NASCAR Notebook: Dale, Danica a dynamic duo

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Associated Press
The NASCAR notebook …Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, two of the most popular drivers in American auto racing, will go one-on-one Thursday night on Earnhardt’s XM Satellite Radio show, “Dale Jr. Unrestricted.”
The interview with open-wheel star Patrick, who recently became the first woman to win an IndyCar race, will air nationwide on the XM Sports Nation channel (XM 144) at 7:30 p.m.
“Danica is a talented driver, and she backs up that talent with the kind of commitment and dedication you’ve got to have to succeed,” NASCAR star Earnhardt said in a statement earlier this week. “We’ve hung out a little, and I’m glad to see her hard work pay off.”
The two drivers have more in common than auto racing. Patrick is co-host of the XM show “Andretti Green Racing Hour” on Tuesday’s at 7 p.m. on the same channel.
Auto racing is the ultimate in gas-guzzling entertainment. But the prospect of paying $4 a gallon to get to the track has some fans reluctant to start their engines.
Ticket sales have slipped just as May, the biggest month in motorsports, approaches. So track promoters are shifting into high gear to keep the grandstands full, offering all-you-can-eat packages and staging rock concerts.
“This is a working man’s sport, no matter what picture some people try to paint,” said H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway outside Charlotte. “The people most affected by these obnoxious oil prices are the working man.”
About half the fans who attend the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race, set for May 25 at Wheeler’s track, drive from more than 250 miles away, many of them in RVs that can cost $300 or more to fill up.
Fans often camp out for several days at races, too, making a weekend at the track a much larger financial commitment than taking in a baseball game รณ and suggesting motorsports is more vulnerable to an economy under the yellow flag.
Dean Strom, a financial planner from Muskego, Wis., usually gets to 20 to 30 races a year, mostly at grassroots-level short tracks in the Midwest. These days he has more incentive to stay home.
“Now there’s the gas price issue,” said Strom, who also works as the public address announcer at the Milwaukee Mile racetrack. “I think twice now before I go and do something, whereas I never thought twice before.”
No more hanging out at the casino in Monte Carlo or attending parties hosted by a prince in Dubai.
These days, Scott Speed spends down time playing video games in his motor coach or hanging out with other drivers. And that’s just fine with the former Formula One driver.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” Speed said last Friday, just hours before going out and getting his first ARCA stock car victory at Kansas Speedway.
“Even outside the racing, just being back in America in general has been super easy,” he said. “Everyone’s been very friendly. It’s been great.”
This is “Stock Car Racing 101” for Speed, who was fired midway through last season by the Toro Rosso (Red Bull) Formula One team.