Holiday Stocking Stuffers

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.Sometimes waiting for positive things to happen in racing can be like Waiting for Godot, but still, after another year of highs and lows and a cornucopia of woulda-coulda-shouldas thrown in for good measure, I thought it might be appropriate to stuff some stockings for the season. So here we go…

The I think I can, I think I can present goes to… Danica Patrick. She’s got talent, she’s got the marketing muscle surrounding her, and she’s got a team that has seen better days but promises a renewed focus and rejuvenated effort next season. Now all she has to do is prove that she can not only deliver top fives, but race for the win every week. And oh, yeah, the NASCAR thing? Win consistently in IndyCar first, Danica, then we’ll talk. Here’s to a breakout season for the fiery young racer/media star.

The Take your billions and now please go far, far away present goes to… none other than Bernard Ecclestone. To say that the diminutive multi-billionaire grew tedious years ago is the understatement of this or any other racing year. Suffice to say that with Ecclestone - if there’s a decision to be made that would benefit F1 and be good for the overall health of the sport in general - he is utterly incapable of making it. He has consistently and relentlessly thrown the sport under the proverbial bus in his pursuit of the next government dupes whom he can manipulate in order to extract more millions for his personal coffers, while casting aside any last shred of tradition and integrity for the sport of F1 at every turn. It’s not referred to by me as the Motorized Greed Circus for nothin’, folks. The owners of F1, of course, aren’t much better. Where’s that giant reset button when we really need it?

The You desperately need to get a new idea present goes to… Formula 1. Change the rules, throw a fuel-efficiency formula into the mix, do whatever you have to do to bring back creativity and racing. Yes, this year was better and less predictable, but long term it wasn’t nearly enough.

The Persistence and Peace present goes to… Jenson Button. Here’s to a relaxing off-season for the newly-minted World Champion who proved that persistence, desire and perseverance can still count for a lot, even in the viciously jaded world of Formula 1.

The If we don’t screw this up, we might actually be on to something present goes to… the Sports Car Club of America for moving its National Championship Runoffs to the magnificent Road America - America’s National Park of Speed - in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. It’s the right venue at the right time of the year, and it presents a monumental challenge to all of the club’s competitors, the kind of challenge that makes achieving a National Championship that much more special. Memo to the SCCA: Don’t screw it up by listening to the hand-wringers among you who are suggesting that the legendary “Kink” is too daunting and dangerous and that maybe the motorcycle chicane should be used next year. It’s racing, folks. It’s supposed to be hard and fast and tough. Make yourselves extremely useful by concentrating on making next September’s event even better, and everything will be just fine.

The More manufacturers and more fans present goes to… Scott Atherton and the American Le Mans Series. When this series is “on” it offers some of the best racing on earth. Here’s to more “on” weekends - and more manufacturers - for the gang in Georgia in 2010. And we can’t wait for the “Global GT” battle in 2010 between Corvette Racing, Porsche, Ferrari, BMW, etc.

The If we only had vision and some actual cojones, we might just be dangerous present goes to… the Indy Racing League. They can’t for the life of themselves figure out how to come up with a rules package that would not only benefit the greatest single motor race in the world but would restore the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to its rightful role as the ultimate proving ground for developing advanced automotive technology. Oh, and by the way, it would bring the globe’s automobile manufacturers back to The Speedway in droves. What’s wrong with this picture? That’s easy, when you have less than a handful of people involved in the entire enterprise who actually bring genuine vision to the table, you end up with a rumbling, bumbling, stumbling knee-jerk posse of incompetents who not only don’t get “it” but who are incapable of getting “it” even if you spotted them the “t.” What a waste.

The It’s great to have you back present goes too… Dario Franchitti. You tried NASCAR and it wasn’t for you, but open-wheel fans benefited from your decision to return. Here’s to more glory days for you, Dario.

The Sit down, relax, take some time off and enjoy the magnitude of your accomplishments, and then get back to work present goes to… Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus for another scintillating season. Will they repeat again? Who knows? But enjoy the five-minute off-season, guys. (This one was hand delivered by Rick Hendrick.)

