Why Bradl Still Has It

Post by @MotoGPKiko

It is no secret that the Honda are struggling in World Superbikes, however, Stefan Bradl – the team’s sole rider after the tragic passing of teammate Nicky Hayden – has got bundles of talent and on a good bike with the right team, he’s a WSBK race winner all day long. Come next year, I have a feeling that the German could be a bit of a threat.

It sounds ridiculous that I am mentioning the 2018 WSBK season after just reaching the half way distance this year but for Stefan Bradl, the remainder of this campaign will be more of a huge test session on the new Honda Fireblade.

Having received the bike late this season, the Red Bull Honda Ten Kate Team have been slashed of testing time and the results have highlighted that. Stefan Bradl’s 6th place in Assen is the team’s best result and they are slowly but surely making progress, with throttle connection being a main target, although a gearbox solution for WSBK is still looming a large issue.

Stefan Bradl is one of the top riders in World Superbikes. Having been unceremoniously tossed out of the Grand Prix circus last year, following a tricky time at Aprilia, he found himself in WSBK on what was supposed to be a championship contending bike. Bradl’s speed is most certainly there and his resilience is too, riding in honour of fallen hero Hayden at Donington Park.

Bradl is also the only German on the grid, following Markus Reiterberger’s departure due to injuries sustained over a year ago. The former Moto2 World Champion has actually been rather steady in WSBK. Every race he has finished has been in the points, which gains not only track time for him as a WSBK rookie but valuable data which will be used to improve the Fireblade. He has only retired from two races, at circuits that he has never rode a 1000cc bike at in his life.

The next circuit for the German to visit is Misano, where the team recently held a test to try and make further gains with the Honda. Bradl also knows the circuit reasonably well too, having raced there in his Grand Prix years, with a 2nd in Moto2 in 2011 and a top class best of 5th.

There is no doubting Bradl’s pace. It will just take some more time to be shown. Likewise for the Honda, development and testing is the most valuable asset to the outfit at the moment. I’m predicting a Honda podium by the end of the season; where that will be, I’m not so sure. But with a determined Bradl and a hardworking team around him, I expect some breakthroughs very shortly.

Image courtesy of Gareth Davies from Full Factory Photography

 

Quali review

Lewis Hamilton secured his 64th career pole position ahead of Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix with a blistering time of 1.19.194 – nearly three seconds quicker than the time to beat last year, again set by the number 44 car.

The Mercedes man edged out nearest rival Sebastian Vettel, who will start alongside the Brit after crossing the line .051 seconds behind his title challenger and managing to split what looked set to be the Silver Arrows’ fourth consecutive lockout at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

It was a particularly impressive result for the German who, if it were not for his experience, would have been starting alongside Daniil Kvyat at the back of the grid after receiving team instructions to turn the engine off at the start of Q1.

This came as a result of Ferrari mechanics having to complete a full engine change before the beginning of qualifying in under two hours, and seemingly being unable to cure a water leakage which occurred at the end of FP3.

However, Vettel questioned the radio communications and managed to alter in-car settings to remain on track and boost his chances of maintaining the Driver’s Championship lead come the end of tomorrow’s race.

It was not the start Mercedes wanted in terms of reliability on Saturday morning either, with Valtteri Bottas also suffering from a similar engine issue overnight meaning the Finn had very little time out on track during FP3; a session in which Ferrari dominated with Kimi Raikkonen setting the fastest lap; .242 ahead of his teammate and .381 in front of Hamilton.

But the two countrymen will line-up together on the second row of the grid after both lost time in sector three whilst seemingly on course to pip pole position– with the chicane catching several drivers out throughout the weekend including Hamilton, Vettel, Max Verstappen and particularly Romain Grosjean – who starts 14th after abandoning his final lap in Q2 following a second lock-up of the afternoon.

The top six is completed by the two Red Bulls with, as has been the case all weekend so far, Verstappen coming out on top of their battle for supremacy, with Daniel Ricciardo seemingly struggling to match the pace of his Dutch teammate.

