Tuesday, June 5, 2018

2018 Summernationals

That's right folks, there is no 2018 Summernationals. Old Bridge Townships Raceway Park is closed for drag racing. This is the week I mark on my calendar as the week to be at E'Town. It has been a small tradition of mine over the last few years. In January of this year (2018) the ownership of Raceway Park released the news that they would close for drag racing thus ending the event known as the NHRA Summernationals. The reasons for the closure are unimportant. The result is thousands of drag racing fans will be denied seeing the stars of the NHRA moving forward. Those stars have been coming to the central Jersey track since 1965 when E'Town opened for business. Names like Garlits, Muldowney, Prudhomme,Jenkins,Pedragon,Force as well as thousands of sportsmen have raced on the legendary black top at Englishtown. This was a place that was my second home growing up in the '70's. Going there to see the various events, then later on running my 1974 AMC Matador.
In the 70's there weren't as many national events to keep the pros busy so they toured the country for events. 16 funny cars, fuelers or pro stocks would show up on a Sunday and make runs down the track. It was, and probably still is, the most accessable pro sport. For only a few dollars you can get access to pits while the drivers and their crews worked on the cars and signed autographs. This is,of course, nothing unusual for any drag racing track. But Englishtown was our track in our home town and that was special. We didn't have to hop the train to get there. All we did was get
 in our cars and drive over there. Up until last year, that is how it was. What other sports facility in New Jersey could say that since 1965 every major star made an appearance and was openly accessable to every fan walking around. Today it is not unusual for big athletes to walk around with security to prevent fan access. Drag racers thrive on the access.
In later years,as many of our heroes began to die, drag racing tried to immortalize these heroes with nostalgia events. While the racers themselves were not there, tribute cars were built and raced as a reminder to us old guys of how things were back in the day. The biggest of these stars was Jungle Jim Leberman and his constant companion Jungle Pam. He called E'Town his
home track and we embraced him as our own despite his national audience.
While most of the memories I have are good ones, there were numerous bad memories there as well. Namely the deaths. Scott Kalitta being one of the recent ones in 2008.
Now the track at Englishtown is history. It is still opened for special events, motorcross, drifting and road course racing. But drag racing is gone in central Jersey. We fans didn't know this was coming until it happened. If we did, nothing would have changed except we would have had a chance to say good bye to the place where a lot of us grew up and witnessed drag racing history. If I knew last years Summernationals would be the last, I might have taken a few more photos of the facilty itself. I know for a fact, thousands of fans would have apprecieted another event, just to say "Good-Bye". In the mean time, please enjoy some of the photos I have taken at E'Town over the years.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Danica: A Great Driver?

So last week in an interview with ESPN, Danica Patrick hoped she would be remembered as a great driver. AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Bush and Danica Patrick. One of these is not like the others. Great drivers have numerous victories over a long period of time. Hell, Jimmie Johnson has 7 championships. Patrick has one career victory spread over 3 racing series. Her big accomplishements are one victory in Indy car, one pole position in NASCAR and 7 top ten finishes in NASCAR. Her average start and finish position in NASCAR is in the 20's. These are not the stats of a "Great" driver.
Of all the pro sports out there, auto racing is the only one non-gender specific. The racecar does not know the race, religion or gender of the person behind the wheel. It just responds to inputs from the driver. Because she is female she got extra attention and opportunities that other drivers more deserving never got. She raced for one of the super teams in NASCAR (Stewart-Haas) and could not manage a single win in 5 years. In fact looking back on it now, I wonder about the legitimacy of her single pole position for her rookie start at the Daytona 500 in 2012. Afterall, the difference between pole position and a 20th place start is only a couple of miles per hour. Who's to say that Fox broadcasting in conjuction with NASCAR didn't juice her qualifying time to boost ratings. She never came close to a pole position after that race.
I know this sounds like a very female-hating opinion. On the contrary, I am big fan of the gals of NHRA. Why? Because they win races. They also get very little media attention because drag racing just isn't main stream racing like NASCAR. While it's not unusual to see Ms. Patrick in a commercial for Coke or Go Daddy, you'd be hard pressed to name the sponsers for Leah Pritchett. So when Patrick came out last week to say she considered herself a great driver, I just had to shake my head. Greatness is an achievement not and entitlement because of your gender. The only thing she may have achieved is opening the door for other young women to race at NASCAR's highest level. Conversely she may have set female stock car racing back 10 years. After her failure in NASCAR, teams may be cautious to hire another female driver. Stewart-Haas gave her good equipment which wound up being a waiste. Patrick's successor, Aric Almirola, has already out performed her this year. While he still has no victories for Stewart Haas, he has started and finished each race better. He was a half a lap way from winning this year's Daytona 500 until he was wrecked by winner Austin Dillon.
The bottom line is Danica Patrick was a below average driver competing in above average equipment.
The problem with Patrick may have been her focus. While it was not hard to hear about her insane yoga moves on social media, you would be hard pressed to hear hear about her working on her "profession". In fact, it was about this time last year that stories of her departure from Stewart Haas began to gain some traction. Her response was that she had a great passion for racing. But when asked if she would accept a ride in the Xfinity series, she shot that down. If someone is offering you a ride so you could continue you "passion", wouldn't you take it? Ironically she could have won a few races at that level which could have paved her way back the cup series. Instead she began promoting "the Danica Double"(Daytona500 and the Indy 500). I guess that is her real talent. Shameless self promotion . Quite frankly, it was a waiste of good potential talent.