Top 10 Tuesday: California Drivers

Spencer Neff
Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

With the IndyCar Series in Fontana and the Sprint Cup Series in Sonoma this weekend, here is a look at the best drivers who call the Golden State home.

10. Ron Hornaday Jr.- The Palmdale driver rounds out the list. Hornaday has been a dominant force in the 20-year history of the Truck Series, winning the championship a record four times and accumulating a record 50 career wins. In addition to his outstanding success in the Truck Series, Hornaday added four victories in what is now the Xfinity Series.

9. Robby Gordon- Like many other drivers who call California home, Gordon, (who hails from Cerritos, Ca.) got his start off-road racing, where he won eight championships and scored three victories in the famed Baja 1000.
In the early 90s, Gordon switched his focus to NASCAR and open wheel, winning multiple times in the Cup and (current) Xfinity series, as well as IndyCar. Right now, Gordon has returned to his roots, starting the Stadium Super Truck Series, which has become a huge success and even landed a spot in the X Games.

8. Gary Scelzi- The second Fresno-born driver and third drag racer on the list, Scelzi began in the sport in 1997 after a tragic accident in the 1996 US Nationals claimed the life of Blaine Johnson. Scelzi went onto win three of the next four championships in Top Fuel. In 2001, Scelzi switched over to Funny Car and earned the 2005 series championship. Scelzi ended his career with 37 National Event wins in addition to the four championships.

7. Kevin Harvick- After winning his first career Cup Series championship last year, the Bakersfield-born driver has etched his place as one of NASCAR’s dominating drivers. In addition to his title, Harvick has also notched 30 Cup Series wins, two titles in what is now the Xfinity series and is one of 26 drivers to amass wins in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions (Cup, Xfinity and Truck).

6. Don Prudhomme- A driver hailing from San Fernando, Prudhomme’s resume is highlighted by 49 National Event wins (35 Funny Car, 14 Top Fuel) and he is also one of three drivers (Force and Kenny Bernstein) to win four consecutive championships in Funny Car since 1974, a feat he accomplished from 1975 to 1978.

5. Bill Vukovich- One of the biggest names from Indy’s “Roadster Era”, Vukovich got his start racing midget cars, where he won three championships from 1945-1946. Vukovich’s greatest success came at the Indianapolis 500, where dominated the event, leading the most laps every year from 1952 to 1954, winning in 1953 and 1954. Vukovich’s bid for a record three straight 500 titles came to a tragic end, when he was killed in a crash while leading in 1955.

4. Jimmie Johnson- Similar to Rick Mears, Johnson (a native of El Cajon) got his start in off-road racing. After a quiet start to his NASCAR career, he was signed by Hendrick Motorsports and began his Cup Series career in 2002. Since then, Johnson has amassed 72 wins and six championships (including a record five straight from 2006-2010), becoming the sport’s greatest dominator since teammate and fellow Californian Jeff Gordon.

3. John Force- The Bell Gardens-born driver’s name has become intertwined with drag racing over the last four decades. With 16 Funny Car titles and 143 National Event wins, Force has been one of the dominant figures in the sport and has helped bring the NHRA into the mainstream motorsports focus.

2. Rick Mears- The Bakersfield, California- born racer got his start on the off-road circuits. However, in a career that spanned from the late 1970s to the early 90s, Mears became one of the legends of IndyCar racing. Mears’ resume boasts three series titles and a record-tying four Indianapolis 500 victories. Despite having his career somewhat shortened, Mears’ accomplishments cement him as one of the greatest drivers of all-time.

1. Jeff Gordon- Perhaps the best stock car driver of the last 20 years, the Vallejo, California native made his way on to the big stage in 1992. 23 years, 92 wins and four Cup Series championships later, Gordon is less than five months away from calling it a career. His on-track accomplishments and overall impact on NASCAR have helped make him one of the most recognizable athletes in any sport.

Sunday Night Quick Takes

Spencer Neff
Twitter:@NeffOnSports11
Hope all the dads out there had a great Father’s Day.

• After dominating the Truck Series race in Iowa on Friday night, Erik Jones passed Ryan Blaney late in the Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland on Sunday to win the rain-delayed event. After subbing for Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch earlier in the year, many had been wondering if Joe Gibbs would move Jones up to the Cup Series full-time.

However, there was also the thought that Gibbs wants to avoid moving him up too quickly with big expectations, as many say was the problem with Joey Logano’s journey to the series.