It was here 12 months ago the exciting youngster truly arrived on the F1 scene after a collision between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg allowed the former Toro Rosso man to take a maiden victory for the senior team. Something when asked if it could be repeated this year Verstappen joked would have to be involving the top four for him to stand any chance of taking away full points again.

Elsewhere, Fernando Alonso was somehow able to drag the McLaren up to seventh on the starting grid after more technical issues on Friday which forced the Spaniard to take some time way from the track to de-stress achieved by a game of tennis, seemed to be yet another episode in the long-line of disasters this season.

But the veteran was able to overcome no time on the track in FP1 and the colossal achievement sparked celebrations similar to those of the days the 35-year-old became a double world champion with Renault, leaving a sad comparison to see how much the great has fallen.

It was not all smiles in the McLaren garage however as Stoffel Vandoorne was unable to match the heroics of his teammate and lines up alongside Kvyat at the back of the grid – who claimed there was something broken on the car following the session.

There were similar looks of disappointment etched across the faces of Lance Stroll and Joylon Palmer, who both had Q1’s to forget and will begin Sunday’s race on the second row from the back.

It will be especially disappointing for the Renault driver after the Brit set a solid pace in Friday’s FP1 and FP2 and arrived in high spirits ahead of Saturday’s sessions only to comment after stating he was unhappy in the car and that it seemed to have lost its speed overnight.

Teammate Nico Hulkenberg was also unable to continue his good qualifying run which had seen him secure a place in Q3 for the last three consecutive races. The German’s 1.21.397 leaves him 12th on the tomorrow’s grid, again a disappointment following the weekend’s previous sessions.

A Look Ahead

The Silver Arrows and Hamilton will be hoping they can repeat the standings of FP1, FP2 and all of qualifying in which the three-time world champion secured top spot.

However, Vettel and Raikkonen will take spirit from their FP3 dominance and believe they have what it takes to force Mercedes all the way.
One thing that was certainly noticeable throughout both Friday and Saturday are the upgrades that have been placed on and in both the Mercedes and Ferrari’s ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix seem to have improved all four cars, however have not dampened the ferocity of the teams’ rivalry and it is sure to be another tense encounter in Barcelona.

Totally Toro Rosso in Bahrain

Quick recap from the Chinese GP, it started off damp and slippery. It was a mixed weekend for the drivers with Sainz finishing an amazing P7 and Kvyat having a car failure.
Moving on to Bahrain, which is a back to back weekend on the calendar, which is hard for teams as they have FP1 just 5 days after the last GP and have to work quickly on Sunday night to get the equipment packed and ready weekend ahead.
Kvyat said “This is a twilight race, the challenging part is always the start, the sun can sometimes still be too bright for your eyes dazzling. I like hot races like Bahrain, especially for its unusual night atmosphere. Also, I love the hotel we stay at because you can play tennis do jet skiing and some sunbathing, the beach is very clean. Very nice to be here racing at night is exciting”.
Sainz Said “It’s very frustrating to not have finished a race in Bahrain yet. In both cases, I remember doing qualifying very well and good starts but that’s it. We normally like to go karting on the small track next to the circuit, its great fun”. He says “It’s a similar weekend to China as you get very little practice as FP1 and FP3 are run in the day when it very hot and data has nothing to do with what the conditions will be like in qualifying and the race”.
On Thursday the boys joined the Red Bull Racing boys for a little filming clip of them having a typical Bahraini breakfast in a tent at a beachside hotel.
Moving on, Friday and the heat and sunlight of FP1, Kvyat setting 1.34.8 and Sainz a 1.36.0 but these times are not important as the qualifying and FP2 are run at night when the temperature is a lot cooler. FP2 Kvyat got a 1.32.7 while Sainz got a 1.34.0 before breaking down, only completing 5 laps in the most important practice session.
Saturday, as normal, saw FP3 and qualifying. Starting off with FP3 Sainz P9 with a 1.33.6 and Kvyat a 1.33.7 so close between them in that session. Qualifying arrived and it was a mixed session with Sainz getting eliminated in Q1 because of a second car failure of the weekend which meant he would be starting the race in P16. Kvyat managed to get his car to P11 which is not all bad because it makes him the first car with a free tyre choice.
Race day, with not a car starting in the top 10, its the lowest grid slots of the season so far. The race did not go to plan either with Sainz colliding into the Williams of Stroll as he was exiting the pits, which put him out the race and gave him a three-place grid drop for the Russian GP, the other side of the garage was not smiling after finishing in P12, meaning they didn’t score points for the first time in 2017.
After the race, Kvyat said “I thought after lap 1 my race was over, I had no grip and went off track after a misunderstanding with another car. Today was not my day we can’t afford situations like this as the midfield battle is very tight and we lost a bit of ground today. I look forward to the next race in Russia my home GP, in front of my fans hopefully we can get the car working and battle for points”
Sainz said “Today we had to start from p16 but I managed to get up to p11 during lap 1, but the weekend ended up with a DNF, but weekends like this happen we’ve had ours. let’s move on and get back on track for the next one and get back into the points and catch up with our rivals.”

