Happy birthday to three big IndyCar names: Penske, Unser, Kimball

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We’re wishing a happy birthday to two iconic names of the IndyCar community, and one up-and-coming current driver who could well earn the “iconic” label if his career continues to progress.

The legends, first. Roger Penske, “The Captain,” turns 77 today. Penske has presided over one of North America’s most successful motorsports operations ever, and led his automotive empire to match.

In IndyCar, Team Penske has 15 career Indianapolis 500 victories, and has enjoyed recent NASCAR success too with three championships in the last four years (2010 Nationwide and 2012 Sprint Cup driver titles each won by Brad Keselowski, plus the 2013 Nationwide owner’s championship).

Bobby Unser, a member of one of North America’s legendary racing families, turns 80 today. He’s won three Indianapolis 500s (1968, 1975, 1981), the latter of which was driving for Penske. And he enjoyed a successful second career as a color commentator after his driving career ended.

Relive some of the memories in this brief clip as Unser calls a race at Detroit in 1992 with a Penske-owned car, Paul Tracy, battling big rivals Michael Andretti and Bobby Rahal.

Meanwhile, shifting to a younger name, Charlie Kimball turns 29 today. Kimball has spent his three years in IndyCar growing and developing with the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing organization, and turned heads in a much-improved 2013.

Here’s highlights from Kimball’s first win at Mid-Ohio:

It’s different times in IndyCar for sure between the ’90s and today, but Penske’s still working tirelessly to ensure his organization remains at the top of the heap, while Kimball and Ganassi continue the rivalry.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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