JR Hildebrand - EDM

Might Panther Racing be the Cleveland Browns of IndyCar?


Two years ago, Panther Racing were able to run a special one-off paint scheme for the IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway adorned in the red and gold of the San Francisco 49ers.

Today, a Cleveland Browns livery might make more sense.

Because at times, Panther seems to operate about as functionally as the team on the Cuyahoga.

You see, the Browns are in the news today because CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Michael Lombardi left the team, and this comes only a month after the Jimmy Haslam-led organization fired new head coach Rob Chudzinski after less than a calendar year on the job. Haslam later said, also via ProFootballTalk, that the Browns aren’t a dysfunctional franchise.

Most NFL observers would say the Browns… well, are dysfunctional. And shifting back to IndyCar, most observers can see rather plainly that compared to the rest of the field, Panther is too.

It’s a mix of good and bad events that have happened over the last eight or so years with Panther that makes it appear dysfunctional:

  • BAD: There were reports that Vitor Meira and the late Dan Wheldon, who were Panther’s drivers from 2006 through 2010, weren’t paid in full for their efforts.
  • GOOD: In 2008, the team acquired the prestigious National Guard sponsorship and for six years through 2013 it has provided a great service in at-track activation, supporting the Guard heroes at each event.
  • GOOD OR BAD: Wheldon was a fantastic ambassador for the Guard, but like Meira before him, he wasn’t American. That didn’t sit well with some.
  • GOOD: To rectify the non-American situation, Panther hired JR Hildebrand ahead of 2011, and he almost won the Indianapolis 500 … when of course, he famously binned it on the last corner of the last lap and Wheldon swept through to the victory.
  • BAD: In 2013, when the team unceremoniously dumped Hildebrand after an early crash at the 500, the team abandoned its plan altogether. For a couple months after, you had the awkward situation of Hildebrand appearing in Guard-sponsored ads, all while either Ryan Briscoe or Oriol Servia was driving the Guard-sponsored car with no degree of continuity.

And now, we have today’s revelation from RACER.com’s Robin Miller that Panther submitted a $17-plus million proposal to the Guard for continued partnership into 2014, which was rejected.

All of this makes Panther’s future less clear now that at any other point in its history, which dates to its first year in the then-Indy Racing League in 1998.

Panther will still press ahead into 2014 with a single-car effort, albeit one with a significantly reduced operating budget.

It comes after a decade-long run of futility that, like the Cleveland Browns, makes you forget how good it was years ago.

Consider, from 1999 through 2003, Panther Racing won 14 of 63 races in the all-oval IRL (22.2 percent), with back-to-back championships achieved by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001 and 2002. The latter of the two came in Team Penske’s first year in the series, after switching from the then-rival CART series.

But 2005 marked the team’s last race win, with Tomas Scheckter at Texas Motor Speedway. A year later, 2006, was the last time a driver finished in the top five of the points standings (Meira in fifth).

In subsequent years, the best position a Panther driver has finished in points has been: 12th (2007), 13th (2008), 10th (2009), 9th (2010), 14th (2011), 11th (2012) and 22nd (2013).

The Browns are still more futile, despite occasional flashes of success. Since returning to the National Football League in 1999 (only a year after Panther was launched), the team is 77-163 overall, with only two winning seasons, 9-7 in 2002 and 10-6 in 2007.

The 2002 season – like the last year Panther won a championship – was the only year the Browns have made the playoffs since coming back into the NFL (naturally, they lost to the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers).

It is said that if you don’t consistently adapt or improve your program to match your competition, you get left behind. And it’s not a coincidence that since the IRL fused into IndyCar, when the all-oval era ended and the road-and-street course heavy schedule began starting in 2005, that Panther has gone from lead dog to also-ran with only the occasional big result.

Mind you, this is still a team that finished second at IndyCar’s flagship race, the Indianapolis 500, for four consecutive years from 2008 through 2011. But aside of that, success has been fleeting.

And much like the Cleveland Browns, you wonder if Panther Racing will require a complete reboot to regain the glory of years past.

NHRA: Schumacher needs big weekend to keep Top Fuel title hopes alive

tony schumacher NHRA
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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With just three races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship, eight-time and reigning NHRA Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher needs a big-time Texas turnaround this weekend.

Schumacher, as well as the rest of the Top Fuel class, has been at the mercy of Antron Brown thus far in the Countdown.

Brown, who is Schumacher’s teammate at Don Schumacher Racing, has won each of the first three races in the six-race Countdown.

“We do have quite a challenge in front of us over the second half of the Countdown. Hats off to Antron and all those Matco Tools/U.S. Army guys because they’ve had about as perfect of a run so far as you can have in this sport,” Schumacher said in a media release.

And as the NHRA moves into this weekend’s AAA Texas Nationals at the (Ennis) Texas Motorplex, Schumacher – who is in second place in the standings, 94 points behind Brown – knows what is at stake.

And most importantly, with just 12 rounds of racing remaining this season (four rounds in each of the final three races), Schumacher – who is the defending champion of this event – knows what he and his team have to do.

