THE NEW NASCAR NATION
For the first time in 54 years NASCAR won't hold its Labor Day race at tradition-rich Darlington. Instead, NASCAR makes its second visit of the season to California Speedway (another first), which also hosts a May event. "This is just another step in modernizing tradition," said NASCAR president Mike Helton.
Phoenix International Raceway is the fifth NASCAR track to install SAFER Barriers-collapsible steel-and-foam energy-reduction barriers placed on the outer walls of the track. Drivers are happy not only about the walls but also about NASCAR's January hiring of an emergency medical technician who will travel to each race and ride in the vehicle that is first to respond to an accident. Many drivers would have preferred that NASCAR hire a full-time traveling safety crew—every other major racing series employs one—but this is a first step. Each week NASCAR's EMT will work with the local safety crews.
SCHOOL OF IDEAS
The HANS device, the rooftop escape hatch, SAFER Barriers—all were developed at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska.
LONG STAR SHOWDOWN
TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Texas is one of seven tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., whose chairman is Bruton Smith (right). An SMI shareholder has sued NASCAR, alleging that the sport reneged on a promise to give Texas Motor Speedway a
second Nextel Cup race. The trial is scheduled to begin in May.
NBC takes over the NASCAR telecasts from Fox, beginning with the July 11 Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. The network and cable partner TNT will air the season's final 19 events. According to Nielsen Media Research, 189 million households tuned in to watch Winston Cup racing in 2003-a 58% gain since the 2000 season.
BACK HOME AGAIN
When Bill France first visited the site of the Indy 500 in the early 1950s as the founder of a fledgling stock car series, he was promptly kicked out by Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony Hulman. Now it's NASCAR that kicks butt in the open-wheel capital of the world, drawing 300,000 fans to last season's Brickyard 400, won by Kevin Harvick (above).
The birthplace of NASCAR is also the birthplace of Bill Elliott, one of the sport's most popular drivers over the past two decades. This season Elliott, 48, is finally slowing. He'll run in two to 15 races (down from 36), and he'll serve as Evernham Motorsports' competition director.
Toyota makes its debut in the Craftsman Truck Series in the Florida Dodge Dealers 250 on Friday. NASCAR rules state that its sport is open to American-made vehicles only, and in fact Toyota's Tundra truck is made entirely within the U.S. ( Toyota hopes to roll out Cup cars by 2007.)
THE SON ALSO RISES
NEW YORK CITY
When Brian France rises to speak at NASCAR's end-of-the-season bash in Manhattan, it will mark the end of his first year as NASCAR's CEO and chairman. Last October 70-year-old Bill France Jr., whose father founded NASCAR in 1947, announced that Brian—his son—would take his job. One of Brian's hopes is to raise NASCAR's Q-rating in major media markets like the Big Apple. (That's Matt Kenseth, right, stopping midtown traffic.)