Sunday, June 29, 2008

Post Race Richmond...TK adapts and overcomes
Tony Kanaan got back into the IndyCar Championship mix with a dominating win at Richmond--anytime a driver leads 164 of 300 laps, that can be described as dominance. His childhood pal Helio Castroneves didn't do badly...Roger Penske's lead IndyCar pilot drove from an uncharacteristic 18th place starting position to second place on the podium...good results for both.
Series point leader Scott Dixon looked as though he'd finish fourth (where he started after getting shuffled on some pitstops). His Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon was running third...but his car hiccuped on the last lap...Dixon snuck by for 3rd...and maintains a comfortable lead in the points as the series comes to our back yard--the Watkins Glen International Road Course--next weekend. It will be the third of six races in a row...Dixon won there in 2007.
That's where we'll blog from next weekend.
You might want to bookmark this site for more takes on the 141 count Grant v. NASCAR complaint.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

June 28, 2008--Pre Race Musings

I said I'd have a comment on Casey Mears's departure from Hendrick Motorsports. The genesis of this started in 2001, when he finished in the top 5 at a Champ Car race at Fontana. It was outrageous that no open wheel owner would take a chance on him--and he became yet another of those who got their start in open wheel racing to make the jump over to NASCAR. With the exception of the win at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May 2007, his NASCAR tenure has been less than stellar--equipment does have something to do with this. What would his career have been like if, for instance, he was in a Newman-Haas Champ Car, or a Menard Indy Car of that vintage? That we shall never know. Personally, I hope he lands on his feet at a contending team--Childress Racing comes to mind as an option.
John Andretti (yep, Aldo's son, Michael's cousin and Marco's uncle)--starts mid pack here tonight for Roth Racing. Scott Dixon is likely to finish better than where he starts (4th).
I'm still shaking my head as I read the Grant v. NASCAR complaint. Was that arrogance, stupidity or an overabundance of XY chromosones?
We'll update you with the winner's comments from Richmond later on.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kanaan, Andretti Sweep Front Row for Andretti-Green; Rahal 3rd

Qualifying for the SunTrust Indy Challenge is done here at the 3/4 mile Richmond International Raceway, with Tony Kanaan winning his 2nd pole of 2008, with an average qualifying speed of 167.876 miles per hour on the "Action Track". That knocked teammate Marco Andretti off the pole for this week Marco's 167.795 was nothing to sneeze at. Graham Rahal could back up his St. Petersburg win with one here if he gets a break or two...the son of Bobby Rahal starts 3rd. Indy Car series point leader and Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon starts 4th. In the hard luck department, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Rahal-Letterman Racing was fastest in practice...but his car wouldn't start and had to be pulled from the qualifying line--so he could not qualify and will start the race in 25th.
All of the drivers say the extra 50 laps will make this race more interesting than it already is. Dixon says the race won't be won on lap #1, nor will it be won on lap 200. Seems obvious, but drivers don't think ahead sometimes in the heat of racing. Speaking of which...the shower seemed to break the back of the humidity...and qualifying was downright comfortable on an early summer evening.
Helio Castroneves was not pleased with his speed...though the two time Indianapolis 500 winner exhibits a happy go lucky persona most of the time, he is a dedicated hard competitor and was grumpy after his qualifying run. Castroneves will start the Indy Challenge from 18th.
That's it for this evening...we'll post up tomorrow.
"Rainout Theatre at Richmond"

This is Danica Patrick's Dallara Honda getting ready to go back in the transporter after a strong shower cut back the practice before tonight's qualifying. USAC has sprint cars and Silver Crown cars on the property as well.

The qualifying session for Saturday night's SunTrust Indy Challenge is slated to begin at 7:30 local time.

Now that I have some time to digest what NHRA announced on their investigation into Scott Kalitta's fatal crash...

~What they found seems consistent with what happened on the video. Of course, there may have been other video that was recorded but not used by ESPN, and that video was likely reviewed.

