Some people are so set in their ways. For example, there are those who still believe that football, baseball, basketball and hockey are the four major sports in America. But if we were to vote on a national pastime today, it likely would have nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with the phenomenon that is auto racing.
Sports snobs may seek to dismiss the idea outright, yet there's no denying the impact these ultra-skilled, left-turning daredevils make on the sporting world. And what's not to love? Speed, danger, spectacular crashes, and pit crews who seemingly change an entire engine in under three seconds. It all makes for a spectacle in the kindest sense of the word and a sport that's cleaning up at the box office and in the ratings.
Bow down to the most popular sport in America at the Purex Dial Indy 200, pulling into Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, March 23, at 1:30 p.m. This year's race, to be broadcast live on ABC, features a host of the sport's top drivers. It also marks the final PIR appearance of Michael Andretti, who will retire following this year's Indy 500. Race tickets are available through 602-252-2227 or www.phoenixraceway.com. - Craig Wallach
Tournament swingers come out after dark
From the white ball to the shiny clubs to the garish pastels that make up many a golf ensemble, everything about the game of golf is bright. Would it kill the golf gods to bring a little darkness to the game if not to see who can really stroke it, then at least to preserve a few retinas?
Darkness falls on the little white ball at the 15th Annual Light Up the Night Golf Tournament, starting at 6:40 p.m. Friday, March 21, at Marriott Mountain Shadows Resort, 5641 East Lincoln in Scottsdale. Participants will play nine holes the nocturnal way, with proceeds benefiting Special Olympics Arizona. Registration starts at 5:30 p.m. the night of the event. For details, see www.specialolympicsarizona.org or call 602-230-1200.Craig Wallach
Firefighters battle in Backdraft Bowl Ten years ago, the world was a different place; Phoenicians didn't have nearly the amount of sympathy and respect they do today for New York City's firefighters. In 1993, rooting for Phoenix police officers, firefighters, and other public safety officers as they battled the FDNY Bravest football team in the Backdraft Bowl didn't spur near the guilt that it's likely to in the post-9/11 world.
But it's time to put away your NY sympathies and cheer the local boys, as the FDNY Bravest return for the first time in a decade to play the newly formed Phoenix Thunder Public Safety football team. Fans can catch the 2003 Backdraft Bowl, which benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix, at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at Horizon High School, 5601 East Greenway. Tickets are $10. For details, call 602-980-3974. Brendan Joel Kelley
If you're one of those people who bought inline skates, tried them once and promptly threw them in the closet, this is your chance to see what those puppies can do at a free lesson.
Local skating guru Kathy McSparran gave up being a stockbroker to teach skating full-time. "I am 37 years old, and I can eat whatever I want, so that tells you what skating can do for you," says McSparran.
Sounds like a great reason to learn. The first class is Saturday, March 22, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Tempe Beach Park. Reserve a spot at www.freeskatelesson.com or call 480-664-9779. Quetta Carpenter
Thirty-five years ago at the newly constructed Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix's first professional sports franchise hit the boards. With a general manager fresh from a scouting gig with Chicago's Bulls Jerry Colangelo and winning head coach Johnny "Red" Kerr, also from Chicago, the Suns basketball team sprung into fiery existence. It suffered a typical expansion team's first year, ending the season with only 16 wins and 66 losses.
The regular-season opener in '68 wasn't so disappointing. Led by guard Dick Van Arsdale (now vice president of player personnel), the Suns took out the Seattle Sonics, 116 to 107. If you missed it and you probably did the Suns, in all their marketing glory, are providing a chance to relive that auspicious beginning. On Monday, March 24, the boys will don replicas of their first-season uniforms and take on Ray Allen and the Sonics, hopefully with the same furor that Van Arsdale and Kerr brought to bear three-and-a-half decades ago. Game time is 7 p.m. at America West Arena. Tickets start at $10; call 1-800-4NBA-TIX or see www.nba.com/suns. Brendan Joel Kelley