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RACING ROUNDUP: Nashville IndyCar race turns out to be terrific 

Tony George is back, Kyle Larson wins Cup race and all the (local) news 

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald August 9, 2021
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The photo (above) of OSCAAR modified driver A.J. Emms, was taken by Derek Smith (Racepulse.com) at Sunset Speedway Sunday afternoon. Emms was not hurt and was able to repair the car in time to start the feature. Smith said Emms rode about half-way along the front straight wall before stopping. Car No. 18 is being driven by Jason Keen. Emms, Keen and the rest are in action every weekend at speedways not far from the GTHA and I urge all of you to take in a show or two between now and the end of the season.

Meantime, Marcus Ericsson finally (it is over, isn’t it?) won the IndyCar race at Nashville, Kyle Larson was first in the NASCAR Cup race at Watkins Glen and two South American drivers won the IMSA feature at Road America.

Now, every now and again, you sit down to write about an auto race, and you can’t put your finger on what was important, if anything. Was it a good race, or not? Did people get their money’s worth? Was it a good TV show?  It can sometimes take three or four hours before things start to come into focus.

The inaugural Big Machine Vodka Music City Grand Prix Sunday was one of those races. At the green flag, I saw some of the finest race driving I’ve ever seen as the 27 starters managed to squeeze through some really tight corners without piling up (that came later). But then the crashing started. It was stop, start, stop, start. It was brutal.

And yet, in the end, it turned out to be a really good race, one that had the huge crowd on its feet at the finish when Marcus Ericsson won his second race of the season. And our James Hinchcliffe finished third, his first podium finish in a long time. I mean, you have to feel good about that! Scott Dixon was between them, in second, which is pretty usual for him.

Yes, there were a lot of yellows. Two reds and nine yellows, to be exact (although the second red was thrown to allow the race to finish under green). This is very unusual for an IndyCar race. But that’s average for NASCAR, which is pretty popular at the moment, and has been for years, so a little bashing and crashing can’t be all that bad, can it?

And yes, there was the bridge. But if you cross a bridge, you usually have to come back on it at some point, so I don’t know why it’s such a big deal, to some.

I always understood that when Nashville was first approached about holding a street race downtown, the merchants along the honky-tonk main drag, Broadway, said they were in favour, but not to hold it there. Same with the folks at the Grand Ol’ Opry and other local landmarks. The Korean War Veterans Bridge and the NFL football stadium were about the limit of what could be called “downtown”, so the decision was made to design a course around them.

A guy named Tony Cotnam, who has designed many auto racing street courses, was hired to figure out how to do it. I thought he did a pretty good job. This was not the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto, which are mostly separate and apart from the city, or Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve or Belle Isle, which are really apart. Most other street races have failed eventually because construction gets in the way. Long Beach has hung in, but they’ve had to change the interior of the course several times and they’re still trying to build a new baseball stadium there, which would really present a challenge.

Getting permission to close streets and to build grandstands – often on private property – and so-on can be a challenge because the city can’t just turn its back on the merchants and industry that do business there year-‘round in favour of some auto racing promoters who will be there for a week and then leave town with all the money.

And that’s the key, of course. An undertaking of this size can cost millions and, after it’s over, unless the promoters make a profit, they won’t be back, even if they have a contract. So, it’s not as easy as a lot of people think.

All in all, I think it was a success. The grandstands all appeared to be built and they were packed. A lot of people bought general admission tickets and stood behind the fences around the course. Even when things got slow because of the yellows, and I thought many people would get up and leave, they didn’t.

It was a good race and Hinch did us proud. And Nashville looked to be booming. What more does anybody want?

NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS 

It took two hours, 18 minutes and 49 seconds to run this race. The average speed was 72.607 mph. I did better than that commuting to the Toronto Star from my home in Mississauga.

The guy from country group Rascal Flatts had better bring the rest of the band with him the next time he’s asked to sing the U.S. National Anthem, which he murdered. He got a nice round of applause, but that was because he’s local. If he’d been from anywhere else in the union, they wouldn’t have been as charitable.

It was a really weird race, in that the guy who won, Ericsson, ran into the back of Sebastian Bourdais’s car just after the start and went straight up in the air. When he landed (his rear wheels didn’t leave the ground but the rest of the car did), he broke both his front and rear wings and looked to be finished. He made it back to the pits for repairs and then had to serve a penalty for assaulting Bourdais. Then he won the race. Weird.

James Hinchcliffe speaks after finishing on the podium for the 18th time in his IndyCar career:
“Such a strong result for the 29 guys, the Capstone, Genesys, Honda and Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport. We’ve had a rough year, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve had a lot of things go against us. We thought we were following the trend and got stuck in that traffic jam in Turn 11, but Brian Barnhart [strategist] on the pit stand made a great call to get us in the pits. That sort of switched the race for us. We were saving fuel there at the end so we couldn’t really fight [Scott] Dixon there too hard. That two-lap sprint there at the end was exciting and happy to bring home a podium.”