~The top end at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park has a gradual concrete curve which was designed to funnel out of control cars that may have shot through the "kitty litter/sand/etc". back into the "kitty litter" to slow the cars down. But when a car gets airborne, that curve would seem to serve like the pocket of a baseball glove once all of the crashing against the television camera boom was complete. This can be illustrated by looking at an aerial photo of the facility.

~The Ford/Delphi "Blue Box' evidently survived the explosion and crash, and is yielding some valuable information. You can thank Dan Davis...the soon-to-retire boss of Ford Racing...for greenlighting this project, which put the data recorder in each Funny Car this season.

~Engine failure with 7,000+ horsepower is a fact of life. It can be mitigated with stronger engine parts...but stronger parts trade power for reliability. Power in a nitro funny car or Top Fuel car translates to speed.

~Parachute mounting: The inflation of the parachutes didn't happen. Does one suppose that an auxiliary chute could be mounted to the chassis of the Funny Car, set to deploy if the body blows off?

Just some thoughts as the straight line guys get ready for racing at Norwalk Ohio. We'll keep our eyes on the sky...and rejoin you with some qualifying highlights.

NHRA Update on Kalitta Crash Investigation
This is the official word so far from the sanctioning body on the events which claimed the life of Scott Kalitta:
GLENDORA, Calif. (June 27, 2008) - While still conducting its investigation into the details of last week's tragic accident that took the life of driver Scott Kalitta, NHRA announced today some of its initial findings and subsequent steps being taken to continue its efforts to make the sport safer.
The loss of Scott Kalitta, a passionate champion driver and devoted family man, still weighs heavy on the hearts of everyone at NHRA, as we reflect on his many accomplishments and pass along our deepest condolences to his wife Kathy, his sons Corey and Colin, his father Connie, his cousin Doug, the entire Kalitta family and team, and all those he left behind.
It has been determined that a tragic series of events took place that fateful afternoon. An engine explosion near the end of the run resulted in separating most of the car's body from the chassis. The car's parachutes did not blossom, and the vehicle continued down the right side of the shut down area at a high rate of speed. It went off the top end of the track, up into the right catch net pole, and hit the television camera boom beyond the end of the sand trap before coming to a rest. This sequence of events resulted in the passing of the two-time world champion and veteran second-generation driver.
The New Jersey State Police investigation team was on site the same day,working with NHRA officials as both conducted their investigation. Once it becomes available, NHRA will analyze the State Police report for any additional information on the incident. NHRA also continued its own investigation by bringing mechanical engineer and accident reconstruction expert David McCandless, M.S. M.E., P.E., to the site.McCandless is an independent engineer with more than 15 years of experience in reconstructing vehicular accidents. McCandless workedwith NHRA officials, members of the Kalitta race team, and officers from the New Jersey State Police accident investigation team on site. McCandless examined and analyzed the vehicle, the track and other data,and his investigation is still underway. The Delphi technical team and Ford recovered and are analyzing the "Blue Box" data recorder data and NHRA is using this data and analysis in its investigation.
After its preliminary investigation, NHRA identified several areas to analyze and determine whether changes should be made to build upon the sport's long standing safety record, given the inherent risks and ever-present dangers associated with race cars traveling a quarter mile at more than 300 mph.
Technical Issues to be Investigated
* Engine failure. NHRA, working with the Kalitta race team, has examined the engine, and will work with the Kalitta team and other teams to analyze what might be done to reduce such incidents in the future.
* Parachute materials. Since the parachutes did not blossom,NHRA will work with parachute manufacturers and suppliers and SFI to analyze parachute mounting techniques and materials. Even though fire does not appear to have prevented the chutes from blossoming in this situation, NHRA also will work with manufacturers and suppliers to identify a parachute material that could be more fire resistant.
* Brakes. Research will be conducted to explore whether there is a way to increase brake efficiency when cars lose downforce due to the loss of the body.
* Shutdown Area. In light of this tragic incident, NHRA is looking into the shutdown area. NHRA has requested data from FIA regarding design and make-up of runoff areas in other forms of motorsports to see if it has any useful application to the unique forces in drag racing. Together with the racing community and outside groups, NHRA will research and analyze catch nets and restraint devices that are used in other applications, including military applications. In addition, NHRA will analyze additional methods that might be developed at the top end of the race track to help arrest runaway vehicles, given the speed, mass and other factors synonymous with NHRA drag racing.
* Speed. NHRA has implemented many initiatives to enhance safety including measures to keep speeds from increasing, personal protective gear, vehicle improvements, and track enhancements such as sand traps, catch nets and concrete barriers the entire length of the drag strip. NHRA is considering whether current speeds should be further limited or reduced to potentially improve safety. To analyze this issue NHRA will develop a task force that also includes members of the racing community to evaluate how to reduce the speed of Top Fuel and Funny Car vehicles.
NHRA will continue to seek and welcome input from race teams on these and other issues in the coming weeks and months ahead. NHRA will release additional information from its ongoing investigation as it becomes available, as well as provide updates on the recently announced initiatives.
We'll take some time to digest all of this over the weekend.

