NASCAR drivers could use help from Tony Stewart, Indy 500 drivers on pranks

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CONCORD, N.C. — Tony Stewart, you are needed back in the NASCAR garage. Immediately.

Please hurry.

Stewart, who left full-time Cup racing after the 2016 season, remains a car owner, but he’s been off competing in other forms of racing. His absence in the NASCAR garage — particularly the driver motorhome lot — is felt in many ways.

One such way he’s missed is his penchant for practical jokes. It is a lost art among NASCAR drivers, while those competing in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 have made it one of the unofficial traditions of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the NTT IndyCar Series.

Tony was kind of that guy back in the day when we were first teammates,” Denny Hamlin said of the sport’s practical joker. “A lot of things. I don’t know if they were pranks or just harsh and cruel. Little brake cleaner in the driver’s seat to set your ass on fire. He was not afraid to go all out when it came to roasting you.”

Said Austin Dillon: “Tony always messed around.”

With Stewart gone, the sport has changed and hijinks among competitors have faded.

Should anyone in the Cup garage want to take over the role Stewart once had, they should look at the tricks IndyCar drivers have done for inspiration.

IndyCar drivers have a rich history of pranking each other and that continued this past week with a joke pulled on Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin, a rookie in the series. The New Zealand native was greeted by several balloon sheep on his golf cart, truck and around his motorhome at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Kiwis and sheep is an old joke,” McLaughlin said earlier this week at Indianapolis. “So it’s not the most creative message, but the way they did it, I’ll give the execution four stars.”

McLaughlin’s teammate, Josef Newgarden was not impressed with the effort.

“They could have done better than just 20 sheep balloons,” Newgarden said of the culprit or culprits. “They should have gotten 500 sheep balloons and been like here’s your 500 sheep. They should have just gone over the top. I don’t know who did it, but it was not inspiring.”

Last August at Indy, Alexander Rossi was the target of pranksters. They removed the tires from his golf cart and left it on blocks. The tires were placed atop Rossi’s motorhome. Rossi found out Colton Herta and Conor Daly were co-conspirators. Rossi tried to get Daly back by getting the keys to his motorhome in an extensive ploy that included going to the restaurant Daly was at on a date. It failed. Daly is more protective of his keys after once finding his motorhome filled with balloons.

In the 2019 season, several drivers had their scooters parked outside the media center at Circuit of the Americas. When they returned, they found their keys gone. Years earlier, the late Dan Wheldon had all of his left shoes mailed to the U.S. during a race week in Japan.

So why do IndyCar drivers play such gags on each other?

“I think it’s because we’re here (at Indianapolis) for so long, that we just get bored at some point and decide to pick on somebody, usually the new guy,” James Hinchcliffe said this past week at Indy.

“It has exploded a little bit. We’ve done some smaller inner-team ones. I had Ryan (Hunter-Reay’s) wallet for a little while and was distributing his credit cards to different people amongst the team. And I gotta tell you, man. He doesn’t take a joke very well! He was not thrilled about it!

“And though I did return all the cards, I’m not saying I didn’t take a photograph of the front and back of one of them and am just going to send these random $7-12 charges to it once a month over the next year to see if he notices. But yeah, I’m not sure who was behind the McLaughlin one. … I’ve not been staying in the bus lot this week, so I can genuinely plead innocence on this one.”

Corey LaJoie, who recalls celebrating Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s first Cup win with others by throwing lawn furniture on the roof of Earnhardt’s home, speaks with admiration at how IndyCar drivers pull tricks on one another.

They prank each other all the time,” LaJoie said. “We don’t do that so much here.”

Why?

“I think guys are scared,” LaJoie said. “ ‘Oh, he might wreck me.’ In IndyCar, you can’t really lean on somebody. You have to show some respect to those guys on the track no matter if they just dumped crickets in your bus or put balloons in your motorhome. Here (in NASCAR), somebody can lean on you and cut a left front tire down just for holding them up in the bus lot for an extra minute.

“A little bit different. I do enjoy listening to Colton Herta and Hinchcliffe and those guys dogging on each other.”

The last big public practical joke in NASCAR came three years ago by Jimmie Johnson — who is now in IndyCar.

