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NASCAR’s Carolina Hot Spots: Roush-Fenway Racing Museum

March 11, 2010 Comments off

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Tucked away less than a mile from Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing is the team David Ragan, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and the now notorious Carl Edwards call home. Located about a mile (as the crow flies) from Hendrick and a hop, skip, and jump from Stewart-Haas, Roush-Fenway in Concord, North Carolina is one of the sleekest, slickest museums in town.

Roush-Fenway

What’s striking about this museum is it’s overall presentation. Almost mimicking a race track, all of the cars and displays are placed along a circular concourse, a reflective floor, and tall, surrounding windows. Engines, springs, various car parts, and trophies are all on display. Camping World Trucks, Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars are laid out amongst interactive displays. Jamie McMurray’s July 7, 2007 Daytona winning vehicle is here, kept in the same condition as it was coming off of the track. It’s a nifty display, however the most eye catching car in the entire museum rests…sort of…right next to it. Todd Kleuver’s Daytona barrel rolling Ford Taurus, a beast of a wreck, sits slanted from the floor to the window, looking as though it’s still in flight. This car will catch your eye and magnetically pull you the moment it comes into your peripheral view. It appears to be disguised as an advertisement for the Roush constructed chassis, to show that their drivers can survive a wreck as brutal as that one. Still, you’ll pay more attention to the eight film frames that show the wreck in action, wondering how anyone could just walk away. And if the words “holy ****” come flying out of your mouth, don’t worry. They flew out of mine, too. More than once, in various combinations.

Holy ****

Carl Edwards' Display

There is a 100 seat theater located inside the circle, yet it was roped off for a private function both times I visited. They do say that it shows various moments in Roush-Fenway history. Look for this page to be updated once I get to see what it is that they show.

Given it’s proximity to Hendrick, Earnhardt-Ganassi, and Stewart Haas, it’s a short trip, very easy to get to. It’s fast, sharp looking museum. Like many of these museums this one won’t take up too much of your time. Unless you hang around the wreck. I could look at that thing forever.

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Carl Edwards/Brad Keselowski: Some Perspective

March 9, 2010 Comments off

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So it finally came to a head.

It shouldn’t have come to anyone’s surprise when Carl Edwards decided enough was enough this past Sunday in Atlanta. It’s not like Brad Keselowski has a squeaky clean reputation amongst NASCAR’s other 42 drivers.  To a man, several drivers, upon finding out that Keselowski was okay, didn’t seem upset over the bit of frontier, vigilante justice that Edwards dished out. In fact, many of us would say he had it coming. He had it coming from last year’s Talledega flip, and he had it coming from earlier in Sunday’s race. You didn’t have to look too hard at the replays to see the 99’s tires make that short jog to the right, sending Keselowski flying into the wall. Edwards never came out and said, “I meant to do it,” but he may as well have. Take a peek at the quote on Carl Edwards’ facebook page:

My options: Considering that Brad wrecks me with no regard for anyones safety or hard work, should I: A-Keep letting him wreck me? B-Confront him after the race? C-Wait til bristol and collect other cars? or D-Take care of it now? I want to be clear that I was surprised at his flight and very relieved when he walked away. Every person has to decide what code they want to live by and hopefully this explains mine.

I’m sure Denny Hamlin isn’t shedding any tears.

I heard a lot of back and forth yesterday, both in print and on the radio, a lot of politically correct talk. I heard more tap dancing about when something like this might be appropriate, did NASCAR back itself into a corner by throwing their rule book out of the window. Honestly, I don’t get much of it.

I listened to Sirius Speedway’s Dave Moody on Monday afternoon, saying that there’s a time for this, but he wasn’t sure if that was the time. I’d love to ask Dave Moody this: Can you think of a better time? If your Carl Edwards, does it really matter if you’re down 156 laps or one?  Because you’re not going to want to put out a Wrath of Khan style “revenge is a dish best served cold” move if you’re 7th in back of the #12. That would be ridiculous. When you’re that far back, you’re racing because it’s what you do, not to mention you have an obligation to the sponsor on the hood of your car. But you’re no longer racing for points or money. In that situation, with nothing to lose, I can’t think of a better time to give ‘er the ol’ right turn herky jerk.

I saw a lot of sports guys, knowledgeable ones, wondering if NASCAR has a bigger issue on it’s hands by allowing the drivers to police themselves. “You’re going to see more of this in the coming weeks” they wrote. Good! This is the shot NASCAR needs. It’s been everywhere, right up to a report on Monday evening’s ABC Nightly News. Is a “have at it boys” mentality, along with a good old fashioned intentional wreck that bad for a sport with sagging television ratings and attendance? I can damn near guarantee one thing: Brian France and Mike Helton are in an office somewhere grinning ear to ear, silently adding “Lord, please allow this incident to boost our ratings” to the Bristol invocation.

