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NASCAR Says Southern 500
Not Going Anywhere, Yet
NASCAR VP/Corporate Communications Jim Hunter denied reports that NASCAR would grant California Speedway a second annual Winston Cup date on Labor Day Weekend, which would end Darlington Raceway's 54-year tradition of hosting the Southern 500 over that holiday weekend, according to David Poole of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Under the reported move, Darlington would keep two annual dates, and North Carolina Speedway would have only one race in '04. Hunter: "It is not a done deal to my knowledge. That is one of the scenarios that somebody could play around with under [NASCAR's realignment plan]. But no decision has been made, no sanctioning agreements have been signed. They're just now starting the process with the tracks, talking about the schedule, dates, purses, the points fund and all of those things. They're in the very early stages of that right now" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/17). But today, Poole cites sources as saying that teams "are being told it's safe to start making corporate hospitality plans for a night race" at California on Labor Day Weekend next year (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/19). Hunter, on Darlington possibly losing its Labor Day Weekend event, "I think NASCAR is sensitive to (tradition), but the bigger issue is that tracks, being publicly held companies, have an obligation to the shareholders to maximize those facilities. You've got one [Darlington] where it's difficult to sell 60,000 seats, and you have another [California] where you have 90,000 or 100,000. You want to move a date from an underperforming asset to another one, and we said back in January that we would look favorably on that" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/18). California, Darlington and Rockingham are all properties of ISC (THE DAILY). NASCAR COO George Pyne said that "there is a strong desire at NASCAR to add races in major markets" like L.A. Pyne: "Other than Lakers games, NASCAR is the most-watched sporting event on [TV] in [L.A.]." Pyne, on realignment: "We typically make just one or two [schedule] changes at a time, and we'll stick to that for the next year. ... We will look at taking races where there is more demand than supply" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 5/17). In Nashville, Larry Woody: "The symbolism is striking: an historic old Southern track being jilted in favor of a gleaming new facility in California" (TENNESSEAN, 5/18).
KICKING IT: USSF President Robert Contiguglia, on the steps the organization has taken in case the U.S. is awarded the Women's World Cup: "We are negotiating already with stadiums. We have a group of stadiums that are possibilities. We've had a number of internal meetings, a number of plans in place. We think we've given FIFA a number of choices and once they come to us, then we can activate the plans. We have people from U.S. Soccer, WUSA and MLS who have been working night and day on this. I feel that we are prepared to step forward and hit the ground running and do a great job" (ESPN, 5/17).
BALLS & STRIKES: In N.Y., Murray Chass reported that "faced with a negative decision" by the NLRB, the World Umpires Association "withdrew its unfair labor practice charge against the commissioner's office" over the use of the QuesTec system to evaluate umpire performance. The union "still has a pending grievance against the commissioner's office," and a hearing is scheduled for July. The union has charged that "the commissioner's office refused to provide access to QuesTec technology or to let umpires' representatives observe the system in operation, and it would not provide information about the system that the union requested" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/17).
HORSING AROUND: Churchill Downs stewards on Friday "ordered $500 fines for each of the 14 jockeys who wore a Jockeys' Guild logo on their pants" in the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs Chief Steward Bernie Hettel said that "the fines were for violations of an administrative regulation prohibiting any promotional material on jockeys' pants" (Marty McGee, DAILY RACING FORM, 5/18)....The U.S. Senate Thursday "passed a $350[B] tax-cut bill that includes a provision to remove the 30% withholding tax on winning pari-mutuel wagers placed by foreigners through U.S. pools." Foreign tracks do not offer common-pool wagering with U.S. tracks because of the tax, so the elimination of the tax "would allow foreign tracks to bet into U.S. pools." The NTRA has put the issue "near the top of its legislative priority list. However, even if the stipulation is passed, additional work must be done because of protectionist laws in other countries" (BLOODHORSE.com, 5/16).
NBPA President and Pistons F Michael Curry "has created a conflict of interest by saying he wants to become a team owner after he retires as a basketball player," according to two former labor leaders and an agent cited by BLOOMBERG NEWS' Scott Soshnick. Agent Mark Bartelstein: "Clearly, if someone's future hopes are to be an owner and they're negotiating against the owners there's a conflict there." Former MLBPA Exec Dir Marvin Miller and former NHLPA President Mike Gartner noted that Curry "might be reluctant to oppose NBA commissioner David Stern or league owners because of his desire to join their ranks." Miller: "It's an absolute conflict." But Curry does not see his comments as a conflict and said, "If anything, being the president of the players union gives me the opportunity to get the insights of how the overall business is run. That's why you see guys who are active in the union end up having positions in coaching or management." NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter "supports Curry," saying, "One of the things we need is more players having an interest in owning teams." National Sports Law Institute Dir Matt Mitten: "I can see why some would view it as a perceived conflict of interest" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 5/16).
