Speed Reading: Chicago all-stars in cars

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Ryan McGee

Second City stars start their engines
For the longtime race fan, it may still be difficult to think of Chicago as a NASCAR town, what with the Cubs on the rebound, the White Sox in first place, the Bulls in the playoffs and the Bears... well, the Bears have to get better sometime, right?

But if you do a little digging (and use your imagination) you may realize that the Windy City is more suited for stock car racing than you might think. For example, did you know that long before the Chicagoland Speedway opened its gates in 2001, there had already been two Nextel Cup (then Grand National) races run in the Chicago area? In 1954, Dick Rathmann won on a half-mile dirt track in Willow Springs, and two years later, Fireball Roberts was victorious on a half-mile oval inside Soldier Field.

And Elmhurst's Fred Lorenzen is widely considered one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR history, winning 26 races and 33 poles between 1956 and '72.

When it comes to Chicago's NASCAR roots, that's about it. But just imagine what kind of stock car racing history the Second City could have come up with if it had just set its mind to it years ago. We might be talking about Da Cup instead of Da Bears or Da Bullz.

So, join us now as we think about what could have been and identify the Chicago legends that would have made the best stock car beaters and bangers.

5. Michael Jordan
Assuming he could accordion his 6-6 frame into a wad small enough to fit through the window of a Nextel Cup cockpit, imagine what M.J. could achieve on the track with his legendary hand-eye reflexes.

He grew up in North Carolina, the cradle of NASCAR's greatest drivers, his former Tarheel teammate Brad Daugherty is a confessed racing junkie and used to own a Craftsman Truck Series team. And if M.J. can hang 38 points on the Utah Jazz with a raging case of the flu, not to mention hit three homers and steal 30 bases in AA baseball, we're betting he would figure out the driving thing pretty quick.

Deep Dish Facts: The only Jordan to start a Cup race was Houston's Ed Jordan, who made three starts in 1966... The number 23 has been used by 33 drivers, but has never won a Cup race.

4. Dick Butkus
Imagine the body of Jimmy Spencer, the intensity of Mark Martin, the temper of Tony Stewart and the front bumper of Dale Earnhardt. That would sum up Pro Football Hall of Fame headhunter Dick Butkus behind the wheel of a 3,400-pound stock car.

Butkus never raced, but the linebacker-turned-actor was in Mother, Jugs & Speed in 1976, a flick about ambulance drivers racing each other to accident scenes.

Deep Dish Facts: Number 51 has graced Cup cars driven by the likes of A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford and Greg Sacks, but has yet to visit Victory Lane in 29 years of trying... Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) drove the #51 Mello Yello Chevy in Days of Thunder.

3. Walter Payton
Sweetness was a speed addict, as proven by his longtime co-ownership of an Indy Car team during the 1990's and a stack of graduation certificates from road racing schools all over the country.

But if you ask us, the greatest running back that ever lived had a mentality that was best-suited for stock car racing. His running style was once described as "one part Brahma bull, one part waterbug". Sounds like the perfect way to make the transition from Martinsville to Talladega to us!

Deep Dish Facts: The number 34 has been driven by 17 different Cup drivers, but never for more than four starts in a season... Payton first played at Soldier Field in 1975, five years after the infield racetrack was pulled up to make room for the Bears.

2. Al Capone
Don't laugh. Capone's unlawful roots weren't all that different than NASCAR's. Both drew their power from bootlegging illegal liquor during the Prohibition Era of the first half of the 20th century. Capone made millions from transporting and selling illegal spirits, and stock car racing's first generation of stars learned their skills behind the wheel while outrunning the feds through the forests of the southeast.

True, kingpins never drive their own vehicles, but how menacing would it be to see a big sedan roll up behind you on the backstretch and see a Tommy Gun sticking out the window?

Deep Dish Facts: Alphonse "Scarface" Capone's birthday was January 17, the same as Michael "Fatback" McSwain.

1. Jake and Elwood Blues
With the exception of Walter Payton, none of the esteemed Chicago legends in our countdown has a lot of actual wheel time. However, that is a problem that The Blues Brothers certainly do not have. If these guys can do what they did in a 1974 Dodge Monaco, imagine what they might be capable of in a finely-tuned $100,000 racing machine set up by the likes of Greg Zipadelli or Chad Knaus?

Plus, NASCAR wouldn't have to worry about building anymore new racetracks. These guys prefer to do their racing inside shopping malls.

Deep Dish Facts: In 2003, Dan "Elwood" Aykroyd and NASCAR driver Jeff Burton teamed up to film a commercial reminding drivers not to ignore their engine service light... Kyle Petty ran a paint scheme promoting the sequel Blues Brothers 2000 in, you guessed it, 2000.

Failed to qualify: Shoeless Joe Jackson (no shoes = burned heels), Ferris Bueller (Cameron's Dad's Porsche wouldn't pass tech inspection), Ernie Banks (they would never let him play two), Buddy Guy (you can't play blues guitar and keep both hands on the wheel).

Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images and Senior Producer of NASCAR Nation on SPEED Channel. He can be reached at his e-mail address:
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Busch Beat

Mexico native Michel Jourdain Jr. has driven sports cars, Indy Cars, stock cars and perhaps the coolest vehicle of them all — the Oscar-Mayer Wienermobile. Jourdain went bun-to-bun with Cup stars such as Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle at the Lowe's Motor Speedway in May. This weekend, Jourdain will be back in the #10 Ford Taurus but with the Wienermobile on his hood as part of a one-race sponsorship deal. "I have been a lot places and done a lot of things thanks to racing," says the two-time Champ Car race winner, "but I have to admit that racing the Wienermobile is near the top. Seriously."

Truck Stop

Kelly Sutton's start at the Kansas Speedway last weekend broke yet another barrier for female racers in 2005. Sutton's 33rd career NCTS start broke Tammy Jo Kirk's record of 32, which had stood since 1998. Sutton continues to race with multiple sclerosis, a disease she controls through the use of the drug Copaxone, which also happens to be the primary sponsor on the #02 Chevy.

Why We Call Richard Petty "The King" Fact of the Week

On March 22, 2005, the racing community mourned the passing of Harvey Duck at the age of 80. Duck was a sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News for more than 35 years, but was coaxed away from his typewriter by a chance to work with The King. "He joined STP as a P.R. guy for our racing operation," Petty recently recalled. "And we would have liked hanging out with him even we hadn't worked together. All the media and P.R. in racing now owe a lot to Harvey... and so do I."

Who's Hot & Who's Not

  • Tony Stewart: With all the talk about Hendrick and Roush and the struggles of Gordon and Earnhardt, Stewart kind of snuck up on us. But two wins in two weeks on two entirely different tracks have announced his presence with authority. And he won at Chicago last July.

  • Scott Riggs: A pair of solid qualifying efforts and an 11th-place run at Dover have not been enough to keep Riggs from dropping to 24th in points. His average finish of 31st over the last four weeks hurt, as did learning sponsor/team co-owner Valvoline is leaving the team in '06.
  • Power Rankings
  • Speed Mail of the Week

    Jenny Jackson in Columbia, Mo.: Ryan, normally I think you are a buffoon, but thanks to last Friday's column, I now believe in the healing powers of Racy Ryan. Just knowing that guys like The Intimidator and Rusty had a terrible season in the middle of their careers helps me realize that Junior's career isn't going down the tubes for good.
    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Kyle Petty

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