Lewis Hamilton: NASCAR Dream Is A Compelling Fantasy

Lewis Hamilton and Jeff Gordon at the Homestead Chase finale'.

Lewis Hamilton and Jeff Gordon at the Homestead Chase finale’.

Even for the avid fans that only track with NASCAR, Lewis Hamilton is a recognized star. At the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship Race that concluded the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hamilton made a cameo drop-in with cameras shadowing him throughout the garage.

Having already sewn-up his third Formula One World Championship, Lewis Hamilton prepared for the final race of the F1 season in Abu Dhabi race by spending the off-weekend stateside in Miami in order to support Jeff Gordon’s quest for a fifth NASCAR Championship, which fell short in his final career race.

Most notably at Homestead, Hamilton signaled his aspirations to perhaps follow in Gordon’s footsteps someday when he stated, “It was a really cool event; I hope I get to do one (race) one day.” According to Gordon, Hamilton was filled with questions about NASCAR.

For Hamilton, he would surely have to get past the little matter of a pay cut, which he probably could afford given his career earnings already. Reportedly, the 30-year-old Hamilton earns approximately $42 million dollars per year under his just renewed three-year deal with Mercedes AMG Petronas, which is multiples higher than a NASCAR star typically makes.

Lewis Hamilton is one of the highest paid athletes in the world having just inked a three year $140 million dollar salary from Mercedes.

Lewis Hamilton is one of the highest paid athletes in the world having just inked a three year $140 million dollar salary from Mercedes.

However, Hamilton has continued to drop suggestive nuggets. Earlier in August, London’s Daily Mirror also reported that Hamilton hinted that he wouldn’t rule out eventually trying his hand at NASCAR in an actual event.

Moreover, in a June 2011 Mobil 1 promotional event, Hamilton got a little sampler of NASCAR when he swapped rides with three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart for a day at Watkins Glen International.

Hamilton jumped behind the wheel of a NASCAR stocker weighing more than two times as much as his F1 car. Hamilton fondly recalls that “Tony was an excellent teacher and I quickly found a good rhythm. Those cars are raw and powerful! They are fantastic fun to drive.”

At the same time, Hamilton might even enjoy escaping the politics of the pre-determined team marching orders that seem more obvious among F1 teams than within NASCAR mega-teams.

This prototype for an F1 driver transition has already been tested. Back in 2003, Juan Pablo Montoya (at the time, F1 driver for Williams BMW) and Jeff Gordon traded places, taking turns driving speed demonstration laps around the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as another Mobil 1 promotion in advance of the Brickyard 400.

Fast forward three years later to 2006, and Juan Pablo Montoya left F1 for a NASCAR ride with Chip Ganassi Racing in a relationship that spanned eight seasons. Alas, Montoya had a mostly up-and-down NASCAR career, and was not able to capitalize on early breakthroughs such as his win at Sonoma in 2007.

Lewis Hamilton: Three time Formula One Champion.

Lewis Hamilton: Three time Formula One Champion.

NASCAR certainly wants to be taken serious on the international stage. Illustratively, this week Toyota is pulling out all the stops in celebrating its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship earned by Kyle Busch, with Toyota Racing’s President and General Manager David Wilson calling it “Toyota’s singular greatest achievement in motorsports.”

And Hamilton is undoubtedly a global celebrity, as well as an avid fan of American culture. Hamilton would have no trouble finding a sponsor to back a one-off NASCAR ride given the longer duration of the NASCAR season, or even a complete changeover should he decide he has accomplished everything he has sought in F1.

Yet some NASCAR narrow-minded loyalists have already taken to social media to critique such a possibility. The challenges fall into two buckets: Either Hamilton would not have success in NASCAR (pointing at other open wheel drivers such as Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish, or the brief NASCAR truck tenure of Kimi Raikkonen during his F1 sabbatical); or that Hamilton would not culturally “fit”, because his has too much bling, too much attitude, and too much reliance on F1’s superior technology.

However, all sports are competing for eyeballs and the almighty entertainment dollar. And entertainment is nothing more than a business that requires investment and return. Having an F1 champion, worldwide superstar, and dynamic celebrity take his shot at NASCAR can only serve to expand the pie and draw more eyeballs to the sport, if only for the curiosity factor. Occasionally, NASCAR fans complain that certain drivers are “too vanilla.” While I don’t agree with such assessments, there can be no doubt that a star like Hamilton trying his hand at NASCAR certainly wouldn’t be vanilla.

