The way Bill Auberlen looks at it, if he could survive training with the BMW racing team in the Italian Alps, driving one of the German cars on the world's fastest road courses shouldn't be too difficult.
For seven days, last month, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., the Redondo Beach driver skied, ran, hiked, did aerobic exercises, lifted weights and rode a mountain bike at 8,000 feet with seven other members of the BMW factory team. They were housed on the top floor of a high-rise hotel, and weren't allowed to use the elevators.
"That wasn't the half of it," said Auberlen, 29, the only American in the group. "We had to walk on fire, you know, hot coals, for about 30 feet. The psychotherapist said it was 'all about motivation.' You really get psyched up before you take the first step.
"The main idea, I think, was to see if anyone would quit, or even complain. No one did, not even the one woman [Sabine Reck], although it was heart-attack time most of the time for all of us. Every time we changed exercises, it meant changing shoes and perhaps an entire uniform, and if we were late we were fined 20,000 lira [about $11] a minute.
A typical day started at 7 with weight training in an overheated room--and the drivers wearing their helmets. This was followed by 20 minutes of stretching, then breakfast.
"Right after breakfast, we went for a ride on mountain bikes, with our instructor a former Tour de France rider," Auberlen said. "We started at the bottom of the mountain and rode 60 miles, about 40 of it uphill. We all wore heart monitors, and mine hit 194 beats a minute for one-seven minutes. I thought I was going to die."
After a break for lunch, it was time for a 15-mile run up a ski trail, in the snow. The next day it was cross-country skiing, something Auberlen had never done, although he had skied in the local mountains.
"Right when we were most exhausted, we'd get a two-hour lecture on fitness, or motivation, or tactics," he said. "It was all we could do to keep from dozing off, which is exactly what they were checking us for.
"It was quite an accomplishment to finish in one piece. I must say that what I enjoyed most was the 20-hour airplane ride home."
Auberlen was fortunate in one respect. Only German was spoken, but he had learned it from his parents before he learned English.
Fresh from completing a "double-double" class victory by sweeping the Daytona 24-hour and the Sebring 12-hour endurance races for the second consecutive year, Auberlen will open his worldwide International Sports Racing Series season April 13 at the Paul Ricard circuit in France.
He will drive a BMW-powered Riley & Scott for the Rafinelli team in a nine-race World Sports Car series that includes such famous venues as Kyalami, South Africa; Donington, England; Nurburgring, Germany; and Brno, Czech Republic.
At Daytona and Sebring, and other U.S. events he may enter later this year, Auberlen drives a Yokohama M3 sedan for Tom Milner's Prototype Technology Group.
"We had two cars that were unbelievable," said Auberlen after last week's Sebring win. "Not one problem from beginning to end. It was a situation for me where I could drive my stint, put Boris [Said] in the car, and go eat and play and then come back to a car I knew would be as good as it was when I handed it off."
Auberlen and Said won the GT-3 class and finished 11th overall. A second BMW team of Peter Cunningham, Ross Bentley and Mark Simo finished right behind them.
After starting his racing on mini-bikes in motocross races when he was 4, Auberlen switched to cars when he was 18 and his father, Gary, was racing a Porsche 911. In his first professional race, in the GTU class at Daytona, he finished second on a team with his father, Carey Eisenlohr of Hermosa Beach and Adrian Gang of Torrance.
"I drove between 14 and 16 hours and really got hooked on endurance racing," Auberlen said. "We went to Sebring and finished second again, then I drove the IMSA sprint races in my dad's privateer Porsche and couldn't do a thing. I was working on the car, getting it to the races and driving it.
"That's what I like about being with BMW now. I'm hired to drive, so I don't have any worries about the car except at the track."
Auberlen sold the family Porsche and was racing his own Mazda two years ago when he caught the attention of the BMW factory team.
"I think they got annoyed when I was beating them with a budget out of my own wallet, against their factory guys. At least that's what I heard, so I called them up one day and said, 'Hire me, and you won't have to keep on losing.'
"I know that was kind of brash, and they had Pete Halsmer and David Donohue already on the team, but they gave me a chance in a backup car with Matt Cohen, a kid from New York. About that time Donohue left to drive in another series, so they teamed me with Halsmer as a support driver."
