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Out of retirement at 58, Mills is a champion again

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Doug Mills keeps hearing his name and Paul Newman's used in the same sentence by his friends. After all, they do have something in common.

Newman, the actor, started auto racing in his late 50s and kept at it into his 70s, winning several sports car titles along the way.

Last weekend, Mills, 58, clinched the Grand American AGT (American Grand Touring) driver's title in the Inaugural Season of NASCAR's Grand American Road Racing Series.

The series, which began in Daytona Beach, Fla., in February with the Rolex 24 Hours endurance race and concluded in Watkins Glen, N.Y., last week, is a 10-race series with events in both the United States and Canada.

"At my age, I'm not going to be a world champion," said Mills. "I think this is the pinnacle of my lifetime in terms of my racing. But if I was 20, I'd be looking for a pro career."

Mills owns Utility Supply Company in Hagerstown. Before getting back into racing in 1999, he had been retired from the sport for eight years. Before that, he had enjoyed Sports Car Club of America racing and twice won SCCA Washington Regional championships and Northeast Division titles in 1973 and 1974.

"This took a lot of energy," Mills said, and then explained why.

Driving for the Comer Racing Team, Mills won his class in the Rolex 24 Hours race, the most prestigious endurance race in this country and second only to the 24 Hours of LeMans on the international scene. He drove twice more for Comer, finishing second and third at events in Phoenix and Homestead, Fla.

Then Mills joined the Chris Thompson team for three races before going back to Comer for two more events. He wound up driving a Camaro owned by Ken Bupp of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Through all the changes, he never finished lower than fifth and won the title by five points. He has three offers for rides at the Rolex 24 in 2001.

"I think I was able to win the title because all the teams I drove for had nice people who understood what it took to prepare the cars at each track," Mills said. "Each team came together, and I was quickly able to adapt to each one."

But Mills doesn't feel a desire to defend his title. Newman may have raced into his 70s, but Mills has little inclination to do so.

"There is so much travel, and it is very taxing," he said. "And, I have an understanding of my own mortality at this point. I find I drive much more cautiously than I used to."

Mills said he is looking only to Daytona. He'll pick up his trophy there at the series' award banquet Jan. 5, and then, if he decides in the next week or so to accept one of those offers for the Rolex 24, he'll defend his victory there.

Fisher elated

Rookie IRL driver Sarah Fisher is still soaring after her third place finish last Sunday in Kentucky.

"It was awesome," she said by telephone from Vancouver, where she had gone for an appearance for Speedworks, one of her associate sponsors. "There were a couple really good situations in that race."

The most thrilling came when her car got out of sequence on pit stops and she found herself leading the field for nine laps.

"My whole body swelled up in goose bumps," she said. "But then I brought myself back down to Earth and did my job."

She gave up the lead on her final pit stop, but was able to work her way up through traffic to finish third. It was the first top three finish for Walker Racing by either its IRL or CART teams this season.

And the first by a woman in the open wheel series.

The result has been an increase in celebrity. Fisher will make a trip to New York, beginning Sept. 18 to do a media tour. Already among those requesting time with her are "Rosie" and the "Today Show."

"I hope it will help me find some sponsorship," Fisher said. "I saw Buddy Lazier on Speedvision the other day, and he said he'd be testing every other weekend for the next six weeks leading into our next race.

"We're not testing at all because we have a big blue empty spot on our car. Money is the key to a lot of things.''

Fisher's only time in a race car before that Oct. 15 race in Texas will be the time she spends in her 125cc shifter go-kart.

"There is a correlation between the go-kart and the Indy cars in terms of helping you get your timing back," said Fisher.

Still, it doesn't compare with real time in a real car.

Nuts and bolts

Michael Andretti will take another shot at strengthening his hold on the FedEx Championship Series (CART) title today in Vancouver at the Molson Indy Vancouver (4 p.m., live, ABC-TV). Five other drivers are within 25 points.

"The Racing Experience" is coming to Nazareth Speedway this month, giving race fans the opportunity to drive a NASCAR Winston Cup car or an open-wheel Formula Dodge car. The Winston Cup car will be available Sept. 4-10 and 19-24, and classes for the Formula Dodge will be held Sept. 19-22. For information or to register for a class, call 877-CUP-CARS.

Maryland International Raceway is to be host to what could be the pivotal race of the 2000 IHRA Mopar Performance Pro Modified Championships Sept. 28-30. The ninth annual ExpressAutoParts.com Presidents Cup returns to the Budd's Creek drag strip, with Qwin Stott having wrested the lead from Fred Hahn, 518-472.

Hahn is unhappy with recent IHRA rule changes designed to keep the Pro Modified field competitive, and Stott recently called Hahn and car owner Jim Oddy "the biggest cry babies in drag racing." Local entries in various classes include Marylanders Billy Gibson (Funny Car), Tommy "Undertaker" Gray (Pro Mod Corvette) and Jamie Emery (Nitro Harley).

CART driver Paul Tracy has signed with Team Kool Green through the 2005 season.

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