1. Szoke has perfect season in winning Superbike championship
2. ‘Blocking’ rule has Molson Indy root, Hamilton says
3. NASCAR doesn’t need ‘road-course ringers’ any more
Canada has produced a large number of world-class motorcycle champions, starting with Mike Duff (now Michelle Duff) in the 1960s and including the famous Yvon Duhamel and his son Miguel.
But arguably the best and most successful of them all is Jordan Szoke of Brantford, who made Canadian motorcycle racing history on Sunday at Atlantic Motorsport Park in Nova Scotia when he won the final round of the Parts Canada Superbike Championship (full story here), giving him a perfect season.
Szoke, 31, won all seven races to win the title, something no other racer has managed to do in the 30-year history of the Canadian national championship.
He actually clinched the championship on Saturday when he won the sixth round, so Sunday’s victory was just a little extra icing on the cake.
"At the start of the year, I thought we’d be able to put together a good challenge for the championship," said Szoke after his 36th career Canadian Superbike win, "but to do this is unbelievable.
"When you think back on the whole year, it’s so easy to make just one mistake that could cost you a race. To do what I did is still shocking to me."
Andrew Nelson of Kars, Ont., finished second in Sunday’s race while Michael Ferreira of Mississauga was third. The podium Sunday was an instant replay of Saturday’s result.
In the final standings, however, Francis Martin of Sherbrooke, Que., was third behind Szoke and Nelson. Martin finished sixth in Sunday’s finale; he was classified 13th in Saturday’s race, although he’d crashed out of it.
Indianapolis 500 veteran Davey Hamilton told me on Saturday that the genesis of the IRL’s blocking rule, where you can be found guilty of blocking even if you aren’t, was the accident at the 1996 Molson Indy Toronto in which driver Jeff Krosnoff and marshal Gary Avrin were killed.
This conversation came about at New York state's Oswego Speedway, where Hamilton – a 10-start Indy 500 veteran – was driving a supermodified for Homestead, Fla., car owner John Nicotra. As Hamilton finished signing in at the pit gate, I said:
"So when is Randy Bernard (the new IRL CEO) going to dump Brian Barnhart?"
Barnhart is IndyCar’s race director and the chief steward who penalized Helio Castroneves for blocking at Edmonton two weeks ago when there wasn't a block. It has since been explained ad nauseum that Castroneves hadn’t really blocked, but that he was driving on the inside line going into Turn One and you can only drive there when you are passing someone. Unless you are passing, you must take the outside line going into a turn.
I actually might have prefaced Barnhart’s name with something other than "Brian," because Hamilton immediately snapped back:
"Brian Barnart is not a jerk. It’s a terrible rule and it has to go but all Brian did was enforce it. In fact, it (the rule) comes from Champ Car, from back when Tony Cotman was the director of competition there (prior to the Champ Car-IRL merger). And it goes back to Toronto when that driver (Krosnoff) was killed up there."
Late in the 1996 Molson Indy, four drivers were screaming toward Turn 3 at the end of Lake Shore Blvd. – Emerson Fittipaldi, Andre Ribeiro, Stefan Johansson and Krosnoff. Krosnoff pulled out of the slipstream to go down the inside to pass one or more of the cars in front of him when his car came into contact with Johansson’s (video link here).
A millisecond later, Krosnoff and Avrin were dead.
"That’s why the rule came into force," Hamilton said. "If was felt, because of that accident, that you can’t take the low line into a turn unless you’re passing. So it’s been on the books ever since. Nobody made a big deal out of it until Edmonton.
"Don’t get me wrong, they have to get rid of the rule. It’s a stupid rule. But as long as the rule is there, Brian had every right to enforce it."
Hamilton’s right: they have to get rid of the rule because the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio Sunday – won by Dario Franchitti, with Will Power second and Castroneves third (full story here) – was more follow-the-leader than IndyCar races usually are.
Have you ever watched a snake slither through the grass? That was what Sunday’s race was like because no driver in a string of cars running nose-to-tail would take a chance of deviating, even slightly, from the line taken by the driver in front of him or her for fear of being penalized for "blocking."
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t passing - although there were no passes for the lead - but the few there were seemed contrived, rather than spontaneous, if you get my drift.
For instance, I was discussing the art of passing once with Ron Fellows (and we’ll talk more about him and NASCAR, in a moment) and he described his thinking.
"I was following Tony Stewart one time at the Glen and I had a plan for him," he said. He then proceeded to describe the plan and I can tell you that at no time did he even mention having to worry about where on the race track he was going to have to be driving in order to be legal, which is now something the Indy car drivers have to be thinking about – on top of everything else you might have on your mind when you’re driving around at 150 miles-an-hour, plus.
Which is nuts.
Got rid of the rule.
– Congratulations to Alex Tagliani of Montreal for a fine fourth-place finish at Mid-Ohio, which is his best finish so far in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season. He got up to the front of the pack on fuel strategy (he stopped two laps before everybody else and then there was a yellow) but the name of the game is to finish well and who cares how you manage to do it?