Before the 1997 season, Halsmer left and Auberlen became BMW's No. 1 driver. When he won the SportsCar Racing championship with five wins, six poles and four fastest laps, it was BMW's first championship. That earned him a shot with the factory European team.
"It's the opportunity of a lifetime, to get to race on the finest courses in the world," he said. "And looking down the road, BMW is talking about possibly building an engine for the Indy Racing League, and that would get me to the Indianapolis 500. And they're also talking about building a Formula One car, which could make another dream of mine come true."
J.J. Yeley won his third Sprint Car Racing Assn. main event of the season last Saturday but that might have been the last the SCRA will see of the precocious Phoenix youngster for some time. Yeley, 21, left Wednesday to race with the U.S. Auto Club in the Midwest, and test with John Menard's team for the Indianapolis 500. Menard hopes to groom Yeley as a replacement for Tony Stewart, who will join Joe Gibbs' Winston Cup team next year--or sooner. Perhaps as soon as right after the Indy 500.
The SCRA, without Yeley, will run Saturday night at Perris Auto Speedway, where Richard Griffin will try to maintain his points lead over Mike Kirby, Cory Kruseman and Rip Williams.
Cajon Speedway, a three-eighths-mile paved oval on Gillespie Field in El Cajon, will open its 38th season Saturday night with the Coors Light 100, a NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour race, and Ultra Wheels spec trucks. M.K. Kanke of Granada Hills, the 1994 Cajon winner, is the Southwest Tour points leader after two races. Cajon's regular sportsman and Grand American modified season will open April 4.
Robby Gordon, who has been testing Toyota's champ car for Arciero-Wells at California Speedway, will not race in the Long Beach Grand Prix, but will make his debut April 26 at Nazareth, Pa. Last year, he drove on the Winston Cup stock car circuit.
The seventh California Jalopy Assn. old-timers' reunion is scheduled Sunday at Victorville Auto Raceway. More than 40 vintage cars and drivers are expected for the 10 a.m. gathering. Featured guests will be the Justice brothers of Duarte.
Penske Motorsports Inc., owners of California Speedway in Fontana, have bought out founder Ralph Sanchez at the Metro-Dade Homestead motorsports complex in south Florida. Sanchez, a Cuba-born Miami businessman, brought sports car racing to Miami in 1983 and opened his Homestead track in the fall of 1995. . . . Panoz Motor Sports, owned by Donald Panoz, has acquired racing rights to Mosport Park in Canada from Andy Evans, head of International Motor Sports Group Inc. Panoz also operates Road Atlanta and Sebring.
When Fords led every lap of last Sunday's TransSouth Financial 400 at Darlington, S.C., it was the first time one make of car had led every lap in a Winston Cup race since Chevrolets did it at North Wilkesboro, N.C., on Sept. 29, 1985.
George Radnich, 80, one of the founders of the Southern California Timing Assn. and the Bonneville National Speed Trials, died last Wednesday at his home in Joshua Tree. Survivors include his wife, Ellen, six children and four grandchildren.
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* What: Food City 500 at Bristol, Tenn.
* Schedule: Today, first-round qualifying, noon (ESPN2); Saturday, second-round qualifying, 9:30 a.m. (ESPN2, 3 p.m.); Sunday, race, 10 a.m. (ESPN; replay ESPN2, 5:30 p.m.).
* Defending champion: Jeff Gordon.
BUSCH GRAND NATIONAL
* What: Moore's Snacks 250 at Bristol, Tenn.
* Schedule: Today, qualifying, 11 a.m.; Saturday, race, 11 a.m. (ESPN).
* Defending champion: Jeff Burton.
* What: Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paulo, Brazil.
* Schedule: Saturday, qualifying; Sunday, race (Fox Sports West, Speedvision, 7:30 a.m.).
* Defending champion: Jacques Villeneuve.
CHAMPIONSHIP AUTO RACING TEAMS
* What: Inaugural Budweiser 500 (312 miles) at Motegi, Japan.
* Schedule: Today, qualifying; Saturday, race, (Channel 7, 3 p.m., tape).