Winter tales and Daytona dreams

by Gordon Kirby on 7th December 2009

The first snow fell in New Hampshire on Saturday night. There wasn’t much, only three or four inches, not even a minor hindrance to us Granite Staters. It came a little later than usual. After a cold October, November was unusually mild and the weathermen tell us this is because it’s an El Niño year. As a result, we’ve enjoyed a late Indian summer here in New England.

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For me, the first snow is always a pleasure and particularly so this year because I’m flat out on my latest book project, the compete history of Carl Haas Auto and Newman/Haas Racing. The story starts in Chicago in 1952 when Carl bought an MGTD and got his SCCA racing licence, and continues through 50 years of buying and selling road and racing cars – many, many racing cars built by Elva, McLaren, Lola and Reynard. From the late ’50s Carl was the US dealer for first Elva, then Elva/McLaren, then Lola for many years and, for a while, Reynard too.

Haas started his racing team in 1968 with first Masten Gregory and then Chuck Parsons driving in the old United States Road Racing Championship and the original Can-Am series. Fifteen years later Carl teamed up with Paul Newman to launch Newman/Haas Racing, with Mario Andretti as the team’s sole driver. I’m 25 chapters and about 100,000 words into this epic with about another 10 chapters to go, so I’m fully occupied for the winter and happy to see some snow. It provides a fine excuse to stoke up the fire and keep my spirit warm and alive as I work through some of Indycar racing’s great days.

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As always, however, the first snow gets me thinking about the start of the next racing season and last weekend I talked to Grand-Am sports car champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty. They were at home in California and Oregon respectively and looking forward to the opening race of 2010, the Rolex 24 hours at Daytona in January, a rare race they have yet to win.

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It was confirmed last week that four-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser will once again join Gurney and Fogarty in Bob Stalling’s Gainsco Riley at Daytona. The team has switched for 2010 from the defunct Pontiac brand to Chevrolet engines. “Having Jimmie and Jimmy back, the same old crew, is great,” says Fogarty. “They’re both super-capable and both want to win it really badly.”

Chip Ganassi’s cars won the Rolex 24 for three years from 2006-08, but Gurney believes the Gainsco team can offer a serious challenge to Ganassi and last year’s winning Brumos Porsche team. “Ganassi has won that race a lot of times and we’ve learned a lot from watching those guys,” says Gurney. “I think that race tests how good your team is more than any other. There are so many things involved and you’ve got to be on top of it all and have disciplined drivers that stay out of trouble. All those things are going to make a difference. I think we’re in a position where we’re ready to win. We’ve got all our ducks in a row.”

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From winter in New Hampshire to the beach and high banks at Daytona. I’m already looking forward to it.

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