NASCAR fan prepares to attend 1,000th Cup race Sunday at Michigan

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Imagine doing one activity.

Then picture doing that activity religiously, 1,000 times from February 1963 to June 2018.

Joe Baumann is preparing fulfill that this weekend at Michigan International Speedway when he attends his 1,000th NASCAR Cup race.

Baumann, 79, is a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, and owner of a carpeting and flooring company, something his family has done since 1885.

But Baumann has made NASCAR his weekend business.

After getting out of the Navy in 1960, Baumann had his own brief racing career until life got in the way.

“I raced a couple of years in late models at our home track here in Erie,” Baumann told NBC Sports. “Went into drag racing a couple years after that. Started having a big family and that was the end of everything. I become a spectator because I figured there’s no way I can afford a family and the cost to race race cars.”

Baumann’s first time in the grandstands of a NASCAR Cup event came at the 1963 Daytona 500, when Tiny Lund won for the Wood Brothers.

“I loved what I saw when I got to Daytona,” Baumann said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Baumann has seen everything in the 998 races that have followed.

It’s documented in the couple hundred race programs that line his office and in the diary he decided to start keeping about a decade ago.

Joe Baumann sits in his office filled with NASCAR race programs. (Courtesy of Cale Baumann).

Baumann was there in 1969 when Talladega Superspeedway opened its doors for the first time.

He was also present in 1996 when North Wilkesboro Speedway said goodbye to NASCAR racing. He has “everything from the last race there,” including commemorative hats, unused tickets and the program.

Just a year before he experienced his “all-time No. 1” race.

You may have seen the highlights, but Baumann was sitting in Turn 3 of Bristol Motor Speedway the night of the 1995 Food City 500.

“Dale Earnhardt. Terry Labonte. Unfriggin’ believable,” declared Baumann, who was an Earnhardt fan. “I’ll never forget it. (Earnhardt) got black flagged at least twice, maybe three times for rough driving. They sent him to the back of the pack and oh my God, he was hell-bent to get back up front again. He did and it comes down to the last lap and they come off Turn 4 just slam banging each other, side by side and Earnhardt smashed him sideways.

“… I think the people went completely crazy. It was just phenomenal.

“That was tops.”

Baumann racked up races in the 70s, 80s and 90s while owning permanent seats at 10 tracks that hosted two races a year, including Bristol, Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, Atlanta and Talladega in addition to his visits to other tracks.

In 2004, he put a big dent in his total by attending all 36 Cup races, from Daytona to Homestead, with roughly 100 friends joining him over the course of the year.

At his peak, many race weekends saw Baumann and a group of six to 12 friends make the pilgrimage.

“Most of us worked six days a week, we’d leave Saturday night,” Baumann said. “We would leave Erie and drive straight to the track.”

One track, the one in South Carolina that’s Too Tough to Tame, really spoke to him.

Since 1964, when Buck Baker won in Baumann’s first visit to Darlington Raceway, he hasn’t missed a Southern 500.

The custom shirt Baumann and his friends and family will wear this weekend (Courtesy of Cale Baumann).

“The people and the good-hearted racing, it was just amazing they could run 500 miles at that speed and then it had the full metal roof over the top of the whole front straightaway and that made it even worse on your ears probably,” Baumann said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to miss one of these things.’ Back then tickets were like $10 or less and fuel was reasonable. We took a half a dozen guys, normally starting with a pickups truck, campers and things like that to go down. Motels in that day and age were few and far between. … Then my wife (Jackie, who passed away in 2015) got interested, so then her and I started going together. Next thing you know we got into motor homes and things like that. … It’s a great weekend now and everywhere we go it’s the same way. NASCAR people are just unbelievable.”

Baumann’s dedication to Darlington was rewarded last year when he was one of three people inducted into the track’s Fan Hall of Fame.

“That was pretty neat. They took care of me,” Baumann said. “The ring is like a Super Bowl ring.”

Baumann, who named his youngest daughter Allison after his favorite driver, Bobby Allison, and his youngest son Cale after Cale Yarborough, wanted his 1,000th race to come at Darlington.

But knee-replacement surgery last year shortened his schedule.

Instead, he’ll reach the 1,000 race mark Sunday with the FireKeepers Casino 400. The drive to Brooklyn, Michigan, is a much easier trip for the roughly 50 people who will camp with him for the weekend.

What festivities will there be to mark the occasion?

“My friends are full of surprises, believe me,” Baumann said. “Something’s going to happen.”

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Chad Knaus to be a father in August

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Chad Knaus’ wife, Brooke, announced Monday night that the couple is expecting its first child this year.

Brooke tweeted that she is due in August.

Chad Knaus is in his 17th season as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief. They’ve won seven championships together, leaving Knaus one behind the all-time record for a crew chief. Dale Inman won eight championships — seven with Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte.

 

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Martinsville Cup race turns back clock to 1978 (video)

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — The last time a Martinsville Cup race featured four cautions before Monday?