The Good things happen to those who keep pushing present goes to… Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon et al. The thing is, come February it’s a brand new season and hope actually does spring eternal. That and come Sundays (or Saturday nights) it’s why they play the game, and it’s why they run the races. So buckle down and get after it.

Speaking of which, The don’t ever change present must go to none other than… Juan Pablo Montoya. Tough as nails and supremely talented, I just like the way this guy goes about his racing. He’s fast and he refuses to take crap from anybody, which is refreshing in this day and age.

And The don’t ever change, Part II present goes to… Tony Stewart. They said it couldn’t be done - although he did get considerable help from GM and Rick Hendrick to pull it off - but Tony’s run in 2009 as a first-year car owner was special. I look forward to the Tony and Juan Pablo duels next year.

And, The don’t ever change Part III present goes to… Kyle Busch. Unlike the other whiners and hand-wringers out there I don’t think you need to apologize to anybody for anything. Just drive the wheels off of everything you strap yourself into and let the chips fall where they may.  A.J. did it. Mario did it. Gurney did it. And Jimmie, Tony and Juan Pablo are doing it today. And so can you. Besides, I’d rather watch a rocket than an ocean-going freighter any day.

The We hope you get your mojo back soon present goes to… Dale Earnhardt Jr. Whatever it is that’s ailing you right now, this too shall pass. I hope you can get fired up and race for the sheer fun of it again, and soon.

The When you operate in a perpetual state of cluelessness, you get a big bowl of nothing non-present goes to… who else but Brian France and the brainiacs responsible for the endless train wreck called NASCAR?  But being clueless is just the tip of the iceberg, because these people not only live up to the “not invented here” credo, they redefine it every single day. They’re also myopic, relentlessly paranoid - as evidenced by their attempt at controlling the”spin”emanating from their TV network talking heads - they’re consumed with clinging to a mindset that evaporated decades ago, and they’re so resistant to change that even their so-called “loyal” fan base has had it with them. Yesterday, a FOX Sports NASCAR poll on the Internet revealed that a stunning 96 percent of the 6,000 votes tallied answered “yes” when asked the following simple question: Does NASCAR need to make changes? This came after Darrell Waltrip blasted NASCAR on FOX Sports for their intransigence. Yes, most rational people would agree that NASCAR needs to make massive changes - unless they want to continue to watch Brian France “manage the downward spiral” - as he has been doing almost from the minute he took over the gig, but in order to make meaningful change you must first recognize that change has to be made. And judging by NASCAR’s perpetual state of cluelessness, it’s notgonnahappen.com anytime soon.

The When you operate in a dimension entirely devoid of sportsmanship or rational thought, you get a big bowl of nothing too present goes to… Flavio Briatore. I mean - really? - how screwed-up is it in F1 when someone could actually think it’s standard operating procedure to order your driver to purposely crash his car so that your other driver could be insured a win? That means you’re so far caught up in and blinded by the greed that you’ve gone completely around the bend and lost all touch with rational thinking. That’s just sick, and there’s no other word for it.

The You deserve - and get - an entire coal mine for your relentless go-along-to-get-along enabling of the France family circus goes to… the four auto manufacturers - Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota - involved in NASCAR. These guys’ blind adherence to the NASCAR dogma of equalized mediocrity even give sheep a bad name. Is it a prerequisite to have your spine removed in order to throw in your lot with NASCAR? I’m just askin’ here. What is it, really? And spare me the “we have marketing studies that suggest that our participation in NASCAR actually helps our sales and delivers a measurable ROI” because that tired old blah-blah-blah is almost total bullshit and you know it.  These four manufacturers are involved in NASCAR because they don’t have the vision or creativity necessary to explore other racing series that present contemporary technical challenges and demand creative solutions, for starters (the Corvette Racing program being a wonderful exception for Chevrolet). But even after stating that obvious point, if they must keep greasing Brian’s wallet couldn’t these guys at least muster enough balls to kick NASCAR’s ass and demand massive changes so that there’s at least a distant link to modern-day automotive technology and a shred of a reason for being involved in NASCAR’s homage to Yestertech?

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