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[Salt Lake Tribune] Dodge Gathers Drivers at Miller to Tune for New Year

Dodge Gathers Drivers at Miller to Tune for New Year

by Aaron Cole
Managing Editor, MediaOne of Utah

[This article originally appeared on The Salt Lake Tribune website.]

TOEELE -- You probably didn't know it.  You probably didn't see it - maybe you heard it - but some of the country's most popular racers from every discipline made their way to Miller Motorsports Park this week to tune up and and toast tires for the upcoming season.

The drivers competed against each other in a one-make Dodge Viper event that will be televised later this year.

Professional drivers such as Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, Roger Penske and motorcycle racers such as Carey Hart and Ivan Tedesco, along with a host of others, took to the racetrack Tuesday and Wednesday for the early season primer.  It's not the first time that Vipers have taken to Utah's largest racetrack.

Two years ago Dodge held a Viper owners club meeting that drew 400 Vipers and 700 owners to the track.

Owners that gathered for the event two years ago were brought to Salt Lake City and treated to a sneak peek of the 2013 Dodge Viper - rumored to be unveiled next year - but were bound to secrecy by the automaker.  Similarly, the gathering of their team athletes this week was held under wraps by the automaker.  A televised special won't air until later this year, officials said, and executives wanted to keep the star-studded event largely out of the media's focus - for now.

"We didn't want to do it to disrespect anybody ... we love our fans," said Dodge Motorsports chief Bryan Viger.  "(But) we wanted to keep the media where we want to and have an intimate day ... where we could focus on the racing."

The event, called the Dodge Motorsports Athletes Summit, was the first time that the carmaker has gathered their entire team - regardless of discipline - to compete against one another.

Scott Brown, spokesman for Dodge, said the program was geared to build camaraderie among the racing teams that Dodge sponsors.

"It brings together every genre of racing that Dodge is involved in, whether it's off-road, NASCAR, street, supercross ... some of their sponsors, our executives.  We want to communicate our commitment to what they're doing.  And they get to rub shoulders with some of the other guys."

Executives at the track were cautiously optimistic that motorsports, particularly the ones Dodge competes in, would regain footing lost during the recession.

Hit hard by the recession, sponsors and carmakers scaled back racing operations, but are slowly beginning to creep back in.  This week, oil company STP announced it would resume sponsorship of NASCAR and other racing series.

Viger said it was important to get the drivers together in a place to hone their skills and stay under the radar at a world-class track.

"The hardest part was trying to get the nation's top athletes together in one place and one time, that was quite a feat.

"And then where do you do it?  Where's one of the best places to do it?  Miller Motorsports Park is one of the best facilities in the country ... We're happy to be here."

Pitting Hart against Penske or Tedesco against Busch wasn't the only item on the team's agenda.

Very quietly Dodge placed road racer Kuno Wittmer behind the wheel of the production Viper ACR on Monday where he set the fastest time around Miller Motorsports Park for a production vehicle.

Wittmer took the 600-horsepower, street legal ACR around the track in 1:59.995 - eclipsing for the first time in a production car the 2-minute mark - and beating the previous record holder, a production Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, by roughly four seconds.

"It's amazing to come to this world-class track and shatter the production car lap record by almost 4 seconds," Viger said in a statement.  "We brought our street-legal Viper ACR to see what Kuno could do behind the wheel, and on his second lap, he'd already gone faster than the single lap record."

Sponsors like Michelin, Shell, Penzoil and Discount Tire, along with Dodge and MOPAR were on hand to catch an early glimpse at the race season ahead.

Viger said Dodge was looking for a productive year ahead from its drivers.

"We're in the sports that are relevant this year," Viger said.  "Starting this year we're in Supercross.  We're also trying to align ourselves with the vehicles and the new look of Dodge ... the new interim head said.

"When you put it all together we've looked fragmented in the past.  So when you look forward to 2011 and into 2012 ... we are trying to create a camaraderie between all racing and all genres.

Dodge held the official race between its drivers Wednesday behind closed doors at the track.  The results won't be announced until later this year.

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