For This Course, These Drivers Will Need Their Street Smarts

From the high-banked superspeedways of Winston Cup to the short tracks of the Featherlite Southwest Series, some of the best of NASCAR will tackle a new assignment this weekend by racing through a street course laid out in the shadows of the Coliseum.

LA Events, the same group that puts on the Los Angeles Marathon, has turned its creative juices to motor racing. The result is a three-day Labor Day weekend festival, the Ford Los Angeles Street Race, featuring the Kragen Z-One 200 on Monday with the largest purse in the Southwest Series history, $153,300.

Mark Martin, runner-up to Jeff Gordon in Winston Cup standings, will make an overnight dash from Darlington, S.C.--after driving in the Southern 500 Sunday--to Los Angeles to run a Ford Taurus on the 1.4-mile circuit that winds through Exposition Park. He will fly here for Monday morning qualifying.

"There really is no time to prepare for these races mentally," Martin said Thursday. "I'm going to take the fastest airplane we can get and go to bed as soon as I get there. There is nothing you can do in the short term to prepare physically for something like this.

"It's more about your lifestyle. If you eat right, get plenty of rest, exercise and take care of yourself on a regular basis, a trip like this is not quite as bad."

If he wins the Southern 500 and the No Bull 5 bonus, Martin will be coming here more than a million dollars richer. Martin, Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Mike Skinner and Dale Earnhardt are all eligible for the bonus because they were the first five finishers in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Gordon won a similar bonus in the Brickyard 400.

The Darlington race also carries a purse of $1.89 million.

Ken Schrader and Chad Little, two other Winston Cup drivers in the Darlington race, will also be here, Schrader in his own Chevrolet and Little in a Ford.

The Kragen 200, which will be 89 laps for 200 kilometers--124.6 miles--is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m.

Also on the course during the three days will be the American City Racing League, Professional Racers Organization and Ultra Wheel Spec Trucks.

Most of the entries in Monday's main event, race No. 12 of the Southwest Series, will be tour regulars such as M.K. Kanke of Granada Hills, Keith Spangler of Chatsworth and series leader Steve Portenga of Sparks, Nev.

The race, NASCAR's first venture into downtown Los Angeles, has also attracted such notables as Willy T. Ribbs, the first--and only--African American qualifier for the Indianapolis 500; Ron Hornaday Jr., two-time Southwest Tour champion and current NASCAR Craftsman Truck series leader; Butch Gilliland, defending Winston West champion and a winner two weeks ago in Monroe, Wash.; Kevin Harvick, winner of the Winston West race at Fontana; and Boris Said, another Craftsman Truck driver.

"I think it's great that guys like Martin and Schrader are coming out here to run in our race," said Kanke, who will be in a Pontiac. "Every time I race against them, I learn a little more, and you never quit learning until you get out of the car."

Kanke, 36, has been racing around Southern California since he was 16, hauling his cars first to Saugus Speedway, then Ascot Park and Mesa Marin in Bakersfield before joining the Southwest Series four years ago.

"People keep asking me why I never headed for Winston Cup or the Busch series, but I'm a hometown sort of a guy. I never had any desire to leave my family, my wife and my children. I run my truck business out of the home in Granada Hills and race on weekends. That's the way I like it.

"My wife [Chris] and the kids [Monica, 7, and Cale, 2], travel with me wherever I go. We load up the motor home and head for the racetrack. They love it as much as I do."

Kanke, who grew up watching races with his grandparents at Riverside International Raceway, had an early hero in stock car champion Cale Yarborough, which accounts for his son's name.

"Cale's the one who told me you never quit learning how to drive a race car until you get out of it, and that's been my motto ever since," he said.

Kanke, who was the series leader for most of the early season after winning at Madera and Mesa Marin, has had mechanical problems in his last four races and now trails Portenga by 87 points with five races remaining.

Schrader, 10th in Winston Cup points, won a Southwest Series race last February at Phoenix and will be in the same winning Chevy this weekend.

"It's an old car, vintage 1992, but it's won four races, three at Phoenix and one at Sears Point," said Schrader, who won a Craftsman Truck race at Saugus in his last Los Angeles appearance.

"I heard they wanted some Winston West drivers to run in L.A., so I decided to fly out. There's only so many of us who'll race anywhere, but the way I look at it, it's no hardship. Instead of coming home [Concord, N.C.] from Darlington and playing at the lake until it's time to head for [next week's race] Richmond, I'll fly out to L.A. with Chad and do some racing Monday."

Gilliland, who drives a Ford on the Winston Cup circuit, will be in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the Kragen 200.

