Ingram's Flat Spot On: Johnson, F1 exodus - top stories


Ingram's Flat Spot On
By: Jonathan Ingram


Johnson, F1 exodus: top stories

The Top Ten motor racing stories in 2009, according to one man's opinion.

1. Jimmie Johnson wins four straight -- This is the story of the decade. It only changes when Johnson wins a fifth Sprint Cup next year. (You read it here first.)

Championship victory lane: 2009 and 4th time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson celebrates.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

2. BMW, Toyota, Renault head for exits -- A Titanic story, one might say. On the heels of Honda's pullout from Formula One last year, these companies made stunning decisions to abandon ship. Renault stays, yes, but under new ownership. One F1 era ends, another one begins... .

3. Mark Martin gets five At five-0 -- Martin trailerized Jeff Gordon, among other accomplishments, with five victories for the Hendrick team. Unlike the Johnson saga, this story had legs outside of NASCAR, because it helped convince a lot of males that 50 is the new 40. If everybody worked out as arduously as Martin, perhaps that would be true.

4. Tony George fired by IMS board -- Not exactly like Churchill getting the boot as PM after winning the war, but George did unify Indy car racing. Some would say he destroyed it. In any event, the price tag was too high in dollars according to his mother and sisters on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway board. Geez, multi-millionaires suffer in a bad economy, too.

5. Danica Patrick enters NASCAR -- At least one reader believes Patrick will never measure up in terms of talent to Janet Guthrie, Shirley Muldowney, Desire Wilson, etc. One way or another, there're very few without an opinion about Patrick. Many just have a hard time grasping the facts on this driver.

6. Michael Schumacher, the U.S. return to F1 -- If Schuey starts winning again with former technical director Ross Brawn at the new Brawn Mercedes team, he'll be declared touched by God, a worker of miracles and an ever-lasting saint. Plus, all those youngsters in the audience will be able to relax, because 41 will clearly be the new 30.

That spec in the rearview mirror that seems to be growing larger, meanwhile, is the first F1 car built in America since the Eagles of Gurney. And it's happening in NASCAR Valley, the new fertile crescent of American technology.

7. Force fudges -- To know John Force is to love him. To see him throw a drag race to make sure one of his team members could make it to the NHRA's championship countdown was sad. Always known for his stream-of-consciousness raps, on this day it was more like stream-of-conscience-less.

8. Sports car racing survives -- An economic downturn usually wreaks havoc on sports cars. But that universe is still expanding with the Le Mans Intercontinental Cup endurance series slated for 2010 after the start-up of the Asian Le Mans Series. An eight-hour event for sports prototypes has been announced at the Paul Ricard circuit for next year and a new six-hour enduro at Laguna Seca. As endurance events go, which are not cheap for participants, so goes this branch of motor racing.

9. Kyle Busch wins 20 races in NASCAR Touring Series -- This guy has taken over where Dale Earnhardt Sr. left off when it comes to the price of admission and fans getting their money's worth. Ticket prices remain too high almost everywhere, so I say this with some reluctance as well as admiration.

10. The dirt track revival is on -- The price of motor racing has sent the sport back to the dirt.

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes Grand Prix driver for 2010.
Photo by Brawn GP Formula One Team.

Quote of the Week: In case you missed the already infamous comments on Michael Schumacher's "twin," here are the remarks made by Ferrari's Luca di Montezemolo about the seven-time champion signing with the Brawn Mercedes team. The conversation took place during a media luncheon in Maranello last Friday.

"A guy called Michael Schumacher told us at Monza (in September) he would renew his (Ferrari consultancy) contract," said di Montezemolo. "And it looked like his career would finish with Ferrari.

"But then there's another one who looks like him, 40, 41 years old, German, same name and decided to do a new career.

"Everybody in life can do what they prefer, and I understand that there is somebody at 41 years who wants to try again.

"So I think it's possible this twin, another Michael Schumacher, same age, same capability, some determination and spirit, will drive for Mercedes next year."

Old Milwaukee: The closing of the Milwaukee Mile to spectator events means another of the last of the grand dames of American auto racing has, to borrow a phrase from Chris Economaki, gone dark. In this case, Milwaukee was the ultimate in longevity, which makes it all the more sad.

Other mile ovals that helped lay the groundwork for Indy cars and stock cars in the 1930's and 1940's such as Pennsylvania's Langhorne and Atlanta's Lakewood have long since ceased operation.

Milwaukee, which might well be described as the Wrigley Field of American tracks, extended its glorious auto racing history by switching from dirt to pavement. Meanwhile, the mile ovals at Springfield, Syracuse and DuQuoin, others that helped sustain racing in the post-board track and Depression eras, remained true to their dirt roots. Those three have kept on racing with either motorcycle events, autos or both.

The state-run dirt mile oval at Sacramento, a 1949 arrival on the Champ Car schedule, is now evidently only used for special horse racing events. Privately owned by the International Speedway Corporation, Phoenix, the mile oval which first appeared on the Champ Car circuit in 1950, continues to thrive under pavement.

So it goes.

See ya! ...At the races.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@jingrambooks.com.