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Pedley: A Driver Of The Year Vote Explained

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 22 2010

John Force was edged by Jimmie Johnson for this year's DOTY Award. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

As with all voting processes for MVPs or players of the year or largest balls of string, the criteria used for voting for the Driver of the Year Award are kind of hazy.

And, human nature being what it is, things like personal experiences and living history and away-from-track persona can also color perception of a driver and influence ballot casting.

So in the end, defining what makes a driver in a certain year worthy of being the Driver of the Year varies from voter to voter.

This year, I voted for Funny Car drag racer John Force.

And, as opposed to several times in the past as a member of the Driver of the Year voting panel, I still feel pretty good about my vote a couple of weeks ex post facto.

In what has become a vast galaxy of driver of the year awards in recent years, there is only one Driver of the Year Award.

The DOTY was established back in the mid-1960s. It honors the top driver in American motor sports.

It’s first winner was Mario Andretti. Mark Donohue was the second. Other winners include everybody from Richard Petty to A.J. Foyt to Greg Anderson.

Some of us older racing types remember it as the Martini and Rossi Driver of the Year Award.

All of us on the voting panel (there are currently 20 of us) are honored and a half to be voters for what is the consensus most prestigious post-season driving award in North America.

The panel is comprised of motor sports journalists and broadcasters. Represented are such news gathering agencies as USA Today, the Associated Press, Reuters, SPEED, ESPN.com, the Boston Globe, the Indianapolis Star and RacinToday.com.

Each year now, prior to the final vote, a teleconference is held and panelists discuss the contenders.

This year, Sprint Cup’s Jimmie Johnson, the NHRA’s Force and NASCAR’s Kyle Busch got the most discussion.

In the end, Johnson collected the most votes – 11. Force was second with seven and Busch got one from the 19 panelists who cast votes.

Panelists can choose to reveal how they voted in the secret-ballot election. They can choose not to. Me, I’m a transparency guy.

My vote for Force was based on what he did and how he did it. Admittedly, some background figured in.

Force did not have the most victories in American auto racing in 2010. He didn’t even have the most round wins or points in his own series as Top Fueler Larry Dixon held those honors.

But Force got his 15th championship at 61 years of age and got it on the final day of the season as he overcame young Matt Hagan. Probably not a stretch to say he pressured Hagan – who seemingly had a comfortable points lead heading to Pomona – out of the way.

And, Force got his 15th championship just three years after mangling his legs so badly in a wreck that some doctors shook their heads no when asked if they thought Force would ever compete again.

I think Force’s accomplishments in 2010 were just a tick better than Johnson’s. A tick more significant.

Johnson, without doubt, drives in a much more competitive category. In Sprint Cup, 20 drivers have shots at winning races. And while Johnson wins races, he also collects points and championships. I have voted for him three times in the past.

But this year, no.

There is one thing which stands out in my mind from the voting day debate.

Somebody remarked that unless we  were to give it to Johnson in the year he won his fifth straight championship, we would look like fools. My thought was that under that logic, Johnson should win the DOTY every year he wins the Cup championship from here on out. Besides, the award is about 2010, not 2006, ’07, ’08 and ’09. Force won 15 championships and that did not/should not enter into the thinking.

Busch had a season to marvel at. That is, another season to marvel at. Victories in all three of NASCAR’s top series. Thirteen victories in Nationwide. His problem, though, was that he did not win a championship in any of those series. I agreed with those who said a championship is essential for those wanting a DOTY.

So, John Force, who started the year as being viewed by some as being the weak link on his own three-car team, gets my DOTY.

Yep, I can live with that. Especially after he scared the crap out of me and laughed about it during a Corvette ride around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a slow day last summer.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 22 2010
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Steveo says:

    I’m in agreement. Johnson was not the best driver in Nascar this year. Keep in mind, Johnson was handed over 200 points when the Chase started, only was the best in those 10 races, and didn’t win the most races either. He was not the best driver in Nascar this year, regardless of his 10 race championship.

    Kyle Busch even in the discussion is kind of laughable. He won 3 races in Cup. The only ones that should count. And the rest were in lower series in far superior equipment. He should not have even been in the discussion.

    My guess was pretty much verified by this article. They gave it to Johnson because of what he has done in previous seasons. When you vote for an annual award, past seasons success should not factor into it.

  • Big Ed says:

    Merry Christmas, Gail.

  • Gail Forrester says:

    Well, let’s all hope you won’t have to stress your little mind next season. Would winning 15 Cup races, the Cup championship, and 20 more races in the other series win Kyle Busch your precious vote? Of course, Kyle is the best driver in racing with or without a media vote for “something of the year.” Whether or not he ever earns such an award of such little importance, the next decade is Kyle’s for the taking. Keep that middle finger up, Rowdy, but use it at the media.

  • Terry says:

    As usual I am in complete agreement with your article……
    Yes like it or not multiple factors always apply when disciding how to vote. Stats are only part of a subjective opinion…….
    John Force gets my vote all around…..
    As long as I didn’t have to clean the Corvette seats…..of course.

  • Matthew Boyd says:

    Great piece. I wish there were more ‘transparency guys’ writing.