Anyone remember Philadelphia Flyers/Ottawa Senators tickets going for a thousand on ebay after both teams established a new record for most penalties in a single game? The buildup for the Detroit Red Wings/Colorado Avalanche game following the brawl filled game where both goalies started pummeling each other? The Yankees/Red Sox games after the bench clearing brawl that even saw, of all people, Don Zimmer get into the action, charging Pedro Martinez? I’d love to know the dollar value in that kind of publicity, because street value it’s enormous. I’d bet it’s more than what AFLAC is paying Roush Fenway Racing to put the duck on the hood of the car. Bristol could be a lot more interesting than usual, maybe it brings some older fans back, and NASCAR isn’t paying a dime.

To everyone who says that someone could’ve gotten killed in the cars or in the stands, that’s the assumed risk in buying a ticket that close, or being in a sport that requires you to drive at speeds hovering 200 mph. It’s the same as buying a ticket to a ball game where line drives are prone to landing, or hockey games where pucks can hit fans. Take it from me, I’ve come within inches of being hit with a puck myself. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m only saying it’s there. I also doubt there’s a fan out there who became so fed up with NASCAR after the wreck that they’ll never watch another race, ever again, for as long as they live. That flip wasn’t the last straw for anyone.

NASCAR needed an injection like this one, and I believe they saw it. By putting Carl Edwards on probation, they sent two huge messages. They’re not backing off on having their drivers police themselves this season, along with an “I told you so” to Brad Keselowski (he has friends in no places these days). And if there was an ever-so-subtle thank you to Carl Edwards by not suspending him, that’s okay by me as well. NASCAR wanted 43 drivers to police themselves. We saw the first instance of it, even if it was Dirty Harry style.

HBO Premiere at Hendrick Motorsports – 24/7 Jimmie Johnson: Race to Daytona

January 27, 2010 Comments off

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Rick Hendrick knows how to throw one hell of a party.

About 200 media and guests gathered at Hendrick Motorsports facility Tuesday evening for the premiere of HBO’s new reality documentary, 24/7 Jimmie Johnson: Race to Daytona. HBO Sports president Ross Greenberg, along with Johnson, pit crew chief Chad Knaus, as well as the entire #48 crew, were also on hand.

Those of us fortunate enough to attend never had to take our wallets out. Wine, beer, popcorn, candy, along with a poster, cap, and a goodie filled duffel bag were free for the taking. Directly in back of the seating area was the #48 Lowes/Kobalt Chevrolet Impala SS itself, presumably ready to challenge for . . . gasp. . . a fifth Sprint Cup championship.

During the Q&A, it was Johnson who admitted to wanting to do the 24/7 series after watching HBO’s Hard Knocks (which follows football teams around during preseason). If Johnson had the “hey, what a great idea”  aura, it was Chad Knaus who sported the “what did you get me into” look. At times looking a bit exasperated, Knaus has the unenviable job of figuring out what HBO can’t show on a program that seeks to show everything, as well as managing the #48. You can imagine every other race team will closely watch this series for the slightest misstep. Neither men knew what they would do when asked what they would be doing had it not been for racing.

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NASCAR’s Carolina Hot Spots: Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

January 20, 2010 Comments off

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Formed when both Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing found it difficult to secure sponsorships, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, with Felix Sabates, is one of the most unassuming stops along the NASCAR race shop circuit. If it weren’t for the smaller sign embedded near the grassy lot entrance, you’d never know you were heading towards the race shop of the #42 Target car driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, and the #1 Bass Pro Shops car driven by Jamie McMurray.

The interior of the facility is very simple, greeted with one of Montoya’s cars as you walk inside. There’s nothing flashy going on here beyond a few trophies; however there is one aspect of this shop that makes it quite unique.

Upon walking in you’re hit with a large glass wall allowing you a great view of the shop itself. The better view is just on the other side. As you walk into the gift shop you’re directed to another entrance leading out to the viewing platform, raised some six to ten feet above the floor. Being on the other side of the glass, this gives one the most unique, not to mention completely unobstructed, view of their facility. Every clang of the wrench, every buzz, every sound of the mechanics hard at work to make their drivers more competitive, to me, enhances the experience.

There isn’t a lot going on with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing facility. The showroom floor is as humble as it gets, but the viewing platform here is where the action really is. It’s a couple of minutes away from Rousch-Fenway in Concord, North Carolina, and the unobstructed view of the facility makes visiting this shop worthwhile.

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No more Lowe’s Motor Speedway

January 17, 2010 Comments off

Timed to coincide with the NASCAR Sprint Cup media tour, the name change for Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, became visually official this weekend. Each sign–from the reserved parking spaces to the large sign on Highway 29–reverted to its original moniker, Charlotte Motor Speedway, presumably until a new sponsor is found. In an age of corporate sponsored arenas and stadiums, there’s a certain warmth seeing one of the grander sports venues return to its roots, even if it’s due to a corporation not renewing sponsorship rights.

