Want to gain the collective ear of the auto racing world? Mention something about banning tobacco companies from sponsoring sporting events. The floor will be yours.
These days, Congress has the floor and every racing series from NASCAR to IMSA has its ear pressed against the door. Introduced last week was a bill that would prohibit tobacco companies from promoting their products through sporting events.
Ever heard of the WINSTON Cup series? The CAMEL Grand Prix of Atlanta? The SKOAL Oldsmobile that Harry Gant drives? If Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) and Rep. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) have their way, you won't hear about them anymore. They are co-sponsors of the bill, which Washington insiders say may get the endorsement of a president who's big on health-care reform.
The bill is still in its early stages, but racing officials are concerned nonetheless.
"You look at it this way," said Chip Williams of NASCAR, whose Winston Cup series is sponsored by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. "You've had this real good friend over 20 years that's really helped you grow, and then all of sudden, some outsiders who don't know anything about your friend is taking shots at your friend. That's not right."
Scott Ballin, a spokesman for several proponents of the bill, sees it this way: "The promotion of a deadly, highly addictive product should not be tolerated. We should not allow sponsors to promote a product that takes 417,000 lives per year."
If the bill is passed, "it would have a definite impact," Williams said. "To what extent, nobody really knows."
Pass the remote: There's plenty of racing on TV today. The Champion Spark Plug 500 is first, at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN. The IndyCar Grand Prix of Detroit is at 3 p.m. on Channel 10, and taped coverage of the Formula One Grand Prix of Canada is at midnight on ESPN.
It ain't over yet: Although Dale Earnhardt has the largest lead of the season in the Winston Cup standings, the five-time series winner isn't about to claim the 1993 title yet. By virtue of back-to-back wins at the Coca-Cola 600 and the Bud 500, Earnhardt leads second-place Rusty Wallace by 209 points (1,896 to 1,687) with 18 races to go, including today's Champion Spark Plug at Pocono.
"This time of year, 200 or so points don't mean all that much," said Earnhardt, who's also the series' money-leader with $973,175. "I'd rather have a lead than be in second, but this doesn't mean it's over."
Wallace hasn't given up on catching Earnhardt either, but conceded, "Dale is sitting in a pretty good position right now."
The envelope please: Ricky Rudd is supposed to decide today whether to leave Rick Hendrick Racing next season and start his own team. The veteran driver has been kicking the idea around and had hoped to make a decision this weekend.
The ABCs of racing: A group of fourth-graders in Milton, N.Y., has been learning school subjects through NASCAR Winston Cup racing. Henry Simmions' class at Milton Elementary learns about such things as economics by discussing the cost of racing and sponsorships, math by calculating series point totals, and geography by studying where the races are held and the drivers' hometowns.
Today, the race track becomes the classroom as the 10-year-olds attend the Champion Spark Plug 500 at Pocono.
King of the Hill: Eddie Hill continues to lead the NHRA Winston Top Fuel competition heading into today's final eliminations for the Springnationals in Kirkersville, Ohio (next Sunday on Channel 8). The 57-year-old veteran had appeared in nine final rounds in 13 events this season and has a commanding lead over five-time Top Fuel champ Joe Amato.
Race: Champion Spark Plug 500.
Green flag: 12:30 p.m.
Track: 2.5-mile Pocono (Pa.) International Raceway.
Distance: 200 laps (500 miles).
Defending champion: Alan Kulwicki.
Pole-sitter: Ken Schrader.
TV/radio: ESPN; WFNS-910.
Notes: Dale Earnhardt goes for his third straight win. Ken Schrader has finished in the top five in three consecutive races. 1988 Rookie of the Year Ken Bouchard is driving a Thee Dixon-owned car. Winston Cup drivers will test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August. Bobby Hamilton has replaced Joe Ruttman as driver for Moroso Racing.
Fry's pick: Darrell Waltrip.
NASCAR POINTS LEADERS
1. Dale Earnhardt: 1,896; 2. Rusty Wallace: 1,687; 3. Dale Jarrett: 1,673; 4. Davey Allison: 1,651; 5. Geoff Bodine: 1,585; 6. Morgan Shepherd: 1,568; 7. Kyle Petty: 1,565; 8. Ken Schrader: 1,517; 9. Ernie Irvan: 1,507; 10. Jeff Gordon: 1,491.