Picture courtesy of Red Bull Media

F2 Bahrain.

Yesterday we saw one of the best races of the season so far and maybe one of the best races we will see all year.
The race was completely ruled by one man, he appeared to be in a completely different class to the rest of the field. You would expect little else from a Ferrari driver, but this race was exceptional.
At the end of the race as he jumped out of his car, parked in the winner’s spot underneath the podium, you could see exactly what it meant to him.
The win had been hard fought but it was down to pure skill and driver talent. At the post-race press conference, the looks on the faces of the second and third placed drivers told the whole picture. They knew they had been beaten by talent and skill alone. The winner was simply better than them.
Whilst this was indeed the scene at the Bahrain International Circuit, it was not the scene from the Formula 1 race. The race of the season had occurred mere hours before the lights went out and Bottas appeared to squander his best chance yet of a race victory.
It was in the F2 Sprint Race that Charles Leclerc destroyed the competition. It wasn’t a lights-to-flag domination which got everyone talking about it, but a display of over-taking and risk-taking which worked out so well for the young Ferrari driver.
After a competitive start and a safety car period, the front of the race was looking tight. Laps 7 to 14 saw the battle for the lead change hands and Leclerc take control. The sprint race is only 23 laps long, so when you are in the lead after 14 of them, you can feel some sense of the impending victory.
Just hang on for 9 more laps and the win is yours.
Or do as Charles Leclerc and his Prema Racing decided to do and pit for fresh tyres. To the outside it was not the logical choice. Not just to pit from the lead, but to even think about changing tyres in a 23-lap sprint race.
He came out of the pits in 14th and 24-seconds behind the leading car. 24 seconds in 9 laps is just under 3 seconds a lap plus the over-taking. It’s not the best-looking calculation a racing driver could face.
It took no time for Leclerc to be back up in the top three and harrying the leading pair of Rowland and Ghiotto. It took the last two laps and a brave dive up the inside to claim the lead, before extending his margin to 1.5 seconds before crossing the finishing line.
It’s not often that you will see the leading car dropping back to 14th and then over-taking the field for the win. We can remember Jensen in Canada performing such heroics, but it just happens so rarely that when it does it deserves to be applauded.
It doesn’t matter to us that the best race of the weekend was a support race, or that another Ferrari driver won. The racing was what grabbed our attention and we felt truly spoilt by Leclerc’s skill and ability.
If Kimi hangs on for another year and Leclerc keeps his form, there could be an outstanding up-and-coming young driver sitting opposite Vettel in the garage.

