David Ragan gunning for another Talladega triumph

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David Ragan is still getting props.

With the help of his Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland, Ragan was able to beat the odds and deliver the team’s first Sprint Cup victory in a green-white-checkered finish back in May at Talladega Superspeedway.

And with respect to Brian Vickers’ own unlikely triumph this summer at New Hampshire, Ragan and Gilliland’s 1-2 finish may wind up as the most surprising race outcome of the NASCAR season.

Front Row’s victory over the NASCAR powerhouses resonated among many fans as a classic underdog tale. And that’s why months after that wild Talladega night, Ragan continues to hear from those that witnessed it.

“I get it a lot,” Ragan said in a release from Ford while preparing for his return to the 2.66-mile oval this weekend in the Camping World RV Sales 500. “Obviously, a couple of weeks after the Talladega win that was what most everyone talked about, but even six months later I still get fans, friends and guys on the team who relive that day and that moment.

“That’s good because there are a lot of struggles in the world of Sprint Cup racing. Your winning percentage is not anywhere near 50, 40, 30 percent, so it is a tough sport and it’s fun to go back and relive that moment, and it’s neat that a lot of people were watching that evening and enjoyed the win as much as we did.”

Earlier this morning, Front Row announced that both Ragan and Gilliland would return to their camp in 2014 and help continue the team’s progress toward becoming a regular contender.

The Talladega win was certainly a milestone in that progress, and Ragan considers it an even bigger victory for himself than his first career win for the much bigger Roush Fenway Racing in the 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.

“Both wins were incredible days and big wins, and even the top teams that have won hundreds of races and championships over the year, they still are really, really pumped up when they win a Sprint Cup race,” he said. “But I think [Talladega] will always mean more because it was [Front Row’s] first win.

“This is a building organization with a lot of potential for the future and they’ve only been around for a few years, so to get that first win you’ve got to start with one before you get to two before you get to three, so that’s something that you’ll always remember.”

But while it’s clearly fun for Ragan to reflect on these past memories, he certainly wants another Talladega trophy this weekend. And he knows that in order to get back to Victory Lane at NASCAR’s biggest track, he’ll need to keep out of trouble.

“We know that if we play our cards right, if everyone executes their job with no mistakes, we’ll have a shot to win again,” he said. “But it’s easier said than done. Talladega is a very, very hard track to run 500 miles at with no mistakes.

“Even if you do that with no mistakes and you have a shot to win, it’s hard to do it, but it can be done and we’re looking forward to going back for sure.”

It’s been said that lightning never strikes twice. But Ragan and Front Row will do all they can to make it happen on Sunday.

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.