|Mike Helton, part of what's right about racing|
Jimmie Johnson and Sebestian Vettel. Some people think Johnson and Vettel are an example of what’s wrong with racing. Not me. How can being the best be wrong? I already devoted a column (Nov. 20) to these two, so there’s no need for a rehash, other than to say they set a standard of excellence on a par with names like Petty, Earnhardt, Fangio and Clark.
Mike Helton. Can’t help but believe if NASCAR just turned things over to Helton and his team and let them run the sport, it would be much better off. One of the remaining holdovers from the Bill France (Big and Little) eras, he has the respect of all those involved to do what’s right for the sport. Probably not gonna happen. In fact, NASCAR has just brought in a new Chief Operating Officer from outside the organization. The new guy is a consultant who worked at GM and takes an “analytical approach” to the business. Great. I just hope Helton doesn’t decide to cash in his chips and retire. I worry about NASCAR with Helton. I really worry about NASCAR without Helton.
Derrick Walker. As much as Helton provides hope for NASCAR, Walker, the IndyCar president of competition, provides hope for open wheel racing. He’s a racer surrounded by businessmen (the third management team in five years) and if the sport is to succeed, those businessmen need to listen to him. He took over in the middle of last year and so far it has been an uphill battle for him. The Houston race was a debacle and he took much of the blame. But he deserves a full season at the helm. Like Helton, not sure if he can pull it off, but there still is hope.
Brad Keselowski. Despite his nonsensical objection to concussion baseline testing, Keselowski is one of the keys to the future of NASCAR. He’s still a new face, not afraid to speak his mind and most of all, he’s fast.
Kimi Raikkonen. Word is he raced for free last year at Lotus. Gotta appreciate that. One of the few drivers to have challenged Vettel, he’ll be at Ferrari in 2014. If anyone can stop Vettel from winning a fifth straight world championship, it’s Raikkonen.
Jeff Burton. I wrote early in the year that it was time for Burton to retire. Although it wasn’t exactly his idea, and he will be running some races for Michael Waltrip Racing next year, I’m happy he’s pretty much retired from driving. I’m even happier NBC has announced he’ll be an analyst when the network begins broadcasting races in 2015. NASCAR’s television broadcasts are in need of new life and I hope NBC and Burton can provide it.
Kyle Petty. I wrote it several times during the season. NASCAR television broadcasts need more of Kyle Petty.
Dario Franchitti. Losing Dario as a driver is a serious blow to IndyCar racing. Hopefully they can find a role for him on the television broadcasts. Always found him a good interview with interesting insights and forthright answers. And who can resist that Scottish accent.
NASCAR’s Young Guns. The Sprint Cup series is in need of an influx of new talent and they’re waiting in the wings, perhaps more than at any other time in NASCAR history. Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya and Bobby Labonte have been gently moved aside. The future hopes rides with the likes of Ricky Stenhouse, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillion, Jeb Burton, Ryan Blaney, Parker Kligerman, Ross Kenseth, Dakoda Armstrong, Ty Dillion and Ross Chastain. Then there’s the “Kiddie Korp,” drivers so young they’re not old enough to go to the prom, let alone drive a Cup car. Led by Chase Elliott and Erik Jones. You could probably add a dozen more to the list.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. Wallace gets a shout out all his own. His popular win at Martinsville this year was the first for an African American since Wendell Scott nearly 50 years ago. At 20, Wallace certainly qualifies as a young gun, and as a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, he’ll have all the backing he needs to continue moving up the ladder.
New F1 One Engine Formula. There’s a host of new F1 regulations for 2014, none more important than the switch from V8 engines to turbocharged V6 engines. There a new emphasis on innovation. The Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) and several new similar systems are a link to passenger car hybrid systems many fans can relate to. The cars also will look different, with new rules requiring a lower nose.
New NASCAR Engine Regulations. NASCAR says it is looking at new engine configurations, a sort of engine of tomorrow. It needs to take a big swing at it, just as F1 has. Make it relevant. Sure the costs will be high initially, but what the heck, the series has $8.2 billion in the bank. Invest a little in making the series relevant again before it’s too late.
Short Track Racing. One thing that seems to resonate with readers is the strength of short track racing. The Eldora truck race was certainly the most visible, but short tracks across the country are experiencing a renaissance as race fans return appear to be returning to their roots.
NASCAR road races. Who would have thunk two of the most exciting Sprint Cup races of the year would take place on road courses? After rumors that NASCAR would add a third road course to the schedule and move one to the Chase for 2014 proved groundless, we can only hope they’ll make the move for 2015.
Tudor United SportsCar Championship. It remains to be seen if the series can work out its rules package to balance the competition between the LMP2 cars of the old American Le Mans series and the DP cars of GrandAm. That’s a HUGE question mark. The initial tests saw DP cars started flying through the air, a good indication of the challenge. But let’s hope so, because you gotta love the schedule they’ve put together for 2014. Daytona, Sebring, Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, Mostport, Indianapolis, Road America, VIR, Circuit of the Americas and the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. It’s the golden age of road racing all over again.
WEC. Big brother to the Tudor series is the World Endurance Championship that will feature LMP1 entries from Audi and Toyota again in 2014 and along with newcomer Porsche. Ferrari has hinted it might be interested in the series in a year too, along with another old name in the sport, Ligier.
Formula E. I’m intrigued by this new FIA series for electric open wheel cars. I’m not all that excited about what will virtually be spec cars (at least initially) streaking silently around city streets. I tend to agree with Vettel who says, “Formula One needs to scream, needs to be loud, there needs to be the vibration." But I am excited about the potential and the attempt to bring innovation back into the sport. The first race won’t be until September of 2014 and the “season” will run through the middle of 2015. The events will be held in major cities including Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Miami, Monte Carol, Berlin and London. Already saying they will compete in the series are Andretti Autosport and Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing from the U.S.; Audi Sport from Germany; Super Aguri from Japan; China Racing; e.dams, a French team that includes four-time world champ Alain Prost; Virgin Racing from the UK with the backing of Richard Branson; and Venturi Grand Prix from Monaco with backing from Leonardo DiCaprio. Huge questions remain, but as I said, I’m intrigued.
That’s just a little bit about what’s right with racing and something to look forward.
Happy Holidays , everyone. I’ll be back in 2014.