This entry might not be as comprehensive as usual for a Monday Morning Racing Roundup but I spent much of Sunday researching and writing the entry directly below, which is about the death at 87 of Canadian broadcasting pioneer Johnny Esaw, and so I didn’t get to watch a lot of racing.
However, I’m not sure I missed all that much. The NASCAR and IndyCar Series races were both won from the pole – Jimmy Johnson in Sprint Cup and Ryan Hunter-Reay in open wheel. Yes, I’m sure there was a lot of action between the start and the finish of both those races but the fact that the two guys in front at the beginning were still there at the end indicates, to me, anyway, that there was really never any doubt about who was going to win.
And the fact that Canada’s great new hope in IndyCar, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, spent the entire race strapped in his car while marooned on the far side of the Barber Motorsports Park circuit also meant I wasn’t all that disappointed to have to miss most of the race.
I’ll return to the racing in a moment. First, though, I have to say some more about Esaw.
Although he was primarily involved, and interested, in the traditional stick and ball sports, Esaw was a great friend of racing generally, and Canadian racing in particular.
What’s intriguing is that he wasn’t all that interested in the sport. But, as he told me when I interviewed him at length just about a year ago now for a feature in Toronto Star Wheels, he recognized that there was an audience for motor racing and that he and his station and network would benefit if he treated it with the respect it deserved.
It’s a pity that more of Canada’s broadcasters and newspaper editors haven’t felt the same way.
As I reported in the story below, Esaw and CFTO/CTV produced the first racing broadcast from what was Mosport International Raceway (or Mosport Park, if you want) in the early 1960s, shortly after the station and network went on the air.
For years, Esaw made the Canadian Formula Atlantic championship a part of CTV’s Wide World of Sports program on Saturdays. Much of the program came from ABC’s Wide World of Sports but Esaw had the races inserted into the lineup, with the late Craig Hill as host and analyst.
And, of course, as is also detailed below, starting in 1977 he had the Indianapolis 500 live on CTV for nine years before the ABC coverage went live in the United States. It was a broadcasting coupe.
Esaw told me he didn’t know much about racing but that he had to bone up in a hurry in order to negotiate deals for races. He said Tony Hulman, the late owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was one of the nicest people he’d ever met and that Bernie Ecclestone was the toughest negotiator he’d encountered in any sport. He also said Stirling Moss was absolutely fascinating.
With his passing, another of the giants is gone. There really aren’t many, if any, left.
By the end, we were singing along:
Joey, Joey, Joey, Joey
I love you . . .
And our favourite line was:
Joey, pick me up
In your dad’s big truck. . .
The song was part of the all-week, never-ending, WWE-type buildup to Sunday’s race in Martsinville in which the villainous Joey Logano was, apparently, going to "get his" for deliberately wrecking, and hurting, Denny Hamlin in the race two weeks ago in California.
All we heard for most of the two weeks in between races was how there would be "payback."
Well, Logano was involved in a wreck at Martinsville, but so were a whole bunch of other drivers, which is what NASCAR is pretty much all about these days, but it wasn’t deliberate and so I guess we’ll have to wait another day for "payback" to happen, if it ever does.
Hamlin, of course, wasn’t racing Sunday – he’s too badly hurt to get into a car, although he was at the speedway Sunday – so any "payback" by him will have to wait but the word was out that one of his allies, or Tony Stewart, would do the deed and so that’s what all the pre-race excitement was about.
Mark Martin did a great job filling in for Hamlin and drove the FedEx No. 11 to a tenth place finish. (Click here for race report and full results.)
Johnson dominated, of course. He led most of the race and was never lower than fourth. Clint Bowyer finished second and Jeff Gordon was third (the last big "payback" story involved those two – remember the brawl after the race in Phoenix last fall? – but they were both on their best behaviour Sunday). Kasey Kahne was fourth, with Kyle Busch fifth – a heartbeat ahead of Brad Keselowski. Jamie McMurray was seventh, Marcos Ambrose was eighth and Greg Biffle ninth.
Driver of the race was Danica Patrick, who qualified 32nd but lost an engine and had to start 43rd. She was 11th until the final corner when she was bunted aside by Brian Vickers, who also moved Kevin Harvick out of the way.
She wound up 12th but that was a huge achievement, considering she has been struggling since her pole and eighth-place finish at Daytona and because Martinsville is not a place for the faint at heart. It is a physical wringing-out to go 500 laps on the half-mile short track and it’s a tradin’ paint place to boot. She more than held her own and even passed her boss, Tony Stewart, en route to the checkers.
Cool move of the race came when Kurt Busch crashed in Corner One and every liquid under the hood caught fire. Busch had the presence of mind to pull the on-board fire extinguisher to put out the flames before bailing out.
See AP Photo Gallery from Martinsville by clicking here.
No songs to quote from to start this report but I’m sure James Hinchcliffe, with all his talent and imagination, could write one.
The winner of the first race of the season at St. Petersburg two weeks ago was hit from behind on the opening lap of the race by Oriol Servia, who – in turn – had been hit by Graham Rahal and required a tow back to the pits.
But a wheel came off his car and the IndyCar safety team had to park him in an access road, where he sat for all but the last 18 laps of the 90-lap event.
The team had told him to wait for a yellow and they would get him back to the pits – but there were no further yellows. So "the Mayor (of Hinchtown)" sat there in his car and did what all of us in our living rooms did: watch the race.
Hunter-Reay went pole to checkers. He was chased for the last 20 laps by Scott Dixon, who finished second at Barber for the fourth consecutive year. Helio Castroneves was third with Charlie Kimball fourth and Will Power fifth. Click here for full story and results.
Andretti Autosport, Hinchcliffe’s employer, told him to stay belted in his car for two reasons. First, points are awarded for every position from first to 26th (and last), so even if he was laps down before they could get him back in the race, he could benefit from points earned. Second, with no testing allowed, the team could benefit from having the car run laps in competition in anticipation of the next race, at Long Beach, in two weeks.
Said Hinchcliffe later: "From what I have been told, we all piled into Turn 8; I was behind Tony [Kanaan], [Graham] Rahal hit [Oriol] Servia who got in the back of me. I got in the back of Tony a little bit, but it was pretty square, and it didn’t do any damage to the front. I knew I had gotten hit, but everything was fine at first, but I guess, under caution, things started to work itself loose. As I started to warm the tires up, the wheel actually broke, that was what it was."
A.J. Allmendinger was doing really well in his return to open wheel racing but he stalled during a pit stop and eventually wound up 19th. Penske Racing will still run him at Long Beach in order to give him more seat time before Indianapolis.
Dario Franchitti’s miserable season continued. A broken header led to more serious problems and the four-time champion wound up 25th, one place ahead of Hinchcliffe.
Alex Tagliani of Montreal started 15th and finished 11th. He also was hit from behind and suffered structural damage but soldiered on for a good finish.
Three more things before I take my leave.
1. The last time an Indy car driver won a race and finished last in the next was in 1956 and the unlucky guy was hard-luck racer Lloyd Ruby. Hinch is in good company as Ruby was a helluva shoe.
2. Ryan Briscoe, dropped by Team Penske this year in as strange a move as its embracing of Allmendinger is, will race for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in the Indianapolis 500.
3. I just about fell off my chair when I heard one of the announcers say that a driver – I think it was Justin Wilson – had been seen before the race giving instructions to a volunteer pit-crew member on how to change a tire.
Yes, I really heard that.
- NORRIS MCDONALD