ECONOMAKI: Chevrolet To Make Welcomed IndyCar Return

A BIG DAY: Josie George (left), IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman of the Board Mary Hulman George and Nancy George Friday at the Chevrolet announcement in Indianapolis. (Ron McQueeney/IndyCar Photo)

HARRISBURG, N.C. — One thing that can surely be said about new IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard is he listens. Bernard not only pays attention to team owners, drivers, track operators and sponsors, he listens to fans of the sport. More proof came Friday when Chevrolet was introduced as an engine supplier for the IZOD IndyCar Series beginning in 2012. Chevrolet will also make an aero kit to fit the Dallara chassis. By joining Honda in the series, Chevrolet gives the IndyCar Series an American manufacturer for the first time since 2005, something devotees of open-wheel racing have been vocal about for years. In October, Bernard announced a joint venture with USAC to present the USAC National Driver’s Champion an oval ride in the Firestone Indy Lights division, in part answering the call of fans for more American drivers at the top level of Indy-car racing.

How important was the Chevrolet announcement at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum to the future of the IndyCar Series? Take a look at some of those who were on hand for the crowded press announcement Friday morning. In addition to IndyCar Series and General Motors officials, attendees included team owners Roger Penske and Gil de Ferran, IndyCar Series founder Tony George, IMS Chairman Mary Hulman George, Texas Motor Speedway GM Eddie Gossage, IMS GM Jeff Belskus, former Indy 500 winners Arie Luyendyk, Al Unser, Jr. and Helio Castroneves, and current drivers Will Power and Simona de Silvestro.

Mario Andretti will be earning his frequent flier miles this winter. The 1969 Indy 500 winner and 1978 World Driving Champion has confirmed his participation in the Indy 500 Centennial Tour, which will visit U.S. military personnel stationed overseas. The tour is the creation of the Morale Entertainment Foundation, which is coordinating with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IZOD IndyCar Series to have the group visit U.S. troops. Al Unser, Jr., Johnny Rutherford, Graham Rahal, Davey Hamilton, Larry Foyt and Martin Plowman are among those expected to participate in the tour that begins in Rahmstein, Germany.

Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications who died Oct. 30, was announced as winner of the 2010 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations. The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named IndyCar racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

Dirt-late-model Hall of Famer Ronnie Johnson has won seven features this season campaigning the GM Performance 525 Spec Engine in super-late-model competition. The engine sells for $7,195 and can be purchased in race-ready condition for $9,750.

Ever wanted to own a multi-purpose racing facility? Well your chance comes Dec. 14 when Memphis Motrosports Park, currently owned by Dover Motorsports, Inc., but shuttered since October 2009, will be sold by Morris Auction. The high bidder will be required to pay a 10-percent deposit on the day of the auction. The 375-acre site includes a three-quarter-mile asphalt oval, 1.77-mile road course and quarter-mile drag strip. Opened in 1987, MMP hosted NASCAR, NHRA and other sanctioning bodies. The track was previously listed with the real estate firm Colliers Int’l for $6 million.

The USAC-SMRS Great Plains midget series quietly dropped off the radar. When researching material for NSSN’s year-end issue, we found no mention of the series on the USAC website and on further investigation discovered Southern Midget Racing Series dropped its sanctioning agreement with USAC in August after two years working with the Indiana-based organization. SMRS finished the season on its own and will embark on its 15th year of midget racing in the Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas area on its own.

One of the most recognizable brands in the automotive industry will be absent from the U.S. market beginning next year. General Motors is dropping the GM Goodwrench name from the domestic marketplace beginning in February. GM will instead focus marketing around its core vehicles utilizing Chevrolet Certified Service, Cadillac Certified Service, Buick Certified Service and GMC Certified Service. GM Goodwrench was best known in racing circles for its sponsorship of the late Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress Racing. The Goodwrench brand will remain in Canada.

Longtime NASCAR racer Robert Pressley will take on the role of promoter next season when he operates Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway. The three-eighths-mile track was idle from 2002 through the fall of 2009, but a successful revival has led to Pressley’s involvement. The second-generation racer whose son Coleman won the UARA/STARS late-model title this past season, will lease the facility from Joe and Phyllis Loven and hold Friday night NASCAR-sanctioned weekly racing.

It looks like NASCAR champion Kurt Busch will take the next step in his burgeoning drag-racing career. Busch recently spent three days testing a Pro Stock under the tutelage of Roy Hill at Rockingham (N.C.) Dragway. Busch is expected to guide a Mopar-sponsored Dodge in the Gatornationals next March at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.

NHRA Top Fuel racers Larry Dixon, Cory McClenathan and Antron Brown, and Indy Lights shoes Dan Clarke, Charlie Kimball and Martin Plowman recently spent a day with volunteers from the Indiana Motorsports Ass’n and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Indianapolis, working on the construction of a home north of downtown Indianapolis, which will be dedicated to Sherry McClure and her family Dec. 8.

Mario Andretti has won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and World Driving Championship, yet he still has fond memories of his childhood meeting with racing driver Eddie Sachs more than 50 years ago. “I remember myself as a kid just one instant when I was able to get next to a driver, like Eddie Sachs in Trenton (N.J.),” Andretti remembered. “I was shaking in my boots. He actually talked to me. I asked him a question about how he enjoyed the race in Monza, in Italy, when they went there to run on the high banks. He actually answered me.”

The New York Times recently profiled NASCAR fan Michael Myers. Myers, who is gay, grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., but became a NASCAR fan later in life. Myers now lives in Las Vegas and has developed quite a cult following on the Internet via his NASCAR-oriented website “NASCAR has more fans who are accepting of me being gay than gays have been accepting of me being a NASCAR fan,” Myers told The Times. The website generates 2,000 unique hits per month.

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