"What In the Name of Sam Hill Were They Thinking"?

Greetings this Friday morning from a sweltering hot Richmond International Raceway. As Danica Patrick (center) and the rest of us can attest, it's about as hot as it gets here at this 3/4 mile oval, called the Action Track...for a variety of reasons. We'll be covering the IndyCar festivities and interspersing that with comments about Grant v NASCAR, Casey Mears' leaving Hendrick and thoughts on Scott Kalitta's untimely death last weekend. If this weekend's blogging were'd be an all-American stew.

Thanks to Chuck Givler and the Easton, PA Express-Times for the link on Chuck's blog. It was one of a few bright spots on a otherwise dismal Sunday last weekend, when we got to meet Olympic gold medalist Marty Nothstein...who's paying dues in Top Alcohol Funny Car.

I now have a copy of the Grant v NASCAR complaint, as filed with the court. My initial reaction is: Are those officials that stupid? There are 140 some specific allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment and civil rights violations described in the complaint. They are rather lurid, and as alleged, offend African Americans, homosexuals and women.

That said: Like every field of human endeavor, truth in any dispute, usually lies in the middle ground between the assertions of both parties. The allegations are outrageous--but you expect that in a civil complaint by the plaintiff. The defense--as stated a couple of weeks ago by NASCAR Maximum Leader Brian France--is incredible.

We will have more, plus our usual snapshots from IndyCar practice, short takes on qualifying, and more comments later.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Case#: 1-08-cv-05276-DAB
a/k/a Grant v. National Association for Stock Car Racing, Inc.

