What will 2011 bring?

Unfortunately I do not have a crystal ball nor can I read the future.  If I could, I’d be on a beach sipping those umbrella drinks after hitting the lottery. I do have some questions though as the 2011 racing season is about to get underway.

The top question, as it has been now for five years, can anyone dethrone Jimmie Johnson as the Nascar Sprint Cup Champion? The answer of course is yes they can but the second question is WILL they!

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle would have to be my top four choices to have the best chance to do what seems impossible anymore. There are several others that could also come through.

Next, will the changes at Hendrick payoff in Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally being competitive every week and break his two plus year victory drought? Don’t have a clue.

Over in IndyCar, will someone other than Penske and Ganassi battle for the series title?  The other teams are improving but have yet to prove they are in the league of the Big Two.

Speaking of Ganassi, does he dominate the Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype class again? Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas were almost untouchable in 2010 and testing at Daytona for the Rolex 24 is showing they are just as strong right now.

Over in ALMS, I’m just having trouble keeping track of all the classes. Will it be Patron Highcroft for a third straight year taking the LMP crown?

The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series had two great stories in 2010.  60 plus year old John Force coming from behind to claim his 15th Funny Car title and rookie L.E. Tonglet going from almost done for the season to taking the Pro Bike title. 

NHRA also had three tragic stories with the death of a fan and two drivers.

I have no clue who is going to claim the title in any of the 4 pro divisions but hopefully all four will be as competitive as Funny Car has been.

I am looking forward to kicking off the season taking in all the action at Daytona from the Rolex 24 through the Daytona 500 as I’m privileged to be part of the PA crew there.

Let’s just all hope that each and every racing series that we enjoy keeps us on the edge of our seats until the final checkered flag falls.

Education, education, education! Lieutenant General Ben Freakley U.S. Army

I want to follow-up on my earlier post about what I saw and heard during my time with the U.S. Army, Don Schumacher Racing and the NHRA at the 56th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

One word sums up the focus I saw in many of their events.  Education.

I had a chance to sit down with Lieutenant General Ben Freakley to discuss today’s Army and why they are involved in NHRA.

 Here is that interview.  I think you’ll hear some surprising information.  Judge for yourself as I did.

**As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have spent this Labor Day weekend at the NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis as a guest of the U.S. Army. Although they paid my transportation costs, no editorial direction was given. I was allowed access to all events and personnel surrounding the Army’s 10th anniversary of partnering with the NHRA and Don Schumacher Racing.***

NHRA & U.S. Army team up for more than just drag racing

Let me start by saying that the U.S. Army invited me to cover their 10th anniversary celebration this weekend of sponsorship in the NHRA. That invitation included them paying my travel expenses. However, they did not tell me what to write or report.

YES-crow Something I saw very early this Friday morning at O’Reilly Raceway Park and the NHRA U.S. Nationals was very eye-opening.  A few thousand high school age men and women came to the track at 8AM to participate in the NHRA/U.S. Army Youth Education Services program. (www.nhra.net/YES)

 

Team Work Yes they did get a chance to do various “Army” things but they also got to hear from NHRA drivers about how an education and teamwork helped them achieve their dreams.

U.S. Army top-fuel driver and the man that has won six straight NHRA Top Fuel crowns, Tony Schumacher,  talked about how as a youngster he put off doing the hard work in high school until “tomorrow” until tomorrow became today.

There were also inspirational stories from a few Army members themselves who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hopefully these young men and women that attended the YES program will remember what they heard and saw today.  Not to have them sign up to be a member of the U.S. Army per se, but to become better students and citizens.  That in itself is a worthy outcome.

Fan friendly? Nascar could learn from NHRA!

SREMP_Crowd_01 This past Friday I spent the day at the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at nearby Norwalk, Ohio. To be honest, and as hard as this is to believe by many that know me and my involvement in motorsports, it was my very first time to be at a NHRA event! How that happened I have no clue since I did once live and work in Indianapolis where the U.S. Nationals are held every year.

Conversely, I’ve been to many Nascar races at such places as Daytona, Indianapolis, Michigan, Phoenix and Talladega.

One touts itself as “fan friendly.” (Nascar) The other (NHRA) doesn’t pound its chest and says “Look at me!  I’m fan friendly!” It’s Nascar that can learn from NHRA what fan friendly really means.

“Nitro Alley” is where all the teams set up shop around their haulers.  No special credential is needed to enter.  Let me say that again, NO SPECIAL CREDENTIAL IS NEEDED TO ENTER. You purchase a ticket and you have up close and personal access to all the competitors.

I spent most of the day with the John Force Racing team as I also in fair full disclosure, do freelance work for Ford Racing.

P6250010 I saw the 14-time NHRA Champion time after time go to the ropes and sign autographs and take pictures with fans whenever he could. He’d even stop sometimes while on his famous scooter and sign and autograph or two on his way to watch daughters Brittany and Courtney compete in the Top Alcohol Fuel dragster class.

P6250033 Defending NHRA Funny Car Champion Robert Hight obviously learned from his boss and father-in-law John Force. Hight also hit the ropes time and time again signing autographs and posing for pictures.

These two weren’t the exception.  I walked up and down Nitro Alley and everywhere I went I saw fans talking to crew members along with the drivers.  Autographs were abundant and if cameras still used film, Kodak would have made a fortune.

Nascar limits access to both the garage area (their Nitro Alley) and pit road.  You can BUY passes to both.  Your ticket only gets you a seat, not access.

I’ve also watched Nascar fans line the fence near the garage area hoping to get the autograph of their favorite driver only to see that driver give as wide a berth as possible to those fans when walking by.

I realize that Nascar is a much bigger series than NHRA but fans are fans everywhere.  They have an emotional link to their favorite drivers.

How many of those fans that were at Norwalk and got an autograph or a picture with their favorite driver went back home and told family and friends about the experience they had? How many also told those same people that they need to go to a NHRA event? How many of those people will heed that advice?

While I see more and more seats empty at Nascar races, NHRA is packed with fans. Maybe it’s time for Nascar to stop thinking how to squeeze another buck out of the race fans and reconnect on a grassroots level to the people that really make the sport possible.

It’s time for Nascar to just not talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to being “fan friendly.” Hats off to NHRA for doing both.