Midwest racing icon, former NASCAR driver Jim Sauter passes away

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Jim Sauter, a top short-track driver from the Midwest that was the head of a successful racing family and made 76 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, passed away last night at the age of 71.

In his home region, the Wisconsin native twice captured the ARTGO Series championship (1981, 1982). He also took the checkered flag in several prestigious short-track races around the country, including the All-American 400.

During the early 1980s, Sauter began racing part-time at NASCAR’s top level. He reached a high point of 19 starts during the 1989 season, and his best career Cup finishes were a pair of ninth-place runs in 1987 (Charlotte) and 1989 (Watkins Glen).

Sauter also served as a test driver for the International Race of Champions series with fellow Wisconsin racing greats Dick Trickle and Dave Marcis.

Sauter’s last NASCAR national series event came in the Camping World Truck Series’ 2004 race at the Milwaukee Mile, where he finished 13th.

One of his four sons, Johnny Sauter, currently races in the Truck Series for ThorSport Racing. His other three sons – Jim Jr., Tim, and Jay – as well as a grandson, Travis, have also carved out their own racing careers.

The passing of Jim Sauter has triggered an outpouring of sympathy from many figures within the NASCAR community…

Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Sauter family at this time…

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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