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Sitting out and not in a car is hard on driver

By MIKE STEPHENSON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Roberto Moreno didn't race last season.

And he didn't like it.

Unable to land a ride, Moreno, 44, sat out before joining Herdez Competition for the Champ Car season that opens Sunday.

"It's very, very hard," Moreno said of being out of racing. "It has been very frustrating for me to know that I should be out there competing. ... I'm far from giving it up. ... It's very frustrating to be out of racing. That's all I can tell you.

"You can do as much go-karting as you want to be sharp with your reflexes, you can exercise a lot, but nothing is as good as driving a race car, believe me."

The trend has been for teams to hire rookies, hoping to strike gold with the next hot driver. Nine of the 19 drivers competing this weekend are Champ Car rookies.

"Racing is changing and a lot of people have to adapt," Moreno said. "Unfortunately, (regular) sponsorship is something I've never had. I can only sell myself on what I have."

Moreno provides a veteran complement to Mario Dominguez, who was the Champ Car rookie of the year last season. While not wanting the label "mentor," Moreno believes he can help Dominguez.

"I'll give an example," he said. "When we go to a racetrack, there's a certain corner that has a particular problem with the car and I might know what could fix that. Mario can take advantage of that."

ARTIST AT WORK: Moreno's savvy and skill draw attention in the paddock.

CART chief steward Chris Kniefel, a former driver who won a Trans-Am race in St. Petersburg in 1990, said Moreno is one of the best at conserving fuel, a skill not as precious since rules changes have allowed teams more fuel than they need. By conserving fuel, a driver can run longer with a lighter car, which moves faster.

"It's an art," Kniefel said. "It's as much style-related as anything. It's probably not going to win you the race, but you put together a couple little things and it's not going to hurt you."

Adjusting to the rules is part of the game, Moreno said.

"It still pays off in some places to save fuel, but not as much as it used to," he said.

THRILL RIDE: While the Champ Cars get most of the attention, the Grand Prix has four races this weekend. The others are Trans-Am, Fran-Am and Barber Dodge.

Barber Dodge is a developmental series that includes many up-and-coming drivers, but Dr. Craig Duerson, 39, a St. Petersburg resident who specializes in endodontics -- root canals -- also will be in the race.

He received a trip to the Skip Barber Driving School in Sebring about six years ago as a 10th anniversary gift from his wife, Chris. He has been racing in the various Barber programs ever since and looks forward to the competition this weekend.

"It's a thrill," he said.

Duerson doesn't compete full-time on the Barber Dodge circuit, but he has won two regional divisions over the years and finished third in the national division.

"It's a grueling schedule for a professional with a family," he said. "It's hard to do unless you want to be selfish."

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