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Cars n' Stars: "California Dreamin'" at Cal 500, Kendall Steps Backward, Winston West Star

5 May 1998

By now you have devoured all of Terry Callahan's Winston
Cup/California 500 results, info, and observations.  Valuable data as
only Terry can relate it.  It was an action packed race from start to
finish, with the diminutive Arkansas ace Mark Martin picking up two
wins for the sun drenched weekend.

Roger Penske and son Greg, impresarios of the fabulous California
Speedway showed the racing world how a customer ("guest") oriented
motorsports weekend should be conducted.  Class city.  Organization
par excellence.  Professionalism supremely evident in EVERY facet of
the operation.  The race fans are not called customers, or fans, or
ticket buyers.  They are "guests" of the racing organization.  To make
sure his guests are well treated, that all questions get answered,
that traffic is coordinated, and that bathrooms are spotless, General
Manager Les Richter has hired 3,000 guest services people.  If you
didn't want to fight traffic, you could take the Metrolink train,
which stops in the racetrack infield. Over 6,000 guests took advantage
of this service.  Last year's first race, a NASCAR Winston Cup event,
caused some major traffic tieups.  In fact, after a two-hour freeway
"park" wherein I moved 50 feet, I managed to turn around and go home
to watch the race at the Speedway Restaurant in Newport Beach.  This
year we allowed three hours to go to the track and made it in 50
minutes.  It CAN be done.

Aside from plenty of race action, here's what else we witnessed:
An infield 7-11 where you can buy a 12 pack of Bud for $8.00, a bottle
of milk for 4 bucks, and ketchup for a duece.  If you are doing the
notorhome gig--1,600 M-home folks were on hand--you can have hot pizza
delivered to your party.

What do you do with three hours to kill before the green flag drops?
That has all been thought out by Cal Speedway management. Pit tours were

At the Jeff Gordon/Rainbow Warriors pit (they display a sign that says
"Refuse to Lose") a team spokesman explained pit stop strategy, tire
changing, videotaping importance, and telemetry.  He said that the
quickest tire changer is at the right rear, as that has something to
do with preventing the car from running over an air hose.  This same
scene was taking place for hundreds of race fans up and down pit lane
at Remington, Pilot, McDonalds, Goodwrench, Budweiser, and First Plus.
Well equipped pits with 36 Goodyears ready to rumble.

Pit selection is based on qualifying, which explains why,
uncharacteristically, Earnhardt and Jarrett were at the end of the
line at the pit entrance for the race.  Pit speed is 55 mph, and while
the crew is hustling gas and tires, the driver's job is to keep the
motor at 2000 rpm and his foot on the brakes.  Are NASCAR fans super
infatuated with the whole aura of the track scene?  Yep, they were
even getting autographs from the right side tire changers and the
catch can men.

Then there were garage tours, sky divers, a parade of 140 new Pontiac
Grand Prix coupes, a fly-by with four WW2 fighter planes, a NAPA truck
tour of the track, a parade of Pontiacs with the 43 drivers waving to
the fans.  Eddie Money sang the national anthem, a local cleric said a
prayer, and the Prez of NAPA said "gentlemen start yer, engines."

NAPA, title sponsor for the race, has 6,000 auto parts stores accross
the country and 20,000 customers at the race.

The track catered to the motorsports media contingent with a constant
supply of race information, closed circuit coverage, food, and
beverage.  I just happened to be standing at turn two with the Dean of
all race correspondents, Chris Econamaki of National Speed Sport News,
when Bill Elliott and Kyle Petty crashed.  Chris likes to tour the
entire facility to get the fan feeling for the event.

The "ticket" for correctly attending any race at the California
Speedway is to hook an invitation into one of the 75 VIP suites that
line the second level, pit side of the main straightaway.  Each suite
has a bar, food service, and a race viewing area just upstairs with an
awning and a loud speaker for the track announcer coverage.  You
actually look down about 20 feet to the witness all the pit stop
activity.  But to get in these customer care centers, you MUST have
the right credential, so if you know anyone at NAPA, Budweiser,
R.J. Reynolds. Honda, Chevrolet, LaPaz beverages, Mission Foods,
Goodyear, Ralphs Grocery, Citgo you are in like a porch climber.

Union 76 is the official fuel of NASCAR. Does that mean that Michael
Waltrip's Ford must run on Citgo gas?

A Star is born: keep your eye on Winston West points leader, Chevy
driver, Kevin Harvick from Rick Mears' home town of Bakersfield, CA.
This kid gave Winston Cup ace Ken Schrader a real run on Saturday,
leading Schrader several times before settling in to finish second.
It was a two horse race between these guys and it shows Harvick may be
ready for the big show and soon.

In the IROC bash, Tommy Kendall started on the pole but tapped
Luyendyk in lap three, spun and pitted to have his front left fender
torn off and a wheel/tire replaced.  This screwed up the aerodynamics
so badly that the pack of 11 cars passed the 6'5" Trans Am champ five
times.  Kendall was in the show to represent road racing. Why not
someone from ProSports Car, or whatever they're calling the road
racing sanctioning body this week.  Can't you see Gianperro Moretti
mixing it up on the banking at 190 mph with Mark Martin and Little Al?

Little Al upheld the hopes of the open wheel contingent, as he dogged
Mark Martin for a dozen laps trying everything he could to get by the
IROC leader.  Draftmaster Martin moved his Pontiac Firebird all over
the race track, however, keeping Al, Gordon, Labonte, and company from
starting a draft to pass him.  Little Mark Martin had a great
weekend. $141,000 from the Winston win, $50,000 from IROC, ten grand
for leading at the halfway mark Sunday.  Nice weekend pocket money.

Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel