Roanoke Times Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: SUNDAY, February 5, 1995 TAG: 9502080017 SECTION: SPORTS PAGE: C12 EDITION: METRO SOURCE: BOB ZELLER STAFF WRITER DATELINE: LENGTH: Medium
With all the clamor about the NASCAR SuperTruck series, which opens today at Phoenix International Raceway, it's a wonder NASCAR didn't start it earlier.
Folks in the Winston Cup series are reacting as if they've had a lot of spare time and have been waiting for something like the trucks to come along.
The first entry for today's race was not one of the truck regulars, but Terry Labonte. The Winston Cup star will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports truck, but he and his brother Bobby have another truck back at the family shop in Trinity, N.C.
Other entries for the first event are Winston Cup regulars Ken Schrader and Geoff Bodine, driving their own trucks; Joe Ruttman, driving for a team co-owned by Winston Cup star Ernie Irvan; Mike Skinner, driving for Winston Cup championship team Richard Childress Racing; Ron Hornaday, driving Dale Earnhardt's truck; and entries from off-road stars Roger Mears, Walker Evans and Steve McEachern.
And for laughs, there's former NFL coach Jerry Glanville, who was a rookie in ARCA stock cars last season.
NASCAR expects a full 34-truck field for the first race, which will be shown at 5 p.m. on TNN cable.
At 3,300 pounds, a SuperTruck is 100 pounds lighter than a Winston Cup car. But it will have the same type of chassis. The engines are the 9:1 compression V-8s that are mandatory in Grand National racing this year and are expected to be brought to Winston Cup in 1996.
That's one reason for Winston Cup interest. The truck series will be another proving ground for the 9:1 engines.
But there's another big reason for the interest. And Earnhardt summed it up this way: ``I sell more trucks at Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet than I do cars.''
Race fans love trucks. Most of them come to the track in a truck. And the race truck actually resembles a street truck more than a stock car resembles a street car.
``It's an exciting series,'' Earnhardt said. ``It's opened up some new doors for Chevrolet and all the manufacturers involved in the truck series. NASCAR is really excited about it, and I can see why because all the manufacturers are getting involved.''
It also has opened a door for drivers who were looking for a career niche. Rick Carelli bombed out in Winston Cup racing last year. But he's one of the leaders. But with his victory in a winter heat in November in Tucson, Carelli has established himself as a leader in the truck series. The same can be said for P.J. Jones, who won the other heat race in December.
For Hornaday, a leading Winston West driver, the call from Earnhardt was ``probably the biggest thing that's ever happened to me. I really had nothing going. I couldn't get a plane ticket [to North Carolina] fast enough.''
The trucks will race in 20 events this year. Following Phoenix, they will remain in the West for six races before coming east, stopping at I-70 Speedway in Missouri on May 27 before going to Louisville, Ky., on June 3 and another Winston Cup track, Bristol International Raceway, on June 23.
They'll support the Grand National cars July 1 in Milwaukee and Aug.3 at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Then, they join the Winston Cup series at Richmond (Sept.7), Martinsville (Sept.23) and North Wilkesboro (Sept.30). The series concludes at Phoenix on Oct.27.
``I think the opportunity is there for this series to grow and for their own superstars to grow out of it,'' Earnhardt said. ``It's a good proving ground to move up in the ranks.''