Thursday, August 26, 2004

Road America weekend

From there we made our way to Road America and it took us FOREVER to get there!!! We got there around 2:00 p.m. just as all on-track activities were ending. That was some good planning there. It didn't stop us, of course. We went in and hung out in the paddock area and harassed our friend Rick, who runs the merchandise trailer for Speedgear. Mario Dominguez passed us in the paddock and I greeted him with a fine "Buenas tardes, Mario." He smiled and replied, "Hola, ¿qué tal?" I hadn't planned for that, I was a complete loser and stumbled over, "Bien, ¿y tú? By this time, he was completely gone in the other direction, but what the heck. He was heading off to get his rental car so that he could drive the track and set it in his head. All the drivers do this in some form, i.e., road car, bicycle, walk, golf cart, etc. before they head out for serious practice and qualifying on Friday. I'm sure I saw other drivers, but all I can remember from that day is the massive headache I got from being stupid and going out in the sun w/o a hat.

Okay, now I'm doubting myself. Did I say Good afternoon to Mario Dominguez or to Rodolfo Lavin? ARGH! After wandering around for a few hours we headed off to the hotel and the shopping mall (such as it exists around Manitowoc, WI) because we didn't have any funeral clothes with us. Thankfully, I had a nice shirt with me (unusual for a race weekend, so all I needed was the pants – same for E) and I found a decent pair of black pants at JC Penney for $20. SCORE!

Friday found us at the track bright and early so that we could enjoy all of the racing action. We normally spend Friday and Saturday driving around the fabled 4.048 mile track and watching from all of the different viewing locations. We decided to spend qualifying in the paddock and that was a jackpot, IMO, because I got to talk to Jeremy Dale once again (I had also had the chance to talk to him in Toronto) and tell him how much I had loved the results of the previous race at Vancouver where his two drivers had finished 2nd and 3rd. He's the Team President of RuSPORT and their drivers are AJ Allmendinger (3rd at Vancouver) and Michel Jourdain, Jr. (2nd at Vancouver). They are a first year team which means they have no set-ups for the race tracks from the previous years' races like most of the teams. And we won't even discuss how I feel about Michel's former team owner and how he should have given them the set-ups since he's a bloody traitor and bailed on the series and doesn't need those set-ups anyway for all the stupid ovals his drivers are running now. But like I said, I won't go there.

Anyway, Jeremy Dale used to be a sportscar driver back in the day and had an absolutely horrendous accident at Road Atlanta in 1995 and he hasn't raced since. The reason I wanted to talk to him so much back in Toronto was that although I got Jeremy Dale news every once in a while (related to his condition after the crash), I was never able to find any news about Fabrizio Barbazza, and I figured this was my chance. Jeremy was able to tell me that although Fabrizio suffered from a closed head injury that he was able to recover and lead a normal life back in Italy. I was much relieved, let me tell you.

Anyway, back to race weekend. I congratulated Jeremy on Vancouver's great results and told him how excited I had been for Carl Russo (owner of the team) who had been shown on TV jumping up and down with excitement as his cars finished 2-3. It was so cute and of course, being the incredible frickin' wuss that I am, I was crying for him.

We had run into a couple of guys on our way into the paddock that we had met at the Milwaukee race back in June and hung out with them while they got the pictures they took at Milwaukee signed by the different drivers. Patrick Carpentier was as nice as always. Last year he scolded me good-naturedly for having the cap off the Sharpie for too long while waiting for him. I protested that I had only just taken the cap off when he approached us.

After qualifying we had a couple of things we wanted to buy (E. bought a book on Bernie Ecclestone called Bernie's Game, and I had seen a new book on Senna that I had to get for Rick), but I got a little sidetracked by the sight of Tommy Kendall talking to Bob Varsha. I'm a huge TK fan and have been for many years and I had a couple of things I wanted to say to him. So, I stood there a little off to the side (close enough that he knew I wanted to talk to him, but not so close as to insinuate myself into the conversation) and waited. After about ten minutes or so, TK turned to me and I was able to tell him what I wanted to tell him.

A little background here: TK was last in a Trans-Am car back in 1997 when he won the championship and won 11 straight races (losing only the last race of the season). During his 1997 run, Paul Gentilozzi, a fellow driver, accused Tommy in every racing publications' Letters to the Editor of cheating by single-handedly switching out the legal sized gas tank with a bigger one. He specifically stated in the letter that he knew Jack Roush (owner of TK's car) and that Jack Roush would never cheat and obviously his crew wouldn't do so either. A couple of weeks later, those same magazines all ran a rebuttal from Tommy's father essentially poking fun at PG's letter by describing a scenario of Tommy breaking into Roush Racing after hours and changing the gas tank himself. So, I've pretty much not had a lot of love for Paul Gentilozzi over the years. Prepare yourself for irony now. TK gets a call during the off-season from PG asking him to drive for him in the Trans-Am series in a new four-stroke Jaguar, and when I saw TK in Milwaukee I asked him what the hell he was thinking driving for the man who accused him of cheating. He played dumb and asked what I was talking about, so I "refreshed" his memory. You could tell by the look on his face when he asked the question though that he knew exactly what I was talking about. He laughed and said that his father asked him the same thing.

So, back to Road America, I say to Tommy, "I have a conspiracy theory for you. I think Paul Gentilozzi offered you that ride (now mind you, up until Road America, TK's four-stroke Jaguar had broken down in every single race, except Portland where he did NOT win) just to say he beat Tommy Kendall, which would complete his resume." PG rarely, if ever, beat Tommy back in the early to mid-90s when they were racing each other. The 1998 season started w/o all the biggest names of Trans-Am: Dorsey Schroeder, Ron Fellows, Tommy Kendall, etc. And PG was the only one left with any real money. The rest of the field was full of privateers, although the official history of the Trans-Am series doesn't like to mention that.

Tommy looks at me and says, "My father said the same thing. When I told him that Paul called up and offered me a ride, he asked 'Are you sure he's not just setting you up?'" I laughed and said, "I've always liked your father." Anyway, we chatted for a little while and he told me that he was glad I had his back and high-fived me. LOL! He also said and Bob Varsha agreed that all those people who wanted Tommy to lose a race in 1997 were now rooting for him to win a race. And I piped up that I had never wanted Tommy to lose a race. If a driver I don't like wins every race, I hate it, but I love it when it's my driver. LOL! Anyway, the next day, TK went out and made his way through the field decisively (I forget why he was so far back) and ended up winning the race which made me very happy.

The actual Champ Car race on Sunday was interesting. The track announcer was just about worthless. We were sitting in Hurry Downs and basically had no clue what was happening because even though the announcer had the benefit of the TV coverage, he was unable to keep us abreast of what was going on. We were going insane trying to figure out what was going on! It's hard when you can't see pit lane. At the end, Alex Tagliani got his first ever Champ Car win and Rodolfo Lavin got his best-ever finish in 2nd. The good news for me was that Oriol Servia had a great race in the Dale Coyne car, even if he got caught out of the pit stop strategy with the yellow flags. Great showing, Oriol!!! It's so good to see a Dale Coyne car running well. He's a good and loyal Champ Car owner and for that I could just kiss him!

And that was my weekend at Road America earlier this month! I love my Champ Cars!!!


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