14 days

News Flash


Scrutineering Bay

Not that it's any of my business

Notes from the Cellar

Across the Border

Focal Point







Mail  to a friend

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Family and friends


                                                                                  sportscarpros Off The Grid
                                                                                                                                                                                      Richard Dole


Top of Page

Days like these…..

Timing is everything in the automotive world. A great example of this is the North American International Auto Show. It occurs every January and is held in Detroit, Michigan. Motor manufacturers from around the world spend obscene amounts of money introducing new production cars and showcasing concept cars while wining and dining the international press corps.  The NAIAS is the first big car show of each year and every corporate hot rod hot shot wants to make sure their product gains as much media attention limelight as possible.

What is not possible is for any journalist to see every introduction, attend every corporate breakfast, lunch, or coat & tie dinner, and sit in on every press conference. Because of this, car companies go to great lengths to attract as much attention as possible including cars crashing through plate glass windows, ice skaters spinning around new cars, rock stars and television actors making cameo appearances, and a cattle drive outside the front doors of Cobo Hall. All of this to get as many writers, photographers and talking heads to spend a few minutes now to see their product, and more time later communicating about it.

A few short weeks prior to the start of the NAIAS, Scott Atherton decided the Detroit show would be the perfect place and the perfect time to hold a press conference.  The only time the organizers could squeeze it in was Tuesday morning, the last of the three press preview days. Over two hundred journalists showed up, all trekking through 2 inches of snow that fell on Motown over night.

Upon arrival, they were greeted with the sight of a very large digital stopwatch. Projected 50 feet across the back of the stage, the stopwatch displayed the number – 5:00:00 – five minutes. The watch wasn’t moving, it was static, ready, waiting. A few minutes to have coffee, juice, muffins and bagels and then the audience heard an announcement –“five minutes to the start of the American Le Mans Series press conference.” At that moment, the stopwatch starting counting backwards and from speakers the journalists could hear voices, lots of voices. What they were hearing sounded like mission control before the beginning of a rocket launch. It wasn’t NASA they were listening to, it was IMSA race control, going over their check lists moments before the start of a race. As the clock approached the 0:00:00 mark, the last thing they heard was starter Dennis Paul saying “green, green, green” as Scott Atherton walked to the podium.

What followed was the best presentation in the history of the ALMS. Atherton, along with representatives from the SAE, DOT and EPA, spoke about the “greening of racing” and how the ALMS was only race series in the world making positive strides in this direction. The presentation was precise, concise and hit all of the marks. Atherton summed it up best when he stated, “the American Le Mans Series is the most relevant race series in the world.” From a technological, environmental and manufacturer collective point of view, he is correct. As one long-time motor sports sage said after the press conference, “the ALMS founds its voice today.” True words indeed.

IROC reunited
Less than two weeks after the NAIAS, the motor sports world descended upon Daytona for GrandAm’s biggest and best race of their season – the 24 hour classic around the fabled speedway. The race needs to be renamed the 24 Hours of IROC, as this race does IROC better than IROC ever did. Winning drivers from Indy, NASCAR, F1, ALMS, and Le Mans reunite once year to race the most equally prepared GT and spec prototype race cars in the world. The 24 hour race is the Motorsports All-Star game. No pressure, no worries, just hit the track and drive the wheels off the car. It is a great show, as these world-class drivers are retained by team owners to give the former a shot at collecting the most renowned stainless steel watch in the world, and the latter, a historic victory of a historic event.

Chip Ganassi, proved for the third year in a row, he knows how to win at Daytona, at least in January. Nothing would please international race fans more than a win by Juan or Dario in February. That would go a long way in quieting left turn specialists like Kevin Harvick from every again trying to construct a thoughtful utterance with the term Formula 1 and NASCAR in the same sentence. Mr. Harvick and his ilk should be reminded that open wheel racers have always moved easily into stock cars – including Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt and Tony Stewart.  Juan, Dario and Jacques are the latest examples of this type of talent.  I cannot think of one case where migration in the opposite direction is true.

Daytona in January is another time to for journalists to catch up with old friends. Two of which need mention. Gordon Kirby was in the house. Gordon is on the very short list of the best motor sports journalists working in America. The saying, “no prophet is well-received in his home land” in some ways applies to Gordon. He is direct, at times gruff, and has very strong opinions based on years of experience. It is easy to wonder what state the world of ChampCar would be in today, if only a small percentage of Gordon’s insights were followed. Sadly, we will never know. He was in especially good form at Daytona, beaming in fact, as he will be writing a regular column in Motor Sport magazine and reunited with fellow journalistic giant, Nigel Roebuck, in reshaping this once again great publication.

I also ran into Dave Arnold – a gentle man, pr master, humorist, and all around good guy. Dave is once again battling some health issues with determination, grace and courage. My visit with Dave exceeded everything else during the Daytona weekend. Like a fine wine, both Dave and Gordon get better with time.

Go long…. I’ll hit ya !
The day after Daytona, and a world away, the motor sports circus was in Sebring for the ALMS Winter Test. Press conferences and testing aside, the 3 days at the old B-17 training base mostly provided a preview for a historic year of racing to come.

Time stands still for no one, and this is especially true for race teams. The Peugeot, Audi, Porsche Spyders and Acura cars have all made improvements in the off- season and expect the Sebring qualifying stopwatch to stop a few ticks sooner this March. The addition of drivers Patrick Long to Penske, Marino Franchitti to Dyson, Christian Fittipaldi to AGR and Scott Sharp to Highcroft will provide many compelling stories throughout the year.
In addition, the Mazda LMP2 program is stepping up with the addition of Yokohama tires and BP sponsorship. The addition of Patron with Highcroft, two new Ferrari teams and BMW on the horizon – how about a M3 2008 debut at Laguna Seca – all bodes well for the series. And more manufacturers are coming soon.

The battle for the 12 Hour of Sebring will be mega.  Jumping across the pond in June, Audi versus Peugeot (on home soil) and the annual Corvette/Aston battle will go down as an epic year at Le Mans. Expect the Pratt & Miller boys to turn up in France with the demeanor of New England head coach Bill Belichick. Going undefeated for the entire ALMS season only to lose at Le Mans 2 years in a row would not sit well with these General Motors patriots. Game On….again.

Another football legend, George Allen, the former Washington Redskins head coach, often used the phrase, “the future is now.”  He used this term when referring to his team of veterans coming together at the peak of their careers and forming one cohesive unit.  When you ask Scott Atherton how things are going, he will usually respond, “ things have never been better.”  And he is right.  The green flag is waving.  In 2008, the ALMS is a coming together of veteran teams with experienced crews, determined drivers, sponsors who understand it, and new technologies developed by manufacturers who believe in it – the right product, in the right place, moving in the direction, and at the right time.

Right now.

Richard Dole
                                                                                  February 2008