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Baldwin fine with changes

The Tampa native has bounced back from a disappointing 24 Hours of Daytona with a new engine.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


If there is a theme to the Robinson Racing team's season, it goes like this: When things are going wrong, don't change anything and they get better. When things are going well, rip apart the car, change everything and see what happens.

Tonight at Daytona International Speedway, Jack Baldwin and team owner George Robinson open another chapter in their confusing season when they take the green flag in the Grand American Road Racing Association's Paul Revere 250.

The race, a 70-lap run through Daytona's 3.56-mile infield road course, will start about 30 minutes after Winston Cup qualifying for Saturday's Pepsi 400, at about 11 p.m. Baldwin, 52, who grew up in Tampa and graduated from Hillsborough High, hopes to overtake James Weaver in the Sports Racer Class points standings. Baldwin goes into this sixth race of the season trailing Weaver by 165-160). But that doesn't mean Baldwin and his team are happy with the way they've been running.

At the 24 Hours of Daytona in February, the team broke four half-shafts -- two per side -- and crew members spent up to 30 minutes replacing each one.

That time in the pits, coupled with a testy engine/chassis setup, relegated Robinson, Baldwin, Irv Hoerr and Hurley Haywood, who were added to the team for the endurance race, to 35th place.

"It was just one after another," Baldwin said. "We had to replace so many half-shafts, it was like we were losing one every four hours. It became a nightmare for the crew."

And just when it looked like it couldn't get any worse, Robinson headed to Africa for a safari and contracted malaria.

That meant Hoerr, a long-time rival and good friend of Robinson's, was back in the cockpit with Baldwin for the next two races. The two combined to place first at Phoenix and second at Homestead, moving toward the top of the points standings.

The team ran a Chevy engine in its Riley & Scott chassis at the 24 Hours of Daytona but had a Judd engine in the car for the second race at Phoenix.

That move was more than a simple engine change. It was a reworking of the team's philosophy.

"Dependability has been a huge problem this year," Baldwin said. " ... We took a big drop back by putting the Judd in the Riley & Scott, but it turned out to be a pretty good choice.

"It's been a breath of fresh air since we finally got the Judd in the car. And it just gets better race to race."

The team has since finished 11th at Lime Rock and first at Mid-Ohio, entering tonight's race with top-two finishes in three of the past four races.

That makes it one of the hottest teams to pull its hauler into the infield this week at Daytona. And that includes those NASCAR boys.

But Baldwin downplays the team's chances.

"Weaver is probably the best car in the field. He's got the most history here," said Baldwin, who has claimed 29 major sports car events and IMSA GTU titles in 1984 and 1985 and the 1992 SCCA Trans-Am crown. "He's got the target; he's the benchmark.

"We're leading in team points, but we've put in a lot of hard work and gotten a little bit of luck. And that's what racing's all about."

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