Merchandise bearing the Lowe’s name has been greatly discounted at the track’s gift shop.

NASCAR’s Carolina Hot Spots: Stewart-Haas Racing

January 16, 2010 Comments off

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NASCAR fans living in, or touring, the Charlotte area never have a problem finding numerous race shops a short drive from each other. Less than five minutes off Interstate 85 in Kannapolis, not far from Dale Earnhardt, Inc.,  is the Stewart-Haas race shop. Formerly known as Haas CNC Racing, the company now jointly owned by Gene Haas and Tony Stewart is home to both Stewart’s #14 Office Depot  and Ryan Newman’s #39 Army cars. It’s not hard to find, being the standout building in the Kannapolis Gateway Business Park area.

With a classic Chevrolet exterior, Stewart-Haas is one of the flashier race shops in town. If the outside doesn’t convince you, the six Impalas as soon as you walk in will. Three cars apiece, both Tony Stewart’s and Ryan Newman’s paint schemes and sponsors are on full display. The real fun for the NASCAR gearhead is sticking your head in one of those vehicles. I had my head in a couple, all the while daydreaming, “yep…I can drive this too.” I’m sure unhooking a steering wheel and raising it over my head in victory wasn’t much of an option, nor would it have been appreciated much.

What sets this apart from other shops is it’s view of the day to day operations on the other side of the glass. If it’s hard getting any sort of a view as to what’s going on inside Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson’s shops, the exact opposite can be said for here. There’s not much left to the imagination. Nearly the entire back wall just beyond the row of Chevy’s is made of glass, offering an unobstructed view of their mechanics. To the left is a smaller set of windows allowing a peek at other parts of their operation. There’s lot of glass here, more than enough room for a lot folks to line up and watch these cars being built on a daily basis. Stewart-Haas seem to strive for a level of honesty befitting it’s namesake; it’s second only to Earnhardt-Ganassi in terms of allowing that kind of access.

Tony Stewart may be a classic hot head, but as it goes you always know where you stand with him. His shop is no different, allowing fans a great look into his operation. Stewart-Haas may not have the amount of trophies that Hendrick does, nor the history of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. What it does have is a bit more flair than one would expect, as well as a great view of the mechanics at work. If you’re on a NASCAR trail, it’s a stop worth taking.

For more info:

http://www.stewarthaasracing.com/

NASCAR’s Carolina Hot Spots: Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

January 15, 2010 Comments off

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Nestled along the appropriately renamed highway 3 in Mooresville, North Carolina,  sits Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated, the race shop turned museum/memorial. For many racing fans, a trip to DEI is something of a pilgrimage, a way to remember the man who brought NASCAR to the forefront of North American sports. His take no prisoners style of driving rightfully earned him the nickname of “The Intimidator” and no wonder. Whether it was keeping his foot on the gas during the 1987 All Star Race’s “Pass in the Grass,” driving along pit road with a knee on his wheel while cleaning the windshield with his arm, popping Terry Labonte during the final lap at Bristol in 1999, or moving from eighteenth to finish first at the 2000 Winston, Earnhardt was fearless and relentless. There was probably no more an unnerving sight than seeing the black number 3 coming up in your rearview mirror.

DEI seems to rise out of nowhere, surrounded by miles of farmland. Walking in, you’re immediately greeted by the intimidating black number 3, Earnhardt’s Chevy Lumina. A turn to the left (no pun intended) and you’ll find two other cars with different paint schemes, as well as an enormous trophy and memorabilia case. The Braves uniform that Atlanta had sent, belt buckles, newspaper clippings, trophies, all on display. Yes, even the 1998 Daytona 500 trophy stands proudly within view. Along the wall, various firesuits worn by Earnhardt hang in glass frames, met at the end by a television displaying various promotional videos as well as a pictorial montage.

To the right of the front door Chevy Lumina, a window to the various cars that won races for Richard Childress Racing and DEI. Several of Dale Sr.’s winning cars rest on the other side of the glass, Dale Jr.’s, as well as the car 2001 Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip drove on the day Earnhardt died.

The displays will change from time to time, keeping everything fresh and giving fans a reason to return. One of the few constants is the black decor. You can bet that’s one aspect of DEI that will never change.

After Earnhardt’s death at the 2001 Daytona, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was the gathering place for thousands of fans to mourn: a Strawberry Fields powered by racing fuel. Today, it remains just that–a landmark where Earnhardt fans can go to remember  a man whose legacy will always be tied into a mythical status held by very few in professional sports.

Take a virtual visit here:

http://www.daleearnhardtinc.com/