Bugsy Stevens once gave the great New England auto racing writer, Pete Zanardi his opinion of what the upper level of auto racing consisted of. With that, so goes this column..
“There’s the Formula One..”
Formula One kicked off it’s 2014 season this past weekend in Australia. The new 6 cylinder twin turbo charged engines with kinetic energy system have turned the trademark sounds into more of an idling leaf blower. Just terrible sounding engines. I for one am a huge Formula One fan and when I tuned into Free Practice One and the teams started heading out onto the track, I had to stop myself from turning up the volume. Not having that trademark scream of an F1 machine at full song will take some getting used to.
All these changes over the past few years on the F1 machines keep being labeled by the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone as cost cutting rule changes to steer more manufacturers into the sport. Kinda mixed signals there wouldn’t you say?
Bernie has said he prefers no more than 24 cars/12 teams maximum. Of course, this is coming from the same Bernie who opened it up for 13 teams had the Peter Windsor/Ken Anderson US based team ever made it to the grid. This is also the very same Bernie who was against more than 18 races in a season then followed it up by scheduling 20. This cost cutting label is just a smoke and mirrors show. The only thing that isn’t consistently changing is the fact that damn near every year the specification and regulations ARE drastically changing.
These overhauls of regulations effect nearly every aspect of the machines. Where does this save any team money? Engine, aero package, chassis, body, etc. and on top of that all the developement that goes into it, all have nothing to do with lowering costs. They supposedly have everything to do with trying to persuade more manufacturers into throwing their hat into the ring. But what manufacturer is going to want to enter a half electric, half 6 cylinder engine that is jacked up with a pair of turbos and regulated to use only so much gas in the engine per lap? Anybody? Anyone? Yeah, me either.
Looking at the issue of saving fuel by implementing electronic or kinetic energy system. I say trash the damn things. If Formula One wants to save fuel and cut costs, first regulate how many transport trucks can be used by each team. Half the trucks that arrive at each event for the teams are strictly for setting up each team’s headquarters or social area for the weekend. There’s a fuel saving idea! Bam! Costs cut. Click-click, that was easy.
If Bernie is stuck on 24 cars maximum grid then what is he going to do with all these new manufacturers that he believes will be breaking down the doors to join? For the love of the sport don’t ruin one of the keys that makes F1 unique and bring back the trademark engine screams!
The Australian Grand Prix ended with Nico Rosberg outclassing the field crossing the line 23 seconds ahead in his Mercedes. Daniel Ricciardo had a great run and finished second only to be disqualified later that evening and Kevin Magnussen had a spectacular rookie debut as well. But Valttari Bottas, in his Williams machine, put in the drive of the day. A cut tire after popping the wall forced him to limp around the majority of the Australian circuit to get to his pit box. Once he pitted and came back out he started slicing up through the field like being shot out of a cannon. Sure he had the help of a safety car period, but the passes he made on his way back up to 5th was the stuff of champions. The fact that it was done with a team that had been in quite a slump through the past decade made the charge even more magical. This made me wonder if Felipe Massa didn’t beach his Williams in the first turn on the first lap, would we have seen Mercedes on the top step of the podium?
“..and the Indy cars on top. ..”
Standing at the podium during a Racearama Roast back in the early 80’s Bugsy Stevens regarded Indy Cars as the only cars where you have to put your balls on the dashboard and drive. Enter one Kurt Busch.
When I used to watch Cup religiously, I was never a Kurt Busch fan. I’ll even go so far to say that for once in my life I cheered for Jimmy Spencer and that was when he planted Busch’s nose sideways during an altercation one season. But my friends I have had a change of mind about Kurt Bush the driver.
It was announced a while back that one of NASCAR’s black sheep, Kurt Busch had decided to throw his hat in the ring to attempt the double on Memorial Day. He’s not entering the run for the Borg-Warner Trophy with just any team either. He’s landed a ride with Andretti Motorsports. Busch, being the first true NASCAR driver to cross over and attempt the double of the Indianapolis 500 and World 600 at Charlotte in a really, really long time, has to be one of the biggest stories to hit in 40 plus years. The significance of it is unlike Tony Stewart, Robbie Gordon, and John Andretti who all came from the open wheeled IndyCar ranks and moved to NASCAR. Bush is a real deal full fendered driver stepping into an IndyCar.
