Racing Roundup: They’re racing in the U.S. and we’re not
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It felt kind of strange Sunday to be watching two races on television where the grandstands were packed at one and pretty full at the other, and I can’t go out to play a round of golf here where I live.
This is not a golf column. Nor is it a political column. But you have to wonder why the pandemic seems to be pretty much under control in the country to our south and nowhere near that up here. Some states have limits on attendance at sports events (8,000 fans at a time can watch the Detroit Tigers play) while others have none.
Vaccines seem to be the answer. The U.S. says that any American citizen who’s been fully vaccinated can visit Europe on holiday this summer. We ordered lots and didn’t get much. The ones we got then weren’t administered properly.
I got a shot (the one in which you’re supposed to get the second one 21 days later and I’m down to get that one in July; go figure) but I had no problems registering for an appointment or going to the hospital at the assigned time. In and out in a half-hour. Then I turn on my TV and people are sleeping outside to be first in line the next day at a clinic and I’m thinking what the hell is that?
The bottom line is that 135,000 people – about 40 per cent of capacity – will attend next month’s Indianapolis 500 but, as of this moment, (although races are still on the calendar), it is highly unlikely that any big-league spectator racing will take place at all in Ontario this summer.
But those who were lucky enough to snag a ticket, or tickets, to either of the races that went to the gate Sunday saw two beauties. Colton Herta won the NTT IndyCar Series race at St. Petersburg where about 25,000 were in attendance while Brad Keselowski won the Geiko 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in front of what was supposed to be 35 per cent (of 80,000) capacity but sure looked like a full house.
For a blow-by-blow story of Herta’s win in Florida, please click here
Herta led 97 of the 100 laps. Alex Palou, who won the season opener, led two while Herta was taking on fuel and Simon Pagenaud, who finished third, led a lap at the leader’s second pit stop. Josef Newgarden was second. Doesn’t sound all that exciting but there was some pretty good racing along the way.
Our two Canadians didn’t fare particularly well. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville must have felt like he had a target on his car. Takuma Sato ran into him early in the race and he had to stop to change a tire and then late in the race Ed Jones did the same thing. Hinch managed to survive the second assault without pitting. He started 12th and was 18that the checkers. Dalton Kellett of Stouffville suffered an electrical malfunction and the car was done for the day. He started 24th and was 23rd at the end.
Okay, listen up. This is important. IndyCar doesn’t have one rival for TV eyeballs in the USA, it’s now got two. And if has to do something about that. Fast.
When Tony Kanaan won the Indy 500 in 2013, he got down on his hands and knees and kissed the yard of bricks. I wrote a column and said that somebody should have gone up to him at that moment and given him a kick in the butt. I wrote that the media would consider the 500 just another car race but if somebody had done what I suggested, it would have been the lead item on TV newscasts that night and on front pages around the world the next morning.
I’m serious. These guys think they’re club racers. Helio Castroneves said so, in so many words, a few years ago when I wrote another column in which I quoted Paul Tracy suggesting the series needed a Black Hat. “We’re not like that,” Castronever said in Toronto during the Honda Indy. “We like each other.”
Which brings us to Sunday. Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi had a dust-up after which, if I’d been Rahal (or Rossi, take your pick), I’d have tried to punch the other guy. Then I would have said something witty like, “Your mother wears Army boots,” and if he or somebody else had challenged me, I’d have said, “‘Hit Man’ Tommy Hearns couldn’t beat me, you wanna try?”
But did we have that? Nooo. Both those guys, Rossi and Rahal, couldn’t have been nicer. Best buds, in fact. Which is scary. I’ll tell you why.
A week ago, F1’s Grand Prix at Imola attracted 906,000 viewers on a U.S. cable channel (ESPN), who saw a big crash between George Russell and Valtteri Bottas, after which Russell ran over to Bottas and slapped his helmet and Bottas gave Russell a one-finger salute. And somebody other than Lewis Hamilton – Max Verstappen – won. IndyCar, meantime, was on a network, NBC, one of the Big Three in the U.S., and attracted 921,000 viewers, just a few more than F1 on cable. The IndyCar viewers watched a parade, which was won by a guy who is racing in his second year but that nobody has heard of.
NASCAR, of course, was going ‘round and ‘round at Richmond last week, on the same day that F1 and IndyCar were holding races, and had several millions tune in. It was bad enough for IndyCar to be second to NASCAR but if F1 moves ahead in the ratings game and IndyCar drops to No. 3, you have to wonder about its future.
If there not another Paul Tracy out there?
They talked about this on the telecast but there was no excuse for IndyCar hanging Jimmie Johnson out to dry the way they did. Johnson went off the track and slid into the barrier and IndyCar just left him there. It was suggested that they were waiting for him to back up and get going again but even an experienced IndyCar driver can have trouble doing that. It’s not easy to pop one of those cars into reverse without stalling it and even if you can, where Johnson was marooned, meant he would be backing up into traffic, which can be dangerous for everybody. They finally threw the yellow, but you had to wonder: did they do that to embarrass him? Cut him down to size? Big NASCAR star coming in here and getting all the publicity? We’ll show him. Whatever, they shouldn’t have done what they did. I hope Chip Ganassi, who’s running him, let IndyCar know they’d better not do that again.
IndyCar will be at the big speedway in Dallas next weekend for a double-header. They’ll race Saturday night at 7 p.m. and then again Sunday night at 5. The races won’t be on NBC so we’ll see how Rogers handles things.
I must admit I didn’t watch much of the Cup race from Talladega. I saw Joey Logano take a terrible tumble (upside down) at the end of the first stage and then I watched Matt DiBenedetto, who probably didn’t get much sleep last night, make the wrong move and lose the race to Brad Keselowski in overtime. For a blow-by-blow account, please click here. Jeb Burton won the Xfinity Series race Saturday. Driver Derrick Lancaster remains in hospital in critical but stable condition after being burned when his car caught fire following a crash in the ARCA race at Talladega.
NEWS ‘N NOTES
Anytime anybody tells you that rallying is a safe motorsport, slap them upside the head. Three athletes were killed last week in the Targa Tasmania. Drivers Shane Navin and Leigh Mundy and navigator Dennis Neagle died in vehicle rollovers. Motorsport Australia has ordered an investigation.
Vancouver will vote this week on whether to allow a Formula Electric race to be run through city streets. I know at least one of the promoters and I wish her the best of luck. I also wish the best of luck to the city of Vancouver which is, according to the latest news story I read, expecting a tourism bonanza along the lines of the early Molson Indy races that were held out there. I hope they’ve done their homework. Meantime, at F-E races this weekend in Spain, they had a disaster in the first race when most of the cars ran out of juice on the last lap (the races are timed events) and the second one came close to a repeat. Nyck de Vries won that first race while Jake Dennis (who?) won the second race.
U.S. National Sprint Car Hall of Fame member Dave Darland suffered a mild stroke at the weekend and is recovering in hospital. He was the 1999 U.S. Auto Club National Midget Champion (he repeated in 2001 and 2003), the 1999 National Sprint Car Champion and the 2007 USAC Silver Crown Champion. He is only the third driver in USAC history to win all three championships.
Charlie Glotzbach, a four-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series back in the day, has died at age 82. Never a full-time racer, he also won races in the ARCA Series. His full-time job was owner of a truck sales business in southern Indiana.
Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca
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