One last trip to a devilish triangle The NASCAR series will run its final race at Nazareth Speedway tomorrow. Some racers are sorry to see the tri-oval go.

Posted: May 22, 2004

Judging by the disappointing turnout in recent years, not many race fans are going to miss Nazareth Speedway once it's gone.

The same can't be said for many of the competitors who will race in tomorrow's Goulds Pumps ITT Industries 200 (FX, 1 p.m.) - the final Busch Series event to be held on the one-mile tri-oval. International Speedway Corp. recently announced plans to "discontinue all spectator motor-sports events" at Nazareth following the 2004 season.

While some drivers have taken to the track's peculiar layout, with temper-inducing tight turns and stomach-churning changes in elevations, Ron Hornaday Jr. has a simple reason for loving the place.

He wins there.

Hornaday has two victories in three Busch starts at Nazareth, and he won a Craftsman Truck Series race there in 1998. Last year, the 45-year-old from Palmdale, Calif., made himself at home in the Lehigh Valley, leading 148 of the 200 laps en route to his only checkered flag of the 2003 season.

But, Hornaday is quick to point out, he also wrecked three trucks at Nazareth. So history doesn't guarantee a thing.

"It is a very demanding track, and things can go wrong in a heartbeat," he said. "If you're hooked up, the track has three turns. If your car isn't handling, it's seven turns and a real handful."

Jason Keller won there in 2002 and has placed among the top 10 seven times, all with a basic approach.

"Nazareth is such a unique track that the only way to be successful there is to have fun with it," he said. "Some people hate that each corner is entirely different because it makes it difficult to set up the car. We set the car up to make it as comfortable as possible, and I adapt as the driver."

Steve Grissom owns four top-10 finishes at Nazareth, including runner-up efforts in 1991 and '93. He described a day racing there as equal parts fun and work.

"It takes a lot of horsepower to be fast down the backstretch, and it takes a combination of engine and handling to get around the front stretch," Grissom said.

"It's tough to explain, but it's fun to drive when you're handling well and everything is going your way. It makes the crew work a little harder on the car's setup, and the drivers work hard to get the car around the track. It's unlike any other Busch track that we go to. Nazareth was built with character. That's why it's so much fun to drive and so challenging to figure out."

Tim Fedewa, who won there in 1995 and '98, calls Nazareth "a road course and a short track all in one."

That can lead to some confusion - and agitation - for first-timers trying to find a direct route around the triangular track.

"It's impossible to be perfect in every corner," Hornaday said. "The car needs to be right on the bottom [of the racing surface] and you must have good forward grip off the corners. The rest is just knowing the track and hitting your marks."

Rookie Kyle Busch comes into the weekend riding high, leading the series standings after posting his first victory last Saturday in Richmond, Va. Although he has never raced there, he did find Nazareth to be "a tricky little track" during a truck test session.

What Busch, who turned 19 on May 2, should learn over the next two days is the importance of qualifying near the front of the field.

Although only one pole-sitter (Elliott Sadler in 1997) has won there in 16 Busch races, all but three winners started ninth or better.

Hornaday, who lined up fourth in 2000 and fifth last year, can attest to how tough it is to pass on the narrow racing surface. But you also get the feeling that he wouldn't want it any other way.

"This is a fun racetrack and I hate that it won't be around next year," Hornaday said. "I'm going to miss Nazareth Speedway a bunch."

Notes. Children 12 years old and younger will get free general-admission tickets to tomorrow's race when accompanied by a paying adult. In addition, the track will debut a Kids' Zone with inflatable attractions, carnival games and face-painting.

Robby Gordon will be a no-show at Nazareth this weekend despite initially showing interest in competing in tomorrow's race. Gordon, who plans to race in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 30, is scheduled to practice in Indianapolis today before heading to Concord, N.C., for tonight's NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge.

Contact Pete Schnatz at 215-854-5817 or pschnatz@phillynews.com.

If You Go

What: Goulds Pumps ITT Industries 200 NASCAR Busch Series race.

Where: Nazareth Speedway.

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV: FX.

How to get there: Take the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-476) north to Exit 56 (Allentown). Follow U.S. Route 22 east to the exit for Nazareth Pike (Pa. 191). Turn right on Pa. 191 and continue approximately four miles. The track is on the left.

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