Picture courtesy of F2

Haas F1 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

Formula 1 travels from the far to Middle East for Round 3 of the FIA World Championship in Bahrain. The tiny Country tucked on the East border of Saudi Arabia will play host at its 5.412 kilometer (3.363 mile), 15 turn circuit. Many heavy braking zones and several long straights, run off areas are plentiful and the circuit itself is very wide which will hopefully lead to great battles. However, sweltering dry heat and conditions which can be quite sandy at times will test the reliability (and grip) of the cars and perseverance of drivers throughout the weekend.

In 2016, the teams first season, Haas made their best finish of 5th place in the Bahrain desert, causing Grosjean to say it was “The American dream!” over team radio at the end of the race. The 5th place finish preceded didn’t translate into similar results for the rest of that season, but Grosjean, and the team are looking to repeat the performance and build on their first points finish last race in China that put them 7th in the Constructors World Championship ahead of Renault, Sauber and McLaren. Grosjean 19-11 Magnussen finished 8.

Adding to the teams best finish of 5th at Bahrain in 2016 Grosjean also has two back to back podium finishes in 2012 & 2013 with Lotus finishing 3rd in each out of his 5 Formula 1 starts in Bahrain. The track seems to suit the Frenchman who is probably nearing frustration with his lack of points after a DNF in Australia and a strong drive from 19th to 11th just outside of the points in China.
“Bahrain is not a circuit that looks very technical from a paper point of view, but I love driving it every year….turns 9 & 10 are pretty tricky. That’s the braking going downhill and there’s a lot of g-forces and front locking, with tricky traction on exit. That’s the place where you really need to focus” Grosjean said.

Magnussen meanwhile has two starts, one with McLaren in 2014 and the other with Renault in 2016 where he made his best finish of 11th coming back from dead last of 22nd on the grid.
“I’d say turns 11, 12, and 13 are cool.” Magnussen said. It’s a track with some good braking zones, fast chicanes and medium speed corners. It’s quite fun.”

Pirelli are brining three tire compounds to the Bahrain circuit this weekend; P Zero White mediums, Yellow softs, and Red supersofts. The P Zero White mediums may be the most suited to Bahrain, from Pirelli; “less grip, less wear (used for long race stints). This is Pirellis most balanced tire, with an ideal compromise between performance and durability. It’s extremely versatile, but often it comes into it’s own on circuits that tend towards high speeds high temperatures, and high-energy loadings. It is a low range working compound.”

I believe Haas are going to preform well this weekend, the VF 17, if it’s predecessor is any indication, will preform well, the circuit may be one of Romain Grosjeans strongest and Magnussen is on form after a confidence building 8th place finish in China. The VF 17 is ready for it’s first performance of the season under the bright lights in the desert

Haas F1 Chinese Grand Prix Review

Image courtesy of HAAS F1

Haas F1 have gotten their first points in China. After predictions of a chaotic rain filled race the Chinese Grand Prix was would start damp with plenty of dry patches, starting all drivers but one Carlos Sainz on green intermediate tires which would create a forgettable start for the him. Romain Grosjean P17 and Kevin Magnussen P12 opted instead for the green P Zero intermediates. Two laps in after a decent strat for both cars, Lance Stroll was knocked out of the race by Sergio Perez bringing out the Virtual Safety Car. Haas brought both drivers in, Magnussen in front, for Red supersofts. Track conditions remained wet though and another crash on the damp pit straight ended Antonio Giovinazzis forgettable weekend and brought a physical safety car.
Magnussen remained on track in P12 while Grosjean farther back and with less to lose pitted for Yellow softs and returned to track under full green in P17 behind the Renault of Jolyn Palmer. By lap 28 he had passed Palmer and several other cars to gain to P13 putting him one position behind his team mate Magnussen who returned from the pits from his final stop for new P Zero Red supersofts. Grosjean too made his final stop on lap 36 also for a set of Red supersofts and rejoined the track P13 again this time behind Nico Hulkenberg. He passed the German two laps later on lap 38 and to prove the Frenchman’s determination and pace Grosjean hunted down the Williams of Felipe Massa 15 laps later and took P11 from the experienced and on form driver cleanly around the slow turn 2 finishing him just outside of the points.
With a strong VF17 under him Magnussen was able to salvage the teams weekend with an exclamation point overtaking both Mercedes powered Force India cars. First Ocon on lap 40 then and catching Perez at the end of the long back straight for P8 where he finished giving himself and the team 4 points in the World Championship putting them 4 behind 6th place Williams who also had one car DNF. We now have one example (since we will not make any permanent conclusions here yet) that the Ferrari power of the VF17 and its chassis design is on par with if not outperforming the Mercedes power of the Williams and Force India.
It’s unfortunate Grosjean was not in a better position at the start and was so close to a double points finished for the team, but as he said after being forced to lift on the penultimate corner of his qualifying lap due to Giovinazzi’s crash “When it’s not your day, it’s not your day”. Haas F1 will go to Bahrain next, the sight of the team’s best ever finish of P5 with Romain Grosjean in 2016 for Formula 1’s first back to back weekend of the season. Haas are now in 7th in the Constructors Championship and the team need to focus all out on a double points finish for this weekend to remain close in the WCC with Williams and avoid being left behind by the rest of the midfield with the pointless Sauber, McLaren and Renault.

