Brant James: Gant says age isn't an issue, Martin can win into his 60s - Sports Illustrated

Gant says age isn't an issue, Martin can win into his 60s

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This would be the moment for Harry Gant to punch up the story, to embellish just how arduous a task it is to win a race at NASCAR's highest level at age 50 and beyond.

Mark Martin's Sprint Cup-best fourth win of the season on Saturday in Chicago pushed him within one of Gant's season standard of five, set in 1991.

Gant won a record eight races after he turned 50, his last at age 52. Martin's halfway there at a fit and virile 50. Gant's record of four straight wins at 51 seems a little more solid. So what's the secret?

Pilates, hot box yoga, core training, green tea power shakes? Sell it, Harry.

But no. Gant, 69, raced in an era when dinner was a good steak, beer flowed like wine and sponsorship dollars belched out of tobacco companies. He raced when good old boys could hang out on movie sets and get walk-on parts in good ol' boy movies, if their car owner happened to be Burt Reynolds. Hell, Gant even drove a car sponsored by Skoal Bandits.

Martin once drove a car sponsored by Viagra. Times, they have changed. So what's the secret to winning past age 50?

Harry Gant: Those were the easiest years I had, the late years, because we had a lot better car [with Leo Jackson]. You've just got to have a good car, you know. It's all the same. Nothing changes. You just run a lot better if you've got everything together and clicking for you. We won a lot of Busch races there, too. We won about six races each year in the Busch car after 50, a bunch. We were just headed for a real big year in '92 -- we won two in '92 when I was 52 years old -- but Andy Petree, our crew chief, he quit after '91 and went to Childress and that hurt us real bad, there. How long can Mark Martin keep winning in Hendrick Motorsports equipment?

HG: He can keep on winning. Morgan Shepherd still runs, and if he was in Mark's car or [Jeff] Gordon's he could win a race without any trouble, too. He still races at 67, and Mark can still win races when he gets 67 if he stays in a good car. But to stay in a good car, you've got to have a good sponsor come with you. They don't want you -- the sponsors -- as much as the owners want you. But as long as the sponsors are happy and make money, you stay in a good car. What were those days like driving the Skoal Bandit?

HG: It was great times. I wouldn't take anything for the times we had there. It started with Burt Reynolds, [former stuntman, land speed record aspirant] Hal Needham and Paul Newman. Paul dropped out because he thought a lot of things could go wrong with your name on the car, but Hal and Burt stayed in a long time, until about '90. We started in '81. I think Burt faded out, but he stayed on top of it. It was great times. I got to go to Hollywood a whole lot there, hang out on movie sets two or three days. There was MegaForce, Stoker Ace, Cannonball Run, Cannonball Run II. There was a whole lot that didn't hit it big, but it was fun. I'd stay there three days, have a little stand-in part or something. Being around it and seeing how it worked, being around people you never thought you'd be around your whole life, that was cool.

Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais -- who left Newman Haas Lanigan Racing for Torro Rosso two years ago, just missing reunification -- would be a boon for the Indy Racing League. Freshly deposed from his Formula One ride, it's time for a return to North America. With 31 wins in 73 Champ Car races, he was a dominant force in need of validation -- fairly or not -- and his inclusion would strengthen the amalgamated league's talent pool.

A return would benefit his legacy also, especially after the F1 debacle.

Interestingly, one of Bourdais' main Champ Car antagonists, Robert Doornbos, holds his vacated seat at N/H/L, but Doornbos' program has lacked full sponsorship and results in his rookie IRL season. Officially, N/H/L says: "We have a successful history with Sebastien that showed that our partnership can bring wins and championships. Right now we are focused on getting Graham [Rahal] and Robert strong results for the rest of the season. We are always happy to speak to Sebastien and if we are in a position to run an additional program he would be at the top of our wish list."

Bourdais, 30, has expressed a disdain for the performance and safety of the IRL car, especially after teammate Bruno Junqueira suffered broken vertebrae and missed the remainder of the Champ Car season after crashing one in the 2005 Indianapolis 500. Bourdais has also deemed open wheel oval-racing "too dangerous." But with street/ovals comprising half of the IRL season for the foreseeable future, adding Bourdais could insert N/H/L back into the elite-team strata it existed in virtually alone in Champ Car.

Of course, it could help someone else.

There were rumors of Scott Dixon possibly moving from Ganassi Racing to Gil de Ferran's likely IRL start-up next season, but the defending series champion appeared to quash the notion to New Zealand media recently.

Even if Dixon stays, Ganassi has always found a way of adding proven winners like Dan Wheldon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti.

Danica Patrick's possible move when her contract expires at the end of this season would leave a void at Andretti Green.

Apparently Michael Waltrip has lost his dog, Darla. Follow the compelling human/canine drama at:

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