Day two of the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway began right after breakfast on Tuesday with a trip to Mooresville to visit Jasper Motorsports, where the team introduced their new driver - Dave Blaney.
Blaney moves over to drive the #77 for Jasper
Motorsports this year.
A veteran of both the Busch Grand National and Winston Cup Series, Blaney comes over from Bill Davis Racing, where he began his career in the Busch series in 1998. Blaney finished 29th in his first season in Busch, and followed it up with 7th place finish in the points in 1999. In 2000, he moved up to the Winston Cup ranks and finished third in the Rookie Of The Year battle behind Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In 2001, he finished 22nd in the points driving the #93 Amoco Dodge.
In mid-season, Amoco announced it would not be returning to Bill Davis Racing in 2002. Faced with the possibility if having to run the 2002 campaign without a major sponsor, Blaney signed on to drive the #77 Jasper Engines Ford Taurus in October of last year, replacing Robert Pressley.
2002 be the magic charm for Blaney's first trip to
"It's been a great transition. A lot of times a change motivates you and makes you hungry." Blaney said, "Mark (Harrah, car co-owner), Ryan (Pemberton, crew chief) and I are looking forward to a big year. They ran really well last year. I know how well they ran, and I am honored to have the chance to race this car."
"They've got a great group here. These guys have all been together with Ryan (Pemberton) for the past three years. They seem like they really work well together, and that's a good thing to have. I'm pleased to be here and looking for a great year."
The next stop for the media tour was a trip to the wind tunnel at Auto Research Center, just down the road from Jasper Motorsports.
photo of ARC's wind tunnel, as Penske was testing one of
his IRL cars and photos were off limits.
ARC, a cooperative effort between the Reynard chassis company and Penske Racing, is not a full-scale wind tunnel, but rather an open jet, yawing rolling road design. Scale models of race cars are placed in the wind tunnel on a conveyer belt that rolls under the car, allowing the wheels to turn and mimic bumps on the tracks, turns and even banking. The tunnel itself is shaped like a large "U". The large fan at one end of the "U" is funneled to the other side of the "U" in a clock-wise direction. During today's visit, several scale models of the Ford Taurus were being worked on, and Team Penske was testing an IRL car in the wind tunnel.
Next up was the Busch Series lunch, where Busch Grand National drivers Randy LaJoie, Mike McLaughlin, Ricky Hendrick, Lyndon Amick, Scott Riggs and others met with the media and gave their thoughts on the upcoming Busch Grand National season.
Amick, the new driver of the #26 Dr. Pepper Chevy, has been driving in the Busch Series since 1997, first with his own family-owned team, and now has a full time ride with Carroll Racing.
"I've known Dave (Carroll, car owner) and Todd (Lohse, crew chief) for years outside the track and have seen the operation that they run and the great equipment they have." Amick said, "This is the opportunity that I've wished for."
"The entire Dr. Pepper Racing crew has been together for years and get along so well with one another. This is unique in this business to find a group of people who have fun and get the job done consistently."
Scott Riggs will take over the driving duties of the #10 Nesquik Ford, replacing the 2000 Busch Series champion Jeff Green, who moves up to drive Winston Cup for Richard Childress Racing.
"I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity," said Riggs. "Drivers dream of becoming associated with a team that are proven winners. How could I turn down the chance to work with the reigning championship team?"
"They have so much drive and determination and I believe I can keep the momentum moving forward and put the No. 10 Nesquik Ford up front and in victory lane many times over the next few years."
Following lunch, Busch Grand National driver Ashton Lewis, Jr. and his Lewis Motorsports team introduced their new sponsor. The Civil Air Patrol will sponsor Ashton Lewis, Jr.'s #46 Chevrolet for the full season in 2002. The team had ran all of 2001 without a major sponsor, and still managed to finish 20th in the points, scoring two top-5 finishes.
Now, with major sponsorship in place, the team has the support it needs, and can concentrate on winning races, not just surviving.
Lewis Jr will be fully sponsored for this years Busch
"This gives us financial support to increase our staff," car owner Ashton Lewis, Sr. said. "We have added a car chief, a fabrication chief and a full-time engineer...we have also increased the number of cars that we have available."
"I am very excited and very proud to represent the Civil Air Patrol," driver Ashton Lewis, Jr. said. "Since Sept. 11 I have realized what it means to be an American and to live in this great country. To have the opportunity to represent the Civil Air Patrol means a lot to me."
"Last year we didn't have the sponsorship and our focus was to perform the best we could to prove we deserved it. Now, we want to win races for the Civil Air Patrol."
Day Two of the media tour concluded with dinner and a "Tire Side Chat" with Lowe's Motor Speedway Chairman Bruton Smith and speedway president and general manager H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler. The hot topic of discussion was the current cost of motorsports and how it has to be controlled for the sport to grow.
"Our sport is out of control in one area, and that is cost." Smith said. "I would like to see NASCAR take a strong role in reducing the cost of racing. Over the years the acceleration of cost has naturally affected ticket prices. We should be ashamed of some of these ticket prices."
Everything from higher fuel prices to bigger purses for the race winners are passed down to the track owners, forcing them to raise ticket prices to keep up with operating expenses.
Smith hit the nail on the head when he said, "How
do we keep ticket prices down?"
"We got to manage cost against the acceleration of everything. Acceleration of the sanction fees, acceleration of the purses." Wheeler said, "When you re-pave these tracks, that's a big cost. So all the things that we have to do, everything that's expected of us - we spend a lot of money outside the fences, there's camping, there's restrooms that have to be built, our fans expect and deserve quality parking - the pressures on us to get ticket prices down, but we can't get ticket prices down unless we get our revenue increased or our expenses down."
"Right now we got to spend our corporate revenue and ticket revenue to pay for these things. How do we get these ticket prices down? We get those ticket prices down by lowering the cost."
Even though track owners and NASCAR are earning millions of dollars through a new television deal signed in 2000, Smith says the money from the deal is needed to help race track owners keep their race tracks in good order, rather than be used to help lower the cost of racing.
"This sport is no better than the facilities, and these facilities cost a lot of money." Smith said. "Not only do they cost a lot of money but it costs a lot of money to keep them up. Everything does not last forever, and at a lot of these speedways there a lot of stuff that needs to be torn down and replaced. So if you don't think about these facilities and give them a fair shake, then one day we will not have what we have today."
Other announcements made today -
UAW-GM announced they have extended their contract as sponsor of the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway thru 2005. UAW-GM has been the sponsor of the October race since 1995.
Atlanta Motor Speedway announced the National Pork Board will sponsor the upcoming ARCA race to be run at the track on March 9th. They also sponsored the previous ARCA race held there in November 2001. The race will be called the Pork The Other White Meat 400.
Speedway Motorsports, Inc, WIX Filtration, The National Rifle Association and the Performance Racing Network announced on Tuesday they will be joining together in offering the "SMI Million Dollar Speedway Tour Sweepstakes". Fan will have a chance to win up to $1 Million in prizes. The grand prize is a trip for two to one race at all six SMI tracks.
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