Silly season sorting itself out with Massa official, Magnussen close

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As Formula One heads to the Americas for the final two rounds of the 2013 season, the 2014 silly season dealings are heating up.

The news Felipe Massa has landed with Williams is a good move for all parties. It keeps a Brazilian, and a popular one at that, on the grid. It gives teammate Valtteri Bottas an experienced driver to learn from and help guide the team’s setup direction. It also eliminates the consternation regarding the Venezuelan sponsorship dollars brought by Pastor Maldonado, given the investigation into that country’s funding of racing drivers.

Maldonado has been linked to Lotus for some time and if the situation is as dire there as it appears from the Kimi Raikkonen payment saga, his financial package could be too attractive for the team to turn down.

Elsewhere, McLaren’s lineup may be fluid as well with the possibility Kevin Magnussen replaces Sergio Perez, and as it turns out, multiple media outlets have said it’s a done deal.

Lotus is the last top-flight outfit to confirm its 2014 driver lineup. If talent was the only deciding factor, Nico Hulkenberg would already be signed. If it comes down to dollars, Maldonado enters the equation. Assuming reserve driver Davide Valsecchi gets his rightful promotion for the last two Grands Prix (we’d have to expect news within the next 24 hours on this), and does well, he could be in play.

Assuming that happens, you’d have four of the top five teams on the grid this year with at least one new driver entering in 2014; only Mercedes would carry its 2013 lineup over. And Perez has shown enough within his first three seasons to deserve a spot on merit, even though his financial package could help a team struggling in that department.

A similar situation may present itself for the second half of the field. Force India hasn’t made specific overtones about its direction but if the team fails to keep both its 2013 drivers, the potential exists that only Marussia would have the same lineup year-to-year.

Toro Rosso has already signed Daniil Kvyat. Sergey Sirotkin, the Russian teenager, is set for Sauber once he gets his superlicense, and Caterham may bring Heikki Kovalainen back in place of Charles Pic alongside Giedo van der Garde.

More of the 2014 grid should sort out before the holidays get going.

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”