Pedal to the metal: Painful 2007 can't go by fast enough


The cheating incident with Michael Waltrip that started the NASCAR season pales in embarrassment to the actions of miscreants in other sports.

Barry Bonds leads a parade of baseball All-Stars who have been implicated in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and NFL star Michael Vick is serving time as a dog killer.

Marion Jones gets stripped of five Olympic medals for the use of banned drugs, and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is caught spying on opposing coaches.

Far worse than those breeches of public trust is the guilty plea of NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who admitted to gambling on pro games.

No records or titles earned this year in any form of racing require an asterisk, though.

The horsepower enhancer slipped into the Toyota engine of Waltrip's Cup car at the season opener in Daytona Beach, Fla., was detected and the team punished.

True, Formula One officials fined McLaren $100 million after it was caught using leaked super-secret data from Ferrari. But, hey, that's F1.

American racing is squeaky clean compared with this country's Big Three ball sports. That should make the past motor sports year one to celebrate and be thankful for.

But there were too many losses in the racing community this year -- locally and nationally. This is how I feel cheated.

This season couldn't have ended soon enough. Our losses lapped great achievements by many drivers and teams.

At the top of the list is NHRA founder Wally Parks, who died Sept. 24. He was 94.

Right behind is Bill France Jr., who took over from his father, who started NASCAR. Bill Jr. was 74 when he died on June 4.

It's still difficult -- even eight months later -- to fathom Funny Car driver Eric Medlen is on this list.

My year ended when Medlen's life did.

But the 33-year-old's death four days after a March 19 testing accident has done the most to improve Funny Car safety in decades.

The safety effort in Funny Cars went further after John Force suffered serious injuries in a crash. That somehow Force could be ready to race again next month is testament to the safety developments made after Medlen's crash.

Cancer certainly took its toll this year. Bobby Hamilton, 49, the 2004 NASCAR Truck Series champion, died in January; Daytona 500 winner and TV personality Benny Parsons succumbed to the disease in January at 65.

October was a terrible month.

Dodge publicist Ray Cooper lost his fight with cancer at 53. Shav Glick, 87, died about two years after retiring from a 45-year career as a sports journalist for the Los Angeles Times.

Locally that month, Vanessa Swalwell, the matriarch of the Swalwell Racing team at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's Bullring died at age 46, and LVMS drag racer Jason Whitenack, 33, died in a nonracing motorcycle crash.

We must shift from this painful remembrance to recognize some stellar efforts and accomplishments from the past season.

Life has to go on.

DRIVERS OF THE YEAR

NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson, the series points champion and winner of this year's Cup race at LVMS.

NHRA: (tie) Rod Fuller, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock. Each were top points finishers under the traditional NHRA system and not its new Countdown.

OPEN WHEEL: (tie) Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier and Sebastien Bourdais for great moves to get away from the foundering Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series. All are headed to NASCAR except Bourdais, who is off to Formula One.

TOP ROOKIES

NASCAR: David Ragan, 23rd in Cup points with two top-five finishes.

(Juan Pablo Montoya finished 20th with one victory but was not considered because he owns championships in F1 and Champ Car).

NHRA: Ashley Force. She earned my vote before becoming the first female NHRA Funny Car finalist in October.

OPEN WHEEL: Who really cares?

KEY LOSSES

Closure of the Las Vegas-based South Point Racing team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. ...

Vegas Grand Prix, a much-hyped one-and-done Champ Car race through downtown streets. ...

The retirement of Ron Landram, a longtime successful drag racer and one of the sport's biggest supporters in Las Vegas.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com.

 

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