NASCAR's gamble at NHS

By Jeff Birchfield

   This weekend at New Hampshire provides one of the biggest gambles of the racing year. It doesn't have anything to do with stretching fuel mileage, taking on two tires, four tires or no tires. Instead it is NASCAR turning down New Hampshire Speedway owner Bob Bahre's request to have soft walls installed at his race track.
   Imagine the type of public relations disaster that would be after the deaths of Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty just two years ago. Some improvements to the track made by Bahre should help in the effort for safer racing, while also making the action more appealing to the fans.
   The turns and banking have been reworked and all reviews came back positive from a Busch Series race held there earlier this season. Eventual winner Bobby Hamilton, Jr. was able to work his way from 18th place in the middle of the race to the front of the pack, with most of his advancement coming on the track.
   It was a far cry from many other New Hampshire races, where most of the passing occurred on pit road. To the bigger issue, I hope that NASCAR's decision does not turn out to be a terrible safety gamble and that the walls will be installed in the near future at the 1-mile speedway.
   Busch Series driver Scott Riggs is nursing bruised ribs after hitting the wall at Chicagoland Speedway last week.
   "I went to the hospital just to be safe," said Riggs. "The doctor came in with the results and told me nothing was broken, only bruised, this time. Then he said I had three previous fractures that were healing nicely."
   At the end of March, Riggs took a hard fall while riding his dirt bike in Bahama, N.C. Despite the pain, he wrapped his ribs and raced his No. 10 Nesquik Ford Taurus to a fourth place finish in Texas and his to his first win in Nashville.
   The Nesquik Racing Team is taking the same car to Gateway that Riggs drove to Victory Lane in Nashville. This is the same car Riggs drove to a fourth place finish in Rockingham earlier this year.
   The driver of the No. 10 Taurus, looks forward to running his first NASCAR Busch Series event at Gateway International Raceway.
   "Gateway is one of those tracks that really puts the driver's skills to test," said Riggs. "Turns 1 and 2 are so different from turns 3 and 4 that the team has to give up something on one end to meet the other end in the middle. It is up to the driver to decide what set-up makes him most comfortable. I am looking forward to climbing in the driver's seat and taking that challenge."
   Riggs also has good memories of the St. Louis track after last year receiving what he calls the 'Coolest Second Place Trohpy Ever. Riggs received a Harley Davidson 'Big Dog' for his second place finish last year at Gateway in his Craftsman Truck Series ride.
   "Ultra Motorsports owner Jim Smith said if [Ted] Musgrave and I finished 'One-Two' last year at Gateway, he would give us a motorcycle," said Riggs. "With a challenge like that, it was hard not to get up on the wheel. Ted took the checkered flag and I was second crossing the line, sure enough, Jim delivered. I have a beautiful, pearl white 'Big Dog' sitting in the garage back home."
   This time around a shiny trophy and the occupying winner's purse would be enough to make Riggs forget about his injured ribs.