Weekend Racing headlines:
1. Economy overshadows Bowyer win at New Hampshire
2. Castroneves wins but IndyCar needs world’s fastest grounds crew
3. Roundup: Indian Summer Trophy Races, NASCAR Canadian Tire race down to the wire
The first NASCAR Chase for the Championship race had yet to happen (it was won Sunday by 12th seed Clint Bowyer, with No. 1 seed Denny Hamlin second and seedless Jamie McMurray third – full story here) before Kyle Busch poured cold water on it.
Busch is just finishing his first year as a team owner in the NASCAR Camping World Series and the experience has opened his eyes to the reality facing owners in any kind of car racing and particularly the world of NASCAR.
It also shows what a sheltered life some of these guys lead.
The short story is that when the year started, his Camping World team had two trucks. It’s down to one now – the one he drives and which goes to Victory Lane fairly often (five times so far this season, a record for the truck series) – and it soon could be no trucks if he can’t find a sponsor for 2011.
And he’ll close down the team rather than continue to run it out of his own pocket.
Welcome to the real world, Kyle. Anybody paying attention for the last month or so would know that the American economy has tanked again. The old sub-prime mortgage disaster is ba-a-a-ck – yes, it’s true; the people who run the banks in the United States of America never learn – and there are foreclosures all over the place down there because people are losing their jobs in record numbers.
It’s the same up here, by the way. Drive anywhere outside of Toronto and all you see (an exaggeration, but close) is "For Sale" signs on houses, cottages, pickup trucks and boats. A lot of people are in dire straits, which means their former employers – be they big manufacturing concerns or small town retail stores or services – aren’t writing cheques in support of car racing or racers (see small field for NASCAR Canadian Tire Series races; report below).
(One of those big Canadian corporations had a management shakeup the other day and all sorts of people are waiting to see if its commitment to auto racing continues or gets cut back.)
Because there is little or no interest in the truck series from what’s left of corporate America, owners in that series have been selling rides to talented young drivers looking to make a name for themselves in hopes of catching the attention of an owner in either the Nationwide or Sprint Cup series.
And a lot of those talented young drivers don’t have a lot of financial backing, or hard cash, either. Which means $20,000 or $25,000 can probably get you into a truck for a race.
Even some of the trucks with "sponsorship" on their doors are an illusion, seeing as the owners are selling prime space for associate-level dollars.
Said Busch, in an interview with Speed Channel’s Tom Jensen: "I know a couple (of) guys out there that put sponsors on their trucks for almost a whole year for $250,000, $300,000. . . . That’s just killing the Truck Series. You can’t do that."
Translation: the side doors of a Camping World Truck are worth – when times are good – anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000 to a primary sponsor. (You can figure out what primary sponsorship means in the Nationwide – next up the ladder – and then the Sprint Cup Series: a whole lot more than $500,000 or $750,000).
When a truck owner "gives away" that space for $250,000 or $300,000, the word gets around really quickly and when the top guns – the Ron Hornadays and the Todd Bodines and the Kyle Busches – go looking for serious money, they can’t get it because the series has been cheapened.
After telling reporters his personal tale of woe (but, you know, you can’t feel too sorry for a guy who built a mansion outside Charlotte, N.C., and imported palm trees to gussy up the landscape), Kyle Busch went on to discuss the situation in the Cup series.
"Look at Tony Stewart," he said. "He’s gotta find half of a sponsor for next year. Jeff Gordon has gotta find something for next year. Mark Martin, they have hendrickcars.com. That’s not a sponsor, that’s Rick Hendrick putting his money on that car. You look at a bunch of the Nationwide cars. It’s all across the board."
(It was reported last night that Roger Penske’s sponsorship difficulties (this is Roger Penske, we’re talking about here) could see him shut down his Nationwide team next year and eliminate at least one of his three Cup cars (he’s already on record as saying he’ll only run two of his three Indy cars next year). When Roger Penske can’t find sponsorship, you know that car racing is in trouble.)
Busch also pointed out that Sprint-Nextel’s deal with NASCAR shuts out that company’s competitors in the digital field.
