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A Cliff-Dweller’s Guide to 2012 Racing Faves

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 2 2013

Brad Keselowski provided NASCAR with a fresh face and fresher attitude in 2012. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Awoke on New Year’s Day after dreaming I had driven my Guards Red 1987 Porsche Turbo off of something called a “Fiscal Cliff.” Actually, that was probably a delayed reaction to my latest repair bill.

As for that cliff, I drove off of that sucker in June of 2008, when I was bought-out of my job at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after nearly 30 years. Been trying to stop the financial bleeding ever since, and if it wasn’t for this gig with RacinToday.com, my motorsports writing career certainly would long be over.

So, for all those who have become loyal readers and “Likers” of this site since Managing Editor Jim Pedley launched it in March of 2009, thanks for making my life worth living. And here’s my top-10 list of the most significant motorsports stories from 2012:

* Brad Keselowski wins first NASCAR Sprint Cup title – Keselowski, whose previous claim to fame was a series of dust-ups with Carl Edwards, matured beyond “Bad Brad” into a bona fide champion while presenting team-owner Roger Penske his first Cup title. Basically a one-man Dodge Charger team after A.J. Allmendinger’s NASCAR-imposed suspension, Keselowski, 28, was a runaway selection for Driver of the Year. And I can’t wait to see Keselowski’s military tank parked in the driver’s compound next season.

* Formula One’s debut at COTA a screaming success – F1’s inaugural at Circuit of The Americas for the United

Sebastian Vettel won his third straight world driving championship. (File photo courtesy of COTA)

States Grand Prix in mid-November was, by most accounts, a Texas-sized hoot. Maybe F1 finally has found a permanent home in Austin at a cost of $400-million. The 3.4-mile/20-turn circuit played to rave reviews from F1’s finicky drivers. Meanwhile, the curiosity factor – and perhaps the cultural draw of chicken fried steak and a tall, cold one – saw a near-sellout of 117,429 fans turn out for race day.

* Sebastian Vettel wins third consecutive F1 World Driving Championship – Vettel, 25, ended the 2012 season as the youngest three-time World Driving Champion in the 62-year history of Formula One. The Red Bull Racing/Renault ace joined F1 legends Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-56) of Argentina and fellow-German Michael Schumacher (2000-02) as the only drivers to prevail back-to-back-to-back. And consider this _ Vettel is 10 years younger than Schumacher was when he won the third of his record seven titles.

* Don Schumacher Racing teams dominate NHRA nitro classes – Team-owner Schumacher’s juggernaut saw Antron Brown post an historic championship in Top Fuel as the first African-American to win a major North American motorsports title. Brown was followed in the point standings by seven-time champ Tony Schumacher and now ex-teammate Spencer Massey. In Funny Car, “Fast” Jack Beckman edged teammate Ron Capps by two points, all to the frustration of John Force Racing’s four-car lineup.

* INDYCAR fires Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard – Canned in late October, Bernard oversaw introduction of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ revolutionary Dallara DW12 chassis and the return of engine competition among Chevrolet, Honda and (for 2012) Lotus. His minuses include the tragic 2011 season-finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Bernard reportedly is now CEO at RFD-TV, an agricultural cable station in Omaha, Neb., where he hosts a morning drive-time talk show with Fred and Arnold Ziffel.

* Ryan Hunter-Reay wins first IZOD IndyCar Series championship – RHR, of Andretti Autosport, wrapped up the

Ryan Hunter-Reay beat Penske and Ganassi to win the IndyCar championship. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

championship by three points over Will Power of Team Penske with a fourth-place finish in the season-finale. That’s a long way from his career prospects in 2006, after the Floridian had lost his third driving job in as many years. En route to becoming the series’ first American champion since Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. in ’06, Hunter-Ray, 31, posted four wins – including three in a row – and 153 laps-led.

* Erica Enders become first woman to win in NHRA Pro Stock – Enders cleared the last hurdle for women racers among the National Hot Rod Association’s four pro classes with her breakthrough victory over four-time world champion Greg Anderson at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., in July. Enders, 29, ended the season with four wins in her stealth-black GK Motorsports Chevrolet Cobalt, a 38-19 won/loss record and fourth-place points finish following the six-event Countdown to the Championship.

* The deaths of motorsports icons Carroll Shelby and Chris Economaki – Shelby’s exploits as racer, designer and corporate hustler will remain a part of every Cobra and Mustang bearing his name and autographed dash. Ol’ Shel died on May 10 at age 89. Economaki, the Dean of American Motorsports, died on Sept. 28 at age 91.That’s a combined 180 years of living WFO. Walking into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center won’t be the same without seeing Economaki sitting at his typewriter.

* GRAND-AM and American Le Mans Series announce merger – The nation’s domestic sports car series will become one beginning with the 2014 season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, likely running a 12-race schedule. In the interim, executives on a board of directors now run by NASCAR will determine how to combine and/or delete the various car classes, led by the headline Prototypes. Since the merger between IndyCar and Champ Car hasn’t exactly revitalized open-wheel racing as expected…godspeed.

* Electronic Fuel Injection becomes the norm in NASCAR – Tradition-bound NASCAR’s conversion from the venerable 4-barrel carburetor to EFI largely was seamless, and the beginning of the sanctioning body’s and manufacturers’ initiative to make the term “stock car” real-time relevant to the Sprint Cup Series. Next up are the 2013 debuts of Chevrolets, Fords and Toyotas closely resembling their showroom floor counterparts – all with the idea of rekindling that dormant love affair between fans and their cars.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 2 2013
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