Before we get going on the weekend’s news, there is something I have to clear up.
In my regular Saturday column in Toronto Star Wheels, I wrote about the legendary Canadian power boat Miss Supertest, her equally legendary driver, the late Bob Hayward, and the efforts spearheaded by Picton resident John Lyons to have Canada Post issue a commemorative stamp in her (and his) memory.
If you missed it, it is here.
As bad luck would have it, an email address I included in the article was wrong – an extra "t" somehow found its way into it. It’s been corrected online but to make absolutely sure, here it is again:
And, finally, if you want to see Miss Supertest in action, there’s a video on YouTube and you can watch it by clicking here.
I have a friend who owns a professional racing team and his favourite expression is, "it’s all about the money."
It doesn’t matter who you are or how many championships you’ve won or how talented you are or how much potential you have. In the end, the only thing that matters is how much money you have to go racing.
It’s been always thus.
At Indianapolis in the 50s and 60s, the drivers from Indiana and Ohio and other midwestern states – the Pat O’Connors and Sam Hankses and Pat Flahertys – wanted owners to pay them 40 per cent of the purse plus expenses to drive their cars. It’s how they made their living.
Then the guys from California – the Bill Vukoviches and Roger Wards and Parnelli Joneses – showed up and said they’d drive the cars for 30 per cent and no expenses.
If you owned a racing car at Indianapolis, what would you do?
So that’s how the California drivers pushed some of the Ohio and Indiana drivers aside at Indy. It was all about the money.
I think calling Danica Patrick a "marketing machine" is derogatory. She’s a race-car driver who’s worked her buns off over the last 10 years to raise her profile high enough for a sponsor to pony up the millions of dollars required for her to drive a full season in the Indy car series and a partial season in NASCAR.
She is no more a "marketing machine" than Max Papis, an offshore road racer who was smart enough (and who worked his buns off) to raise his American profile to a level sufficient for a large U.S. insurance company to agree to pay millions for him to drive a full season in NASCAR.
It’s what you have to do to get the money, which this sport is all about.
Which brings me to Graham Rahal. There is much gnashing of teeth over the fact that this talented, good-looking and young American driver doesn’t have a ride in this season’s IZOD IndyCar Series.
And yet, if he doesn’t have a major sponsor, the question must be asked: what is he lacking that others have?
There’s got to be a reason.
Is he not trying hard enough? Is he not working hard enough? Is there a sense of entitlement around him that we’re not seeing and which is turning off potential backers?
Perhaps he was spoiled when he first came on the scene. He drove for Newman-Haas-Lanigan, the team of the CART and Champ Car Series years. It was probably the best funded of all the teams and its drivers were treated liked kings.
Then Paul Newman died and much of the sponsorship the team enjoyed over the years either dried up or has been cut back substantially. It's gone from a team that paid its drivers – Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Sebastien Bourdais and young Rahal – to a team that is now insisting its drivers do the paying. It had Robert Doornbos doing that, but he bailed. For 2010, Hideki Mutoh might be its only driver.
Doornbos took his cash elsewhere, but he has it. So does Mutoh – as do Patrick and Papis and a whole lot of others.
It doesn’t matter how, or why. And circumstances be damned.
They have it because they went out and got it and Graham Rahal hasn't.
They’re in and he’s out.
It might not be fair but it’s the way it is.
It didn’t take long – two races, to be exact – for Jimmie Johnson to get back to his old winning ways.
The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion won yesterday’s race at California Speedway in somewhat flukey fashion, holding off Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton over the last 20 laps. Mark Martin was fourth and Joey Logano fifth.
Last week’s Daytona 500 victor Jamie McMurray was 17th – although one of his crew members inserted some excitement into what had been a dull event to that point by jumping (in self-defence) over Harvick’s car during a series of pit stops.
The Johnson fluke came on lap 223. Brad Keselowski and David Reutimann collided, bringing out the yellow while Johnson was in the pits. But the champion managed to get to the scoring line at pit exit in advance of the pace car. This kept him on the same lap as the others and when they had to pit (they'd been closed as a result of the accident), he inherited the lead.
"Those guys (Johnson and his team) have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass," said Harvick. "There’s no getting around that."
Harvick made a determined bid to catch Johnson when the green waved with 20 laps remaining but with four laps left he got a little high in turn four and brushed the wall, slowing him down enough that Johnson romped home.
Burton went way low coming off four in an attempt to nip Harvick at the finish line but missed by about an eyelash.
Next up: Las Vegas.
In the Nationwide race Saturday, Kyle Busch was the winner with Greg Biffle second and Brad Keselowski third. Danica Patrick was 31st, three laps down – although she lost one of them because of a pit-road speeding infraction that forced her into the pits for a drive-through.
There were a lot of empty seats at yesterday's Cup race; the place was three-quarters empty for the Nationwide event despite Danica's presence.
It might be too early for a pattern, but NASCAR was down 13 per cent in racedays admissions in 2009 and if this tailoff continues it could prove worriesome.