Racing News

Monday Morning Racing Roundup: Bentley and the Bushes; should IndyCar have raced in the rain? Too Much Information

Written by Norris McDonald

Okay, before I get going, I will tell you about the photograph.

Former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush, who died last week and was buried following a funeral service this weekend, was comfortable being around anybody and everybody. Her husband, President George H.W. Bush, is the same way.

In the photo, Mrs. Busch is seen at right, beside her husband who is shaking hands warmly with one of the most famous of American short-track auto racers, the legendary Bentley Warren. The scene is outside Bentley’s Saloon, a biker bar in Arundel, Maine, which is next door to Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, where a palatial cottage/residence owned by the Bushes served as the Summer White House during his presidency.

Bentley – and everybody knows him as “Bentley” – is a supermodified driver of note. He’s won track championships at Oswego Speedway in New York and Star Speedway in New Hampshire, series championships while running with the International Supermodified Association and the New England Supermodified Racing Association, won six International Classic races at Oswego, the Little 500 at Anderson, Ind., twice, the Copper Classic in Phoenix and he made the field at Indy twice back in the 1970s, when it was extraordinarily difficult.

Although he’s gone to great lengths most of his life to be “an ordinary Joe” – Bentley’s owned a trucking company and he’s invested in at least one biker bar in Florida (he’s very much at home on a Harley) – he is, by birth, one of the Kennebunkport Warrens (think Mr. Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court), which means that, like it or not, he is very well-connected.

And that explains why the former president of the United States and his wife dropped into Bentley’s Saloon sometime in the last six years (when this photo was taken) and they greeted each other warmly.

Now, they could also have been getting a laugh out of Bentley’s occasional habit of “buzzing” that Summer White House in his helicopter. Whenever he got bored – not often, granted, but it happened – Bentley would take off in his chopper and fly over the Bush residence so that the Secret Service would have to then pay him a visit and tell him to stop doing it. Then they would all go off together and have a beer or, as Bentley would call it, a “beah.”

This photo is off the Internet. It was sent to me originally by my friend, racing historian Peter Turford. I checked with Bentley’s biographer, Bones Bourcier, as to when it might have been taken, and who might have taken it, but he didn’t know. It was post 2012, however, because it was then when President Bush was confined to his wheelchair.

I have no idea if Bentley was among the invited guests at Barbara Bush’s funeral but I would not be surprised if he was. Judging by that photo, there clearly was a great friendship there.

Okay, moving right along.

They will try to get in enough of the Grand Prix of Alabama for IndyCars today to make it an official race (you can watch it on cable channel Sportsnet 360 or via streaming on Sportsnet NOW, starting at 11:30 a.m. Eastern). It was raining too hard at the circuit outside Birmingham yesterday for them to run more than 22 of the 90 laps.

Now, should they have postponed this race? At least one owner, Dale Coyne, doesn’t think so. Another, Roger Penske, wishes  it had happened sooner.

Okay, I am of two minds on this. I don’t like to see anybody get hurt but this is a dangerous sport that people participate in by choice and people watch by choice. This is not the ballet. If you are a driver, you put on that crash helmet for a reason. You could crash. That is part of being a racing driver. I watch people race because I appreciate the skill required to handle a thoroughbred racing car when it is going at the limit. I know that serious things could happen while I am watching. I still watch. Maybe they should still race.

I was at the first F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (then Mosport Park) back in 1967. It was teeming rain. There were rivers of water running across the track. There was never any question that they wouldn’t race. Those were the conditions and the greats of the day – Clark, Hill, Stewart, Amon, McLaren and on and on – adjusted their driving to those conditions. They, of course, had to find the limit, so they were sliding and slipping  all over the place. They were spinning on the track and off the track. They’d get out of the car, push it back on the track, give it a push, jump in, bump-start it and away they’d go. If their goggles fogged up, they’d go to the pits for fresh ones or to attach a bubble shield to their helmet. They adapted.

Sunday in Alabama, they didn’t adapt. They stopped. Paul Tracy put it best: they should have kept going and slowed down instead. I listened to several of the interviews and one after another of the drivers said that Indy cars at 150 miles an hour are a handful when it`s raining and I’m saying to the television, so who says you have to go 150? Go 100. Or 75. Somebody said there was a lot of water on the outside of the track and I`m going, so drive in the middle where there isn`t any. I know it`s easy to be thinking and saying this while I’m sitting in the cheap seats of my living room but those guys – again, in the words of Tracy the last  time this happened – are getting paid the big bucks and they are supposed to be taking a  risk because that is the name of the game.

Josef Newgarden was leading when the last red came out. Canadians: James Hinchcliffe was fifth, Robbie Wickens was seventh and Zachary Claman de Melo, who started 16th, had dropped to 21st but that was because he was assessed a two-lap penalty after his crew made repairs to his car during the first of the two red-flag periods.

For a complete story on the race to date, please click here.

One last thing before I leave the IndyCars. There is a TV commercial on at the moment for NHL fashions that you can order online. A guy is buying Edmonton Oilers sleepware for his new baby. Connor McDavid thanks him for bringing another Oilers fan into the world. The guys says thanks and that he and his wife are thinking about working on another.  At which point, McDavid says: “Too personal, man.“

That was my reaction when James Hinchcliffe announced on international television yesterday that he couldn`t wait to go to the bathroom. We`ve all been in that predicament at one time or another in our lives and most of have found a way to hold on. We just haven`t felt the need to talk about it.

