Jeff Gordon

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Charlotte Motor Speedway road course to end first round of 2018 playoffs

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Charlotte Motor Speedway will be shifting its calendar spot and track surface next fall, ending the first round of the 2018 Cup playoffs on a road course.

Next season’s move from the 1.5-mile oval had been hinted at for months, and Charlotte initially considered using the road course this year. Tuesday’s schedule announcement revealed that the race will be on Sept. 30, ending the first round of the playoffs.

Charlotte, which opens the second round this season, is swapping spots with Dover International Speedway, which will move its second annual race to Oct. 7, 2018.

Dover had been the cutoff race for the first round of the playoffs since the playoffs were overhauled in 2014.

Here’s the release from Charlotte Motor Speedway:

CONCORD, N.C. (May 23, 2017) – Known across the world as a trailblazing innovator, Charlotte Motor Speedway ushered in a thrilling new era of excitement with NASCAR’s historic Tuesday scheduling announcement that next year’s Bank of America 500 will be contested on Charlotte’s ROVAL on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. The road course oval announcement carries with it several groundbreaking connotations, including:

  • The first road course NASCAR race in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 58-year existence;
  • The final event in Round 1 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs;
  • The first road course race in the 14-year history of the Playoffs;
  • The first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in September at Charlotte Motor Speedway;
  • The first new track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule since Kentucky Speedway joined the circuit in 2011.

The Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL is a daunting, new 13-turn, 2.4-mile road course incorporating part of the infield and all but 400 feet of Charlotte’s iconic 1.5-mile oval on which drivers will race 500 kilometers over 130 laps.

“Charlotte Motor Speedway has always been about innovation,” said Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. “Hosting the first road course race in NASCAR’s Playoffs, as well as the drama of closing out the Playoffs’ first round, means that tension will be high and competition will be fierce as soon as the green flag drops.

“Fans are going to be in for a thrill, and drivers had better be ready for the most physically and mentally challenging race in the Playoffs. With a 35-foot elevation change between ROVAL Turn 4 and ROVAL Turn 10, drivers in next year’s Bank of America 500 will truly experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.”

Accomplished drivers including Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, A.J. Allmendinger, Jeff Burton and Max Papis have driven the course and witnessed its considerable potential to entertain fans and challenge drivers and crews.

“Road courses are something I look forward to during the season,” said Kyle Busch, last week’s Monster Energy All-Star Race winner. “Road racing is like a vacation for me, because it’s not something we do week-in and week-out so I just try to go out there and have fun with it.

“Now that we have the Charlotte ROVAL on the schedule, we have every type of track in our postseason. It will be interesting to see how it plays out with a completely new challenge for the drivers and teams during the Playoffs.”

The ROVAL also drew praise from one of the world’s most acclaimed road racers.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to really create a road course where you can ‘stretch your legs’ inside an oval,” said Andretti, who competed in the 1967 Bank of America 500 and is known as one of the most successful American drivers of all time.

“From that standpoint, I think they did a good job by giving it rhythm by putting some banking to the hairpin corners – which obviously invites some overtaking. It’s wide enough that you can choose a line. You’re not really trapped. … It’s got a multiple-line (groove) that you can choose from, depending on the capability of the car.”

In January, Allmendinger became the first active Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver to drive a stock car on the ROVAL.

“The track has definitely got potential,” Allmendinger said. “I had a lot of fun driving it. It’s a perfect mix for a race team to set up, whether you go for a full oval setup or somewhat of a road course setup. It’ll definitely be a big challenge for the teams.”

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series will compete on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL Friday through Sunday, Sept. 28-30, 2018.

See the characters NASCAR drivers will voice in ‘Cars 3’

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Last February it was announced that NASCAR drivers Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr. would lend their voices to Pixar’s new movie Cars 3.

Now it’s less than a month from the film’s June 16 release date.

While the character’s names were part of the February announcement, NASCAR revealed the character designs Monday afternoon on Twitter.

Blaney’s character is Ryan Inside Laney.

Wallace’s character is Bubba Wheelhouse

Elliott’s character is Chase Racelott

Suarez’s character is Danny Swervez.

The animated movie will also feature the voices of Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty, Ray Evernham, Humpy Wheeler, Mike Joy and Shannon Spake.

Richard Petty and and Waltrip were voices in the original Cars (2006) in addition to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mario Andretti.

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A simple blister devastated NASCAR artist Sam Bass’s life – but he’s fighting back

All photos courtesy of Sam Bass
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A simple blister cost renowned NASCAR artist Sam Bass almost everything.

