Infineon IterationsJun 17 2010 - 8:00pm
CONCORD, N.C. – You’ll notice from the dateline that I’m not in Sonoma this weekend. They don’t let me west of the Mississippi without a hall pass (or a keeper), so it’s not a big surprise, but if you have to pick a track you’ve never been to, try Infineon (or whatever they’re going to call it next year).
Great little race place, Sonoma is. Of course, if you like racing other than NASCAR (come on, you can admit it. We’re all friends here!), it’s a doozer. Big sweeping corners crowded in with tight, twisty ones, a kick-butt capper in Turn 11 and a drag strip thrown in for good measure.
Turn 11 is your equalizer. Haulin’ the mail down from the top, you have to hit the right entry marks and be patient, or you’ll wind up in the Snack Bar or sitting there watching the field come at you, because you’ve done spun it out.
Big drag to the start-finish line, then climb the hill again. I’ve raced it on iracing.com; it’s a stone-cold son-of-a-gun to hit it right all the way around. Of course, if you add the totality of the course, it’s a little tougher, but NASCAR uses the short course, eliminating four turns and a short straightaway.
The area, both around the track and to the south, is picturesque. It’s the California you always hear about. San Rafael is close by, and that’s a cute little place, dotted with wineries and the like. You can get hammered just driving by some of these places, if you have the car window down. I exaggerate, but then you knew that.
Who will come out of the twisty Napa Valley with momentum? Who will have theirs stopped? It’s a good bet that Denny Hamlin isn’t going to be the almighty hot shot this weekend, but then he might surprise you. Jimmie Johnson has never won on a road course, and that hasn’t seemed to hurt him much. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Juan Montoya all have, though, and they ought to be strong. Marcos Ambrose could use a good finish, like about half the field, and it will be fun to watch as always.
Speaking of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., the entity which owns Infineon, there’s trouble brewing on the other side of the country for it. Bruton Smith has pretty much thrown down the gauntlet to the town of Loudon, N.H., promising to move the NHMS summer race elsewhere (can you spell Kentucky?) if the town fathers don’t choke back a bit on the billing for safety details.
According to a TV station up there, Speedway VP Jerry Gappens said the option of moving the race is fully on the table, but hopes it doesn’t come to that. Gappens told the station that the town “charges too much to organize security, and Loudon's police chief makes too much doing it.”
According to the story, Chief Robert Fiske makes $50 per hour, amounting to almost $59,000 for covering the races over five years. NHMS wants Loudon to cut the bill from $170,000 to $65,000. The town, predictably, said not only no, but hell no.
"No, we're not prepared to do that," said Loudon Selectman Roger Maxfield in the story. "The answer is no, we won't." Maxfield said he thinks $170,000 to cover an influx of 100,000 people is reasonable, as is Fiske's hourly rate. "He's also in control of 80 full-time officers, so that's a large detail," Maxfield said.
Interestingly, NHMS wants the town to cut nearly 40 officers from the campgrounds and will hire private security for them itself. Fiske said that plan isn't in the best interest of public safety. "The crime is consistent with a city of that size," he said. "We have alleged rapes and assaults, let alone the DWIs."
Hmmm. Race fans getting rowdy to the tune of a small city? Crime wave at the track? Haven’t seen that too much lately, even at Talladega, and there are more people at ‘Dega than in the whole state of New Hampshire (not really, but the square footage is about the same!).
This is another one of those “bigger hammer” approaches that Bruton used on Concord, N.C., where I live. Recently, he dropped a suit against the NC Concord seeking payment for improvements. This is after threatening to build another CMS if city and county officials didn’t pony up and allow him to do a few things.
A few years ago, I was driving in and took one of the few back routes into the track. It involved a dirt/gravel road, a turn across a field and a dirt turn-in to the back parking lot at NHMS. I was met at the township line by an officer of a neighboring polity, armed with a loud voice and jingling handcuffs, because I was using non-Loudon roads to go into the property.
Pleading ignorance (that’s not hard, trust me!), I was able to park and not take a trip to the hoosegow, but I was given a stern warning not to try it again next year unless I had paid my baksheesh at the neighboring township’s City Hall. Haven’t been back since…largely because of the timing of the races.
Off to play Softball Dad this weekend (just call me Coach!) but I’ll be keeping an eye on the race on Sunday. Make sure you keep the Twitter feed going (@NASCARfansonly) and look for an update or two on Facebook (Official NASCAR Members Club).