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Winston event attracts road-racing 'ringers'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Those who study the schedules of the various racing series might be surprised to notice that the most versatile drivers in professional motor sports are Winston Cup stock car drivers.

Unlike every other series, the Winston Cup drivers pursue victory on tracks of every size and style - from two miles to half-miles and from superspeedways to short tracks to road courses.

That's not to say all stock car drivers like all of those challenges. One who doesn't is series points leader Matt Kenseth. San Jose Mercury News reporter Mark Emmons was talking to Kenseth about his dislike of road races and wondered what (besides the obvious) the difference was between ovals and road courses.

"What's the difference between baseball and golf?" Kenseth said. "It's different. It's a big difference."

Today, the Winston Cup Series will be on the road course at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., for the Dodge/Save Mart 350, and a number of regular Winston Cup drivers besides Kenseth won't like it at all. Some teams will bring in the proverbial "ringers," road racers who would love to be in the Winston Cup Series full time or at least leave their names among the sport's winners.

Chief among the road racing contingent trying to make today's race are: Ron Fellows, subbing for Jeff Green in the No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet; Boris Said, replacing the injured Jerry Nadeau in the No. 01 MB2 Motorsports Pontiac; Scott Pruett, driving a Chip Ganassi Dodge; P.J. Jones replacing rookie Larry Foyt in the A.J. Foyt Dodge; and Johnny Miller in the Morgan-McClure Pontiac, who is driving instead of Mike Skinner, who was fired last week.

Of that group, Fellows and Said are the prime contenders.

"For me, this is unbelievable," said Fellows, a Canadian with 20 Trans-Am wins and multiple victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "I get goose bumps just thinking about racing with this team."

Commented Said, the Sports Car Club of America Trans-Am Series champion: "My goal is to be a full-time Winston Cup driver, and I am not giving up on that. The series has the best competition in the world.

"I know I'm going to have to keep my enthusiasm in check. I wait all year for the two Winston Cup road races, and [I'm] like a starving kid who has never seen an ice cream sundae. You slide a sundae in front of him, and it's hard to eat it slow. In the past, I've had a tendency to be a little too aggressive, and sometimes that hurt me. But I am getting better each time I go out there in a Cup car."

Going for perfection

Paul Efantis of Ijamsville has competed in three races this season in the Pro Street Tire class at the NOPI Race Wars at Sport Compact Drag Racing events, and won all three. Today, he could make it 4-for-4 in the NOPI Fast and Furious Series at Maryland International Raceway at Budds Creek.

Last weekend in Reynolds, Ga., Efantis turned in a quarter-mile time of 9.010 seconds while reaching 160.590 mph in his 1997 Toyota Supra. That was good enough to win, but he didn't reach the NDRA world-record time in the class. The record is 8.552 seconds at 165.25 mph, set April 13 in Texas - also by Efantis.

Leaving the question: How fast will he go today?

Memorial race coming

The 38th Johnny Roberts Memorial and gigantic fireworks display by the Zambelli family have been an Independence Day tradition at the Hagerstown Speedway for more than 35 years.

If the weather cooperates, the track will hold the holiday program Saturday night. Gates open for the five-feature program at 5 p.m. Racing starts at 7 p.m. The rain date is Sunday, at 7 p.m.

IRL on tap

The Indy Racing League is coming to Richmond International Raceway Saturday night for the third annual SunTrust Indy Challenge.

"Racing at Richmond is like flying a fighter jet in a gymnasium," said Eddie Cheever Jr., team owner and former Indy 500 winner.

The IRL cars circle Richmond's three-quarter mile track at about 170 mph, which means cars are constantly passing and competing wheel-to-wheel. Driver Gil de Ferran, who won Indy last month, called it "an awesome sight." And Al Unser Jr., who won at Texas two weeks ago, compared it to a Saturday-night fight.

The race is unique on the Indy Car circuit, being the only one competed on a track of less than one mile. It also has the added distinction of running on a weekend when the Winston Cup Series is not in action.

That means local stock car fans have the opportunity to take a peek at the open wheel series if they want to. Tickets are available.

Strong impression

Winston Cup driver Jeff Gordon left a strong impression on the Formula One crowd last week when he traded cars with Juan Montoya at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Montoya's team owner, Frank Williams, was not at the exhibition but said at a news conference at the Canadian Grand Prix last weekend that what he heard impressed him.

"The reports I have received from those present were that he is a really, really good driver, and that he was unafraid of the car," Williams said.

Asked if he'd consider giving Gordon, 31 and three years younger than current Formula One points leader and five-time champion Michael Schumacher, a full test, Williams shied away.

"We were truly ... very, very impressed," Williams said. "The good news is he is very, very quick; the bad news is we can't afford him. He is a winning NASCAR driver, and his earnings, I am told, are out of sight."

Gordon reportedly makes about $12 million a year with Hendrick Motorsports.

"But I should say on behalf of all my [Formula One] colleagues, we would all love to have a world-class U.S. driver in a Grand Prix team," Williams said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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