By: Drew Hierwarter
Every form of motor sport has that one event that defines it. The one event in the entire season that all of the competitors want to win more than any other. NASCAR has the Daytona 500, USAC has the Belleville Midget Nationals, the IRL has the Indy 500, the World of Outlaws has the Knoxville Nationals, Formula 1 has the Monaco Grand Prix. I think you get the idea. For the racers of the National Hot Rod Association that race is this weekend’s U.S.Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park just outside Indianapolis, Indiana.
The U.S. Nationals at Indy is the original “nationals” that started in 1955 in Detroit. Until the NHRA added the Winternationals in Pomona to its schedule in the early sixties, it was also the only true national event in all of drag racing. Today, in spite of the fact there are now some 22 or 23 “nationals”, the “Big Go” at Indy is still the one everyone who straps himself into a drag car wants to win. Professional or amateur, no driver’s career is considered complete without a win at Indy. Racers say that just stepping onto the grounds at Indy gives you a sense of the history of the sport. The great races, the great drivers, the memories, are all part of what makes this event bigger than any other.
There’s more racing too. The professional classes get an extra round of qualifying and the elimination rounds for some of the amateur categories go on for three full days. On Sunday the funny cars compete for a separate non-points “Skoal Funny Car Showdown” that pays $100,000 to the winner. Funny car driver Gary Scelzi says that on Tuesday, after the event is over, you feel a real letdown because you’ve been driving the race car every day for four days. This event also marks the beginning of the march to the championship for the eight racers in each of the professional classes that are qualified for the “Countdown to the Championship”. Each round of eliminations takes on greater importance now as the field will be cut to just four for the final two events of the year. Meanwhile, those drivers who are outside of the top eight will still be trying to win and spoil the party for the championship contenders. It’s going to a great event and if you can’t be there in person, check your local listings for the two days of coverage on ESPN2.
The other major event over the holiday weekend, while not having anything near the prestige of the U.S.Nationals, brings the NASCAR Nextel Cup series to the West Coast and California Speedway, just 60 miles east of Los Angeles. This is the next to last race before the cutoff to the “Chase for the Championship”, however most pundits believe that all 12 spots will be clinched this weekend. It should be interesting.
And finally, several times in this space I have extolled the virues of taking in a race at your local short track. Well, this weekend I’m taking my own advice and on Monday my lovely wife and I will be traveling to North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway for the Bobby Isaac Memorial 200 late model event. It will be our first time at this historic and fabled old race track and we’re really looking forward to it. There’s lots of great racing action taking place all over the country as we celebrate the working man this weekend. Be sure to get out there and enjoy it.