Racing Roundup: Home run for F1; mud in NASCAR’s eye 

If Max keeps flaming out, watch out; Canadian racing ace Kerry Micks retires and all the news

By Norris McDonald Wheels.ca

Mar 29, 2021 12 min. read

Article was updated a year ago

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And here’s how the world of motor racing looks to me this Monday morning:

In the 2021 season-opening Grand Prix of Bahrain on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton showed the world – again – that he is the best racing driver on the planet. He has no equal. And it was a great race.

(Although Christian Horner put a brave face on it, even going to far as to congratulate his No. 1 driver Max Verstappen for a great drive, he must be coming to the conclusion that Max just can’t get the job done. Once again, Verstappen had the horses under him but couldn’t boot ‘em home.)

NASCAR, meantime, in a dumb-and-dumber attempt to improve its TV ratings and energize the fan base, went to hit a homer when a single would do and left itself, literally, with mud in its eye. I’ll pontificate on this momentarily but Monday the truck race at Bristol will go to the post at noon (weather permitting) while the Cup race will follow at 3:30 p.m. TSN will carry both races.

And Kerry Micks, one of Ontario – and Canada’s – most successful racing car owners and drivers, is retiring from both, thanks to COVID-19. “Micksy” realized last summer – when there were only a few races held because of the pandemic – that there was more to life than spending all his time in the garage working on his race car, so decided after 38 years to kick back and relax.

And he was one of the most colourful characters out there. There was one night at Kawartha Speedway when he stood calmly beside his car, smiling, while a furious J.R. Fitzpatrick, all tangled up in seat belts, tried to get himself out of his car so he and Micksy could get it on. By the time J.R. managed to untangle himself and exit the car, he was too tired to throw a punch. Micksy just kept smiling. Priceless.

Kerry Micks


As is the case with most of motor racing’s “greats,” Hamilton (Sir Lewis, now) has had the best car for the last seven years. He’s  won the world driver’s championship seven times and the marque has won the world constructor’s championship all those years too. Put the two of them together and they were unbeatable. The Mercedes is so good that when tail-ender George Russell of Williams was elevated to the top team to fill in when Hamilton came down with COVID last season, he nearly won. But could Sir Lewis and the team keep it up for an eighth record-breaking year?

The Mercedes did not appear to be in top form during the one pre-season test (one test: how stupid?) and I even had a friend email me before the race Sunday to suggest that Lewis’s engine would blow up. No such luck.

With three laps remaining, Hamilton was in the lead on tires 10 laps older and Max Verstappen was right on his tail and ready to make the pass. But instead of waiting for an ideal location, Max tried to pass on the outside of a right-hand turn about midway around the course and went off, returning to the track in front of Hamilton. He had to give the place back and Hamilton spent the rest of the remaining laps blocking his opponent. It was a masterful display of race craft. Repeat: masterful. If you wish, you can read about the rest of the race by clocking here.


Speaking of Verstappen, the bloom is off his rose for me. The guy is a really fast driver; he is not a good racer. Christian Horner has got to be looking around the paddock for a replacement. Regardless of how often he pats that guy on the back, there’s got to be a cartoon bubble over top of his head saying, “He’s started 88 races for Red Bull in some of the best cars ever designed and built, powered by some of the finest engines (power units) known to mankind and he’s won exactly 10 races. Not good enough.”  Sunday was a classic example: he tried to pass Hamilton in a place that was risky; if he’d waited another corner or two, he would have had a much better chance. By doing what he did, he threw away the race. Not good enough. I predict, unless team orders hold him back, that teammate Sergio Perez will be kicking his ass with regularity as the season progresses.

Just a P.S. on that: as Hamilton and Max approached the final corner before the checkers, I had a flashback to Estoril, Portugal in 1997 when Jacques Villeneuve went for an impossible pass. He made it past Michael Schumacher, after a collision, and went on to win the world championship. If JV was still the tiger he was in ’97, and driving that Red Bull, he would have gone for that corner in Bahrain Sunday the same way he tried to pass Michael all those years ago. Max? He didn’t give it a thought Sunday and that’s why, unless he starts winning, his days at Red Bull could be numbered.

