Sunday, June 24, 2012


RACING ART: I had the pleasure of meeting famed sports artist LeRoy Neiman a few times. He attended the 1990 CART Denver Grand Prix, staged on downtown streets, and did this painting of the Newman/Haas team. Mario and Michael Andretti are depicted sitting on the pit wall at the far right. Neiman shows himself third from left behind the car. To his right are Paul Newman (yellow) and Carl Haas (red), who has the original in his office. I have a print in mine. Neiman died last week at age 91.

And now I can tell you the story . . .

I've known for over a year that Pat Patrick and Jim McGee were working on a racing engine powered by natural gas. That was made official last week when IMSA, the American Le Mans Series' sanctioning body, announced a deal with Patrick Racing to research and develop NG as an alternative fuel for its Prototype Challenge class cars.

I didn't write anything because I promised my source not to -- until a formal news release was issued. At last year's Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame awards dinner (McGee was inducted), however, I privately mentioned this to my friend Arie Luyendyk? Why tell him? Because what Patrick and McGee wanted to do was take this innovation to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If not in the Indy 500, then in a special demonstration run, an attempt to unofficially break Luyendyk's existing one-lap track record of 236.986 mph, set in 1996. I asked Arie if he'd like to drive it but he said no.

Given their winning history in the I500, it's certainly no surprise Patrick and McGee, his longtime team manager, wished to showcase this technology at IMS. I was told by someone directly involved, though, that the IMS Corp.'s negotiating position wasn't favorable. Oil and nat gas exploration mogul Patrick wanted exclusive rights to -- at least for a few years -- certain elements such as the fuel system and refueling equipment.

"They seemed to not have a lot of interest in it," according to my source. Reminds me of the DeltaWing.

From a Business of Racing standpoint, it's logical to assume the IndyCar series' multi-million dollar ethanol deal with APEX-Brazil had more than a little something to do with this.

Here are details you haven't read elsewhere: Patrick Racing has been working on this project for over two years. A natural gas-powered, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine was built and tested at Jack Roush's shop. That engine was two liters and turned 8,500 rpm with 20 pounds of boost and put out 655 horsepower.

I'm told virtually any engine could be converted to nat gas and it's better with a turbo because of the compression factor. The ALMS PC class uses 430-horsepower Chevrolet LS3 engines.

“Natural gas is destined to become a major player in the transportation industry for everyday passenger vehicles, and not just fleet operations,” Patrick said in the official release. “It is abundant, domestic, affordable and ecologically responsible. For more than a century, racing has been at the tip of the spear in developing new technology for the transportation industry. This is in line with and in the spirit of that history.”

The Speedway is the place where the innovation that was the rear-view mirror became famous. It was the stage for the Novi, turbine, and I even remember a design for a steam-powered car (didn't happen because it was too heavy.)

For those keeping score, it's now: ALMS 2, Indy 0.

I updated the Phoenix International Raceway IndyCar and NASCAR news in last Friday's Arizona Republic. No, despite what you may have read elsewhere, PIR is not and has never been a candidate to replace China on IC's 2012 schedule. But the chance for 2013 is still there. Here's the link:

FAST LINES: There is every reason to believe this World of Outlaws season will be remembered as a true classic. The hottest driver in the series is Kraig Kinser, who won Saturday night over legendary father Steve, at Dodge City Raceway Park. It was Kinser the son's third victory in the last seven Outlaws' features. Steve won Friday night and is leading the championship standings. Fans and the news media are missing out by not paying attention . . . A college football national championship playoff system looks close to happening in 2014 and the TV rights fees will be historically enormous. What sport(s) will see their $s drop as those funds go to this new package? I'm sure that's something NASCAR is pondering . . . File this under Ridiculous & Arrogant: The MotoGP rights holder has a media credential request system more difficult than the Super Bowl or World Series . . . Geez, what will they talk about on PTI now that the basketball season is over? (Of course the hosts will take weeks off while a big percentage of their audience wishes they could have one weekend off.) God forbid they should have John Force, Courtney Force, Tony Schumacher or another good NHRA racer/talker on to showcase one of the many interesting personalities whose competition is shown on their network.

[ more next Monday . . . ]