by David Vodden
Daytona Beach Florida 2022. It starts with a 24-hour endurance auto race, includes Monster Energy Super Cross event and a 200-mile motorcycle road race and, in between all this, it is host to the Daytona 500.There was a time when the Daytona 500 was just a race like all the others except for the banking of the track and the speeds. When the speeds got to be too high as witness cars trying to get into the grandstands and rip down fences, it became something else. Enter restrictor plates. What it has become gets mixed ratings. For the pure-racer, an event where all the cars travel at the same speed, where crashes are the difference between winning and losing and where crashes are not only expected, they are predicted, the question that lingers is, what has the Daytona 500 become? Not really a race?
Consider that last weekend where all three NASCAR division winners were essentially rookies. For twenty-two-year-old Zane Smith, who won the Daytona truck race, it was his first time in a Ford Truck for Front Row Motorsports. He had three previous victories in four years and was not expected to take this win. He did so by surviving the carnage. In the Xfinity race Austin Hill, 27, driving for the first time in a Richard Childress Chevrolet in that series, won. It was not expected. His resume did not suggest him as a real contender. On Sunday, 23-year-old Austin Cindric won the Daytona 500 in only his second start in the CUP series. He beat the best of the best in American stock car racing. Or did he just have better luck? You figure it out.
Three winners among one hundred drivers, the majority of which had far better skills and the win records than those who ended up in victory circle. Why? If the why really has little to do with athletic-sport accomplishment then what is the Daytona500? A sporting-event? A thrill-show? What? For the record, the 500 had over 150,000 fans in the stands and infield, far more than any super bowl. The television ratings were good but fell significantly short of the super bowl. There was a huge amount of fanfare for all three races with celebrities and music and unending prognostications about what was going to happen.
And there was Mike Joy, Tony Stewart and Clint Boyer in the television booth making jokes and sharing barbs while the event went on. I watched it all. Where I learned something new it was enjoyable. When it became laborious due to the length of circuitous nothing and no unexpected outcomes on track, I slept. I had to watch it again to see what I slept through. Thank goodness for TIVO. Here are the results. The truck race saw Champion Ben Rhodes finish second with Chris Eckes, Tanner Gray and Parker Klingerman completing the top five. In the Xfinity race it was A. J. Almendinger, Noah Gragson, Riley Herbst and Justin Allgaier following Austin Hill home. In the Cup race Cindric was followed by Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola. There were a number of spins and crashes that eliminated top drivers including Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larsen, and more. For me these come under been there seen that as far as excitement goes.
The one big hair raiser occurred in the Xfinity race when Myatt Snyder was spun into the back straightaway wall causing his car to lift, tail first, into the catch fence. That catch fence ,as it has done before in similar accidents, first sheared off the back of the car, fuel tank included, and then spun around in the air placing the front of his car into the catch fenceposts. Again, these blade-like poles sheared off the front of the car including the motor and transmission. When it was all over a stunned Snyder wobbled out of what was left of his car and was pronounced not dead by the medics on the scene. It was a spectacular crash with lots of flames and spewing parts everywhere all of which will make it the hottest video clip for advertising NASCAR racing in the future. Amazing since NASCAR talks and acts like they would rather eliminate all accidents from the sport even knowing that this is what sells tickets.
Daytona was the first of thirty-six NASCAR races to be run in2022 with only one week off all summer. Thirty-five to go for the teams seeking to capture one of the sixteen playoffs berths at the end of the year.
The NASCAR cars go to nearby Fontana this weekend where, two years ago, Alex Bowman took the win amidst threatening skies under the watchful eye of a white-capped Mt Baldy. Looking at last year’s performances by various top drivers and teams the one thing that occurs to me is that there are no standout favorites set to do anything based on what we have seen thus far.
The NHRA had a great event last weekend in Pomona California which is almost walking distance to Fontana where the NASCAR races will happen this weekend. Erica Enders won over a huge pro-stock field while Robert Hight made up for his teammates “The Force family” by winning in Nitro Funny Cars. Youngster Justin Ashley won in Nitro Dragsters. Times for the top fuel contingent were in the mid 3 second range with speeds through the traps running 326 miles per hour.
Leah Pruett, now of Tony Stewart affiliation, lost in her first round as did John Force. Doug Kalitta, with a completely new team working on his car, lost in the first round as well. Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher, returning to action after being gone for some time, both made it past the first-round while Ron Capps made it to the final fielding his own car against Hight. The NHRA drag racing show is in Arizona this weekend on the Indian reservation.
Indy Car racing starts this weekend in St Petersburg Florida with a colorful international line up of drivers. Americans Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi will try to stave off the foreigners but it will not be easy. They race on a 1.8-mile, fifteen turn street course is the first event leading to the 2022 Indy Car Driving Championship. Jimmy Johnson will be in the field to start his first full year of open wheel racing American style. Indy car looks to be continuing a growth spurt in quality of drivers and racing reminiscent of days gone by. Michael Andretti, a top Indy car owner has applied to become a Formula One car owner. Next year If he passes.
Chico’s Silver Dollar Speedway held a big practice session last Sunday. Both WoO champion Brad Sweet and Colby Copeland were juggling things to get it all going. I did not stay to see how it went but it looked hella full. The Chico speed plant has only eight weekends listed for special events this year which begs the question as to car counts.
Marysville opens up tonight for the first of many weekly shows featuring winged sprint car and other classes. If car counts are good, I would think that Marysville will benefit the most. We will see.
I was told that Orland Speedway was going to open and then that it was unsure? I will try to confirm if our local fairgrounds will offer dirt track auto racing in 2022.Stay tuned.