Paul Tracy, who was at his usual best (“If it was me down there in that mess, they would say it was my fault”) said car headlights were on, it was so late and dark. That’s what happens when you start a race at 5:38 p.m. It reminds me of the great Secretariat’s last race, which took place at Toronto’s Woodbine on Oct. 28, 1973. The field went to the post at 4:30 p.m. except everybody forgot about Daylight Savings, which meant it was nearly dark when the race ended. As was the case in Nashville, the TV cameras were adjusted to make it appear brighter than it was.

Racing Round Up

NASCAR

In what was a pretty ordinary race, Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup race at Watkins Glen in front of what is traditionally an enormous crowd. Chase Elliott finished second and Martin Truex Jr. was third. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. Larson, in Victory Lane, apologized to his Cup and sprint-car racing opponent Christopher Bell, who was running second at the time, for spinning him out. Bell finished seventh and although they have a good relationship, I suggest there was some discussion about what happened. For a complete story and order of finish, please click here Kyle Larson Takes NASCAR Win at Watkins Glen (yahoo.com) . . . With three laps remaining, Ty Gibbs, grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, got a great run on A.J. Allmendinger and passed him to take the lead in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. That’s the way it ended, with Austin Cindric arriving home third. The Xfinity race might have been the best race of the weekend . . . Austin Hill won the Camping World Truck Series race that was declared official with 11 laps remaining after lightning put a stop to competition earlier Saturday.

IMSA 

Drivers Pipo Derani (Brazil) and Felipe Nasr (Brazil) won for the second time in as many races when they finished first Sunday in the headline race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship weekend at Road America in Wisconsin. Nasr led early in his No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac Dpi-V.R before handing the car over to Derani on lap 35. Derani inherited the lead at literally the last minute when the second-place car had to pit for fuel. . . . . In the GT class, Porsche ruled the roost in both the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes. Cooper MacNeil and Matt Campbell drove the GTLM car while Canadian Zach Robichonof Ottawa and Laurens Vanthoor piloted the GT Daytona entry. . . . . Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavernwon the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race Saturday. . . . . Parker Thompson of Red Deer won the Porsche Carrera Cup North America presented by the Cayman Islands race. . . . . the IMSA Wire Service provided this report of the 100th Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America race: Kyle Marcelli of Barrie and his teammate, Danny Formal, will go into the record books as overall winners of the milestone race. Starting from pole position in the No. 1 Wayne Taylor Racing, Lamborghini Paramus Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo EVO, the duo put in a flawless performance to win the 50-minute event on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course. It provided Marcelli and Formal a weekend sweep of the overall and Pro class victories. “It was just one of those weekends,” Marcelli said. “Right from Day 1, things were just clicking. We took a 180-degree turn with the setup direction on the car this weekend, so just a big thank you to Wayne Taylor Racing for having the confidence in us, making some changes and finding the speed that we did. We needed this.”

Racing Roundup

OTHER RACING 

Kyle Steckly (above), son of four-time Canadian Pinty’s Series stock car champion Scott Steckly, led all 100 laps of the second round of the Grisdale Triple Crown for Pro Late Models Saturday night at Flamboro Speedway. This, and other short-track racing photos that appear in this column from time-to-time, are taken by my friend Derek Smith and you can look at other examples of his work at his website, racepulse.com. . . . . D.J. Christie won the first 360 sprint car race of his career Saturday night at Southern Ontario Motor Speedway in Merlin. The 19-year-old from Beachville defeated Jordan Poirier and Jim Huppunen in the Pinty’s Knights of Thunder series feature. The Knights of Thunder will next see action on Friday night at Merrittville Speedway near Thorold, scene of last Friday night’s action in which Poirier, of Saint-Mathieu-de-Beloeil, Que., beat Aaron Turkey and Ryan Turner.  Meantime, in Action Sprint Tour competition, Nick Sheridan of Mt. Brydges, Ont., won the race Saturday night at Merrittville, ahead of Jacob Dykstra and Eric Gledhill. Thanks to Tommy Goudge for the info. . . . . The FEL Motorsports Emzone Radical Cup Canada presented by Michelin held a double-header at Calabogie Motorsport Park this weekend. Matt Graham won the first race Saturday, with Myles Kraut second and Austin Riley third in a ten-car field. In the Sports Car Canada Champions presented by Michelin, Marco Signoretti continued his winning ways, driving the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports entry to victory, with Gilles Nadeau second. Travis Hill won the TC Canada class with Nick Looijmans second and Connor Attrell third in the nine-car contest. Sunday, Signoretti won the sports car race, with Looijmans second but first in the TC Canada class followed by Travis HillRiley won the Radical Cup race, with Kraut second and Matt Graham third. The Sunday results are provisional, by the way. Thanks to Todd Lewis for keeping us up to date. . . . . . Quebecers Alexandre Moreau and Ian Guitewon the Black Bear Rally near Peterborough on the weekend. The second round of the Eastern Canadian Rally Championship was won in a Subaru WRX STI. . . . . Now you know (if you ever wondered what race-car drivers do during yellow flags). Sprint car driver Bobby Timmons Tweeted: “3rd place tonight. Place was packed. Smoking hot chick sitting in turn 4. Noticed her riding around under yellow. Solid day.” And here is the Southern Ontario Speedway report provided by Ashley McCubbin:

Sunset Speedway

Matt Boyes dominated en route to winning the Pure Stock feature ahead of John Bird, Austyn Jennett, Brian Booth, and Aundrea Lusk.

Eric Yorke dominated for the Mini Stock victory ahead of Josh Bullen, Charlie Smith, Paul Bogensberger Jr., and Cameron McGlashan.

Travis Hallyburton led flag-to-flag to win the Pro Late Models ahead of Jordan Howse, Gord Shepherd, Dale Shaw, and Danny Benedict.

Jessica James returned behind the wheel, scoring the victory in the Outlaw Midgets after missing practice. Jody Bound placed second, followed by Dave Bradley, Richard Woodland, and Wayne McKibbon.

Flamboro Speedway

Rookie Kyle Steckly continues to show the way, scoring the victory in the second round of the Grisdale Triple Crown at Flamboro Speedway in dominating fashion. Shae Gemmell finished second, followed by Shawn Chenoweth, Shane Maginnis, and Rick Burbridge.

The Ontario Pro Challenge Series made their second appearance of 2021, with Tim Norris scoring the victory in both features ahead of son Mike Norris.

Karl Sault won the first Mini Stock feature on Saturday night, with Gillian Hils making the late-race pass for second ahead of Dylan Sharpe. Dale Millard and Tyler Lewis rounded out the top-five.

Shawn Taylor won the second Mini Stock feature ahead of Gillian Hils, Karl Sault, Dale Millard, and Tyler Lewis.

Starting fourth, Kris Lawrence made his way to the lead in the early laps to win ahead of Kyle Lucas, Phil Givens, Rodney Rutherford, and Jordan Morris.

The second feature saw an invert of the finish from the first, with Rodney Rutherford making his way through the traffic to win ahead of Scott Tonelli, Kris Lawrence, Eric Stewart, and Reece Bourgeois.

Sunset Speedway / OSCAAR Show on Sunday

Starting on pole, Andy Kamrath led every single lap of the Queenston Chevrolet Buick GMC OSCAAR Modifieds presented by Just Foam It for the victory ahead of TJ Edwards, Kelly Balson, Norman Newman, and Dale Reinhart.

In a battle of attrition, it would be Kyle Fetterly surviving to the end and holding the top spot when it mattered for the win in the Knightworks Design OSCAAR Hot Rods ahead of Tyler Hawn, Jesse Kennedy, Rob Bromley, and Trevor Thompson.

Nic Ramsay continued to show why he’s one of the quickest in the province, winning the OSCAAR Bone / Pure Stock Summer Showdown after holding off a hard-charging Phil Givens and Gary Slama in the closing laps. Jordan Williams and Jordan Morris rounded out the top-five.

OTHER NEWS 

Tony George and Bobby Rahal are talking about partnering up to revive the Iowa Speedway and to lobby for a race on the IndyCar circuit as soon as next season. NASCAR owns the oval track, of course, so whether that’s even possible remains to be seen. (I’ve never forgiven them for buying the Nazareth Speedway and closing it permanently by dismantling the grandstands and moving them to Watkins Glen. Let’s hope that hasn’t happened, or won’t happen, to Iowa.) . . . . .

In a somewhat curious move, McLaren Racing is acquiring a 75 per cent stake in the Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar Series team. I say curious, because McLaren Racing has been bleeding cash in recent years and has either sold off or is leasing just about everything it’s got. Sam Schmidt and Canadian Ric Peterson (the S and P in the team’s name) will retain the remaining 25 per cent of the IndyCar company and remain involved in the day-to-day running of the team. Said Ric Peterson: “We always believed that to accelerate our progress in IndyCar, partnering with a team of McLaren’s capability and F1 experience was a key strategy to propel us forward, and so it has proved. McLaren Racing now takes the baton and will combine the best of what they do with the best of what this team does to create something truly special.” The British Formula 1 team will assemble a new five-person board to oversee the IndyCar program, with McLaren F1 CEO Zak Brown leading the group that will see a deeper integration of personnel. Off the wall prediction: Daniel Ricciardo will be with this team in IndyCar next year. . . . .

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