Before you start sharpshooting, I do indeed know that the official name of NASCAR is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. This is the case number and title of the multi million dollar civil rights case filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on June 10th. I have a PDF of the unfiled complaint, which does not have that case number. Grant is a female African American who makes a lot of allegations against her former Nationwide (at the time, Busch) Series officials. (I suspect the filed complaint differs little, if not at all, from the unfiled complaint which is available from a number of sites. (Our partner, Google, can help with that search if you are interested).
I am not in the business of reporting about unfiled allegations. However...what I saw in the complaint could have a very chilling effect on the future of NASCAR, if the case comes to a jury trial. This is a civil trial, which means that a "preponderance of evidence" is necessary for a party to prevail, unlike a criminal trial, where the prosecution must prove their arguments beyond a reasonable doubt. Ms Grant has the services of Morelli Ratner PC (Martha Martin McBrayer is the lead attorney) as the plaintiff; defendant NASCAR has retained Jackson Lewis LLP of White Plains (with lead attorneys Greg Anthony Riolo and Michael Frankel) to represent them in court. Judge Deborah A. Batts has been assigned to hear the case. Once I see the filed complaint, and compare that to the unfiled complaint, I'll most certainly have some comments, either on Race-Talk, and most definitely here.
Foley Square is not too far from Staten Island, where the idea of a NASCAR track was shot down by angry citizens. If you are trying to drive in Manhattan around the Waldorf-Astoria (site of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards banquet) you'll let a cuss word or twelve fly when traffic is blocked up for a photo op during early December. Unlike the company town of Daytona Beach, or even perhaps Charlotte, New York City is one of the least friendly venues for NASCAR in general; though there are significant numbers of individual fans who reside amongst the five boroughs and suburbs.
You will see some reporting on this case in the mainline auto racing media...but it won't be done with the same zeal exhibited when a star decides to switch teams. Bloggers are weighing in on either side...with most of the comments I've seen lining up squarely behind Ms Grant.
Reading a legal complaint is not beach reading. It takes a lot of concentration and also takes an eye for details. Details are what will establish a preponderance of evidence.
I didn't want you to think I was going to sweep this under a rug--you deserve better than that, and I will do my best to understand and follow developments in this case.
We'll rejoin you from Richmond, VA this weekend with IndyCar action, and comments.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tough Day...Inspired Racing...NHRA Lucas Oil Supernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park
An emotional Greg Anderson after his Pro Stock win over Dave Connolly. Greg, like all of the other racers, took the loss of Scott Kalitta very hard...and told the PA announcers that he was on a mission to win. He backed that up with three stout runs...and a pedal fest which he credited to the spirit of Kalitta. The win cuts into Kurt Johnson's lead in the Pro Stock category.
Point leader Tim Wilkerson won the Funny Car final over Mike Neff. In the first run of the category...all of the Kalitta Racing team members on the property lined up on the starting line in eliminations, where Robert Hight would have made a run with Kalitta had events not played out like they did.
In Top ironic story. Connie Kalitta's Kalitta Flying Service has the contract to fly the remains of fallen servicemembers who've died in Iraq and Afghanistan back to their families. Scott was involved in the family business when he wasn't piloting the DHL Toyota Solara Funny Car. Tony Schumacher picked the right day to add points...Schumacher's win...his first at Englishtown. Schumacher's team is sponsored by the US Army.
This will be a short and sad week for all of the straight line folks as they get ready to go to Norwalk, Ohio. They will lay Scott to rest...and remember his zest for life...his competitive nature...and memories that haven't been shared. There will be time for questions to be asked and answered...and thanks to Ford Racing...maybe those answers will come a bit more quickly. Like the CART cars of years past...each of the Funny Cars that runs has a Blue Box data recorder, which measures a bunch of operating parameters, and was instrumental in the investigation into the death of Greg Moore in 1999 at Fontana. No doubt the engineers will have a lot of data from Kalitta's crash. No doubt the Napp family will be taking a harder look at the top end, where the crash occurred to find ways to make it more effective in stopping a car that suffered a catastrophic failure of its braking system. And there should be no doubt and delay in implementing lessons learned from this tragedy.

More from Englishtown

On Friday, we were invited to the "lecture hauler" for a question and answer session with the NHRA's "Professor of Pro Stock", Warren Johnson of Sugar Hill, GA. "WJ" answered our questions on the upcoming Western Swing for the straight line cars...and the challenges of making cars go fast in the mountains and at sea level.

Here's the link on YouTube:

The picture above is on Gary Scelzi's #3 Mopar Funny Car. Scelzi made the switch from Top Fuel to Funny Cars after Darrell Russell's accident at Gateway. You'll find that sticker on just about everything that rolls here today.

Englishtown 2008--Somber Day in NJ at the Lucas Oil Supernationals

Greetings from Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ...where a tragic qualifying accident took the life of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta on Saturday. The video is posted on our Google partner, YouTube.

The Kalitta teams won't be competing...and what you see above is an impromptu memorial in their pit area to Scott, who leaves a wife (Kathy) and two sons (Corey and Colin). His dad is the legendary Connie Kalitta.

There are more than a few questions to be asked and answered:

What caused the explosion near the end of the run that blew off the body? The parachutes are mounted to the body of the Funny Car, and must deploy to slow the cars. The two blocks you may have seen from the back of the car in the video were likely the undeployed parachute.

What exactly did the car hit at the end of the runoff area?

Is the runoff area at Raceway Park large and effective enough to stop a Nitro Fuel or Funny Car suffering a catastrophic failure of its brakes and parachutes?

What, if anything, can be done to mitigate or prevent future crashes of this type?

We have some more routine stuff to the link to our interview with Warren Johnson, the "Professor of Pro Stock"...and some more observations.