This year we’re really on a roll. To start the Nascar season off right, we made it to the 50th running of the Daytona 500. Two weeks ago we followed that up by heading into the heart of Nascar in Alabama: Talladega Super Speedway.
Somewhere along the way, Yahoo! launched a new series of sports blogs and I missed it. I’ve only recently subscribed, but these blogs have good writing, high-quality images (from the sports news services), and even full article content in the RSS feeds.
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Today the two top open-wheel racing series in the US — the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series — agreed to merge, effective with this coming season. Actually, it’s not so much a merger as it is Champ Car shutting down:
After 12 years of bitter rivalry that confused fans, promoted apathy and nearly buried the sport, Champ Car agreed to cease operations, giving the surviving IRL the opportunity to rebuild open-wheel’s lost prestige.
Champ Car clearly came out the loser in this deal, but considering they went bankrupt a few years back, they’re probably lucky to get any money out of the buyout. Not so lucky will be the majority of tracks expecting to hold Champ Car races this year. It looks like only a few Champ Car races will be added to the IRL schedule this year, most likely Long Beach, Australia, and Edmonton.
While these two series competed since 1996 for drivers, fans, and TV ratings, Nascar’s popularity grew rapidly and easily became the most popular auto racing series in the country. The exodus of open-wheel drivers over to Nascar continues as well — out of 53 current Sprint Cup drivers, 5 of 6 rookies came from an open-wheel series.
This past week we finally made a trip to the premier Nascar event — the Daytona 500 — and “experience” is the best way to describe it. Not many sports hold their “super bowl” event on opening weekend, but Nascar sure makes a show out of it. This year was also the 50th running of the race, so the celebrities and celebrations were above and beyond the norm.
For the racing itself and the wow factor for being there, I’d give Daytona top marks. Anyone who considers themselves a Nascar fan should attend this race at least once. It’s easily the largest event I’ve been to — attendance is not published officially but is close to 200,000.
Regarding the amenities like parking, seating, and facilities, this track is average at best. I’m sure the VIPs and celebrities were comfortable, but the rest of us suffered through grandstands that appear to be older than 50 years. Hopefully Nascar has plans for some improvements at this track.
We stayed a few miles from the track in Ormond Beach, where Daytona racing had its first start on the beach road course. I’d definitely stay there again.
As for the big race, it was pretty typical with drivers playing follow-the-leader for about the first half of the race, then getting more exciting towards the end. No “big one” crashes, but there were a few little ones. At the end, Ryan Newman got a push from his teammate on the last lap and won it. Newman is a somewhat neutral character in Nascar circles, so the crowd was pretty mild when he one. If one of the more popular or polarizing drivers had won, there would have been a lot more smack talking going on.
We kind of like Ryan Newman in part because he’s got an engineering degree from Purdue (we engineers have to stick together). Today I spotted a funny article that says Ryan’s dad isn’t too happy with the school:
If Greg Newman has anything to say about it, none of the $1.5 million his son earned for winning Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be going to Purdue University.
Ryan was racing on weekends and won the 1999 U.S. Auto Club Silver Crown title while attending Purdue. But he wasn’t recognized by the school as being a student-athlete, his father said, and thus wasn’t allowed any scheduling flexibility with his assignments.
Assistant athletic director Tom Schott’s response was priceless:
“We have 18 varsity sports here, but we don’t have varsity auto racing,” Schott said.
I put the best of my pictures online in this Flickr collection: http://flickr.com/photos/cantoni/collections/72157603939588991/