This week: Centurion Boats at The Glen
TV: ESPN 1:00pm EST (Sunday)
Location: Watkins Glen International (Watkins Glen, NY)
Distance: 220.5 miles/90 laps
2007 winner: T. Stewart
*Street racing in the '50s, knowing when to retire, and fantasy racing leagues*
1948 brought road racing to the streets around Watkins Glen, NY. The public-road track was long, had elevation changes, and was pretty damn narrow. You can get a firsthand feeling for the track's claustrophobic qualities as the streets and connecting roads that made up the original 6.6 mile configuration remain public roads. If you're lucky enough to be around upstate New York, head to "downtown" Watkins Glen and take a flying lap on the original course in your family truckster. It'll give you a new respect for the racing drivers of old who braved hair-raising tracks without the most basic of safety devices. Feel free to make the appropriate engine and gear shift noises so your Taurus doesn't feel so gay.
Despite the notions of your typical NASCAR fan, Watkins Glen (and the later-christened Watkins Glen International) has a rich history of motoring contests aside from stock car racing. Watkins Glen was the host of the U.S. Grand Prix through the 60's and 70's. Can-Am, Trans-Am, F 5000 and IROC all raced at the Glen. Drivers who reached victory lane there include Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, and a host of other motor racing legends. The point is, Watkins Glen was a mythical location in the annals of motor sport well before NASCAR graced it with their presence. NASCAR needs the Glen, not vice versa.
Times changed and the original Glen street layout was first shortened, then eventually replaced by the permanent closed circuit in 1956. This was mostly a matter of safety, as crowd control was pretty nonexistent on the street circuit (plus the 1955 car-into-stands Le Mans disaster didn't make motor racing with close-by spectators seem like the best idea). Thus was born the contemporary Watkins Glen that we know and love.
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-The disaster turned bullshit that became of the Brett Favre situation got us thinking about racing drivers and the decision to hangup their firesuits. We're of the mindset that says if you can still compete at a high level (and have the desire to do so), no matter your age, do it up. Mark Martin is the perfect example of an old guy extending his self life and being damn successful while at it. Sure, he kind of retired at one point, left the team he spent his entire career with (Roush), then came back to drive with a new team on a part time basis (DEI), and has now signed to go full time with yet another team (Hendrick) starting next season, that seems a bit indecisive. But the guy is an institution and should be able to race until he is good and damn ready to quit. Mark Martin is the Brett Favre of NASCAR, only less of bitch and not addicted to pills.
-Speaking of football, fantasy draft time is just around the corner. The prospect of droves of thirtysomethings pounding beers whilst looking at computer screens and belittling each other is too enticing to not be in on. We think NASCAR fantasy racing does exist somewhere on the interweb, but we can't be sure. It would be a giant coup for any motor racing series to figure out how to make fantasy racing cool and to potentially attract new fans. Think of the amount of people who watch NFL and MLB games solely to see how their fantasy players play. It gives fans an excuse to watch different teams and root for different guys. Someone smarter than us needs to develop a fantasy racing system that people know about and is fun. Unfortunately, we don't have a fuckin' clue how to accomplish either feat.
On to this weekend's race.
*What to know:
Know your aces: As per norm, when NASCAR goes road racing, the roadie specialists come out. Ron Fellows (last weekend's Nationwide winner), Patrick Carpentier, Marcos Ambrose, Brian Simo, Boris Said, Max Papis and P.J. Jones all attempted to make the field (Said and Simo didn't make the field, as qualifying was rained out). Make note of these guys, keep an eye out for them in the race, but don't expect a road ringer to score the miracle win. Realistically only Fellows and Carpentier (DEI and Gillett Evernham) could possibly have cars that, if set up properly, could compete for wins. This may even be a stretch. The top teams with drivers and crews who compete every weekend have their road course programs too refined for a team with a one-off driver to be successful. (Note: we know Carpentier is a full time driver, but still, it's not gonna to happen.)
Know your regulars: NASCAR has a pretty strong contingent of "every week drivers" that are damn good on road courses. Everyone knows Robby Gordon has a strong left and right turn background, same with Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. You can add A.J. Allmendinger and Michael McDowell. Hey, they're both not in the top-35 in points, but Allmendinger was the quickest thing in years to run a Champ Car (where he exclusively raced on road courses), and McDowell has tons of sports car and small formula open-wheeled experience to draw upon. We're not saying these guys will win the race, but you just learned something, so shut the fuck up.
Pray for rain: Last weekend's Nationwide event in Montreal was really entertaining because of the rain. Rain acts as the great equalizer. Teams/drivers who wouldn't have a chance in hell for victory in the dry, can become studs in the wet. Sure, the Montreal race was the first time in like 60 years that a NASCAR event was contested in the wet, and the chances of it happening on consecutive weekends is ridiculously low, but can't a guy wish? Every time NASCAR goes road racing, it should rain. NASCAR should make it rain. They should soak down the track during driver introductions. That would make a hell of a show. By the way, The Weather Channel says there's a 40% chance for rain in Watkins Glen on Sunday. More like a 40% chance for awesomeness. Oh, and qualifying was rained out too.
*Who to watch:
Tony Stewart: It has been exactly one year since the last Sprint Cup victory for Tony Stewart. That's forever for a guy like Stewart who expects to win everything (beer drink-a-thon's, dirt races and fights included). He is faster than sin on road courses, has a great team and is our favorite to win. Vegas is giving 9/2 on ole' Smoke. We'd take that shit. Oh, he also has four career Cup wins at the Glen and an average finishing spot of 6.1.
Jeff Gordon: If you were to add the number of wins that Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have at the Glen, you'd get a number. That number would be eight. Big number. Gordon has not won this event since 2001 and is in the middle of a season long win less streak. So, yeah, he probably wants to win. While he hasn't won, Gordon hasn't finished outside of the top-15 in a month. Momentum. Building.
Carl Edwards: "Hot" Carl has got the momentum thing working too. He has not finished outside of the top-three in the last two weeks, winning last weekend in Pocono. He is damn consistent at Watkins Glen, despite not being known as a road racer. He has two top-10s and an average finish of 10th. Pretty good, pretty boy.
*For those heading to the track:
Pertinent tailgating information is here. We recommend going into "downtown" Watkins Glen and hitting one of the local watering holes. It's easy enough to tell if you are in a good bar; just look for 70's era F1 picture on the wall. If you see Jody Scheckter's mug, you're in the right place.
The Ridebuyer cocktail of the race is, in honor of New York, the Long Island Iced Tea. (From cocktail.com)
3/4 oz tequila
3/4 oz rum
3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz vodka
3/4 oz triple sec
3/4 oz sour mix
Shake liquors with sour mix. Pour in hurricane or tall glass. Add splash of cola and garnish with a lemon wedge. Enjoy in the grandstands, infield, on your couch, or while driving to the track...
1 KYLE BUSCH
2 DALE EARNHARDT, JR
3 CARL EDWARDS
4 JIMMIE JOHNSON
5 JEFF BURTON
6 JEFF GORDON
7 KASEY KAHNE
8 GREG BIFFLE
9 TONY STEWART
10 DENNY HAMLIN
11 KEVIN HARVICK
12 CLINT BOWYER
Next race: 3M Performance 400 presented by Bondo (Michigan International Speedway). Our first car was held together by Bondo. That means this race has to be the balls. Right?