Positive News In The World Of Motorsports

With the dismissal of INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard sending ripples of negative news through the motorsports world recently, there was a drought of stories to include in Part-2 of our search for “positive” racing news. But after diligent research, and some late-breaking announcements, we present our next group of mostly positive news.

• Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison and Bobby Allison probably didn’t realize it at the time, but their last lap crash in the 1969 Daytona 500, and the fisticuffs that followed, became one of the seminal moments in the history of that race and NASCAR lore. Because it was the first 500 mile race to be telecast live on a national network, and because a giant winter storm in the northeast forced homebound race fans to hunker down and watch, the “fight” was the main topic of water cooler talk for days after.

Switch your thoughts, then, to Phoenix, 2012, and the goings-on that occurred during Race 9 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Mainstream sports networks like ESPN played and replayed “the crash”, “the fight”, and the “almost fight” until all but three people in Fargo, ND were the only viewers who missed seeing what happened because they were busy harvesting their corn crop.

Will the activities in the desert last Sunday become as iconic as the Daytona 1969 tussle? I don’t really know how I feel about Jeff Gordon’s motives in seeking vengeance on Clint Bowyer for a supposed string of misdeeds. I know I don’t condone the pit crew contretemps that followed. And Bowyer’s “run” for the Gordon hauler was sure better than Mitt Romney’s presidential run.

Was all of this a positive for NASCAR? Will it result in increased TV ratings and ticket sales for Sunday’s Race 10 at Homestead, or will some just label it as WWE wrestling by “them NASCAR boys?” Time will tell, but as someone once said: “I don’t care what they write about me, as long as they spell my name right.” And that’s spelled NASCAR.

• ARCA made a positive move Tuesday to bolster its presence in the Midwest by announcing a partnership to bring the ASA Midwest Tour under ARCA sanction; renaming it the ARCA Midwest Tour.

“We respect what Tim Olson and Steve Einhaus have established and developed with the Midwest Late Model Tour and their long term dedication to the sport,” said ARCA CEO and president Ron Draeger. “We’ve worked hard to establish and build the ARCA brand over 60 years in the sport, and while we’re proud of our history, we strive to be relevant and vital today and into the future.”

Olson, president of the Cars and Stars Promotions (CSP) that ran the former ASA series said that, “We’re really excited for our next chapter of CSP. We feel that this (partnership) will give our competitors an easier path to the top levels of the racing industry, creating a natural progression from the short tracks of the Midwest to the high banks of Daytona.”

This partnership will surely strengthen ARCA’s position in the upper Midwest and bring national recognition to the Tour’s events in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois.

• POWERi Racing will co-sanction several dates with Badger Midgets at Sun Prairie next season. POWERi has also signed a multi-year agreement to become the promoter at Angell Park beginning in 2013.

“We’re very happy to have Kenny Brown and POWERi’s exceptional leadership operating Angell Park,” track president Bob Koltes said. “We’re on track to be a front runner in the future of midget racing in the upper Midwest. We need to keep midget racing alive. We’ve formed a partnership with Badger and POWERi to keep fans in the seats and cars on the track.”

Certainly this is a positive move for the track that has hosted Badger events since 1946 and one that should solve some of the car-count problems that have plagued midget racing locally and nationally in recent years. Badger is the oldest midget sanctioning body in the world dating back to its start in July, 1934 at Brookfield’s Bluemound dog track.

“Well keep the Angell Park tradition of racing on Sunday nights, starting on Memorial Day weekend and closing on Labor Day weekend with the Pepsi Nationals,” Brown announced. The track will release its 2013 schedule in the future.

• We’ll close this edition of Fourth Turn with recent news of the deaths of two men, both named John, who had positive, but dissimilar effects on racing and its fans.

John Fitch was one of the early American drivers to make a mark in International sports car competition. A hero as a pilot in WWII, Fitch returned home and became involved in motorsports, winning at Elkhart Lake in 1951-52 on the area’s roads that pre-dated the opening of the Road America circuit in 1955. He also ran teams for Chevrolet and raced at Le Mans and Sebring, where he was a winner in 1953.

Fitch was also instrumental in developing the ubiquitous sand-filled barriers that protect drivers on highways even today.

Fitch, who passed away recently at the age of 95, appeared at a dinner in Elkhart Lake in 2010 sponsored by the Historic Race Circuits group and regaled the packed house at Siebkens with fascinating stories of post-war racing both here and abroad. He also posed for numerous photos and signed books and posters commemorating his win at Elkhart in 1952; the final road race held before they were banned in Wisconsin.

“Big” John Gillis, longtime traffic reporter for WIBC-AM radio in Indianapolis, passed away November 9 at his Indianapolis home of undetermined causes. Gillis, who began his work at WIBC in 1980, was the soothing voice who guided impatient race fans into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May until his retirement in 2007. Anyone who visited the track during those years will remember his gentle humor as he directed long lines of traffic into the track. The Indianapolis Star estimated that Gillis logged over 20,000 hours over the city in blimps, balloons, small planes and usually helicopters. Gillis was 64 and had suffered from breathing problems recently. His long-time sponsor was Tucker Realty: his tagline after each report was always: “Talk to Tucker.”
RIP both of you.

Share Button