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Category: Motor Sports

Rain dampens testing of new Indy-style car at Auto Club Speedway

Two IndyCar drivers came to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to test the series' new race car Wednesday, only to have the test washed out by rain after it barely had started.

IzodBut one driver, Charlie Kimball of Camarillo, said that was enough to get him excited about racing the new car around the two-mile oval where the cars top 200 mph.

"We did a few laps before the rain came," said Kimball, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing and arrived Wednesday with teammate Graham Rahal. The new car "is going to lend itself to really good racing," Kimball said.

The Izod IndyCar Series is rolling out a newly designed Dallara chassis this season with safety enhancements, and teams have the option to use engines from different manufacturers. Ganassi is using Honda power.

"Everyone is figuring [the new car] out and going in different directions," Kimball said. As a result, "you'll see a bigger disparity" in how well different cars and drivers perform compared with last season, he said.

Auto Club Speedway also is a new venue on the IndyCar calendar this year, with a night race planned Sept. 15, currently the finale on the series schedule.

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Photo: The new IndyCar Dallara race car last September at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Credit: Jim Haines / Izod IndyCar Series

Struggling NASCAR track Irwindale Speedway cancels season

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Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, once hailed as perhaps the best short track for minor-league NASCAR racing, said Monday it has canceled its 2012 season.

Amid speculation that the half-mile speedway might be closed or sold in the face of dwindling crowds, its management issued a one-sentence statement announcing the cancellation and providing no other details.

Track officials could not immediately be reached to elaborate, but the speedway's website also had been taken down.

The 6,500-seat Irwindale facility alongside the 605 Freeway opened 13 years ago mainly to host weekly Saturday races for NASCAR stock-car developmental series. It drew positive reviews and was considered a particularly fan-friendly venue.

The track also hosted annual races that at times drew some of racing's biggest stars, including Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano.

Those races included the NASCAR All-Star Showdown and the "Turkey Night" race on Thanksgiving Day for open-wheel sprint and midget cars.

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Photos: Cars race in the NASCAR All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Jan. 30, 2011. Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

John Force, Spencer Massey win NHRA Winternationals in Pomona

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The incomparable John Force won the funny car race in the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona on Sunday, while Spencer Massey won in drag racing's top-fuel division.

Force, 62, is a 15-time funny car championtop and the victory was his sixth Winternationals victory and his 15th win overall at Auto Club Raceway.

Force also leads a four-car team in Yorba Linda that includes Mike Neff, and it was Neff who lost to Force in the final round as Force sped down the 1,000-foot track in 4.080 seconds at 315.64 mph.

The top-fuel finale also pitted teammates as Don Schumacher Racing's Massey edged Antron Brown for the victory.

In an earlier round, Massey also set a national speed record for 1,000 feet when he was clocked at 328.62 mph while defeating Tony Schumacher, the seven-time National Hot Rod Assn. top-fuel champion.

The top fuel and funny car classes had their races shortened to 1,000 feet from the traditional quarter-mile, or 1,320 feet, starting in 2008.

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Photo: Legendary drag racer John Force. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire

Courtney Force loses to teammate in NHRA Winternationals

Courtney2Despite her best run of the weekend, rookie Courtney Force lost to teammate Mike Neff in the second round of funny car eliminations Sunday in the NHRA Winternationals.

Force, the 23-year-old daughter of 15-time funny champion John Force, covered the 1,000-foot drag race in 4.143 seconds and 313.88 mph in the left lane at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

But she couldn't catch Neff, who made a pass of 4.070 seconds at 315.49 mph.

Neff nonetheless was impressed with Courtney, who ran consistently well in her first Full Throttle Series event.

"She's done a fantastic job, I really want to congratulate her," Neff said.

Courtney had defeated Bob Tasca III in the first round to advance to the semifinal round, and despite her loss to Neff she was all smiles after climbing from her car.

So was her dad, who defeated Tim Wilkerson to advance to the semifinals immediately after Courtney's race.