And the cross-pollination and racing exchange would only broaden motorsports’ overall exposure, while breaking down the parochial stereotypes surrounding NASCAR as a sport full of “moonshiners”.

Hamilton to NASCAR? My retort is: “Now that would be some quintessential racing, so boys, have at it!”

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged


NASCAR and Formula One: Are You Man Enough To Succeed?

“They’re just sitting out there gentlemen, waiting for you to take their money. Are you man enough go and take it?”

“They’re just sitting out there gentlemen, waiting for you to take their money. Are you man enough go and take it?”

One more race at Homestead, Florida will decide who will be the 2015 Sprint Cup Champion. Was it a year to remember or a year to forget? It’s a little of both. Will NASCAR actually do what it takes in 2016 to succeed?

The NASCAR fan base is as polarized regarding the Chase format as Formula One is regarding it’s hybrid powerplants. In modern motorsports the wedges that have been driven between the fans has been to the determent of the sport regardless of what discipline it is.

In NASCAR, what started as a small problem, how to make the sport more interesting, resulted in the Car of Tomorrow debacle right through to the wholesale change of normally aspirated engines in Formula One to bizarre, unmanageable hybrid powerplants.

The world of motorsports has become tantamount to a plane crash: Something goes awry and then the pilots keep pushing buttons until the plane crashes.

2015 is a year to put behind us in both NASCAR and F1. 2016 will be a transitional year for NASCAR in that we will move to low down-force cars that are actually harder to drive from an aero point of view rather than hip-hop style camber being required to make the car turn.

For Formula One, 2017 couldn’t arrive too soon. The outrageous costs associated with these Frankenstein hybrids have damn near driven the sport to the brink. No independents can keep up under the current rules which have to be endured until 2017.

A brilliant driver whose only competition was his teammate, Nico Rosberg. Hamilton want's more.

A brilliant driver whose only competition was his teammate, Nico Rosberg. Hamilton want’s more.

In NASCAR The Gen 6 car proved worthy, but also too good on sticking to the track, so moving towards the low down-force set-up is a great thing. But is it too little too late? We won’t know until 2016 is mid-season and moves along towards 2017. Darlington’s viewership was down 17% over 2014. That’s very bad, very, very bad.

Redemption wont come overnight, it’s easier to keep fans you have than to gain new ones, but that NASCAR’s challenge. One issue in it’s favor, besides the low down-force, is the new influx of younger drivers. Perhaps they and their social skills can bring along a new group of viewers and fans, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

So, the NASCAR season will end up this weekend either crowning an outgoing champion in Jeff Gordon, or possibly an upset victory for Martin Truex, Jr. In Formula One Lewis Hamilton has taken his third World Championship in a year so mediocre, except for the USGP, that people will be almost forced to watch another year with nearly the same rules. Only the diehard fans may hang around for the ‘Great Engine Change’ of 2017.

NASCAR? NASCAR had better put on one hell of a show from race one in order to stop the femoral bleeding of viewers. I believe they can, however, but it will take an on-track product that dazzles along with very, very savvy social media to nudge the fans back into place and to grab those who never cared.

2016 will be the year of reckoning for both of these sports but will be married to social media like never before if they expect to keep people interested. The presidential elections are going to dominate social media, particularly Facebook and both of these styles of motorsports had better grab as many of those eyeballs as possible.

The political conversation will be dominated by the very same demographic as the motorsports fans for both NASCAR and Formula One. Who will take advantage of that?

As Alec Baldwin’s character in the infamous film, ‘Glen Gary, Glen Ross’ said: “They’re just sitting out there gentlemen, waiting for you to take their money. Are you man enough go and take it?”

Well Ladies and Gentlemen, are you?





Will Auto Manufacturers Run or Ruin NASCAR?

The SuperCharged Ford Eco-Boost engine. At the top of Ford's NASCAR wish list?

The TurboCharged V6 Ford Eco-Boost engine. Could a Super Charged Version be at the top of Ford’s NASCAR wish list?

Dodge taking an unceremonious hike from NASCAR wasn’t anything new, after all they had done it before only to return with strong teams and alliances. The problem is that was a long time ago and the times have changed.