"It locks out Verizon. It locks out AT&T. It locks out any other telecommunication company that you could try to get in. The tobacco debacle now with the United States government. That’s locked out people that have the money to do it.
"The people that have the money to do it, can’t or don’t want to do it. The guys that want to do it don’t have the money to do it. You’re fighting two avenues there and being an owner and being able to talk to all these guys, I’m kind of finding that out."
Good rant, Kyle. But what’s the answer? Any suggestions?
How about suggesting that you and the other top drivers take a pay cut? All the NASCAR drivers are millionaires. Maybe one or two aren’t. But virtually all of them are. So instead of Joe Gibbs paying you $5 million up front every January, how about he only pay you, say, $2 million?
And how about flying commercial for a year or two until this mess gets straightened out? You don’t have to go everywhere on your private jet, you know.
I’m not saying you didn’t earn the money and that you don’t deserve the plane. It’s just that these are hard times and instead of bitching about it, guys like you should set an example.
Maybe the truck series could survive if more owners like you settled for $250,000 in sponsorship instead of holding out for $750,000 and then folding your tent if you don’t get it.
Think about it. I mean, somebody’s going to have to. Why not you?
The new CEO of the Indy Racing League – oops, we’re not supposed to call it that anymore, so I’ll start over.
The new CEO of IndyCar, Randy Bernard, has done a couple of things since assuming his position earlier this year.
Bernard was hired to replace Tony George, who was the victim of a family feud that saw him unceremoniously dumped as president and CEO of the IRL, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other Hulman-George family businesses.
While other people are now running the Speedway, the baking powder companies and so-on, Bernard has been charged with making IndyCar a success. Whether he’s succeeding or failing is an open question. But after watching the IndyCar Japan 300 from Twin-Ring Motegi on Saturday night/Sunday morning (won by Helio Castroneves, with Dario Franchitti second and Will Power third, full story here), I can tell you two things he’s got to do and he’s got to do them fast:
He needs a new race director and he needs to hire a new safety team.
That race was 200 laps in length and 50 of them were run under yellow. Fifty. A quarter of the race. Two of the yellows involved possible personal injury and I can understand the safety team taking their time and the race director being understandably conservative so far as the track being safe for the resumption of racing.
But the other three? Please.
On Lap 42, Alex Lloyd’s car conked out for one reason or another. He dropped low on the track exiting turn two and drove into the pit entrance lane that, at Motegi, is at the beginning of turn three. He wasn’t going very fast and came to a halt, so they threw the yellow for the safety team to hook him up to a truck and tow him the rest of the way into the pits.
It took them six laps – six – to restart the race. Huh?
Paul Tracy, who can’t drive fast enough anymore to be competitive on ovals, somehow got up too close to the wall in turn four on Lap 114 and brushed it before driving around to his pit. They threw the yellow for whatever reason – I mean, seriously, what was that about – and that caution period lasted eight laps.
Eight laps for what?
Alex Lloyd (yes, him again) hit the wall on Lap 148 and there was an oil fire. The safety team arrived and two guys lumbered (there’s no other word to describe it) toward his car as he struggled to get out.
He made it and they got the fire out. It took a total of 19 laps to clean up the track and re-start the race.
I want Bernard to come to Toronto for a baseball game. I want him to see the world’s fastest grounds crew in action. They’re the guys at the Rogers Centre who sprint in from left field after the fifth inning of a Blue Jays game to rake the ground around home place and the three bases, make sure the pitcher’s mound is in ship-shape and then sprint back to their "closet" in left field – all in about 90 seconds.
That’s what that IndyCar safety team should be doing as soon as they make sure the driver is safe: hustle their buns off to clean up the track and then get off. I’m not sure the current crew could do that. (And I know they wouldn’t stand a chance if asked to duplicate the work of the world’s fastest grounds crew.)
This is what I jotted down in my notebook after the TV camera caught three of those fellows looking for all the world like they were all tuckered out:
"140 lbs., max."
Gee, I wonder why I wrote that?