NFL Playoff Expansion To Be
Tackled By Owners
The NFL's competition committee last week "unanimously rejected the proposal to add two more teams to the playoff mix, essentially ensuring rejection by the owners" at their meetings beginning tomorrow in Philadelphia, according to Kevin Mannix of the BOSTON HERALD. The "primary objection to the proposal as written," which is backed by the Chiefs and Patriots, is that it provides first-round byes to "just one team in each conference." Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt: "There are two teams getting byes now. I don't understand how it's worse for one team to have a bye, compared to two." Hunt added that his preference is to expand the playoffs from 12 to 16 teams, meaning that all first-round byes would be eliminated. But Mannix wrote the Patriots' "goal has already been achieved," as the league is "seriously considering expanding" the playoff field (BOSTON HERALD, 5/18). Colts President and Competition Committee member Bill Polian said another reason for rejecting the proposal is "you'd be adding clearly a weak team and a non-deserving team in many cases because [a record of] 10-6 is our benchmark. ... When you begin to explore it, which is what the competition committee is charged to do, we found it isn't as simple and easy and equitable as it looked at the outset" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/18). In Boston, Ron Borges wrote that TV is "not in favor of the move because it fears being stuck with playoff blowouts that don't hold the audience." Also, the majority of owners "see no reason to change the present system" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/18).
SUPER BOWL NEWS: In N.Y., Gary Myers reported that a meeting Friday between the Giants and NJ Sports & Exposition authority regarding a $250M renovation of Giants Stadium "produced no progress." If renovations are not done, it would "end any chance of the Super Bowl at Giants Stadium." The NFL "wants to see something presented at the October owners' meetings in Chicago, which means it needs something in its office by September." Giants VP John Mara, when asked if the effort is "in jeopardy": "I wouldn't want to say that. But we are starting to run out of time" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/18)....In Jacksonville, Matt Galnor reported that a proposal before the City Council "would hold the city responsible if the Super Bowl Host Committee cannot pay back" an $11.7M loan for cruise ships being used to house guests. But the host committee "would need to fall 28[%] short of its projected cruise ship revenues for the taxpayers to be liable." In order to "get the money needed to secure the cruise ships, the bank needed the city to sign on" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 5/17).
OFFICIALLY UPSET: In NJ, Paul Needell reported that a group "alleging to consist of members" of the NFL Referees' Association — which reps 119 game officials — recently sent NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue a "scathing letter in defense of" the eight officials who were fired this offseason, "promising the issue 'will not die.'" The letter stated the officials "have been made the scapegoat" for "over-paid supervisors, most of who (sic) are unqualified." But Tagliabue "says he is unaware of any problems between" NFL Dir of Officiating Mike Pereira and league execs (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/18).
Indy 500 Field Reaches 33
After Sunday’s Qualifying
Facing the possibility of a short field for this year's Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) President Tony George "asked teams already stretched to the limit to supply extra cars, and they delivered," according to Curt Cavin of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR, who notes nine drivers qualified yesterday, bringing next Sunday's race to the traditional 33-car starting field (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/19). Teams that supplied extra cars included Team Penske, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Panther Racing and Menards (THE DAILY). In K.C., Jim Pedley notes that in addition to sponsorship issues, another factor that "contributed to the threat" of a short field was the new equipment package in the IRL this season. There were "very few pre-owned chassis available so teams wanting to race had to buy new, higher-priced cars" (K.C. STAR, 5/19).
SO MUCH FOR DRAMA: Qualifying on the Sunday before the Indy 500 is traditionally called Bump Day, as drivers are bumped from the 33-car field. But with just 33 drivers making qualifying attempts, ESPN.com's Robin Miller wrote, "A day that is usually unparalleled in emotions and excitement featured neither," as no driver got bumped for the first time in 53 years (ESPN.com, 5/18). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes that most Bump Days "are memorable days," but this year there "was no buzz, no suspense, no nothing." Open-wheel racing "has serious problems. It's not just the diminishing crowds." But Kravitz adds, "In fairness, ... this Indy 500 field shapes up as one of the most accomplished and competitive in the history of the event" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/19).
TONY SPEAKS HIS MIND: George was featured in a Q&A with Dave Koerner of the Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL. George, on criticism that he was "killing" the 500 after splitting with CART in '95: "My biggest critics [former CART teams] are running with us today. They find virtue in what we've been building for the past many seasons. They've embraced philosophies and the ideas of the [IRL] and are happy to participate." George, on the possibility of IRL and CART reuniting: "I don't know if we'll ever be together. CART has its priorities and objectives, and so does the IRL. But I don't know why we can't coexist. Obviously, we're competing for cars, drivers and owners and sponsors. But that's not to say that we both can't thrive. ... I think if CART and the IRL were just to focus on their own growth and not spend so much time being distracted and answering questions like this, I think we all could get on about our business." Meanwhile, George thinks there is still "opportunity" for smaller teams to compete, saying, "Unless I missed something, [$3.5-5M] can compete with teams spending $7[M] and $8[M]. I don't think we'll ever get to where five or six car owners make up 50[%] of the field. I think we'll always have smaller teams" (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 5/18). But in Miami, Gary Long wrote, "Wasn't the IRL formed to benefit the 'little guy?' The little guys are right back to being the little guys" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/18).
500 NOTES: This year's race will feature A.J. Foyt IV, who will turn 19 on race day and become the youngest driver ever to compete in Indy 500. Three-time 500 winner Bobby Unser said of Foyt, "He shouldn't be here yet. ... He just needs more experience." Unser: "Nobody else could get by with this — no other owner in the garage except [team Owner and grandfather A.J.] Foyt. It's all a matter of Foyt's power with Tony George. I tried to talk with Tony about this the other night. He didn't want to hear it." George, on Unser's opinion: "That doesn't deserve a response. Bobby likes to blow into town and blow off [and] draw attention to himself" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/19)....Former President George Bush will attend this year's 500 as the guest of Tom Kelley, owner of Kelley Racing. Former President Bill Clinton attendance was previously reported (INDY STAR, 5/17).