Earl Weaver would have liked this.
Perhaps the pugnacious Hall of Fame baseball manager wouldn’t have cared for the brisk winds at Wednesday’s STP World of Outlaws show at the Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that would have knocked down three-run homers into warning track fly balls. And, yes, the roar of the 800-horsepower engines would have made it difficult to argue with umpires.
But when the Earl of Baltimore died recently, the political pundit/baseball enthusiast George Will told the story again about how the former Orioles skipper would put baseball matters into perspective by saying: “This ain’t a football game; we do this every day.”
The World of Outlaws — WoO for short, and isn’t that the coolest acronym in sports? — don’t slip-slide-scream through the turns every day. But from February through November, they do it 92 times, and that’s a lot of slipping and sliding and screaming through turns.
People speak of NASCAR’s yellow-newspaper-clipping past, when Richard Petty and Junior Johnson and David Pearson and Ned Jarrett and that bunch raced twice as often as they do today, at nearly forgotten emporiums of speed such as Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds, and Occoneechee Speedway, and Dog Track Speedway in Moyock, N.C., where one could bet Buck Baker and Fred Lorenzen to win the quinella, but watch where you step.
The 1964 Grand National Series featured an all-time high 62 races, which seems like a lot, until you consider that after 62 races the World of Outlaws drivers are just starting to warm up their engines. WoO, indeed.
During one stretch in August, these Outlaws will ride eight times in nine days. On April 16, they’ll slip-slide-scream through the turns in El Paso, Texas; three nights later, they’ll do it again in Paducah, Ky.
It’s 1,276 miles from El Paso to Paducah as the winged sprint car flies, or about 20 hours, 36 minutes, in a car, or about 12 hours flat if you’re part of a three-man WoO pit crew wheeling a WoO hauler across state lines while hopped up on Diet Mountain Dew.
“We’re like a band of gypsies,” said Dan Motter, the youngish-looking 60-year-old heavy equipment mogul from Minnesota’s Iron Range who owns the bright yellow No. 71M WoO sprint car driven by Joey Saldana.
Motter also owns the bright yellow and white No. 71M WoO sprint car hauler, and two of everything (at least) inside that keeps the No. 71M car slip-slide-screaming from El Paso to Paducah, and multiple stacks of giant Hoosier racing tires, and a bazillion aerosol cans of Joe Gibbs Driven Brake and Parts Cleaner, and about a case-and-a-half of Diet Dew in the refrigerator in the hauler’s lounge cubicle that keeps crew chief Davey Whitworth clicking on most cylinders, and also keeps him awake on the road from El Paso to Paducah.
All of which sets back affable Dan Motter of Hibbing, Minn. — also home to Bob Dylan, Kevin McHale, Vincent Bugliosi the prosecutor and Gary Puckett of the Union Gap, none of whom have driven sprint cars, though I wouldn’t put anything past Dylan on Highway 61 — around $1 million per 92-race season, before crashes.
Crashes keep Whitworth and the crew up even longer hours, which requires more Diet Dew. And perhaps some additional suspension parts.
Thankfully, Saldana, whose father, Joe Saldana, came out of nowhere — or at least Nebraska, which is the same thing in motor racing — to finish 15th in the 1978 Indianapolis 500 and 16th the next year, doesn’t crash a lot. Joey Saldana, who turns 41 next week, is seventh in career WoO wins with 84, with 20 of those coming in 2009.
Motter thinks he can win the championship with Saldana behind the wheel.
Saldana says the team will have to be better than it was at the Dirt Track on Wednesday.
After posting the third-fastest qualifying speed, he finished seventh in the main. When the dust cleared, which took longer than usual after the wind began to howl like those sprint car engines, he said, “We weren’t very good.”
Steve Kinser, the “King of the Outlaws,” finished 17th and brought out two yellow flags before I stopped counting them; Tony Stewart was 22nd among 25 cars. I mentioned to Saldana that it was a long season, that there still were 88 — 88! — races to go. He suggested there were plenty of holes to circumnavigate on the racetrack without the 71M team digging another one.
It was approaching midnight when I left the Dirt Track. The 71M crew still was scraping mud clots off Joey Saldana’s car. In a little while they would take the 71M apart, piece by piece, and on the way back to the hotel they would stop at an all-night car wash, to pressure wash the desert from the parts of the car the scraper couldn’t reach.
And on Thursday they would do it all over again, because like Earl Weaver said, this ain’t a football game.
This is the World of Outlaws, where they do this every day, unless the next race is in Paducah.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.