It goes back to the inaugural Charlotte Roval race. Johnson lost control in the final chicane trying to get by Martin Truex Jr. for the win. Johnson’s car hit Truex’s car and they both spun, allowing Ryan Blaney to win.

Cole Pearn, then crew chief for Truex, saw Johnson on the way out of the track that day and lightheartedly suggested Johnson buy the team road bikes to help make up for the disappointment. So, Johnson delivered the team bikes the next week at Dover International Speedway.

The only thing is they were children’s bikes.

Such moments are rare, some drivers say, because few drivers are close to each other.

I just don’t have a relationship with many of the guys in the garage here,” reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott said. “I think it’s cool what those (IndyCar) guys do. There are a few guys I guess that are close friends here. I have close friends, a couple, but not many.”

Christopher Bell says there are friends among Cup drivers but also notes: “For the most part, we all kind of do our own thing.

“It’s a little bit different than the other forms of motorsports I’ve been around. Whenever I was around dirt track racing, everyone was probably a lot more friendly to each than what we have in the NASCAR garage for whatever reason. I think that’s why we don’t really see (pranks) because we don’t really have a relationship with other drivers.”

Newgarden cites the relationships between drivers as why IndyCar competitors pull gags on each other.

“There’s an atmosphere amongst the drivers,” he said. “We’re just as competitive as any other sport. We all want to be the best. But off the track, there’s a respect and cordialness amongst all of us that creates an environment where we can all still be us at the end of the day and not have the sport override that. So that’s what you’re seeing is the personalities and normalcy of us outside of our professional job.”

At least the Cup Series has friends Blaney and Bubba Wallace.

“I locked Bubba in the bathroom at Dover one year, in a port-a-john,” Blaney said. “I stacked a bunch of tires in front of it and he couldn’t get out.”

Wallace was stuck in there about 10 minutes. He’s not gotten Blaney back.

“Not yet,” Wallace said. “I’m letting him forget about it. It shows he hasn’t forgotten, so I’ve got to wait a couple more years.”

Until then, can Stewart return to the NASCAR garage and show the current generation some tricks to play?

NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan contributed to this from Indianapolis

Where are they now? Scott Riggs races with son, Layne

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Scott Riggs, who raced for 15 years in NASCAR’s top three national series, now is guiding the racing career of his 20-year-old son, Layne.

And things are going well.

Layne won this year’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model championship, scoring 16 wins in 43 starts and edging former series champion Peyton Sellers by four points for the title.

Riggs thus became the youngest champion in Weekly Series history.

“It all started when Layne was 10 years old, mostly just something to entertain him and to have some fun,” Scott told NBC Sports. “But it’s turned into a full-fledged job. My life and plate have been full.”

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes

The Riggs family’s race shop is located in Bahama, North Carolina, Riggs’ home base during his NASCAR career. Scott describes himself as the “truck driver, spotter, crew chief and in-shop mechanic.”

“I am very tired,” he said.

The team, which depends on volunteers, didn’t plan to race in so many events this season, but when Layne started the year with a string of victories, it made sense to chase the national championship and give him a chance to be the youngest winner ever.

“To chase it that hard and be that close and then to win it, it was very exhausting,” Scott said. “It was a very big relief to finish the year.”

Success on short tracks resulted in Layne racing in three Camping World Truck Series events this year with Halmar Racing. He had a best finish of seventh at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in his series debut.

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Scott Riggs ended his NASCAR driving career in 2014 in the Truck Series. He won five Truck races and four Xfinity races and ran 208 Cup races without a win. He made his Truck debut in 1999, moved to Xfinity in 2002 (winning Rookie of the Year) and then to Cup in 2004.

Riggs, now 51, raced in the Cup Series from 2004-13 with stops at MB2 Motorsports and with teams owned by Gene Haas, Tommy Baldwin and Ray Evernham, among others. He had four top-five finishes.

“I think I was very fortunate and the timing was right for me to move up through the ranks and get so many good opportunities,” Riggs said. “I raced late models for a long time, and then all of a sudden I got the opportunity to get in a truck. Won some races and poles and won races and poles in Xfinity.”

MORE: Jody Ridley’s upset for the ages

He ran out of chances in Cup as team models shifted, including some downsizing and mergers.

