Phil Pash’s World of Wheels

Player’s Going, Too: Make no mistake, it was a big loss when Winston cigarettes told NASCAR it could look elsewhere for a new title sponsor for the Winston Cup racing series after this season.

After all, Winston came on board in 1971 and grew the sport to what it is today. It hurts when 32-year-old marriages suddenly fall apart. At least that’s what I have been told.

So you can imagine what it was like up in Canada when Player’s cigarettes pulled the plug on all things Canadian in motor sports. Player’s had been in it longer (since 1961) and probably did more on a nationwide scale than Winston—though Winston did plenty in NASCAR and NHRA.

But Player’s helped Canada gain prominence on the international scene. Winston helped NASCAR and NHRA gain prominence on the national scene.

There also was a big difference in the way Player’s withdrew, which was not quietly. Imperial Tobacco Canada Limited, which markets the Player’s brand, did not beat around the bush, saying the decision to bow out was because of the impending federal government ban on tobacco-company sponsorships.

“The Tobacco Act is currently under appeal by the three major Canadian tobacco manufacturers,” said Bob Bexon, president and CEO of Imperial Tobacco. “However, due to the legislation that will be in force as of Oct. 1, we have no other choice but to withdraw from motor sports sponsorship. We are taking our leave with a great deal of reluctance and sadness, but we do so with considerable pride in what has been accomplished in the last 42 years.”

That also means an end to co-ownership with Gerry Forsythe of the Player’s team in the CART Champ Car World Series. Canadians Paul Tracy and Patrick Carpentier drive for the team. Forsythe, who lives in a Chicago suburb, has business ties to Rockford through his Indeck Energy Services.

There will be three CART races left after Oct. 1. “We’ll race, that’s for sure,” said Bexon. “If we have to race white (without Player’s identification), we’ll race white. Maybe we’ll do some nostalgic stuff on our cars, a little retrospective.”

Player’s has been a pioneer, as well as an innovator in its racing sponsorship. It was at the forefront in staging the Player’s 200 at Mosport in 1961, the first international motor sports race in Canada. A few years later, Player’s sponsored the first-ever Can-Am (Canadian-American) series race at Mont Tremblant. In 1967, it presented the Player’s Grand Prix, the first Formula One race in Canada. Player’s was the title or associate sponsor of the Canadian Grand Prix until 2000.

Player’s also introduced the Formula Atlantic series in 1974, with Gilles Villeneuve as one of the star drivers. It later sponsored Atlantic and CART races, and its driver development program gained prominence through Jacques Villeneuve, the late Greg Moore, Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, David Empringham and others.

Said Tracy: “This is a sad day for Canada and for motor sports in general. Player’s created so many opportunities for people, and they created motor sports in our country. They’ve done so many good things for Canada in general. I don’t think it’s right, but I guess the government doesn’t see it that way.”

Said Carpentier: “What makes me mad is that they are talking about legalizing marijuana in Canada, and they are going to ban cigarettes on a race car. When I was younger, I remember watching Ayrton Senna race Formula One in the Marlboro car. He was my biggest hero and I never wanted to start smoking. I just wanted to start racing, so I don’t quite understand it.”

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European Battle, Too: The governing body of Formula One is battling the European Union’s attempt to ban tobacco advertising starting in 2005. Five F1 teams rely on tobacco sponsorship.

Also in F1, Anheuser-Busch, through its Budweiser brand, officially has signed on as one of the three primary sponsors of the Williams-BMW team (Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya as drivers).

The deal runs through 2008 and is estimated to be worth about $80 million to Williams, which even got Budweiser to abandon its traditional red-and-white colors in favor of Williams’ blue-and-white. U.S.-based Hewlett-Packard is another primary Williams sponsor.

In the United States, we frequently do not realize how big F1 and motor sports in general are to the rest of the world. For example, the British government has agreed to create a $24 million fund to help sustain and develop the UK motor sports industry. The British government also announced plans for a $22 million automotive academy to be established to produce skilled employees for all levels of the auto industry in Britain.