“If you do the math, we have five round wins to make up in the next three race weekends, which is entirely within the realm of possibility, especially for this U.S. Army team,” Schumacher said. “We’ve made up larger deficits before and came out with the championship by the time all was said and done. We live for the challenges we face every day and this is one we’re certainly ready to tackle.

“Obviously, it would be incredible to wipe out the entire deficit at Dallas and then hit Vegas and Pomona (the final two races) on equal ground.

“It’s mathematically possible, but is it likely? I would think not, especially with the way (Brown’s) team has been performing the first half of the Countdown. But, you never know. The way we approach it is to take care of what we can control, and that is to go out and try to be fastest in every qualifying session, then run the table on Sunday. That’s the best we can do.

“I always say it is a gift to be able to do what we do, and it is a gift to be presented with the opportunity to come to bat with the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and your team needing a grand slam to win the game, to win the championship.

“Some people wilt under that kind of pressure. This Army team has proven time and again that it is at its best when those opportunities come around, and we have one of those in front of us right now. It’s time to go out and get it done.”

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Canada Drag Racing Hall honors some of nation’s greatest legends

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(Photo courtesy RB Photographie/Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame)
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Hockey may be the national sport in Canada, but drag racing isn’t far behind in overall popularity.

And nearly 40 legends in the sport were honored Oct. 9 as inaugural inductees of the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Montreal.

Among the 28 living and 10 posthumous legends honored included racers, crew chiefs, mechanics, track officials, promoters and sponsors from across the nation “who made a lasting impact and significant difference the development of drag racing in Canada and elsewhere,” according to a media release from the Hall.

“The recognition of world-class Canadian drag racing legends, all under one roof, is long overdue,” said Hall founder John Scotti. “I am very excited about this achievement for the sport and look forward to sharing it with others who will visit the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame museum as well.”

Added Hall director Bob Aubertin, “It is a dream come true to see great ones of our sport getting the recognition they deserve for their extraordinary achievements, contributions and efforts for the sport of drag racing.”

Among inductees are NHRA senior vice president Graham Light, all-star crew chief Dale Armstrong, famed Funny Car driver Gordie Bonin, longtime John Force Racing crew chief Bernie Fedderly, former U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner Terry Capp and 1970 Winternationals Super Stock winner Barrie Poole, the first Canadian driver to win an NHRA national event.

A former Competition Eliminator and Top Fuel driver, Light owned and operated Edmonton International Speedway in his hometown from 1974 to 1982. He joined NHRA in 1984 and has been with the sanctioning body ever since.

“It’s a great honor to be inducted into the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame during its inaugural year and to be included among the legends of Canadian Drag Racing,” said Light, who was inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1996. “All of the inductees owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to founder John Scotti for his vision in creating the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame, which will provide an appropriate venue to preserve the history of the sport well into the future.”

Complete list of inductees in alphabetical order:

  1. Dale Armstrong, AB (Posthumous)
  2. Gordie Bonin, AB (Posthumous)
  3. Ron Bracken, Pierrefonds, QC (Posthumous)
  4. Ronald Brunet, Napierville, QC
  5. Frank Cantusci, Ottawa, ON
  6. Terry Capp, Sturgeon County, AB
  7. Wally Clark, Niagara, ON
  8. Aurèle Collette, Bouctouche, NB
  9. George Constantine, Montreal, QC (Posthumous)
  10. Marcel Couture, St. Henri, QC (Posthumous)
  11. Garry Dearn, Lasalle, QC
  12. Louis Desjardins, Montreal, QC
  13. John Dingman, Montreal, QC (Posthumous)
  14. Sandy Elliot, Chatham, ON (Posthumous)
  15. John Elliot, Chatham, ON
  16. Bernie Fedderly, Edmonton, AB
  17. Alban Gauthier, Montreal, QC
  18. Ralph Hope, London, ON
  19. Don Lavoie, Dieppe, NB
  20. Graham Light, Edmonton, AB
  21. André Massé, St.-Jean d’Iberville, QC (Posthumous)
  22. Jacques Marier, Repentigny, QC
  23. Terry ‘Zeke’ Maxwell, St. Constant, QC
  24. Ken McDonald, Montreal, QC (Posthumous)
  25. Doug Miller, Williamsburg, ON
  26. Jim Morrison, Elmsdale, NS
  27. John Petrie, Victoria, B.C.
  28. Barrie Poole, Montague, PEI / Chatham, ON
  29. Jim Rini, Kingston, ON
  30. Dan Rini, Kingston, ON
  31. Joe Roy, Montreal/Toronto, QC/ON
  32. Stan Sipos, Victoria, BC
  33. FJ Smith, Cayuga, ON
  34. Ollie Stephan, Scarborough, ON
  35. Alain Tanguay, Charlesbourg, QC
  36. Claude Tetreault, Napierville, QC
  37. Denis Warner, Toronto, ON (Posthumous)
  38. Scott Wilson, London, ON

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