It took his lower left leg, put him through three episodes of near-fatal sepsis poisoning, led to bankruptcy, and now has him in dire need of a kidney and pancreas transplant.

Yet, Bass won’t let it stop him.

In the last two weeks, Bass watched as a Chapter 7 total liquidation auction forced the sale of more than 500 items he either created or were sentimental artifacts given to him by NASCAR luminaries such as Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and others.

Everything is gone, sold to the highest bidder as mandated by a North Carolina bankruptcy court in an attempt to satisfy creditors for more than $500,000 in medical bills that his insurance didn’t cover, as well as over $70,000 in federal and state taxes and penalties.

“That’s a lot of $10 dollar poster sales,” Bass said, reverting to humor, which has helped get him through all of the challenges he’s faced.

And it’s all because of that damn blister.

In 2005, while at Daytona for Speedweeks, Bass discovered a small blister on his left foot following a jog along the beach. But as he’s done for nearly all of his 55 years, his work ethic overruled his common sense.

“In hindsight, I should have taken a week to 10 days off and laid in bed or sat around and let that blister heal,” Bass said. “But I didn’t, I kept going after my deadlines and keep all my commitments and travel.

“That blister became infected, which led to having four bones in my foot removed over the next three years. Then in 2008, that infection in my foot cost me my lower left leg, a below-knee amputation on Thanksgiving in 2008.

“I went to Homestead, made it home, went into the hospital on Wednesday, had the amputation, spent Thursday in the hospital recovering – my mom made Thanksgiving dinner for the nurses – and I was discharged Friday and did Dave Moody’s (SiriusXM Radio) show that afternoon, talking about my amputation.”

Although doctors told him he’d need at least two months to heal from the amputation, he was back on the road and at a presentation in Nashville, Tennessee, five weeks later, wearing a prosthetic lower leg.

One of the many paintings Bass made of the late Dale Earnhardt during his celebrated career.

But the damage that began with the blister came back with a vengeance four years later when he went through his first bout of sepsis. Bass was preparing to leave for Speedweeks when he didn’t feel right and took himself to the hospital.

“Four hours later, they were operating on me,” he said. “I was told if I would have waited 24 more hours, I would never have made it out of surgery.”

The sepsis had occurred because of an irritation and rub from where the prosthetic leg attached to behind his knee. Bacteria had seeped into his bloodstream and doctors had to remove one-third of the tissue from his upper left leg.

“One out of four people that get sepsis dies,” Bass said. “And then I got it two more times where I had it three times in 2 ½ years. I also had it in my upper right arm and again in my chest, right above my heart.”

That Bass defied the odds is virtually unheard of. But the greatest battle of his life still lay ahead.

Bass did this rendering to honor what was intended to be Jeff Gordon’s last appearance at Bristol in 2015.

Bass also has been a Type 1 diabetic for nearly half his life, being diagnosed with the disease when he was 29. Which led him to remark rather firmly:

“People always want to say I lost my lower left leg to diabetes. But I didn’t lose my lower left leg to diabetes, I lost it to stupidity. If I had been smarter about taking care of myself and gotten some antibiotics when that infection started with that blister, I probably would have my lower left leg today.

“Sam just didn’t take time for Sam and it cost me dearly.”

A CHILDHOOD DREAM COME TRUE

While many young kids grew up dreaming about becoming NASCAR drivers like Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, Bass didn’t want to drive race cars, he wanted to draw them. Following his first NASCAR race at Southside Speedway in suburban Richmond, Virginia at 7 years old, Bass quickly realized his calling.

“I remember leaving that racetrack that night and telling my uncles that I wanted to be a NASCAR artist,” Bass said. “I was so amazed that night not only by the excitement and watching those cars run around and beat and bang on each other, but also the color – how all the cars were painted so many different colors. I was like, how cool is this? I couldn’t wait to get home to pull out my markers.”

His mother was his biggest supporter growing up – but she also wondered about her son at times.

“My mom used to bring home brand new Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars from the store,” Bass said. “The first thing I did was whip out my spray paint cans and model paints and paint over them on the table.

Bass has done a number of specially designed guitars for races.

“She’d always say, ‘They’re brand new cars, why are you painting them?’ And I’d tell her that I wanted them to look the way I envisioned them looking. Then I’d build model car kits, but I never put the kits together the way they were supposed to be. My mom still has all the Hot Wheels cars and model cars that I painted over growing up. That’s where the designer in me came about.”

The more Bass drew over the years, the better he got, leading to a chance meeting with a driver that would forever change his life.

“When Bobby Allison would come into Richmond to race at the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway, he would always visit Southside Speedway and race the Late Model show there,” Bass said. “I got to meet him at a very early age and he just became my hero.”

