Already we are distracted
by Stan Creekmore, NASCAR Editor

January 31, 2003

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For the umpteenth year in a row, the issues going into Daytona have nothing to do with the ability of the driver or the quality of the team working behind him.

This year those important values have been replaced by ďaero matching, schedule realignment and carbon monoxide poisoning.Ē Of those the most important is the long-term effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Both the manufacturers and NASCAR have been involved in aero matching for decades now. This season just happens to be the first where the ability to complain about the possibility of aero superiority has been taken away from the manufacturers. With every car built within the same aero box it is practically impossible for one manufacturer to possess a hidden advantage. Thatís not to say an individual race team hasnít discovered some minor detail that will have a major impact on their performance.

But, isnít that the way itís suppose to be? The team that works the smartest will have an advantage on the racetrack. The car with more horsepower, a better chassis set-up and whatever slight aero advantage they can muster should be able to excel so long as the driver has the ability to utilize the advantages put at his disposal.

The impending schedule realignment put so artfully before the media by Bill France is an issue between the sanctioning body and itís track operators. It isnít the place of the media, myself included, to suggest how the schedule should be realigned. That process will fall to those that own the tracks and those that control who gets what races. Both will make their decisions based on the demands of television. If the television executives believe we need more night races then we will have more night races. Tracks will install the lights, end of story. If those same executives suggest it would be better to end the season in Las Vegas you can bet your last paycheck the season will end in Las Vegas.

And, if ISC believes they can improve the return on investment by taking races from North Carolina Speedway and Darlington Raceway then those tracks will lose a date, maybe even both dates. The same can be said for SMI. If Bruton Smith thinks he can make more money racing twice in Las Vegas versus twice in Atlanta then NASCAR has opened the door for a switch to be made.

However, there are a couple things you can bet on. Infineon Raceway will not be a loser in the shuffle. Bruton Smith says Infineon Raceway is a major profit center for SMI.

ďWe have something going on at Infineon Raceway every clear day of the year,Ē said Smith, then adding that Las Vegas is another stellar property in the SMI lineup.

ďI am going to build a road course at Las Vegas. It should be done by the time you get there in March.Ē

Enough said about aero matching and schedule realignments. The race teams will go where the racing is and will race what NASCAR allows them to race.

What should be important is identifying the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and doing everything possible to keep the drivers safe from suffering the irreversible effects of long term exposure.

Rick Mastís career is finished. To hear him speak it was really over five years ago.

Letís say that again. Rick Mast should have quit driving five years ago.

Five years ago Mast was told he had toxic levels of carbon monoxide in his system. Five years ago he knew the damage was done and with continued exposure would only get worse.

NASCAR preaches to the world about the importance of safety. Every rule change, every part approval, every step made every day must promote the safety of racing above all else. That is the way it should be. However, NASCAR is helpless in itís efforts if the drivers fail to take their own safety seriously.

Rick Mast should have gotten out of a car five years ago. Instead he risked his own safety and the safety of his competitors because, like most athletes, ignorance is easier to swallow than reality.

Hopefully, the issues of aero matching and schedule realignment will take a back seat to safety. The fans, who have long thrashed NASCAR for their safety record, have an obligation to encourage their favorite driver to be safe, not stupid, because safe racing is the good competitive racing we all desire in the first place.

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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