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Fourth Turn – NASCAR At The Milwaukee Mile

As in other major sports, racing is undergoing a changing of the guard in its driver ranks. This is nothing new, it’s happened before, but change isn’t always easy; and it does make things interesting.

It seems that every ten years or so, a new group of drivers emerges from the lower classes of the sport, with several of them having the talent to make it to Indianapolis, Daytona, or some other major league series. It was easy to track their progress and follow one or two of them with special interest. We all remember Jeff Gordon tearing up the USAC open wheel circuit on ESPN. It was easy to follow the Allisons, Jarrets, Pettys, and Andrettis as their family racing genes took them to the big-time. And it didn’t take long to mark regional stars like Alan Kulwicki and Rusty Wallace for future stardom.

But Bobby, Rusty, Dale, Richard and Mario are retired, Davy and Alan are gone, and Kyle is better in the TV booth than on the track. Marco will be a star, but it may take awhile.

So, who are these new guys and how much have we been able to follow their early careers? Joey Logano, Colin Braun, David Ragan and Landon Cassill aren’t exactly household names, but they’re here in Milwaukee this weekend each with a full-time NASCAR ride, and where they came from the average race fan probably doesn’t really know. Logano wins one Nationwide series race just 21 days after his 18th birthday and all-of-a-sudden he’s full-time in Cup for 2009, and his tee shirt and die cast will probably be available in October. Braun came up in go-karts and became a Grand Am prototype series winner at Daytona when he was just eighteen. He’s been in a Craftsman truck for Jack Roush for 12 races now and was practicing in a Sprint Cup car here at the Mile last week. He’s also in a Nationwide car for Roush this weekend. Yesterday go karts, tomorrow Sprint Cup.

Do we long for the “good-old-days” when Jimmy Bryan, Cale Yarborough and Tony Bettenhausen drove dangerous cars on unsafe tracks and we hated to read the Monday morning paper to find out which of our heroes left us in a Sunday crash at Langhorne or Riverside.

Things I guess really are better today with safer cars, less dangerous tracks, and a new generation of young, experienced drivers who have competed in a variety of series by the time they are old enough to drive in NASCAR or the IRL.

So, ride with Graham Rahal, follow Danica’s career, and see whether Joey or Colin is the first to win a Cup race. The future seems to be in good hands and I’ll try real hard not to sound like a curmudgeon. I promise.

Milwaukee Mile Camping World Speed Weekend Notes:
Carl Edwards on the Milwaukee Mile: ” I’ve come so close here so many times, but I’ve never won and I really want a win here. This is one of the toughest areas for short-track racing and there are a lot of good racers around here.”

And Colin Braun: ” A challenging place that once you’ve figured it out, you’ve figured it out, and then you’re good to go. It just takes a little bit to finally figure it out.”

With his start Saturday in the Camping World 250 at the Mile, Kenny Wallace became just the third driver in Nationwide/ Busch series history to register 400 starts. Wallace, whose first series race was in 1988, joins Jason Keller (438) and Tommy Houston (417) in that select group. Herman’s first ride here was in an ASA-series car fielded by his brother Rusty.

Former F1 pilot and truck series rookie Scott Speed sat out the Milwaukee Camping World 200 Friday. Michael Annett subbed for Speed who scored his first series win less than a month ago at Dover. Annett, who has been to victory lane this year in ARCA, made his first series start, qualifying his Bill Davis’ Toyota 14th

Ron Hornaday celebrated his 50th birthday Friday at the Mile. A decade ago he won a NCTS event at Bristol on his 40th birthday

With Sprint Cup qualifying going on at Sonoma, CA on Friday, Kyle Busch was forced to miss the Milwaukee events.

Veteran NCTS pilot Mike Bliss subbed for Busch Raybestos Rookie contender Colin Braun made his first Milwaukee Mile start Friday in a Jack Roush Ford. Braun, who has family in the Oconomowoc, WI area, did get some laps at the track last week, testing a Roush Sprint Cup car. The rookie finished 32nd after crashing on lap 100

A bit of family history at the Mile as Erik Darnell is the third generation of the Darnell family to race here in West Allis. His father Danny and grandfather Bay also competed here, dating back to the 1960’s

The Sprecher Brewing Co. of Milwaukee has been named the official premium beer of the Mile Several hundred victims of the recent flooding in the area attended the weekend’s races as guests of the Milwaukee Mile.

The Red Cross and Salvation Army distributed tickets to affected families, workers and volunteers

With a short field of 34 trucks entered on the early-week entry list, NASCAR managed to find two more trucks for a full field of 36

As lightning lit the skies and a threat of rain appeared on radar, the grandstand was cleared and the red flag was displayed for 25 minutes before the truck race was resumed on lap 155

The Nationwide/Busch Series has competed at the Mile since 1984. The 2008 entry list, with 49 entries, is the second largest to be entered here for a series race. There were 51 Busch entries in 1999. Of the 49 entries, 46 posted times in final practice

The Milwaukee Mile is one of only four tracks that have held races during all 14 seasons of Craftsman Truck competition. NASCAR is seeking a series sponsor to replace Sears Craftsman whose contract ends after this season

And finally, it’s puzzling to read in the Nationwide Series News and Notes distributed by NASCAR that that the Mile is considered to be a short-track. In an announcement plugging the ESPN2 Saturday night telecast, the headline reads: “Saturday Night Short-Track Racing From Milwaukee To Air On ESPN2.” For a second there I thought they were going to televise from Slinger.

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”