So much to talk about, so little space. Alas, here are some thoughts as I stare down Old Man Winter and mark down the calendar until Daytona.
* NASCAR now requires its Winston Cup, Busch, and Craftsman Truck Series teams to use spotters during all practice sessions. That's a good move. Too bad it took a tragedy such as the death of ARCA driver Eric Martin to persuade someone that a change was needed. Martin died when his car was hit broadside during a practice session in October at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Deborah Renshaw hit Martin's car well after Martin had lost control in a turn and stopped on the track. Let's hope that future safety decisions are more proactive than reactive.
* Thank goodness for a track like Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. It's one of the few places on the circuit where a fan can go see a race and not feel like he's been fleeced for something as simple as refreshments. You can still find free parking and the most expensive ticket is $70. Rent a camping spot for $40, regardless if you spend one night or the entire week. And get this, you can buy a hot dog for $2 and wash it down with a soft drink for a measly buck.
"My grandfather always believed that the fans came first, and we have kept that legacy alive," says Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell. "People say this is a sponsor-driven sport or a TV-driven sport, but it's still fans who make the sport go around. And we want to keep the sport affordable to fans."
Hats off to you guys at Martinsville. Now pass me one of those hot dogs.
* I had lunch with Steve Park the other day, and we talked about what a tough year 2002 was for the driver of the Pennzoil Chevrolet. First he returned from injuries he suffered in 2001 at Darlington, then he had to negotiate a one-year extension on his contract, then his crew chief jumped ship. It's a year Steve is ready to put behind him. Probably no one is looking forward to 2003 any more than he is. Whatever you do, don't count this guy out. He'll be back in Victory Lane next season.
* Just how tough is it to land sponsorship in the NASCAR Busch Series? So much that a dominating team (albeit a part-time one) like the No. 9 Gain Ford driven by Jeff Burton has to go begging for a new deal. That's what I call sending out a news release late in the 2002 season saying that the team was "up for grabs." It just goes to show that winning isn't everything. After all, in the first 12 races the team entered in 2002, it won five and earned two poles, and posted eight Top-5 and nine Top-10 finishes. Beat that.
* If you're a racer and don't try to make every lap count, listen up and learn from the story of 2002 ASA champion Joey Clanton. He won the title by just one point - yes, one point - over Gary St. Amant. With point races as tight as this, you can't afford to stroke it for any laps. Clanton kept after it in the final race of the season, even after an accident appeared to doom his championship hopes.
* I got a kick out of Jamie McMurray's surprising victory at Charlotte in October. Just wish I had placed money on the kid. Too bad the win stirred up the old debate on whether it's the driver or the race car that wins races. My money's with the driver. Obviously you need good equipment to win races, but it all comes down to the guy behind the wheel. If it's just the equipment, everybody would be lining up so they could get the trophy and the girl.