Kligerman: Where have all the good races gone? We’ll always have Malaysia 2001

Clive Mason /Allsport
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If you identify as a racing fan and have frequented the Internet at all in the last few years, you will have noticed an alarming trend.

Racing increasingly has been perceived as worse than in the past.

From Twitter to print journalism, words such as aero, passing, stars, personalities, funding, budget (and all at some point misspelled) read like a litany of diseases coursing through the body of the fire-breathing beast that is auto racing.

And here is the thing: The misspelled Twitter troll and the student loan-indebted journalist have a point, and I don’t think anyone knows what to do about it.

Let me explain.

About a week ago, Formula One announced on Twitter it was going to put its first full race on YouTube. But not a live streaming event of the current year. It was going back into the archives to breathe life into a relic of the world championship past.

Formula One then decided to host a poll allowing fans to pick which Malaysian Grand Prix they would want to watch most. The choices were the years of 2001, 2003, and 2012.

Immediately, I voted for 2001. It wasn’t even a thought. I instinctively clicked. And it wasn’t but a couple hours later that I got a text from a friend in racing. It had a screenshot of the poll. “Let me guess,” he wrote, “you voted 2001.”

Before asking myself the Millennial existential crisis question — Am I that predictable?–  I responded with, “Of course.” The thing is, 2001 had the amazing V10’s, and it was the start of Michael Schumacher’s domination with Ferrari. But most importantly, it was the first F1 season I can remember watching all the way through.

It also was the year of the F1 game on PS2 that I had to buy a second CD (after wearing out my initial copy from overuse, err … and I never put it back in the case. I was a rebel like that).

But the point is the 2001 season of Formula One has a serious sentimental quality to me. And apparently, I wasn’t alone, as the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix won the Twitter poll with 42.5 percent of the vote. Now I must admit this particular race was manic, going from dry weather to a torrential downpour that had cars going off the course in every corner. It was pure chaos.

Put that aside, if given that vote again, I would have picked a 2001 race nine times out of 10. And I’m starting to realize why.

It has to do with science. Now before you click off this tab, throw your phone or flush the toilet you’re sitting on, bear with me.

Scientists in lab coats (or probably Warby Parker spectacles) discovered why it seems that you feel most connected to the music of your teens and early 20s. I won’t bore you with the scientific details, and frankly, I don’t care to type them. But simply as your brain is developing, you will latch onto music during that time. And eventually, your brain stops to develop, and your personality firms up.

Where you are left with a couple of go-to breakup songs, and that one that makes you think of your first love.

Which it’s nice to know I am not alone in having a band I absolutely loved in high school but can’t listen to one new album beyond the ones I liked.

But what does that have to do with why I love the 2001 Formula One season? Well, it’s become apparent to me as I venture around the motorsports world in either driving or a media capacity that racing must be like music.

There is one thing deeper about the whole music nostalgia brain stuff: Scientists also can tell what your musical taste is simply off your personality traits. So if you’re fun-loving, good-looking and popular, they believe you will have liked all the stuff on the top 40 radio stations.

And if you were more like me — rebellious and agitated — you probably listened to alternative rock and gangster rap.

Which within the sporting world, auto racing is the alternative rock. It isn’t the high school cheerleader and impeccably white-toothed quarterback in the popularity contest for peoples’ attention. No it’s the kid who attends but doesn’t really play sports, has a cute girlfriend and parties a little. Occasionally trying a cigarette or two.

The NFL and NBA dominate the Top 40 hits of the sporting world. Racing rarely makes those charts. And therefore, us race fans are a finicky bunch, just like the alternative rock bands you loved in high school that are producing great music but have faded into obscurity.

Racing is facing a similar dilemma. As I talk to fans and ex-fans. I realize a consistent theme. “I loved watching racing 10 years ago. I would go downstairs and lay on the living room floor with my Dad and watch the whole race.”

Or, “Racing was better back a couple of years ago, I would have a group of friends who would watch every race, and it was awesome. We don’t do that anymore. Everyone grew up.”

So I made it a point to watch the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix. And a funny thing occurred: I started to want to watch new F1 races more.

Aside from the fact that I impossibly got emotional watching a race from when I was 10, the cameras also are better now and in HD. The information is better now, and the racing is not much different.

Is racing really so “terrible” now?

Probably not, but just like music, it’s become clear that we have a golden age for acceptance. And just like the music identifying with a past love, racing nostalgically identifies with something at the time you thought was better.

So how do we move on? Well, past that time of open acceptance, it is about being more open-minded. At least that’s what the scientists say.

If nothing else, I’m excited to know I have the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix as a breakup song.

 

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.