Sunday, January 22, 2012


SHOW STOPPER: It was only a show car, but Courtney Force's new Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car was the centerpiece of the impressive Traxxas display at last week's Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Scottsdale. Courtney wasn't there and overall racer participation seemed down, perhaps due to scheduling conflicts with NHRA testing and NASCAR's Hall of Fame induction ceremony and fan festival. Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Mario Andretti and Brad Keselowski were visitors.

This weekend is the 50th anniversary running of what is now known as the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Whether the R24 or the 12 Hours of Sebring is America's most important sports car race can be debated, but I can't help but have special feelings for Daytona, because in a 24-month span I experienced both extreme ends of the endurance event's emotional roller-coaster.

In 1989, I worked the event with the Andrettis, in what was an emotional farewell for many of us. My friend Al Holbert, the Le Mans and Daytona winner, had been killed in a private airplane crash the previous September. Many of Al's guys gathered one more time to run a pair of Porsche 962s. Ours fell out in the evening, while the other car, which had John Andretti as one of its drivers, went on to win.

In 1990, I was a part of the Castrol Jaguar XJR-12 two-car team. We were running 1-2 after just two hours and stayed that way through the end. Davy Jones, Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace were the winners, with Martin Brundle, Price Cobb and John Nielsen the runners-up.

It was a fantastic experience to get to go to Daytona's victory lane. I remember that, from the time I got up to when I got back to bed, I was up for 39 straight hours (excepting short naps on a lounge chair outside the team motorhome.) I have a nice plaque from the team on my office wall thanking me for my contribution to this achievement.

Team owner, the late Tom Walkinshaw, enjoyed it immensely when, on the elevator ride up to the media box, I told the drivers that the most important part of their job was done, but there was still more work to do: Please take a deep breath and reach for whatever remaining energy they had, to interact well with the media. They did, with Jones the man in the media spotlight.

The next year, Mario, Michael and Jeff Andretti were back in a Porsche. After an electrical problem dropped our Porsche well behind after just one hour, some hard-driving by Michael throughout the night meant we took the overall lead at sunrise. Alas, there were mechanical woes, which dropped us from contention. With Mario behind the wheel, the engine blew right in front of our pits -- with just 15 minutes to go!

That's the Rolex 24. I'll be watching -- and feeling -- for all the competitors this weekend.

They say everything is bigger in Texas. Apparently, including ticket pricing at Circuit of the Americas. Just announced is the Formula One track's plans for sale of 15-year personal seat licenses ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per seat, "depending on proximity to the start/finish line and amenities." Reminder: a PSL just gives you the right to spend more money to actually buy a ticket. Call me skeptical about a plan for a project that has been troubled for months. I assume management did its research, but if this is successful in this economy, I'll gladly offer to buy Bernie Ecclestone a 10-gallon hat.

[ more next Monday . . . ]