Although I could understand that mentality, I think Gibbs may need to move Jones up within the next year or two at the absolute most. Otherwise, teams will be chomping at the bit for his services and Gibbs will regret it if Jones bolts for another team.

• Nico Rosberg of Mercedes won the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday morning, giving him and teammate Lewis Hamilton seven of eight victories in the 2015 season. Although parity has been somewhat of a hard find in F1, it may be time for the series to look into how to improve the competition.

Even as competition has not been the hallmark of the series and it may never present the unpredictability that NASCAR and IndyCar thrive on, creating an even slightly more level field could help bring in new viewers and re-energize the current fan base.

It is true that many sports fans enjoy dynasties and dominant superstars, but I think in present times, competition and unpredictability is paramount to attract new sports fans.

See You Soon

Quick Takes: Pre-Weekend Edition

Spencer Neff
Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

Leading into each weekend of racing, I will have some brief thoughts about recent news in the world of motorsports:

1. Very happy to hear that the Sprint Cup Series will be utilizing a new aero package at Kentucky in a few weeks. Passing has become an increasingly rare commodity at the intermediate tracks, so hopefully this will help. Also wondering who will be able to adapt to the new rules the best. Among the drivers to keep an eye are Kurt and Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.

2. Word got out the the Imola circuit, which hosted the San Marino GP from 1981-2006 and the Italian GP in 1980, may be looking to cut a deal to host, or at least co-host the Italian GP with Monza. Monza, which is contracted through next year, has some financial issues preventing its long-term sustainability. Nothing against Imola, but I think keeping the Italian race at its original circuit is imperative, especially after this year’s fiasco between Hockenheim and Nürburgring left the calendar without a German Grand Prix.

3. In IndyCar scheduling news, reports showed that reviving open-wheel racing at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin may be a possibility for next. Sanctioning fees and a conflict with the race at the Milwaukee Mile have often been pointed to as hold-ups in the track reappearing on the schedule. Although it may be too early to tell if another race at the road course will come to fruition, the series returning to one of its most famous venues would undoubtedly be one of the most popular stops on the schedule.

Happy Fathers Day

Top Ten Tuesday: Fathers and Children in Racing

Spencer Neff

Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

Each Tuesday I will have a top ten countdown. In honor of Father’s Day on Sunday, here are my top father and children in racing:

10. Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve: After starting out on snowmobiles in his native Quebec, the Canadian quickly moved to open-wheel cars. From 1977-1982, Gilles racked up six wins. However, his life was tragically cut short after a practice crash for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.

Son Jacques made his way to the big stages of auto racing in 1994, finishing second in the Indianapolis 500 and earning his first career IndyCar win at Road America in Wisconsin. The next year Jacques took the victory in the Indianapolis 500 and three more races en route to the 1995 IndyCar Championship. The next year, Villeneuve departed for Formula 1, where he won 11 races and the 1997 Championship. Since leaving the series in 2006, Jacques has dabbled in NASCAR, sports cars and even returned to race in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

9. Graham and Damon Hill: One of the most well-rounded drivers in racing, Graham is the only driver to win the “Triple Crown of Racing” (24 Hours of Le Mans-1972, Indianapolis 500-1966 and the Grand Prix of Monaco-1963-65,1968-69), as well as the 1962 and 1968 Formula 1 titles. Graham perished in a plane crash in 1975, but son Damon would carry on the family legacy. Damon racked up 22 victories in Formula and earned the 1996 Formula 1 title, making the Hills the only father-son duo to win championships in Formula 1.

8. Sir Jack , Geoff, Gary and David Brabham: One of the stars of the Formula 1 circuit in the  late 1950s 1960s, Sir Jack  raced to 14 wins and three championships during his 14-year career.

Jack’s sons made their legacy in the world of sports car racing. Eldest son Geoff earned four IMSA GTP Championships, while Gary won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1991 and David won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009. Geoff’s son Matthew currently races for Andretti Autosport in the Indy Lights Series.

7. John, Ashley Force-Hood, Brittany and Courtney Force: Drag Racing’s most famous name boasts John with NHRA records for National event wins (141) and championships (16). Daughter Ashley claimed four career wins in Funny Car before going on hiatus. Courtney has claimed seven Funny Car wins in over three years of competition and Brittany is seeking her first National event win in Top Fuel.

