Last week I was enthused about the upcoming race weekend. As is usually the case, the reality turned out to be a mixed bag.
I would judge the Indy 500 to be slightly above average for "The Greatest Spectacle in Auto Racing," although the disparity in driving talent was apparent. The front-runners kept each other honest, with Danica Patrick making history as the first woman to lead a lap at Indy. Patrick also took home rookie of the year honors with her fourth-place finish; but for a fuel shortage, she might have won the whole thing.
That said, it's a shame that Dan Wheldon's well-deserved victory took a back seat to the month-long Danica press hype. However, getting his face on the Borg-Warner trophy, not to mention taking home a $1,507,805 winner's share of the purse, should assuage any hurt feelings Wheldon may have. I saw this kid about five years ago racing in the F2000 series, back when I was traveling the road-racing circuit.
His talent was obvious then, and I'm delighted to see him achieve one of the highest pinnacles in the racing world. On top of that, he broke the infamous Indy "Andretti Curse," scoring the victory for team owner Michael Andretti, who has led the most laps of any non-winner of the famed race.
In other racing action, two major races staged fantastic finishes. The Grand Prix of Europe, a Formula One series race at Germany's famed Nurburgring, was one of them. McLaren Driver Kimi Raikkonen fell afoul of this season's F1 tire rule in the penultimate lap, shredding a tire and putting him into a crash barrier. This year's F1 regulations require drivers to run the same set of tires in qualifying and all through the race.
Raikkonen was trying to nurse a severely damaged tire home when it exploded. The sanctioning body is looking at stricter rules for black-flagging drivers with tire problems and allowing them to replace them. Young Renault driver Fernando Alonso took over the lead and the win, extending his championship lead to 59 points, more than twice the 27 points of Raikkonen.
The other fantastic finish was the one at Lowe's Motor Speedway, at the end of an otherwise inept, and excruciatingly long, race. Twenty-two caution flags (a NASCAR record) marred the proceedings, and at one point the so-called "best drivers in the world" couldn't string together five laps without a crash!
Jimmy Johnson and Bobby Labonte made it an artistic success with a four-lap duel after a red flag that produced a heart-stopping finish. But maybe NASCAR should consider shortening this 600-mile crash-fest next year. Just a suggestion.
Another problem surfaced for NASCAR last week, one with perhaps longer-term concerns than one wreck-strewn race. Busch series regular Shane Hmiel was suspended after a random drug test came up positive. This is Hmiel's second suspension for a substance problem. The Thursday report did not reveal what drug was discovered in the test, which was administered at Charlotte last week.
Hmiel, son of Steve Hmiel, DEI General Manager and crew chief, will be replaced by Ron Hornaday at Dover this weekend. NASCAR's drug testing policy has come under scrutiny due to the baseball steroid scandal. NASCAR has defended its policy, and has declined to operate under the guidelines issued by the FIA (governing body of international Motorsports), or any other sports organization's guidelines. Surprise!
I'm glad to see that former Champ Car champion Jimmy Vasser, whose career I've followed since he was a young SCCA Formula Ford racer, seems to be back in the groove. Vasser scored pole position for today's race at the famed Milwaukee Mile, a milestone more important to him than the fact that today will mark his 200th Champ Car start.
If you missed out on the racing action at Champion Speedway and Reno-Fernley Raceway last night, you still have a chance to check out some live racing action locally. Today is final day of the Snap-On Stars of Karting event at the Reno Hilton. These racers put on a terrific show at the old Wal-Mart parking lot in Carson City last year, and this year's action in Reno promises to be as good or better.