Welcome to 2011. No, Splash And Go is not working on the Roman or Julian calendar. It’s just getting quite busy around here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as preparations for this season — especially the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 on May 29 — are pedal to the metal.
Everything is just as hectic in the world of INDYCAR, where good news continues to be generated at a breakneck pace. The first big change is the elimination of the old Indy Racing League name and the creation of a new logo. INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard is right — the old name conjures too much bad mojo, too many memories of the split.
So INDYCAR it shall be. You won’t see any mention of Irrelevant Racing Lingo (IRL) around here anymore. Big-time open-wheel racing in North America is INDYCAR, baby.
That was just the start of the news surrounding INDYCAR during a major summit with teams, drivers and sponsors Tuesday, Jan. 11 in Indianapolis. Among other IZOD IndyCar Series nuggets, Edmonton is back on the 2011 schedule, engine displacement is being reduced from the planned 2.4 liters to 2.2 liters in 2012, double-wide restarts on ovals in 2011 will start at Indy, restarts will take place closer to the start-finish line and more.
The dramatic buzz created by these changes and other positive developments is catching the eyes of the INDYCAR blogosphere and media. Robin Miller at SPEEDTV.com pays tribute to Bernard’s role in INDYCAR’s resurgence, while Tony Johns at Pop Off Valve talks about the vital, smart decisions Bernard has made in the last 10 months. Mike Knapp at 15 Days in May mirrors the optimism of nearly every INDYCAR fan, while Christopher Leone at Open Wheel America looks at the importance the strengthened Mazda Road To Indy ladder system will play in INDYCAR’s future.
These are Timbuk3 times for INDYCAR. (Remember the classic one-hit wonder, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades?” Yeah, they sang it.)
The good news could keep on rolling on the television front, as a proposed merger between NBC and Comcast could signal a significant change for the IZOD IndyCar Series TV package.
NASCAR also is on the verge of a major change, as NASCAR.com reported Jan. 11 that drivers will be forced to choose one of the three major series in which they want to earn championship points in 2011. This could reduce the number of Sprint Cup drivers dipping into the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, as they won’t be eligible for championships.
This proposed move is going to take some digesting, just like the big Christmas meal I enjoyed. The ramifications are huge.
Will it reduce the marquee value of the Nationwide and Truck series if fewer Cup drivers participate? How can a driver who performs regular double or triple duty, such as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, lure or keep a sponsor for the two lower series if he’s not running for a championship? How will that effect race teams in Nationwide and Busch owned by Cup drivers?
In another change, California Speedway is reducing its spring race distance from 500 to 400 miles. Halle-freaking-lujah. Here’s to hoping other tracks follow suit. Forcing fans to sit in front of a TV for a 500-mile race is just too much in the ADD world in which we live, especially when prominent drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. even admit the middle stages of those long races are nothing but parades to cut down laps to get to the final fuel stint. Five-hundred milers should be saved for a few special places and special races.
Dustin Long remains one of the top writers on the NASCAR beat, and he came up with this interpretive gem: It seems more and more Cup teams are hiring younger drivers, but the average age of participants in the Chase for the Sprint Cup continues to rise. Age and experience always can overcome youthful exuberance, I guess.
INDYCAR and NASCAR weren’t the only series with big news this week. MotoGP seismographs jiggled Tuesday when Valentino Rossi made his official debut as a Ducati rider at the annual VROOM winter media gathering in the Italian Alps. Former American MotoGP standout John Hopkins may resurface this season in British Superbikes after an injury-ravaged spell in World Superbikes, and 2007 Formula One World Champion Kimi Raikkonen looks set to stay in the World Rally Championship for another year.
Finally, CNN reported Tuesday that 49 of the 50 U.S. states were under snow. That’s not exactly a race fan’s dream. So unless you’re into ice racing or snowmobile racing, watch this incredible high-def video of Richie Tobias in a big-block modified last October at Syracuse to keep your racing fires stoked until the snow melts.