ECONOMAKI: Major Champions Rally From Behind To Wear Crowns

CAR TALK: Lotus CEO Dany Bahar (left) chats with IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard (center) and 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones. (Ron McQueeney/IndyCar Photo)

CONCORD, N.C. — It’s been the year of the come-from-behind victory as far as the major motorsports championship chases are concerned. Jimmie Johnson started Sunday’s Ford 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway 15 points behind Denny Hamlin and trailed by 33 going into the penultimate race at Phoenix Int’l Raceway in Arizona. Johnson made up the difference, finished second Sunday and won his fifth-consecutive championship with 39 points to spare over Hamlin. Johnson wasn’t the first driver to rally in the season finale and secure a championship this fall. One week ago, John Force rallied from 37 points behind to win NHRA’s Funny Car season finale at Pomona, Calif., and claim his record 15th championship. Sebastian Vettel earned the Formula One World Driving Championship despite trailing by 15 points heading into the last grand prix of the season Nov. 14 in Abu Dhabi. Vettel won the race and took the title by four points. Finally, Dario Franchitti earned his third IZOD IndyCar Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 21 despite being 12 points behind Will Power heading into the event. It’s certainly been the year of the comeback.

Another historic name in auto racing will be returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IZOD IndyCar Series competition in 2012 with the announcement that British car builder Lotus will build engines and aero kits for the series. Well known for racing around the world, including in Formula One, Lotus’s Indy-car racing heritage dates back to the 1960s and includes the glorious green-and yellow Lotus machines fielded by Colin Chapman. Jim Clark drove Chapman’s Ford-powered Lotus to victory at Indianapolis in 1965. Lotus-branded engines will join Chevrolet in battling Honda in IndyCar Series competition and in giving the series and the Indianapolis 500 a distinguishable link to the past eras of innovation and competition that made Indy-car racing popular for decades. Even though all of the tubs will be constructed by Dallara — somewhat limiting the creativity of mechanics and engineers — the variety of engines and aero kits should give the ticket-buying public a strong sense that the cars are not all the same, which has been lacking from the series for a long time. Though this year’s 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 will run with only the Honda engines and Dallara chassis, which have dominated the final decade of Indy’s first Century, it gives this column great optimism for the future of IndyCar racing to know two of the companies that made a significant impact throughout the history of the Greatest Spectacle of Racing will be returning to the scene sooner rather than later.

Representatives of the town of Speedway (Ind.), Dallara, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series were on hand for the Nov. 16 groundbreaking ceremony on Speedway’s Main Street, to begin the construction of the estimated $7 million Dallara factory, which will manufacture the 2012 IndyCar chassis. The building is being constructed on land owned by the Speedway Redevelopment Commission and will also house the Indy Racing Experience, which is the U.S. distributor for Dallara chassis and parts and operates the popular two-seat IndyCar demonstration program. Among those on hand for the ceremony were Dallara founder Gian Paolo Dallara, Speedway Redevelopment Commission President Vince Noblet, Indiana Lt. Governor Becky Skillman, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman Mari Hulman George.

Indianapolis Motorsports Industry Show co-organizer Chris Paulsen told this newspaper an addition to this year’s second annual show at the Indiana Convention Center Dec. 1-3 will be the formation of a motorsports “supplier advisory group,” aimed at improving communication between racing companies, racers and sanctioning bodies. “We are going to do a town hall meeting at the show this year where we will gather a bunch of suppliers and manufacturers and sanctioning bodies together,” Paulsen explained. “The idea is to get all the different segments of the industry to be able to work hand in hand with the sanctioning bodies, so that when the sanctioning bodies make rules changes, hopefully, we can consult on that and do these rule changes in a fashion that they do not cost the race teams a lot of money. Unfortunately there is a huge disconnect between sanctioning bodies and the industry itself. It’s not intentional. It is a natural thing, but we hope the supplier and advisor group can accomplish a lot.”

Wells Fargo & Co. has begun foreclosure proceedings on the NASCAR Plaza office tower, which is located alongside the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte, N.C. Corporate Plaza Partners, the property owner, defaulted on a $90 million loan more than a year ago with the outstanding balance totaling more than $70 million.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France indicated NASCAR will address the issue of Cup drivers taking over the Nationwide Series, which limits opportunities for full-time Nationwide drivers to advance by showcasing their skills in what used to be NASCAR’s ladder system. “You will be hearing about that in January,” France said. “We want to see the Nationwide Series have its own identity, very similar to what college football does for the NFL. What we don’t want to see is Sunday and Saturday homogenized, just completely homogenized. We want to see Cup involvement, absolutely, fans want to see that, buy tickets, we get it. We also want to make sure the Nationwide Series is helping us find stars that stay there for a little while, earn their stripes and move up; back to when I think Dale Earnhardt, Jr. might have been the last one, who actually went that way, the way we would like to see.”

The ARCA Racing Series will continue its tradition of two visits to Indiana’s Salem Speedway next year (May 1 and Sept. 17). The races will be the 89th and 90th in ARCA history at the .555-mile Indiana oval. No other track has hosted as many ARCA events since the series’ inception in 1953. The first ARCA race at Salem Speedway was held in 1955.

If you are a fan of Porsche race cars, you may want to consider making a trip to Germany for the June 25 Porsche Carrera World Cup. Held at the Nürburgring prior to the annual 24-hour race at the historic mile road circuit, the event is expected to draw as many as 200 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars competing in two classes — one for the 3.6-liter engine and one for the 3.8-liter engine.

Look for the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series to have an extensive West Coast tour in late February and early March, including visits to Perris Auto Speedway and Merced Speedway, among other tracks.

The All-Star race for the Super DIRTcar big-block modifieds will move from Cayuga County Speedway to Rolling Wheels Raceway Park in 2011, set for Memorial Day weekend.

Early-days racer Frank Burany’s recent letter to NSSN included a local Wisconsin newspaper article touting he and his wife Helen celebrating their 74th wedding anniversary. Frank is 95 and Helen is 93 and the pair has already made their annual trek to their winter home in Fort Myers, Fla. Congratulations, kids!

The inaugural U.S. Vintage Oval Track Nationals, sanctioned by the Daytona Antique Auto Racing Ass’n, was held recently at Orlando (Fla.) Speed World with six days of competition while drawing 82 cars. The car count was the highest in the 26 years of the organization. The group is already planning a winter edition (Feb. 10-13) of the event with hopes of attracting 125 to 150 cars.

Daytona Int’l Speedway and NASCAR have scheduled a Dec. 15-16 Goodyear tire test at Daytona Int’l Speedway to test the new surface at the historic 2.5-mile speedway. A full test for the Grand Am Rolex Series is set Jan. 29-30 and an open test for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be Jan. 20-22.

New England photographer Bill Balser will receive the New England Antique Racers Jack Ratta Memorial Award at the Jan. 30 NEAR Hall of Fame Induction banquet. Balser began photographing auto racing at various New England race tracks in the early 1950s.

Another member of the racing media, Pack Bryan, who had seen 59-consecutive Indianapolis 500s, died recently after a bout with pneumonia. He was 84.

Legendary California racing driver Al Pombo died Friday at Verterans Hospital in Fresno. Pombo, who began racing in the jalopy division at Merced Speedway in 1948, is thought to have won more than 500 features during his lengthy career. He was 85 years old.

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