Racing beat

David Reutimann leads the way en route to victory in the Toyota 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Nashville Superspeedway.

It has been rumored for years that Talladega Superspeedway was looking to pick up another race. It is appropriate, then, that the newest event at the 2.66-mile oval involves racing pickups.

In what track officials called their most important announcement in the past 20 years, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series became an official part of Talladega Superspeedway in July. TSS Vice President and General Manager Rick Humphrey broke the news as a pair of F-150s roared out of turn four and past the start/finish line.

The first NCTS competition will take place Oct. 7, 2006, as part of the venue’s fall race weekend.

“This series began in 1995, and in that time it’s gone from being seen by 400,000 fans a year to 1.1 million fans,” Humphrey says. “I think this is something fans have wanted for a long time, and now they’ll get to see a triple-header during our October race weekend.”

In previous years Talladega’s spring race weekend featured the Busch Series on Saturday and Nextel Cup on Sunday, while ARCA ran Saturday in the fall, followed by Sunday’s Nextel Cup 500-miler. With the addition of trucks, ARCA will now race Fridays, with the NCTS getting the Saturday slot.

Truck racing at Daytona International Speedway has featured some of the most competitive – and wild – races in all of NASCAR. Since Talladega is considered the sister track of Daytona, it was only a matter of time before the trucks found their way to Dry Valley.

“I guess really when we started to see how successful the races were at Daytona, we began having informal discussions about bringing the series here,” Humphrey says. “We’d watch races there and think, ‘Can we do that here?’ And then in the last couple of years we got more and more serious about it.

“We started mentioning truck racing to the folks at NASCAR, and then the conversations got more involved.”

The truck series was something of a curiosity when it began in 1995, and many experts scoffed at its potential for “major league” status. But the sport continued to grow each year, attracting drivers from both Nextel Cup and Busch. While still considered a support series for the two better-known NASCAR circuits, the NCTS has spawned such talent as Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

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Future hall of famer Mark Martin plans to move to the truck series full-time after retiring from Nextel Cup competition, possibly as soon as next season.

“I think what attracts so many people – fans and drivers alike – is that it’s so competitive,” Humphrey says. “At first you had guys who were trying to break into the Cup series, and they thought truck racing was a good way to do it. Now you have guys who have crossed over from our other series to this one, and they’re thriving.”

One such driver is Bobby Hamilton, a former Nextel Cup regular and Talladega winner. Having struggled in NASCAR’s main series, he has become a frequent visitor to victory lane in the NCTS.

Other former Winston Cup drivers now plying their trade in the truck series include Ricky Craven and Steve Park. Craven was on hand for the announcement.

“This track (Talladega Superspeedway) has been such a significant part of NASCAR, I think it only makes sense that we race trucks here,” Craven says. “The fans are going to be in for a lot of excitement. This is quality racing, and the show we put on is second to none.”

The deal between Talladega and the NCTS is for one year, although track officials predict it will become a regular event.

Hall of Fame Finalists Announced
Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, car owner Jack Roush and Lowe’s Motor Speedway president H.A. (Humpy) Wheeler are among 22 finalists in the voting for the 2006 class of inductees to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Five inductees will be selected for the hall and are being voted on now. This year’s inductees will be announced in November and will go into the hall in April 2006.

This is the first year of eligibility for Earnhardt, who was killed in a crash at Daytona in February 2001. There has never been a unanimous selection for the hall (Richard Petty and Bobby Allison missed by one vote), but “The Intimidator” could end that streak.

The other finalists are two-time Indianapolis 500-winning car owner J.C. Agajanian, 1949 NASCAR strictly-stock champion Red Byron, six-time NASCAR modified champ Jerry Cook, 1925 Indianapolis 500 winner Pete DePaolo, Formula One driver Rene Dreyfus, road racer Gene Felton, NASCAR driver Harry Gant, pioneering female driver Janet Guthrie, NASCAR modified and sportsman champion Ray Hendrick, U.S. Auto Club sprint-car champion Tommy Hinnershitz, five-time NASCAR late model/Busch Grand National champion Jack Ingram, drag racer and car owner Bill (Grumpy) Jenkins, sprint car driver Jan Opperman, NASCAR driver and car owner Cotton Owens, motorcycle Superbike champion Wayne Rainey, road racer Brian Redman, former NASCAR official and IROC co-founder Les Richter, former R.J. Reynolds special events director Ralph Seagraves, and 1960 NASCAR champion Rex White.