When it comes to speed, nobody (and nothing) will be able to beat Felix Baumgartner’s amazing performance Sunday when he became the first human being to break the sound barrier without the aid of an aircraft. For details, click here.
Back here on Earth, however, there were these racing developments:
– Sebestian Vettel has his groove back – he won the Grand Prix of Korea Sunday (click here for details) - and the F1 championship is up for grabs with four races to go. Vettel’s Red Bull-Renault teammate, Mark Webber, was second in Korea with Fernando Alonso third in a Ferrari.
– Clint Bowyer won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night (click here for details), mainly by avoiding running out of gas. It was a classic "fuel economy run," with Denny Hamlin finishing second and Jimmie Johnson third.
– Antoine L’Estage of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and co-driver Nathalie Richard of Halifax won the Pacific Forest Rally at the weekend. The victory, plus their previous three wins and one second-place finish, saw them clinch their fifth Canadian Rally Championship.
Hardy Schmidtke of Cochrane, Alta., and John Hall of Edmonton were second in the rally, while Max Riddle and Aaron Neumann, both of Vancouver, finished third. Challengers for the championship, Leo Urlichich of Toronto and Carl Williams of Wales, crashed out early.
– Drag racer Eric Latino of Whitby, the subject of a cover page article in Toronto Star Wheels on Labour Day weekend, won the Pro Mod title at the annual Shakedown Nationals in Englishtown, N.J. The Shakedown Nationals is the Indy 500 of Outlaw drag racing for door cars. Well done, Eric.
And then there were these other racing developments:
– Speed TV seems on the way out.
– The can of worms that’s been opened by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion.
Speed TV first.
This story came out of the blue last Friday afternoon when a strange item was posted on speedtv.com saying, in so many words, that Speed Channel had lost the TV rights to F1 racing in the United States.
But it didn’t say who, or what, had them for 2013 and beyond and there has been much speculation – since confirmed – that it’s NBC, which would put some of the races on the main network and the rest on its NBC Sports Network channel, formerly Versus, which also has the IZOD IndyCar Series races and, let us not forget, the NHL in the U.S.
Now, there are several aspects of this story worth discussing.
First, Canadian F1 fans don't watch the races on Speed now, so it really doesn’t matter where and with whom Bernie Ecclestone chooses to do business with south of the border. TSN has owned the Canadian rights for years and if TSN doesn’t want to continue then I’m sure Rogers Sportsnet will step in, as it did recently by announcing it would be showing the IndyCar Series races from now on.
In the end, as long as somebody televises F1 races in Canada, I don’t really care who it is.
However, I do enjoy Speed for its Speed News coverage of racing that runs through the weekend, culminating with the 7 p.m. Sunday night show Speed Center. TSN and Sportsnet pretty much pay lip service to auto racing on their sports news shows (as do the all-sports U.S. networks) so Speed Center on Sunday night is a wonderful hour for those of us racing junkies who need a solid fix at the end of the weekend.
Although I don’t want watch it regularly, the Sunday night program Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain is usually a worthwhile hour of racing information and, more important, gossip. And I enjoy – usually, and if I have time – the Sunday morning pre-NASCAR race program, Race Day.
But the rest of it – Pinks All Out, Gearz, Pass Time, Dumbest Stuff on Wheels, and so-on – is boring and a waste of time and a money-losing proposition and is likely why parent company Fox Sports will soon turn the channel into an all-sports network to compete against ESPN and NBC Sports Channel.
– Now, the Tony George and IndyCar story.
It’s interesting how this story has developed. There have been hints, for months, that something was up. But what?
Then, the respected publication Sports Business Journal came out with a story a couple of weeks ago saying George and a group of people including Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi had made an offer to purchase the series from the people who own the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
As this is all about politics (isn’t everything?), certain reporters with vested interests got all sorts of people to deny it. The president of the Speedway said the series wasn’t for sale and even George himself said the story was inaccurate.
However, you will note that Tony George did not say the story was wrong. You will note that the president of the Speedway did not deny that somebody was trying to buy the race series.
