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Richmond passes muster for new IRL race next June


Just a week after Tony George, the founder of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, said the schedule would be expanded to 12 races next season, driver Scott Goodyear was at Richmond International Raceway setting an unofficial track record.

Goodyear turned a lap of 146.75 mph.

Richmond is to be one of six new markets on the 2001 schedule. Its June 30, 2001 date, however, was subject to satisfactory results during Tuesday's test, because the track is just .75-mile long. The IRL has not previously raced on a track shorter than one-mile.

Observing the test were Brian Barnhart, Indy Racing League racing operations director; Phil Casey, Indy Racing League technical director; Al Unser Jr., two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and a winner of one race in the Northern Light Series this season; Jim Hunter, Darlington Raceway president and general manager; and former Baltimore Blast advertising director Doug Fritz, now the Richmond track's vice president and general manager.

Unser, like Goodyear, seems eager to race next June at RIR. The track has 14-degree banking in the turns, and Unser described it as "a little bullring" for Indy cars.

"We, the drivers, are going to be busy the whole race," he said. "Every straight and every corner will be busy. With the banking, it's like a mini-Michigan. ... It looks like a fun little racetrack."

Goodyear turned 50 laps in his Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. His best lap - 18.42 seconds, 146.75 mph - creamed the track record of 131.374 mph set by Randy Tolsma in a USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series car in June 1996. Jeff Gordon has the fastest lap in a Winston Cup car, having clocked 126.499 mph in May 1999.

"It's a challenging track," Goodyear said. "But I'd guess we'd be a little faster during the race, around a 150-mph average."

The Richmond race will be the first in the region for the IRL since choosing not to return to Dover Downs International Speedway this season.

NHRA to benefit

With Winston Cup racing moving to NBC and Fox next season, ESPN was looking to fill a racing void. The beneficiary is the National Hot Rod Association.

During a news conference in New York, ESPN and the NHRA announced a five-year deal that will see same-day coverage of all 24 scheduled events.

"This is the single most important thing we've ever done," said NHRA president Tom Compton. "This means all season long for five years that our events will be on prime time. It will be one-stop shopping and very difficult for anyone to turn on ESPN and not see one of our programs, or a promo for one."

Compton's enthusiasm is very similar to that expressed by NASCAR executives last winter when they announced the Winston Cup races would no longer be spread among a variety of networks.

"We've been working on this deal for a year," Compton said. "It doesn't get better than this, to be on the leader in sports programming - it is what we've dreamed of."

Already, Compton noted, NHRA results are visible on the Sports Center ticker.

Versatile Fellows

Sports car driver Ron Fellows was sitting in air-cooled comfort in LeMans, France, two weeks ago, talking about the contrast between sports cars, stock cars and Indy cars.

"When I get back to the states, I'll be going straight to Watkins Glen to drive in the Busch Grand National series," Fellows said. "I'll be talking to myself for a half-a-dozen laps. Driving these Corvettes is like driving a thoroughbred."

Before he returned from France, Fellows would rejoice in a fourth-place finish in the Grand Touring Series. It was his first time at LeMans and the first for the Corvettes, too. Finishing fourth was a major deal.

But, no more major to Fellows than what he did last weekend.

Fresh from LeMans, all he did was win the Lysol 200 Grand National race.

"To me," he said, "to win a real tough road race on whatever course - it doesn't get any better than that."

Nuts and bolts

Winston Cup driver Kyle Petty, who lost his son Adam to an auto racing accident last month, has announced he will drive his son's Busch Grand National car for the remainder of the season.

He also will continue to drive his own Winston Cup car.

Which means this has been a very busy weekend. Petty was to have driven last night in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway and then fly to Milwaukee, Wis., for today's Sears DieHard 250 Busch race.

Michael Waltrip, brother of three-time champion Darrell, on his older brother's efforts in this his last season: "I just hope he can have a good race. That's the only thing I hope for him every week we go race. I just want him to get his car right and go out there and show everyone how good he can still drive a race car. I hope all those things for Darrell."

Speedvision, which carries the Formula One series live, has added a new 10-episode series called "U.S. Grand Prix View" in anticipation of the F-1 series returning September to the United States in Indianapolis.

The program premiers at 7 p.m. July 19 and will be a weekly, half-hour retrospective on the history of the U.S. Grand Prix, as well as some peeks into the preparation for this year's race at Indy.

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