Brad Keselowski, after being asked about more manufacturers coming to NASCAR, was recently quoted as saying: “Gosh, we need all the help we can get there.” Yes Brad you do, unfortunately that kind of help doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the global horizon.

Manufacturers don’t just jump into multi-million, sometimes billion, dollar commitments without a good marketing reason and no one has made the case for any of them to do so.

Dodge left immediately after snagging a Sprint Cup Championship to the surprise of the racing world. They left global road racing last year in exactly the same manner. “Not with a bang, but a whimper”, to quote T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece, The Hollow Men.

Dodge is Fiat Chrysler, no longer an American company, but a multi-national company that sees more relevance in pouring huge, ridiculous amounts of money into Formula One, via Ferrari, in order to ride the Green Energy Train, truly one of the world’s great money pits. Noble cause, but hardly a short term answer in a waffling global economy. Hybrids sit on the sales lots of marquee manufacturers such as BMW in droves.

What sense does it make for Hyundai, VW or BMW to jump into NASCAR when the product they sell has no relation to the product that runs over 30 races per year with huge V8 engines that, save for the truck market and $70,000 and up luxury cars, aren’t used in the modern era? None.

The manufacturers that are in NASCAR now are there for the branding, but they would like to see that change. Branding is an exercise that matters to Mercedes, Ferrari and BMW, but to Ford? Hardly. Ford sells V6 and 4 cylinder engine cars and is moving towards the hybrid market with a vengeance.Brad-Keselowski1

Though no one will go on record, sources tell us that Ford is pressuring NASCAR to move into the V6 era, perhaps supercharged, thus moving away from V8 power. They simply don’t sell them.

According to Motorsports Unplugged Radio’s Bill Marlowe, a 20 year NASCAR engineer of numerous top teams: “They (NASCAR) have reduced the horsepower of the Cup cars for two reasons, the first is safety. The cars are going too fast and NASCAR has to mitigate the possibility that one of these cars could take off into the stands. No one will notice the difference between 210 MPH and 195 MPH. The second is that no one buys the big V8 engine cars from the domestic manufacturers today. They need relevance to the fans who would become buyers of their product.”

It appears as if NASCAR is taking a long view approach to what we may see in 5 or 10 years and that is a smaller power plant. Ford would love to see it’s Eco-Boost power plant utilized in a series that returns it to a “Win on Sunday to Sell on Monday” environment.

But is that change enough to attract other manufacturers? It hasn’t worked in Formula One so far. Only four manufacturers are willing to participate and Honda, the fourth, has yet to turn more than several laps before rolling to a stop.

It appears as if NASCAR’s efforts several years ago to standardize their chassis, the much hated COT, was an effort to manage (minimize) the manufacturers and their wishes to keep an identity recognizable to the fans, was a failure. The manufacturers have come back to the power table despite a marked improvement in the Gen 6 car. The drivetrains simply don’t match up with what they sell.

NASCAR seems to be unintentionally moving towards a Formula One scenario where the manufacturers have too much power. There simply doesn’t seem to be a balance that the two sides can reach without concessions from NASCAR over a period of time. Those concessions would have to be in the power plant department.

Would V6 engines with superchargers sooth both sides and more importantly, would that configuration be acceptable to the fans? Will the fans be accepting of high pitched screaming engines instead of the sound emitted from the V8’s we now here? Our sense is yes.

The current engines turn extraordinary RPM’s for push rod V8’s and emit a high pitched sound as it is, a v6 supercharged engine may be slightly higher pitched in sound, but not unappealing.

We sense that once that has taken place or some equivalent measure, then other non-traditional manufacturers will be looking harder at NASCAR as an American alternative.

Until then, it’s a tenuous relationship.

Jeff Gordon: Formula One’s Loss, NASCAR’s Gain

Jeff Gordon at speed in Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams Formula One car.

Perhaps this is a bold statement: Jeff Gordon is the only NASCAR driver of the modern era who could have made it to Formula One and had the potential to be a multiple World Champion.

Unfortunately, he suffered the same slings and arrows of abandonment by the open wheel world that many have. No one gave him a chance. IndyCar and Formula One’s loss, NASCAR’s gain.

Gordon’s win at Martinsville and his elevation in the Chase standings prove that the will to win, to never quit and to dig deep in the face of such steep competition are but a few of the attributes he possesses that would have propelled him to the top on the Global stage.

The villagers with pitchforks and torches aside, Gordon had/has exactly what it takes to perform at this level. The remaining Sprint Cup NASCAR drivers in the field today do not.

