Fearless Predictions: Wide Open Fourth

  • Scott Whitmore
  • Thursday, July 2, 2009 2:36pm
  • Sports

It goes without saying — although I say it all the time — this is possibly the best job in the world. I’m paid to watch racing, usually from a prime spot that is heated in April and air conditioned in August, and I have virtually unlimited access at the track, which lets me indulge my curiosity and ask questions of anyone about anything.

If there is one thing missing from this almost-perfect job, it is what I’ve recently taken to calling the fan factor. Not “fan” in the sense of wanting to see particular drivers win — the first thing we’re taught is that there is no cheering in the press box — but the overall experience of being at the races.

I didn’t realize I was missing the fan factor until a couple weeks ago while at Skagit Speedway. On Night 2 of Dirt Cup I climbed down from my viewing spot atop the control tower, where I was rubbing elbows with track owner Steve Beitler, and went down in the stands to say hello to Shaun Hulbert of Everett, a regular reader of my blog.

I watched some of the heat races with Hulbert, and his friends Gene Zink and Cristal Cristensen of Bothell, and enjoyed the different viewing perspective and the energy of the crowd. So much so that I decided to take a tour of the speedway, plopping down at various points to talk to fans, watch the heats and come to the conclusion that there are no bad seats at Skagit Speedway.

Last weekend at Evergreen Speedway I tapped into the fan factor a bit, taking in the Stinger-8 feature race with Leon Halvorson of Bothell. Halvorson, 73, has been a regular at the Monroe speedway for the past five or six years, and I have often exchanged pleasantries with him before making the climb to the press box.

Before the race I got to know Halvorson’s life story and found he also worked for a newspaper, retiring in 2004 as a circulation manager after 22 years with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is the father of four daughters to my two, and he’s been married 51 years — twice as long as I have been.

During the Stinger 8 race we laughed, shook our heads and pointed along with the rest of the crowd at near-misses in the intersection, gutsy passes and hard hits. It was tough to hear anything and along with the tire smoke and exhaust there was the aroma of nachos and popcorn.

At the end everyone else cheered for Cody Koroshes, who battled his way to the front to win the race, and I thanked Halvorson for letting me soak in some fan factor before heading back up to the press box and what is possibly the best job in the world.

Speaking of fan factor, with so many other things to do this holiday weekend, there are still some races to be run, including one which promises to give TV viewers as close to the feeling of being at the track as you can get from your couch.

For the third year in a row Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400 at Daytona (5 p.m., TNT) will be broadcast without interruption by national commercials. Called Wide Open Coverage by TNT, the network will use on-screen animations and announcer voice-overs in place of commercials, and will also employ a letterbox format to give a better view of the racing action.

So far this season there have been 11 different winners in the Cup series — one less than the 12 drivers to win all of last season — and a lot of impressive names have yet to visit Victory Lane, including Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series is also at Daytona for Friday’s Subway Jalapeno 250 (5 p.m., ESPN) and will debut double-file restarts, “shootout style,” for the first time. Just so you know, NASCAR had asked the media to emphasize the part about the restarts being “shootout style,” which is why most of the TV announcers say it with a snicker (we are a cynical bunch, even if we do have possibly the best job in the world).

After last weekend’s passing-only-on-pit-lane event at Richmond — capped by the drivers apologizing to the fans — the last thing the Indy Racing League needed is another single-file race But that’s what could happen when the series hits the road course at Watkins Glen for the Grand Prix at the Glen (10 a.m. Sunday, ABC/Ch. 4).

I correctly guessed Koroshes winning the Stinger 8 feature at Evergreen Speedway but was shut-out everywhere else. That leaves me with just Evergreen’s Super Figure 8 and the NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle to pick.

Matt Kenseth of Roush Fenway won the Daytona 500 in February and I like another driver from that team to win the Firecracker 400 — whoops, showing my age there — Coke Zero 400. Let’s go with Carl Edwards for Saturday’s Cup race and for Friday’s Nationwide race I’ll go with Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving his own car. At the Glen, I’ll say Scott Dixon returns to Victory Lane for the fourth time in the past five years.

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