Gear, More Gear and Neon

I wound up yesterday at Daytona 2000, a NASCAR collectibles store on South Atlantic Ave. Not just any store, boasts owner Gilbert Myara, THE biggest retail NASCAR merchandise store in the world, as measured by both sales and square footage.

You never know, but Gilbert's got a lot. There's clothing and merchandise for all the current drivers and most of the old timers, die cast cars, models of drivers, jackets, caps, clothing. My personal favorite was Ernie Irvan's signature in neon, admittedly a bit of a specialty item. And if he doesn't have, just ask him for it, and he promises to find it for you. He says his online business is booming, too.

When I walked in, Gilbert was helping some serious collectors who stop in every year at Speedweek. They're the McMillans from Cecil County, Md., right near where Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania meet. On the annual trek south are J.D., his sons Adam and James, and his older brother Robert. All four work in construction, running their companies back home.

Gilbert was giving them the star treatment, for good reason: They estimate they collectively spend about $5,000 on collectibles each year they come down. But don't tell their wives, please. J.D. says his wife's birthday is February 17. He buys her very nice presents before he leaves to keep the marriage harmonious. She got a nice necklace this year.

Robert estimates he's got 5,000 die-cast cars in his collection at home. It takes up rooms in his home. His wife threatens to leave him if he buys one more, but he's such a good customer that QVC doesn't even bother to ask him if he wants the latest cars, they automatically ship it to him.

The racing roots run deep in the McMillan family. J.D. and Robert's dad used to race way back in the day. They say he raced against Lee Petty at a track they called Silmore, though I didn't catch what state that was in. They did tell me it's a junkyard now, so I assume that means it's somewhere in the tri-state area.

Robert did a lot of racing himself. Dirt tracks, drag racing, whatever he could get to. He says he ran a Corvette in '64 at the Daytona strip and won everything.

The family even considered going big-time in 1960, but to get into the Grand Nationals the Dodge rolling chassis (a body, 2 seats, 4 tires and wheels - nothing else) they priced was $100,000. Too rich for their blood.

As you'd imagine, Robert's got some great tales.

"I remember when Buddy Baker would come to the track and try to talk people into working on his pit crew."

He recalls catching a race at Dover one year when Bobby Allison won. On the way home, they stopped at an Italian restaurant for dinner. They saw Allison's pit crew in there, then Bobby showed up and bought dinner for everyone in the place.

And the family tradition continues. Robert's got a grand-nephew who's racing Go-Karts now. He took first place in the heavy class, second in the light class. Robert says the kid's got a temper, too, comparing him to Tony Stewart. "He's all right if gets out of the car and takes off his helmet. But if he leaves that helmet on, you've gotta grab him by the back of the britches quick, 'cause he's going after someone."

I finished the night at the world famous Boot Hill Saloon on Main Street. I'll give a shout out to some folks I met there whose pictures I took:

Lonnie and Jason Dubois and their friend Tim Decato of Merrimack, N.H. Their home track is Loudon. This is Lonnie's first Daytona 500, her husband's second. Tim's been to 15 already.

I also met Dave Germano, Sandra and Larry Leary, Greg Tucker and a large contingent of fans from Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Unfortunately, the photos didn't turn out. Nice meetin' ya, though.

Today's Tracks Tidbits

* I haven't seen the print version of The Washington Post today, but here's a study in contrasts: The Daytona Beach News-Journal has a special racing edition today. Not tucked inside, mind you, but wrapped about the front. The only mention of anything besides racing - or the weather - on the special front page, is a tease at the top: "Cheney: Shooting 'One of the Worst Days of My Life'" I'll just go out on a limb here and assume the Cheney story is above the fold in The Post.

* At my media center seat this morning there was a free sample of Daytona 500 cologne that the speedway is marketing in partnership with Elizabeth Arden. It's a men's cologne, but my plan is to find what the women think of the fragrance. Would they buy it for any of the men in their lives? Since the France family's involved in this, could it be called "French cologne?" Sorry, that was lame. I'll say this, it doesn't smell like gasoline or rubber. We'll see if the ladies like it.

By Mike Snyder |  February 16, 2006; 1:16 PM ET  | Category:  Daytona Scene , Fans
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Sorry about the length of the following.

Couple of comments from the Q & A yesterday:

To the question about restrictor plates being used in other forms of racing (e.g. open-wheel): most forms of high-level motorsport restrict horsepower levels by limiting the amount of air that an engine can intake by putting some sort of orifice in the induction system. NASCAR is unique in that it is one of the last forms that still uses carburetors at the highest levels (Pro Stock class Drag Racing being another). Just about every other type of motorsport, from WRC Rallying, to Moto GP bikes, to top-level open wheelers (F1, Indy, Champ Car, etc.) uses some form of fuel injection, as passenger cars have for the past 20 years or so.