Several other notebook jottings:
– Jack Arute used to be one of the very best pit reporters. Although he blamed the heat at Motegi for the gaffe (it was in the high 80sF), he delivered one voice report in which he called Japan by the name of another country and misidentified the race leader.
– Takuma Sato couldn’t wait for the race to start. He crashed his KV Racing car during qualifying. Although he made it through qualifying, Mario Moraes crashed his KV entry on Lap 68 . I don’t think KV Racing has entered a race this season in which, at the end of the weekend, their cars went back on the truck undamaged.
– The last race of the season will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 2. Only Franchitti and Power are in the running for the championship.
On the weekend before Labour Day, when a 12-year-old boy was killed in a motorcycle accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there was another motorcycle racing accident in Indy, this time in a flat-track race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Jesse Phibbs, 21, of Leamington, fell off his bike and was hit by another rider. He has been in a coma since.
Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star reports that the family is optimistic that Phibbs, who has been treated at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, will soon be transferred to Hotel-Dieu hospital in Windsor.
Phibbs was in his first year of professional competition after riding as a non-professional for many years. He was studying to be a radiation technologist.
Other racing: Indian Summer Trophy Race, NASCAR Canada, Sprint Car Nationals
– The photo you see above, taken at Mosport on Saturday by Ed Moody, is of Dean Baker of Blackstock, who won the Formula Ford race over Shane Jantzi of Ayr and Caitlin Johnston of Orangeville.
The war bonnet he’s wearing, emblematic of the British Empire Motor Club’s Indian Summer Trophy Races (this was the 56th renewal), has been awarded each year since 1960, when one was given to auto race winner Peter Ryan and motorcycle champion Don Haddow.
Since 2005, the war bonnet has gone to the winner of the three-hour Indian Summer Enduro race. This year, however, a new Totem trophy – designed by the late Bob Brockington and carved by BEMC member Paul Johnson – was awarded to the winner of the Enduro, Nigel Krikorian of Markham in a Subaru Sti.
The BEMC board determined that this year and in future, the war bonnet would go to the winner of a class that can’t currently participate in the three-hour endurance event. As open-wheel cars aren’t allowed to race against closed-wheel race cars (it’s too dangerous), the board selected the FF1600 class.
It was a tight contest, but Baker prevailed.
– At Riverside Speedway outside Antigonish, N.S., on Saturday, D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas won the Komatsu 300 presented by Wilson Equipment and, in so doing, moved into first place in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series standings with one race remaining.
Kennington, who entered the race weekend trailing J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge by just 21 points, used lapped traffic to take the lead for the final time from Scott Steckly of Milverton on Lap 215 and withstood Steckly's challenge on an ensuing restart to pick up the win.
The victory, combined with Fitzpatrick's 13th-place finish, gives Kennington the points lead by 40 heading into the final race of the season next Saturday night at Kawartha Speedway near Peterborough.
It was Kennington’s fifth win of the season and the ninth of his series career. The five wins is a series record for oval track wins in a season and is just one behind 2009 champion Andrew Ranger’s record six overall wins established last season.
Following Kennington and Steckly across the finish line Saturday night were Don Thomson Jr. of Hamilton in third, Ron Beauchamp Jr. of Windsor fourth, Jason Hathaway of Appin, Ont., fifth, Kerry Micks of Mt. Albert sixth, Anthony Simone of Holland Landing seventh, Mark Dilley of Barrie eighth, Jeff Lapcevich of Grimsby, ninth and Joey McColm of Ajax, tenth.
Only 17 cars took the green flag, including two that were "local."
– Shane Stewart of Pittsboro, Ind., won the Canadian Sprint Car Nationals Saturday night at the Ohsweken Speedway. Chuck Hebing of Ontario, N.Y., was second and Steve Poirier of Saint-Mathieu-de-Boleil, Que., was third, with Jessica Zemken of Sprakers, N.Y., fourth and Dustin Daggett of Grand Ledge, Mich., fifth.
– Ashley McCalmont of Hamilton returned to the racing wars after becoming a young mother and, with co-driver Eric Curan, finished ninth in a race this weekend at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.