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Sturbin: Ten Big Memories From 2011 Season

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 1 2012

Dan Wheldon celebrates his victory in the 2011 Indianapolis 500. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Completely sober when the ball in New York City’s Times Square dropped – and failed to land anywhere close to Lady Gaga – I admit to immediately clicking over to ESPN to watch extreme sports dudes Robbie Maddison and Levi LaVallee ring-in 2012 via record-setting ramp-to-ramp jumps on a motorcycle and a snowmobile, respectively.

That’s how desperate I’ve become for live motorsports only 42 days since the conclusion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Still not desperate or thirsty enough, however, to drink any of sponsor Red Bull’s product, which must be a generationally acquired taste.

For the record, the latest edition of the “Red Bull: New Year. No Limits” series saw LaVallee fly a record 412-feet, 6-inches on his snowmobile from Point A to B via man-made ramps set up at Embarcadero Marina Park in San Diego.

Simultaneously, Maddison flew 378 feet, 9-inches ramp-to-ramp on his dirt bike. The Associated Press reported that LaVallee’s jump bested his own record of 361-feet set in December 2010, and that Maddison broke his certified world record of 351-feet, 3-inches.

Unfortunately, the climactic moment kind of got lost in the fog on my TV. But the replays were impressive and it’s great that daredevils LaVallee, of Longville, Minn., and native Australian Maddison completed their stunts without injury.

Made-for-TV events completely aside, here’s my top-10 list of the most significant motorsports stories from 2011:

• Dan Wheldon wins second Indy 500; suffers fatal injuries in season-finale: Wheldon’s improbable victory for Bryan Herta Autosport in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 on May 29 – thanks to rookie JR Hildebrand’s last-corner crash –was the feel-good story of the IndyCar Series season. The 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that took the 33-year-old Brit’s life on Oct. 16 broke hearts world-wide.

• Tony Stewart ends Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR Sprint Cup reign: Smoke and lame duck crew chief

Jimmie Johnson passes the torch to Tony Stewart after season-ending Sprint Cup race at Homestead. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

Darian Grubb won five of 10 Chase races to forge a tie with Carl Edwards atop the final points table. Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing with Gene Haas, won the title via a 5-1 advantage in race wins. His third Cup championship ended “Five-Time” Johnson’s incredible run of consecutive titles.

• Formula One courts new American venues in Texas and Jersey: The rattlesnake count at Circuit of The Americas outside of Austin, Texas, and the pothole patrol in Hudson County, N.J., have been fodder for serious/cynical discussion since F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone announced long-term deals for races in those respective locales in November 2012 and June 2013. Two races? Domestic Ferrari sales must be hurting.

• Sebastian Vettel wins back-to-back Formula One championships: At age 24, the latest German prodigy became F1’s youngest two-time World Driving Champion for Red Bull Racing with three races remaining in 2011. Despite his mercurial success, “Seb” reportedly remains self-effacing and upbeat _ and a serious threat to countryman Michael Schumacher’s record 91 wins, 68 poles and seven world championships.

• NHRA world champs Del Worsham, Larry Dixon exit Al-Anabi Racing: In a pair of moves that make

Del Worsham and Larry Dixon both left Al-Anabi Racing after 2011 season.

sense (only?) to team-owner His Highness Sheik Khalid al Thani of Qatar, the winners of the last two
Top Fuel world titles have bid buh-bye to beautiful Brownsburg, Ind. Enter Shawn Langdon and reigning Super Mod champion Khalid al Balooshi, poised to benefit from team manager Alan Johnson’s magic.

• Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman finish 1-2 in NHRA Funny Car points: Hagan and Beckman allowed Don Schumacher Racing to break John Force Racing’s perennial stranglehold on the flopper ranks. Hagan’s first championship in the DieHard Dodge Charger proved extremely popular, given that he and crew chief Tommy DeLago lost the 2010 title to 15-time champ Brut Force on the final day of the season.

• Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas rack up another GRAND-AM title: Chip Ganassi and team co-owner Felix Sabates’ road-racing juggernaut won five of 12 races en route to its third Daytona Prototype crown in four years in an entertaining series that continues to expand its manufacturer and venue horizons. Pruett, first American to score 10 major sports car championships, remains largely underappreciated.

• Modified champion Richie Evans voted into NASCAR Hall of Fame: Evans’ inclusion in the HOF’s third class is being hailed as a breakthrough for short-track, grassroots stock car drivers nationwide. Twenty-six years after his death in a crash during practice at Martinsville Speedway, seems everyone in Richie (and my) hometown of Rome, N.Y., still has a “colorful” anecdote about the “King of the Modifieds.”

• Brothers Busch embellish their “Bad Boy” NASCAR reputations: Kurt cussed his way out of Penske

Kurt Busch passes brother Kyle Busch at Kentucky. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

Racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but insists he’s giddy at the prospect of driving fulltime for Phoenix Racing. No more Miller Lite for that guy, barkeep. Kyle should still be under suspension for his deliberate crash into Ron Hornaday Jr. during November’s Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

• Danica Patrick leaves INDYCAR for fulltime NASCAR career: Open-wheel racing’s loss of its most marketable commodity figures to be a ratings coup for ESPN’s Nationwide Series telecasts, especially when Danica – OMG!!! – wins that first stock-car race for JR Motorsports. On the Cup side, it’ll be a hoot to see Danica react when mentor Tony Stewart is in one of his suffer-no-fools moods. As in, WTF???

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 1 2012
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