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Joe Namath: Visiting Barber IndyCar weekend a “joyful experience”

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Beaver Falls, Pa.’s Joe Namath is an honorary Alabaman, after playing at the University of Alabama – and Sunday morning in his duties as Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama grand marshal, he had the chance to do a little home cooking.

Among part of the pre-race festivities, Namath, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden and a chef from Taste of the South Magazine performed a brief beef-and-veggie kabob cooking demonstration on the Namath Rapid Cooker.

But that was only part of what made Namath’s trip to a Verizon IndyCar Series race a memorable one. He also met A.J. Foyt, toured the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, received a No. 12 rear wing endplate off Will Power’s car and represented the Arthritis Foundation of Alabama.

“I felt a camaraderie with Josef, because of the uniqueness of his spelling,” Namath told MotorSportsTalk in an exclusive interview. “From my ethnicity, my full name is spelled a little differently too. He’s a treat.

“But all of these guys – they’re stars, they’re experts at what they do. They work within the team situation. I’m impressed being around them. They’re remarkable people.”

Both the IndyCar paddock and the Barber Motorsports Park facility awed Namath, who has been to racetracks before but not for a significant time period.

“The changes are amazing to me that I see with the cars and the bikes, going through that museum. One of our few constants in life is to change, and that’s been done,” Namath said.

“This is a joyful experience. I did a little homework before I came over to this facility, Mr. Barber’s facility. I know Birmingham; I’ve been through Leeds many times. But I was just stunned to see this track, and how beautiful it is, and to learn what the drivers think. It’s spectacular.”

Namath is not alone among iconic football greats serving as the “HIGPA” grand marshal the last few years. Fellow Alabama graduate and Super Bowl I and II MVP Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers served as grand marshal in in 2012; two-sport star Bo Jackson did so last year.

“I have a tremendous amount respect for both of them,” said Namath. “Bart Starr I have learned some things about how to conduct myself in a classier way. Bo Jackson, I watched him and I learned I wasn’t so good an athlete that I thought I was, compared to him.”

Lastly Namath expanded on teamwork. It was something that, despite his “heard ‘round the world” guarantee ahead of Super Bowl III, he needed the rest of the New York Jets to help pull off to complete the upset of the Baltimore Colts.

Racing, too, much like the NFL requires a huge team effort – if you equate the driver to the quarterback, the pit crew is the offensive line providing the necessary support.

“I like to emphasize that life is a team effort,” Namath said. “There’s very few people that do anything on their own. So let’s start out teaching the youngsters, teaching people how important it is to feel how lucky they are have others trying to help them. It’s not about me, or I, all the time. We have personal responsibilities, but life itself is a team effort.”

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Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway