I'll tell you what it was telling them.
If the suits at Daytona Beach were paying attention, it says people are sick to death of 34 oval races (plus exhibition races like the Sprint Unlimited and the Sprint Showdown and the All-Star Race) where the drivers just go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and 'round in circles and ZZZZzzzzzzzzz.
There are exactly two road-course races on the Sprint Cup calendar. Road races are challenging and exciting and there should be more of them. Not all at once, but there are enough high-quality road courses in the U.S. and Canada (yes, how about a Sprint Cup race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park?) that there could be as many as 10 on the schedule and two could be included in the Chase for the Championship.
NASCAR should be at Road America, and Mid-Ohio (they’re running the Nationwide cars there next weekend) and Road Atlanta (why have two races on the oval there; one’s enough) and, yes, at Old Mosport.
There were not many empty seats in the grandstands at Watkins Glen Sunday and there are plenty unoccupied at most of the oval races now – even at places like Bristol. So let’s hope NASCAR sees the light and starts to move in that left-right direction.
My second observation is that, over the years, NASCAR team owners and crew chiefs have become as demanding about fitness as have their counterparts in Formula One and IndyCar. Gone are the days of guys with beer bellies driving stock cars. Now the drivers are all stick thin and in shape.
And it’s not just the drivers. The people on the pit crews have to move like lightning and they’re all skinny too. I had a friend who was on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s pit crew for years who lost his job to a guy who’d played college football. The guy wasn’t good enough to go on to the NFL but he was a helluva lot faster moving a jack around than my friend.
Which brings me to people on safety crews at NASCAR races. Have you ever noticed that most of them waddle? Or appear to? Collectively, they must weigh ten tons. Sunday, toward the end of the race, there were a number of crashes that required fast cleanups and those folks were incapable of moving at any speed other than slow. It wasn’t that they weren’t trying; it’s that they were so bulky that any physical activity tired them out really quickly (like sweeping up speedy dry) and they had to stop to catch their breath or else risk keeling over from a heart attack.
I know NASCAR doesn’t hire those people; the tracks do. But this is the big leagues, folks. Millions of dollars are at stake at each race and over the course of a season and some of those wrecks take far too long to clean up and this robs drivers of opportunities to advance because of the laps that are lost.
If you can’t sprint 50 yards in less than 10 seconds, you shouldn’t be part of anything that requires quickness, which is what auto racing is supposed to be about.
Now, the race. Kyle Busch (and I’ve maintained for several years that he is so good he should have tried Formula One) was in the right place – the pits – at the right time – a yellow with about 40 laps of the 90 laps remaining – that when he emerged he was in the lead. Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. gave it the old college try but couldn’t catch him and so they finished the race in that order.
Poor Marcos Ambrose. He led the first 51 laps and was caught out on the speedway when that fateful yellow was thrown. He had to wait for the pits to open to make his stop and when he finally returned to action he was out of the top ten.
His car developed a problem on a later restart anyway and he slid sideways. He was punted off the track by Max Papis, ending his day.
Speaking of Papis, he did a fine job filling in for the injured Tony Stewart. He started 29th and finished 15th. He could have passed teammate Ryan Newman, who wound up 14th, but Max knows which side his bread is buttered on and rode shotgun for Newman to the checkers.
Others of interest: Juan Pablo Montoya finished fifth (how does he keep his job?), A.J. Allmendinger wound up tenth and Danica Patrick was 20th.
Ron Fellows of Misssissauga was 35th. Fellows had high hopes for a good finish – perhaps even a victory – but couldn’t qualify in the top twenty and didn’t crack it during the race. His day ended when he collided with Travis Kvapil mid-way through the infamous Watkins Glen esses (it was one of them racin’ deals) and although the team tried a quick repair the car was too badly damaged to continue and he had to drop out.
Other racing Sunday (Saturday’s results are further down in this post):
Alex Tagliani of Montreal started from pole in Sunday’s NASCAR Canadian Tire Seres race at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres and wound up fifth behind the winner, defending series champion D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas.
Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., who started at the back of the 30-car field after missing Saturday’s qualifying session (he was 26th in the Nationwide Series race Saturday afternoon at Watkins Glen; mechanical difficulties forced him out of that race on Lap 71 of the 82-lap event), fought his way up to finish second while Jacques Villeneuve of Montreal was third (yes, that Jacques Villeneuve) and Jason Hathaway of Dutton, Ont., was fourth.
Scott Steckly of Milverton, who finished eighth, leads the championship by four points over Kennington. Hathaway is in third place.
