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Speedweeks 99: Week 2 Draws To A Close

9 February 1999

Daytona Beach, FL-February 8, 1999--Where else in the world can you find six weeks of continuos motorsports? Nowhere but Daytona Beach, FL. It is an extraordinary place. A first time visitor's initial observation regards the size of the arena. "Expansive" is truly an understatement, "monument to motorsports" is more accurate, and "modern-Day Coliseum" would be even closer to the truth.

This asphalt and concrete structure has been a backdrop for some memorable motorsports history and continually expands. Starting out with about 20,000 permanent seats when the speedway was first constructed, the track now offers seating that would rival a palace--the grandstands hold around 180,000, and on raceday this coming Sunday, an additional 20,000 fans, or so, will squeeze their way into the RV and paddock parking.

The racing during the first two weeks was extraordinary. First the Dyson Racing team with their Can-Am car brought home the trophy in the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) Rolex 24. No sooner was the record-field of 77 sportscar teams out of the paddock then the NASCAR Winston Cup, ARCA and IROC teams showed up. The practice for the various race groups got underway and before you knew it the week-end was over.

The Winston Cup teams took over the garage area that was previously occupied by Ferrari's, Fords, BMW's and Porsche's. The transition was remarkably smooth. Gone were the various languages being spoken by team members from around the globe to be replaced with thick southern, melt-in-your mouth, good ol' boy 'merican english. The ARCA guys were in the open-air garages that will be used by the Busch and Goody's teams this coming week. The IROC cars will be paddocked between the two divisions.

This week the Winston Cup teams were talking about compromises on set-up for qualifying. The previous week the sportscar guys were looking for speed, set-up and endurance. Both look for luck. The Winston Cup driver's all discussed the two qualifying laps at Daytona as a teeth shattering, bone rattling, machine washing experience. Without the use of shocks, to lower the car's wind resistance, the Winston Cup driver's are driving a car that as one driver quipped "was like driving a car with four square wheels."

No matter how you feel about NASCAR you have to admire their marketing ability. Why just yesterday the powers that be, along with their TV companion ESPN, announced that they were going to create a new series called "Champions Week." The idea behind the series is to help generate interest among the "Grassroots" tracks that helped NASCAR grow into the marketing behemoth that it is today. The smaller divisions of NASCAR will come together at a site to be determined for a week-long championship "bowl game."One wag in the press corps summed it up with a terse "It's just another way for NASCAR to promote NASCAR." So be it. No one else seems to be stepping up to the plate to help the small tracks. With all of the emphasis lately on building racing arenas around the country for Winston Cup dates, it was good to see that someone was going to put the spotlight on the "mom and pop" tracks.

So what happened this past week. Well for starters, Jeff Gordon picked up where he left off in 1998 by winning the pole for the Daytona 500. A rookie Winston Cup driver named Tony Stewart grabbed the outside pole position. The front row could be called simply "Hoosiers" as both driver's can point to roots in Indiana. 57 drivers attempted to qualify for the 38 available spots with five provisional. The search for more horsepower will be on this week as the teams prepare for Thursday's all-important Twin-125 qualifier's. The formula is simple if you do not finish in the top fifteen in your designated race and do not have the right qualifying time you are going home. Some folks say that the 125's are more exciting than the Daytona 500. I agree. The pressure before the race can be measured like the barometric pressure before an oncoming thunderstorm...intense.

The made for TV races (known as the Bud Pole Qualifier and Bud Pole Shoot-out) are just another way to congratulate fast guys each week as if the money was not already enough. Mike Skinner in the #31 Lowe's Chevrolet took the victory in the qualifier. Local hometown favorite Mark Martin in the #6 Valvoline-Ford took the victory in the Shoot-Out.

The ARCA race was won by a fellow named Bobby Gerhart. He was followed by a lady named Shawna Robinson and a rookie named Bobby Hamilton, Jr. It was a good race. The ARCA series is growing by leaps and bounds. Three years ago the qualifying speed spread was about 5 seconds between first and last. This year less than 2.5 seconds covered the field.

So what will happen this week? Well as the old cliche goes "I dunno....that's why they play the game.

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel