We are closing in on the final handful of weeks of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, the stock car series’ 75th anniversary campaign. To celebrate, each week through the end of the season, Ryan McGee is presenting his favorite top five things about the sport.
The five best-looking cars? Check. The five toughest drivers? We’ve got it. Top five mustaches? There can be only one, so maybe not.
Without further ado, our 75 favorite things about NASCAR, celebrating 75 years of stock car racing.
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Five weirdest announcements
Among the many nuggets of wit and wisdom that my late friend and NASCAR Hall of Fame media member Steve Byrnes dropped on me over the years, one stood out when we were working together for Fox Sports during the NASCAR boom days of the early 2000s and were watching a celebrity announce that they were starting a race team — the umpteenth celebrity to make the umpteenth announcement that they were doing so.
“Here’s what we’re going to do, McGee,” he said to me. “We’re going to get someone to draw a fancy picture of a funky paint scheme, schedule a press conference and announce we’re starting BM Motorsports. And then we’ll never run a race. But we announced it, so that means we own a race team.”
Byrnes and I both knew the team whose introduction we were watching would never see a racetrack. Why? Experience. We’d been to so many news conferences announcing new racing organizations, and so few ever managed to turn a wheel in anger.
So pick up a press kit, a decal of a new splashy logo and be sure to grab a media gift on your way out as we present our top five weirdest NASCAR announcements.
Honorable Mention: Friday, Sept. 3, 1999, at Darlington Raceway
In fairness, everything that was announced on this day in the Darlington Raceway media center actually happened, but the sheer volume and importance of each announcement was so overwhelming that even now, 24 years later, I can’t believe it all took place on the same day.
Richard Petty announced that after 27 years, STP would no longer by the primary sponsor of his famous No. 43 car. A.J. Foyt announced that he was starting a NASCAR Cup Series team. Ernie Irvan announced his retirement. All on the same day in the same room.
Meanwhile, this was the first race after Dale Earnhardt had wrecked Terry Labonte to win the Bristol Night Race, but none of us could leave the media room and go into the garage to check on them. As another Hall of Fame media member, Steve Waid, said to me: “Terry Labonte could be out there beating Earnhardt in the head with a tire iron and none of us would have any damn clue because we’re all stuck in here!”
5. Wayans Brothers Racing
In 2005 at the Auto Club Speedway in Southern California, the four Wayans brothers — Marlon, Keenan Ivory, Damon and Shawn — announced the formation of Star Motorsports, formed in conjunction with Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, set to take the green flag in the Cup Series the following season. That never happened, although they did field one entry in the Busch (now Xfinity) Series, finishing seventh at Mexico City with Jorge Goeters.
The comedy minds behind “In Living Color,” “Major Payne” and “Scary Movie” need not feel bad, though. The list of celebrities who announced teams that never saw the light of day is long and illustrious, from Jim Brown and Alice Cooper to Hank Aaron and Jackie-Joyner Kersee.
4. Pittsburgh’s Indoor Speedway
Perhaps the only list longer than those who announced NASCAR teams that never happened is that of the would-be track owners who announced racetracks that never materialized, from the “Dale Jr. Signature” facility in Mobile, Alabama, to would-be International Speedway Corporation ovals in Seattle, Denver and countless defunct projects in and around New York.
The most bizarre announcement during this time came in November 1999, though, when a bunch of us were flown to Pittsburgh, where a pair of West Virginia-born brothers, Bob and Ted Brant, presented their idea of a one-mile oval … inside of a 2.6 million-square-foot dome, the equivalent of more than 45 football fields, all surrounded by a 120,000-seat grandstand, built on 145 acres adjacent to the Pittsburgh International Airport at a privately funded cost of around $300 million.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough was there (never one to pass up a nice appearance paycheck) and said he totally thought it would work. When asked about stuff like noise levels indoors and carbon monoxide poisoning, the affable Brant brothers politely laughed and then basically admitted they hadn’t really worked all of that out yet. Nor, it would appear, had they worked out any of the rest of it, either.
Team Racing Auto Circuit was announced in 2001, a stock car series based on a team-first concept and with not-so-quiet shadowy backing from perpetual thorn-in-NASCAR’s-side Bruton Smith. The news conference was attended by investor and legendary Clemson football coach Danny Ford, who gave a pep talk on the importance of team, and yes, a smiling Yarborough, who said he totally thought it would work.
The idea was that identical machines would represent different regions of the nation … or maybe it was cities … or maybe it was car makers … no one really remembers because after a few test sessions, the inevitable financial troubles and lawsuits started and TRAC was in the wall by the end of 2004.
2. Bruton Smith’s Nürburgring
Speaking of that rabble rouser Bruton Smith, no one who was sitting in the Bristol Motor Speedway media center in March 2012 will forget when he sat down at the table up front as his employees started setting up easels with renderings of not just a road course, but what looked like a pretty close copy of arguably the most famous road course of them all: Germany’s Nürburgring. Then he proceeded to announce that he had been “approached by some Germans” to build a Nürburgring duplicate in Nevada, about 10 miles outside of Las Vegas, and he said he had the Silver State governor’s blessing.
“They can’t run that track much of the year because of all the snow and everything, so they want a version they can run all the time,” Smith said to me. “And they don’t get much snow in Nevada.”
I followed up with calls to the Nevada governor’s office and even to Smith’s track ownership group, Speedway Motorsports Incorporated. It has been 11 years, and I’m still waiting for the callbacks and the desert version of the Green Hell.
1. Angela’s Motorsports
In case you were wondering exactly which announcement it was that I was watching with Byrnes when he made his proclamation, this is the one.
It was 2002, and a woman named Angela Harkness was standing at the podium at Atlanta Motor Speedway alongside longtime NASCAR racer and grinder Mike “Magic Shoes” McLaughlin. She told a heartfelt story about her life as an elementary school teacher who loved NASCAR and how she’d worked to find investors to make her racing dreams come true.
They bought cars from Robert Yates Racing and hired proven winners in crew chief Harold Holley and McLaughlin and had a cool new sponsor in WiredFlyer.com. The team made its debut in that year’s Busch Series finale, finishing 36th with Jay Sauter behind the wheel, but Angela’s Motorsports never raced again. Harkness, along with business partner Gary Jones, failed to pay their $6 million in bills the following winter, and the team folded before Daytona, Harkness and Jones having disappeared.
Turns out she wasn’t a schoolteacher from Texas and her name wasn’t Harkness; she was a stripper who had danced in Texas, where she met Jones, a customer, and they had cooked up their NASCAR fraud scheme. Her real name was Fatemeh Karimkhani, an Iranian expatriate.
After the Angela’s Motorsports debacle, she fled the country prior to her sentencing following a fraud case in which she testified against Jones as part of a plea agreement. She was eventually found hiding in Dubai, where the local government seized her Iranian passport and handed her over to U.S. Marshals, and she served three and a half years in federal prison.