Suddenly, today’s Daytona 500 isn’t looking quite like your father’s NASCAR anymore. Not everyone is happy, either, in a sport where loyalties run deep and tradition always has meant something to the country’s most passionate fan base. The cheating scandal that engulfed the Daytona International Speedway garage during the past week may have grabbed headlines, but the larger issue facing NASCAR as a new season dawns is how it negotiates unprecedented change. The arrival of Toyota to the previously all-American Nextel Cup series has some in the insular, flag-waving NASCAR Nation particularly miffed, claiming they no longer recognize their sport. Popular drivers Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip even have dealt with being branded as turncoats for jumping into Camrys. Car owner Jack Roush, a Ford man, recently growled that he’s “going to war” with Toyota. Yet there’s also stock car legend Richard Petty, The King himself who owns a team that races Dodge cars, saying that change is inevitable and people just need to deal with it. “Everybody don’t drive an American car,” Petty said. “Sorry about that, Dodge.” Yes, it’s a strange time for NASCAR. Originally a regional sport with souped-up street cars powered by Detroit engines and with drivers who moonlighted as bootleggers, NASCAR has spent the past two decades expanding upon its Southern roots and burning rubber well beyond the Mason-Dixon Line. Today, NASCAR is the undisputed No. 2 spectator sport in America behind only the NFL. NASCAR claims to have 75 million fans – 40 percent of them women. Proof of its growing mainstream appeal is how the annual June race in Sonoma has become Northern California’s largest sporting event. And while it once was odd to see a California driver in the Daytona 500 field, today there will be seven – including the defending series champ Jimmie Johnson and pole-sitter David Gilliland of Riverside. But there also have been signs that NASCAR’s pedal-to-the- metal growth might finally be braking. TV ratings dipped last year, and attendance at some racetracks was down, too. Among the complaints are that both the season and individual races are too long. As NASCAR’s national footprint has grown with more events in places like Southern California, Kansas City and Chicago, there have been indications that the sport’s grassroots base in the South has felt neglected. “There’s strong anecdotal evidence that some fans thought this was the end of NASCAR as they know it,” said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. “And they’re right. But they had a nostalgic view of the sport. Fans don’t like change, and NASCAR fans are exceedingly loyal.” That means sticking by the beleaguered American auto industry, which helps explain the anti-Toyota sentiment. The Japanese company – which soon will pass GM as the world’s No. 1 automaker – is the first foreign manufacturer in NASCAR since Jaguar in the 1950s. When Toyota joined NASCAR’s truck series in 2004, crusty driver Jimmy Spencer barked that “those (people) bombed Pearl Harbor, don’t forget.” Now, there’s even a Web site called Fans Against Racing Toyotas. That sure is a lot of venom being spewed over a Camry car that annually is America’s most-popular seller and a company that has 33,500 employees working in U.S. plants. Complicating the debate is that Camrys are being built in Kentucky, while the Ford Fusion is made in Mexico, and Chevrolet’s Monte Carlo and the Dodge Charger are manufactured in Canada. NASCAR’s old guard fears that the deep-pocketed company will spend its way into victory lane. Toyota did win 12of 25 races in the truck series last year. Mark Martin, one of NASCAR’s elder statesmen, said Toyota is good for the sport because competition makes everyone better. But Martin admits that he’s still “riding on the fence” when it comes to the newcomer. “I am one of those traditionalists,” he said. “I’m not the most comfortable with them.” Toyota’s debut to the Nextel Cup has been bumpy. Only four of the eight Camrys – which look like every other stock car – qualified for today’s race. A.J. Allmendinger was among those sent home early after crashing in a qualifying race. Waltrip, the worst offender among the cheaters, having used an illegal fuel additive, emotionally apologized for the embarrassment he caused Toyota. But the belief is Toyota eventually will figure it out. And the Dodge-driving Montoya may have already. It’s not exactly real life imitating reel life, but Montoya’s jump to stock cars comes after last summer’s Will Ferrell comedy “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” that featured Sacha Baron Cohen (pre-“Borat”) as an over-the-top Formula One driver who switches to NASCAR. Montoya is no joke. He’s a former Indianapolis 500 winner and CART open-wheel series champion with a global following. Montoya, who won seven times in Formula One, chose to race in Bristol, Tenn., and