run passes.

The relationship between NASCAR and the IRL really began before the IRL was officially formed. In 1994, the first ever Winston Cup race was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The IRL didn't exist until late 1995. Tony George, the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, became concerned with where open wheel racing was headed. He could not make any headway with the members of the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). The CART series was formed in 1979 by some powerful open wheel racing team owners. Those owners had the same concerns and complaints as George when they started their series. Late in 1995, George formed the Indy Racing League. Such an endeavor requires funding. The Brickyard 400 NASCAR event at Indianapolis provided the funding Tony George needed to start the Indy Racing League.

The IRL moved boldly into the heart of NASCAR country at Charlotte last year. The night race at Charlotte won many hearts of the NASCAR diehards. The race was held on one the rare weekends when the Winston Cup teams were not racing. Many NASCAR regulars stated they will return again and again to the IRL shows. That will be the case again in just a few weeks as the IRL will be the first major series to go racing in 1998. CART and Winston Cup teams are still testing in preparation for their seasons.

In Winter testing (held at WDW), Billy Boat picked up where he left off last season. The driver of the Conseco/A.J. Foyt car was quickest in the rain shortened open testing in the land of Mickey Mouse. Boat, who filled in when Scott Sharp was injured during practice for the Indianapolis 500, was given a full time ride by the well-funded Foyt team. Boat visited victory lane on two occasions last year. One of those visits was negated as a timing and scoring error was discovered after his victory celebration in Texas. After an all night review by race officials, Arie Luyendyk was awarded the Texas victory.

Billy Boat
Billy Boat

It really hasn't been that long since we heard the whining of engines in November. It is just that race fans have an addiction to the sport. Being cut off from racing "cold turkey" for a couple of months is a difficult thing. The fine folks at ESPN2 gave us a tease over the holidays as they showed historical footage from races during the 80s and 90s. You know you are a race junkie if you found yourself watching those races instead of the football games. (By the way, it was good to see Dale Earnhardt finally win . . . )

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in the Racing Image Galleries and the Visions Of Speed Art Gallery from The Callahan Racing Page.