You have to go back to when car owner Richard Childress was racing, the field had 30 cars, and drivers in that race included Satch Worley, Baxter Price and Ferrel Harris, along with eight Hall of Famers — race winner Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Benny Parsons, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Terry Labonte, David Pearson, and Childress.

That was September 1978. That race also had four cautions.

Of the four cautions in Monday’s snow-delayed race won by Clint Bowyer, two were for stage breaks, one was a competition caution and the other one was for an incident.

So, why were there so few cautions in Monday’s 500-lap race?

Opinions vary.

“Once you get strung out here, there’s not a lot of attrition,’’ Denny Hamlin, a five-time winner at Martinsville, said after placing 12th Monday. “Guys give each other room and when somebody is faster, somebody gives up the spot.

“It’s different racing now than what it used to be. I think that everyone is running the same speed. All of our cars, whether it be data sharing, setups that we’re sharing with each other and all that, everyone is getting their car to drive very, very similar.

“Even when I would come up on lapped cars, they were running a similar speed to what I was, but I was able to get through traffic better than they were. We’ve gotten the cars to where the drive is so similar so when everyone runs the same speed it’s hard to pass and with less passing there’s less chance for incidents. I thought it was still a good race, a lot of races have gone caution-free for a long time back in the day and Clint really put a whipping on them.”

Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for Ryan Blaney, said that with so few restarts, there were fewer chances for accidents and cautions toward the end of the race.

“I don’t know about the data sharing aspect,’’ Bullins told NBC Sports. “It could have an impact on it, but I think it’s just one of those days were it seemed like everybody stayed off each other a little bit more than normal and weren’t knocking each other out of the way. You saw the end of the Truck race. Once they started racing hard, they started going crazy.

“We didn’t have that caution with 50 to go that led to all the cautions at the end. That’s really what makes a difference. If you don’t get the late caution and jam everybody back up again, that’s what separates them at the end. Once they get spread out like that, you’re not going to get a caution. It’s the late cautions that jumble everything up.’’

The race’s final caution was from laps 385-391 for contact between Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray.

Scott Graves, crew chief for Daniel Suarez, had a different thought on the matter.

“This is the third (race) on this tire combination,’’ Graves told NBC Sports, noting the change to the right-side tread compound before the 2017 spring race that helped create an outside groove at the flat track. “I feel like since we’ve been on this tire combination it’s been a little different, it hasn’t been your typical Martinsville. … With this tire you still don’t have all the marbles going down and you can run on the outside a little bit and it’s not as big a penalty as it used to be.’’

BACK IN THE DAY

The four cautions in Monday’s Cup race at Martinsville were the fewest there since the September 1978 race. A look back at what was taking place in 1978:

1978 Cup champion: Cale Yarborough

1978 Daytona 500 winner: Bobby Allison

Cost of gas: 65 cents a gallon 

Highest-grossing movies: 1. “Grease”; 2. “Animal House”; 3. “Superman”; 4. “Every Which Way but Loose”

Billboard top 100 singles for 1978: 1. “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibbs; 2. “Night Fever” by Bee Gees; 3. “You Light Up My Life’’ by Debby Boone.

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Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman climb up NASCAR record book

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A bit overlooked from last weekend’s race at ISM Raceway was that both Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman moved up a spot for most consecutive Cup starts.

Both started their 580th consecutive Cup race last weekend. That moved them ahead of Ken Schrader (579 career starts) into ninth on the all-time list. Kevin Harvick has 572 consecutive starts. He’s set to pass Schrader at Kansas in May.

Next for Johnson and Newman is Mark Martin, who made 621 career Cup starts.

Jeff Gordon is the record holder with 797 consecutive starts. At this point, both Johnson, who is 42 years old, and Newman, who is 40, would need six years to reach Gordon’s mark.

To put the streak Johnson and Newman have compiled into perspective, rookies William Byron and Darrell Wallace Jr. would each need to not miss a race for 16 years to match them (provided there continues to be 36 points races a year). Both Byron and Wallace will need 22 seasons to match Gordon’s mark.

Most consecutive Cup starts 

797 – Jeff Gordon

788 – Ricky Rudd

704 – Bobby Labonte

697 – Rusty Wallace

655 – Terry Labonte

648 – Dale Earnhardt

628 – Jeff Burton

621 – Mark Martin

580 – Jimmie Johnson

580 – Ryan Newman

579 – Ken Schrader

572 – Kevin Harvick

571 – Matt Kenseth

548 – Jamie McMurray

521 – Tony Stewart

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Police investigating vandalism, theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway

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The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a report of vandalism and theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the track, which last hosted a NASCAR Cup race in 1996, suffered damage of about $10,000 when several trespassers were on the grounds last weekend. No arrests have been made.

The report states that several windows were broken and other damage was done to the structures. Also, large amounts of electrical wire and circuit breakers were reported missing.

The investigation continues.

North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted NASCAR Cup races from 1949-96. Winners included Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Junior Johnson, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon, who won the final race there.

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