 

Totally Toro Rosso in China

Firstly lets have quick recap of what happened last time out in Australia, both of our driver had a solid start to the season both finishing in the points with Sainz in P8 and Kvyat in P9 keeping the teams recent record of scoring points in Australia 4 times out of 5. So let’s move 10 days into the future and arrive in China.
Quick words from our drivers asked about the Chinese GP firstly Kvyat “it was a very nice feeling to stand on the podium here last year, I have very good memories of that moment” and secondly “the strangest gift a Chinese fan has given me is a panda with a picture myself on it”. Thirdly “the track has very unusual and unique corners like turns 1 and 2 where you can take many different lines”. And finally “I have a few favourite places to eat in shanghai its European food though im quite traditional in that aspect”
And now a let move on to Sainz “I love duck, it’s actually one of my favorite dishes when I travel to Asia, especially China again this year” and secondly “the only Chinese word I remember is ‘NI HAO’. It’s a useful one to know so I can say hello to everyone.”I have to say that the paddock in China is the biggest one I’ve ever seen its enourmous”. And finally “I have very good memories of the drivers dinner we organised in Shanghai last year, all 22 of us.
And some quick new from the Kvyat side on Tuesday he annouched he was releasing a book about his way into F1. He will be annouching the release day and more details on his twitter on the 26th April 2017. We can’t wait to read it Danill.
On a rainy Thursday Kvyat and a few engineers took for a walk around the track, while Sainz was facing the qusetion’s of the world’s media outlets in the drivers press conference. Saying “it was a tough winter for us only doing more laps than McLaren and to get both cars in the points shows how much potential the car has”. While Kvyat headed back to the paddock to sign some autographs.
Then Friday arrived and so did a load of rain and thick fog which ment only 15 minutes of running all day but both of our drivers took advantage to learn what they could in the small amount of time they had alvalible to them. Sainz getting a 1.52.7 and Kvyat a 1.53.2. All the teams were praying that Saturday would be dry so the could gather as much data as possible in the 1 hour long practice 3 session.
Saturday arrived and it was dry so all the drivers were on the track for most of the session collecting race and qualiflying data that the teams really needed. Sainz finished the session in P10 with a 1.35.2 and Kvyat finished 1.35.8 showing how close the midfield battle really is. Then arrived qualiflying Sainz got knocked out in Q2 and qualified in P11 but had a free tire chocie avalible to him. Kvayt managed to get through to Q3 and qualifly in P9. Meaning he had to start on the red striped super soft if dry. Lets see what the weather will bring us tomorrow as the forecast is wet wet wet.
Here it was race day in China round 2 of the 2017 F1 World Championship and the circuit was damp and very slippery teams and drivers had to choose which tire to start the race on the inter or a slick compound they qualifled on. with Kvyat lining up in P9 he choose the inters but Sainz who was starting in P11 choose the super softs the only driver to do so. Team boss Franz Tost said he was crazy. Then they all lined up on the grid the 5 lights went out it was a good start for Kvyat but Sainz was slow off the line as he had no grip and was at the back of the pack and had a spin at turn 1 and kissed the wall at turn 2 but luckly no damage to the car. But soon can out the virtual saftey car which a lots of drivers pitted under to put the slicks on which helped Sainz claim places. Then a couple of laps later the saftey car was deployed after a sauber crashed on the pit stright. At this stage Sainz strating on the soft was in P7 and Kvyat wa in P9 good call by sainz to start on the soft saved him a pit stop. Lap 18 arrived and their was a problem on Danills car he had to pull over and retire a hyrolic problem it ended up. Which left only 1 Toro Rosso left so it was cruical we got across the finish line with this car. And Sainz just kept on driving brilliantly ended coming home in P7 “best of the rest” scoring the team some crucial championship points and moving them up into P4 in the constcutors world championship, with sainz moving up to P7.
In the interviews after the race Sainz said that he glad his gamble paid off in the end. He was a little worried when he saw the rest of the pack on inters, but after turn 6 the track was dry and he could catch the pack and make his up the field as the rest of the cars pitted for slicks, and he said nows whos the clever one. Also P7 was the best he thought the Red Bulls, Ferraris and Mercedes were 1-2 seconds a lap faster than him. Kvyat said “what a shame we had a hydraulic problem which still needs to be investigated .. on the positive side we’ve shown the perforence is their and we can be strong going forward. We have the pace and I look forward to next weeks race in Bahrain.