Sunday at Road America, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing (Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf co-driving) scored their fifth consecutive overall victory in the American Le Mans Series race. For the first time, however, the revolutionary DeltaWing racer led laps in the series – 16 in total. Drivers Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick led eight each and the DeltaWing was running at the finish for the first time in its ALMS tenure, finishing fifth overall and third in class.
Tony Burgess of Toronto and Chris McMurry finished second overall in Dyson Racing’s Mazda/Lola B12/60. Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende captured their second Prototype Challenge victory of the season, finishing third overall in the ORECA FLM09. Kyle Marcelli of Barrie and Chris Cumming of Vancouver were second in the PC Class in another ORECA FLM09.
Other class winners: Scott Tucker scored his fourth consecutive P2 victory for Level 5 Motorsports, joining guest driver Simon Pagenaud (filling in for the injured Ryan Briscoe) in the HPD ARX-03b. Dominick Farnbacher and Marc Goossens won the GTA race in their Viper GTS-R. In GTC, Spencer Pumpelly recorded his sixth career victory, joining second-time winner Nelson Canache Jr. in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. They also took the points lead in the class in the process.
The Road America weekend featured the ALMS paired with the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series for the first time in preparation for the debut of United SportsCar Racing in 2014. As was the case Saturday, there was no word of the expected announcement of the schedule for the first season – which suggests there is still lots of arm-twisting going on behind the scenes.
As there will not be any Prototype I racing in SportsCar, at least in the beginning, Pickett Racing will dip its toes in the IZOD IndyCar Series on the road course at Sonoma in California next weekend. Lucas Luhr will drive.
At Canadian Tire Motorsport Park at the weekend, a Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship double-header saw perennial champion Jordan Szoke of Brantford lose his third race in a row. At Atlantic Motorsport Park two weeks ago, he lost to Jodi Christie of Keene. Saturday, he was second to Bodhi Edie of Warman, Sask. Sunday, he lost the lead on the last lap to Alex Welsh of St. Catharines.
Riding his AW7R / Kenwood Electronics Canada / Parts Canada Suzuki GSX-R1000, Welsh dove inside Szoke’s Waznie Racing / BMW Motorrad Canada / Parts Canada BMW S1000RR at the end of the backstraight on the final lap and hung on to edge the series points leader by just 0.185 seconds.
The result means Szoke will take a 41-point lead over Welsh into the final round at Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant in two weeks. A race win is worth 50 points.
Matt McBride of Mississauga came out on top of a fierce five-way scrap to finish third on the Riders Choice BMW S1000RR.
In the Canadian Touring Car Championship races at Trois-Rivieres, Mathieu Audette won the Super Class race Friday night with Bob Attrell second and Alex Healy third. In Touring Class, Jocelyn Hébert worked his way up to first place in front of Michel Sallenbach and Damon Sharpe. In B-Spec Class, Karl Wittmer finished first, Normand Boyer was second and Alain Lauzière was third.
In the second race of the weekend, Rémy Audette finished first in Super Class. Second place was taken by Nick Wittmer and third place by Roger Ledoux. In Touring Class, Michel Sallenbach managed to keep Jocelyn Hébert behind him and finished first. Carlos Tesler-Mabe was third. In B-Spec Class, first place was once again won by Karl Wittmer. He was followed by Boyer and Lauzière.
In CTCC Supercar racing, Darryl O-Young was first in S1 Class on Saturday. He was followed by Marco Cirone in second place and André Belzile in third. In S2, Simon Dion-Viens was first, followed by Henri Sicotte and Gabor Foti. Sunday, the race in S1 Class was won again by O-Young, followed by Étienne Borgeat and Marco Cirone. In S2, Dion-Viens again was first, followed again by Sicotte. Pascal Carré was third this time.
Matthew Brabham – yes, he belongs to those Brabhams – clinched the Pro Mazda Championship by winning two races at Trois-Rivieres at the weekend. He broke records left, right and centre this season. His 11th win added to the record he recently broke of nine race wins in a season that was set just last year.
On the dirt at Merrittville Speedway outside Thorold, Chad Chevalier won her first feature in the Bobcat of Hamilton 358 Modified Division. "I’d like to dedicate tonight’s win to my friend JD who lost his wife Joyce to cancer this week," said Chevalier, who was awarded the hard charger award in last Monday’s Bob Sr. Super DIRTcar Series Big Block 100. "The 100 lapper and tonight were two different tracks. We’ve been fast all year but ran out of luck a few times. We have been working hard on set-ups and it’s coming together."
For the second time in a week, a major motor sports figure has done damage to himself by racing in the minor leagues.
First it was Tony Stewart, who broke his right leg in two places while crashing in a sprint car race in Iowa on Monday. The wreck pretty much ended his season and the ramifications for Stewart, personally, and his NASCAR Sprint Cup racing team have still not been completely indexed.
