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A racer's racer, and a teacher to the stars

The defensing Trans-Am series champion has given tips to NASCAR's best on how to navigate road courses.

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2003

TAMPA -- It's an old line: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

Which brings us to Boris Said. In Trans-Am racing he does. Mostly he wins: Eight of last year's 12 Trans-Am races. He finished out of the top three once. He begins the defense of his runaway championship Sunday after CART's St. Petersburg Grand Prix in downtown St. Petersburg.

In NASCAR, Said teaches. He entered seven Winston Cup road races from 1999-2002, finishing in the top 10 once.

But when Said speaks, Winston Cup drivers listen. They might know just about everything there is to know about ovals, but dealing with the twists and turns of road races is Said's forte.

"I'm known as the hired gun for NASCAR road racers," he said. "I'm not quite sure how I got that nickname. It's not like I climb into Winston Cup cars and win all the time for the owners."

He coaches their teams. "I've driven probably 17-20 of the top cars: (The late) Dale Earnhardt's car, Dale Jr.'s car, Dale Jarrett's, Sterling Marlin's, Jimmy Spencer's, Kenny Schrader's. . . . A whole bunch.

"I kind of help them with some setup advice for road racing or just help a driver in other ways so maybe he can learn something from me on handling a road-race course. It's been an interesting few years doing that. . . .

"If someone had told me five years ago that I'd drive Dale Earnhardt's car or Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car and that they would actually listen to what I was saying, I would have told them they were crazy," Said said. "You kind of feel like you've done something, maybe all this hard work is paying off."

Jarrett told the San Jose Mercury News that it's "amazing watching him. He knows what he's looking for and the feel he's looking for, and that makes a big difference."

Said said other drivers have commented that he isn't "dedicated to my profession. I'm dedicated. But I'm not like a lot of other drivers racing today." Most limit themselves to one series or discipline in the pursuit of points and titles, he said.

He also races in the American LeMans Series, Speed World Challenge (GT and touring), Featherlite (modified touring), Craftsman Trucks and the Grand American 24 Hours of Daytona and is motorsports director for No Fear, racing-themed apparel and accessories.

"I don't race for the wins or championships. That's not what drives me. I do it to see if I'm getting better and faster. If I could drive every day, I would. I've got the best of both worlds; I get to race in some really great cars on a variety of tracks."

Said would prefer to improve his oval skills as well as showing oval racers how to better themselves on road courses. "This year, Trans-Am is the prominent focus," he said. "But my personal focus is on Winston Cup. . . . I'd love to go Winston Cup full-time. One day, I'd like to hear people say, 'For an oval racer, he is a pretty good road racer.' That's my goal, anyway."

Ovals are a relative cinch for Winston Cup drivers. Only left turns. Speeds that aren't that different in the wide, banked curves and the straightaways. Braking, particularly in strings of 15-20 nose-to-tail cars at 160 mph, is discouraged. And if a car does get loose, making contact with a wall isn't necessarily a race-ending matter.

"Road and street races are different," Said said. "The mind-set is different because there's no room for error. Take this race (in St. Petersburg). You've got 2,000 cement blocks, barriers, all around the track. One little mistake and you're out.

"It's a matter of getting used to the idea of threading the needle between the blocks and then being able to do it."

He described a series of narrow twists and turns, some of them 90 degrees at a street corner, and the best route to take to minimize both the distance and braking to be the quickest from one point to he next.

"Driving in your regular street car," he said, "you probably look at a corner and say, 'That's a 20-mph turn.' In a race car it's more than double that because you're right on the edge of disaster." Said smiled and added, "That is where it gets to be fun."

Said, 40, didn't strap himself into a racecar until 15 years ago. He had a motorcycle dealership in Connecticut. He rarely watched motorsports on television. "Boring," he said. "Seeing racing on TV doesn't do it justice."

Then a friend gave him a trip to the Detroit Grand Prix. "Seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, watching a car go by at 160-170 mph, it hooked me. Big time." A few lessons at a racing school "and that was that. I had a new career. Now it's all I think about. I eat, sleep, breathe, live and love racing."


SCHEDULE: Sunday -- Grand Prix of St. Petersburg; April 13 -- Grand Prix of Long Beach; May 18 -- at Bowmanville, Ontario; May 26 -- at Lime Rock, Conn.; June 22 -- at Sonoma, Calif.; June 28 -- National Grand Prix of Washington; July 4 -- Cleveland Grand Prix; Aug. 2 -- Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres, Quebec; Aug. 24 -- at Elkhart Lake, Wis.; Aug. 31 -- Grand Prix of Denver; Oct. 26 -- Grand Prix of Puerto Rico.

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