Mackenzie On Fire In Supersport Opener

Photo courtesy of Gareth Davies of Full Factory Media.

Tarran Mackenzie kick-started his 2017 British Supersport campaign with a win in Sunday’s race, in a thrilling race-long battle with Alistair Seeley, Ben Currie, Andy Irwin, David Allingham and replacement rider, Keith Farmer.

The McAms Yamaha rider was in the 4th and 5th for the majority of the race, as the Gearlink Kawasaki pairing of Ben Currie and Andy Irwin did battle with the Team Spirit Moto2 bike of Alistair Seeley, as the three swapped places numerous time each lap.

David Allingham battled with EHA Yamaha teammate Ross Twyman until he broke clear and bridged the gap to the leading group. Jack Kennedy on the MV Agusta also came through the pack and joined the crew at the head of the field.

On the penultimate lap, all hell broke loose as Seeley and Irwin went side by side through the Old Hairpin and Starky’s before Tarran Mackenzie took both of them into McClean’s. Into the Melbourne Loop, Irwin nearly knocked Mackenzie off as he went for the inside, whilst former Superstock 1000 champion Keith Farmer barged his way through past Seeley.

On the final lap, Tarran Mackenzie capitalised on the shenanigans between the Gearlink riders and broke clear by over a second to secure victory on the last lap, ahead of Seeley and Irwin, although Seeley didn’t score any points. Currie held off Allingham and Kennedy whilst the aggressiveness and flamboyancy of Keith Farmer only managed to get him 7th on the road. Ross Twyman, Joe Francis and newcomer Keenan Armstrong rounded out the top 10.

A scintillating race in the Supersport class made up for the disappointment and sadness of Saturday, following the cancellation of their sprint race due to the untimely death of Ducati Tri Options cup rider, Mick Whalley. The sun-soaked crowd got a treat as Supersport provided some seriously entertaining racing.

The action and drama continues in a fortnights time at Brands Hatch Indy where you can expect a fast and furious pace as the riders tackle what is one of the most physically demanding tracks on the calendar. Will Tarran Mackenzie repeat his efforts of round one and take victory or will the opposition fight back to restrict him an early lead in his bid to retain his Supersport crown? Only time will tell.

