Wildfires in Florida Force Postponement of Big NASCAR Race

History was going to be made this weekend in NASCAR, with the running of the Pepsi 400 Winston Cup race under the lights Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

But because of wildfires that have been raging in central Florida, the first night race on a 2.5-mile track--and the first to have been televised live in prime time--has been postponed until Oct. 17.

The July 4 race, once known as the Firecracker 400, had been billed as the world’s largest night sports event. All 143,000-plus grandstand seats were sold, and fans in cars and campers were lining up to get in and claim choice infield spots when the race was postponed Thursday, an hour before the gates were to open. Qualifying had been scheduled for Thursday night.

Tickets will be honored on the makeup date but it is not clear what CBS, which was to have televised the race, will do then, the network having made no announcement. The World Series starts the night of Oct. 17--it will be televised by Fox--and the college football season will be in full swing.


John Graham, speedway president, said, however, that there was no thought of continuing weekend plans as scheduled, once he had received reports of growing fire damage and area road closures.

“The wildfires plaguing Daytona Beach and surrounding communities intensified Wednesday night, to a level that makes postponing this race the right thing to do,” he told the Associated Press.

According to reports, a ride from the Orlando airport to the speedway, which normally takes less than an hour, was taking more than three hours.

Mike Crowley, a firefighter from Sarasota, Fla., who was among the fans turned away, said he would be back for the rescheduled race.


“It’s the best thing they could have done,” Crowley said. “There’s no way they could have gotten the spectators here.”

The Pepsi 400 usually fills only two-thirds of the grandstands at Daytona because of 100-degree temperatures in July. But as a night race, it had sold out the 143,000-plus seats by March.

Night racing has been a staple of short-track racing for many years--indeed, NASCAR has run Winston Cup races at night on smaller tracks--but not until Musco Lighting set out to create what the Iowa firm calls “the largest lighted sports complex in the world” has it ever been attempted on such a grand scale.

“It is not only the largest project we have ever undertaken, it’s the largest project ever, anywhere in the world,” said Joe Crookham, president of Musco Lighting.


To put the task in perspective, Crookham said the wattage necessary to light Daytona’s track would equal that needed to light a street from Daytona Beach to Musco’s home offices in Muscatine, Iowa.

Statistically, the $2-million-plus project includes 1,835 light fixtures, 191 poles ranging from 70 to 110 feet, 150 miles of wire, 800 tons of concrete and 2,600 square feet of mirrors. It will produce light equal to that generated from the high-beam headlights of 87,000 passenger cars.

But not until October.



Rod Millen will continue his quest to break Pikes Peak’s elusive 10-minute barrier Saturday in the 76th running of the hill climb over the 12.42-mile, 156-turn dirt road that climbs from 9,390 feet above sea level to the 14,110-foot summit.

Millen, 47, is a three-time Pikes Peak winner from New Zealand who now lives in Huntington Beach. He set the record of 10 minutes 4.06 seconds in 1994 in a Toyota Celica Turbo. This time, he will be in a four-wheel-drive Toyota pickup truck he helped design. Thursday he qualified in 4 minutes 32.33 seconds on the lower half of the course.

“My goal, as always, is to break the 10-minute barrier,” Millen said. “Weather permitting, I know we can do it.”



Rockingham Dragway, site of the Winston Invitational, a National Hot Rod Assn. all-star event, for 10 years, will leave the NHRA to rejoin the International Hot Rod Assn. next year. Steve Earwood, Rockingham president, said the North Carolina strip would hold two IHRA national events next year. The Winston Invitational is expected to move to Bristol, Tenn., next year.

Former top-fuel champion Darrell Gwynn, who was paralyzed in a crash in 1990, is the father of a baby girl, Katie Brianne Gwynn. Lisa Gwynn gave birth to the child Saturday in Davie, Fla.

“Katie’s birth was made possible with the great work from the people at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis,” said Gwynn, who remains in the sport as a car owner. “With the help of their world-class fertility programs, the Miami Project gave Lisa and me this great moment.”



Indy Racing League driver Billy Boat, who was injured in a four-car crash during last Sunday’s New England 200 at New Hampshire Speedway, is expected to return home to Phoenix this weekend. Boat has been recuperating at Indianapolis Methodist Hospital, where he had surgery to repair a broken pelvis and left thigh. Doctors inserted an L-shaped plate and screws in his thigh. The healing process is expected to take about eight weeks.

One of the more successful iron man performances was accomplished last weekend by John Borneman III of Ramona, Calif. The 20-year-old second- generation driver won two 30-lap sportsman stock car main events on a three-eighths-mile oval at Cajon Speedway on Saturday night, then drove more than 200 miles to Willow Springs Raceway where on Sunday he won his second consecutive Sportsman Challenge series race in 25 laps on a 2.5-mile road course.

Flooding of the Ohio River prompted Unlimited Hydroplane Assn. officials to postpone Sunday’s Madison Regatta. The race has been rescheduled for Labor Day, Sept. 6. Dave Villwock won the season opener in Miss Budweiser last Sunday in Evansville, Ind.