A few years after meeting Allison for the first time, Bass – then a college freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University – presented a framed portrait of his favorite driver in the infamous “Tuf-Lon Pontiac” at a fan gathering that drew over 300 people.

“The look on his face and the way the crowd stood up and applauded the presentation, I knew at that moment that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my career,” Bass said.

Allison still has that drawing, more than 35 years later.

The 65th consecutive program cover Bass has painted for Charlotte Motor Speedway for this and next week..

Seven years later, Allison unexpectedly called Bass one day, commissioning him to design Allison’s Miller High Life car for the 1988 Winston Cup season, as well as design Allison’s Piper Aircraft-sponsored Busch Series car.

A few weeks later at Daytona, Allison would win the season-opening Busch race and go on to earn his third Daytona 500 the following day — in the same cars Bass designed for him.

“To this day, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited about anything I’ve ever done,” Bass said. “It was a great way to begin a career.”

Soon after, Bass – seven years into a federal government career as a graphics designer and contract specialist – quit his job and went into business for himself.

Bass also designed the program cover for the 1985 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and has designed every race program for the track since. This week’s program, encapsulating the All-Star Race, the All-Star Open and the Coca-Cola 600, will be the 65th consecutive program cover he’s drawn.

Bass has gone on to design hundreds of cars in NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA for more than 150 drivers, including the first Cup car designs for Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“That’s a pretty solid foundation right there,” Bass said with a laugh.

But two of his designs will forever be the highlights of Bass’s career:

* He came up with the original “Rainbow Warriors” design for Gordon’s car in 1992 and continued to design it through several updates until Gordon retired.

* After designing Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Busch Series championship-winning cars in 1998 and 1999, he created the design for Junior’s first Budweiser-sponsored No. 8 Winston Cup car. Bass also designed the Axalta-sponsored car Earnhardt will drive in his final NASCAR Cup race at the end of this season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “I’ve gotten to bookend Junior’s career,” Bass said. “That’s amazing and special to me.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive this Sam Bass-designed car in his final career NASCAR Cup race in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Bass’s artwork currently breaks down to about 50 percent paintings, 30 percent car designs, and 20 percent guitars, race programs and other things.

The creative process varies from as little as a few hours to as much as nine months. His longest project was the redesign of Jeff Gordon’s car for the 2001 season. It featured flames on the side and went through 78 iterations before the finished project appeared.

“You can only imagine the amount of pressure on me because we were replacing such an iconic looking race car,” Bass said. “I was a nervous wreck because I didn’t want to be known as the guy who killed the rainbow.”

IN THE BIGGEST FIGHT OF HIS LIFE

Over time, the sepsis battles deteriorated Bass’s kidney to where he says he is “in dire need of a kidney and pancreas transplant.”

He is in Stage 5 kidney failure – the worst there is – and has just seven percent of kidney function left. He recently started dialysis and is on a number of donor transplant lists.

Yet, Bass once again leans on his humor to help him cope.

“There is so much information to absorb to be a good dialysis and diabetes patient,” he said. “There’s classes, books, studying and learning to be informed about all this stuff.”

Then he quips: “Hopefully, at the end of this whole thing, not only will I be healthy but I’ll also have my doctor’s degree so I can make a little more money.”

And then there’s the bankruptcy that saw virtually everything he ever created (and still retained) in his career auctioned, many for pennies on the dollar of their worth.

Bass painted this to commemorate Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 win in 1998.

For example, some auctioned artwork that retailed for up to $10,000 sold for as little as a few hundred bucks.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Bass said. “People are coming to my gallery every day to pick up what they bought in the auction.”

Bass hopes to emerge from bankruptcy in about two months, but will never forget the agony he’s gone through.

“I keep asking myself, ‘How did I get here?’ ” he said.

REBOUNDING AND REBUILDING

The toll of physical and financial calamity has been hard on Bass, wife Denise and their children, daughter Kendyl and son Mark. But his family has also been the rock that Bass has leaned upon to get through everything.

He’s also grateful for the support he’s received from the NASCAR community and fans as he begins to rebuild.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, I’ve learned a lot of lessons,” Bass said. “But I firmly believe the reason I’ve been left here is for a purpose — to hopefully continue being a good NASCAR artist, for sure, but the real purpose is to help and educate and be a positive inspiration for other diabetics and people going through hardships I’ve gone through and pass on the knowledge I’ve learned to help make their life easier.”

Bass could have given up at any point, but he didn’t. When he came into his gallery, about a mile north of Charlotte Motor Speedway, last Monday, 36 years of his life may have been gone, but he believes there’s another 36 more years of success to come.

