There are a lot of little things to focus on this week. Nothing really lends itself to a full-on discussion. So here goes.
We were watching a DVD the other night, Quincy, M.E., from the late 1970s. The episode was about the hero coroner investigating the death of an auto racer and, at one point, somebody said that after baseball and football, “auto racing is the third most popular spectator sport in the United States.” My wife turned to me and said, “What happened?”
What happened is that a sport that was exciting and unpredictable and featured – in the words of the wonderful writer, Joe Scalzo – platoons of amazing race drivers, herds of mad characters, packs of fascinating race cars and a terrific menu of astounding race tracks turned into (or was turned into) one that is largely boring and predictable and featuring (to paraphrase the same Scalzo) bland race drivers, conformist marketers, identical race cars and cookie-cutter circuits.
Sunday’s three races illustrate this. Lewis Hamilton won and Valtteri Bottas was second in the French Grand Prix. Every F1 race this year has been won by one of those Mercedes drivers. The only excitement all season took place in Canada two weeks ago when Sebastian Vettel went bonkers after the stewards robbed him of the race. In the IndyCar race at Road America, Alexander Rossi led every lap but one. (Last year, in another snoozer, Josef Newgarden led every lap but two.) At Sonoma in California, Martin Truex Jr. was in front for 59 or the 90 laps and won that race for the second straight year. There are always between 36 and 40 drivers in every NASCAR Cup race these days but seven drivers have won all 16 held to date and three of those seven are on the same team.
I have a friend who watches all the races. He sent me a note Sunday night. “Lewis, Rossi and Truex laid down a couple of coats of paint for the fans to watch dry,” he wrote.
It shows. The NASCAR race had an astounding number of empty seats. Not many showed up to watch the Indy cars at Elkhart Lake. I couldn’t gauge the numbers at Paul Ricard because every time I try to watch race cars on that track I feel like I’ve ingested some bad acid and I’m hallucinating. The TV numbers are nothing to write home about either.
That isn’t to say there isn’t still some good racing around. Sports cars, with three or four classes on the track at the same time, are always great fun (the IMSA race at CTMP in two weeks should be a good show) and the short-track pavement supermodifieds and sprint cars on dirt are always worth the price of admission.
But the glamour-puss stuff – F1, IndyCar, NASCAR – took a wrong turn somewhere and will have to do something drastic to get back on track. In the real world, it’s called a reboot or a relaunch. And they’d better do it soon, or else it will become very expensive club racing with lots of people involved but nobody watching.
There is talk – just talk – of a double-header starring the IndyCar Series cars and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cars. I have advice. Forget it. Many years ago, CART and the NASCAR trucks had a double-header at Las Vegas Speedway. The trucks went first and they had a good crowd. The race ended and half the people got up and left. They had paid for two races but left after one. They were just not interested in the Indy cars. This polarization is not one-sided; many, of not most, IndyCar fans don’t like NASCAR. Whatever, IndyCar should not take the chance of being embarrassed.
The Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame has posted a nomination form on its website – www.cmhf.ca – and is asking the public to nominate individuals for induction into the Hall at its induction ceremony next February at the Canadian International AutoShow. This is something I hear frequently: “I would have thought that so-and-so would have been inducted already.” Or, “How come so-and-son isn’t in the Hall of Fame?” The reason is probably that they have never been nominated. You see, it is not the job of the Hall of Fame to beat the bushes for prospective inductees. That is up to you. If you know of a driver – drag racer, motorcycle or motocross racer, oval-track driver, road racer, etc. – who you think is deserving, download the form and fill it out. If you know of a crew member, track marshal, flagger, club president and so-on who you think has made a significant contribution to the sport, then nominate him or her. Please go to cmhf.ca, download the form, and nominate somebody.
I have written this several times this year already – and even before the Montreal fiasco – but I am now even more convinced that Sebastian Vettel will retire at the end of the season, if not before. He is a beaten man. The Ferrari is not good enough to defeat the Mercedes – with any consistency, anyway – and it’s just not worth it for him to keep trying. He’s won four world championships; he seems to be careful with his money and doesn’t appear to be ostentatious (I reported from Montreal that he rode a bike to and from the circuit every day; Michael Schumacher used to come by helicopter while Lewis rode back and forth this year in a stretch limo), he doesn’t bring his wife and family to the track, being all business; his kids are growing up and he’s not there, with the F1 season going for 10 months now; and he doesn’t need the aggravation any more, with nothing really left to prove. I must admit to having a bias. I have interviewed many of the drivers over the years and the only time Lewis ever brightened up was two weeks ago when I asked him about the Raptors. Vettel, on the other hand, always had a twinkle in his eye and appeared to enjoy himself. Charles Leclerc is a solid driver for the team(although I don’t think he has the steely determination of a Michael S.) and the young Italian Antonio Giovinazzi, who performed well for Alfa Romeo in France, would make a wonderful No. 2 – and the Tifosi would love that.