John Colum Crichton-Stuart, a descendant of Robert the Bruce, son of the sixth Marquess of Bute, making him the Earl of Dumfries and known to all of us as Johnny Dumfries, has died at age 62. He got his one shot at Formula One in 1986, thanks to Ayrton Senna, who pulled rank after Lotus signed Derek Warwick and forced the team to go back on the contract. Senna wanted Mauricio Gugelmin as a teammate but the sponsor, John Player, insisted on an Englishmen, so Dumfries got the ride. He had two points finishes, when F1 was using the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system, with a fifth at Hungary and a sixth at Australia. But it was one and done and he spent the rest of his career in sports cars. R.I.P., Johnny.

When Sebastian Vettel either retires or is fired by Aston Martin sometime this season – his performance this weekend was abysmal and it’s obvious he’s lost interest – he will leave something with Formula One that not many people realize: the way the drivers and just about everybody else in F1 talks – to wit, the replacing of the word, “uh,” with the word, “yeah.” You know how people talk – “I was going to the store to, uh, buy a loaf of bread.” Well, Vettel says, “I was going to the store to, yeah, buy a loaf of bread.” They all do it now. Listen the next time F1 is on TSN, at Imola, the weekend of April 18.

Speaking of language, can we please, please, please deep-six that awful expression, “it certainly wasn’t the start I was looking for,” or the variations thereof. Talk about stating the obvious.

Although the car let him down, the driver of the weekend in my eyes was not Sergio Perez, who started from the pit lane after his electrics conked out on the formation lap and fought his way up to finish fifth, but Fernando Alonso, who qualified in the top ten and was on his way to a pretty good points finish when his car let him down. For a 39-year-old guy who’s been out of F1 for two years, that was a pretty strong performance.

The time has come for the FIA to put its foot down and stop issuing superlicenses to drivers whose only attribute for an F1 seat is the ability to write a cheque for millions of dollars. There are a couple of drivers in the field now whose credentials are suspect but at least they have the brains to stay out of the way. Not Nikia Mazepin, who spun twice Saturday during practice and qualifying and lasted three turns before crashing out of his first F1 race. That guy has no business being out there. He is an embarrassment to the sport. He could hurt another driver. Somebody has to tell Gene Haas/Guenther Steiner that he has to go. Yes, it is common knowledge that the bloom is off the F1 rose for Haas and the only reason he’s still fielding a team is because the Russian’s father and his friends are paying all the bills. But this is what is at stake: losing a team and only having 18 cars for the rest of this year or leaving that driver out there and have him spin out right in front of Hamilton and Verstappen at speed.


Nicholas Latifi, Toronto, Williams, qualifying (17th): “I am not completely satisfied. We have been struggling all weekend to find the right balance of the car, as well as get some consistency and drivability. However, the qualifying session for me was the best the car has felt so far this weekend. The wind switched around 180 degrees and the car handled completely differently but I still struggled out there. It will be a long and exciting race tomorrow though and we will see what we can do.” He suffered mechanical issues and dropped out, being classified 18th.

Lance Stroll, Montreal, Aston Martin, race (10th): “I’m pleased to come away with a point, but it is fair to say we wanted more from today. We had a strong first half of the race and we made up some positions. I felt comfortable in the car and we were racing hard against the cars around us. We tailed off a little bit in the second half of the race on the hard tyres, but there are plenty of positives to take away. I enjoyed some good battles too, especially with Fernando (Alonso) early on. We know there are some areas where we can improve and everything we have learned this weekend will help us in the races to come. We have a few weeks before the next race to work on those things.”

We’ll leave F1 with this. Years ago, when F1 was going through one of its truly boring stretches, Max Mosley, who ran the sport at the time, suggested TV viewers look at a race as being like a game of chess. So Sunday, after the race, Christian Horner looked at Toto Wolff of Mercedes and said, “Great battle of strategies.” I thought it was a great race. A great race might help to sell the sport; a chess games or a battle of strategies won’t. They all need a media training refresher course.