“I sent out a tweet the other day that this is Day 1 of the rebuilding,” Bass said. “I’m committed to restore everything back to bigger and better than it’s ever been.

“I’ve always operated under two principles: treat people the absolute best way I could and do the best work I could possibly do. At the end of the day, I’m extremely blessed that I’m still here because it very easily could have gone the other way. I’m not going to give up.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Three drivers who have played significant parts of Bass’s career talked about their relationship with Sam to NBC Sports:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “My father and Sam were great friends. They both worked together to enhance each other’s careers. On top of that, Sam is just one of the nicest guys you will meet in the industry. He always has a smile on his face. I felt like helping Sam would certainly be my father’s first reaction. So I wanted to honor my own father’s friendship with Sam and also let Sam know that he has a lot of people that care about him.”

Jeff Gordon: “Sam is such a great guy, and I hate that he is going through these health issues right now. He puts his heart into his work and takes a lot of pride in it. He was instrumental in helping design the original iconic No. 24 paint scheme and had a hand in the design of many No. 24 paint schemes through the years – including the one we ran at Atlanta a few years back that (Gordon’s daughter) Ella ‘designed.’”

Jimmie Johnson: “It’s hard to see Sam going through so much right now as he has done so much for so many throughout his career. His friendship over the years has meant a lot to me. He designed my Lowe’s car for my rookie season in 2002 and we had a lot of great memories with that car. As one of the original artists in the sport, he is so talented and we are all praying for him.”

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Ben Kennedy, the racer in the France family

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Until his racing career’s late start at 13, Ben Kennedy had a “normal childhood.”

He went to grade school, played multiple sports and even attended soccer camp.

“Hanging out and making friends and just being a kid,” Kennedy told NBC Sports. “That was something that kind of stuck out in my mind that I’m thankful for.”

Then there was the family business.

Ben Kennedy will be one of the drivers who pilots the No. 2 Chevrolet this year. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Kennedy has vague memories. Attending the Daytona 500, meeting his favorite driver Jeff Gordon at the age of 3 and the annual visits to the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.

As the grandson of former NASCAR CEO Bill France Jr., Kennedy got plenty of opportunities to see the “moving circus” up close and personal.

“I think it took awhile to understand the scope of it and the roles my family has played both on the NASCAR and ISC side,” Kennedy said. “I understood my mom (Lesa France Kennedy) was involved in the tracks (as CEO of ISC) and my family was involved in NASCAR. It was awhile before I really grasped it completely, and I still don’t completely understand all the ins and outs of this sport. Maybe never will. It’s a cool sport. It amazes me everyday how complex it is and how many different facets there are between NASCAR and the tracks, the teams, the drivers, the partners, everybody involved. It’s so diverse.”

Now, at 25, he’s one of the moving circus’ performers.

Nearly a year ago, Kennedy became the first member of the France family to win a national NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Truck Series. Last week at Talladega, he made his first start of the year in the Xfinity Series, driving for Richard Childress Racing. He finished fourth. He will split the season between RCR and GMS Racing in the No. 96 Chevrolet.

That’s in addition to his ownership of a part-time K&N Pro Series East team.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: In the seven months you were out of a car, how did you keep busy? What was a day in the life of Ben Kennedy?

Kennedy: It’s been really hectic for me. … Just staying as fit as possible. Staying healthy and training as much as I can to be ready for the season. Got some other stuff I’ve been working on with not only putting these Xfinity races together and finding partners. I’ve also got a K&N team down in Daytona. I’ve been managing that and been pretty involved with that this year. Also, random stuff, did “American Ninja Warrior” about a month ago. Just kind of all over the map.

NBC Sports: How did American Ninja Warrior come about?

Kennedy: Such a cool experience. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to train for it. Those guys that you’re going up against, they train for years and months on end. I didn’t have much time. Upper body is probably my weakness on this side of athleticism. I trained my tail off for it. I was sick the entire time training. It’s wild to get up there in front of all the bright lights and cameras and all that stuff. When you watch on TV from the couch and in the AC it’s a completely different experience then being out there in the elements.

(Writer’s note: Kennedy’s episode of airs on June 26 on the USA Network)

NBC Sports: In a couple of months we’ll be coming up on a year since you won at Bristol. Where’s that trophy located now?

Kennedy: It’s at my apartment in North Caroline right now. I got it up there, the Bristol trophy, along with the … flag from when I had team and family members sign at a celebration party after. I got it in a good spot in my place.

NBC Sports: How much space does it take up, because it looked like a pretty big trophy.