– Simona de Silvestro really seems to have hit her stride and had another top ten finish, officially winding up eighth. She’s generating excitement and that can’t help but be positive for the series.
– If I’m Michael Andretti, and I want to keep the gazillions of dollars Go Daddy is putting into my team, I will start to pay way more attention to Danica Patrick than is currently the case.
She finished 21st on Sunday – which, when translated, means she was the last of the cars running on the lead lap. She had a terrible result in Edmonton, too.
There are many who maintain that she doesn’t really have the talent to run well consistently in IndyCar but that’s poppycock: she was fifth in the standings in 2009 and you can't do that with marginal abilities.
I think Andretti has just spread himself way too thin – he had five cars entered in Sunday’s race. Sooner or later, quantity can start to have a negative effect on quality.
– Did anybody else find it curious that TV had to wait to interview winner Franchitti after Sunday’s race? Host Bob Jenkins made some reference to "having to wait until Dario makes his way to Victory Circle" just as a helicopter shot showed him being interviewed by the track announcer.
Nobody – and I mean nobody – interviews the winner of a NASCAR race until he does the TV interview. Ditto F1.
I was lunching in Oswego on Saturday with supermodified driver Keith Gilliam, who remarked about the irony of Boris Said teaching all the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers how to road race and now they were kicking his butt.
"Remember when Boris and Ron Fellows and a couple of other guys could show up for road races in the Cup series and clean up? Not anymore, boy."
Gilliam is spot-on with that observation. Although road-racer Juan Pablo Montoya won Sunday’s Sprint Cup stop at Watkins Glen (full story here), he’s a full-timer on the NASCAR tour. What makes it interesting is to see who followed Montoya across the line:
Kurt Bush (second), Karl Edwards (fifth), Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon (sixth through tenth). Okay, third and fourth places in the race went to A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, who – like Montoya – come from road-racing backgrounds but they, too, are full-time Cup stars.
You have to go to 18th place before you will find the name of a true road-course ringer, Andy Lally, who’s a Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series driver in real life. Canadian Patrick Carpentier finished 21st, Said finished 38th after being wrecked by Tony Stewart and Fellows was 40th after the suspension let go on his car.
Once upon a time, a guy like Fellows (or the others) could count on being hired by top NASCAR teams at least twice a year for road races. And they used to deliver with consistent, high finishes.
But as the regular stock car drivers became more proficient at road racing, the opportunities to land good drives with good teams started to dry up. More and more, teams with cars outside the top 35 started to look to drivers like Fellows, et al, just to get their cars into the race, never mind hoping for a high-up finish.
Fellows, driving for low-buck Tommy Baldwin Racing at the Glen this weekend, qualified the car 21st for Sunday's race and you can bet that made the owner real happy.
In Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, which was won by Ambrose with Joey Logano second and Kevin Harvick third (See? There’s those NASCAR drivers again . . . the Nationwide – nee Busch – series was another place where the road-course ringers could pad their incomes with regularity), Fellows was in the running for a podium finish when he was caught speeding on pit lane and issued a stop-and-go penalty.
It’s a testament to his talent that the Mississauga resident recovered to finish sixth.
Jacques Villeneuve of Montreal, the 1997 F1 world driving champion, finished eighth; J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge was 11th.
Another ex-F1 racer, Nelson Piquet Jr., finished seventh in his Nationwide Series debut.
Okay, by now you know that cars owned by Chip Ganassi won all the big races at the weekend. Montoya won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race (see above) and Franchitti won the IndyCar race (see above, also). On Saturday, the team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas got the ball rolling for the Chipster when they won the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race, which was also held at Mid-Ohio.
The No. 61 Pacific Mobile/Biosign Daytona Prototype Ford Riley entered by AIM Autosport of Woodbridge and piloted by Toronto’s Mark Wilkins and American Burt Frisselle was heading for a podium finish when the car was rear-ended late in the race and they were officially classified 23rd. . . .
Rick Wilson of Joyceville won the Southern Ontario Sprints meet at Brighton Speedway on Saturday night. Travis Cunningham of Grimsby was second and Tyler Rand of Consecon finished third.. . .
Jerry Curran of Oswego won the supermodified feature Saturday night at Oswego Speedway, with Davey Hamilton (Boise, Idaho) eighth. Otto Sitterly of Canajoharie, N.Y., was second and Joey Payne of Fairlawn, N.J., was third. . .
The International Supermodified Association was at Delaware Speedway near London for a two-night show. Mike Ordway of Fremont, N.H., won the feature on Friday, then promptly crashed when the left-front brake rotor broke and turned the car into the wall. Dave Shullick Jr. of Amherst, Ohio, was second and Mike Lichty of Innerkip, Ont., was third. Mark Sammut of London escaped injury but his race car was severely damaged when it went end-over-end four times during a heat race.
On Saturday night, Rob Summers of Manchester, Conn., was the winner with Lichty second and Russ Wood of Pelham, N.H. third.