 

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

Hickman Hopeful of ‘Strong’ Year Ahead

Photo courtesy of Gareth Davies, of Full Factory Media.

Road Racing specialist and BSB race winner Peter Hickman is hoping for strong season ahead after a good start to the year at Donington Park. I caught up with him briefly in the paddock as he joins his third team in as many seasons, with Smith’s BMW.

How have you fitted in so far with your new team?

I’ve moved to the Smith’s BMW Racing Team and everything’s going alright so far. Testing went really well, although testing is one thing and racing is another. The first day on track in England with everyone else and hopefully we can have a strong year.

Does riding the BMW in 2015 give you an advantage?

Actually, it’s completely different to be fair. The bike is meant to be the same but everyone has a different idea of how they want to build it. Each bike you ride, although the manufacturer might be the same, it’s actually very different. We’re running Ohlins suspension which no one has run on a BMW in the UK. It is very different but I am happy with it all so far and we will just have to wait and see.

What is the plan with you regarding road racing in 2017?

I will be doing the roads with this team, all of them too. We will be riding the Triumph in the Supersport category and the Smith’s BMW in the Superbikes class, which I’m really looking forward to.

Can we expect to see you in the Showdown?

Haha! Well that is definitely the plan and that’s what we are gunning for. The championship gets stronger every year; we say that year on year but it just seems to be the case with the new additions. I think we will be in for good year this year.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

The Draw of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

NASCAR is in the midst of the chase for its championship. It should be, without doubt, the most exciting time of the season, Daytona being the exception of course. The teams are in high gear and the drivers should be shining bright in the glare of the spotlight they are cast into. It is, however, not the drivers racing that hold the public’s interest, but the one driver that is not. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has long been NASCAR’s most popular driver and being sidelined with a serious concussion has done nothing to stem the tide of loyalty and affection fans express for one of the biggest names in the sport.

So what is it about Junior that makes him so popular even though he hasn’t been in a car since early summer? Some may say it’s being the namesake of one of the biggest stars in NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt Sr was more than a driver, more than even a racer, he was an icon of racing, one of the last ties to a history rich in culture and tradition. Dale Sr was one of the last blue collar heroes, learning to race on the dirt tracks of rural North Carolina and at the hands of legends such as his own father, Ralph Earnhardt. This is where Junior comes from, a long line of men who raced hard with success being marked by the amount of dirt on the car on Sunday morning. It would be ridiculous to say that is not part of it, not part of what draws fans to him, endears him to their hearts, and makes them feel like he is part of their family. It is, without question, part of it, especially for the long time fans. He is the last tie to his father and many fans hang onto him like a life preserver, desperate to hang onto a past that racing has long left behind, for better or worse.

Junior is, however, much more than his lineage. Dale Earnhardt Junior is an ambassador for a sport that has in recent years seemed to lose steam in its level of popularity and who is in desperate need of a real champion, and much more than that, a hero. Junior is just the person they need. He is the right combination of the old and new guard. He drives hard but smart and seems to see a much bigger picture in racing and in life. When Junior made the announcement he would be steeping out of his car due to a concussion the response received was a tumultuous one. Some people applauded as he made the commitment to be well and take care of himself, while others grumbled he wasn’t his father, who was infamously tough. Junior held his ground though, bringing much needed attention to concussions, and other head injuries, as he openly shared his concussion struggles with the public. As Junior has made progress with his condition, being sure to take his time, the public has learned a great deal regarding head trauma and the effect it can have on someone’s life. He has made concussions, and recovery, a part of everyday life and brought, not the tragedy of them, but the hope of recovery from them, to his fans and to the public.

So while the Championship Chase continues, while Jimmy Johnson pushes for his seventh championship and Kevin Harvick and the others chase Johnson, it is Dale Jr. that garners the attention and affection of the fans, not because he is his father’s son but because he is him-and the fans love him for it.

Image courtesy of
Charlotte Observer