Many fans dont realize that Earnhardt, Sr and Gordon were friends. It was Earnhardt who gave Gordon the nickname “Wonderboy”.

When the name Jeff Gordon comes up in conversation with fans it evokes one of two reactions: They love him or ‘think’ they hate him. The flaw in these polarizing reactions is simple: They don’t know him.

That’s somewhat understandable considering the level of fame he’s achieved; it’s hard to get to know him. However, that’s for those who haven’t met him and looked beyond the defense mechanisms that celebrities have to use, which is hard to do, unless you’ve grown up around many, many celebrities. You learn how to look over the fence.

My family has been in the racing business since 1952 and I’ve met some of the world’s greatest and most unusual drivers, so I don’t have the typical reaction of most. Celebrity is a man made environment that just doesn’t matter to me. I’m more interested in the person.

I’ve met Jeff Gordon twice. Both times in settings that were not charged with the adrenaline rush of fuel and throngs of fans vying for his attention.

The first time was the year he came to NASCAR. I was staying with a friend in Lake Norman who had sold him the condo right next door to hers. Ray Evernham lived across the walk.

When she introduced us I hadn’t really heard much about him other than he was an up and coming talent. It was all there, the reticence on his part to be too open. The exuberance of being in an such an enviable position in his career. The trust of having met someone new through a friend.

A much younger Jeff Gordon learning the ropes.

My senses picked up all of these emotions, body language and speech. What he lacked was an ’enfant terrible’ attitude or sense of entitlement. That was different than what I expected.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. As anyone who knows me can attest, Formula One is my octane of choice. It never occurred to me that he had delivered on the potential in his early years that the Europeans rave about these days.

I walked away from that casual meeting impressed most of all with his politeness. That’s a learned skill, not something you’re born with, at least that’s what I have observed over the decades.

The second meeting was about 7 years ago at one of his pre-Daytona 500 parties; it was for Georgia Pacific, I believe.

My friend, who knew him, and I were early and Jeff was sitting by himself and his step-father, John Bickford was sitting at the bar in heavy discussion about hunting and Salmon fishing in Alaska. This was a subject near and dear to my heart as these were my ‘gourmet cooking’ days.

John Bickford, Jeff Gordon’s Step-Father.

After about 20 minutes of engaging John on the merits of cooking wild game, in the wild, Jeff walked up. Obviously he had overheard the conversation and said to me “Be careful, he may invite you on one of his adventures”.

I knew if that came to fruition I would be held to an impossible standard as John’s hunting/fishing crew always invited an exceptional chef or cook for just that purpose.

I decided to extricate myself from John and my friend in order to talk with Jeff. I found him interesting. He didn’t remember our meeting at Lake Norman, nor do I expect he’ll remember our second meeting.

Most stars do not approach someone else, they wait for someone to approach them. In that scenario the celebrity can mentally size up who has invaded their space. They can control the situation.

With Jeff, I must have not given off those stalker vibes. Although, probably a few women in my past would challenge me on that statement.

He was very cautious at first.  Many celebrities want to immediately dominate the conversation in order to take control. Not Jeff.

Gordon and his wife, Ingrid Vandebosch in Martinsville winners circle.

This driver was different. He actually began asking about me.  Why? Because I wasn’t asking him for anything, no need to screen me through his PR or marketing machine. Fans underestimate the pressure these drivers are under. Let’s face it, everybody wants something from them. To me he was simply an interesting person.

As the conversation rolled on I managed to hear about how he attained his position in racing, from quarter midgets on up. What struck me then and still does, is that he had every attribute that is required to be a Formula One star.

Not that being a NASCAR star is bad, quite the contrary, it’s just that the Europeans aren’t the nicest lot to us Americans when it comes to racing. Michael Andretti is a perfect example.

This is when the subject of his F1 swap with Montoya came up.

His eyes glazed over recounting the experience as he mentally took me around the Grand Prix track at Indianapolis where the swap with Montoya took place. Every corner, the traction control, the braking, the grip and the startling technology.

I knew that he enjoyed it, but I couldn’t yet ascertain whether or not he could have pulled off going to Europe and enduring the full contact fighting that takes place in the lower formula’s leading up to a prized spot on the Grand Prix grid.

When Jeff Gordon retires from NASCAR, let’s hope he keeps racing. The LeMans prototypes would be suitable.