Martinsville, Va., over the more exotic locations of Bahrain and Monaco. “Some people in F1 were shocked and wanted to know why I was doing this,” said Montoya, 31, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing. “But I’m very happy. If I had realized how good this was, I would have made the switch earlier.” NASCAR officials hope he can help them attract a whole new audience, including more of the nation’s expanding Hispanic population. Montoya has created a buzz by showing that he’s a quick learner. He led 19laps of his 150-mile qualifier race Thursday before a wheel-bearing failure sent him into the wall. “He’s a great talent, and I have no doubt that he’ll win a race in his rookie season,” said Tony Stewart, Sunday’s favorite. “But I don’t think he’s going to revolutionize NASCAR or anything like that.” USC’s Carter believes the sport is in “phenomenal shape” and that its popularity hasn’t yet peaked. Ganassi said if Americans can embrace foreign athletes in basketball, baseball and hockey, they will do the same in NASCAR. As for Toyota, Ganassi added: `Maybe they don’t have the history of Dodge or Chevrolet in U.S. racing, but things change when you get to the winner’s circle. Everybody loves a winner and nobody likes a loser.” Meanwhile, the old NASCAR gets smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror, like it or not. “The hardcore fan has never seen a foreign make in this sport,” Johnson said. “And with a foreign driver coming in, I’m sure he’s going to get some ribbing. When you come to NASCAR country, you’ve got to have thick skin.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They call this “The Great American Race.” American drivers sitting behind the wheels of American cars. Well, except for those brand new Toyotas mixed in among the usual Fords, Chevys and Dodges. Oh, and then there’s brash Colombian rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, an import from Formula One.
Tyreace House is more versatile than the Palmdale High baseball team realized. House, the Golden League football Player of the Year who has split time each spring between the Falcons’ baseball and track and field teams, has expanded his repertoire as a jack of all trades on the diamond this year. House has started at four positions, none of them where some pro scouts say he could be his best. The speedy senior began the season in center field, where he has played the past two seasons. He took over at shortstop when Malcom Culver was injured, and since Culver’s return has started at third base and left field. “Talking to one scout, they see him as a second baseman,” said Palmdale coach Craig Mesler, whose team needs one win to claim at least a share of the league title. “And I haven’t even played him there. He can do anything.” Which sport, much less which position, House will play beyond high school isn’t clear. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinals“I have no idea where he’ll end up,” Mesler said. “I don’t think he even knows at this point.” House is batting .522 with 25 RBIs and a league-leading 29 stolen bases. Down to the wire: Palmdale and four-time defending Golden League champion Quartz Hill are tied for first place entering today’s regular-season finales. Palmdale finishes against Littlerock, and Quartz Hill closes against Antelope Valley, both rematches of games the co-leaders won Wednesday. Lancaster clinched a playoff spot Wednesday with a 6-5 victory over Highland. Fourth-place Littlerock is clinging to hope of its first playoff berth, holding a one-game lead over Highland for the final postseason spot. Littlerock petitioned to make the playoffs as an at-large team but was denied because no at-large spaces are available in the division this year. Almost perfect: Lancaster junior Scott Lee almost threw his second no-hitter of the season Friday, finishing with a five-inning one-hitter in a 12-0 win over Antelope Valley. Lee had a perfect game until Michael Smith singled in the fifth inning. Lee, who threw a no-hitter against Littlerock early in the season, had nine strikeouts and no walks against the Antelopes. High praise: Quartz Hill’s quest for a fifth consecutive league title has been carried in large part by the team’s hitters. The Rebels, boasting a .440 team batting average, are drawing rave reviews for their offense. “Quartz Hill is really good,” Palmdale outfielder Trevor Bloom said. “They have the best hitting I’ve ever seen.” That’s coming the league’s top hitter for the second year in a row. Bloom is battling .667 with 48 RBIs. Calvin Culver and Chase Tigert lead Quartz Hill with .529 averages. In the rankings: Quartz Hill continues to climb in the Southern Section Div. III rankings, moving up to No. 5 this week. Desert Christian is No. 7 in Div. VI, followed by Boron at No. 8 and Rosamond at No. 9. [email protected] (818) 7`13-3607160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!