Motorsports

F1 and climate change; Kyle Larson’s the best race-driver in the U.S.

Written by Norris McDonald

Kyle Larson lifts the 2021 NASCAR Cup trophy after winning it in Phoenix. CREDIT: Courtesy, NASCAR

While I have wondered in these columns how the F1 drivers are going to “Race As One” in Saudi Arabia, a.k.a. the Butcher Shop, next month, it was interesting to see during Saturday’s F1 qualifying a report on the climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland, by Nico Rosberg. It seems like our favourite sport isn’t completely divorced from the world.

Now, this is interesting. If you watch the CBC or Global or CTV and read the Canadian papers, you would think that our prime minister was the star of the show. But Rosberg, in naming all the major leaders of the world, didn’t mention him and the film crews managed to miss him as they were panning. And while Justin’s focus was to fight pollution by putting a price on carbon,  that didn’t seem to be on the minds of anyone else.

Of course, deep down, they were all concerned about how the fight against climate change would affect the economies of their countries. Our guy wasn’t, although he should be. There’s no doubt he’s fighting to be a hero in the eyes of climate change soldiers but you have to wonder what job he’s got his eye on. Secretary-General of the United Nations? He’s up to something, that’s for sure.

Meantime, Rosberg presented an excellent report that included, with the help of others, an interview with F1 boss Stefano Domenicali, in which the top dog said that F1 always wanted to be ahead of the curve and was working to help develop a sustainable fuel that would allow internal-combustion engines to be used for many years in the future.

The first time I had a discussion about sustainable automobile fuel was several months ago when I talked about it with Ron Fellows. I have heard it mentioned here and there since but Saturday was the first time I heard someone in a position of responsibility discuss it seriously.

Several people at the summit talked about hydrogen but the die appears to be cast so far as electricity is concerned. Here’s why. As someone on TV said the other day, Washington is run by a bunch of idealistic 20-year-olds with little or no life experience working for a bunch of heavy drinking senior citizens. (Ottawa, by the way, is much the same except for the age and the drinking.) They are – the young ones, that is – in love with Elon Musk and as far as they are concerned, he is god. What he says goes and until he suggests something other than electricity, electricity it will be.

Let’s hope that Musk sees the light and suggests something other than electricity. Or somebody else comes along with a better idea and the determination to sell it. For instance, scientists are rock stars these days. How about using science to develop sustainable airline fuel? That way, all those people who flew over to Glasgow, the Al Gores of the world, for instance, won’t tell the rest of us not to do what they are doing.

NASCAR

A year-and-a-half ago, Kyle Larson was playing a video racing game and used a racial slur – a slur that many young white guys use frequently. I can still hear one of his opponents: “Uh, Kyle. You’ve got an open mic. Everybody can hear you.”

He was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing at the time and Chip fired him the next day. NASCAR suspended him for the 2020 season and made him take sensitivity training. He used his time wisely: he worked very hard at learning why he was wrong to use the particular word in question and he won just about every sprint car race he entered. Forty-three, or a total like that.

I wrote a column that he was one of the greatest race-car drivers to emerge in the last century – a Tony Stewart, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, all rolled into one – and that if one of the IndyCar owners had any sense they’d sign him up for the 2021 season.

Of course, just like the CART owners didn’t have a clue about Jeff Gordon (he’d already won a Busch Series championship when somebody came up with the bright idea that they should put him in Indy Lights), they knew nothing about Larson either but Rick Hendricks did. With the urging of that same Jeff Gordon, Hendricks signed Larson to a contract and Sunday in Phoenix he won the NASCAR Cup championship.

It wasn’t all him, of course. On the last pit stop, his crew got him in and out by performing their second-fastest fuel-and-four-tire-change stop of the year. As a result, Larson went from fourth place to the lead and was never headed in the run to the checkers. Conversely,  Martin Truex Jr., who was flying and in the lead when a minor on-track incident brought out that last caution flag, saw his team take a full second longer to perform the same duties. He left the pits in second place, where he finished. Denny Hamlin was third, Ryan Blaney fourth and Chase Elliott fifth.

This was a winner-takes-all deal and only Blaney wasn’t eligible for the championship. It makes you wonder how he snuck in there because it is well known in these playoffs that while everybody else might be out there, they are to leave the championship contenders alone. Somebody settling a score, for instance, and costing somebody a championship might very well make themselves persona non grata in the years ahead.

It was a very popular victory. Truex is a fan favourite too, as is Elliott. Fed-Ex employees, who sponsor Hamlin, might cheer for him but he is not well liked in the garage or the grandstands. Larson kept up his sprint car activities this season and, when you add up his victories last year and this year plus his trips to NASCAR Victory Lane, you have him winning a grand total of 93 races.

That’s incredible. Everybody talks about Colton Herta maybe going to Formula One. Why?  If anybody over there has an open mind, they should be arranging a test for Kyle Larson.

Don’t forget to read my Racing Roundup every Monday afternoon on wheels.ca