IndyCar thinks it`s movin` on up. Maybe. But the headlines in the papers  Monday are about that, rather than the racing. Is that what IndyCar wants? For the life of me, I can`t imagine Lewis Hamilton talking about his toilet habits on television. Or Dale Earnhardt Jr. Or Leah Pritchett.

Every year, it seems, I make a mistake. I allow myself one. If I make more than one, I get very upset with myself. I made my mistake for 2018 last week when I brought back the Monday Morning Racing Roundup. I meant to write that Alexander Rossi had been on the podium in all of the first three IndyCar races and I had brain fade and said he won at St. Petersburg. He didn`t;  Sebastien Bourdais did. I apologize.

My mistake last year came when I called Mazda Road to Indy driver Parker Thompson, of Red Deer, Alta., by another last name. I felt awful.  I will not do that again, particularly since he is tearing up the track in the Pro Mazda Championship. At St. Pete, he was top five both races, finishing second in the first one. This weekend in Alabama, he won the first race and finished second in the finale. He is now leading the standings. Well done.

Speaking about being hotter than a pistol, Windsor, Ontario, native Roman De Angeles won the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA race Saturday and was second on Sunday. The young driver has now scored podiums in three of the four races held this season. He`s another young Canadian to watch.

I don`t know what they can do about the Indy Lights class. Eight cars showed up at Alabama. (Pro Mazda had twice that number.) Dalton Kellett of Toronto finished sixth in both races. Is there value in the Indy Lights championship any longer? At one time, the complaint was that the series didn’t have a TV contract but that’s changed. In fact, yesterday, when the IndyCar race went off the air at 6 p.m., Sportsnet360 then carried the Indy Lights race that had been run earlier in the day. So, what is the problem?

In the early 2000s, Toyota Atlantic was the main support for the Champ Car World Series. In 2005, at the Molson  Indy Toronto, only 10 cars showed up and one of them was driven by Eric Jensen, a team owner who suited up to add a car to the field. In the off-season, and to his credit, Champ Car series co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven put the pressure on a bunch of his moneyed pals, including Paul Newman, and the entry list for the 2006 championship more than doubled. At Toronto, for instance, 21 cars started the 2006 race.

You wonder if that sort of pressure could be exerted again? Or are the kids with money – or access to money – like Cole Custer and many (if not most) of the young guys climbing up the NASCAR ranks these days, turning their backs on open wheel and going to stock cars instead? Whatever, it`s a problem.

Weekend results: Kyle Busch overcame a poor qualifying result – he started 32nd – to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Richmond, Va., Saturday night. It was his third consecutive victory of the 2018 season and he joins Kevin Harvick as the second triple-crown winner. Chase Elliott finished second and Denny Hamlin was third. Busch now has his eye on Talladega Superspeedway next weekend, where he will try to become the first four-straight NASCAR Cup-race winner since Jimmie  Johnson did it in 2007 . . . . .   Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond, Va., Friday night. Alex Labbe, the Quebec driver who won the NASCAR Canada Pinty`s Series championship last year, finished 16th from a 19th-place starting position. A full field of 40 cars took the green flag. . . . . .  Marvin Musquin won the Monster Energy AMA Supercross at Foxborough, Mass., Saturday night. Eli Tomac finished second while Jason Anderson was third. Anderson holds a 34-point lead going into the second-last race of the indoor season next weekend at Salt Lake City . . . . . Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Brittany Force won her first race of 2018 at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston at the weekend. J.R. Todd won in Funny Cars and Matt Hartford scored his first career win in Pro Stock. Force defeated Terry McMillen in the final Top Fuel round.

Notes: The Merrittville Speedway Spring Sizzler was cancelled Saturday night and replaced by a test-and-tune. If this nice weather keeps up, look for Merrittville and other GTA-area speedways to get going in earnest next weekend. . . . . . IndyCar ace Scott Dixon is going on the NBC TV network show American Ninja Warrior. I hope he knows what he`s gotten himself into. Years ago, in the late 1970s, early 1980s, there was a made-for-television Canadian competition in which athletes had to compete in disciplines other than their own. Hockey players had to pole vault – that sort of thing.  Anyway, Gilles Villeneuve had to run the 100-yard dash. He might have been in great shape, but he couldn’t run worth a damn.  Let`s hope Dixon does better . . . . .  The Brickyard 400, which has been struggling with attendance in recent years and which was moved to the end of the NASCAR schedule this season in an effort to regenerate interest, is really up against it now. The Brickyard, as of this moment, is scheduled to get the green flag at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 9. At 1 p.m., an hour earlier, the Indianapolis Colts will open  their season at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.  The timing is unfortunate. If it was up to me, the Brickyard would get moved back a day, to Saturday. Indy is a Colts town, let there be no doubt. The stock cars won`t stand a chance if left to go head-to-head . . . . . Red Bull Rallcross has shut down and won’t run a 2018 schedule. A lot of people and organizations are owed a lot of money. The Rockcliffe Flying Club in Ottawa was the first to go public about being stiffed – the airport was the site of an event last summer – and was reportedly paid but that was when the floodgates opened. It’s that sort of thing that puts the kaibosh to other, legitimate, racing events. Formula E, for instance, is looking for a Canadian city to host a round in the series after getting the boot from Montreal. Rumour has Toronto and Vancouver interested but about the only possible scenario would see the federal government underwrite an event in the capital (to push their electric vehicle agenda) but that is now unlikely because of the bad taste left by the Rallycross people . . . . . .