If International Race of Champions (IROC) officials can successfully secure title sponsorship for the 2007 season, the series' stock cars will likely grace the dirt for the first time ever.
That's right, go ahead and salivate. The International Race On Clay could indeed be reality.
Tony Stewart, owner of Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, said last week he is in serious discussions with IROC about hosting an event at the famed dirt half-mile. Stewart's publicist, Mike Arning, backed that up Tuesday, explaining just how serious the two-time Nextel Cup champion – and defending IROC champ – is about hosting an IROC event.
"Tony's definitely up for it," Arning said. "He's told Jay [Signore, IROC president] that they'll figure out a way to make it work. Tony thinks the facility can handle it, but if IROC said, 'Do this, this and this,' he'd do it."
Capital improvement isn't all he'd do. Of the 13 drivers on the 2006 IROC roster, only World of Outlaws star Steve Kinser competes on dirt on a regular basis. For the other 12 guys, a refresher course would be prudent.
"He'd even do some driver training, bring in some dirt late model drivers to give pointers, like Dave Marcis gives guys pointers on drafting [at Daytona]," Arning said. "The big question, though, is what's going to happen to IROC?"
"We're very serious about Eldora, but the first thing is the obvious, which is we have to be in existence," IROC spokesman George Signore said Tuesday. "Once we do get a sponsor -- fingers crossed -- then we'll have to work it out logistically from a scheduling standpoint due to all the different drivers in the series, and with television.
"The other decision, or question, will be, does Eldora becomes one of the four races, or does it become an additional event? None of the details have been discussed, but hopefully we'll have that opportunity to roll up our sleeves and get it all figured out."
Agreed. Longtime fans tell me all the time how much they'd love to see Cup cars on dirt. That'll never happen, unless Brian and Lesa France decide to truck 300 tons of Georgia red clay into Seattle. (Total random guess on the quantity and type of dirt, by the way )
Given that IROC's very premise is equality, a four-race forum that pits the world's best drivers against one another in identical machines to determine skill supremacy, a dirt venue would greatly change the dynamic.
The World of Outlaws boys are always forced to compete against the open-wheel and stock car boys on pavement. That's no small disadvantage.
Imagine Kinser's face when the green drops at Eldora with Kevin Harvick in his rearview. Priceless. Lickin' his chops. Like Peyton Manning when he reads the blitz and knows Marvin Harrison is one-on-one on the outside.
Like Dale Earnhardt at Daytona when Eddie Cheever fired the motor.
The Eldora event would be one of the most-anticipated and exciting races of the year, and just might entice more marquee names to participate in the series.
Without question, it would inject considerable excitement into a worthy concept.
Someone needs to step up and sponsor IROC. It'd be instant hero-status.
Marty, last week you wrote about the champion's provisional. What's the history on that rule? I agree it's outdated. Darrell used it about 200 times in his career.
-- Johnny L, Minneapolis
Great question, Johnny. For the answer I summoned the expertise of Buz McKim, NASCAR's in-house historian, the Funk and Wagnalls and Britannica of all things France. He tells me that NASCAR allowed a provisional starting position for the reigning series champion through 1997, but the determination of that final starting position was left up to NASCAR officials on many occasions.
During the 1997 season, five former series champions took provisionals for a total of 13 races: Darrell Waltrip took five, Rusty Wallace three, Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte took two each and Bill Elliott took one. The 1998 season saw an explosion of past-champion provisional usage, and it seemed to become more mainstream.
Waltrip used it a total of 20 times in 1998. Earnhardt required it twice, Elliott and Labonte once each. That's 24 of the season's 33 races. Ultimately, McKim surmises the rule was instituted to guarantee a starting spot in the field for "big draws."
Marty, everything I read mentions this Internet video of the family watching Talladega and cursing out Jimmie Johnson on the last-lap wreck. Where in God's creation can I find this thing? I've looked everywhere?!?!
-- Matt, Garrison, N.Y.
Hilarious Go to YouTube and type "NASCAR: How Bad Have You Got It" into the search engine. You'll then be prompted to sign up, with a warning that "This video may contain content that is inappropriate for some users."
Uh, yeah. The dude is like a scratched George Carlin CD. He drops, what, 25 f-bombs in two minutes? Without question it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
Marty, next time you get a chance, ask Jimmie Johnson what his plans for IROC next year are – assuming they get sponsorship, of course.
-- Terri, Chester, Va.
Asked if he plans to compete in IROC in 2007, Johnson gave me a stern, one-word response: "Nope."
As for the IROC sponsorship, series spokesman George Signore told me Tuesday that they have several leads, but no ink just yet. They're getting ready for Daytona as if they already have a sponsor, preparing cars for the season's first event.
There is no established drop-deadline, Signore said. They plan to keep searching until they get a bite.
Marty, If ratings are down, there is a simple reason. As in all sports – ratings go up when the popular team wins and lots of people are behind them. We want to see them win. NASCAR ratings will go up when either Tony, Jeff Gordon, Kasey or Dale Jr. wins the Cup. These are who most fans are following. If Jr. wins the Cup – ratings will go thru the roof, like they've never seen before. GO DALE, GO Budweiser. What do you think Budweiser will do when Jr. wins a Cup? ADVERTISE LIKE CRAZY – that's what. GO Jr.! Make your dad proud!
-- Jason, Sarasota, Fla.
My rebuttal is simple, Jason: The television ratings dip became an issue during Stewart's reign as champion, right? Moreover, the other three drivers you mentioned were in the 2006 Chase for the Nextel Cup, when ratings really dipped. (A span, also, during which Stewart won three races.)
So if people care so much more for those guys than for everyone else, why weren't they watching this year? That pretty well discounts that argument, no?
And man, Earnhardt Jr. made his father proud long ago. He needn't win a championship for that. Go back and watch the Victory Lane footage from Texas and The Winston in 2000. Look at Big E's face. That's the very definition of proud.
Marty, I heard a rumor that Mark Martin was offered a ride in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Busch car next season. Have you heard any such rumor? Also, how do you think Juan Pablo Montoya will do in his first year as a Nextel Cup driver?
-- Brandon, Atlanta
That rumor is indeed valid, Brandon. Martin said last week that he'd spoken with Junior about running a Busch Series car for JR Motorsports on a part-time basis, but that sponsorship conflicts disallowed the partnership. Martin will drive the U.S. Army Chevrolet for Ginn Racing in the Cup Series next year, and Junior's Busch Series team, of course, is sponsored by the Navy.
That's like Earnhardt driving a Miller Lite car in the Busch Series.
Martin did tell me last week, though, that he has some "really special Busch Series stuff in the works." An announcement is expected soon.
Keep 'em coming, folks. Whatever strikes your fancy. Seriously, anything:
The Chase format. (Chalk it up: more points to winners in '07.) Britney or Paris? (Rachel for me, thank you. McAdams or Bilson is just fine.) The BCS. (Ridiculous. 16-team playoff. My buddy has a stellar formula.) John Deere tractors. (Numero Uno.) Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey. (Ditto.) "Friday Night Lights." (Wonderful book. Decent movie. Surprisingly excellent television series.) Christmas trees -- real or fake? iPods. The Red initiative. (Get out to The Gap, buy a red shirt.) "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" or "A Christmas Story"? (The former. Come on, it's not even debatable. "Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Kiss my ass. Kiss his ass. Kiss your ass. Happy Hanukkah." CLASSIC!)
Anything's game. Hit me.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.