The Southern 500 used to be run on Labor Day weekend. And even though NASCAR has sacrificed that tradition, Darlington is worth a visit any time of the year to get a feel for old-school NASCAR.
“You never forget your first love, whether it’s a high school sweetheart, a faithful old hunting dog or a fickle racetrack in South Carolina with a contrary disposition,” said Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Hey, I’m not going to argue with a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion; are you? Go to Darlington and experience the real NASCAR spirit yourself.
Track itinerary: The Darlington date for the 2011 Sprint Cup season has passed; the race was run in May. But you have plenty of time to arrange an early summer 2013 visit to the Lady in Black.
You still can make this year’s races at my two other favorite tracks. Pocono gets two races a year. You’ll have to act fast to catch the June 10 race, or you can wait for the second one on Aug. 5. And the track lights will shine on Bristol Aug. 25. Have fun!
Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she writes about financial topics and blogs about taxes at Don’t Mess With Taxes (www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com).
| Rubens, the rookie | After starring in Formula 1 for almost two decades, Rubens Barrichello wasn’t listed as a rookie when he migrated to the IndyCar Series this year. But race officials have agreed to let the Brazilian veteran enjoy some of the benefits afforded first-year drivers for the rest of the season. Specifically, Barrichello, who drives for KV Racing, now can run in the first 30 minutes of the Friday morning practice sessions, and he gets an extra set of tires. Rookies generally get the extra practice and tires to help them become more acclimated to the tracks they’re seeing for the first time, especially the street courses.
Barrichello should have been classified as a rookie at the outset, and I applaud IndyCar for correcting this mistake. He’s quickly proving that he’s as good as almost anyone in the series, and it’s only fair that he gets the same shot as any other first-timer to learn the circuits.
| Who’s your caddie? | Denny Hamlin served as PGA Tour player Bubba Watson’s guest caddie during the annual Par 3 Contest at famed Augusta National the day before the start of the Masters Tournament. Hamlin and Watson have become good buddies, and their shared interest in golf is enhanced by the fact that both play left-handed. Hamlin, in fact, spent much of last winter in the Phoenix area, where Watson lives, and is said to have greatly improved his golf game by hanging around with the self-taught Watson.
| The wing’s the thing | I’m more eager than usual for the 24 Hours of LeMans this month for one reason: the competition debut of the Nissan DeltaWing. This radical new endurance racer is half-IndyCar, half-stealth-fighter, and the best description I’ve heard is that it looks like a sibling of the Michael Keaton-era Batmobile.
The car carries only a 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine, and will make only about 300 horsepower. But fully fueled and with a driver, it weighs only about 1,300 pounds, half the weight of a conventional LeMans racer. It has half the aerodynamic drag as well. Nissan is providing the car’s engine, which was created and built by an all-star team that includes designer Ben Bowlby, American LeMans founder Don Panoz, the legendary Dan Gurney and Highcroft Racing. The DeltaWing won’t win at LeMans, but its advances in design, weight and fuel consumption put it on the leading edge of racing’s next generation.