Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Dixon, Castroneves, Matos earn First Team All-America honors
2. Patrick most searched athlete in 2008
3. Schmidt to be honored by Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
4. Firestone Indy Lights schedule finalized
1. Dixon, Castroneves, Matos earn First Team All-America honors: Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Raphael Matos have been voted to the 2008 All-America Auto Racing First Team by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association. They are among 17 drivers in seven categories eligible for the Jerry Titus Award that will be presented to the Driver of the Year Jan. 10 in Ontario, Calif.
Dixon and Castroneves swept First Team honors in the Open-Wheel category as the top two vote getters. Dixon, the IndyCar Series champion, recorded a record-tying six victories in 2008, including the Indianapolis 500, to win his second series championship by 17 points over Castroneves. Castroneves won twice and set a series record with eight second-place finishes in his pursuit of Dixon. The two of them easily outdistanced the other nominees in the Open Wheel category. Both are now four-time All-Americans, the third time for Dixon on First Team and the first time Castroneves has achieved the top rung.
Matos earned First Team honors in the At Large category. Matos won the Firestone Indy Lights championship on the strength of three victories. He is the fifth Firestone Indy Lights champion since 2002 to earn First Team honors. Matos will compete in the IndyCar Series in 2009.
Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan were voted to the Second Team. Briscoe, who recorded his first two IndyCar Series victories in 2008 en route to a fifth-place finish in the championship, was voted to the All-America Team for the first time. The Australia native also won the non-points race in his home country in October.
Kanaan, who won once in 2008 and finished third overall, was elected for the fourth time.
Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon earned Honorable Mention honors by garnering at least 5 percent of the overall votes. Patrick finished a career-high sixth in the championship and earned her first career victory in 2008, becoming the first woman to win a major Indy car event. Wheldon was named to the team for the fourth time in his career. He won two races in 2008 and finished fourth overall.
2. Patrick most searched athlete in 2008: Danica Patrick topped golfer Tiger Woods, quarterback Tom Brady and Super Bowl champion Eli Manning as the most searched for athlete in 2008, according to AOL's annual list of top Web, mobile and video searches.
AOL annually ranks the top searches in 40 categories based on the people, places and topics that received the largest volume of Web and mobile search queries on AOL Search and on Truveo, the company's video search engine.
Patrick, who raced into national prominence with a fourth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, increased her popularity with several milestones in 2008. Prior to the start of the IndyCar Series season, the 26-year-old graced the pages of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition, an issue that generates more than 69 million readers as well as more than 250 million online visitors.
On the track, Patrick made history in April when she earned her first career victory, the first victory by a woman in an Indy car event. She went on to finish a career-high sixth in the championship.
3. Schmidt to be honored by Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation: Firestone Indy Lights team owner Sam Schmidt will receive the 2008 Visionary Leadership Award from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Dec. 2 at the Making Magic Happen Gala in Los Angeles.
Schmidt will be recognized for his outstanding professional and philanthropic leadership and will be joined by actress Jane Seymour, who will receive the 2008 Philanthropy Award.
"I am so touched and honored by this recognition from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation," said Schmidt, founder of the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation. "Not only was Chris a friend, but he inspired me and so many others to pull through challenging times and move forward with my life."
Schmidt founded the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation shortly after a practice crash left him with a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the chest down. He has taken the passion and commitment that made him a competitive race car driver and has focused that energy on creating a broader awareness of spinal cord injuries.
"Sam has demonstrated extraordinary generosity of time, talent and resources, and his efforts have touched many people," said Peter T. Wilderotter, president and CEO of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. "This award is presented with gratitude to Sam for his enthusiastic dedication, loyal support and inspirational example."
The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation have worked together for several years to fund cutting-edge research to find more effective treatments for spinal cord injuries.
4. Firestone Indy Lights schedule finalized: Nine races on the Firestone Indy Lights schedule in 2009 will be held on the same day as IndyCar Series races, series officials announced on Dec. 2.
The 15-race schedule, divided among eight ovals, four temporary street circuits and three permanent road courses, includes three new venues and the series' first two races outside of the United States.
"It is important to Firestone Indy Lights that our drivers and teams can showcase their talents not only to IndyCar Series teams competing on the same track, but to the fans that come to each event," said Roger Bailey, executive director of Firestone Indy Lights.
Same-day races will be held at St. Petersburg 2, Long Beach, Kansas, Milwaukee, Edmonton, Kentucky, Mid-Ohio, Infineon and Chicagoland, while the season-opening St. Petersburg race, Iowa, Watkins Glen, Toronto and the season finale at Homestead-Miami will be held on the day prior to the companion IndyCar Series race.
The Firestone Freedom 100 is scheduled to be held as part of Miller Lite Carb Day activities on May 22 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two days before the 93rd Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Firestone Indy Lights is an essential stepping stone for drivers and teams striving to compete in the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. Teams compete for nearly $4 million in prize money in cars that are second in speed only to the IndyCar Series at most tracks they visit.
The complete Firestone Indy Lights schedule will be telecast in high-definition on Versus and available through live webcasts on indycar.com.
The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg.