• Canadian Short Track Nationals

Racing Roundup: Pollard wins Canadian Nationals – Again; How to Fix Portland IndyCar Start; John Force – 
What a Guy!

Ferrari is now Charles Leclerc’s team, Jimmie Johnson can still make the playoffs and all the rest of the racing news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald September 3, 2019
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As it is Tuesday, and the major races have been over for a few days now (except for the Canadian Short Track Nationals, which I will tell you about in a moment, and the U.S. Nationals, which I report on down below), this roundup won’t be as long as usual.

Now, I’ve said that before, and then I get running off at the mouth, so we’ll see where this goes. But the plan right now is to not be as long-winded. We’ll see; hold on.

CANADIAN SHORT TRACK NATIONALS

Bubba Pollard comes to Canada once each summer to take home some booty. I hasten to add, since Bubba’s wife travels with him all the time, that “booty” in this case means plunder, as in Long John Silver and his Hearties (“me hearties”) escaping with their “booty.” Which means moolah. Money.

The scene of the crime this weekend was Jukasa Motor Speedway over near Hagersville. The speedway owners, Kenny Hill and Jerry Montour, started out small a year ago and posted a paltry $50,000-to-win prize for finishing first in the inaugural Canadian Short Track Nationals, a 200-lap showdown race for late-model stock cars.

After the success of last year’s first race on Labour Day weekend, Hill and Montour announced that this year the first prize money would be $75,000. And, wait for it: by 2021, the guaranteed purse would be $1 million.

One million dollars. That is unheard-of.

Anyway, let’s get back to this weekend. As reported, Pollard, of Senoia, Ga., won the $50,000 a year ago. Guess who won the $75,000 on Monday (the feature race was put over till Monday because of precipitation Sunday). That’s correct: Bubba Pollard. That’s two for two. If he enters the race next year, I suggest they change the name to The Bubba Pollard Benefit 200.

In fact, they could put a bounty on his head. “Beat Bubba and we’ll add ten grand to your purse,” Hill and Montour could say. If he wins a third time, I have an even better idea. I have a friend – he’s a big wheel with the Stratford Festival these days – who won so many prizes for critical writing that to give other essayists a chance, they made him a judge. So if Bubba wins three straight – all of the Nationals ever run – then promoter and track manager Alex Nagy should tell him that the only way he will be allowed onto the property again is if he agrees to be the flagman.

Or how about $50,000 for a 25-lap match race between Bubba and Kyle Busch? Winner take all. If that ever happened, Nagy wouldn’t be able to build enough grandstands.

Pollard is a true outlaw, in that he goes to where the money is and doesn’t run a full schedule anywhere. He told me once in an interview that the family has a sanitation business in Georgia and that takes up the majority of his time. He says he only races on weekends, normally, but will go further afield when there`s a reason (like the 75 big ones on offer at Jukasa).

He goes to races with his parents, his wife Erin and their now-3-year-old daughter Mac (short for MacMillan). “We have fun racing,” he said, adding that he has no interest in going to NASCAR, where “it`s all politics.”

The rest of the podium – Eddie Macdonald was second and Matt Pritiko third.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES AT PORTLAND

Canadian Short Track Nationals

Okay, you know how, at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, they have the finish line and flagging station on the pit straight but they start the race over on the backstretch because there’s not enough room out front to get everybody lined up properly?

Well, next year, when they go to Portland, I suggest they do that in order to avoid the inevitable first-corner pileup that has been happening every time they race there since the first one was held in 1984.

People have a pool going out there: how many cars will be eliminated at the first corner? This year it was four, and others were damaged. It is a waste of everybody’s time and it costs the car owners a lot of money. Every. Damn. Time.

Please, never say to race drivers, “We want you to be careful and get through the first turn without having a crash.” They are racing drivers. They see the green flag and they become other people. Paul Tracy was the greatest example. They would interview him on TV before the start and he would say how he was going to keep his nose clean and race for points. Then he would put on his crash helmet and his brains would turn to cement. The race would start and KA-POW. Tracy has 31 CART wins to his credit. I think that other than Gilles Villeneuve, he was the most naturally talented racing driver ever to come out of Canada. Think how many races he would have won if he’d . . .

Even the mild-mannered ones can get caught up in the heat of the moment. Greg Moore caused a Big One back in his day; Graham Rahal was the latest. It’s the nature of the beast. They will never behave. None of them. So the event has to try to keep as many cars going as possible and so I say, change the location where you start the race. By the time the cars get all the way around, they will be single-file and strung out and it is highly unlikely they will have as big a crash as they have had each and every year they’ve raced there.

You are welcome.

Unfortunately, on Sunday, at the first corner, both Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars were eliminated. James Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly (subbing for regular driver Marcus Ericsson, who’d been called to Belgium to be on standby in case Kimi Raikkonen needed relief, which was a total waste of time) were eliminated.

After the next race in California, which will close out the season, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will cease to be and Arrow McLaren SP will carry on. Sam Schmidt announced that James Hinchcliffe will race for the new team. That is good news. Sam also said that nothing had changed and that he and Ric Peterson would be doing what they’ve always done. Except that the team’s name will change and that is a pretty big change. I’m not sure it will be the only change.

The 2020 IndyCar schedule is out and Richmond will replace Pocono. Otherwise, it’s the same as 2019 with the Honda Indy Toronto on tap for July.

And A.J Foyt’s long-time sponsor, ABC Supply, has decided to take its advertising dollars elsewhere. It’s been a good run. A.J. vows to carry on. Wish him luck.

And while Will Power is winning again – he won Sunday, with Rosenqvist second and Rossi third – Simon Pagenaud isn’t. Winning, that is. I’m curious as to what’s going to happen there.

Before May, Pagenaud was destined to be a driver on Penske’s IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car team but then he went on a tear and won both the Indianapolis Grand Prix and the Indy 500. A year ago, when Penske was asked if Helio Castroneves would be back for a one-off in 2019, Penske said, “That’s up to the president.” Tim Cindric was sitting between Castroneves and Penske and said yes.

This May, for whatever reason, Penske showed up in the press centre before either Pagenaud or Cindric. He felt like talking. So after he answered a few questions about Pagenaud meeting President Trump, somebody said, “Will Pagenaud drive for you in 2020?” I have rarely seen Roger Penske look like a deer in the headlights but he did at that moment. He muttered something and the guy who’d asked him the question said, “Well, yes or no.”

Poor Roger. He didn’t have Cindric there to hand off to (who probably would have said, “It’s under discussion.”) He was backed into a corner. How could he possibly say he didn’t want the guy who’d just won him the Indianapolis 500 on his team any more. So he said, “Okay, yes.”

Since then, Pagenaud has tailed off. I don’t think Roger wants him in Indy cars next season and I don’t think he wanted him in May, even with all his success. Look for a change. Colton Herta, perhaps?

If you are still interested, please click here for a story on Sunday’s race.

FORMULA ONE

Although the FIA is conducting an investigation into the accident that took the life of promising formula car racer Anthoine Hubert of Monaco on Saturday in an F2 race supporting the headline Grand Prix of Belgium F1 race Sunday, the facts are clear: something – oil on the track, a car ahead getting squirrely exiting the high-speed Eau Rouge corner, whatever – forced him to take an evasive action that saw his car leave the track and bounce back onto it after hitting some tires and then being t-boned at more than 200 km/h by an approaching car.

Nothing could save him from such a savage crash. The poor driver following him, American Juan Manuel Correa, had nowhere to go and remains in intensive care in hospital with broken legs and other injuries. Such a horrible thing.

