readies for IROC, Brickyard
By STEVE HERMAN AP Sports Writer
Indianapolis, IN (Aug. 4,
fast. You might not see Dale Earnhardt like this for another 17 years.
The seven-time Winston Cup champion showed up at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday with a new look, a clean-shaven upper lip. His
trademark mustache was gone, a sacrifice to his determination not to be beaten -- at
"Michael [Waltrip] made me shave it off," Earnhardt
said. "We were down in the Bahamas on Saturday, snorkeling, and he was getting down
deeper than I was. I was drowning."
The bushy lip, it turned out, prevented a tight seal between
his mask and his face. The situation was unacceptable.
"I had to do something to get down there with him. I had
to shave so I could get deeper."
The last time Earnhardt shaved his mustache was 1982.
"I don't think it'll affect any of my racing
skills," he said. "It didn't in '82, anyway. We still won races."
But he's not taking any chances.
"It's growing back as we speak," Earnhardt said.
Practice for the fourth and final round of this year's
International Race of Champions series began on Wednesday. Earnhardt won each of the first
three races and on Friday could become the first driver to sweep all four races since the
series began in 1973.
Practice and qualifications for Saturday's Brickyard 400
Winston Cup race will begin on Thursday. Earnhardt, the 1995 Brickyard winner, has won
only one race this season and is seventh in the series points.
"We've qualified pretty good and raced pretty good in
the last several races," Earnhardt said. "I want to be up front racing. That
strategy of racing for the top five and racing for the win is where everybody wants to be.
It seems like our program is going that way."
Jeff Gordon, who turned 28 on Wednesday, became the first
two-time Brickyard winner last year and is just ahead of Earnhardt in sixth place in the
season standings. The leader is Dale Jarrett, who has won three races and has used
consistent finishes to build a 254-point lead over Mark Martin.
Saturday's race on the 2 1/2-mile, low-banked Speedway oval
is the 20th of the 34 Winston Cup races this season.
"This race track is a track that anything can happen
at," Earnhardt said. "Guys had trouble here and lost races, guys had great pit
stops and won races, like we did in '95. And gas mileage has won races, like Ricky Rudd
"Strategy plays out at the end. ... It could come down
to that one last stop and whether you take tires or not, whether you just take a little
gas or what."
Earnhardt also was the 1990 and 1995 IROC champion. Among the
11 other drivers in this year's series is his son, Dale Jr., who lost to his father by
.007 second in the last race at Michigan Speedway in June.
Others in IROC this year are Gordon, Martin, Jarrett, Rusty
Wallace, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton from NASCAR; Eddie Cheever and 1999 Indy 500 winner
Kenny Brack from the Indy Racing League; and Adrian Fernandez and Greg Moore from
Championship Auto Racing Teams. All drivers are in identically prepared IROC cars.
Moore, the 1995 Indy Lights champion and fifth in the CART
series last season, hit the second-turn wall early in Wednesday's IROC practice. He was
"It's unique to race in IROC," the elder Earnhardt
said. "To win is also great. To come in and win three races already this year and
maybe set a record by winning four is pretty unique. But guys like Mark Martin, Rusty
Wallace and these guys are not wanting that to happen. Then my kid's in there, aggravating
the hell out of me."