GRINNIN' and PICKIN'
Here we are in one of the cruelest times of all for motorsports lovers: between seasons. As a result, withdrawal pain goes up 'cause news slows down. But without much happening to create the news, what else can happen?
How about Ol' DC waiting until now to release his 2006 Rolex Series season highlight picks -- or lowlights, depending on point of view?
It'll give at least provide something about which to talk before next week's Rolex Series Homestead-Miami Speedway test.
The 2006 Rolex Series' respective categories and winners are:
LEAST CRAZY TEAM: Krohn Racing.
First, let's get real. At least a few folks think racers already run on the ragged edge of being fitted for a little white jacket. I mean, how many people do you know who undertake a Pampers moment then immediately don another set of absorbent material and have another go at what made them undertake the apparel change in the first place?
Thus established, there are only degrees of crazy in this sport.
Frankly, I thought team owner Tracy Krohn was, well, a bubble off level-center when at the end of the 2005 season he spilt with two-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winning driver/team owner/manager Kevin Buckler (one class - 2002; one overall - 2003) and built a new, ground-up Krohn Racing for 2006.
Oh, it wasn't that Krohn point-man Jeff Hazel, Krohn team members or any of Krohn Racing's drivers weren't capable chaps, it's just that one generally doesn't abandon a winning combination in favor of uncertainty. But, Krohn was born in the rough-and-tumble world of oil exploration and I should've known he isn't the kind to stand pat.
Following the season-ending Discount Tire Sunchaser at Miller Motorsports Park and just minutes before Krohn Racing's Jorg Bergmeister was officially crowned Rolex Series Daytona Prototype driving champ, Krohn said to me: "Everyone on the team read about us being crazy ... you never know what motivates people."
Glad I could help, Mr. Krohn, but what'll be the team's 2007-season motivation?
So far, Bergmeister's been absent from Krohn's off-season tests when even he had told me just weeks before that he'd be in attendance.
I understand the team's 2007 driver lineup is close to being finalized and one the talented names likely on it, Colin Braun (you know, the so-called "kid" who at three 2006 Rolex venues was immediately supposed to undertake cigarette smoking by merely being in the proximity of its advertisements), pushed the Krohn Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype to consistent but "unofficial" top-5 speeds at the early-November Daytona test.
Though I'd like to see Bergmeister return to Krohn, I've done learned my lesson: I ain't calling Krohn or Hazel "crazy" no more.
MOST GENTLEMANLY: Tracy Krohn
I promise, this'll be the last award I'll give Krohn herein.
But it's really hard not to pick Tracy Krohn. We are talking class act.
In a paddock filled with class acts (Mark Patterson comes to mind, but he gets another award, below), Krohn was tested by my fire and wasn't anything but gracious afterward.
As has been proved time and again before in the wake of this writer authoring critical pieces, I fully expected Krohn to be like many others and start ignoring me, beginning with the 2006 Rolex 24 at Daytona -- prior to which I cut my "crazy Krohn" piece.
Sometimes people angrily misunderstand this pundit inasmuch as my thoughts aren't intended as personal attacks -- flying fists work best in delivering that message, anyway -- and I've got opinions that can be changed, to boot.
As the previous award indicates I was wrong on at least two counts involving Tracy Krohn.
Krohn is a class act who exemplified one of the most important principals on which the United States was founded: "While I may disagree with what you say I will defend until my death your right to say it."
That's something I'd expect from a Texan. At least I'm correct on that count.
THE BLACKBERRY HEMMINGWAY: Mark Patterson
Paired for much of the season with Oswaldo Negri (who missed the Phoenix A-Main) in the No. 60 Mike Shank Racing-managed Flight Options Lexus-Riley, Patterson is an African-American, Wall Street-based financier who pounds his itsy-bitsy Blackberry keys as well as any who might pound a full-size keyboard.
He's become the gentleman-driver poster boy because he drives a pretty mean race car, too, finishing first with Negri in the year-end Discount Tire Sunchaser in Salt Lake City, second in the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona and scoring six more top-10 overall finishes in 2006.
For the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona, Negri and Patterson will team with reigning IndyCar Series champ Sam Hornish Jr. and two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (is it just me, or do others find it curious that the two Marlboro Penske racing drivers aren't driving with Team Penske in that other sportscar series?)
Mike Shank's outfit tends to build nearly bullet-proof cars and one must look at this team as being among the Rolex 24's early favorites.
A talented artist and writer, Patterson brings his racing-world pals -- and there are a bunch of 'em -- into his race-track thoughts, regularly cranking-out prose and insight unequaled by most fulltime writers, including this one. He does most of it from the No. 60 pit and doesn't pull punches, either.
If you have no clue, go to www.michaelshankracing.com and click on "Mark's Take" to see what he wrote in 2006. Don't forget to click on it during the upcoming Rolex 24, too.
BEST COW-TIPPER: Kevin Buckler
A baseball catcher's initial behind-the-plate crouch -- on the ball's of each foot whilst signaling the pitcher -- involves a delicate balance the likes of which would make a ballet director proud.
Being second nature to this one-time ball player -- schooled by father who once caught in The Show -- he had dropped into a crouch to speak with a tired, seated Andy Lally when Buckler snuck up from behind, barely touched this reporter's right shoulder and exulted as yours truly rolled backward.
"Man, I haven't had so much fun since I tipped cows back in Iowa," Buckler said afterward.
Imagine: Buckler sneaking around in the dead of night, knocking off poor, defenseless cows.
No, check that. It's not hard to think of Buckler sneaking around at night anywhere, anytime and doing anything.
But Buckler probably doesn't have much time now with Pontiac having taken a hike.
While his TRG car colors haven't changed in the last couple of seasons, a lot of activity is going on beneath the surface for the ever-hustling Buckler.
For the 2007 season he's branched into the Grand-Am Cup series, which just keeps growing and growing.
Bringing us to:
BEST OLD-NEW SERIES: Koni Challenge
So many participants want into the Grand-Am Cup-turned-Koni Challenge Series that it's become necessary to split the GS (Grand Sport) and ST (Sport Tuner) classes for 2007.
Nearly 100 cars showed up at Virginia International Speedway earlier in the 2006 season and, like Buckler's TRG for 2007, they just kept on coming through the rest of the year.
It's proving to be a competition field-of-play where a driver and team get a lot of bang for the buck and where up-and-coming drivers can get a lot of quality seat time in developing skills that can move them into ever higher race classes.
It didn't look as good years ago when the series -- at the time connected with Grand American only in name -- started to tank from the loss of organizers and sponsors. Grand American President Roger Edmondson at Daytona would stand up in front of former Motorola Cup drivers and owners and tell them he wasn't going to let the series fade away. He didn't.
BEST FIELD MARSHAL: Mark Raffauf
It's not an easy job being Grand American Rolex Series' competition director, but Raffauf has been doing his administrative thing in sportscar racing as expertly as anyone else alive and still working today.
A former 16-year-old NCAA collegiate diver - possessing an IQ that makes lower-scale MENSA members look like drooling idiots -- Raffauf sits in a race control tower like a battlefield commander and makes split-second decisions that, absent of overstatement, affect others' lives.
Instrumental in forging IMSA-of-old's GTP glory years, (The Porsche 962? Raffauf was all over that car's iteration from the 956.) Raffauf likewise has been intimately involved in the present-day Daytona Prototype.
More often than not, the cigar-chomping Raffauf rules the Rolex Series battlefield in an iron-fisted manner but generally is perceived as being fair -- as long as one's not on the losing side, of course. Just call him "Field Marshall."
-Written Exclusively For Motorsport.com by DC Williams