On the F1 track, pole-sitter Rubens Barrichello wheeled his Ferrari to victory in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in a race that was marred by a demonstrator wearing a kilt running down the track.

Cars streaked by the man on Hangar Straight, the fastest part of the circuit. He was not hurt, but his presence caused the pace car to be brought out. He was arrested and charged with aggravated trespass, and his conduct likely will lead to some sanctions for the race organizers.

Barrichello finished 5.4 seconds ahead of Montoya in a Williams-BMW. Kimi Raikkonen of Mercedes-McLaren was third, cutting into Michael Schumacher’s point lead. Schumacher, who was fourth for Ferrari, still leads by seven (69-62) with five races left. Montoya is third with 55 points, Ralf Schumacher has 53 and Barrichello 49.

Barrichello became the seventh different winner in 11 races this season, and won for the sixth time in his career. Next race will be Aug. 3 at Hockenheim, Germany.

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Quick Pit Stops

n Jimmie Johnson, whose crew chief is Rockford’s Chad Knaus, notched his second NASCAR Winston Cup victory of the season at New Hampshire, topping Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Robby Gordon. Kenseth increased his point lead to 234 over Jeff Gordon and 273 over Dale Earnhardt Jr.

n Jerry Nadeau put in an appearance at New Hampshire—only 11 weeks after suffering head, lung and rib injuries at Richmond. He said he has been go-karting a couple of times in his bid to resume his career.

n Safety manufacturer Bill Simpson dropped a defamation lawsuit that accused NASCAR of wrongly blaming his former company’s seat belt for Dale Earnhardt’s death. The $8.5 million suit was filed last year in Indianapolis and was set for trial in September, but Simpson and NASCAR representatives have resolved their differences.

n Cup driver Kevin Harvick, crew chief Todd Berrier and car owner Richard Childress all were penalized by NASCAR last week for “an unapproved travel limiting device” on the rear suspension of the No. 29 Chevy found before the Chicagoland race. Harvick and Childress each lost 25 points while Berrier was fined $25,000.

n John Andretti has been named to drive at least two races for the Haas CNC Racing Winston Cup team, replacing rookie Jack Sprague, whose best finish was 14th in 18 starts this year. Andretti also tested for DEI at Indy last week while the driver who replaced Andretti at Petty Enterprises, Christian Fittipaldi, crashed in an Indy test. Todd Bodine also crashed a BelCar Racing entry at Indy.

n Morgan-McClure is planning two cars for some of the remaining Cup races—the No. 4 Kodak Pontiac for Johnny Sauter, who made his Cup debut at Chicagoland, and the No. 04 for David Reutimann, who has driven Busch races for Joe Nemechek’s Busch team. Sauter, eighth in Busch points for Richard Childress, was 35th at Chicagoland.

n Pennzoil will not return as the primary sponsor of the No. 1 DEI Winston Cup car in 2004, but it will remain on the Panther Racing IRL car being driven by Sam Hornish Jr.

n According to Sports Business Journal, BP Amoco, ExxonMobil, Shell and Sunoco seem to be in the running to replace Union 76 as the Cup series official fuel supplier. Union 76 is leaving at season’s end after more than a 50-year partnership with NASCAR. The Union 76 deal is said to be worth $5-$6 million per year to NASCAR, but a new one could be worth up to $15 million per.

n David Green regained the NASCAR Bus

ch point lead by winning at New Hampshire, with Kevin Harvick second and Matt Kenseth third. Green, the 1994 Busch champ, won for the second time this season and seventh time in his career. He now leads Scott Riggs by 36 points, Brian Vickers by 66, Ron Hornaday by 72 and Jason Keller by 91.

n Tim Fedewa, a former winner of the National Short Track Championships at Rockford Speedway, has been named to take over for Kerry Earnhardt as driver of the No. 12 FitzBradshaw Racing entry in the Busch Series. Fedewa, who has four career Busch wins, had been Earnhardt’s spotter. Earnhardt has driven for the team since the start of the 2002 season. FitzBradshaw also fields the No. 14 Navy Chevy for Casey Atwood.

