Roger Diez: Event-filled 2011 on the track
For the Nevada Appeal
It’s the last day of 2011, and it was an event-filled year for racing. Locally, the clay oval at Reno-Fernley Raceway reopened under NASCAR sanction. J.R. Williams, as noted in an earlier column, had a successful midget racing season. And 15-year-old Conner Ford, of Carson City, won the 2011 Pacific F2000 championship, despite missing the two races at Infineon because he was too young to race there.
Ford scored six race wins, nine poles, two seconds, a third and set eight fastest race laps. Minden’s Tanner Thorson also had a good year in Outlaw Karts, winning the Open Intermediate Division championship at Cycleland Speedway in Chico, Calif., with nine main event wins. He also took home the 2011 perpetual trophy in two divisions. Thorson also finished fourth in the Open Intermediate standings in the Red Bluff winter series, as well as a fourth in the Intermediate division points at Cycleland with three main event victories.
Nationally and internationally, it was a season to remember as well. Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull team dominated the Formula 1 season. Vettel clinched the drivers’ championship with three races yet to run, and Red Bull won the constructors’ title as well.
Dario Franchitti won his third IZOD IndyCar championship, but it was a bittersweet victory. Franchitti was declared the champion after the Las Vegas season finale was halted because of the death of popular Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon in a 15-car accident on lap 12 of the race. The accident called into question the wisdom of running Indy cars on high-banked 1.5 mile ovals. The new IndyCar chassis has been named the DW012 in Wheldon’s honor, as he had been instrumental in testing and developing the car.
NASCAR finally saw the Chase format achieve its true potential, as the Sprint Cup season went down to the wire and was finally settled by a tie-breaker as champion Tony Stewart defeated runner-up Carl Edwards for the title. In the Nationwide series, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made a remarkable comeback from a troubled 2010 season to win the championship by 45 points over Elliott Sadler. Sadler’s charge was ended when he was wrecked in the next to last race. And Austin Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress, hung on to take the Camping World Truck series title over Johnny Sauter by a mere six points.
The National Hot Rod Association provided drama as well, with two of the top division titles being settled in the season finale at Pomona. Del Worsham took the top fuel title, beating challenger Spencer Massey in the semifinal and besting Tony Schumacher in the final round.
Funny Car driver Matt Hagan took the championship in his division with a quarter-final win over teammate Jack Beckman, a semifinal victory over Cruz Pedragon, and a record-setting final run of 4.009 seconds to beat Robert Hight. Pro Stock champion Jason Line didn’t win at Pomona, but finished the season 190 points ahead of second-place Mike Edwards. And Eddie Krawiec won the title in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Gardnerville’s Karen Stoffer, who had been as high as second in points, finished sixth on the season.
For 2012, Formula 1 will have all-new cars, some new drivers, and intense competition when the season kicks off in Australia on March 18.
IndyCar’s new chassis for will be mated to engines from Chevrolet, Honda, and Lotus, and their season begins on March 25 on the street course in St. Petersburg, Fla. NASCAR has mandated smaller cooling systems and a smaller rear spoiler at Daytona and Talladega, intended to break up the two-car draft that has become prevalent at those two tracks.
And fuel injection will replace carburetors in 2012, which should provide some interesting results. NASCAR Speed Weeks at Daytona kick off on Feb. 18 with the Shootout, followed by the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 to start the point-counting leading to the 2012 Chase.
The Daytona Rolex 24 endurance race will be the first major event of the season, with the green flag on Jan. 28.