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Waltrip Has a Dog Day Afternoon at Riverside

Darrell Waltrip took the checkered flag, then dedicated his victory to Frank Cannon.

Typical day at the races.

Except Waltrip, who set a track record Friday at 117.006 m.p.h., was doing around 60 when he hit the Budweiser 400 finish line Sunday, coasting behind a pace car.

And Frank Cannon is his dead dog.

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“We had to put him to sleep this week,” Waltrip said. “He’d been to every race but Riverside. I guess he’ll never get to go to Riverside.”

Yep. Afraid that dog has had his last lap.

You say you thought Saturday’s Indy 500 was pretty wild? Sunday’s Bud 400 at Riverside International Raceway turned out to be Part II of a wacky weekend of auto racing. Hell’s Angels didn’t have this weird a time on wheels.

First came the big spin in Indianapolis, where, with seven laps to go, a yellow caution flag came out. So did a yellow pace car. And when the racing resumed with two laps to go, Bobby Rahal, sitting in second place, buzzed past Kevin Cogan and beat him to the checkered flag.

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Then came Sunday’s Bud race, where, with two laps to go, a yellow caution flag came out. But in NASCAR competition, unlike Indy racing, the leaders can keep their pedals to the metal until they reach the caution. And Waltrip, sitting in second place, buzzed past Tim Richmond and beat him to the yellow flag at the finish line.

All their cars could do on the 95th and final lap was cruise behind the pace car to the checkered. Waltrip and Richmond just cut their speed to 60 and stuck their elbows out the window like Sunday drivers. The last lap was strictly a formality.

“There are no words to express how lonely that feels. I feel sorry for him,” Waltrip said.

Sorry enough to change places?

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“Not that sorry,” Waltrip said.

They turned the 94th lap into a drag race, after Terry Labonte’s crackup, and Waltrip beat Richmond to the yellow by about a quarter of a car length. It was a mirror image of Indy, even to the point where the winning cars, Rahal’s and Waltrip’s, had the same sponsor, Budweiser. Somewhere in St. Louis, Gussie Busch is smiling.

Richmond, who led from the 82nd lap, did the best he could to keep Waltrip from passing. Had this been Indy, where he was the 500’s fastest rookie in 1980, Richmond would have hung on to first place and might have hung on to win the race.

The owner of Richmond’s car, Rick Hendrick, said afterward: “I would be in favor of eliminating racing back to the caution, but if I was in Waltrip’s shoes, I wouldn’t want to eliminate it.”

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Waltrip liked the position he was in. He thought it a whole lot easier to be sitting second, able to react to events transpiring in front of him, than to be sitting first and looking back. As had happened to another fellow at Indy, for instance.

“Bobby Rahal was in a great place, because he had an opportunity to react to what he saw,” Waltrip said. “I just think Cogan might have been a little too polite. I mean, that yella pace car woulda been in mah way!”

Anytime he gets rolling, Waltrip tends to milk that Tennessee drawl for all it’s worth. At one point Sunday he even started talking like that country boy “Ernest” who appears in about a thousand TV commercials for a thousand different products. “ Mah car’s name is Vern--know whut I mean?” Waltrip asked, in an accent thick as molasses? He was having a good time.

Waltrip had a pretty good time all weekend. After he set a single-lap track record during a qualifying run Friday, he felt that his car--Vern--was in top condition.

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Sadly, the same could not be said of his 12-year-old basset hound--Frank Cannon--who developed cancer of the lungs and had undergone surgery Tuesday, to no avail. Frank Cannon, who accompanied Waltrip to auto races coast to coast, was a fat old dog who was named after a fat old TV detective.

Waltrip also has a mule back home named Cecil B. De Mule. No word yet as to whether Cecil will be joining him at Riverside next trip.

The dramatic battle with Richmond was not Waltrip’s first such dogfight here. In 1983, at the Winston Western 500, Waltrip and Richmond were fighting for the lead on the last lap when they made contact and spun into the infield. Bill Elliott swept by and took the race.

Since then, Richmond has become a physical fitness nut, working with Dr. Richard Haas, author of “Eat to Win,” and saying it’s hardly more important to get your car in condition than it is to get your body in condition with a tasty snack of brown rice, raisins and bananas.

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No wonder Waltrip wanted by him. You wouldn’t necessarily want somebody who eats like that to spend too much time in front of you.


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