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AUTO RACING : Bristol Track Rated NASCAR’s Toughest

ASSOCIATED PRESS

There are faster tracks and longer tracks, but none tougher than the half-mile, bowl-shaped oval at Bristol International Raceway.

That’s where NASCAR’s top guns headed for this weekend’s Saturday night race.

Darrell Waltrip, a three-time Winston Cup champion and winner of 12 races in 39 previous starts on the .533-mile, high-banked track, says the place in just plain mean.

“I don’t have any secrets,” said Waltrip, who in the early 1980s won seven straight starts at Bristol. “Everybody knows what I know about Bristol. They just don’t go there and practice it.

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“In all the races I’ve run at Bristol, there’s been two times I felt like I didn’t do a good job, and both of those times it was because I was running real good and I got to racing people early in the race when I shouldn’t have been. I should have been minding my own business.”

The 47-year-old racer added, “The big thing at Bristol is just don’t race anybody. It’s like Darlington, but it’s a lot more intense. You race the race track and look at the situations. The thing that hurst you so much here is cars that are in front run so much fater than cars that are in back.

“Most of the time, if you’re driving a smart race, you’re going to be in jeopardy of going a lap down for the first 200 laps of the race. The only thing you can do is bide your time and don’t do anything foolish until you get in a position where you’ve got to go to keep from going a lap down.

“Then,” Waltrip added, “you drive the wheels off of it to stay in front of the leaders.”

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HILLIN’S THRILL: Bobby Hillin Jr., a 12-year veteran of Winston Cup racing at the age of 30, is feeling pretty lucky these days.

The former Texas high school football star walked away without injury from what was probably the most vicious hit of his life a week ago at Michigan International Speedway.

On the first lap of the GM Goodwrench Dealers 400, Hillin was toward the back of the 41-car field when chaos erupted in front of him between turns one and two on the two-mile, high-banked oval: Cars were crashing and spinning up and down the track, and Hillin, who also had cars behind him, had to pick a direction.

His choice was nearly disastrous.

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Amid the melee, rookies Jeff Burton and Bill Standridge slid up to the wall. That’s exactly where Hillin chose to go.

He hit Standridge’s car and sailed over it, scraping the roof of his car on the concrete wall for more than 100 feet. Luckily, he came down on his wheels before sliding to a stop at the bottom of the banking.

“I don’t know anything else I could have done,” Hillin said. “I let them check me out a whole bunch (at the infield medical center) because I got hit a bunch.

“I knew I was up on my side,” Hillin said. “My window net came down and that scared me a little. Then I got hit again. I just held onto the wheel as hard as I could. I think that’s what kept me from getting hurt. Whatever it was, I feel lucky.”

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THE FAST LANE: Laura Lane says she’ll be back.

Lane came up short last week at Michigan in her effort to become the first woman to qualify for a Winston Cup event since Patty Moise made the July 1989 race at Talladega.

“This was a fabulous opportunity, but I still have to put my time in,” said Lane, who missed making the field by just over 3 mph. “What I really want to do is get a sponsor and be successful at this level of competition.”

The 29-year-old Lane, who finished sixth at Michigan in a June ARCA race, has driven late model stocks in North Carolina, has done road racing in IMSA and Pro SCCA, and has worked as an instructor at driving schools.

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Women have been a part of NASCAR racing on and off since the sanctioning body was formed, with Sara Christian racing in the first event, on June 19, 1949, at Charlotte, N.C. In all, 15 women have raced in NASCAR’s top series.

PETTY’S ROOKIE: John Andretti’s ride in the No. 43 car last week at Michigan and again this weekend in Bristol is believed to be the first time a NASCAR rookie has driven the Petty Enterprises entry since Maurice Petty--Richard’s brother and longtime crew chief--drove two races in 1961.

Maurice, known as “Chief” throughout his racing career, finished 15th a Hillsboro, N.C., and seventh at Greenville, S.C., but decided that working on the car was how he wanted to make his living.


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