“I felt like I couldn’t get an opportunity that I had worked for and earned,” Riggs said. “It was hard for me. I was bitter for a year or so. But I look back, and a realization came over me that I was fortunate to have that time with my kids when they were at the right ages. I got to watch them do their things and just be the dad I wanted to be — not being gone four out of every seven days racing.

“I don’t think I’d have the relationship I have today with my kids if I had had a longer time in the sport.”

 

 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

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The best quotes from drivers and others involved in NASCAR competition often come in the heat of the moment — after a crash or a close finish or a controversial decision by officials.

NASCAR’s history is filled with memorable quotes from drivers who won races to drivers who watched wins slip away to officials caught in a moment of history.

Here’s a look at 10 that stand out:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. “I didn’t mean to turn him around. I meant to rattle his cage, though.” — Dale Earnhardt, describing how he didn’t mean to wreck Terry Labonte after he wrecked Labonte on the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway to win the Aug. 28, 1999 race.

2. “They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. There’s no way to get around that.” — Kevin Harvick, Feb. 21, 2010, offering his opinion on why Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team won so many races after Johnson outran him to win at Auto Club Speedway.

MORE: An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley wins at Dover

3. “It’s a stump-puller.” — Sterling Marlin, emphasizing the strength of his engine after he won the Daytona 500 Feb. 19, 1995.

4. “It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.” — Joey Logano, talking about Kevin Harvick after they were involved in a late-race crash at Pocono Raceway June 6, 2010. Harvick’s wife, DeLana, often wore a firesuit similar to those worn by team members during races.

5. “Do you have a brother?” — Ward Burton, responding to a reporter who asked if it was tougher to finish second because the race winner was his brother, Jeff, March 7, 1999 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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6. “I couldn’t hear him. He’s got that little yap-yap mouth. I couldn’t tell what he was saying.” — Ricky Rudd, commenting on what Kevin Harvick said to him after they wrecked at Richmond Raceway, Sept. 6, 2003.

7. “We can’t race with tears in our eyes.” — team owner Robert Yates, explaining why his team would not participate in the next week’s race after its driver, Davey Allison, was killed in a helicopter crash, July 1993.

8. “He’d have to toast everyone with milk.” — Dale Earnhardt, commenting on the celebratory drink choice Jeff Gordon might make if he ever won the Cup championship. After he won the 1995 Cup title, Gordon followed through, toasting his championship with a glass of milk at the awards banquet.

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9. “You know they say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice.” — Tony Stewart, winning the pre-race trash-talk contest with Carl Edwards prior to the 2011 race for the championship. Stewart had won the title in 2002 and 2005 and notched another over Edwards in 2011.

10. “This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I’ve ever personally had to make, but after the accident in Turn 4 of the Daytona 500 we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.” — NASCAR President Mike Helton, confirming Earnhardt’s death at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 18, 2001.

Honorable mentions: David Pearson, after being told that Richard Petty had said Pearson was the best driver he ever raced against: “I agree with him.” … CBS broadcaster Ken Squier, calling the famous finish of the 1979 Daytona 500: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers, overflowing. They are angry. They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.” … NASCAR founder Bill France, providing a unique ending to a pre-race prayer after temporarily forgetting to use Amen: “Sincerely, Bill France.”

Snowball Derby entry list includes NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Truck drivers

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Four Cup drivers are among those entered for Sunday’s 55th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The Cup drivers entered are former series champion Brad Keselowski, playoff competitor William Byron, two-time Southern 500 winner Erik Jones and incoming Cup rookie Noah Gragson, who advanced to the Xfinity title race this year.

Also entered: Josh Berry, who competed in the Xfinity championship race this year, and Ty Majeski, who competed in the Truck championship race this year.

Majeski won the 2020 Snowball Derby. Gragson won the race in 2018. Jones won the event in 2012 and ’13.

Others entered include:

Chandler Smith, who won the 2021 Snowball Derby and will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2023, is listed on the entry list but stated on social media he will not be competing.

The Snowball Derby is among the more prestigious Super Late Model races on the calendar and coming after the NASCAR season makes it easier for more Cup, Xfinity and Truck competitors to take part in the event.

