Views from the Grandstands
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, some specifics that make us glad for all the on-track action
Regular readers of this column know I spend a lot of time complaining about things that should be fixed in NASCAR and other racing series. But I gripe because I love, and since November is the month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m devoting this column to some of the many things in the 2010 racing season for which I’m thankful.
Wings clipped After its experiment in adding rear-deck wings to the Car of Tomorrow didn’t improve Sprint Cup racing as hoped, NASCAR took a bold step by switching back to the old spoilers in mid-season instead of waiting until the end of the year to decide on an obvious change. I appreciate that positive, decisive action.
Riding the wave When NASCAR opted for double-file restarts last year, it also introduced the wave-around rule. This is the first full season with both, and I’m loving it, especially the proper repositioning of drivers at the end of the lead lap. I always hated it when cars were rolling chicanes for race leaders. Now instead of being right up front to get quickly relapped again, and perhaps causing a wreck in the process, they literally go to the tail-end of the lead lap where they belong.
Chase, schmase I also appreciate that, while NASCAR clings to its ridiculous and unnecessary playoff format, both the Indy Racing League and Formula 1 produced compelling, traditional championship chases that went right down to the wire. Coincidence or not, both of those series enjoyed much more successful years on a relative basis — F1 is much bigger than NASCAR, while IRL is much smaller — than NASCAR.
Go Ganassi I really admire Chip Ganassi’s ambition in fielding competitive teams across a wide spectrum of series and was very happy to see his efforts pay off so handsomely. In addition to another all-around great IRL campaign, Dario Franchitti captured the Indianapolis 500, Jamie McMurray won both NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 (no team had ever won Daytona, Indy and the Brickyard in the same season), and the duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the overall Daytona Prototype title in the Rolex Grand-Am Series.
Checking the schedule With apologies to the true NASCAR fans in Atlanta and Los Angeles, I am very glad to see NASCAR relocate one race from each of those tracks to places they’ll be more fully appreciated. The Atlanta track is fast, but the spring race often had to deal with dodgy weather. And Fontana, like Michigan, is so big and wide that the cars too often seem to be running all by themselves. The attendance at both tracks has been falling steadily, so relocating these two races (one to Kentucky, the other to Kansas) makes financial sense, too. From a fans-at-the-track point of view, these moves highlight the fact that NASCAR races are much bigger draws in smaller markets than in the big cities.
Perspective on Patrick I’m also very grateful that Versus and ABC, which broadcast the IRL, don’t go nuts over Danica Patrick like ESPN2’s NASCAR Nationwide broadcasters do so often. Every time she runs a Nationwide race, it seems like the announcers can barely go a lap without breathlessly giving us a Danica update. On the IRL telecasts, however, she gets no more than her fair share of coverage — more when she’s running well, less when she’s back in the pack — and that’s just how it ought to be.
Boys to men I was critical of NASCAR’s “have at it, boys” dictum, especially after Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski quickly became more intent on sending each other to the ER than getting themselves to Victory Lane. But I am grateful that, for the most part, everyone acted like adults on track and focused on racing more than wrecking. I like good, hard-nosed bumping and banging as much as the next person, but I really prefer to see drivers exhibit their skill instead of their stupidity.
U-S-A, U-S-A! I was as shocked as anybody by the news that Formula 1 plans to return to the United States in 2012 at a new track in my hometown of Austin. Central Texas seems like an unlikely place for such a facility, but I’m pleased my home state was willing to step up and take on such a Texas-size project. Formula 1 deserves to be in the United States, and the United States deserves to have a Formula 1 race.
Racing fans And finally, in these difficult economic times, I’m thankful we still have so much great racing to thrill and entertain us. And I’m especially grateful to this magazine for the opportunity to share my passion with you, and to you for giving me a few minutes of your time each month. I appreciate you all very much.
Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she blogs about taxes and other financial topics at www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com.
A Mini rally The awesome World Rally Championship Series is dominated by small cars such as the Ford Focus and Citroen C4, but they’ll be joined by an unlikely competitor next season when a Mini Cooper team joins the fray. The mere thought of racing Minis makes me laugh, but this is quite a serious endeavor. The cars will be high-performance versions of the Mini Countryman and will be fielded by ProDrive, which operated the Subaru WRC program from 1989 through 2008, when Subaru pulled out for economic reasons. ProDrive owns Aston Martin and runs a variety of teams in various series worldwide.
Mini Cooper is, of course, owned by BMW, and the racing Minis will feature 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged BMW engines. This will be Mini Cooper’s second major adventure in racing. Mini actually dominated Ford and other prominent carmakers in the annual 2,500-mile Monte Carlo Rally for several years in the mid-1960s.
Ford Motors Lola did reasonably well in the American Le Mans Series this season, with privateer owners Dyson Racing and Drayson Racing both notching several class wins and a couple of overall race victories. The Dyson team uses Mazda engines while Drayson uses Judd engines, but a huge development for 2011 is that Lola is partnering with Roush Racing to bring Ford V-6 engines into the series. Roush Racing didn’t meet its always-lofty expectations in NASCAR in a 2010 season whose big news was that team owner Jack Roush survived yet another crash of a private plane he was piloting. But the Roush-Ford entry into ALMS is a very positive development for all parties involved.
IRL says bye-bye to ISC I was sorry to see Watkins Glen fall off the 2011 Indy Racing League schedule but am otherwise pretty pleased with the big changes the series announced. New IRL CEO Randy Bernard dropped several races that were staged on tracks owned by NASCAR’s International Speedway Corp. (ISC) in favor of different facilities not so devoted to NASCAR. The IRL took major positive steps this season, but if it’s going to make it all the way back it must spend more time at venues more eager and willing to go the extra mile to promote it. Besides, the ISC tracks already have NASCAR races, so inter-series politics aside, this move puts more live racing in more parts of the country. That’s definitely a good thing.