6.  Ned and Dale Jarrett: Ned was one of the early stars of the sport, earning titles in what is now the Sprint Cup Series in 1961 and 1965 and 50 career victories before retiring abruptly after his 1965 title. His son Dale tallied 32 career wins, including three Daytona 500s (1993, 96 and 2000), and won the 1999 Cup Series title. Ned and Dale have also had successful careers in the broadcast booth. One of the Jarrett family’s most famous moments was Ned calling Dale’s first Daytona 500 win in 1993 for CBS.

5. Bobby and Davey Allison: Another father-son duo from NASCAR, Bobby and brother Donnie (10 career Cup Series wins) were founding members of the famed Alabama Gang. Bobby accumulated 84 career Cup Series wins, including three Daytona 500s (1978, ’82 and ’88) and the 1983 Championship.

Perhaps the biggest moment for the family was a thrilling 1-2 finish in the 1988 Daytona 500 between Bobby and Davey in what proved to be Bobby’s last career win. Davey, whose brother Clifford was killed in a practice crash at Michigan, won 19 times in the Cup series, including the 1992 Daytona 500, before a helicopter crash in 1993 took his life.

4. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr.: Another name synonymous with NASCAR, the Earnhardt family has earned their place among the elite in the sport of Auto Racing.

Dale Sr. racked up 76 career victories and seven Cup Series Championships in a career that spanned from 1978 until his untimely death from a crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Dale Jr. has carried on the Earnhardt, including the 1998 and 1999 Xfinity Series titles (formerly Busch Series) and 24 wins in the Sprint Cup Series, including two Daytona 500 wins (2004 and 2014).

In August 2000, Dale Sr. became just the second father to race alongside two sons (Lee, Richard and Maurice Petty), when Dale’s oldest son Kerry raced with him and Dale Jr.

3. Al Unser Sr. and Jr.: Another family who made their name in open-wheel racing, the two combined for 73 wins, including six victories in the Indianapolis 500 and five championships in IndyCar. Al’s older brother Bobby also added three Indianapolis 500 victories and two IndyCar titles to the family legacy.

2. Mario and Michael Andretti: Mario’s legendary career boasts four IndyCar titles and 52 series victories, a Formula 1 championship (12 wins) and a win in the 1967 Daytona 500, as well as the 1969 Indianapolis 500. Mario’s son Michael has quite a racing record as well.

The younger Andretti earned 42 victories and the 1991 IndyCar Championship. In 1991 and 1992, Mario and Michael were joined by Mario’s younger son Jeff and his nephew John in the Indianapolis 500. Michael came out of retirement in 2006 and 2007 to race in the Indianapolis 500 alongside his son Marco, who continues to race for his father in the IndyCar Series.

1. Lee, Richard and Maurice Petty: Most people recognize Richard, a 7-time champion and winner of 200 races as “The King, as well as Lee for winning the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959, but many casual racing fans may not recognize Richard’s younger brother, Maurice. Although never winning a race, Maurice built engines and served as crew chief, helping Petty Enterprises win over 250 races and 10 Cup Series Championships.

Enjoy  your week

Sunday Night Quick Takes

Each week I will have some thoughts on some of the weekend’s racing events:

1. The IndyCar race in Toronto on Sunday featured some competitive racing and strategy, as rain played a factor early on in the event. Barber winner Josef Newgarden pulled away for his second win of the season and Luca Filippi completed a 1-2 for CFH Racing at the Exhibition Place circuit. The top six spots were taken by Chevrolet-powered cars.

The manufacturer has dominated this year, with eight wins to Honda’s two. The  disparity is obviously a major concern for a series which has seen immense competition since the unveiling of the DW12 chassis three years ago. Here’s hoping that Honda can improve during the off weekend before Fontana, or at least by the end of the season.

2. After several rain delays, the Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan was called 63 laps short of the finish and Kurt Busch nabbed his second win of the season. Kudos to NASCAR and everyone at MIS for their work to get the race in despite the weather.

With an off week before heading to the road course at Sonoma, one thing that NASCAR should continue looking at is this year’s aero/engine package. This year, 125 horsepower has been removed from the cars via a tapered spacer on the engine and have reduced the size of the rear spoiler to reduce downforce.

However, there has been chatter about the lack of passing. From what many drivers and other observers have noted, perhaps it may best for NASCAR to take even more downforce out and bring the horsepower back up, forcing drivers to lift in the corners. Changes are rumored to be in play when the series goes to Kentucky on July 11, so there is hope that NASCAR can fix the problem.

3. For anyone that has watched Xfinity and/or Camping World Truck Series qualifying at some of the bigger tracks, you probably have noticed that drivers will often sit and wait on pit road until there is only enough time left for one lap.