The conversation didn’t last long as more and more people filed into the room demanding his attention, but the information that had been passed to me coupled with his obvious intelligence had piqued my interest. I set out on a mission to learn more about the path he had taken.

From the very early years until the move to Indianapolis, I was intrigued.

Why would I say that Gordon is the only driver in NASCAR’s modern era who could have been America’s GP star? You have to look at the dedication, the mannerisms, the passion and many more attributes that aren’t verbally communicated. Jeff Gordon is a sponge. He soaks up everything, if he finds it interesting.

Stewart is a great driver, but he lacks the total and unflappable dedication to such a foreign discipline.

Jimmie Johnson didn’t have John Bickford calling the early shots. Yes he’s incredible at what he does, but how many families would buy a quarter midget to drive in front of their talented son in order for him to learn how to pass the other car? Not many.

Allmendinger? Talented yes, but his attitude wouldn’t have gotten him far enough in order to have the very best rides in Europe. He would have, in short order, rubbed the Europeans the wrong way.

The rest of Gordon’s accomplishments are in the history books.

When Jeff finally decides to step out of the drivers seat at Hendrick, he may very well take on another role with the team. After all, he does have equity in the operation.

However, something tells me that despite his eventual departure from the grueling schedule of NASCAR, this driver won’t be done.

He excels on road courses and truly seems to enjoy the prototype racing. His ability goes beyond what is offered in Grand Am.

Gordon is a full blown candidate for the LeMans prototypes, the LMP1’s. They dwarf the Daytona Prototypes and LMP2 cars in power, speed, torque and technology.

With Gordon, the skill is there, the technical understanding, the passion and not to mention the fact that landing a top notch Mercedes, Porsche or Audi ride wouldn’t be a stretch. They still sell most of their cars in the United States.

Who better to carry Old Glory to the Europeans?




Raikkonen Credits NASCAR for Formula One Lotus Return

Kimi Raikkonen gave credit to NASCAR as his reason for looking at a Formula One return and with Lotus. Raikkonen said he enjoyed his NASCAR experience and realized how much he wanted to race against someone again. Brittany Force and Ashley Force may be driving tTop Fuel Dragsters for their father in a year. Force want’s to reduce his teams Funny Car count and add two Nitro Dragsters. The top 35 rule helped accelerate two teams into prominence, Tommy Baldwin Racing and Phoenix Racing.

Ganassi Cleans House, Toyota Attacks LeMans with Hybrid, Success for Lotus, Raikkonen Tests

Chip Ganassi has hired and fired personnel over the Winter to get traction for his team. Toyota will race a Lemans LMP1 Prototype that will be equipped with KERS, According to Oriol Servia…Lotus has had success in the past through hard work and innovation. The lotus Indcar keeps testing. Kimi Raikkonen completed a two day test session to re-acclimate him to a Formula One Car.

Leffler to Busch, Courtney to Force, Hinchcliffe to Andretti, Senna to Williams?

Jason Leffler, Courtney Force, James Hinchcliffe and Bruno Senna are all on the move. Leffler goes to Kyle Busch’s truck team while Courtney Force debuts for Father John Force. Not to be outdone James Hinchcliffe get’s the big break taking the Go Daddy/Andretti seat in IndyCar and in Formula One, Bruno Senna’s backer, Eike Batista insists that the deal is done for Senna’s seat at Williams.

Kasey Kahne and “BoobGate”, Formula One Musical Chairs: What’s Next In 2012?

Kasey Kahne finds himself in hot water with Women’s rights groups after tweeting disparinging remarks about the practice. Kimi Raikkonen draws friends and foe alike in his return to Formula One. The top story in 2011? Dan Wheldon is killed.

NASCAR, Formula One, NHRA and IndyCar: 2011 and 2012

The NASCAR, Formula One, NHRA and IndyCar seasons may be over but the action is just starting. The motorsports world has never been more competitive than it is today. What happened in 2011 and what’s coming at us.

Stewart Explodes Chase, Massa & Hamilton Smack Down, Jason Line Clinches Championship

Tony Stewart took everyone to school at Martinsville yesterday while they all beat each other like a UFC cage fight. Vettel wins F1 Indian Grand Prix but Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa can’t stop hammering each other. Jason Line became the first in the NHRA to clinch a championship at Las Vegas.

Print This Post Print This Post