NASCAR and other oval track racing

Fisher, Scott Scott_Fisher at
Tue May 14 12:44:41 EDT 2002

Taka writes:

> IIRC, Mario went from F1 to CART, not the other way around.

You're technically correct, but only because there was no such thing as CART
when Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500 in 1969. :-)  At that time, the
United States Auto Club (USAC) sanctioned the 500.  Mario was racing
successfully in the U.S. from the early 1960s; I saw him race on a one-mile
dirt oval in "champ cars" (the front-engined, long-chassis cars used in the
Indy circuit till John Cooper and Colin Chapman showed them the light) in
about 1965-66 in Sacramento, California.

Mario Andretti demonstrated talent as a racing driver not so much because of
the number of wins or championships he had in any one series, but because of
his ability to win in so many DIFFERENT kinds of cars and courses -- stock
cars, sprint cars on dirt ovals, Formula 1, world endurance sports cars, you
name it, he could compete in it.  Mario is one of the very few drivers who
have won the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Formula One
world champsionship.

That kind of "generalist" driver has largely disappeared as the racing world
has become more specialized.  Part of it is no doubt scheduling -- there
were fewer world championship races in the Fifties and Sixties (we're up to,
what, 17 F1 races this year?), it was possible for a driver to compete in a
Grand Prix one Sunday, a sports-car race the next one, and maybe a
Saturday-night sprint car series in between, all on his way to a rally the
following Thursday.

I also wonder about the effect that today's huge driver salaries and
contracts have on such cross-pollination -- I wouldn't be surprised if
Ferrari (or more to the point, their sponsors) forbid Schumacher from
competing in, say WRC or Le Mans because of the risks involved, either to
his personal safety or to his reputation should he fall victim to the
learning curve and be beaten by Tommi Makinen or Colin MacRae in a WRC
event, where I have to think specific experience in the conditions would be
of paramount importance.

Or would it?  Wish we had the chance to find out!

--Scott Fisher
  Tualatin, Oregon

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