Now it turns out that Penske knows all about this but says he isn’t involved. Ganassi says he has an open mind about a takeover but hasn’t done anything about it.
At the end of the day, if George has the money needed to buy the series, he will get it.
Open-wheel racing in the United States was once sanctioned by the AAA. After the Le Mans tragedy in 1955, when more than 80 people were killed when a car went into the crowd, the AAA withdrew from racing and the Indianapolis Speedway owner, Tony Hulman, was instrumental in the formation of the U.S. Auto Club (USAC) to sanction Indy-type car racing.
Although Hulman had influence within the USAC, he wasn’t involved in its operation. And although he promoted the Indy 500 and helped to promote other Indy car races, he did not run Indy car racing.
Neither did the people who took over the running of the Speedway after his death in 1977.
Tony George changed that in the mid-1990s when he started the Indy Racing League after a falling-out with the people who ran CART. In the ensuing war, that lasted until 2008, George – as president and CEO of the Speedway as well as the family business, Hulman and Co. - spent millions of dollars propping up the IRL (just as his counterpart, Kevin Kalhoven, did over at the Champ Car World Series after CART went bankrupt).
But while Kalkhoven was spending his own money, Tony George was spending some that was his and a lot that wasn't. This got him into trouble with his relatives.
George’s sisters and mother forced him out in 2010 and hired Randy Bernard to not only operate the renamed IndyCar Series but to get the budget under control. This he has done but it's still costing the Indianapolis Speedway and Hulman and Co. serious money to own and operate a racing series that is not its core business and it is only a matter of time before the money being offered to buy it is too much to refuse.
It doesn’t matter who’s in or who’s out. Tony George is the key and he wants to own Indy car racing again and who’s going to stop him?
– Finally, the Earnhardt concussion.
I can remember, years ago, looking at photographs of sprint car drivers whose eyes were totally bloodshot after flipping upside down and the captions would talk about how tough those guys were after having their "bells rung."
Awareness of head injuries and ongoing medical research now shows how dangerous this "bell ringing" is.
After knowing he’d been concussed following a testing accident at Kansas Speedway in August, and after being bashed around during the Big One at the conclusion of the NASCAR race at Talladega last weekend, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to see a doctor and was told to stop driving for at least two races.
Now we have a firestorm of opinion, ranging from people wondering if Earnhardt would have ‘fessed up if he’d been nearer the top of the Chase standings to other race drivers suggesting that they’d felt themselves concussed but didn’t do anything about it.
Race drivers, for all their bravado and machismo, are among the most insecure people on the planet. They will – to a man and woman – walk through fire, if necessary, to keep their rides.
Why? Because they fear that the person who replaces them might do a better job and they will find themselves unemployed.
How many times does a team have a driver on standby, ready to take over if the driver who starts the race has to get out of the car because of illness or injury? And how many times has that second driver actually gotten into a race? Correct. Exactly none.
Denny Hamlin had a knee operation in 2010 and three weeks later won a race at Texas in excruciating pain because he wouldn’t take any pain killers for fear of flunking a drug test. Casey Mears was on standby in case Hamlin needed relief. He was still on standby when Hamlin drove into Victory Lane.
Last night on Speed Center, ex-crew chief Jeff Hammond said Darrell Waltrip had suffered a concussion in a crash in 1982 and "doesn’t remember the next two races." Jeff Gordon, who was on Wind Tunnel, said he’s pretty sure he’d suffered concussions. Lee Roy Yarbrough, a famous 1960s-era stock car star, died in recent years while suffering from a form of dementia brought on by numerous concussions.
The NHL, the NFL and other pro sports leagues have a protocol for dealing with athletes who’ve been knocked silly while on the ice or the field. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does, now that this particular horse is out of the barn.
Will it continue to treat all the drivers as "independent contractors," and suggest they see their family doctor if they have a headache?
Or will it take responsibility for the athletes and have a head injury test conducted immediately after a driver has been in a crash?
Or, as I suggested the other day, will the insurance companies force the drivers and racing organizations (NASCAR in particular) to take action or else face increased premiums?
This discussion is not going to go away. How NASCAR handles it is going to be just about as important as who wins the Chase for the Championship.