The weekend’s racing was kind of so-so, with the possible exception of the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series event at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday (won by Jon Fogerty and Alex Gurney, incidentally), but there were a couple of off-track stories that merit attention, with one in particular being of utmost importance because it affects us all.
That one in particular is that the Speed Channel will soon be gone, replaced by yet another general sports network.
The rebranding of SPEED by the parent Fox Sports will likely happen this summer, Charlotte Observer radio and TV columnist Mark Washburn reported at the weekend. The relaunched channel will be called Fox Sports 1 and will probably feature baseball, football, soccer and amateur sport in addition to some auto racing and other motor sports.
Gone will be such Emmy Award-winning programs as Pinks, Pinks All Out, Pass Time, Are You Faster Than a Redneck and Truck U. (Isn’t the name of that last show just hilarious? Just the sort of thing to attract sophisticated viewers and avertisers. . . .)
I say good riddance to them all. And although I’m not happy to be losing an all-motorsport station to yet another general sports channel (of which we have more than enough already, thank you), I’m not sad to see most of the SPEED lineup consigned to the waste basket.
I consider SPEED a lost opportunity. What could have been a great channel – like the Golf Channel is great, and the NFL Channel is great – was always pretty mediocre at best.
They did some things really well. Adam Alexander’s Speed Center newscast on Sunday night at 7 p.m. is must-viewing. And Dave Despain’s Wind Tunnel, also on Sunday night, is another "must-view" show. And where else will you get live coverage of sports-car racing and (most of the time) of 24-hour races like Daytona and Le Mans? And yes, even NASCAR Today with Kyle Petty and Kenny Wallace could be entertaining on a Sunday morning.
But the rest of it? See ya.
Where were all the old USAC sprint car films? Don’t tell me they couldn’t make a deal with Dick Wallen? And films of the old Indianapolis 500s and the Indy cars at Milwaukee and Riverside and Trenton? And the USAC dirt cars at Springfield and Du Quoin? And sports car racing from Daytona and Sebring back in the day? There must be a vault of motorcycle racing videos somewhere that would have made for great viewing.
There are all sorts of Formula One films around. Why weren’t they shown on SPEED? If you’re going to be a Speed Channel, isn’t that the sort of stuff you want to have on the air all the time? If I can watch historic Daytona 500s and CART races from the 1990s on ESPN Classic Canada, why couldn’t I see them on the Speed Channel?
As I said, a wasted opportunity.
I just hope the Fox people see the value in Speed Center and Wind Tunnel and some of the other above-average programs like live race coverage and make them a large part of Fox Sports 1.
But I can get along quite nicely without Truck U and anything with the name Pinks in it.
The second off-track story of the weekend dealt with a leaked report concerning the future of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar series. It is a complex subject and requires a full blog, so I will post my thoughts on it – and the reaction to it – Monday night.
Before moving on, however, I must ask out loud: what is going on with Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain? Usually an hour of interviews and call-ins, Wind Tunnel is back on the air after its usual winter hiatus but is now only 30 minutes long and that’s not nearly enough time.
Let’s hope once everything gets going – the American Le Mans Series season and Formula One will start in two weeks and IndyCar will follow a week later – that Wind Tunnel will revert to its usual hour.
If not, I fear for the future of that popular program.
Despain will be in Daytona for Bike Week next Sunday and will be represented on the show by Oakville's James Hinchcliffe and Robin Miller. It will be Hinchcliffe’s first gig since he signed a deal to contribute to both Wind Tunnel and Speed Center, which was announced this past week.
Okay, so Carl Edwards won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix Sunday, with Jimmie Johnson second and Denny Hamlin third. Click here for full race story.
But I’m confused.
There is a yellow line around the bottom of Phoenix International Raceway. NASCAR says you can’t go below the yellow line and improve your position. But Denny Hamlin dropped below the yellow line and took a short cut up the backstretch on the last lap to improve his position by shooting all the way up to second place. Johnson fought him off but he very nearly stole second in the race.
Now, the line on the track in Phoenix is a single line, rather than a double line of the kind you find at places like – say – Daytona. So maybe – maybe – NASCAR thinks it’s okay to go below the line.
