I'm one of those people who, because of life experience, tends to be more wary than welcoming of surprises. But two phone calls last week were the happy exception to my personal rule.
The first call came from sprint car Hall of Famer Casey Luna. It was followed, a few hours later, by one from Bob Baker. Bob is the executive director of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum, in Knoxville, Iowa. The Hall is right on the property of the track where the great Knoxville Nationals are staged each summer. That's the Indy, Daytona, Super Bowl of sprint car racing.
After some conversation and an E-mail exchange, Baker invited me to join the national induction committee to nominate and vote on candidates for the Hall. Following some due diligence, I accepted.
There are 72 committee members, 18 in each of four geographic regions. Bob said there was an opening in the western region and asked me to fill it.
It is, of course, an honor. Sprint cars found their way into my racing consciousness at an early age. I'm old enough to have enjoyed the glory days of the "Gary (Bettenhausen) and Larry (Dickson) Show" in USAC's mighty sprint division. Pancho Carter on the high banks was thrilling. When I worked in Philadelphia, I enjoyed the skills of the late Dick Tobias. I'm glad to say I knew Jan Opperman a little and will always be glad he had a shot at Indianapolis. Ditto Greg Weld. When Robin Miller gave his top-10 list of sprint car drivers a few months ago on Wind Tunnel, I wrote him to say I was disappointed he didn't include Greg. Now being an Arizona resident, I still am saddened by the demise of Manzanita, where so many young names got famous. I was there, along with Mark Armijo and Jamie Reynolds, for the World of Outlaws last run at Manzy last year and shared a few words of remembrance with Steve Kinser before the heats.
One thing I've long known and respected about sprint car drivers -- given the high horsepower and brutish nature of the machines and many of the tracks: They are BRAVE people.
The Outlaws are concluding a terrific season that has showcased the closest championship fight in history, with Jason Meyers, Kinser, Joey Saldana and Donny Schatz. Kinser had neck surgery before the year's first green flag and Saldana has come through a hand injury and a concussion. In my opinion, the Outlaws are not just the "Greatest Show on Dirt." They are the best show in American motorsports.
Anyway, it's most rewarding to be asked. As I promised Bob Baker, I'll give it my best consideration, as the process to pick 2011 Hall inductees begins. I know it will be a challenge. To learn more about the Hall, go to http://sprintcarhof.com/ .
FAST LINES: I also have a vote for NHRA's Auto Club Road to the Future (rookie of the year) award. Honestly, that choice is easy this season . . . Good idea: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway put 33 winning cars on the front straight for a 100th anniversary race photo session (left). Bad idea: They did it on a TUESDAY. Why not on a weekend when the public could come out and enjoy the historic scene? (And maybe sell a few tickets) . . . I see a pattern in the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting -- David Pearson should have been in the first class, and Cale Yarborough should have been in the second class . . . To me, all the media hand-wringing about Darrell Waltrip not getting in was disrespectful to the chosen five. Even more out-of-line was all the campaigning for DW on Speed. Votes for honors such as the Hall of Fame should NOT be campaigns. I know it's a negative for me, as a voter for several racing honors, when someone overtly arm-twists for my vote. I said before the first NASCAR class was chosen that DW should go in the third year. It's true he's one of those who helped elevate NASCAR to the next level but it's also true he diminished his career with the very sad "Victory" retirement tour, during which he criticized his own sponsor, Kmart, and forced NASCAR to limit past champion provisional starts . . . I was disturbed by the way some involved with the Hall activities dressed. To me, it was a no-brainer suit-and-tie occasion -- minimum a sports jacket. The Hall, and what it represents, deserves a certain level of respect and that includes attire. It's a reflection of our society's dumbed-down standards some people came as they did. If NASCAR, which specifies attire for the Sprint Car awards, has to do the same for Hall activities, well, so be it . . . Now that ESPN is back into full gushing-over-Danica mode, I expect they'll nominate her for the NASCAR Hall . . . Good luck to my friend Herb Branham, new Grand-Am managing director of communications . . . Sub hosting on Wind Tunnel, Robin Miller asked what driver you'd pay to watch. My all-time list would include Jimmy Clark, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, John Force, Jan Opperman, Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Cale Yarborough, Parnelli Jones, Steve Kinser, Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti, Gilles Villeneuve, Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, Bobby Allison and that's 25 who immediately come to mind. But, in any era, my No. 1 choice is clear: Alex Zanardi. You could see his passion even at 200-plus mph at Michigan. His 1996 "The Pass" of Bryan Herta on the last lap at Laguna Seca will always be the stuff of legend. It's very meaningful to me that Alex gave me the helmet he was wearing that day and it's on display in my office . . . MSNBC has a new slogan: "Lean Forward." A better choice for the nut job network would have been: "Bend Over" . . . Sad news of the death of long-time NASCAR writer Jack Flowers. I conducted plenty of business with Jack over the years and it was always pleasant and entertaining. And, my friend Beth Tuschak, the former USA Today and Detroit News racing writer. It was a great professional achievement for me to have the USAT cover story on its Memorial Day special racing section for three consecutive years (1991 -- the Andrettis; 1992 -- Paul Newman/Carl Haas; 1993 -- Nigel Mansell), all written by Beth. And Jeff Byrd, who I first met when he worked on the various RJR/Winston sponsorships. Thanks for all you did. God Bless.
Here's a link to my October "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on Competition Plus.com. I offer a few suggestions for NHRA's 60th anniversary season in 2011:
What a disgrace -- but it tells us everything about today's media mentality. Read this AFP report on the media mob in Chile as the miners were rescued:
SAN JOSE MINE, Wednesday 13 October 2010 (AFP) - The joy of family members of the first miner to be rescued in Chile Wednesday turned suddenly to horror when hundreds of journalists trampled their humble tent in a mad rush to speak to them.
The chaos and jostling marred what had been a celebratory moment shared by the relatives of Florencio Avalos, the 31-year-old miner who was the first of the 33 to be winched to the surface.
Moments before Avalos stepped out of the rescue cage to hug his son and wife, and President Sebastian Pinera and other officials, the family had been surrounded in their tent on all sides by walls of cameras and journalists.
But when Avalos appeared on the television they were watching, to cheers, applause and horns throughout the camp where the miners' families were staying, the news workers rushed forward as one to capture the historic moment.
Avalos's father Alfonso, tears running down his face, said: "It's a huge joy. I'm so happy."
Then, as Alfonso hugged his wife Maria Silva, things turned ugly.
Reporters pushed and shoved to be the first to interview them, pulling on the hair of those in the way, throwing punches and almost knocking others to the ground.
The family retreated, and a frightened-looking Maria angrily hit out at journalists close to her with the Chilean flag bunched in her hand.
But the media mob, five-deep, kept advancing, crushing furniture and finally toppling the family's humble tent.
Two Chilean police officers watched from nearby but did not step in.
Finally, the media crowd dispersed.
I call on the executives of media organizations who had representatives on site to investigate. If any of their people were involved in this incident, they should be fired.
P.S. I -- From an image standpoint, I couldn't help but notice government officials made sure the miners were clean-shaven and had fresh clothes for their moment in the world spotlight. From a media standpoint, Chile closely stage-managed the rescue.
P.S. II -- MSNBC "Screwball" host Chris Matthews said that if the miners had been Tea Party believers, “they would have been killing each other after about two days." The twisted context here apparently was that the TP believes in self-reliance. This is what passes for "insight," "analysis" and "intelligent debate" on cable.
[ more next Monday . . . ]