n Dodge-mounted Brendan Gaughan notched his third victory in the last six races, winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Gateway near St. Louis. Jason Leffler was second in a Dodge and pole-sitter Travis Kvapil third in a Chevy. Kvapil remains the season point leader by 34 over Gaughan, 55 over Ted Musgrave, 70 over Dennis Setzer and 86 over Rick Crawford.

n A day after Roush Racing said both of its trucks would complete the Craftsman season despite sponsorship problems, the truck driven by Carl Edwards was hit by NASCAR penalties. Edwards lost 100 points, owner Jack Roush lost 100 points and crew chief Doug Richert was fined $25,000 for using unapproved cylinder heads in Edwards’ win at Kentucky. The engine was changed before the race, and Roush Racing acknowledged that the replacement motor did indeed have non-conforming parts, but was not expected to be used in competition. Sounds like the Sammy Sosa defense for the corked bat. The other truck, driven by Jon Wood, now will have backing from the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., for the rest of the season.

n John Force got his first NHRA Funny Car victory of the season at Bandimere Speedway in Colorado. He beat Cruz Pedregon for his 107th career win. Larry Dixon won Top Fuel (sixth of season, 31st of career), Warren Johnson took Pro Stock (91st career win) and Blaine Hale claimed Pro Stock Bike (first win).

n CART Champ Cars will be on CBS at least 10 times in 2004, compared with seven times this season. All 10 aren’t set yet, but the season opener at St. Petersburg and the Toyota Grand Beach of Long Beach definitely will be on CBS. The Toronto race, won by hometown favorite Paul Tracy, drew season-high TV numbers of 1.2 (1.236 million households), topping Cleveland’s 1.1. And the Toronto gate was 167,000 plus for the weekend.

n Danica Patrick of Roscoe was 10th in the CART Toyota Atlantic race at Toronto after qualifying ninth. A.J. Allmendinger won, and leads the points with 125 after seven of 12 races. Patrick is eighth with 56 points.

n Gil de Ferran reprised his July 7 gig at Wrigley Field by singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in victory lane at Nashville after winning the IRL IndyCar Series race under yellow. It was his first win since he captured the Indy 500 in May and the fourth since he moved over to the IRL. Scott Dixon was second and de Ferran’s teammate, Helio Castroneves, third. Tony Kanaan leads the points with 303, followed by de Ferran (289), Dixon (288), Castroneves (282) and Kenny Brack (245).

n Sam Hornish Jr. will have the new Gen IV Chevy Indy V-8 engine for this weekend’s IRL race at Michigan. The engine—built in concert with Cosworth, which is owned by Ford—was approved over the weekend. The Chevy engines have been down on power to the Toyota and Honda engines in the IRL. Another Chevy team will get the new engine Aug. 10 at Gateway and all teams should have them by Aug. 17 at Kentucky.

n Butch Miller won the ASA race at Madison (Wis.) International Speedway after leader Robbie Pyle lost an engine with 12 laps to go. It was Miller’s third win of the season and 49th of his career, and he pocketed $16,605 out of a $200,000 purse.

n Scott Taylor of Belvidere won one race and finished second in the other to pad his lead to 34 points in the CORR Pro-2 off-road racing series. He competed at Bark River, Mich., where the next round also will be Aug. 9-10. The win was the 32nd of Taylor’s career as he is seeking a fifth straight Pro-2 title. After eight rounds, he has 126 points compared with 92 for Evan Evans, 89 for Carl Renezeder, 77 for Kevin Probst and 74 for R.J. Flanagan.

n Former sports car racer Steve Blankenship of Loves Park won his second Chicagoland Buick Club Bracket 3 drag racing event at U.S. 41 Drag Strip, Morocco, Ind., and leads the season points. He also won at Byron Dragway earlier this season. Driving a 1971 Buick GS convertible with a 455 engine, he won the Indiana final by running 13.15 seconds on a 13.14 dial-in at 102 mph. His reaction time to the light was .523 of a second.

n Dave DeSanti has resigned as general manager of Rockford Speedway, a post he held since 1999. He had worked at the track since 1989. Track president Jack Deery resigned earlier this season.

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