A High-Speed Version of American Idol
Fortunately, the competitors will not be required to sing, but their performances will be evaluated by NASCAR team owners as they make 800-horsepower sprint cars dance around the four-tenths-mile clay oval at more than 100 mph.
Ever since Jeff Gordon burst onto the NASCAR scene in 1992, NASCAR team owners have had an eye on the USAC open-wheel ranks and Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne are just a sampling of the talent they have discovered.
In fact, it was in the pit area of The Dirt Track @ Lowe¿s Motor Speedway three seasons ago that team owner Ray Evernham met Kahne.
¿I saw a lot of potential there and you could tell he¿s a racer,¿ Evernham said about NASCAR¿s newest star. ¿I could tell from the first time I talked with him that he had a huge desire to win races.¿
It was also at a USAC race that officials of Penske Racing South discovered Newman¿s unique ability to control a race car.
¿We had been watching a lot of USAC guys because the midgets, sprints and Silver Crown cars teach one thing, and that¿s car control,¿ said Don Miller, co-owner of Penske Racing South. ¿You get a good guy with car control and you put him in anything, and it really doesn¿t matter whether it¿s a stock car or a midget because he has the basic talent and ability to use the car as an extension of himself.¿
The roster of USAC graduates in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series includes Gordon, Stewart, Newman, Kahne, Ken Schrader and John Andretti. Jason Leffler, Mike Bliss, J.J. Yeley and Tracy Hines are competing in the NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck Series while Boston Reid is part of Hendrick Motorsports¿ driver development program.
¿These guys are very talented racers,¿ said Rollie Helmling, president of the Indiana-based sanctioning body. ¿They were talented when they came to USAC. They came here on a mission to do the best they could. They enhanced their careers and made the next step available to them.¿
Partially because of the success of USAC graduates in NASCAR racing, Helmling knows the Oct. 13 Mopar Sprint Car Nationals is very important to the sanctioning body and its competitors.
¿First of all, they have a great facility,¿ Helmling noted. ¿It is extremely important for us to bring our product down there because the NASCAR fans have a real interest in USAC racing.
¿They want to see where some of these guys came from, and who the next one is going to be,¿ he continued. ¿It is very important that we bring the sprint cars down there. And even though they are NASCAR fans, they still have a love for dirt-track racing.¿
The Mopar Sprint Car Nationals also includes a full slate of racing for the late model stock cars of the O¿Reilly Southern All Star Racing Series. The event opens four nights of action which concludes with the UAW-GM Quality 500, round five of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, on Saturday night, Oct. 16, at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway.
Tickets for the Mopar Sprint Car Nationals on Wednesday night, Oct. 13, start at just $15 and can be obtained online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS.