No topic off limits to Smith
SPARTA, Ky. -- To borrow an old slogan from a famous brokerage house commercial, "When
Well, maybe not everybody listens to what the octogenarian chairman of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. has to say but those in auto racing certainly do.
And Saturday at Kentucky Speedway, site of a thrilling IndyCar Series race won by
And he wasn't playing any favorites as Smith criticized both the IndyCar Series and NASCAR on a variety of wide-ranging topics.
When Smith enters a room, he has almost a "Godfather-like" presence. Some have even joked a chill in the wind precedes his appearance as if the "Prince of Darkness" is about to arrive.
But to a columnist, a chat with Smith is like mining verbal gold because he's going to say something memorable, witty and bitingly sarcastic all at the same time.
And he fired a direct hit on the 2010 IndyCar Series schedule which, for the first time in series history, will have more street and road races than oval-track contests.
Smith was one of the first supporters of the Indy Racing League when it began competition as an "all-oval series" in 1996. He added Texas Motor Speedway and what was then Charlotte Motor Speedway to the schedule the following season and was sold on the concept of American race drivers coming from grass-roots backgrounds in an oval-racing series.
When asked his thoughts on IndyCar having more road races than ovals, Smith was highly critical.
"It's a mistake that's going to bite them in the rear, eventually," Smith said. "History is going to repeat itself. I don't know who is making those decisions but they will find it was not the proper decision in my very humble opinion.
"I would like to see them make good decisions. When you start considering running a race in a parking lot. What did the President say about stupidity? I'm going to use that, even though I did not support the President."
Next year's IndyCar Series race at Kentucky will be moved to the Saturday night of Labor Day Weekend.
"We're going to fill this place up -- absolutely a total sellout," Smith predicted.
When told that is the same night as the annual college football game between the University of Kentucky and in-state rival Louisville, Smith was quick with a retort.
"We will not have room for them to move here, so I am not concerned about that," Smith said. "We're not competing with them. That's football and a distance from here. We'll be selling like crazy and have some events here that the fans will love."
This past weekend was marred by a "weeper" issue on the race track where the IndyCar Series was unable to practice and qualify on Friday as water seeped through the surface of the race track from heavy rains the night before. It was the second time this season that weepers have caused a problem for IndyCar despite bright sunny skies. The same issue developed at Iowa Speedway in June.
Smith -- who likes to blow up things and begin large construction projects -- said the problem will be corrected with the race track.
"Absolutely, it will be fixed," Smith said. "This was not built exactly the way it should have been, so we are going to spend about $3.5 million to fix it. But we will do all of that and it will be two or three weeks before we start that.
"It will be a system where we don't have to worry about seepage. It's something that should have been done when the track was built. I'm not going to change the configuration of the track."
As the Chairman of SMI, Smith oversees a large portfolio of racing facilities that includes Lowe's Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Infineon Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Motor Speedway.
One of those tracks, New Hampshire, was hoping to get a date on the 2010 IndyCar Series schedule. But when that schedule was released last Friday, New Hampshire was left off and that drew an angry response from NHMS president and general manager
Smith also criticized IndyCar for that decision.
"There's no disappointment, but I had called and talked to Jerry and said, 'Let's not worry about it. We have bigger fish to fry.' If IndyCar does not like what we have up there, it's OK -- let them go someplace else," Smith said. "I hear they want to go to a parking lot up there in Boston."
Actually, it's a proposed street race in the parking lot of Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts -- about 40 miles from Boston -- and the home of the New England Patriots.
"New Hampshire reminds me a great deal of Bristol because racing up there is a second religion," Smith said of his track. "Look at the crowds that we draw. It is an awesome place with great racing, great people and that I like."
He also said Las Vegas Motor Speedway did not make an effort to get on the schedule.
Here are a few more topics that Smith was more than happy to make a comment:
"It was not my case at all but it was heard last Thursday and the three-judge panel allowed each side 15 minutes," Smith said. "The judges could have rendered a bench decision -- but they didn't -- so now they can do whatever they want to do and I hope sooner rather than later.
"Months ago, I thought we would have a Cup race on the 2010 NASCAR schedule at Kentucky, I really did. That is a disappointment. Right now, we don't see that we can. I wish that would happen and I wish you could wave a magic wand and make it happen. It would be great for the sport."
"I like Tony a lot. He's done an awful lot and he believes in this. I've accused him of being born in an open-wheel car. He is very, very devoted to what he is doing. I've liked him from the get-go.
"Who do you credit these parking lot races to? I don't think Tony would have made those decisions. He is smarter than that."
"We've enjoyed Lowe's a lot; they've meant a lot to the Speedway and have been there 11 great years," Smith said. "I think we will miss them at that particular speedway but I assume we will go back to calling it Charlotte Motor Speedway and your race fans may even like that better. We caught heck over that, but it was a good business decision and a lot of money to the company. It will end at the conclusion of this year. We will be working on something else and something may happen. But that's a
"I did hear the $9 million annual figure for that but then again, that's a Marcus Smith question. That's above my pay grade."
"I know Marcus personally."
"Absolutely because that was a fiasco somewhere up there in Virginia (Richmond in June.) That was terrible. We will sell out here at Kentucky. We are going to do it. Believe, believe."
"I support what they are doing but we make suggestions all the time and we will continue to make them. We have meetings coming up this week and will be making more suggestions to alleviate problems. This year has been very good for SMI and we will continue to work hard at what we do. And, Bristol is going to be sold out this August and that will be announced next week.
"I'm a fan of any car you put on Bristol. And we are going to have a modified race there on Wednesday night then come back again on Friday night and it will be the biggest crowd for a Nationwide Series race this year and bigger than most Cup events."
"I like Kyle Busch. He adds a great deal to the sport. I wish he were in it. If I could go down there and help him, I would. Maybe I could be a relief driver for him. He brings a great deal to the sport. I wish we had five or six more drivers just like him. That guy has some natural talent. He's hard on guitars and I'm not too sure that was the greatest decision he could make at the time but that drew a lot of attention, didn't it?
"If you are going to present him something, make sure that he likes it before you give it to him."
"Who do you think put that deal together? I worked on that deal and put it together five months ago and sent it to Washington with a major presentation from Nevada Senator
"Poor people benefit from this and it's good for energy conservation and highway safety programs. And it enhances the auto industry for selling cars. Last weekend my dealership sold 500 of the 2,000 vehicles sold as part of the program and I'm proud of that."
While Smith's comments are sharp and biting, particularly to IndyCar officials over the weekend, a chat with Smith sure can be entertaining at the same time.
It may have been an innocent hug given by a sister to her older brother but in the IndyCar Series, it should serve as sign of support and a chance to move forward in a positive direction after a summer of discontent.
Also in attendance Saturday night were George's mother,
Josie spoke briefly with me and good naturedly said she wished "I wrote more positive things about the family."
Fair enough, because Tony George's ouster led to so much fear, discontent and criticism of the operation that is undergoing a shift in leadership.
But Josie vowed the Hulman George Family remains "strongly committed to the success of the IndyCar Series."
"Of course we are," Josie said. "We all want to see the IndyCar Series succeed and we will continue to support it."
After getting a hug from his sister, Tony George took a few moments to give his first interview since he left his position effective July 1. Prior to Saturday night, George's only public comments have been issued on the
George is the team owner at Vision Racing, which had its best finish in team history when driver and stepson Ed Carpenter finished .0162-seconds behind race winner Ryan Briscoe in the 11th closest finish in IndyCar Series history.
But George admitted he would still rather be in charge of the IMS Corporation and would like to have the extra responsibilities and burdens that came with running the greatest race track in the world, its business holdings and being involved with management of the IndyCar Series.
"Absolutely," George said. "I don't feel any less burdened and I never felt burdened before. I think people are interested in what I've had to say and since I couldn't talk to the press I've used the Web site as a means to communicate some of the things that have been on my mind.
"No, I don't feel more relaxed now because I'm generally relaxed. I don't feel less burdened, either."
When asked if he could regain control of the company, George said, "I have no comment on that."
George, who questioned why the board of directors never gave a reason for his removal as CEO and president, emphasized it has not put a strain on his relationship with his three sisters and his mother.
"No, it hasn't," George said. "I really don't think anything has changed one way or another between us."
He may not have the title and may no longer have the power, but Tony George continues to have influence over the direction of the sport, even if he has been exiled to the ranks of being a team owner.
In his first season as owner/driver at Stewart Haas Racing, Tony Stewart enters Monday's rain-delayed Sprint Cup race at Pocono International Raceway as the series points leader. His teammate,
But Stewart is already looking ahead to next season and seriously considering adding a third car and driver to the operation.
"We are definitely open to it for sure," Stewart said Friday at Pocono. "We are interested for sure. We feel like it is a matter of timing, is everything. I don't know that something would happen for next year. I think we are getting close to the stage of the season where it may get too late to have that opportunity to add a third car for next year.
"It is something that at least as a company we feel comfortable with and feel like with the right opportunity, that it is definitely possible."
Several weeks ago, Stewart cautioned not to read too much into IndyCar driver
Patrick is in the final year of her contract at Andretti Green Racing in the IndyCar Series and her agent at IMG has been discussing possibilities with teams in IndyCar and NASCAR.
It is becoming increasingly clearer, however, that Patrick's best opportunity would be to remain in IndyCar, but moving to Target/Chip Ganassi Racing where she would have the opportunity to win big. That team could also provide her a chance to compete in a limited NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule.
Her next best option would be to re-sign with AGR, which has yet to make an offer to the driver.
The third option would be her biggest gamble and that is moving to NASCAR and having to learn an entirely new car and style of racing on a much longer schedule.
When asked if there was anything new prior to Saturday night's IndyCar Series race, Patrick said, "You find these things out before I do."
Glad to know that she is a loyal reader.
As for Stewart, he has made a remarkable transition into his role as owner/driver.
"I really believe that it seemed like once we went to Daytona and got through SpeedWeeks, we clicked right away and much quicker obviously than any of us would have predicted," Stewart said.
"We thought for sure, it might take half of the season before we kind of started hitting our stride. To run third in the Shootout and second in our qualifying race and eighth in the 500, those were three really important races to us from the communications side. Then we go to California and finish eighth. You get away from the superspeedway side there, it just seemed like everywhere we went, and our communication has been really good and comfortable. From that side it has felt comfortable from day one.
"It has just kind of been fun."
The only bump in the road for Stewart came in Saturday's practice at Pocono, when he crashed the primary car that would have started on the pole after Friday's qualifications were rained out and the starting lineup was set by team owner standings.
But have no fear -- the same thing happened to him in June and he went on to win the race.
"I just ... I screwed up," Stewart said. "I got in too deep and got loose and couldn't save it.
"I know we can do it. I tore up a really good race car today."
One week after getting the most publicized speeding ticket in NASCAR history when he was nailed for speeding down pit road on his final pit stop as the leader of the AllState 400 at the Brickyard,
"Do I gain anything by wondering or saying or thinking was the speedometer right or the tach right, was NASCAR right, was I wrong? Who cares? I moved on, can't change it," Montoya said. "Even if they came to me today and said you know what we made a mistake it wouldn't change anything. It is what it is. I've moved on and we're here. For our team our focus is this week.
"More than the performance we had there nothing would give me more peace of mind to tell you the truth. We had the fastest car by a mile there and it was nice to see."
There have been 75 times this season that a NASCAR driver in the Cup Series has been issued a pit road speeding penalty, but Montoya's is certainly the most infamous.
"A lot of times people do make mistakes coming in," Montoya said. "There are two parts on pit road where you make mistakes. It's either come in too hard or leave too early. There's the line and you've got to wait until the line to get on the gas and you've got to make sure you're down to speed at the line. I think that's where most of the people get caught; they just come in too hard."
Montoya likes the current system of judging pit road speed off a tachometer rather than having a speedometer installed on the cars.
"I think the way we do it good," Montoya said. "We checked ourselves after the race and it seemed okay and everything seemed to be in the right place. For some reason they said we were speeding and that's what it is. I've moved on and that's it."
"I think there are times you've got to push but I think when you've got a five-second lead with thirty laps to go you don't have to push it and I wasn't pushing it but it didn't change anything. I don't know. The slower the pit road is the harder it is for me. The reason why is because the gear is shorter and the car just bounces a lot. When you're running faster it's a lot more stable. The RPM's are a lot more stable. Some weeks we can just hold the throttle, you put the throttle in a certain position and it just rides along pit road. Some places you've got to ride the hell out of the brakes just to try to stay in touch with it."
Because Ferrari driver
Seven-time F1 world champion
Massa is expected to leave hospital to return home on Monday and faces a lengthy recovery period.
"I know I am lucky to be alive - but I will race again," Massa told the News of the World. "When I woke up I didn't know why I was in hospital so I was asking 'Why am I here?' I was pulling all the tubes and my brother Eduardo tried to stop me so we had a fight.
"The accident was just so unlucky but I know I am lucky to be alive. I don't remember anything of what happened."
"It was good to finally see Felipe, I feel better now," Schumacher said. "Although I've been constantly in contact with him through Nicolas and Jean and I always knew everything, it's always better to see things with your own eyes. I'm surprised by how hood his condition is, considering that the accident happened last week. We've been together and spoke a bit about everything. I feel really relieved now."
Juan Pablo Montoya, who competed in Formula One from 2001 through 2006 before leaving for NASCAR, had many great races with Schumacher and was asked about his return.
"I heard he is testing today already," Montoya said. "Physically, he'll be fine. With all the testing he'll do before that, will he do a lot more than the current Ferrari drivers are doing, I'll be surprised but you never know. I'm sure they're going to make sure they come up with something new for his arrival to make sure he looks good."