I admire more than anybody knows the courage of the two drivers who beat him to F1 and to suddenly see or hear that their friend Hubert with whom they’d hung around and played around and raced around with since they were kids was gone as quickly as a puff of smoke. That Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc could put his death behind them so swiftly is almost incomprehensible.

When I was just a little guy, a kid I went to elementary school with died and it happened again when I was in high school. Strangely, they both drowned. But I was so frightened each time that I was shivering with cold and couldn’t eat or sleep for a week. The courage shown by Gasly and Leclerc is admirable and to go through Eau Rouge flat, as I’m sure they both did on Sunday, is commendable.

Racers race, then they grieve, and we saw that on Sunday.

Leclerc won the race, as most know, and dedicated it to the memory of his friend. But something else happened in that Grand Prix and it is this: Scuderia Ferrari is now Charles Leclerc’s team and Sebastian Vettel is yesterday’s man. Although he might stick around for another year to collect his millions, I won’t be surprised if he now hangs up the helmet at the end of this season. He did something during that race which said to me that he knows it’s over. He pulled over and let Leclerc pass him.

Michael Schumacher would never do that, even if Barrichello had a faster car. Vettel is No. 1 on that team and yet he let his teammate pass. Yes, he said later that he did it for the team, but a young Vettel full of piss ‘n vinegar would have fought fiercely to the end.

And not only did he let his teammate pass him, he missed the podium himself – a podium where people expected to see the two Ferrari drivers.

I suggest he was also shaken by the death of Hubert. Something like that makes you think. He just got married. He and his wife have children. He doesn’t need the money and now that he’s losing, it’s unlikely he’s going to be No. 1 anywhere again.

Time to say goodbye.

For a story on the F1 race, please click here.

OTHER RACING

A month after picking up his 150th career NHRA win, 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force raced to his fifth career victory at Indy, winning the prestigious 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway Park at Indianapolis. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won in their respective categories at the final regular-season race of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Now, the playoffs. . . . . .

Erik Jones won the Southern 500 at Darlington Sunday night/Monday morning and a bunch of drivers clinched a playoff spot. The regular season will end at Indianapolis next weekend, where the two remaining spots will be decided in the Brickyard. Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, and Aric Almirola clinched, along with Jones. Kyle Busch clinched the regular-season championship in Darlington and also added another playoff point through a stage win. The same can be said for Kurt Busch. The good news for Stewart-Haas Racing is that its other two drivers are both sitting inside the playoff grid with one race to go. Clint Bowyer leapfrogged teammate Daniel Suarez to put himself 15th on the grid while Suarez is holding down the final spot on a tie-breaker over Ryan Newman. Jimmie Johnson is the only other driver who can still mathematically make the playoffs on points. Everyone behind Johnson in the overall point standings must win at Indianapolis to steal a spot in the postseason. . . . . .

Canadian Short Track Nationals

Tyler Thompson won the Budweiser International Classic for supermodifieds at the famed Oswego Speedway in New York on Sunday evening. Tyler is 17, which is incredible. This is the speedway of Gordon Johncock, Sam Sessions, Nolan Swift and Bentley Warren and they sure weren’t 17 when they raced, and won, there. How times have changed. Davey Hamilton ran the Indianapolis 500 11 times; the best he could do Sunday was 22nd. Another Indy veteran, Joe Gosek, was 27th. A woman driver who won a feature at Oswego this season, Alison Sload, was eighth. Veteran observers say she has tremendous potential. Let’s hope both Alison and Tyler get to road-racing school asap. There’s a move in the IndyCar ranks to find good, young American racers rather than those from offshore. These two could be candidates. One last thing about Tyler: as my pal Roy Sova, chief announcer at Oswego, said, he’s being raised correctly. His stepfather wouldn’t let him race three weeks ago because he didn’t have his work done. Priorities. . . . . .

Canadians Martin Barkey and Kyle Marcelli were second in the Pro-Am class in the Blancpain GT race this weekend at Watkins Glen. . . .;

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca

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