DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Once a powerful and formidable series, sports car racing might never be as popular as it was 20 years ago.
Judging by the number of entries for this weekend's Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, it might be close to falling off the radar screen.
New rules from the Grand American Road Racing Association have chased many teams away. A new Daytona Prototype apparently isn't popular with car owners who are tired of building and rebuilding their expensive fleet of cars.
Instead of the customary 75 to 80 cars Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, there are but 44 entries for the premier twice-around-the-clock endurance race in America.
The premise of the new sports car is to make it accessible and competitive, even against the factory-sponsored teams. A sagging economy, the lack of major sponsors and a shift to stock cars by the public has made it even more difficult for sports cars to get back to their heydays in the 1980s when the 24-hour race drew 80 cars and more than 75,000 fans.
''The whole concept is to get as many players running within the same parameters,'' said Jacksonville's Hurley Haywood, a five-time winner of the 24-hour race.
Haywood was part of the development team for the new open-cockpit race car. He will drive one of the new cars from Brumos Racing.
''Six (wins) sounds really good, but it's important to showcase this car and do well with this car,'' he said.
UP THE ANTE: Now that the No Bull Five plan is gone, Winston decided to dump more money into the point fund for the Winston Cup Series.
The series sponsor will add another $3 million to the fund to increase the payouts to $17 million to the top 25 drivers in the standings. The champion, as expected, will get the biggest share at $4.25 million.
The top four drivers now will make more than $1 million in postseason bonuses, a dramatic increase considering the champion made $1 million in 1992.
OUT OF BUSINESS: Mike McLaughlin never got a chance to run one official lap for Angela's Motorsports on the NASCAR Busch Series.
The team closed its doors two weeks before the season started, making it one of the shortest-lived racing operations in the sport's history.
The team, owned by Angela Harkness, was organized in October and was supposed to field Fords this season with technical and engine help from Robert Yates Racing. The team folded with financial problems.
McLaughlin and crew chief Harold Holly said they would try to find sponsorship to keep the operation afloat.
MAST RETIRES: The mysterious illness that forced Rick Mast out of Junie Donlavey's car at midseason finally was diagnosed as carbon monoxide poisoning.
Mast has retired as a driver, and he's eager to see how NASCAR studies the long-term effects of inhaling poisonous fumes.
Gary Nelson, the director for NASCAR's research and development center, said his group is looking at catalytic converters that can turn carbon monoxide into harmless carbon dioxide. The sanctioning body also is looking at installing filters inside the cockpit and the use of an air mask.
PIT STOPS: Brett Bodine's wife, Diane, was arrested and charged with making harassing phone calls and terroristic threats to a woman who works for her husband's sponsor, Hooters of America. Officials will attempt to bring Diane Bodine back to Walton County, Ga., to face the charges. Her arrest comes at a time when a deal for Hooters to buy a portion of the race team fell through, forcing Brett Bodine to cut his schedule back to part-time.
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