Sunday, August 13, 2000

AUTO RACING INSIDER


Race fans feel pity for Martin

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        You had to feel for Mark Martin at last weekend's Brickyard 400.

        True, Martin has won 32 races in his career. He's approaching $25 million in career earnings. He's set for life. Many, many lives, actually.

        But there we were anyway, feeling sorry for Martin when his No. 6 Valvoline Ford crashed into a wall at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the second straight race he finished 43rd (last) because of an accident.

        “I was just stunned,” Martin said.

        So were his many fans.

        They like Martin because he works hard, drives clean, says the right things. He's not The Intimidator (Dale Earnhardt) or the Wonderboy (Jeff Gordon). He's the common man, a guy who would blend in just fine at the family picnic.

        For a while, it seemed 2000 would be the year for Martin. He was near the top of the Winston Cup points race, seeking his first championship after seven straight years (1993-99) in the top five.

        But now, he has slipped to 10th in the points race. He's out of the championship hunt.

        Martin, 41, is considered the best active driver not to have won a Winston Cup title. Dale Jarrett got his in 1999, and it seems Bobby Labonte will win his first this year.

        Martin is overdue, but he'll have to wait at least another year.

        “We're just racing,” Martin said. “If a championship is not meant to be for me, then I can live with that.”

        Does he mean that?

        Probably not.

        Sure, you can also feel for Jeff Burton. And Ward Burton. No Winston titles for them, either. And Ricky Rudd and Sterling Marlin. And Michael Waltrip, who's never even won a race in his Winston career.

        See? A lot of guys out there to feel for.

        Martin's fortunes could change today at Watkins Glen. He could be a candidate to end Gordon's six-race winning streak on road courses, having had a three-year winning streak himself (1993-95) at the Glen.

        “I've been pretty fortunate there,” Martin said. “I'm looking forward to it.”

        MULDOWNEY RETURNS: Three-time NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney will return to the big leagues after a two-year absence. Muldowney will compete in the NHRA's U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend (Aug. 30-Sept. 4) at Indianapolis Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind., not far from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

        Muldowney won NHRA titles in 1977, 1980, and '82. She was the first wom an licensed to drive a Top Fuel dragster.

        • John Force reclaimed the NHRA Winston points lead in Funny Car last weekend with his seventh victory of the season, at the FRAM Autolite Nationals in Sonoma, Calif. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Kurt Johnson (Pro Stock) also were winners.

        Force earned a record 88th career victory and seeks a record-tying 10th NHRA Winston championship. Bob Glidden (Pro Stock) also won 10 titles.

        LOCAL SCENE: The folks at Middletown Motorsports Park e-mailed to let fans — and racers — know they're out there. The professional-level kart racing facility is an 0.7-mile clay oval, located in the old Fan tasy Farm complex next to Americana, 5389 State Route 4, in Middletown. Racing is held every Saturday night. For info, e-mail to tw1819@email.msn.com.

        • Kentucky Speedway is preparing for its Indy Racing League event, the Belterra Resort Indy 300 on Aug. 27. Speedway officials hope to draw over 50,000, which would be one of the largest crowds to see an IRL race outside the Indy 500. The support race is an ARCA event Aug. 26. For info, see www.kentuckyspeedway.com.

        Tom Groeschen welcomes your email at tgroeschen@enquirer.com

       



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