- Auto Racing - Earnhardt sporting around at Daytona

Friday, February 2
Earnhardt sporting around at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt could get used to this sports car racing.

The seven-time Winston Cup champion, taking part for the first time in the Rolex 24-Hours sports car endurance race at Daytona International Speedway, is co-driving a Chevrolet Corvette with son and fellow NASCAR star Dale Jr. and road racing veterans Andy Pilgrim and Kerry Collins in a Chevrolet Corvette.

"This sports car racing is pretty neat," the elder Earnhardt said with a grin. "You have a guy qualify the car and set it up for you and then you just get in and drive once in a while. I'm thinking about doing that for my Winston Cup team."

Although Earnhardt there are lots of drivers who could do a better job for the team, Pilgrim disagreed.

"These guys don't need any tutoring," Pilgrim said. "We're just giving them information. They are both running right on pace and taking care of the car."

Earnhardt Sr., who already leads all drivers at Daytona with 34 victories in Winston Cup, the Busch Series and IROC, said sports car racing and this race in particular have always fascinated him.

"I'm a big fan of all kind of racing and I've always felt like I'd like to have the Daytona 24-Hours on my resume when I retire someday, especially when I can do it with my son," Earnhardt said. "I was looking at it pretty close last year, but I had neck surgery and had to put it off."

Now, he's here, racing on the 3.56-mile road circuit that uses about 75 percent of the 2.5-mile, high-banked oval.

"I'm taking it pretty easy out there," Earnhardt said. "I'm pretty careful around traffic. I want to be around at the end of 24 hours - that's my goal."

Series sponsor
Roger Edmondson, president of the Grand American Road Racing Association, announced Friday that Rolex Watch USA has agreed to become title sponsor of the series for at least three years.

Rolex has been sponsor of the 24-hour race in Daytona -- America's most prestigious endurance event -- for 10 years.

Beginning with the race that starts Saturday at 1 p.m. EST, the company will sponsor the entire 10-race series in 2001.

Live, Long TV
The twice-around-the clock season-opener in Daytona will be telecast live, start to finish, for the first time on cable by Speedvision.

Roger Werner, founder and CEO of the company, said, "In terms of complexity, a 24-hour endurance race has got to be about the toughest thing we do live on television. It's extremely unpredictable. It can be extremely exciting right down to the wire or deadly dull.

"In any case, it requires continuous high-level involvement from the broadcast team for an entire day."

Historically, Werner added, other networks -- whether cable or over the air -- would give an event like this 20 minutes or perhaps an hour of coverage.

"In the best cases, they'd give it an hour at the start and an hour or two at the finish. To really tell the story live over 25 hours is something only a network like Speedvision can do."

To get the job done, Speedvision is changing some of the traditional ways television covers racing.

"We are taking the camera positions down and closer to the track," explained Roger Scanlon, senior vice president of programming and production. " We're going to give the viewer a better sense of speed, and not just the appearance of speed. Being far away and up high, you don't really get the sense of speed at home that you do if you are standing at the fence at the corner of the frontstretch at Daytona.

"It will be much harder work for the camera people because their movements side-to-side now become much faster, and doing that for hours on end gets to be tough work."

There will be many more microphones and on-board cameras.

"We're going to be a thing we call racing diaries on specific teams, including the Earnhardts in the Corvette," Scanlon said.

Best laid plans
Michael Johnson, a former star on MTV's "The Real World," gave up his early dreams of being a race driver to fulfill another dream -- being a team owner.

He might have had second thoughts about the latter Friday as his two-car Archangel Motorsports team scrambled to get ready for the Rolex 24.

"This is my first Rolex 24," the 27-year Johnson said. "Everything's been pretty hectic this week."

The team had everything organized for this race two months ago, but a new car wasn't delivered until last Saturday, and a new gearbox for the other team car came with some of the pieces missing.

"Both of those happening at the same time threw a wrench into the works," Johnson said. "But we're confident we'll be back on our plan by Saturday."


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