Motorsports column for May 13, 2000

I'm glad to have a weekend off from my announcing chores this weekend. I really loved my experience at Miami-Homestead Raceway, but those red-eye flights at both ends of the weekend just about killed me.

It's fun traveling to some of the tracks that most of us only see on television. I've seen Miami-Homestead on the tube many times, but it's different being there. The ambiance of the pit area is very much south Florida - the architecture and color scheme of the buildings makes you think you've stepped into an episode of "Miami Vice."

The cars were the same ones I saw at Phoenix two weeks earlier, the Grand American and Motorola Cup cars. The series is backed by both the France family of NASCAR and my group, the American City Racing League, and it was made an official part of Grand Am over the weekend.

So I'll be looking forward to even more involvement with the Grand Am folks, which should be lots of fun.

- I've mentioned in the past the progress through the racing ranks of young T.J. Bell, a 19-year-old racer from Sparks, who has ties to Carson City through the Outlaw Karts.

Bell has moved up to the Formula Atlantic series, one of CART's farm series. He has been impressive so far, with an excellent sixth-place finish recently at the Long Beach Grand Prix.

"We could of run a little stronger, but we needed a few more yellows and a little better luck in lapped traffic, but that's just the way it goes," Bell said afterwards. "I was really doing a dance on the bars to get the car to either hook up or get rid of the push it had, but I didn't have much luck. In the end, the traffic was definitely the worst part of the deal. On the positive side, the track was awesome and I can't wait to come back."

We'll keep you updated on T.J.'s racing activities throughout the season.

- With the addition of the new 1-mile oval tracks at Chicago and Kansas City, the NASCAR Winston Cup series will be adding two weekends to the schedule in 2001, bringing the total to 36 points-paying races and two special events. Seems like my April Fools Day column prediction of a 52-week Winston Cup season wasn't too far off.

The Indy Racing League will also put on events at the two tracks, but adding a pair of races to their minimal nine-race 2000 season won't stretch the limits too far.

Since NASCAR has pushed to the forefront of American motorsports, one wonders what motivates the organization's leadership to keep pushing the envelope. The fact that International Speedway Corporation (ISC) owns the Kansas City track entirely, and shares ownership of the Chicagoland Speedway with Indy owner Tony George, mandates that both tracks receive Winston Cup dates immediately.

The teams, drivers, and officials are already stretched to the breaking point with the current schedule. Will the two additional races prove to be the straw that broke the camel's (or Winston's) back? According to the present calendar, in 2001 teams would race 15 consecutive weekends, from the Brickyard to the finish.

- The Indy 500 is lurking just around the corner, and roster changes and additions are the order of the day.

Robby Gordon, who hasn't exactly set the stock car world afire in Winston Cup this season, will once again join forces with John Menard for an assault on the Brickyard. Maybe this year he'll carry enough fuel.

Roger Penske is also back at the track for the first time since 1995, as a sponsor for Treadway Racing test driver Jason Leffler. Leffler, who has made two race starts for the team, will not have to undergo rookie testing.

And for the first time in the track's history, there may be a driver named Smith in the field. Guy Smith, an English driver, will be the first Brit to enter the race since Nigel Mansell in 1993-94. With any luck the classic race may get a little of its class back this year.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist.


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