Although this practice does add some drama and intensity to qualifying, it can get frustrating for the viewers, both on TV and in person. NASCAR ought to look into shortening the qualifying times for the rounds at these tracks.

Doing so would create a sense of urgency and take away the gamesmanship of qualifying while perhaps even adding more drama.

Although there could be issues with implementing this, it would be better than a qualifying session like Saturday morning where eventual race winner Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott had their times disallowed because they did not make it back to the line before time expired. Elliott would have had the pole with a track record time, but the two started 11th and 12th instead. A shorter session would force the drivers onto the track earlier and not run the risk of being unable to record a lap.

4. After seeing the dominant trucks of Erik Jones and Matt Crafton taken out of contention, Cole Custer took advantage of Tyler Reddick missing a shift on the final restart and went on to win the Truck Series event at Gateway. The two races in the series’ return to the Madison, Illinois venue have both produced some good racing. Perhaps it may be time to look into getting the Xfinity Series to return to the track as well.

5. After a five year winning streak by Audi, Porsche found its way to the top step of the podium for the first time since 1998 and finished 1-2, with the team of Nico Hulkenberg, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy taking the win. Chip Ganassi Racing also announced that they will enter the WEC and Tudor Series with Ford GT, nearly 50 years after the manufacturer’s win in the race with Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt. The success of Porsche and the addition of Ford should make the sports cars series exciting to watch in the future.

Have a great week everyone

Spencer Neff

Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

My Love of Racing

I think an introduction is a great way to start off the blog. So, here it goes:

If the story of your interest in auto racing is anything like mine, you have probably had numerous people question how you could like racing. “It’s just a bunch of guys going around in circles” is one of the statements we have heard used frequently. However those of us that are fans of the sport know that there is more than meets the eye.

My love affair with racing started in the mid-90s. I was born in Bethlehem, Pa., close to where the Andretti family called home and just a few miles away from Nazareth Speedway.

After hearing the noise all the way from our house, my parents decided to take me to the race track. After just a few laps, I was hooked, with my eyes glued to the cars and barely focused on anything else. At three years old, I left Bethlehem for Phoenix, but the trek from Pennsylvania to Arizona did not deter my passion for racing.

Even without a huge group of people to share my interest, my enthusiasm for the sport traveled with me wherever I went. Despite the struggles of growing up, the passion I felt for racing as a two year-old kid from Pennsylvania is something I continue to carry with me, even as a 22 year-old and recent graduate of Purdue University.

I would like to pay tribute to some people who have helped feed my love of racing:

To Jeff Gordon: Thank You for being an amazing driver and an even better ambassador for NASCAR. You were the first driver I  called my favorite  and when I have gotten my friends and family interested in the sport, you were the one selected as their favorite driver. Although it will be sad not to see you racing, I wish you and your family nothing but the best as you move to the next stage of your life.

To Steve Byrnes: I followed your career and always enjoyed seeing you on pit road and in the booth during your broadcasts. You are one of many people who I consider to be an influence in my ambition to become a sports journalist. As sad as I and NASCAR Nation are that we will not get to see you during the races, I thank you for the contributions you made to the sport and the type of person you were in every aspect of life. While watching NASCAR Race Hub’s tribute to you, I was inspired to emulate how you conducted yourself both personally and professionally. I hope those of us trying to make it into the journalism field will always be influenced by your work.

To Dale Earnhardt, Dan Wheldon, Greg Moore and others who have lost their lives in the sport. It is your devotion to auto racing that has helped make this sport what it is. Although you may not be here with us today, I hope that it provides your loved ones with some comfort that your lives had such a profound impact on the racing family.

Finally, to everyone who has ever been involved in motorsports: Whether you are a driver, crew member, employee or a fan, your love for our sport has helped make it what it is today. If we haven’t met, I hope that one day we can so we can talk about a bunch of guys going around in circles. Have a great weekend everyone.

Spencer Neff
Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

About Me

Spencer Neff

I graduated from Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana) in May with a BA in Mass Communication and a minor in History. While at Purdue, I covered football and basketball for the Black Hammer, Purdue’s affiliate with 247sports.com. Currently, I am looking to get into the sports journalism industry as a sportswriter. Although motorsports has been my lifelong passion, I do enjoy several other sports, such as football, baseball and hockey. Feel free to contact me via my Twitter (@NeffOnSports11) or my email (neffspencer@gmail.com)

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