John Force, 62, then got out of his car, walked over to Courtney, gave her and hug and a kiss and said, "Proud of you, baby."

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Photo: Courtney Force in her funny car at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Friday. Credit: Marc Gewertz / Associated Press

Courtney Force wins first funny car race, advances in NHRA Winternationals

Courtney Force won her first drag race in the NHRA's premier funny car series Sunday to advance in final eliminations at the Winternationals in Pomona.

Courtney1Force, the 23-year-old daughter of funny car legend John Force and one of the most anticipated rookies in the National Hot Rod Assn. in years, defeated Bob Tasca III at Auto Club Raceway with a run of 4.204 seconds at 309.27 mph.

Tasca jumped in front after the green light flashed but then his 7,000-horsepower funny car lost traction and Courtney Force pulled ahead on the 1,000-foot drag strip to earn the win.

"I was nervous going up there" to the starting line, she said. "I was just holding on the whole time hoping [the car] would go and it did.

Courtney Force's goal this weekend simply was to qualify for the final eliminations so "I didn’t picture [going] this far into Sunday," she said. "This weekend is going way better than I expected."

Her 62-year-old father, a record 15-time funny car champion, then narrowly defeated another rookie female driver in the series, Alexis DeJoria, in the first round despite DeJoria's strong run of 4.141 seconds at 310.27 mph.

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Photo: NHRA funny car drag racer Courtney Force. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

Drag racer survives scary crash at Winternationals in Pomona

Drag racer Mike Austin escaped injury Saturday when his dragster skidded out of control and crashed at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona.

Austin, of Medford, Ore., drives a top-alcohol dragster in one of the National Hot Rod Assn.'s second-tier series, and he was in the first round of eliminations in the right lane at Auto Club Raceway when the accident happened.

About halfway through his run, Austin's car swerved, sailed over the right-side guard wall and skidded until it came to rest next to the right scoring tower at the end of the quarter-mile drag strip. Rescue workers immediately came to his aid.

After several tense minutes, Austin walked from his car on his own power and then was examined and released by medical officials, the NHRA said.

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Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria pick up pace at NHRA Winternationals

Morgan Lucas on his way to recording the fastest time Friday
Rookie funny car drivers Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria both ran slightly faster times Friday in the second round of qualifying for this weekend's NHRA Winternationals in Pomona.

DeJoria jumped to the seventh-fastest spot after a pass Friday of 4.198 seconds and 300.40 mph, an improvement over her initial qualifying run Thursday of 4.438 seconds.

Force also improved slightly with a run of 4.199 seconds and 307.09 mph; she had traveled the 1,000-foot drag strip at 4.210 seconds in first-round qualifying Thursday.

"I’m just having so much fun out here," Force said. "We’re just trying to step it up on each run. Hopefully we’ll get it going a little quicker tomorrow."

Force's father, 15-time funny car champion John Force, was sixth after the second round, and Bob Tasca III was the provisional No. 1 qualifier after he shot down the track in 4.109 seconds at 309.34 mph.

The 16 fastest cars after the third round of qualifying Saturday advance to the final eliminations Sunday.

In the top-fuel division, defending Winternationals winner Morgan Lucas retained the No. 1 qualifying spot at 3.832 seconds and 320.28 mph.

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Photo: Top-fuel driver Morgan Lucas on his way to recording the fastest qualifying run Thursday in the National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Credit: Teresa Long / Associated Press-NHRA

Drag racing's Courtney Force makes impressive first run in Pomona

Courtney

Courtney Force, daughter of drag-racing icon John Force, made an impressive run in her first trip down the drag strip Thursday driving in the sport's elite funny car series.

In the first day of qualifying for the NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona,  23-year-old Courtney Force covered the 1,000-foot run in 4.210 seconds with a top speed of 303.16 mph.

That placed her sixth fastest in the field. The fastest 16 drivers after three days of qualifying advance to the final eliminations Sunday in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Full Throttle Series event.