Kerry Micks


For seven years, Tony Stewart promoted a Camping World Truck Series race at his legendary Eldora Speedway in Rossberg, Ohio. He did this for two reasons: the trucks always sold a lot of tickets, so it was good for the bottom line at the track managed by Canadian Roger Slack. And he was showing the track could handle big-league racing so that when the day came when NASCAR decided to promote a Cup race on dirt, it would select Eldora. Kind of like the trucks at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park: the Cup series has always been the big ambition.

But, in the case of CTMP, rather than promote a Cup race north of the border, NASCAR invented the “roval” concept that allowed them to say they were road racing but because the races were held on tracks they owned, they got to keep all the money. And they pulled the same stunt with Tony Stewart and Eldora. Instead of running a Cup race at a tried-and-true venue, they decided to dump about 200 tons of dirt on Bristol Speedway and run a “dirt” race there. As this was as phony as the rovals never seemed to cross NASCAR’s mind.

Stewart was not happy and showed it by telling NASCAR to take its trucks and shove ‘em. (CTMP is still holding out hope for the Cup cars and will try to hold a trucks race in late August.) NASCAR said fine and added a trucks race to the Cup race weekend at Bristol. That was to take place this weekend.

Now, as anybody who follows the news knows, Tennessee, where Bristol is located (Virginia is literally across the street), was underwater Sunday and the Cup cars and the trucks races were cancelled. The trucks will race today at noon to pack down the track for the Cup cars who will follow. Several attempts to get things going during the weekend did not go well: the first time the trucks were out on the speedway (before it rained) it was too dusty and the drivers had a hard time seeing where they were going. The next time out, it had rained and the session lasted a lap before the trucks were stopped because their windshields were covered with mud and the drivers couldn’t see a thing through the muck. A Cup practice was okay but raised concerns that the right rear tires wouldn’t be able to take the pounding. Shades of the Brickyard 400 in 2008, where NASCAR had to throw the yellow every ten laps because the tires were blowing out, a disaster that doomed that race and forced its 2021 renewal to be run on the road course in an attempt to revive it.

What the geniuses at NASCAR didn’t realize is that it takes years to work in a good dirt track. There is an art to preparing the surface so that there isn’t too much dust, or mud. Eldora has been doing it for 67 years and the people there know what they are doing. The people at Bristol, which is a pavement track, don’t.

With any luck, NASCAR will be able to run those races. But it’s also 10 to 1 that they’ll have to call them off completely and go back to the drawing board.

Next time, they should take the Cup cars to Eldora.

Meantime, the NASCAR Canada Pinty’s Series (Pinty’s is sponsoring that trucks race in Bristol, by the way, because they sell their products, wings, etc., in Food City stores in the U.S.; Food City is sponsoring the Cup race and how ironic is it that Americans can buy Pinty’s products in the U.S. but I can’t buy them at Loblaws . . . ) has lost one of its longest serving, and fiercest competitors, Kerry Micks, who said in a release:

“I have had more than 38 years of great fun racing across Canada. I have always been very fortunate to have the support of some of the very best Canadian companies. Some of my crew members have been with us almost from the beginning. This announcement is a little bittersweet for me as racing will always be in my blood but I also really enjoyed my first summer off in 38 years in 2020. Susan and I have talked about this for awhile; she will say years, Kerry said with a grin.

The release went on to say that Kerry and Susan had special thanks for Byron and Diane Nelson of Leyland Industries and Larry Chan of Beyond Digital Imaging. They also thanked the crew – Bob, Clare, Rino, Terry, Cheryl, Ken, Rick, Scott and Mike.

The 2021 Pinty’s Series championship will take the green flag on Sunday, May 23, at Sunset Speedway in Innisfil, the place where Kerry Micks started his racing career in 1984.

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca




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