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2008 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 4

by Pete McCole
Thursday, January 24, 2008

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Lowe's Tour Stop
All photos by Harold Hinson
The 2008 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway concluded on Thursday.  The first stop of the afternoon was a visit to the host track for the media tour, Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where track founder and chairman Bruton Smith unveiled pans for a quarter-mile drag strip adjacent to LMS that will host a National Hot Rod Association event later this year.

The 30,000-seat facility will be located on 125 acres of LMS property across the street from the speedway, located near the speedway’s quarter-mile dirt track. The drag racing facility's track, pit areas and midway will cover 46.5 acres.

“I love to build things and this is an exciting project because we are going to build the crown jewel of drag strips,” said Smith. “Drag racing is the perfect compliment to the wide variety of motorsports entertainment already on the schedule here at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

“We are constantly looking for ways to grow our business and the success of NHRA racing at our other tracks told us that adding a drag strip here was a tremendous opportunity. Plus, there is just something special about a race car with 7,000 horsepower.”

When the drag strip was first proposed last fall, nearby residents objected, citing noise and traffic problems the drag strip would generate.

The city council for the city of Concord, N.C., where the track is located, responded by threatening to have the speedway property re-zoned to prevent Smith from building the drag strip.

Smith declared war, and retaliated by threatening to build a new track elsewhere in the Charlotte area and move his three Sprint Car events there.

The threat, while empty, prompted city officials to capitulate to Smith’s demands, allowing the drag strip to be built as well as agreeing to several other incentives Smith asked for in order to keep Smith from following through with his plans to move.

At a press conference last November, Smith announced that LMS was “here to stay” as work on the new drag strip resumed.

The drag racing facility, called  “The Dragway @ Lowe's Motor Speedway" will open Sept. 11-14 with the inaugural NHRA Carolinas Nationals, round 19 of the 24-race NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

“I can't tell you how excited everybody at NHRA is about making this announcement,” said NHRA President Tom Compton. “This has been a long time coming. I've seen the designs for the new drag strip and it's a going to be a truly amazing sight. We are also announcing a fairly significant race date as it falls right after Labor Day weekend. It's a significant date to go along with a very special place.”

Ford Press Conference
Following the announcement, the tour moved on to its final stop at the headquarters of Roush Fenway Racing for a joint Ford press conference, featuring executives from Ford, as well as owners, drivers and crew chiefs from Roush Fenway Racing, Yates Racing and the Wood Brothers.

Leading off the press conference was Ford Vice-President Edsel B. Ford II, great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, to speak about the Ford’s motorsports program.

“There has been a lot of talk about Ford Motor Company in the media this past year, much of it negative,” Ford said. “People have wanted to write us off, to say we couldn’t compete in the marketplace or on the racetrack. I’m here to tell you one thing today – don’t underestimate our resolve.

“We believe in our product, our ideas and our people, and we believe our racing success, especially here in NASCAR, can help fuel the Ford turnaround.”

Roush Fenway was by far the most successful Ford team in the Cup series last season, posting all seven of Ford’s victories while putting two drivers in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

Roush, however, expressed his disappointment that his team still couldn’t achieve more in 2007.

“We won seven races last year as an organization and we think that's not more than half of what we should have won,” Roush said. “We're working real hard and the Car of Tomorrow is feeling real comfortable for us.”

“The first thing we learned about the Car of Tomorrow last year was you needed to test it as much as everyone else does. I was mostly responsible for not making the commitment to go underground and get non-Goodyear tires and to go to racetrack that NASCAR didn’t sanction in order to test. I got us behind, we didn’t start testing until the end of May last year.”

Roush fell behind in the development in the COT after a number of teams began to test at tracks that were not sanctioned by NASCAR, using tires other than Goodyear, which are leased to teams only for official NASCAR sanctioned tests.

While other teams, such as Hendrick Motorsports, took advantage of the loophole in the testing rules, Roush Fenway did not, thinking that NASCAR would ultimately restrict teams from testing at non-sanctioned tracks.

“NASCAR said they were going to control the tests, I figured it was only a matter of time before the guillotine fell on the other teams that were testing the cars,” said Roush. “I thought it was going to go real bad for the people that were testing. I thought they were serious. I was wrong. I misread NASCAR. They wound up going with the flow and what the teams wanted to do. If I had been in the front of that line, I don't think it would have worked out that way.

“Since then, we’ve had a very aggressive testing program. We think that we’re caught up on the deficit that we had last year, and we think that we’re ready to start on a level playing field.”

For 2008, Roush Fenway Racing will have a new partner in the newly formed Yates Racing, expanding on the engine building alliance the two teams formed in 2004.

Long-time team owner and veteran engine builder Robert Yates announced last September he planned to step away from racing at the end of the 2007 season, selling his team to his son, Doug Yates. 

Roush Fenway will provide chassis and car bodies, as well as sponsorship and marketing help for the team, which is planning on fielding two Sprint Cup teams for drivers David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil. The team is currently looking for sponsors for both teams to compete full-time in the series.

“Our goal is to get a sponsor,” said Gilliland. “We also want to finish in the top 15 in the points and that's not out of the question. Getting a sponsor is just the start of it. I also want to visit victory lane this year.”

“The one thing about this sport is you have to have a cash flow coming into the business,” said Yates. “We do have some people that believe in us like Ford Motor Company that is giving us some support.”

“Our focus right now is on performance. We're here to race and perform and that's all we're worried about. After I leave here, I'm going back to the shop to see how many horsepower the guys have gained on the dyno. That's what's going to make us successful. If we work hard enough, we will make it work.”

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