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Harry Gant, Harry Gant...Paging Harry Gant

  Handsome Harry Gant. They don't make 'em like the ol' Skoal Bandit any more. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Where is the next Harry Gant?
   Where is that still elusive blue-collar stock car racer, the kind of guy you can really relate to, as one of us?
   Perhaps this sport simply has too many silver-spoon drivers today.

   A TV crew, once during Gant's prime, was desperately trying to find Gant for a feature. Couldn't find him anywhere. Finally found one of his friends, explained the dilemma…and the friend just laughed and said 'You should know where Harry is. Right where he is every Monday after a race….'
   Atop a house, reroofing it. Hammering away. Great racer, great carpenter.
   That's Harry Gant. Solid as your next door neighbor.
   No whining here.
   Forget the next Jeff Gordon or the next Joey Logano.
   Let's get right to the heart of this sport – the rootstock, the base, the heartland of NASCAR racing is 60 percent Blue Collar…just as it was 25 years ago.
   But how many of today's Sprint Cup stars can relate?
   Maybe we need to get in a bus and ride cross-country and take in as many weekly short tracks as we can, looking for the next Harry Gant….

  Remember feisty Ricky Rudd, who won the Brickyard 400 at Indy on his own dime, as a now-rare owner-driver? How did this sport manage to lose that part of its legacy? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Yes, NASCAR's new K&N series may be a good start, and the next Harry Gant just might be at Bowman Gray Stadium next Saturday night for what looks to be a sellout crowd at the vintage track in the heart of Winston-Salem. (And NASCAR is putting the full-tilt boogie on that race; at testing a few weeks ago, even Lesa France Kennedy, the big boss, was on hand to watch.)
   But if you want to catch a ride and try to make the Bowman Gray field, well, some of the same ugly economics that are plaguing the Cup world are already filtering down to that series. Putting together a K&N operation for the 12-race season might cost, say, $150,000, with the crate-engines and all. Not bad.  But big Cup teams are already driving up costs with their own efforts…just like they did in Nationwide and Truck.
   Still, it's extremely important for NASCAR to push grassroots racing.

  Still not quite sure what to make of Travis Pastrana, but he does bring some pizazz to NASCAR's K & N tour. Wonder what he might think of Bowman Gray Stadium....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   One big cloud hanging over this sport at the moment – that big network TV package. It's close to renewal time for NASCAR and the networks, and this sport has its work cut out to make sure it's got a strong position at the bargaining table. And we're not talking years away, but maybe just weeks….
   -- What happens if Fox doesn't renew with NASCAR? And there are strong indications Fox is quite willing to walk away. Perhaps all Fox bosses really want out of NASCAR is enough fill material for cable Speed.
   -- What happens if ABC/ESPN too walks away? ESPN, in the eyes of some down here, has shown an almost cavalier approach to NASCAR, as just one of so many sports ventures it's involved in.
   -- And just what is going on over at Comcast-NBC? The long-time NBC sports boss, Dick Ebersol, is leaving the company after failing to make a deal with the new bosses….an indication of a new game plan in the works there. Ebersol – pointedly perhaps – is leaving just a few weeks before negotiations begin on the Olympics. Will there be any money left for a NASCAR bid? Will there be any interest in stock-piling money for a NASCAR bid?


  Fox Sports' David Hill. TV dollars have been the safety net under NASCAR the past few years. Will the sport's current TV partners renew? Or are they losing interest in NASCAR? (Photo: Fox)


   Bottom line here may be seen in those vague reports about NASCAR executives mulling over the possibility of a "NASCAR Channel' itself.
   What would such a "NASCAR Channel" even look like? Could it be viable? Or could it be just a bargaining ploy?
   This sport does appear to be making headway on the younger demographics that Fox' David Hill worried about last year for being too sharply in decline.
   Still, it would be comforting for Fox executives, here in the closing weeks of their part of the NASCAR year, to be confident enough to release some demographic details about who is really watching this sport.
   Absent any precise accounting from Fox, there may only be more questions.

