Ryan Braun

After Braun and Hernandez debacles, more fans should view racers as role models

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The notion of professional athlete as role model is a romantic one, born to children at the moment they watch their first home run, first touchdown, first three-point buzzer beater or first slapshot goal.

The heroes are those they see as infallible, who bring joy by their efforts on the battlefield. There is no notion, initially, of these athletes as thugs, criminals, or cheaters.

And then you have the last month in sports, where two of the best at their respective disciplines are going away for a while because they screwed up.

Ryan Braun cheated, which isn’t new and doesn’t particularly sting. But he did lie, he did throw a guy under the bus, and he did dupe an entire team and entire city – my hometown of Milwaukee – into believing he was the golden boy who could save baseball in Beertown. Instead, we all feel like drunks who had too much in the moment, enjoying his efforts on the field but now have awoke with a hangover the size of Bernie Brewer’s head.

Meanwhile Aaron Hernandez has been charged with first-degree murder. He starred on the field for the New England Patriots for three years, and was a key part of a generation of new tight ends who were changing the NFL in a way it hasn’t been given the increased passing attacks. Now, the aftermath and fallout has turned his name and his image completely toxic.

It’s with these two recent examples – the latest in the long line of stick-and-ball athletes who find a way to throw it away – that I wish more sports fans would look to racing drivers as their professional role models.

From an access standpoint, racing drivers in North America are far more reachable to the common fan than any in the four major sports. Think for a minute that you, as a fan, have the opportunity to walk the grid of the Indianapolis 500 – the single largest one-day sporting event – mere hours before the 33 drivers take the green flag. And throughout the month of May, or at any IZOD IndyCar Series event, you can brush shoulders with them at any moment in the paddock.

From a professional obligation standpoint, racing drivers have to be clean. Drivers so infrequently get arrested, have DUIs, or do lascivious acts away from their discipline that when you do, it’s a shock to the system. As for their jobs, they are racing inches apart from each other at 200 mph for two to three hours. It takes trust in the entirety of the field that they are all clean, not performance enhancing, to be able to make races safe, clean and enjoyable for the fans.

Now, granted, there is plenty of cheating that occurs in racing. But it’s not inherent in the drivers; it’s more performed by the crews. There are two old adages in racing: “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” and also, “It’s our job to cheat, and it’s their job to catch us.”

In a homogenized and increased spec-car era of racing that permeates most levels of motorsports, the window for innovation is so small that performance gains have to be pursued in such tight areas. In NASCAR, it’s splitters and spoilers. In IndyCar, it’s dampers. In Formula One, it’s about finding aero tricks given the tight regulations. Go mere millimeters outside the regulations, and it’s penalties out the wazoo for you.

So in that respect, racing does have its link to stick-and-ball sports in that someone, somewhere is always trying to create a performance advantage. And sanctioning bodies make sure to crack down where possible.

But in terms of the participants themselves, most drivers have such an edge on most stick-and-ball sport athletes, it’s not even funny. Drivers take the time to appreciate their fans, via autograph sessions, fan forums, random moments and conversations and now, engaging via social media. They have to be clean to do their jobs accurately and safely.

They are still real people beyond the stereotype of being a standard, blasé corporate mouthpiece for whatever sponsor it is that supports them.

They are definitely greater role models for kids to look up to.

Russian Grand Prix extended through 2025

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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The Russian Grand Prix at Sochi will continue to feature on future Formula 1 calendars, with event organizers confirming a long-term extension.

With the race already secure through 2020 following a past deal between then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and then-F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, that end date has now been extended by five years through to 2025, according to Russia’s deputy prime minister Dimitry Kozak.

“We held negotiations and the contract for holding FIA Formula One racing Grand Prix in Russia has been extended till 2025,” Kozak told Russian news outlet TASS.

Sochi first appeared on the F1 calendar in 2014 and will hold its fourth race this year from April 28 to 30.

Hamilton fastest midway through day two of F1 testing

during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 28, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton recorded the fastest time and the most laps through Tuesday’s morning session of preseason testing.

Hamilton’s lap of 1 minute, 20.983 seconds was 0.782 seconds faster than the leading time he set during the opening day of Formula One testing at the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

As expected from the new regulations intended to boost speeds, Hamilton’s pace through two days is more than a second faster than the top time set on the same track through eight days of preseason testing in 2016.

The three-time world champion will hand over the wheel of the Mercedes to new teammate Valtteri Bottas for the afternoon session.

Just like Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel from Day 1, Kimi Raikkonen was the nearest challenger to Hamilton’s top speed, albeit almost two seconds slower.

Hamilton and Raikkonen also got in the most laps with 66 and 47, respectively, as Mercedes or Ferrari have yet to report any mechanical problems so far.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen could only muster the fifth fastest time.

While world champion Mercedes and Ferrari continue to outperform rival Red Bull, a pair of the more modest teams struggled to get their cars rolling.

Antonio Giovinazzi, who has substituted for Pascal Wehrlein while he recovers from a back injury, spent most of the morning waiting for Sauber to replace his car’s engine. Jolyon Palmer’s Renault, meanwhile, only emerged from the garage in the final minutes of the four-hour morning session.

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian Grand Prix on March 26.

Sauber confirms Tatiana Calderon as development driver

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Colombian driver Tatiana Calderon, who’s worked to further her racing career since moving from to Europe prior to 2012, has been named a development driver for Sauber F1 Team.

Calderon turns 24 in March. Her best result thus far is second in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 and she’s also raced in GP3 and Formula 3 over the last five years. Her results haven’t necessarily matched her ability level, as she’s shown some promise enough to be scouted out by Sauber for this F1 role.

With Sauber, she’ll be heavily involved in simulator work and also attend some Grands Prix on site, but there’s been no timetable yet for her on-track debut.

“I am extremely happy to join the Sauber F1 Team as a development driver,” Calderon said. “I want to thank Monisha Kaltenborn and the whole team for giving me this opportunity, and also Escuderia Telmex for their support. I am grateful to be working with such an established Formula 1 team and to benefit from its long experience. I look forward to working with the team and learning as much as I can. It is a step closer to my dream – one day competing in Formula 1!”

Team principal Kaltenborn added, “We are very pleased to welcome Tatiana onboard to the Sauber family. We have the opportunities and facilities to provide Tatiana a professional platform on which she can further develop her knowledge and skills in racing. I am convinced that we can provide her lots of in-depth motorsport know-how for her future career in racing.”

Calderon’s been confirmed for her race program in GP3 this year with the DAMS team, alongside fellow F1 development driver, American Santino Ferrucci of Haas, and 19-year-old Bruno Baptista.

She’s not the first female driver Sauber has had – Simona de Silvestro was on board for a similar development plan three years ago – but it didn’t end well, so here’s hoping the F1 future is brighter for Calderon.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”