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Nadeau sees U.S. troops up close in Middle East

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2003

Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau has made plenty of sponsor appearances during his career, but none quite like the offseason trip he made on behalf of his new sponsor, the Army.

Nadeau spent 10 days during the holidays visiting American troops in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

"It was neat to talk to them, shake their hands," said Nadeau, driver of the No. 01 Dodge for MB2 Motorsports. "I got to do a lot of neat things: drove tanks, shot weapons. We went to bed late, got up real early, 4:30 or 5 o'clock."

"It was good to see the troops, that was the heartening thing. I think if I didn't choose racing as a career the military would have been an interesting career."

A commercial airline lost Nadeau's luggage, so his first stop was the PX (base supply store) for a uniform and necessities. As it turned out, being in uniform heightened Nadeau's experience.

He fired an M-16 and was overwhelmed by its power. He drove a tank eight miles from the Iraqi border and its agility impressed him: "It handled pretty good, maybe a little bit better than the Cup cars. They've got good brakes."

Nadeau said Afghanistan is beautiful, though conditions for the troops are rough. It was about 40 degrees at night in his tent and a fine dust swirled constantly in the air, causing him to cough.

"We should all just be happy we're from the great USA, I can tell you that," he said.

TESTING, TESTING: Mike Wallace posted the fastest time during a three-day test last week at Daytona International Speedway, the first official Winston Cup session of 2003. Wallace, driving the No. 09 Dodge and slated to run five events this season, hit 184.053 mph on the 2.5-mile tri-oval.

Others fast cars included the Chevrolets of defending Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart and two-time DIS winner Michael Waltrip, Mike Skinner's Pontiac, Rusty Wallace's Dodge and Elliott Sadler's Ford.

GANASSI SPEAKS: Racing mogul Chip Ganassi confirmed he will not field an entry in CART this season, forced to make a sponsor-driven decision to pull out of the series after 15 years.

"Your heart tells you to do one thing, and your brain tells you to do another," said Ganassi, among the series' most prominent owners with 44 victories and four consecutive titles from 1996-99. "It's a difficult situation because we've been involved in the series for so long. It's a hard sell with the sponsors."

Ganassi's two-car CART team was sponsored by Target, which remains his primary sponsor for two Indy Racing League teams and one of his three Winston Cup teams. Ganassi did not rule out a possible return to CART, but said it is not likely in the near future.

INDYCAR: Ten drivers, including IRL newcomer Michael Andretti, two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and two-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr., tested Wednesday and Thursday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on March2.

"This track has treated us pretty good," said Hornish, a two-time winner at Homestead. "It would be really good to get started on the right foot and win the third time here. It would be great momentum."

IROC FIELD: Though Stewart declined, several drivers have accepted invitations to the 2003 International Race of Champions series, including defending champion Kevin Harvick.

Competing will be Winston Cup's Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch; Busch Grand National champ Greg Biffle, Craftsman Trucks champion Mike Bliss, IndyCar's Hornish, Castroneves and Felipe Giaffone and World of Outlaws drivers Danny Lasoski and Steve Kinser. Martin, who shares the IROC record of four titles with the late Dale Earnhardt, makes his 10th appearance, first since 2000.

STAR POWER: Bobby Rahal will be grand marshal for the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway Feb. 1-2. Rahal, a three-time CART champion and winner of the 1986 Indy 500, won the 24-hour endurance race in 1981. ... Grammy winner Mariah Carey will sing the national anthem for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16.

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