   Another point to make here: who was the most recent 'up-by-his-bootstraps' team owner to make a go of it in this sport?
   Probably Bill Davis, the trucker out of Arkansas. And that was some 20 years ago. Busch, with Mark Martin back in 1988, and then Gordon, and finally stepping up to Cup in 1993 with Bobby Labonte.  The Alan Kulwicki era…back when drivers themselves even tried to make a go of it as owner-drivers, in this sport's finest tradition. Ricky Rudd, Geoff Bodine, Bill Elliott…
   Should these NASCAR stockers really be designed so they're all-but obsolete in three months or so? (Hey, how about a 'claiming' rule? Wouldn't that cut the price of racing….)
   The sport's bosses need to consider all that. But sometimes it seems too many of them are, like too many drivers, simply out of tune with the real world….
   And another point, particularly this Indy-Charlotte Memorial Day weekend: why aren't some of these drivers trying the 500-600 'Double'?
   Why aren't Bruton Smith and the Frances pushing that promotion? That would certainly be a boost for both racing series. And it would add some spark to the weekend…which, after the boring All-Star snoozer, might be sorely needed. (Come to think of it, why not run the All-Star like the World of Outlaws, with heat races….)
   There are a number of drivers who could do that double. Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, Sam Hornish, John Andretti the most obvious. But others too perhaps.


  Robby Gordon. NASCAR's favorite 'bad boy'....But then Bobby Allison made it back to NASCAR's good graces and into the new Hall of Fame. Maybe Gordon too one day? In the Die-Hard Independents category (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Ah, Robby Gordon, one of the few independent owner-drivers on the tour, who sometimes almost seems to relish his role as the Bobby Allison 'bad boy' of the day, has always been good for some fireworks, while most everyone else plays it plain vanilla.
   But just what is this Gordon doing this season? Why has he cut back on NASCAR?
   "The nice thing about being a driver and an owner, and a sponsor --, because that's what I am now -- is being open," Gordon says. "My race cars will be at every NASCAR track, and our racing will be based on what partners we have – like this week I have Harris-Teeter and Sam's Mart.'
   But where are the fireworks, where's the classic Robby Gordon pizazz?
    "Hey, I'm on double-secret probation…I can't do anything wrong," Gordon says with a laugh, referring to his long-running stint as NASCAR's favorite 'You -- In the doghouse' driver. (NASCAR officials say they're not sure what the status is of that 'indefinite' probation they put Gordon on back in March.)
   Gordon's latest run-in was with another driver at Las Vegas earlier this season: "He still owes me about $700,000, so I wouldn't say it's over," Gordon says firmly. "When someone doesn't pay his bills, he has to be confronted about it….and he was confronted about that. I can't help it that he played like a girl about it."
    That, after an in-your-face confrontation in the NASCAR garage, led to a complaint of some sort filed with the local police. "I've never heard anything more about that, so I think he's dropped it," Gordon says. And what is NASCAR's stance? We'll get back to you when they get back to us and to Gordon….

   Ouch! Now that's some Hot Pink. Robby Gordon does know how to make big waves....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   But forget all that.
   Why isn't Robby Gordon trying the Indianapolis 500-Charlotte Coke 600 double? Why isn't someone, anyone, trying the double?
   Are we doomed to another less-than-enticing Indy 500, and another endless 600…..
   In fact, why isn't Gordon doing Indy? He had plans…..
   "I had a deal that didn't work out," Gordon says. "We were going to do Indianapolis, but that sponsor didn't want to do what I wanted to do for my brand, and my brand is 'Robby Gordon.' So we started Speed Energy, and we're getting product placed.
   "Maybe next year this company will be big enough to go up and run Indianapolis."
    The sponsorship price for a Robby Gordon Indy 500 run? "A million and a half bucks, if you want to go there to win," Gordon says.
"Start in January to race in May."

  Tony Stewart, Indianapolis 500, 1999. Could he do it again? Why not... (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

   Tony Stewart insists a driver, to make a go of it in the Indy 500, would have to run several early Indy-car races too, and couldn't simply focus on the 500 itself while running full NASCAR.
   "In my heart…I would love to do it," Stewart says. "The problem is Indy-cars have become so competitive now, they have the push-to-pass button, so many things that have changed since I ran Indy-cars so many years ago. I'm not sure I would be up to speed and competitive enough quickly enough.
    "To really do it and do it right, and to feel like you have a legitimate shot to win the Indy 500, you would have to start at the beginning of the year with the team you're going to race with during the month of May."
    Gordon pooh-poohs that. "That's not true. Yes, you could do it (as a one-off race). We've almost pulled it off a couple times. Was leading Indy once with one to go…"
   Stewart is still the only driver who completed all 1100 miles, "something I'm really proud of," Stewart says. His best two finishes were sixth in the 500 and third in the 600. "It makes for a very, very long day. When you're done with the 600, after running Indy, and the flight and helicopter rides and police escorts and all that, you're very, very content to lay your head on a pillow. And even when you do that, it still feels like it's not stopped moving yet."