Kennedy: It takes up the floor. I tried to find counter space to put it on. Nothing really made sense and my girlfriend wasn’t really crazy about it. It’s on the floor right now.

NBC Sports: When you did the NASCAR on NBC podcast last year, you said that you really liked that you went to a college (University of Florida) where no one really knew who you were or who your family was. When that would eventually come up, how’d you address that ‘yeah, my family founded NASCAR?’

Kennedy: I never went out and said it. I never said I was a driver or anything. Any of that stuff. Naturally, it does come out. People Google you or Wikipedia or something. They find that out. Some people understood I was a driver, some people understood I was a driver and my family was involved in NASCAR. You’ve got to kind of embrace it and be a part of it. Your family is something you should definitely be proud of. At the same time be very cautious and know who your friends are. It’s kind of a double-edged sword in some ways. Nonetheless, they’re family to me. That’s all I know.

Ben Kennedy drives GMS Racing’s No. 96 Chevrolet during a May test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Daniel McFadin)

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw or name or face on merchandise?

Kennedy: Gosh, it was probably a long time ago. I remember we made these hats that had my number on it a long time ago. It wasn’t really merchandise. I think my first shirt, and I’ve still got it somewhere, it was a Hanes shirt like you’d buy at Wal-Mart and a friend of mine embroidered Kennedy on it, put my No. 96 on it. It’s very retro and one of a kind.

NBC Sports: What’s your attachment to the No. 96?

Kennedy: I don’t know. It’s kind of been a number that I started with in go-karts. I kind of forget how I ended up with it. I think it’s one of those things where you have to pick a number but you have to pick a number no one else has so far. Ninety-six was one that was available. It’s one that stuck ever since.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Kennedy: I’m kind of an outdoor, action-adventure junkie. I think traveling the world is pretty cool. Obviously, something I want to do is go skydiving. That’s on my list. I went bungee jumping one time, which was incredible.

NBC Sports: Speaking of traveling the world, you won a race in Paris, France a few years ago (in 2012, the first oval race in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series history at Tours Speedway). What was that experience like?

Kennedy: That was awesome. It was neat because they set it up in a parking lot outside this convention center. You go Turn 1 and 2 and it’d be kind of smooth, then you’d go through Turns 3 and 4 and you’d hit a gutter. Pretty soon, all four tires are off the ground. It was the first year that they did it, but it was so neat because they did it parallel to a motorcycle convention that was out there at the time and I had never seen so many American flags in one place in my life and I thought that was really cool. …

The race itself was really fascinating because those cars are very spaced out, everything is very similar from car to car. Kind of a bit of a learning curve for me. The team I was working with didn’t speak great English. That was a little bit of a challenge. I remember in practice, I came in and I told them what was wrong with the car and what I wanted to adjust. They’re like, ‘ok, that’s fine. Go back out and practice. We can’t make any changes here, we don’t want to make any changes here.’ So, alright.

During the race, I actually got carbon monoxide poisoning. The crash panels were a little bit open between that and the body. I was sucking in fumes the entire race. There was a caution with like five to go or something, they were doing their first ever green-white-checkered there and they were trying to figure it out. … The pace car was going like 10 mph, I’m sucking up fumes. I almost passed out. I got out of the car. I was beat red in the face. The guy that was interviewing me asked me, ‘You must be working out hard out there.’ I said ‘I feel like I’m going to hurl right now, too.’ I did that.

Then I leaned over the side of the car and just caught my breath for a while and then did all the celebrations after that.

NBC Sports: If you were competing in a Cup race at Bristol, what would you choose as your intro song?

Kennedy: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t even know. Something cool. … Like Kings of Leon, something like that … What’s that one song, I don’t even know if it’s Kings of Leon, but “Centuries”?

NBC Sports: That’s Fall Out Boy.

 

Previous Xfinity spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

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NASCAR America: Jimmie Johnson could benefit from new tire at Kansas

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When Cup teams arrive at Kansas Speedway Friday, they’ll be doing so with a new left-side tire compound.

NASCAR America analyst Dale Jarrett believes Jimmie Johnson could capitalize on the added wrinkle to the Go Bowling 400.

Johnson was one of the four drivers who participated in the tire test last year that helped confirm which tires Goodyear used for the race.

“When you look at Jimmie, he does so well at this track,” Jarrett said. “But when something new is brought in, he just has an advantage in the fact that they are so good and he is so good, as everyone one else struggles, he finds a way to get things done.”

Johnson is tied with Jeff Gordon for three wins at the 1.5-mile track.

Watch the video to see Parker Kligerman‘s thoughts on how the aging track and lower downforce influences the choice of tire.