Restrictor plates are inserted between the carb and the NASCAR-specification intake manifold, and restricts the amount of air (and gasoline, which is jetted into the airflow in the carb venturis upstream of the restrictor plate) flowing into the engine. NASCAR also regulation and approval is required for just about every major component of the engines, including very specific regulation of the carb itself (see car #96 post qualifying). They also control the electronic ignition systems to limit peak engine power.

Indycar/IRL and Champ Car now use spec engines (Honda in the IRL and Ford/Cosworth in Champ Car), so all of the components (engine, ECU, etc.) are provided by the manufacturers under controlled conditions, and are sealed units which cannot be modified by the teams (a broken seal is an infraction). Engine performance is controlled by the manufacturers and the sanctioning bodies. When both series had multiple engine manufacturers, ChampCar controlled turbocharged engine performance with pop-off valves (provided at the racetracks by the sanctioning body) affixed to a regulated spot in the intake manifold plenum that opened up when a specified amount of boost was reached. The IRL used spec engine control boxes to limit engine RPM and regulated the size of the air intakes.

Sports car racing uses formulas that include intake restrictors, RPM limits, and vehicle weights to control HP and equalize performance between cars having different engine types. For example, there are cars with 5.0L V12s, 7.0LV8s and 8.0L V10s all racing against each other. The sanctioning bodies have to constantly monitor and modify the rules to maintain relatively even competition.

The upshot of all of the regulation of horsepower and aerodynamics (via body templates), is close racing – debate amongst yourselves as to how artificial you may feel it is. There was a time when a NASCAR race winner could have several full laps over the second place car…

Formula 1 is less free than it used to be but still has far less regulation than just about any other racing series other than the top speed trials at places like Bonneville and Maxton, NC. There are specific regulations as to the materials used in the new 2.4L V8s (or the leftover 3.0L V10s used by the underfunded teams), and the mechanisms to introduce air and fuel to the engines, but other than that, they’re more or less free. The result is 2.4L V8s that make roughly 700 hp at 19,000 RPM. Of course, when you have a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, you CAN do that.

To the question about deer crossing racetracks, I’ve seen Cup cars hit rabbits and groundhogs, and I’ve seen deer cross the track at Pocono and Watkins Glen during races I’ve been in (Stewards do throw yellow flags for such things, though sometimes you see them in the car before the tower is aware of it. I got on the radio and started yelling about it right away.), and actually seen deer impacts at sports car races. No doubt that there have been deer hits at Cup races in the past, just not aware of the circumstances.

About the Dodges, Penske has been doing some back to back testing with the ’04 Intepid R/T bodies and the ‘05+ Chargers. As I understand it, the Charger body is slightly better when set up correctly, but has a very small ‘sweet spot’; “on a knife edge” as I heard it described. Traffic and a bit of bumping are reputed to affect the Charger’s aero balance quite drastically, whereas the Intrepids are said to be more consistent and forgiving over the course of a typical race. Also, the upper section of the Charger grille seems to trap debris, which is not helpful for engine cooling. Rumor was at one point that Penske was going to use the ’04 bodies for the plate tracks (traffic), and the short tracks (where there’s a lot of contact), but all of a sudden things got very quiet on this topic. Spin control from Dodge and/or NASCAR perhaps? (oh, we love a good NASCAR conspiracy theory)

As far as favorite tracks, I’ve raced at Pocono, Charlotte, Watkins Glen, and IRP (OK, not a Cup track), and I’ve driven flat out at Indy, IRP (OK, not a Cup track) and Michigan though not in races. From behind the wheel, the NASCAR course at Watkins Glen is easily the most fun for me. Indy is odd in that it looks huge until you’re barreling into turn 1 flat out with that little bit of banking, and then it looks like you’re threading a needle. Getting out of the old turn 4 with the bump in the wall sticking out (removed some years ago), trying to grab the right front of the car as you unwind the wheel for maximum exit speed back to turn 1, as close to the wall as you dare… I can only imagine what it was like driving a 1000 hp turbo Indy Car heading into turn 1 at 240-250 mph. Yikes. Oh, wait, I like watching the Bristol Stomp, too.

To the guy in Indian Head wondering how folks get started in racing, most top line drivers get started in karts as kids (sometimes as young as 5 or 6) and move up to quarter midgets, legends cars, or small formula cars like Formula Fords, depending on which career track they’re on. There aren’t kart tracks too close to Indian Head in Southern MD that I’m aware of, but there are World Karting Association (WKA) tracks in Street, MD (Sandy Hook), and Nicholson, MD. Sadly, my own home kart track at 75-80 Raceway in Monrovia, MD (about 45 minutes north of DC) closed last fall. For adults young and old, Summit Point Raceway in WVA (not too far from Charles Town – call it 1.5 hours from DC) offers a wide variety of driver instruction up to and including competition licensing. Potomac Speedway is a dirt (well, clay) oval in Budd’s Creek, MD is fairly close to Indian Head, and offers some interesting options for those wanting to get started in oval racing. Across the river in VA, there are lots of paved and dirt ovals for racing, Old Dominion Speedway (a paved 3/8 mile oval) in Manassas is as close to DC as it gets these days since the old tracks in Beltsville and Marlboro closed down years ago. Believe it or not, the old Beltsville track actually hosted Grand National NASCAR races (Grand National was what the Cup series was called before Winston began sponsoring it in the early 70s), It’s hard to believe now, but you could go see the NASCAR stars of the day right off the B/W Parkway, or the Beltway, for that matter...for those wondering, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Jim Paschal, Tiny Lund, and Bobby Isaac won the Grand National Races at Beltsville held between 1965 and 1970...