Courtney's 62-year-old father, a 15-time funny car champion, ran a tick faster than Courtney and was fifth at 4.192 seconds and 302.89 mph in his 7,000-horsepower, nitro methane-fueled funny car.

Under clear skies and with temperatures in the high 70s, Jack Beckman of Norco qualified fastest at 4.139 seconds and 308.14 mph.

Defending funny car champion Matt Hagan was fourth at 4.177 seconds and 307.23 mph.

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Photo: Drag racer Courtney Force climbs out of her funny car at her team's shop in Yorba Linda on Feb. 1. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

NASCAR's Jeff Gordon, 3 others nominated for state racing award

Gordon

Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon was among four candidates nominated for this year's Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award, given to those who have made distinguished contributions to motor racing in California.

Gordon, a native of Vallejo, not only won four titles in what is now NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, he also is third in career Cup wins with 85 behind Richard Pettty (200) and David Pearson (105).

The other nominees are Tommy Ivo, a child TV star who became a successful drag racer and member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame; A.J. Watson, longtime Indianapolis 500 car builder and chief mechanic; and Tony Adamowicz, a sports-car driver who raced from the 1960s through the 1980s.

The winner will be announced March 25 at the NASCAR race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

The award is named after sponsor Justice Brothers, a maker of auto-care products, and the late Los Angeles Times motor racing writer Shav Glick, himself a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Past winners include Dan Gurney, Rick Mears, John Force and Don Prudhomme.

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Photo: NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon at the Super Bowl last Sunday in Indianapolis. Credit: Tannen Maury/EPA

Supercross champ Ryan Villopoto wins again at Angel Stadium

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Reigning supercross champion Ryan Villopoto repeated his season-opening win at Angel Stadium with a second victory there Saturday night.

The Kawasaki rider took the lead on the opening lap of the 20-lap main event and finished nearly five seconds ahead of second-place James Stewart. Chad Reed finished third.

"The track was really slippery," Villopoto said. "I really couldn't make a mistake."

Villopoto, Stewart, Reed and Ryan Dungey -- all former champions in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series -- each had won one of the first four races in the 17-race season, so Villopoto becomes the first two-time winner this year.

Before the main event, the field was divided for two preliminary heats to set the field. Stewart, 26, was holding a comfortable lead in the first heat when he crashed midway through the eight-lap race.

Stewart, who rides for the Yamaha motorcycle team of Joe Gibbs Racing of NASCAR fame, then had to finish first or second in a "last chance qualifier" race to reach the main event, which he did by winning that six-lap race.

In the AMA's second-tier "supercross lites" series, Honda rider Eli Tomac of Cortez, Colo., won his third consecutive main event and Cole Seely of Murrieta finished second.

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Photo: Ryan Villopoto collects a win last year at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

Track operator plans no more broad cuts in NASCAR ticket prices

Fontana

NASCAR fans should not expect further cuts in ticket prices at many of the sport’s racetracks this year.

International Speedway Corp., which operates 13 tracks including Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and Daytona International Speedway, said Thursday that although the economy “remains fragile,” it’s generally keeping ticket prices at current levels.

ISC and other track operators substantially cut prices in the last two years as NASCAR's popularity flattened and the poor economy helped produce swaths of empty seats at Fontana and other speedways. Currently, a ticket to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway on March 25 has dropped to as low as $35.

“The consumer, in our view, believes the economy and their financial situation are improving but remains cautious with their discretionary spending,” ISC President John R. Saunders said on a call with Wall Street analysts after the company released its fiscal 2011 financial results.

Even so, “we do not believe that further broad-based reductions in ticket prices would drive demand,” Saunders said. “We expect to maintain our current ticket-pricing strategies with any adjustments only in targeted areas within our grandstands.”

Saunders also said his company was “seeing solid demand” for the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, “as well as Sprint Cup events at Phoenix [on March 4] and Auto Club [Speedway].”

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Photo: Race day at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, which hosts a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event March 25. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire

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