"The Ford people asked me to drive," Gilliland said. "They said they wanted more Fords in the race, but there weren't any available. Then Ed Coughenhour called and asked if I'd drive his Chevy. I'd raced it before at Sears Point and I knew it was a strong car, so I agreed.

"Driving a street course is unique. On a permanent road course, like Sears Point or Laguna Seca, they have runoff areas. On the Coliseum course, they have curbs, so if you make any mistake, you knock the suspension out of the car. It might get kinda wild out there. I think it'll be great fun."

Ribbs, 39, who has not been in a race since he drove an Indy car at Laguna Seca four years ago, will drive a Ford Taurus prepared by Steve Petty, a Southwest Series car owner and driver.

"It'll be great, getting back in the saddle again," Ribbs said. "Who knows, maybe someone will see me and help me get back in the CART series. This is going to be a high profile event and if someone knocks at my door, wanting me in their car, I'm more than ready."

Hornaday, with the Craftsman Truck series taking a weekend off, is scheduled to drive in both the Kragen 200 and the spec-truck race.

Qualifying for the first 25 positions in the Kragen 200 will be held Sunday at 2 p.m., with the next 11 positions to be filled on second-day time trials Monday at 11 a.m. Martin, Schrader and Little are scheduled for the Monday session.

DRAG RACING

Top-fuel driver Shelly Anderson, still hurting from burns to her ankles, hands and left arm suffered in a crash July 24 at Sears Point, will return to the NHRA circuit this weekend for the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

"I'm only allowed to walk two hours a day for the next three weeks, but I'm out of the wheelchair and the walker," said the 32-year-old driver from Ontario. "They're healing," she said of the two sets of grafts she underwent, "but it's a lot slower than I thought."

Anderson missed two NHRA events while recuperating.

LAST LAPS

California Speedway failed to get its hoped-for second Winston Cup race when the 34-race 1999 schedule was announced Thursday. Instead of adding a second race at Fontana, NASCAR awarded a race to the Miami-Dade Homestead track in Homestead, Fla. The Fontana race will be May 2.

The Sprint Car Racing Assn. will have races Saturday night at Ventura Raceway and Sunday night at Perris Auto Speedway, a rain-postponed makeup event. Mike Kirby, who has won seven times at Ventura, is coming off a victory last Saturday night at Perris.

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* RELATED STORY, B1

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This Week's Races

WINSTON CUP, Southern 500

* Schedule: Today, first-round qualifying, noon (time approximate) following Busch Grand National qualifying (ESPN2, noon); Saturday, second-round qualifying, 8:30 a.m. (ESPN2, 6 p.m.); Sunday, race, 10 a.m. (ESPN).

* Track: Darlington Raceway (egg-shaped oval, 1.366 miles, 25 degrees banking in turns 1 and 2, and 23 degrees in turns 3 and 4), Darlington, S.C.

* Race distance: 500 miles, 367 laps.

* Defending champion: Jeff Gordon.

* Next race: Exide Select 400, Sept. 12, Richmond, Va.

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BUSCH GRAND NATIONAL, Duralube 200

* Schedule: Today, qualifying, 11 a.m.; Saturday, race, 10 a.m. (ESPN, tape delay, 1 p.m.).

* Track: Darlington Raceway (egg-shaped oval, 1.366 miles, 25 degrees banking in turns 1 and 2, and 23 degrees in turns 3 and 4), Darlington, S.C.

* Race distance: 200 miles, 147 laps.

* Defending champion: Jeff Burton.

* Next race: Autolite Platinum 250, Sept. 11, Richmond, Va.

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CHAMPIONSHIP AUTO RACING TEAMS, Molson Indy Vancouver

* Schedule: Today, qualifying, 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 12:45 p.m. (ESPN2, 10:30 p.m.); Sunday, race, 1 p.m. (ESPN, tape delay, 2 p.m.).

* Track: Concord Pacific Place (road course, 1.99 miles, 14 turns), Vancouver, British Columbia.

* Race distance: 199.9 miles, 100 laps.

* Defending champion: Mauricio Gugelmin.

* Next race: Grand Prix of Monterey, Sept. 13, Monterey.

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NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSN., U.S. Nationals

* Schedule: Today, qualifying, 5 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. (TNN, 2 p.m.); Sunday qualifying, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. (TNN, 2 p.m.); Monday, final eliminations, 9 a.m. (TNN, 2 p.m.).

* Track: Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Ind.

* Defending champions: Jim Head, Whit Bazemore, Kurt Johnson.

* Next event: Keystone Nationals, Sept. 17-20, Reading, Pa.

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