Now it turns out that IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Helio Castroneves bashed himself up in Brazil while practicing for a stock car race. The brakes on his car apparently failed and he crashed into a wall on Friday.
Now, I know why race car drivers love to race. You can become addicted to what’s called the adrenaline rush, or the red mist, and once you’ve been out there and experienced that, it’s very difficult to give it up.
But just as the rough ‘n tough young hockey player learns to pick his spots if he wants his career to last more than a few years, most race drivers learn to back off as they mature – Kenny Schoeder and Kyle Larson excepted. Once you get to the top of the mountain, the F1 guys only drive in F1, and most NASCAR Cup guys only race Cup and the Indy guys in Indy cars and so-on.
Why? Because auto racing is dangerous and you can jeopardize your career.
It’s not that there aren’t precedents. In 1974, Gary Bettenhausen was hired by Roger Penske to race Indy cars and stock cars. That wasn’t enough, apparently, for the son of Panzer Tony, who decided on the July 4 weekend that year to go championship dirt car racing on the Moody Mile at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
It was the biggest mistake of his life. A miscalculation of his car’s ability to turn left at more than 100 miles an hour left Gary with two broken collarbones and other assorted injuries and the upshot was that Penske fired him – not because he’d hurt himself but because he wasn’t available to drive the big cars in the next races that counted.
There have been plenty of similar examples since, so what was Castroneves thinking (never mind Stewart, whose NASCAR team manager is already suggesting that the chickens are coming home to roost there)?
Everything comes in threes, and we’ve already had two close calls . I hope all the other major-leaguers remember that the next time they consider tempting fate.
Okay, here’s what went down on Saturday in the world of motorsport:
- Donny Schatz won the Knoxville Nationals for sprint cars for the fourth or fifth straight time. It was worth $150,000.
– Brad Keselowsi, who’s having a terrible year in the Cup series, won his fourth straight Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen. Sam Hornish finished second and Brian Vickers was third.
– Marcos Ambrose won his third straight Watkins Glen pole for Sunday’s Cup race at the Glen. Clint Bowyer was second and Martin Truex Jr. qualified third. Max Papis, subbing for Tony Stewart, will go off 29th. Ron Fellows of Mississauga will start 24th.
– At Road America, where there was still no announcement of the 2014 United SportsCar Series schedule, Paul Dalla Lana of Toronto crashed during Contental Tire Series qualifying but recovered quickly and then went out and qualified his GT car on the pole for the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race. Then, he and co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Billy Johnson won the GT class in the feature race of the day, which was won overall by BMW Daytona Prototype drivers Brendon Hartley and Scott Mayer. In the GT class, both AIM Autosport entries out of Woodbridge finished off the podium.
– Alex Tagliani won the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at Trois-Rivieres, Que. Jacques Villeneuve will go off fourth. The pole was Tag’s fourth in the series and second at Three Rivers. Tag also set a track record.
– Bodhi Edie of Warman, Sask., riding a BMW, won the Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Saturday. Jordan Szoke of Brantford was second.
Now that the uproar over Tony Stewart’s broken leg has died down (it has, hasn’t it?), we can turn our attention to what else is going on in the world of motorsport.
And there is lots going on.
The ALMS and Grand Am are racing at Road America in a double-header. But the big news is expected to be the announcement just about everyone has been waiting for: the 2014 United SportsCar Series schedule.
If Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (nee Mosport) isn’t on it, they will hear my screams in Elkhart Lake.
(Here’s what I’m worried about. They have too many tracks and too few races. I’m concerned that they will announce the schedule for 2014 and Old Mosport won’t be on it but they will have an add-on to the announcement to the effect that they expect to have a bigger schedule in 2015 and/or 2016 and CTMP will get a race then. That will be as bad as no race. Let’s hope I’m wrong on this.)
Meantime, they announced Thursday that Canadian IndyCar star Alex Tagliani will co-pilot (with Jeff Segal) the Woodbridge-based No. 61 Remo Ferri/AIM Autosport Racing with Ferrari 458 Italia at next weekend’s Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series at Kansas Speedway.
Tagliani, who will be filling in for regular driver Max Papis, who’s scheduled to drive in the Aug. 18 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, said he’s thrilled to have been offered the ride.
"It's not every day that a driver has the chance to drive a red Ferrari in racing, and doing it for R. Ferri/AIM Autosport means even more,” Tagliani said. “Driving Remo's car is a great opportunity and an honor for a Canadian-born driver with Italian heritage. Remo is such a passionate guy for motorsports and I can already feel a great vibe in this team.”
