Letter to Santa
Dear Santa, since your big day is just around the corner, I’m sure you’ve already received wish lists from drivers, team owners and even a few league head honchos.
But before you shift your Sleigh of Tomorrow into gear and take the green on Dec. 24, I want to make sure your list is complete. Here are a few suggested gifts for those in the racing world and, of course, us fans.
Chip Ganassi There’s only one thing Chip needs: a time machine so he can relive 2010. Not only did his IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti win the Indy 500, the Scotsman also dramatically claimed that series’ championship in the last race of the year. Ganassi’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series team captured that league’s title. And while Ganassi Racing didn’t win NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Chip’s driver Jamie McMurray took home Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 trophies. Ganassi’s cross-series success made him the first owner to win both NASCAR’s and IndyCar’s premier events in the same year. And that, Santa, is a year all of us would want to have over and over.
Darrell Waltrip The Kentucky Speedway is on the Sprint Cup 2011 schedule. Good for Bluegrass State race fans. But please, Santa, bring Jaws the good sense not to climb behind a wheel for the inaugural Cup race at his home-state track.
Race for the Cup NASCAR’s championship geniuses definitely need the same calculator IndyCar and F1 use. Those open-wheel series have managed to have down-to-the wire finishes for the last several seasons without a manufactured playoff system. Their secret: A more finely-tuned points system that allows every race, not just the last 10 of the year, to count toward the crown.
Jack Roush Please bring the Cat in the Hat a private pilot. I know Jack enjoys being in the cockpit, but this summer he suffered his second life-threatening plane crash. It’s definitely time for Jack to turn the air controls over to someone else.
Danica Patrick Santa, bring Danica a realistic racing perspective. Her mediocre-at-best foray into NASCAR is the expected result of splitting rides between two series. It’s time for Patrick to choose, and that choice should be IndyCar. True, Patrick didn’t exactly set the open-wheel world on fire in 2010, but stats prove she was one of IndyCar’s most consistent performers all season, even driving for an Andretti Autosport team that couldn’t keep pace with the Penske and Ganassi cars. St. Nick, help Danica realize, like NASCAR dabbler Dario Franchitti before her, that the grass isn’t always greener on the NASCAR side of the fence.
ESPN and NASCAR Most of the time, I enjoy ESPN’s coverage of Nationwide races, but the cable television network and NASCAR have some serious problems when racing and college football seasons overlap. When football games run long, the Nationwide races get bumped, at least temporarily, to one of ESPN’s other channels (usually ESPN Classic) that many fans don’t get on their cable systems. Santa, help these guys come up with a way — later race start times, perhaps? — so the most fans can see the green flag drop.
Jimmie Johnson As I write this, there are still a few NASCAR races to be run, but I suspect this year’s finish will be the same as the last four. So, Santa, that means JJ needs a new trophy case.
Sponsorships Economists tell us that things were picking up in 2010, but you couldn’t prove it by looking at the NASCAR sponsorship situation. Tony Stewart, a three-time Cup champ, had to hustle to get a brand on his No. 14 car. And as I type, four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon is still looking for a major sponsor for his No. 24 Chevy. Santa, have you ever thought about getting some non-yuletide exposure? A nice decal of your workshop would look nice on a NASCAR hood.
Race-day concerts I understand NASCAR is about entertainment as much as it is about motorsports, but Santa, please bring America’s top racing league the ability to spotlight the cars. Pre-race concerts need to become post-race concerts, beginning after the victory lane celebration ends. That would allow fans who want to hang around the track for tunes to do so, reducing traffic that the exiting fans face. Or even better, St. Nick, instead of concerts bring us post-race smackdowns, where drivers who have issues with each other can settle them in a public forum. NASCAR said it wanted boys to be boys and to handle things themselves. This should make everyone — NASCAR, drivers and fans — happy!
Well, Santa, that’s it for Christmas 2010. Have a safe journey as you race around the globe. Keep an eye out for any debris along the route. We’ll have cookies and milk waiting for you.
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.
IndyCar ratings up While NASCAR has been bemoaning its television ratings the last few years, IndyCar says its second season on Versus was up 16.2 percent in 2010 over the cable sports network’s 2009 ratings. Even better news for the series is that its race ratings are up nearly 40 percent in the coveted 18-to-34 male demographic. OK, so the raw numbers are anemic; IndyCar races on Versus this year averaged 366,000 viewers for 12 telecasts. And the open-wheel series’ TV numbers are still well below where they were when IndyCar ran on ESPN. But ESPN’s parent, Disney/ABC, offered some better news for IndyCar. The broadcast network televised four IndyCar events, including the Indianapolis 500, and averaged 2.696 million viewers. Ratings for those four ABC races were up 2.3 percent from the 2.636 million viewers who tuned in for the 2009 races.
Europe’s F1 tracks face global competition The world’s most popular racing series, Formula 1, swears it will race in my hometown of Austin, Texas, in 2012. I’ll believe it when I hear the engines start. F1’s commercial manager Bernie Ecclestone has always taken his title to heart; if a venue isn’t commercially viable, he moves the race. And while Austin might indeed see some races, if they don’t produce the kind of money Ecclestone likes, he’ll find a track that will. Ecclestone confirmed that approach in a recent interview with Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, where he acknowledged that the future of historic F1 venues like Silverstone, England, and Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, remain uncertain amid the ongoing surge of new venues and a simultaneous push by teams to cap the schedule at 20 races. Ecclestone said the Belgian Grand Prix in particular was “absolutely” threatened by new venues with big bucks behind them. “If it wasn’t supported by the government over there, it probably would go because they wouldn’t be able to afford it,” he said of Spa. “It’s the same with the British Grand Prix.”
Danica dates Mark your calendars, Danica Patrick fans. She will drive the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the first four NASCAR Nationwide Series events of 2011. Those are the Daytona, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Bristol races. At press time, Danica’s NASCAR schedule beyond that was not determined, but the Dale Earnhardt Jr. team indicated that Patrick’s schedule next year will be similar to her 13-race rookie season this year.