But if that’s the case, why have a line there at all? If it serves no purpose, what is it doing there?
At one track it’s against the rules to pass below the yellow line and at another it’s okay?
As I said, I’m confused.
Now, I am not a conspiracy theorist (ED NOTE: ho, ho, ho), but Carl Edwards, who has not won a race in 70 tries, finally wins one on Sunday. It is the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Carl Edwards is sponsored by Subway. I guess it’s just a coincidence.
Here’s another coincidence. Two of the three Stewart-Haas Racing team cars went out after crashing because their right front tires blew out. Ryan Newman was the first to hit the wall in turn four and Danica Patrick followed a few laps later. Newman was credited with 40th place; Patrick started 40th but was running 26th when she crashed and officially finished 39th.
It was a typical NASCAR Sprint Cup race: nothing to get excited about until the end and then the green-white-checkers finish was interesting. But Edwards had the field covered and was pulling away at the checkers.
Kyle Busch, who has not had a good start to his Sprint Cup season, won the Nationwide Series race Saturday at Phoenix, followed home by Brad Keselowski and Justin Allgaier.
Later Saturday, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West series took to the big mile speedway and Greg Pursley won. I wouldn’t normally report the results of this particular series but the second-place finisher, who happens to be Pursley’s teammate, was Cameron Hayley, 16, of Calgary. That kid's got a future, I'd say.
The NASCAR Mexican stock car series also raced as part of the Phoenix weekend. It likely gave that series a much-needed publicity boost at home as well as in the United States.
Dean McNulty, who writes for another Toronto paper, is reporting that NASCAR will give the Canadian Tire stock car series similar exposure by including it on the program at Watkins Glen in August when the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series stock cars travel there for the traditional mid-summer race weekend.
As mentioned earlier, Fogarty and Gurney won the Grand Am Rolex race at the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Tex., with Ryan Dalziel and Alex Popow second and Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas third. All were racing in Daytona Prototypes.
In the GT class, Toronto’s Paul Dalla Lana and American Bill Auberlen, driving a BMW M3, fought back from two laps down (Dalla Lana spun on the opening lap) to win. Dalla Lana and Auberlen earlier won the Continental Tire support race.
They are the only team to ever win both the Continental and Rolex races on the same weekend and it was the second time they’d done it, the first time coming at Homestead-Miami in 2011.
Auberlen actually drove the team car across the finish line in second place but the first-place-finishing car was penalized a lap plus 90 seconds for avoidable contact.
The "contact" was one of a number of instances in this race in which the sports-car drivers raced more like NASCAR drivers, with lots of rubbin’ and bangin’ going on out there.
Other Canadians – Rolex: Sylvain Tremblay of Montreal, second in the GX class. AIM Autosport of Woodbridge (Emil Assentato and Anthony Lozzaro aboard) was fifth in the GT class and a sister car, R. Ferri/AIM Autosport Racing With Ferrari, finished tenth in GT with Max Papis and Jeff Segal driving. Kyle Marcelli of Barrie finished ninth in GT.
In the Continental Tire race: Ken Wilden of Oakville was seventh overall in GS. Fraser Wellon of Mississauga was 12th in GS. Ashley McCalmont of Ancaster was 15th in GS. Scott Maxwell of Toronto, driving for Multimatic Motorsports of Markham, finished 18th in GS. Another Multimatic driver, David Empringham of Toronto, was 42nd overall but 22nd in class. Taylor Hacguard of Vancouver was 29th overall but 9th in ST. The Toronto-based Compass360 Racing team had four cars in the ST class and they finished sixth, 19th, 20th and 26th in class.
Lewis Hamilton was fastest for Mercedes as F1 testing continued in Barcelona. Felipe Massa was second in a Ferrari, although about a half-second behind Hamilton. Although some suspect sandbagging, I suggest the real reason the pre-season doesn’t mean much in F1 is because they are actually testing things and not racing. The season opens in Australia in two weeks and then we’ll see who’s got their act together. . . .
Ryan Villopoto won the Monster Energy Supercross in St. Louis at the weekend. James Stewart was second and Chad Reed third. Those guys will be at the Rogers Centre in Toronto in three weeks. Sat., March 23, to be exact.