Archive for Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Kansas Speedway’s first races can attract the casual spectator

June 5, 2002

Gentlemen and ladies start your engines.

The traditional phrase that starts auto races could use some tinkering.

Through the years, racing has been a male-dominated sport. But the tide could be slowly turning.

Kansas City, Kan.'s own Jennifer Jo Cobb raced in the ARCA RE/MAX BPU 200 Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

Despite starting in the No. 22 position, Cobb stayed with the pack and finished 16th in the 200-mile race. Saturday marked her first ARCA, but Cobb, 28, has competed extensively at Lakeside and I-70 speedways and has been in racing since 1991.

Cobb has eight years of marketing and advertising experience, along with a pre-journalism associate's degree. She also attended the University of Kansas and is a host for Metro Sports' "Inside Motorsports." Cobb also has appeared on the covers of racing magazines.

It appears Cobb bleeds motor oil like so many other racing enthusiasts.

I, however, have not joined this national craze for racing. There are a handful of sports I would rather watch on a Saturday afternoon. Racing has never grabbed me.

Still, it's a sport. On Saturday, I decided to give it a chance.

OK, so maybe it is fun to watch. The view from the press box was perfect. It was interesting to see landscape that three years ago didn't include a 75,000-seat grandstand or a 1.5-mile track.

Yes, this sport that has pulled in so many did, at least, tug on my shirt Saturday.

Fans couldn't help but follow Cobb. She's a hometown driver, it was her first race at a major track and, with some luck, Cobb could become a household name in NASCAR one day.

The sport is certainly fast-paced, which also helps increase interest levels. Occasional wrecks that don't involve serious injuries make the sport interesting as well, but too many wrecks decrease the popularity.

In Saturday's first race, the NASCAR Winston West Series 150, it seemed there were more accidents than laps completed.

The first mishap occurred in the first turn, and Frank Kimmell, a favorite to win the NASCAR event, was knocked out of the race. Interestingly enough, he came back for the win in the BPU 200.

Kansas Speedway doesn't announce attendance unless there's a sellout. Using a rough estimate, probably between 30,000 and 35,000 people attended opening weekend. The speedway's capacity is 75,000.

Many people found other things to do Saturday, but I gave the sport a look. In the coming weeks, more and more people will, too.

Sellouts are pretty much guaranteed for the remainder of the season, but those fans or interested parties wanting to catch a glimpse could still attend time trials. These usually take place on the Thursday or Friday before race weekends.

It's doubtful I'll be donning a T-shirt with a racecar and driver's name plastered on the front and a race schedule on the back anytime soon, but it was definitely fun to see.

I wouldn't say I have racing fever, but I was a little warm Saturday. That might just change when the major NASCAR weekend rolls around in September.

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