Nazareth Speedway swansong

Helio Castroneves began preparation for the final race at Nazareth Speedway by recording the fastest lap during Friday's practice sessions for the IRL IndyCar Series. The Firestone Indy 225 on Sunday will be the last large-scale race at the one-mile speedway, which is being closed to spectator events by its owner, International Speedway Corporation

Nazareth Speedway swansong

"I'll have up and down memories," said Castroneves, who won last year's IRL race at Nazareth. "Last year was the perfect moment for winning. It's a shame. It's a great track. It's a lot of fun, especially when you have a good car. It's not a lot of fun when you don't have a good car, but that's what's so special about this place."

Castroneves turned a lap of 20.3179 seconds (165.667 mph) in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Toyota-powered Dallara during Friday's afternoon session. Vitor Meira had the second fastest lap - 165.301mph - in the No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Honda/Panoz G Force, his first laps around the track.

"It's somewhere between a road course and a 1.5-mile oval," Meira said. "You need to have a good car for qualifying. The farther in front you are, the fewer problems you're going to have. You want to start up front, but that's not all of it."

Tony Kanaan also was among the fastest Friday as drivers prepared for Saturday's qualifying session. "It's a shame," Kanaan said. "It's a fun little racetrack. You'll see a lot of people struggling. I think they'll agree with me in saying that it's one of the most difficult tracks we race. It's just a matter of people not buying enough tickets to watch us. Unfortunately, that counts a lot.

ISC, a subsidiary of NASCAR, has planned to move sections of the Nazareth grandstand to Watkins Glen International, which will replace Nazareth on the IRL schedule in 2005. The one-mile Nazareth tri-oval has existed on the same place and mostly the same form since 1966, when the late Jerry Fried built a D-shaped 1-1/8th mile dirt track near an existing half-mile dirt track.

In 1986, Roger Penske purchased the track, paved it, christened it Pennsylvania International Raceway and re-opened it for business. The first race after Penske's purchase, on September 20, 1987, was won by Michael Andretti, who lives in Nazareth and currently is co-owner of a four-car team that includes Kanaan.

Drivers from Andretti Green Racing and Marlboro Team Penske have indicated that they want to win the final race at Nazareth for their bosses. Penske Racing headquarters are located in nearby Reading, Pa.

Just seven years ago, a modern grandstand was built. In 1999, Penske Motorsports Inc. merged with ISC, and the track came under control of ISC. The facility will remain open for club racing and other events, but is not expected to hold any more IRL, NASCAR or USAC events.

Coincidentally, Sunday's race also will be the 100th in the history of the Indy Racing League, which began in 1996.

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