A lot of racing to be thankful for, but there also are a few forgettable events each year
November is my favorite month, in large part because of Thanksgiving.
Motorsports are high on my list of things for which I’m thankful. But nothing is perfect; not even in racing. It’s kind of like those distant relatives who arrive for the annual holiday dinner. You love them, but man do they get on your nerves.
It’s in that vein of affectionate constructive criticism that I bring you a menu of this year’s racing turkeys.
Kentucky’s traffic troubles
Let’s start with the entree — a big, fat racing fowl, I mean foul: the parking debacle at Kentucky Raceway.
When NASCAR Sprint Cup rolled into Sparta in July, it was supposed to be a grand entry. It turned out to be a giant traffic jam. Many of the 130,000 fans didn’t make it to the track in time for the green flag. Some barely got there in time to see the checkered flag fall. And some found there was no parking once they finally arrived.
This happened even though Kentucky spent millions to improve the roads around the track in anticipation of hosting NASCAR’s top series.
Now I know traffic at any major event is horrible. I’ve been stuck in roadway tie-ups at Homestead and Daytona. But the Kentucky track should have learned from other tracks’ mistakes and been prepared for its big-time NASCAR debut.
Kentucky officials and Speedway Motorsports Inc. executives say they’ll have the problem fixed by the 2012 race. This year, though, they take the top racing turkey spot.
Indy Racing’s rotten restart
Coming in a close second on the turkey list is the Izod Indy Racing League’s bungling of the New Hampshire race restart.
It was a wet August Sunday in the Northeast. NASCAR had already postponed its Watkins Glen, N.Y., race until Monday. But Indy racing officials thought they had a window to get in their race at Loudon, N.H. They almost made it — emphasis on almost.
The last of many cautions for intermittent rain fell at lap 206. Instead of calling the race, IRL officials decided to try to finish. Finish they did, but not the way they had hoped. A restart pile-up finished the day and equipment for a passel of drivers, including the two men fighting for the series’ championship.
After the crunched cars and angry comments by drivers and teams, IRL race control declared the ill-fated restart never happened. Finishing positions were awarded based on where cars were before the restart crash. And still the issue wasn’t solved. The IRL heard an appeal two weeks later by drivers who lost positions after the no-start call. Those drivers lost. So did the IRL.
I know the IRL really wanted to hold its race without any television competition from NASCAR. And like the fendered series, IRL officials always want to have an official green flag finish. But when it’s raining at the track, you rarely get what you want.
At least the IRL immediately admitted its mistake, but the wet restart still was a terrible idea and a big racing turkey.
Texas two-step misstep
Not to pick on open-wheelers, but the bifurcated June IRL race in Texas was a mess worthy of at least turkey side dish status. The sport was sacrificed for a gimmick, running two races on the same night. Worse, it was a gimmick that didn’t work.
The decision to have the second race’s starting order determined by a random draw was bad enough. The process took way too long and wasn’t suspenseful. Worse, it made a mockery of the reason for racing. Yes, I know luck, good and bad, comes into play in racing, but that’s on the track. Don’t try to gin up false drama before the engines start. It just doesn’t work.
And worst of all, the gimmick race results could end up playing a big part in who wins the eventual IRL championship. That’s not the role for any race league’s governing body or individual racetrack.
Stop start and parkers
NASCAR obviously doesn’t care that a handful of drivers never makes it beyond a few laps each race, but I absolutely hate teams that start a race with no intention of finishing it.
I realize the money for finishing in the last few spots will help pay a race team’s bill. And by not staying on the track, these teams avoid potential wrecks that could wipe out the last-place purse. But starting a race only to park your car after a few laps is not racing, and it’s definitely not sporting.
If you can’t compete, then get off the track and make room for drivers who can or who at least want to try.
That wraps up the 2011 racing turkeys. Here’s hoping you enjoy your holiday meal and the rest of the motorsports seasons.
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.
See you later
Kudos to Formula 1 for coming to its senses and reshuffling its 2012 schedule to move the inaugural race in Austin, Texas, from mid-June to mid-November. The original schedule put Austin and Montreal in consecutive weeks to make travel easier, but while June is glorious in Canada, it’s often stifling in Central Texas.
The mid-November weather should be perfect for racing. The five-month delay also should give the Circuit of the Americas some welcome extra time to complete its track and facilities. And coming as the 19th race of the 20-race schedule, the showdown in Austin could prove to be, in the words of our most recent Texan in the White House, a real “decider” in the world championship.
Crown for Brown
Congratulations to Antron Brown, who made history in drag racing’s marquee event a few weeks ago. Brown won the Top Fuel title at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis to become the first driver to win the big prize in both Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle. The victory gave Brown five for the season and a total of 30 for his career, spanning both Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycles. Among his 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle wins were 2000 and 2004 at Indianapolis.
Speaking of Indianapolis
Things are going to be a lot busier at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year when it hosts the Nationwide Series and Rolex Grand-Am Series for the first time. The Sprint Cup has been the only league with four wheels and fenders to run around the famed Brickyard, as the Nationwide cars have always raced at the nearby Lucas Oil Raceway Park along with the Camping World Truck Series. The announcement made no mention of money, but that’s likely the driving force behind this change in tradition. The Brickyard lost its Formula 1 race after the 2007 season and will lose its Moto GP motorcycle race, which it landed to replace the F1 race, when the new Circuit of the Americas opens in Texas. That leaves only the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 as reasons to open the gates, and the Speedway was eager to add a few more dates to its docket.
The Nationwide cars will run the oval, while the Grand-Am machines will compete on the half-oval, half-road course. Those events will run the same weekend as the Brickyard 400.