Social note: Congratulations to Gavin Ward, a Toronto guy from the Beaches who started as a gofer for a Formula Ford team at CTMP, attended university in England and got a placement at Red Bull Racing, impressed Christian Horner sufficiently that he was hired after graduation and was trackside engineer for Mark Webber and David Coulthard, moved to Team Penske a year ago and now is chief engineer for Josef Newgarden, on becoming the father of a brand new baby girl, Taylor Catherine Ward, 8 pounds. Way to go, kid.
Okay, here’s the news:
Mark this on your calendar. On Sunday, Aug, 18 (not that far off, really; time is flying . . . ) plan on driving to beautiful, downtown Port Perry to take in the annual Brits on the Lake Classic Motoring Revival auto show. This year, the theme will be celebrating 60 years of the Mini: 1959-2019. For information, go to britsonthelake.com . . . . .
Jordan Szoke of Lynden, Ont, won the third round of the 2019 Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship race at Autodrome Saint-Eustache Sunday ahead of Ben Young of Collingwood and Trevor Daley of Mississauga. Young holds a commanding lead in the championship, however, heading for the fourth round of the championship at Atlantic Motorsport Park north of Halifax next month . . . . .
Formula Two racer Nicholas Latifi of Toronto lost the F2 standings lead at the weekend in France, finishing fifth in the feature race and sixth in the sprint race . . . . .
Darrell Waltrip let loose with his last “Boogity, boogity, boogity – let’s go racing, boys!” on the FOX NASCAR broadcast from Sonoma Sunday and officially threw the checkered flag on his 19-year broadcasting career. Waltrip is only 72. He will be doing something – but what? Maybe a Cup team in partnership with his brother, Michael? Never say never . . . . .
Multimatic of Markham’s Mustangs went trophy hunting at Donington Park in England Sunday and won not one but two victory cups. Scott Maxwell of Toronto and Sebastian Priaulx took the overall GT4 win in the #15 Ford Mustang, while Sir Chris Hoy and Billy Johnson took the GT4 PRO AM victory in the #19 Mustang. “This win means even more to us than the win at Oulton Park” said Maxwell. “That one was a sprint race and everything was fresh and new. We’ve struggled since then for pace, which you could see at Silverstone when everything went like clockwork but we came third. Everything went great again today and we found a little more pace but you never know how it will play out until 45 minutes before the end due to all the different pit stop strategies. Everyone did their job and I think we really deserved this win.” . . . . .
Friday night was a busy one at Ohsweken Speedway, which saw a total of 230 cars roll through the pit gate on McDonald’s of Paris and Brantford Emergency Services night. The night marked the second live broadcast of All North Racing powered by Pinty’s on MavTV Canada. The night also honoured first responders for their service with free admission and recognition. When the final checkered flag waved at the end of the evening, it was Mack DeMan who claimed victory with the Kool Kidz-Corr/Pak 360 Sprints Cars and Lucas Smith scoring a win with the Strickland’s GMC Crate Sprint Cars. For the stock cars, Dave Bailey won his second Middleport Mechanical Thunder Stock Feature of the season and Kyle Wert raced to his second consecutive win with the HRW Automotive Mini Stocks . . . . .
Ross Chastain, who was disqualified following the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway a week ago, won the trucks race this weekend at Madison, Ill. Todd Gilliland was second with Canadian Stewart Friesen finished third. The trucks will race at CTMP near the end of August . . . . .
Finally, Jean-Eric Vergne won the Formula Electric race Saturday in Bern, Switzerland. Mitch Evans finished second and Sebastien Buemi was third. In NHRA action (no sound vs. BIG SOUND), Steve Torrence won the Top Fuel title at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Ohio on Sunday. Bob Tasca III won the Funny Car championship, Chris McGaha was first in Pro Stock, Andrew Hines was tops in Pro Stock motorcycle and the top alcohol dragster was driven by Troy Coughlin Jr. . . . . .