Racing Roundup: Where are all the young women IndyCar drivers? 

20 years since Dale died; Grosjean is no Mansell; Pinty’s skips May CTMP race and all the news

By Norris McDonald Wheels.ca

Feb 8, 2021 10 min. read

Article was updated 3 years ago

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There are several things to get out of the way before getting to this week’s column.

Last week, I used the first part of this column to talk about a new sports car racing series that is opening for business this season. It is challenging the established Canadian ‘Touring Car Championship for cars and sponsors. I finished my report by saying I would return this week with an analysis of the situation. That column will now appear in next Saturday’s Toronto Star and be posted online at thestar.com/autos as well as wheels.ca.

The Daytona 500 will be held next Sunday (TSN, 2:30 p.m.) Usually, yesterday (Sunday) – a week before the Great American Race – they ran the Busch Clash and then time trials to determine the front row. That’s changed this year. The Clash will be held tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7 p.m., the time trials Wednesday at 7 and the two qualifying races to fill the field, a.k.a. the Duels at Daytona, on Thursday, also starting at 7. All mid-week racing will also be televised by TSN.

Although the exact date is Feb. 18, this Daytona 500 marks 20 years since the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, met his end on the final lap when he went high to block Sterling Marlin and crashed, spinning down into the infield grass near Turn 4. The TV cameras showed the wreck but then concentrated on Michael Waltrip, who was celebrating the race win. I can still remember Darrell Waltrip, in the broadcast booth, saying: “Dale’s okay, isn’t he?” I’m sure there will be tributes to him next Sunday. I followed Dale, of course, but I preferred Dale Jr., who was also a winner but was nicer about it.

Canadians at Daytona: Quebec racer Raphael Lessard and Pinty’s driver Jason White of Sun Peaks, B.C., will be running in the two NASCAR trucks races; Quebec’s Alex Labbe will race in the Xfinity Series stock car race; White will also race in the ARCA-sanctioned stock car race.

The Bell Media bloodbath that took place early last week (TSN firing Dan O’Toole and not on-air partner Jay Onrait, which made about as much sense as firing Abbott but keeping Costello) eliminated one of the executives at TSN who managed auto racing programming. As a result, there is no longer anyone at the executive level advocating for our sport. Yes, NASCAR and Formula One programming and coverage is set in stone for this year but, for instance, when the IndyCar contract finishes at Sportsnet at the end of this season, the plan was to try to get the series back on TSN so that the network could truly say it was the home of auto racing in Canada. What will happen with that initiative now remains to be seen.

Okay, five years ago, a woman named Beth Paretta announced the formation of an all-female IndyCar racing team – Katherine Legge would drive – that would enter and try to qualify for that year’s 100th Indianapolis 500. She had to give up on the idea when she was unable to rent a car that wouldn’t fall apart when it was fired up. (Translation: none of the wonderful owners in the series would make a competitive car available.)

Now she’s back, this time with the backing of IndyCar owner Roger Penske, who offered financial and technical support as part of the league’s diversity program. Simona de Silvestro, who was 2010 Rookie of the Year, has been hired to drive.

Now, I’m lukewarm about this whole business but it is what it is. What I am really disappointed about is that, with due respect, Paretta had to turn back the clock to find de Silvestro, who has been out of IndyCar racing, period, for nearly six years. She did not exactly set the world on fire when she was racing at that level, either, although she did score a podium in 2013.

This is not to knock de Silvestro, or Pippa Mann or Legge, but where are the up-and-coming young women racers expected to make waves in the bigs as a result of the success of Danica Patrick? Yes, Janet Guthrie was the first back in the 1970s – she qualified for the “500” in 1977 and made her first NASCAR Grand National start the year before at what was then the World 600 – but she was almost a one-off, as was Desire Wilson and Lynn St. James.

But then, starting in 2000, there was almost a tidal wave of young and talented women. Sarah Fisher, then Danica, Milka Duno, Simona, Ana Beatriz, Pippa and Katherine. These were the women who were supposed to inspire other young women, who might have thought about racing as a career but didn’t follow through because they thought they didn’t stand a chance. Well, Danica showed them – she won a race in the IRL, raced in the NASCAR Cup Series for years before finishing her career at Indy in 2018 – and Sarah Fisher not only had a successful racing career but went on to become a team owner.

But it turned out their success only put cracks in the glass ceiling, rather than breaking it, and we’re really almost back to square one. I find this puzzling.

There are always going to be nay-sayers when a member of a minority or someone not seen as really being good enough makes it to the top of the auto racing ladder. The boo-birds really had it in for Danica but, of course, she could do something few of her critics couldn’t: she could drive a racecar competitively at speed. But when it came to “ordinary” fans (I hate that word, but you have to use it to differentiate between casual observers and experts), they loved her. When Danica took the lead at Indy, and once in NASCAR during the Coke Zero 400, the cheers from the grandstands drowned out the sound of the engines. When she won that IRL race in Japan, the story was on the front page of the New York Times.

And Humpy Wheeler’s yarn about the day Guthrie raced at Charlotte is hilarious. First, when she qualified for the 600, it resulted in what – he says – was the biggest race day walk-up crowd in the history of NASCAR racing. The women wanted to see her race and made their husbands take them. That created another problem: when there were yellow caution flags, all those women headed for the washrooms and when they all flushed the toilets the water pressure at the Charlotte Motor Speedway plunged. Wheeler had to get all the fire departments in the Greater Charlotte Area to bring their pumper trucks over to the speedway in order to keep the water running.

So the world wants women racing drivers and would be ecstatic if one should win one of the big races. Roger Penske would be wise to put his money behind the development of young women racing drivers to take over from Danica, Simona and the rest. Somebody has to do it and I can’t think of anyone better suited.

