SHEHEEN: Racing Rumbles Back To Life

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Ralph Sheheen Mug
Ralph Sheheen.
Ralph Sheheen Mug
Ralph Sheheen.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Last month, we told you about sprint car racer and promoter Terry McCarl and his plans to hold a race at South Dakota’s Park Jefferson Speedway to kick off the country’s return to racing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The race went off as scheduled, but without fans as Pennsylvania traveler Brock Zearfoss took the checkered flag.

Since then, numerous other races have been run at a variety of tracks across the country — mostly short tracks. Slowly the engines are coming back to life.

By the time you read this, NASCAR will have raced at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, IndyCar will be ready to hit the track at Texas Motor Speedway on June 5 and Supercross will be preparing to conduct its final seven events.

The Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series will call Salt Lake City home for three weeks, running the final seven races of the season at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

This is the next big step. If these major league motorsports sanctioning bodies can hold these events and there are no issues, no setbacks, no flare-ups of the virus, then the possibility for more racing will be much higher.

That success will lead to partial crowds being realistic at major events.

This is also very important for the stick-and-ball world. Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, NHL, PGA and NCAA will be paying close attention to how the racing world goes back to green and how we as an industry handle things.

If we are successful, it could provide those leagues a pathway for restarting their sports.

– One of the biggest disappointments of late was the announcement of the cancellation of the NASCAR Cup Series event at California’s Sonoma Raceway. Sonoma is always one of the most highly anticipated stops on the tour for racers, fans and sponsors.

Sonoma Raceway President Steve Page told us they did everything they could to save the date.

“It’s been challenging, disappointing and frustrating for our whole staff. We tried very hard to make it work,” Page said. “But things just haven’t opened up in California as quick as we would have liked and NASCAR needed an answer. However, while we are frustrated we won’t be hosting our event, we are glad our sister track in Charlotte will be able to run the race.”

As far as the rest of the season is concerned, Page said there are still a lot of questions.

“We haven’t had an engine fire here in two months. We are constantly talking with the county and just want to get the track open,” he explained. “We are still working with the NHRA on possibly hosting our 2020 event.”

Page noted that all of the track’s sponsors understand the situation and are staying on board. He also said they are planning a spectacular NASCAR weekend in 2021 — and we are looking forward to being there.

– Unfortunately, with the cancellation of the Sonoma Raceway NASCAR weekend, this year’s West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame induction dinner has been postponed as well.

Inductees Rick Mears, Mike Bliss, Craig Keough, Jim Pettit II and Jerry Pitts will have to wait until next year to be honored. One of the highlights, when the event takes place will be Linda Vaughan receiving the prestigious Motorsports Lady of the Century title.

Along with the six inductees from the 2020 class, there will also be five inductees for the 2021 class feted that night.

Once the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is released, a date will be announced for the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame festivities.

– One of the nicest books to land on the SPEED SPORT desk recently is “Lotus 72,” the latest from renowned author and photographer Pete Lyons.

To this day, I still think Emerson Fittipaldi’s F-1 championship-winning Lotus 72 in the John Player Special livery is one of the most spectacular F-1 cars of all time. Mario Andretti’s JPS Lotus was stunning as well, but that was a Lotus 79.

Lyons’ new book is just as spectacular as the car it chronicles. The book meticulously covers the design, development, evolution and racing history of Colin Chapman’s racer. It begins in 1970 and goes through the car’s lifespan, which ended in 1975.

Lyons was covering F-1 during that period and witnessed most of the history of the Lotus 72 in person.

The coffee-table book is full of spectacular photos, many capturing various versions of the Lotus 72 in full four-wheel drifts with Fittipaldi, Ronnie Peterson and others at the wheel.

If you love the high-air box era of F-1 like I do, this book does a fantastic job of taking you there through the lens and words of one of the top motorsports reporters who lived it.

The book is available from Evro Publishing. Let them know you heard about it in SPEED SPORT.

By the way, happy birthday to Lyons, who turned 80 at the end of May.