Qualifying takes place Saturday. The Snowball Derby is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Racing America will stream Sunday’s race for $49.99. A three-day viewing pass can be purchased for $74.99.

 

 

An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley’s 1981 victory at Dover

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NASCAR’s history is sprinkled with upsets, from unlikely winners riding the Talladega draft to short tracks that yielded unexpected wins when favored leaders crashed on the final lap.

Survey the list of surprise winners over the decades, and Jody Ridley’s name likely will stand out.

On May 17, 1981, two days shy of his 39th birthday, Ridley won a 500-mile race at Dover Motor Speedway in Delaware. It was the only victory of Ridley’s Cup career and the only win scored by Virginia team owner Junie Donlavey, who participated in the Cup Series for 45 years, with 863 starts.

Donlavey’s team was perpetually underfunded, and his drivers often raced with tired, overused engines and tires that had too many laps. He survived with a mostly volunteer crew and enough sponsorship to carry him from race to race. Rival drivers and team owners considered Donlavey one of the most popular residents of NASCAR garage areas across those many years, but he rarely had the chance to reach for victory lane.

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On that spring day at Dover, one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks, everything fell the right way. Many of the tour’s leading drivers parked with engine or overheating problems, and the day’s best car – the Wood Brothers entry driven by Neil Bonnett — was sidelined with an engine issue late in the race after leading 404 laps.

Ridley, running a steady race, benefited from an unusual day at Dover. The race had only two cautions, and the final 471 laps of 500 were run under green-flag conditions. A general lack of cautions prevented top teams from changing tires frequently, putting Ridley, who was used to running tires longer than normal, on better footing.

When Cale Yarborough left the race with engine trouble 20 laps from the finish, Ridley inherited the lead — he had been two laps down to Yarborough — and led the rest of the way. He won by 22 seconds over Bobby Allison, who was the only other driver on the lead lap. Dale Earnhardt finished third, a lap down. Illustrating the problems experienced by many in the field — not an unusual result in those days — was the fact that the fourth-place driver, D.K. Ulrich, was nine laps off the lead pace.

Ridley drove into Victory Lane for the first time, much to the delight of Donlavey’s crew.

“Junie took it all in stride,” Ridley, now 80, told NBC Sports. “He wasn’t as excited as the team guys were. Junie was the type of guy who didn’t want to cash in on other people’s bad luck. He kind of felt sorry for the guys who blew up. That’s just the way he was.

“For me, it was the highlight of my career. Once I got into Cup racing, I knew we probably wouldn’t do much winning because we didn’t have the equipment. It was icing on the cake to win that one.”

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Jody’s son Anthony, then 22 years old, was listening to the race via radio in Chatsworth, Georgia, where the family lived.

“I was upstairs at my girlfriend’s house, and I think I bounced all over the upstairs and then floated down to the first floor,” Anthony said. “It was all pretty cool. Dad called home. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t get real excited about anything, but he was happy.”

The win paid $22,560. Ridley’s cut from the check (40 percent, generally standard in those days) was $9,024, a nice payday but not Ridley’s biggest in Cup. He would win more for finishing in the top 10 in the Daytona 500.

“We were having a good day,” Ridley said, “but I never thought about winning it. We just didn’t have the cars. But we stayed in the hunt, and the other teams couldn’t get too many new tires, and Junie had put a different gear in the car. Normally he would put in a taller gear and drop the RPMs down (to protect the engine), and you couldn’t keep up. For some reason that day, he didn’t. And it paid off.”

Before joining the Cup tour full time in 1980 at age 37, Ridley had established himself as one of the top short-track drivers in the country. Across the South, at top Eastern Seaboard tracks and into the Midwest, a visit by Ridley usually meant a tough night for the locals.

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Ridley’s older brother, Biddle, and Anthony kept the Ridley short-track cars running.

“We did all that together for 36 years,” said Anthony, who started changing tires during pit stops at the age of 14. “It was how we made a living, but trying to feed three families out of a race car is tough.”

Ridley still lives in Chatsworth, where his 1981 victory was a sports highlight for years.

“He can’t hear well, but he’s still tough as a pine knot,” Anthony said.