Need oxygen now...


Posted by: bc | February 16, 2006 04:04 PM

Well, I can't let that post go without plugging my father's store, which offers NASCAR merchandise and other automotive models/diecast banks. Small family businesses area wonderful part of auto racing.

Posted by: Chris | February 16, 2006 04:09 PM

Whoa! What a font of knowledge! That's why I DON'T call myself a gearhead. You are the real deal, bc. Thanks so much for the education. I've been glad every time you've commented.


Posted by: Mike | February 16, 2006 06:13 PM

Interesting. Very intereting, but nice. Like the piece about the family.

And what about the cologne. Hope it doesn't take on the dusty, metallic taste of the track! Gotta get some for my husband to try!

Posted by: Ms. Z | February 16, 2006 08:39 PM

This Blog is fantastic Mike. I'm an ex-DC boy, and I considerate the Post to be the best paper in the country. But your Blog has raised it to the next level. Why should the Charlotte Observer dominate NASCAR coverage?

This is my favorite week fo the year. I took this morning off to watch the Twin 150s. Someday I'll make it out to Daytona for the week. But in the meantime I'm living vicariously, loving every minute, and hating that the 24 won today.

Posted by: Scott W | February 17, 2006 12:28 AM

Perhaps this is a really dumb question about NASCAR Cup engines, but are the engines in the Chevys , Fords and Dodges actually Chevy, Ford and Dodge engines? I know they are prepared by Wood brothers, Hendrick Motorsports and several others, but are they completely different blocks from each other or basically the same engines ?
Back in the day, I remember Parnelli Jones, AJ Foyt, Don White and many others racing USAC stock cars at what is now called the "Milwaukee Mile" Even a few convertible models with roll cages.
Cool stuff.

Posted by: jmsbh | February 17, 2006 09:09 AM

The block and cyl head castings used by the race teams are supplied by the racing departments at GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler , and Toyota. NASCAR has a process for the manufacturers to approve the castings before they're legal for competition. The big teams' engine departments do their own machine work on the castings (they all have their own secret tricks), as they're prepped for racing.

To what I think might be your real question, the castings used in NASCAR are special to NASCAR racing, and only resemble production stuff in general architecture (OHV 2 valve pushrod V8s) for marketing reasons.

This has pretty much been the case since the early 1960s, with the "porcupine" Chevy (the prototype big block "Rat") and the Chrysler 426 Hemi (a somewhat different engine from the Street Hemis of the time). NASCAR didn't like the practice and made the manufacturers devlop street versions of their race engines back then (leading to Richard Petty's taking most of year off in '65 while Mopar developed the Street Hemi for the '66 model year).

NASCAR has a convertible class in the late 50's and early 60's, too. IIRC Richard Petty's first big pro win was in a convertible in '58 or '59.


Posted by: bc | February 17, 2006 10:24 AM

Funny, I was reading the post from jmsbh thinking, I should invite bc to respond to it. And so you have!

Posted by: Mike | February 17, 2006 11:37 AM

I guess I should clarify my answer to jmsbh, and say that NASCAR mandates the specifications of the engines very tightly to keep level competition, and that while the manuracturers produce their own stuff, they're legislated to the point where they're only different in minor details that would matter to professional race engine builders, such as the metallurgy of the "iron" and lubrication galleys and cooling passages and such.


Posted by: bc | February 17, 2006 12:08 PM

Thanks for clarifying the engine issue. I knew there had to be some technicalities involved so that they were racing their brand's engines, but that they wouldn't be radically different.

Posted by: jmsbh | February 17, 2006 02:28 PM

Sorry about misspelling "manufacturers" at 12:08.


Posted by: bc | February 17, 2006 03:04 PM

WOW, very interesting history BC. The old MD nascar info is great. You have a great wealth of knowledge stored up.
I still think the Intrepids will show up at a race or 2.

I have also raced in many different areas.

I ran SCCA ITS in a 240Z at Summit Point,Charlotte,Watkins Glen,Road America and a few others.

I then switched to Drag Racing and have been bracket racing at 75-80 (very sad to see it close), Mason Dixon,Maple Grove,US 13, Cecil County among others.

I have never raced in oval racing and wish I had. (Charlotte was set up as a road course when I was there)

There are many ways for kids and adults to get into racing, karts as you mentioned and Jr. dragsters/street class on the drag racing side.

Hope everyone enjoys the race weekend.


Posted by: BUD | February 17, 2006 05:01 PM

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