Moving right along, Dale Coyne introduced his new IndyCar driver this past week, Romain Grosjean. Coyne got carried away during the introduction and suggested that Grosjean would bring the same level of excitement to North American IndyCar racing that Nigel Mansell did when he made the move over in the early 1990s.

I don’t want to do a number on anybody here but Dale Coyne should get real. Nigel Mansell was world driving champion in 1992 and when he moved to the United States in 1993 to race Indy cars, he won the CART championship that year. That’s pretty good: F1 champ one year, Indy car champ the next.

Grosjean has never come even close to winning the world championship and it’s highly doubtful that Dale Coyne is going to be able to provide him with the car, equipment and personnel required to be anything but a backmarker in IndyCar. As a friend of mine said – a rather cruel jab, but accurate: “Now Romain can go from racing in the back in F1 to racing in the back of IndyCar.”

Be that as it may, there is one thing that’s certain about Romain Grosjean. Everywhere he goes this first season in IndyCar, whether it’s New Orleans or Dallas or Indianapolis, he’ll be asked about The Crash. If that’s what Coyne means by excitement, he might be on to something. But I don’t think he had that in mind.

Daytona 500 Schedule


Okay, I’m a little confused. NASCAR Canada issued the schedule for its 2021 NASCAR Pinty’s Series for late-model stock cars last week and right away I saw there was something missing. The Pinty’s cars and drivers have always opened the season at the annual Victoria Day Speedfest at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, scheduled this year for May 21-23. They have always been the headliners and this year is particularly important because it is CTMP’s 60th anniversary season.

But there is no mention of Old Mosport in the NASCAR release, which I will print in its entirety here:

“Following an abbreviated six-race season (in 2020), the NASCAR Pinty’s Series will run a full slate of events in 2021.

“The return to a full schedule features 12 races at eight tracks culminating with the championship race at Jukasa Motor Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 25. Jukasa has hosted the season finale every year since its return to the schedule in 2017.

“Our team has worked hard to put together a full schedule that will showcase the exciting, door-to-door racing that Pinty’s Series fans have come to expect,” said Chad Seigler, NASCAR Vice President, International Business Development.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are focusing on stand-alone events, especially as we kick off the season (NORRIS NOTE: Which could explain the absence of a May race at CTMP). Although we are unsure of when we can welcome fans back to the race track, we will continue to work with local and provincial officials to put on as safe an event as possible. The health and safety of our competitors, officials and fans are our top priority.”

Other highlights include:

• “The series’ long-awaited debut on dirt. Ohsweken Speedway will host its first Pinty’s Series race on Tuesday, Aug. 17 after being featured on the initial 2020 schedule.
• “A Quebec swing in late August featuring three races at two tracks in two days. Circuit ICAR will host its first series race since 2017 on Saturday, Aug. 28 followed by twin events at Autodrome Chaudière on Sunday, Aug. 29.
• “The Pinty’s Series will again serve as the opening act for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) with two races on Sunday, Sept. 5. (NORRIS NOTE: My view as that the NASCAR trucks will not be allowed across the border in 2021).

“All races will air on TSN. Start times and complete broadcast schedules will be released at a later date.”

2021 NASCAR Pinty’s Series Schedule

Sunday, May 23 Sunset Speedway Innisfil, Ont.
Saturday, June 19 Jukasa Motor Speedway Hagersville, Ont.
Sunday, July 18 Flamboro Speedway* Millgrove, Ont.
Sunday, July 18 Flamboro Speedway* Millgrove, Ont.
Sunday, Aug. 15 Circuit Trois-Rivières Trois-Rivières, Que.
Tuesday, Aug. 17 Ohsweken Speedway Ohsweken, Ont.
Saturday, Aug. 28 Circuit ICAR Mirabel, Que.
Sunday, Aug. 29 Autodrome Chaudière* Vallée-Jonction, Que.
Sunday, Aug. 29 Autodrome Chaudière* Vallée-Jonction, Que.
Sunday, Sept. 5 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park* Bowmanville, Ont.
Sunday, Sept. 5 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park* Bowmanville, Ont.
Saturday, Sept. 25 Jukasa Motor Speedway Hagersville, Ont.

Daytona 500 Schedule


During racing speedweeks in Daytona, starting with the Rolex 24 sports car race and ending with the Daytona 500, there is all sorts of short track racing at New Smyrna Speedway, just down the coast from Daytona, and Volusia Speedway Park in De Leon Springs, west of the city. Sometimes things can get interesting. Following some tradin’ paint during a modified race at New Smyrna Saturday night, drivers and crews got into a fight and it was a real donnybrook. A track employee went to break it up and died, likely as the result of a heart attack. A tragedy like that mightr put an end to that nonsense. . . . . . Joey Logano, NASCAR Cup driver, has decided to go modified racing and will start a race or two at Volusia. . . . . . The World of Outlaws sprint car series has got three nights of racing scheduled for a speedway in Skagit, Wash., with a $175,000 purse.  Where do they get the money? . . . . . Ken  Roczen, a Supercross racer without equal, won all three races held at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. . . . . . IndyCar is trying to get at least one other manufacturer involved in building engines for the series, starting in 2023 when the formula will change. The latest to say not now was Ferrari. . . . . . Samantha Tan, a race-car driver from Toronto who runs her own team, will compete in the U.S. GT4 championship this season. . . . . . Linda Vaughan, the First Lady of Auto Racing who was Miss Hurst Golden Shifter in her younger years, has donated her 1979 Hurst/Olds W39 (see photo) to the Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum in Daytona Beach, Fla. She was inducted as a member in 2019.

Norris McDonald  /  Special to wheels.ca 




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