I was caught up short when I bumped into a media colleague earlier this week and he said to me: “What have you got against NASCAR?”
This was in regards to a column I wrote in which I suggested that NASCAR, in suspending owner Joe Gibbs for six races for a relatively minor transgression (among other penalties levied against other competitors), was acting irrationally.
So when he said what he said, I said something flippant in reply but afterwards I thought, “Uh-oh.”
I like and admire the journalist in question, so if he’s wondering about my motives, perhaps others are too and that’s why I’ve called you all together today to say this:
I think NASCAR is the best organized and best managed racing business in the world.
In the world.
Formula One has been held together by one man, Bernie Ecclestone, and I guarantee you that when he either retires, is fired, or forced out, or dies, F1 will be a mess of public bickering and backstabbing. And the Indy car series, regardless of who’s been in charge, has been in chaos much of the time ever since the original split that saw CART break away from the USAC in 1979.
Yes, NASCAR has been, essentially, a France family business and it’s been their way or the highway. But I don’t think they’ve abused that trust and they've reached out to the grassroots by sanctioning and administering local racing just about everywhere in the United States and, on occasion, in Canada. Their regional racing series – eight, including the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series – has given (and is giving) scores of ambitious and talented racing drivers a professional environment in which to grow and demonstrate their talents. Their diversification program has demonstrated a commitment to helping minorities, be they non-Americans, drivers of colour, or women, advance in the motor sport. In short, no other sanctioning body has even attempted what NASCAR has already achieved.
So I’m a big fan of NASCAR.
That doesn’t mean I like everything – I think they need more road course races, with at least one during the Chase – but in a clutch I would take Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton, Brian France and the rest of the executive group over anybody that the other big leagues have to offer.
Which makes it even more puzzling for me, after reading what I’ve just written, to understand that penalty against Gibbs. And a $25,000 fine charged to Denny Hamlin when all he did was say he didn’t like the new car.
When something goes wrong in a business, or a marriage, or whatever, things that don’t normally happen start happening.
They are usually signals, or symptoms, of something else going on – sometimes beneath the surface and away from public view.
So I wonder what’s happening inside NASCAR?
Because a $200,000 fine for next-to-nothing ain't normal.
I posted a report on Monday afternoon about the visit to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park of executives from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and a truck from the Turner Scott Motorsport stable.
Led by series director (and former Sprint Cup competitor) Chad Little, the contingent gave Old Mosport the once-over in advance of the truck race there on Labour Day weekend - called the Chevrolet Silverado 250, by the way - and driver Nelson Piquet Jr. shook down the TSM entry in order to record data that will be shared with other teams in the series who won’t even see the facility until they arrive for the Sept. 1 race.
Although Piquet was the only one to get any track time, three other drivers came up for a look-see including defending truck series champion James Buescher, 20-year-old hot-shoe Jeb Burton (son of Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton and nephew of Jeff Burton) and Miguel Paludo, a Brazilian Porsche GT3 Cup driver now trying his hand at NASCAR.
But in posting my report, I didn’t have time to include photos so I’ve posted a bunch with this post over at wheels.ca that were taken by me (uncredited) or by Gary Grant, who writes Auto News for Toronto Star Wheels and the Insider Report for wheels.ca
(That's his photo here, by the way, with Paludo (left), Burton, Piquet, CTMP co-owner Ron Fellows and Buescher.)
Also, if you want to take a video tour of Mosport with Piquet, courtesy of Joel Robinson, click here
Road racing in Ontario will officially get under way at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this coming weekend, May 4 and 5.
The 63rd annual (wow!) British Empire Motor Club Spring Trophy Races will involve eight classes, including the BF Goodrich GT Challenge, GT Sprints presented by CSC Racing, Toyo Tires F1600 Championship, Formula 1200, Formula Libre, Formula Four, Vintage/Historic and G70+.
Action gets under way with a driver’s meeting in front of the infield restaurant at 7:45 a.m. Saturday morning. For more information, the weekend schedule and FREE TICKETS, go to the CASC-Ontario website (click here).
Speaking of NASCAR, and penalties (see lead item), the two Richard Childress Racing crew members arrested and charged with assault after approaching driver Piquet and another man outside the speedway in Richmond, Va., last Friday night following an altercation in the pits earlier have each been fined $15,000, suspended for the next four Nationwide Series races and placed on probation till the end of the year.
Piquet and another driver, David Scott, who got into a shoving match in the pits, have been put on probation till June 26th.
Oh, and late-breaking news has the penalties against Team Penske, for trying to sneak unapproved parts past NASCAR inspection, upheld by an appeals panel. Just about everybody has been suspended for six races (not the drivers) and the crew chiefs for Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have been fined $100,000 apiece.
About as appalling as the refereeing in the NHL, if you ask me.
Denny Hamlin says he will start the Talladega 500 on Sunday and then give way to relief driver Brian Vickers. That’s what he tweeted Tuesday.
"They (his doctors) all came to the conclusion they were happy with me starting Talladega and getting out when it's a safe time to get out,'' Hamlin said.
He told ESPN.com that he would drop to the back of the pack and then pit at the first caution, confident that he and Vickers can switch and not lose a lap under yellow.
Okay, I want to say right here and now that if he’s out there, and he’s racing, and he’s feeling good, that Denny Hamlin will not get out and let Brian Vickers in. He just won’t.
He’s a tough mother when it comes to pain. He’s done it in the past and he’ll do it again.
Mark my words: Once in the car, he won’t leave it.
It’s official. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, known officially this season as Panther DRR with driver Oriol Servia up, will drop out of this season’s IZOD IndyCar Series following the Indianapolis 500.
Co-owned by Indy new-car dealer Dennis Reinbold and former driver Robbie Buhl, the team has run full-time in the series for the past 13 seasons.
Even if you’re low buck, car racing is a financial drain and these guys, racers to the core, can’t afford to keep doing it.
Sorry to see them go. They gave it their all.
Here’s what’s on tap at Toronto Motorsports Park. Starting today on the road course, motorcycle lapping is scheduled till 5 p.m. Registration is at the track and it’s $115 plus HST. Open car lapping is scheduled for Friday from noon till dusk for $130 plus HST. If you can’t make it till 5 p.m., the price drops to $90 plus HST.
Finally, on the dragway, the first Friday night test and tune will cost $20, $10 for spectators. ONDR Nostalgia Drag Racers plus test and tune on Saturday is $30 for competitors and $15 for spectators. Test and tune on Sunday, the 5th, is $30 for participants and $10 for spectators.