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October Blahs Take Beatings From Vegas To India

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 30 2013

Jeff Gordon made things interesting at Martinsville. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Late October. Generally, a rather unexceptional time of the year. Halloween? Pretty good time for little kids and raging alcoholics. The World Series? Again, a rather unexceptional time of the year, except for little kids and raging boors.

Even for race fans late October can be dreary. Sports cars and IndyCar is over, short tracks have/will shut down, F1 is racing in places where F1 should not be, and excitement around the Chase and the Countdown has gone into two-week hibernation.

But this year, the final weekend of October produced some pretty cool history and some pretty warm feelings.

To wit:

– Jeff Gordon winning Martinsville.

Earlier this month, at a time when the Chase was still fairly wide open, Gordon shuffled onto the stage in the Kansas Speedway media center to talk about the pre-race open test and life in general. He looked fatigued. His spiel was monotone. He projected resignation. The thought was; dude be done. For the season and perhaps, much, much longer.

Then came Martinsville. With 21 laps to go, “the paperclip” gave a rare green-flag pass for the lead to Gordon and the four-time champ got his first victory of the season. Afterward? Scrap the preceding paragraph. Gordon looked young again an not from applying that pathetic metabolism-altering poison to his armpits.

Extremely cool was Gordon, whose always given thinking-person interviews, summing things up for his 2013 at the end of Sunday’s media presser.

“Let’s be honest,” he said. “We’re all alive, but right now there’s two that are in it. Our job is to go to Texas and make it three. Realistically, legitimately, we’ve got to put pressure on those guys. Right now, other than this win today, they don’t really feel a lot of pressure from ‑‑ they’re racing one another is the way I look at it, and those guys are capable of putting very solid finishes together for the remainder of the season.

“For us we’re really thinking of we’ve just got to go fight hard and see if we can’t do something extraordinary, and it’s going to take an extraordinary three weeks for that to happen. But mathematically we’re certainly in it. But until we close that gap, I don’t think that anybody else is really looking at it other than those two guys.”

Refreshing or what?

– John Force winning 16th championship.

The photos of Force after his nearly fatal crash in July of 2007 at the Texas Motorplex were depressing. Force laying in bed with casts and wires and that yellow presumably antibiotic goop smeared around on his fractured leg.

Then, the rehab photos of the shattered and emaciated-looking Force attempting to take pained baby steps.

It all said: The run is over. Force was in his 60s. His own teammates/employees were getting their career legs. Don Schumacher Racing was turning out the future. Run over for Force.

And then, 2010. He added his 15th championship that year. It was remarkable, all things considered. It would allow Force to begin his walk to the exits as a comeback winner extraordinaire. Except Force refused to leave.

Then came the 2013 Countdown and Las Vegas. Force blows through eliminations at The Strip and then there he is doing a 16th rep of lifting the big, heavy championship trophy.

This isn’t Harry Gant winning Cup races in his early 50s. It’s a guy winning championships in his late 60s. This sure ain’t an age-drawn Jack LaLanne dressed in a one-piece jumpsuit doing pushups in an uncomfortable-to-watch attempt to cling to youthfulness that had long since left the building.

It seems that we will never be able to miss John Force’s presence in drag racing simply because he won’t go away.

– Sebastian Vettel winning his fourth straight F1 World Driving Championship.

The German driving machine got that championship by – what else? – winning the Indian Grand Prix on Sunday.

In doing so, he joined Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher (who won five in a row) as the sport’s only winners of four straight.

Sometimes when searching for historical perspective, it can be more telling to list the all-time greats who have not achieved a prescribed accomplishment. Especially when the subject involves F1, a series which has been crowning champions since 1950 and a series whose roots stretch back many decades before that.

Four in a row? Jim Clarke never did it nor did Ayrton Senna. Jackie Stewart never did it nor did Jack Brabham. Niki Lauda couldn’t do it and neither did James Hunt and Ron Howard made a movie about those two guys.

Vettel is only 23 years old. Who knows where history will take him. One would have to assume that Schumacher’s records of seven championships and five in a row are on shaky legs. Especially at a time in history when the chances for suffering career-ending injuries – or worse – are at an all-time low.

Four in a row in F1 is highly savorable. If only it would not have taken place at a time of day when the only people not in bed are farmers and meth heads.

– Darrell Wallace Jr. wins the NASCAR Camping World Truck race.

In Charlotte last may for NASCAR Hall of Fame voting, I had the opportunity to listen to an old garage hand talk about Wendell Scott. The old hand explained in details that should embarrass others of the day about the obstacles Scott faced as a black driver in a sport that at the time, was not actually warming up to the issue of racial diversity.

Yes, Scott only won a single Cup race during his career in the ’60s. But considering what the man had to endure just to get into race track infields, one victory is remarkable.

On Saturday, Wallace became the second black driver to win a race in a major NASCAR series.

The victory came at Martinsville, a track near Scott’s hometown of Danville, Va., and it came in front of members of Scott’s family.

“This is an emotional one for me, especially to do it in Wendell Scott’s backyard,” Wallace, a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, told reporters.

Congratulations flowed in. Some from officials sources, some from social media. One in particular clearly moved Wallace. It came from old school icon Mark Martin.

“You drove like a hero,” Martin reportedly tweeted.

When told of the comment after the race in the media center, racing beat writer Jim Utter reported, Wallace got tears in his eyes.

“I look up to Mark a lot,” Wallace said. “He’s the old one of the group. He’s out there fighting for it each and every lap and that’s awesome.”

Some eyes still role when the subjects of diversity and green initiatives come up in NASCAR and that’s a shame.

These are things that simply need to be done and accepted.

– Kevin Harvick betrayed his actual thoughts about what’s going on at Richard Childress Racing.

Harvick, who will go to work for Tony Stewart next season, said the big reason he is leaving RCR is concern over team owner Richard Childress’s special treatment of his grandsons – Ty and Austin Dillon – as they climb the ladder to Cup.

Harvick, a full time Cup driver for RCR since 2001, said what he said after being crashed out of the Camping World Truck Series race in Martinsville by Ty Dillon. Childress was reportedly enraged.

The next day, Harvick backed off. Kind of. The heat of the moment defense was enlisted. But, he said he said things he didn’t “want” to say. Curious choice of words.

But clearly, the “rich kids” situation at RCR has been on Harvick’s mind. Sane people just don’t blurt that kind of stuff out, do they?

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 30 2013
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