IROC's Twin Driving Forces
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Fans can count on a fabulous, door-banging, four-wide race at Atlanta Motor Speedway when the Crown Royal IROC Series rolls into town for the Bass Pro Shops 500 race weekend, October 27-29.
Part of what makes Crown Royal IROC Series racing so great at AMS, besides the drivers, is the equipment. Each car is meticulously tested, ensuring the cars are identical in speed and handling, essentially leaving the outcome to the drivers.
The invitation only series, which has been in existence since 1974, pits 12 champions from all disciplines of racing against each other for bragging rights as the champion among champions and a $1 million paycheck.
"IROC is one of the things that is just really cool to be a part of," said Martin Truex Jr., winner of last year's IROC race in Atlanta. "It is something you watch growing up and all the best drivers in the world are in it."
Drivers from open-wheel, sport car, stock car, and dirt track racing all come together to see who is the best driver in the world.
"We don't know if IROC determines who the best driver in the world is," said Les Richter, IROC chairman, "but we sure go a long way toward that goal. IROC does prove that some drivers have more skill than others regardless of their specialty or background."
The goal of the series is to take all the variables out of the sport and just let the driver's skill be the determining factor. When some of the drivers have never been behind the wheel of a stock car it is a challenge to keep the playing field level. That is where Dave Marcis and Jay Sauter come in.
It is up to the NASCAR veterans to ensure equality among every car that takes the green flag for the season finale race at AMS on October 28. Even as hard as Marcis and Sauter try, it is still understandable why most people feel the NASCAR drivers competing in the IROC Series will have a slight advantage over the competition.
"When you look at the Busch guys or the Cup guys, yeah, they carry a little bit of an advantage because they know the cars somewhat and they know the race tracks and the tires," said Marcis. "Even though people feel the stock car guys win all the races, we're pretty proud when we can get those other guys in victory circle. We work hard with them to try to accomplish that."
One week before each IROC event the cars used arrive at the track to be tested and set-up for the race. Marcis and Sauter are on hand to test the cars and work with the drivers if need be.
"It takes days for them to get comfortable," says Marcis of the drivers with little or no stock car experience. "You can see them progress and they get pretty competitive against the stopwatch, but that doesn't simulate the race."
Sauter and Marcis spend countless hours testing the cars and mentoring the non-stock car drivers. Then it is up to the duo to choose the chassis set-up that will be used across the board on the cars that will race. The learning curve is steep, but with the combined experience of Sauter and Marcis who have 1,094 collective NASCAR starts, even a first-timer has a shot to win.
Sprint car legend Steve Kinser, who had never raced on any surface other than dirt before winning in his first season in IROC, is testimony for the skill Sauter and Marcis posess. Open wheel star Sebastian Bourdais, of the Champ Car series, also won in his first and only IROC season.
Marcis, who retired from full-time driving in 2002, is a 36-year veteran of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and is second only to Richard Petty, with 880 Cup Series starts. Sauter is currently running a full schedule in the NASCAR Busch Series.
Fans can check out all the action of the Crown Royal IROC Series season finale as a part of the Bass Pro Shops 500 weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway on October 28. Fans can purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops 500 race weekend by contacting the AMS ticket office at (877) 9-AMS-TIX, (770) 946-4211, at www.atlantamotorspeedway.com or at an authorized Ticketmaster retail outlet.