“I am delighted to have Alex Tagliani drive for our team and for Ferrari in Kansas,” said Ferri, No. 61 team principal and owner, in a release. “He’s a passionate and intense racer and having a Canadian driver on our Canadian team means a lot to our country’s racing programs. He brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to our program and is a perfect fit for us in Kansas.”
Papis, of course, will be a little busy this weekend at Watkins Glen, filling in for the injured Tony Stewart as the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour tackles its second road-course race this season. And among his rivals will be Mississauga-based road-course veteran Ron Fellows, who will also be tradin’ paint with Papis in that Nationwide race at Mid-Ohio in a week’s time.
Fellows, who’ll be racing for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team at Mid-Ohio, will be driving for his long-time sponsor Canadian Tire at the Glen this weekend and his mount will be the No. 33 Chevrolet SS entered by Circle Sport Racing with support from GM Racing and Richard Childress Racing.
Fellows, who qualified 25th and finished 22nd at the road course in Sonoma, Calif., earlier this season, tested at the rural New York State track for two days last week and has high hopes for a good finish in Sunday’s race.
In 14 previous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Watkins Glen, Fellows has two runner-up finishes (including one to Tony Stewart). However, he’s won races in the Nationwide Series and in trucks and considers a Sprint Cup victory to be unfinished business.
"I always look forward to racing at Watkins Glen,” said Fellows, who will be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in September, in a release. “It's a really fast road course and great fun to drive. And our test at Watkins Glen went well. It's a real bonus to get to test, particularly for me when I'm not driving nearly as much.”
Said Circle Sport team owner Joe Falk: “Besides Ron’s expertise behind the wheel at a road course, having a company like Canadian Tire join our sponsorship lineup solidifies our attempt to provide Ron with the resources to capture his first Sprint Cup Series victory.
“The first road-course event at Sonoma was important to build the communication between Ron and the team and we expect better things at Watkins Glen. We spent two days testing there following The Brickyard (400) and Ron knows the Glen probably better than any of the other 42 drivers that will be in the field.”
In other racing this weekend:
- Andrew Ranger, one of the most talented young Canadian racers around, will drive in the Nationwide Series support race at Watkins Glen Saturday afternoon and then fly by helicopter to Trois-Rivieres, Que., where he will drive in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres Sunday afternoon.
As he will miss qualifying, veteran Canadian road racer Didier Schraenen has been asked to practice and qualify the No. 27 Dodge on Saturday afternoon and then Ranger will have to start from the back of the field for the race on Sunday.
Ranger, from Roxton Pond. Que., is enjoying a wonderful 2013 season. He won the NCTS race at Circuit ICAR a few weeks ago and the ARCA stock car race at New Jersey Motorsport Park — among other successes.
“This will not be my first race from the back of the field,” Ranger said in a release. “One or two safety car periods in the early part or the middle of the race should close up the field and get me back closer to the leaders. From 10th place on, passing will be much more difficult, especially with the quality of the regular and invited drivers in this year’s race.”
All the series regulars, like Scott Steckly, J.R. Fitzpatrick, D.J. Kennington, Kerry Micks, Robin Buck, Jason Hathaway and Ron Beauchamp Jr. will be there, as will Jacques Villeneuve, Tagliani and the Dumoulin brothers, Louis-Philippe and Jean-Francois.
The Grand Prix weekend will be kicked off on Friday night by a round of the Canadian Touring Car Championship presented by Continental Tire. As a series release states, “With headlights on, Round Nine will be spectacular to watch and a challenge for the competitors.”
Scott Nicol of Barrie is leading the Super Class standings in his Honda Civic Si and expects to be challenged by second-place Josh Fantin of Amhurstberg and third-place Jonathan Rashleigh of Caledon (Hyundai Genesis Coupe).
In Touring Class, still unbeaten, is Class Champion Damon Sharpe of Tottenham, driving a Honda Civic Si. Sharpe is being followed closely by Michel Sallenbach of Roxton Pond, Que. (MINI Cooper JCW) and his teammate, Eric Lacouture of Lorraine, Que.
- The Quick 32 Sportsman Series and the Pro Bike & Sled Series will be competing this weekend in the 19th Annual Stratford Spectacular Hot August Nationals presented by Ideal Supply & NAPA Auto Parts at the Grand Bend Motorplex. This will be the fifth race on the six-event schedule for 2013.
- And the Ontario Topless Sprints along with the co-sanctioning body Michigan Traditional Sprints and the Humberstone Speedway are set for this Sunday’s Can Am Sprint Car Challenge Series event.
Oh, and the Knoxville Nationals for 410 sprint cars are on this weekend, too. The finals are scheduled for Saturday night.
- NORRIS McDONALD