Critics show little class in second-guessing those chosen for NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015

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It wasn’t more than a few minutes after the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 was announced Wednesday before critics started questioning the six individuals chosen for induction.

On a day that should be joyous for the inductees and the sport as a whole, honoring five men and one woman who did or meant so much for the sport, several callous and narrow-minded individuals had to go and spoil it.

Frankly, some of the tweets I read or emails I received were downright ugly – and so undeserving to those who were honored Wednesday.

Several pointed towards Wendell Scott being inducted solely based upon his race.

Others complained about Fred Lorenzen, who has put on a valiant battle with dementia for the last several years but is still with us, but supposedly didn’t have the statistics to warrant HoF induction.

Others questioned why two of the sport’s pioneers – namely 84-year-old Rex White and Joe Weatherly – were chosen.

I even saw a few tweets that Bill Elliott, who was a near-unanimous (87 percent) selection by the HoF voting panel, should have been passed by.

Come on, people, your cynicism and downright prejudice are an embarrassment to NASCAR fans everywhere. You should be ashamed of yourself. How can you call yourself a real and true NASCAR fan? At a time when the sport and its fans should be rejoicing the induction of five more-than-worthy inductees, an extremely small minority of so-called “fans” take it upon themselves to tell the 50-plus-member voting panel that they got it wrong.

That’s right, fans – and I use that word very loosely – think they know the sport and the accomplishments of those chosen Wednesday better than members of the voting panel who probably have a collective tenure of well over 1,000 years in the sport between themselves.

Every one of the five drivers, plus the late wife of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was more than deserving of selection because each marked a key point in time or accomplishment in the sport’s lengthy and colorful history.

If Wendell Scott was chosen because of his race, so what? Scott was a trailblazer, a pioneer and someone that was a hero to many people, particularly African-American fans and other minorities. No one should have had to endure some of the terrible things he had to during his career simply because of the color of his skin.

And yet the critics and those opposed to Scott’s honor have the audacity to say with a straight face that he doesn’t deserve induction simply because he was different than you or me?

And the 77-year-old Lorenzen, who I interviewed late last year (he has days of great clarity and lucidity still), was arguably one of the most brilliant minds of his era when it came to promoting and building the NASCAR brand. Not to mention that he was a winning driver.

Yet you critics can capriciously say he doesn’t deserve induction, even though he’s still alive and with us and will be able to share in one of the greatest moments of his life despite the condition he’s battled in recent years?

Again, shame on you. Obviously you don’t understand what a Hall of Fame is for and about, nor do you understand why certain individuals are chosen.

Being picked for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is not about who won the most races or who won the most championships. It’s not about who had the best overall stats, whatsoever.

Rather, it’s about unique individuals who despite oftentimes long odds managed to persevere and succeed. It’s about individuals whose contributions helped shape the sport and made it what it is today.

Rex White and Joe Weatherly easily fall into the pioneer category for the sport. If they never raced in NASCAR, the sport may never have gained some of the popularity it did while they were behind the wheel.

Ditto for Lorenzen. His nickname of “Hollywood” told the tale of a flashy driver, one of NASCAR’s first real and true stars, a guy with the good looks of a Hollywood leading man. But Fast Freddy was also someone who had a huge fan base at his zenith, only to walk away from the sport at the all-too-young age of 33 so he could devote his life to his family.

Who knows how many championships and additional wins Lorenzen would have earned in his career if he would have raced another 10 years?

But because he had his priorities – family first, faith second and racing third – he didn’t want to make his late wife an early widow or have his kids grow up without a father. That is the ultimate sacrifice any father and husband can make.

And how can someone criticize the selection of Bill Elliott? NASCAR’s most popular driver for 15 straight seasons, a former champion and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. His spirit, competitiveness, positive outlook and being one of the best that’s ever been behind the wheel more than qualify him for induction.

Hopefully, the new inductees, their families and/or survivors will take the criticism of the honor that was bestowed upon them Wednesday with a grain of salt. No one will ever make everyone happy all of the time.

So to Bill, Rex and Fred, who are still with us, as well as the survivors of Joe, Wendell and Annie B, congratulations on the well-deserved honors. NASCAR today would not be as rich in spirit, color and popularity if it wasn’t for all of your individual and collective efforts.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for all that you did to make the sport a better place for drivers, crew chiefs, team owners, crew members, the media and fans.

And as for the critics who think they know the sport better and feel they can speak better as to who does or doesn’t deserve induction into the Hall of Fame:

With your narrow-mindedness and the short-sighted way you look at things, you may say you are a fan, but in reality, you don’t deserve to call yourself that because criticizing six individuals on perhaps the greatest day of their lives – to be recognized for all the good things they did for the sport – is not what real and true fans do.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Mazda Road to Indy 2018 schedules are released

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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A handful of minor tweaks have been made to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires schedules for the 2018 season, but they’re not too different than 2017 and largely mirror the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule that was put out last week.

The full details are below.

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires today unveiled its 2018 calendar of events. The most effective driver development program in the world with over $3.5M in scholarships and awards on offer will continue its momentum at premier road course, street circuit and oval venues in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The highly acclaimed platform – comprised of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – will enter the new season with a trio of state-of-the-art chassis on display including the much anticipated debut of the new Pro Mazda PM-18 which completes the revitalization of the entire ladder system.

On deck for 2018 is a return to the Pacific Northwest and Portland International Raceway (PIR) in Portland, Ore. The 1.967-mile, 12-turn permanent road course will host the season finale for all three series. Indy Lights last raced at PIR in 2001, and Pro Mazda and USF2000 in 2006. The last IndyCar race took place in 2007.

The month of May will bring several new additions. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will return to Lucas Oil Raceway for the Carb Night Classic “The Race Before the 500” after a year’s hiatus. Mere hours after the conclusion of Carb Day activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 – including the Freedom 100, the crown jewel on the Indy Lights schedule – the two series will make their appearance on the .686-mile oval.

Additionally, the three Indianapolis oval races will see an increase in points for all series for the first time, and an increase in prize money.

In Pro Mazda, the National Class will be replaced by the Pro Mazda Classic (PMC) Series – a six-weekend, 12-race championship within the Pro Mazda Championship utilizing the older Pro Mazda rotary-powered cars from 2002 to 2017. The series will see a separate points chart, prize money and year-end awards.

While there is no limitation on PMC Series testing, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 will see amended testing rules. Indy Lights in-season testing is restricted to two days per team with two additional days available for use with current Pro Mazda and USF2000 drivers. Pro Mazda and USF2000 teams are permitted four days of in-season testing per driver but not at tracks yet to hold an event. Each series will continue with open tests at select venues.

The annual Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23- 26. Indy Lights will test on the 1.5-mile oval on February 23 and the 2.21-mile road course on February 26. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will run on the weekend – February 24 and 25 – to assist young drivers juggling their schedules alongside school commitments.

The Mazda Road to Indy Summit program – providing valuable education on a variety of topics including marketing/business, media training, career growth and development, fitness, social media and a comprehensive oval clinic – will continue to be in place next season.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into our schedule and I am pleased with the balance we have in place to properly train drivers to move up the ladder,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “We are excited to have Portland on the schedule, which will be a great circuit for our season finales in the three series, and to return to Lucas Oil Raceway on Carb Day for a great night of racing. The Freedom 100 is obviously the biggest race on our calendar and to be able to bring Pro Mazda and USF2000 back into the excitement surrounding the Indianapolis 500 was key. Increasing both the points awarded and the prize money gives these events the weight they deserve.

“The Mazda Road to Indy will take on new life next year with the competition debut of the PM-18. This completes the process we began several years ago to provide the best for our competitors with state-of-the-art race cars. We have a great program in place and it’s working. As always, I am looking forward to seeing many of our drivers take their next steps up the ladder including our recently crowned champions.”

Indy Lights will feature a 17-race schedule at 10 venues comprised of three oval, five road course and two street circuit events. In addition to hour-long race broadcasts on NBCSN, Indy Lights will also be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on indylights.com and indycar.com.

Coverage of all Indy Lights sessions is available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 7-8 Iowa Speedway .894-mile oval
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course*
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events

Open tests are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23 (oval) and 26 (road course), Barber Motorsports Park on March 5, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10 (road course) and 21 (oval), Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of nine test days.

Pro Mazda will expand to a nine-event, 16-race schedule which includes two ovals, five road course and two street course venues. Pro Mazda will be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on promazda.com and indycar.com.

Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course* + PMC
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course* + PMC
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course* + PMC
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course* + PMC
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course* + PMC
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course* + PMC

*Doubleheader events
+ Pro Mazda Classic Series

A total of 10 open test days are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, Barber Motorsports Park on March 3/4, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18.

The USF2000 series will continue with a 14-race format held at seven venues featuring one oval, four road course and two street circuit events. Coverage will be available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on usf2000.com and indycar.com.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course**
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events
**Tripleheader event

Open tests are schedule at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of eight test days.

Two events still remain on the 2017 calendar – the seventh annual Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 21/22 and the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout on December 9/10 at the Bondurant Racing School near Phoenix, Ariz.