Doane Yawger: Enthused about racing

April 7, 2012 

Doane Yawger, Sun-Star reporter

MERCED SUN-STAR

Here's a pretty sure hunch, if there's such a thing: Most auto enthusiasts also are gaga about racing. I sure am.

The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series visited Merced Fairgrounds Speedway last week, and the fast-moving, high-octane action from some of the nation's best drivers was something to see. I'll remember it for many years and come back for more when I can.

Brutal, insane and awesome are some of the modern superlatives that truly fit these racers. The hype is justified.

Sounds, sights and smells figure into my enjoyment of racing and the Friday night action bordered on overload.

Sprint cars have 850-horsepower V-8 engines that can produce about 9,000 rpm. That's more than double or even triple the horsepower of most any other high-performance engine for racing or street use. It's over the top.

On a dirt oval like Merced's, that meant the fastest qualifier lapped the track in 10.8 seconds with top speeds more than 100 mph.

Sprint car engines literally scream or wail. It takes only a couple of seconds to reach top speed and drivers seem to keep the throttle wide open all around the track.

To someone who loves racing, this is literally "ear candy" of the highest order. The announcer said the cars had mufflers -- although you couldn't prove it to me and I'm not complaining. Racing should be loud.

The horsepower-weight ratio has to be off the charts. The cars weigh just 1,400 pounds, including the driver. This is many hundreds of pounds lighter than street-driven cars. These cars are barely under control, certainly not the most stable and can flip over very easily. This happened a couple of times at Merced, but thankfully no one was hurt.

Sprinters have a caricateurish nature, with large wings or airfoils on top and smaller wings poised over the front wheels. They are brightly painted in the colors of their sponsors; the right rear tire is nearly two feet wide.

Methanol or high-octane racing gas is the fuel of choice for sprinters. Not all of the fuel gets burned up, with a distinctive, almost perfume-like smell evident as the cars circle the track.

The winner of the 40-lap feature, 56-year-old Sammy Swindell of Germantown, Tenn., also won last year's race in Merced. It's not his first rodeo; Swindell has won 277 World of Outlaws races, second only to 20-time series champion Steve Kinser, who has 570 victories.

With the grandstands full of several thousand race fans, it's clear I'm not the only one buzzing when it comes to racing. It's a shame the national touring series comes to Merced only once a year. The Outlaws series will be back in Chico and Antioch in early September but that's it for California.

Racing is just one of many elements of my love for four-wheeled vehicles. Besides sprinters, there are open-wheel Indianapolis cars that can reach speeds of more than 200 mph; full-bodied stock cars also attain triple-digit speeds.

Racing at the local level isn't quite as spectacular as the big leagues, but it's equally entertaining. Each race has a different complexion, but they are all enjoyable and something to eagerly anticipate.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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