  Robby Gordon leading at the Brickyard, 1999 (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

   Yes! The drama….the helicopter from Indianapolis arriving here on the infield grass at the start-finish line just in time for a driver to jump out and leap into his 600 car…
   Gordon says he's been willing:
   "But right now my focus is my stock car program, with Dodge and Roger Penske (his engine supplier) and Speed (his sponsor), and that doesn't fall into the list of things we want to do today. But that doesn't mean six months from now Indianapolis won't be on our list…."
   Another point: This season Gordon has stopped running  NASCAR full-time, as a driver, though he makes sure his car is at every track. Gordon is running a hodge-podge schedule, running desert off-road a lot (and the Baja 500 is coming up in a few weeks). For the Dover race two weeks ago, Gordon decided that Tuesday he wouldn't run Dover, and he called Scott Wimmer to run his car. Where that deal goes is still up in the air.
   And next weekend, while the NASCAR tour is in Kansas City, Gordon will be running the Baja…. (Of course the Baja crowd will likely be considerably larger than the Kansas crowd. How much for paid attendance south-of-the-border is problematic, but sponsorship views could be huge, critical for a new company like Gordon's.)
   What's the real deal on Robby Gordon, though? Is he simply being run out of NASCAR by the sheer economics of it, with the sport's Big Six crushing the competition?
   That seems to be the situation.
   However Gordon insists that he's still able to put a good, solid car out on the track, that's he not hobbled by rivals using too much expensive titanium and too much expensive carbon fiber. "You walk around my car, and I've got as much carbon or Ti as any of those guys do.
    "Our biggest expenses are engines, tires and personnel.
    "Our tire bill is like $1 million…which could be reduced to $500,000 if every team would have to put at least 50 miles on a set of tires. But we don't put 50 miles on them; we put 12 miles on them and then (after changing tires under a caution) we have to pitch them in the bin. I have to do that because that's what Joe Gibbs is doing….and Gibbs has to do it because Penske is doing it…and Penske has to do it because Hendrick is doing it.
   "If we (in Cup) had a tire allotment rule like Nationwide does, you could reduce each team's tire budget by $500,000."
    But then, engines: NASCAR is going to mandate a switch to fuel injection (a test is set for Kentucky in July), and that's going to cost teams another $100,000 or so, Gordon says.
    "It's going to be $24,000 a system, from McLaren, and you'll need four at least, two for this week's cars, two for next week's cars, probably a fifth system too, if you might crash….
  "It's going to be more expensive."
   Plus, each team will have to take another engine-data man on the road, to babysit the fuel injection project and monitor all the data. So budget another $5,000 a week for that….
   Another data-engineer on the road? Sounds like the price of racing is going up some more.
   And it's not clear at the moment how strong that TV-money safety net under this sport is going to be…..
   Paging Harry Gant....


     Harry Gant, still popular as ever, with that big smile. And still not a day over 40. Well, maybe one or two. Hey, remember he was just about 40 when he first made it big in NASCAR.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Good article but needed

Good article but needed better editing. It flits from Gant to short tracks to TV to owner-drivers, etc. Ultimately it seems to be about Robby Gordon and Harry Gant is irrelevant to virtually every topic discussed. Yet he has 1/4 of the photos.

Try to write a better and more focused article on Robby Gordon. He is the last of the independents and he has an important place in the sport and a bigger story to tell. Not to mention that Fox won't ever show him in a race unless one of the favored sons is passing him. He doesn't offer Fox any money under the table to talk up him, his sponsor or his car manufacturer.

Harry Gant is just the

Harry Gant is just the somewhat abstract motif for the piece, which is a musing view about the state of the sport at the moment, some observations, some issues, and some worries, just aimed at generating some response.

For more Robby Gordon articles, here are two:



I have been a Nascar fan

I have been a Nascar fan since the 1950's when the Hudson Hornet was king of the field. Therefore I have been to races where Harry Gant was accesible to his fans and I have pictures of hin and our friends right on pit road at Pocono. At Dover he was always there signing autographs for his fans. Handsome Harry is a great person and racer. Does anyone know if he still has a restaurant in Taylorsville, NC?

Oh really Mike? you want to

Oh really Mike? you want to bring back the days of real racing and men driving cars, the days of full grandstands, cheap tickets, drivers staying in local hotels, and a sactioning body not so worried about controlling the outcomes of races.
Sorry to break it to you, but children drive cars today. No more paying your dues, just bring money. The days of Harry, Dale, and Cale are no more...today we have more important things like Boogity,Boogity...not to mention empty seats and the never ending fashion shows the drivers wives put on pit road before every race.

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