In the past, these doubles have been cheered by faithful fans from both sides. After all it is the ultimate level of weekend warrior. As May approaches the story will start to boil to the top, but it hasn’t received the full dial as it should so far. Maybe it’s the lingering effects left from the reaction by NASCAR’s Brian France in a press conference on May 25th of last year which took place a couple weeks after Busch’s testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway early last May.
France downplayed any double happening by mentioning that drivers have found their schedules prevent that. He went on to say that any changes in scheduling times at Charlotte to accommodate any future runs wasn’t even on the proverbial radar. Coincidentally the other side said they would be more than willing to adjust times for the Indy 500. So was the reaction a snub to Indy or maybe a shot at Busch who has been on NASCAR’s black list for actions in the past? Who knows. In France’s defense, NASCAR has been concentrating on their top series with the steady drop in attendance so his mind might have been elsewhere with those answers.
The Indianapolis 500 is going on it’s 98th running of the greatest spectacle in auto racing. Those in charge of the longest running auto race in North America are willing to adjust the times in order to allow doubles to exist. France has no problems adjusting points systems and formats that completely change the landscape of a season. He had no problem drawing further and further away from the true auto racing identity of “consistency win championships”, but is unwilling to contemplate adjusting an event by a half an hour or hour to help make the feat possible this year and for the future? A little irony.
The Indianapolis 500 has once again reclaimed itself as the best race of May’s final Sunday. 2012 had 34 lead changes and last year’s 500 had a whopping 68 lead changes that even made Talladega stand up and say; “What the..?”
The last 2 Indy 500’s had more wheel to wheel racing than anything at Charlotte or Monaco combined could think about experiencing. That very momentum switch has many baffled as to why France wouldn’t jump at the chance to play the give and take game with those running IndyCar.
“.. Then comes the Modifieds. Everything else is a step down.”
Though the Southern asphalt Modified season has two SWMT official races under their belt the Northeastern asphalt Modified season kicks off next weekend at the famed Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford, Connecticut. The Blastoff includes the Valenti Modified Racing Series’ 100 lap season opener next Sunday. Some new faces and teams have entered the series further creating a healthy pool of talent that is certain to make for a very interesting season.
The series gave a little tip of the hat towards the Tri-Track Open Series. Add to that the Race of Champions tour combo event taking place late in the season and it’s a welcome breath of fresh air in regards to the betterment of the division. Showing support and a good attitude for open shows can do nothing but good for the entire division as a whole.
When this happens it opens the thoughts of possible return of days of old. It’s a no-brainer for all involved that stars from all current tours competing in these types of events, open or combo, helps promote those series just as much as much as it promotes those events. Could this be the beginning of better days for the Modified division? It certainly has the potential.
Remember the days of that guaranteed starting spots for the Race of Champions, Bud 200 and Thompson 300? Spots were handed out everywhere regardless of series or any sanctioning body. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see the return of big championship type races again? The return of what used to be the Bud 200 which shared the bill the same weekend of the Oswego Classic or the return of the Thompson 300 or real glory days Race of Champions event. Sure some were still points races, but they were outsider friendly for competitors who competed weekly at other facilities.
Hopefully this “all for the division” type attitude bleeds over into the head offices of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour as well. Improving the health of the Modified division can only improve if all facilities, promoters, teams, tours, and media drop their differences and focus more on the betterment of the Modified division. One can only hope. I for one am praying for it..
On February 19th Carl Steven Berghman, who every Modified fan knows as Bugsy Stevens, was deservedly honored at the Living Legends of Auto Racing banquet held in Daytona Beach, Florida. Bugsy gave us all so many great memories in his racing career and I for one feel very fortunate to have watched the great champion race for many years. A belated congratulations Bugsy!
Until next week’s republishing of another classic NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, here’s to a very successful Riverside Park Speedway Reunion at the Springfield Falcons Hockey game this Saturday and safe gathering at the watering hole to follow that up.