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IRL will race on Texas track

By MIKE READLING, Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001

Six weeks after CART canceled a race at the 11/2-mile Texas Motor Speedway, the Indy Racing League will make its scheduled appearance Saturday night with the Casino Magic 500.

IRL officials say there is no chance of calling off the race, as CART did April 29 two hours before the scheduled start because of driver safety concerns.

The non-turbocharged IRL cars travel about 15-20 mph slower than their CART cousins, hitting top speeds of about 215 mph. When CART showed up in April, Kenny Brack won the pole with a lap of 233.447 mph and four cars broke 236 mph in practice.

Those speeds, coupled with the high, 24-degree banked turns -- six degrees higher than any other track CART races on -- produced enough G-force to cause dizziness.

The IRL has raced on the track eight times in five seasons, while CART was making its debut.

The speedway since has sued CART, seeking $2.1-million in sanctioning fees it paid along with millions of dollars lost because of the cancellation.

Scott Sharp is eager to get back on the track.

He is coming off what he admits is the most disappointing moment of his racing career, when he spun out in Turn 1 of the first lap of the Indianapolis 500 and retired from the race.

"As the saying goes, I need to get back in the saddle and Texas is the best place for me to do it," Sharp said.

Sharp won perhaps the IRL's most exciting race last year at Texas, edging Robby McGehee by 0.059 seconds in the closest finish in series history. The race featured 31 lead changes among eight drivers, giving testimony to the wide-open racing that can be expected this weekend.

But Sharp isn't worried about that. He wants to finish the first turn and get his team on track.

"I'm a perfectionist but I realize that I'm going to do between 4,000 and 5,000 laps on oval tracks this season and something bad can happen on any one of them," Sharp said. "I just happened to pick the single worst lap of the season for that to happen."

SHE'S BA-AACK: Friday afternoon, Shawna Robinson will try for the second time this season to become the first woman in more than 11 years to qualify for a Winston Cup race when she pilots her Ford Taurus around Michigan International Speedway.

Robinson's attempt at California was cut short when the rear end gearing in her car broke during qualifying. The last female driver to qualify for a Winston Cup race was Patty Moise at Talladega on July 30, 1989. Janet Guthrie was the last female to finish a race when she was 28th at Pocono on July 27, 1980.

IRL BOWTIES: Eight years after it last raced in open-wheel cars, Chevrolet is set to return in 2002, replacing the Oldsmobile nameplate on General Motors engines on the IRL circuit.

Oldsmobile has been scheduled to shut down, and already withdrew its support from the IRL engine program. Chevrolet last competed in Indy-style racing from 1986-93, winning 86 races, 80 poles and five CART titles.

BODINE RETURN: Cicci-Welliver Racing announced Winston Cup veteran Geoffrey Bodine will replace Tim Fedewa in the No. 66 Chevrolets on the Busch Grand National circuit effective immediately. Bodine, 52, will make his first start June 16 at Kentucky.

Bodine's career has been hampered since a spectacular crash in the inaugural Craftsman Trucks race last season at Daytona.

ANOTHER WALLACE: Greg Wallace, the 21-year-old son of Rusty Wallace, will get his shot at racing in the late model ranks.

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