ECONOMAKI: VW Group Eyes F-1


HARRISBURG, N.C. — Could giant carmaker Volkswagen be headed to Formula One through either its long established Audi brand, or the latest member of the VW Group, newly acquired Porsche? Remarks by Mathias Mueller, recently brought from the parent company to the sports-car manufacturer as its president, seemed to suggest that. Speaking at the Paris Auto Show, Mueller spoke to the future of Porsche in motorsport, suggesting F-1 was not out of the question. According to the brand’s new boss, the thinking is to expand Porsche’s current production-based efforts, which have brought it championships around the world for the past 10 years, back into the highest levels of the sport. He said it could include either the sports car prototype arena or F-1. Mueller said any decision would have to take into account the activities of Audi, which since 2000 has taken over from Porsche as VW’s mainstay in the headlining prototype arena with no fewer than nine Le Mans victories since then. Mueller made clear the two VW subsidiaries would not compete against each other, intimating that the Grand Prix trail may be added soon to Volkswagen’s motorsport budget. Audi is reportedly in the process of developing a successor for its current Le Mans-winning R15 turbo diesel, but that project may move to Porsche, leaving Audi to pursue its fortunes in F-1. Economics will certainly play a part in any decision, and we’ll watch to see if either brand heads toward F-1.

Terrific reviews of the annual Super DIRT Week activities at the New York State Fairgrounds have made their way to the NSSN headquarters. The racing was great and the crowds large. Kudos belong to World Racing Group Director of Events Roger Slack, a former Glenn Donnelly disciple, who managed the event.

Sad news regarding the injuries suffered by open-wheel racer Shane Hmiel. Hmiel had conquered his demons, which include his much-publicized drug-related ban from NASCAR, and had passed weekly drug tests for the past three years while proving on the race track he still had the skills he possessed which got him to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the first place. Hmiel, who has won in all three USAC national divisions this season, is facing a long recovery from a broken neck and back, suffered last weekend at Terre Haute Action Track in Indiana. Best of luck to Shane, his father Steve and the rest of the family.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway General Manager Jerry Gappens provided a great laugh this past week when his public relations staff distributed a press release, which included a picture of Gappens and a modified tow truck, featuring pillows affixed to the front bumper. Gappens’s publicism of the “pillow-soft” bumper comes after Richard Childress Racing’s allegations that the wrecker, which pushed Clint Bowyer’s New Hampshire-winning car to victory lane, was responsible for the car’s rear end failing technical inspection. Nice creativity, Jerry.

Meanwhile, Gappens’s former employer, Charlotte Motor Speedway, had a different PR situation as a large sinkhole in the infield — not the first at the track which is built over a garbage dump — drew huge media attention in the Charlotte market with news helicopters hovering over the track on consecutive days this past week. Officials promise work will be completed in time for this week’s Bank of America 500 activities. The CMS PR staff issued a clever release titled: “Top-10 Things Rumored to be Found at Bottom of the Charlotte Motor Speedway sinkhole.” No. 1: Clint Bowyer’s 150 driver points.

The Darrell Gwynn Foundation became $30,000 richer Thursday night, thanks to the All-Star Salute to Darrell Gwynn at Wyomissing, Pa. A standing-room-only crowd at the Crowne Plaza Reading Hotel that included 20 past and present NHRA drivers commemorated the 20th anniversary of the NHRA vs. NASCAR softball game that drew 13,000 fans and raised $150,000 for Gwynn’s medical bills months after a racing accident left him paralyzed. Then Sunday morning at the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, the foundation raised more than $15,000 in addition, with its “Track Walk for Those Who Can’t” at Maple Grove Raceway. The pre-race opportunity raised $5,600, and Pro Stock team owners Rodger Brogdon and Kenny Koretsky each matched that.

NHRA legend Bob Glidden missed the Pro Stock cut at the Toyo Tires Nationals this past weekend at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa. But he’ll be back at the final two races, at Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif., before facing a cardiac-repair procedure at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore later this fall. Last month he had some preliminary work done at Johns Hopkins. The breakthrough procedure, controversial in the medical community yet promising in clinical studies, involves harvesting bone-marrow cells and implanting them or injecting them into his heart. Glidden said he isn’t scared about it. “I had open-heart surgery in 1994. Compared to that, this is no big deal. It’s the same thing as having a heart catheterization done. I’m just happy that I have a chance to do this,” said Glidden, who has been driving one of Jim Cunningham’s Ford Mustangs.

Peter Warr died of a heart attack Oct. 6 at the age of 72. Warr spent much of his racing career with Lotus, which he joined in 1958, and he won the 1963 Japanese Grand Prix driving a Lotus 23 sports car. He was team manager at Lotus during the years when Jochen Rindt and Emerson Fittipaldi won their world championships. After running the Wolf team from 1976 to 1982, Warr returned to Lotus following the death of founder Colin Chapman.

Forrest and Charlotte Lucas, founders of Lucas Oil Products, Inc., have purchased the 36-room home of businessman Stephen Hilbert in Carmel, Ind. The Lucases will live in the house while it is being renovated and believe they got a bargain, paying $3 million for the property once valued at $30 million.

The only dirt track in the state of Massachusetts, Whip City Speedway, has enjoyed large car counts and great racing this season. However, the track, its participants and fans face a great deal of uncertainty heading into the off-season. When the track concluded its season Oct. 2, it was the last race under the direction of Frank Ferrara and the Pighetti family, which has operated the track since its opening 16 years ago, and has set a Nov. 30 deadline to find a buyer.

Former ARDC midget racer and club president Lew Blair died last week.

It was with great sadness that we learned at press time of the death of longtime motorsports writer Jack Flowers. Jack’s popular “Say It With Flowers” column appeared in NSSN in recent years. We’ll miss his weekly visits.

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