2020 Racing Season

Racing With Covid, A Look Back at 2020

2020!  You little bewildering bitch!  Where do I even start with 2020? Let’s see, cataclysmic environmental events in all corners of the globe, a global pandemic bringing life as we know it to a grinding halt, political shenanigans not seen in the USA since the civil war era, racial injustices reminding us that the civil rights movement still has a long way to go.  I’m honestly surprised that our Commander In Chief didn’t decide to make America even greater and invade Canada.  Shit we even lost John Prine and Bill Withers.


Occupying a small place amid all this chaos, the racing world upheld it’s end of the bargain and produced some truly bizarre moments.  For the sake of being able to look back one day and say, “Holy shit, this really happened,” here is a timeline recap of some of the “Only in ‘20” monkey business.


Jan-Feb 2020:  This whole Coronavirus thing still seemed like a distant problem for China and Hong Kong.  I was hearing from Chinese contacts that it was a mess, but I had no idea what was coming.  In fact, I recall a conversation with an ER doctor who equated it to just another season flu.  My takeaway was, millions will be infected, a few unfortunate people will die of complications, but to quote Wooderson, “You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N.” 


Wednesday, March 11:  Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tests positive and the NBA season is suspended indefinitely.  On the same day, Tom Hanks goes public that he and his wife have tested positive.  Suddenly this seemed very real, like Contagion real.  If Hanks can get it, are we all going to die?  I was struck with a vision of Cormac McCarthy’s, “The Road” becoming reality.  


Thursday, March 12:  On the eve of the season opening Australian GP, a member of Team McLaren tested positive, jeopardizing the entire event.  At this point it felt like there was a tsunami of Covid particles blanketing the earth.  


Friday March 13:  With fans at the gates ready for admission, it’s announced that the Aussie GP is cancelled!  All other sports immediately follow suit.  Indycar cancels St Pete’s.  March Madness is cancelled.  It’s a total disaster.  I was still under the impression that the world was overreacting to the flu and didn’t quite grasp the idea of hospitals being maxed out.  In fact, I actually believed Trump when he claimed that we would lick this and all be back to work in two weeks tops!  


Saturday March 28:  The world has gone eerily quiet.  There are no planes in the sky.  The freeways are empty.  The air quality is spectacular.  I’ve taken to puzzles and searching for toilet paper online when I’m not serving as a homeschool teacher.  My wardrobe now is strictly sweatpants and a hoodie.  My hair is starting to grow like wild ivy.  In an attempt to pacify it’s sponsors, Indycar is broadcasting an iRace on live TV from virtual Watkins Glen.  I’m so starved for any sort of competition that I’m excited to watch.  Surprisingly, Sage Karam is the class of the field and wins the race easily.  Listening to Tracy, Bell and Diffy call the broadcast with their usual enthusiasm is comedy.  Somehow I get the feeling that PT has never seen iRacing before.


Sunday, April 7:  Bubba Wallace “Rage-Quits” the Food City Showdown at virtual Bristol after a tangle with Clint Bowyer and Twitter has a field day.  Bubba tries to down play it by reminding people it’s just a stupid video game, but one of his sponsors, joint/muscle cream Blu-Emo, doesn’t see it this way and fires him (on Twitter of course).  More on Bubba in a minute.


Sunday, April 14:  Kyle Larson, arguably the greatest all round oval driver in the world, uses the N-word during a live iRace and is subsequently fired from Ganassi Racing.  Larson immediately returns to his dirt roots and wins 42 of 83 starts.  I certainly don’t condone his behavior and agree that he had to pay the ultimate price, but I suspect that he’s not the only guy in the nascar community who uses this word on a regular basis.  


Sunday, April 26:  Denny Hamlin’s seven year old daughter manages to turn off the power to his screen midway through the iTalladega invitational, ending his race on the spot.  


Sunday, May 3:  The Greatest Spectacle in iRacing, The Indy i500, is dominated for much of the contest by F1 driver Lando Norris.  It turns out that Lando is an enthusiastic gamer who has spent most of his quarantine time iRacing up to 18 hours per day.  He won the COTA Indy iRace and was looking good to win Indy until Pagenaud, a victim of an earlier Lando tangle, purposely slowed down and wrecked him with a few laps to go.  Again, the social media police went to work and started calling for Pagenaud’s real job. A mini virtual F1 vs Indycar war also ensued. 


(Interestingly, the race was won by Aussie V8 Supercup champ, Scott McLaughlin.  Was this the deciding factor that led to The Captain hiring McLaughlin for a season of real racing?)


Sunday, May 24:  Factory Audi FE driver, Daniel Apt, replaces himself with a pro gamer as a prank in an official FE iRace and finishes 3rd.  When word gets out that he wasn’t behind the wheel, there was so much backlash that Audi had to fire him from his real job.  


Monday, May 25:  George Floyd, a black man, tragically loses his life when a police officer unfathomably suffocates him in broad daylight while being filmed in Minneapolis.  This leads to outrage across the globe and the Black Lives Matter campaign is launched, spearheaded in the racing world by Lewis Hamilton and Bubba Wallace.  Bubba uses his platform to launch a campaign to ban the Confederate flag at Nascar events.  


Wednesday, June 10:  NASCAR decides to turn the page on it’s history and officially bans the Confederate flag from all Nascar sanctioned events.  It seems convenient that there are no fans allowed at the tracks, so I’m fascinated to find out how it will be handled when there are 75,000 people streaming through the gates.  They are going to have to hire some tough dudes to work flag patrol in the parking lots.  


Sunday, June 21:  Just when it seems that the news can’t get any stranger, a crew member for Bubba Wallace’s 43 team discovers that the garage pull for their stall at Talladega has been knotted and shaped into a noose.  The team member, also a black man, walks up and down the paddock and finds that the 43 garage has the only noose.  Outrage follows and the FBI and Department of Justice are called in to track down the individual responsible for this hate crime.  The next day, with a pickup truck parade waving the Dixie flag just outside the gates, NASCAR shows its solidarity by having the drivers, crew members and officials push Bubba’s car to the front of the grid.  They also painted, “Stand With Bubba” in the infield grass.  Meanwhile, overhead a plane is flying the Dixie flag over the proceedings.  I swear you can’t make this stuff up.


Side note- After conducting a thorough investigation, the FBI finds that the noose pull had been there since 2019, so it wasn’t a hate crime after all.  The study went on to report that of the 1,684 garage stalls at the 29 tracks Nascar races at, there were 11 knotted ropes and just one noose.  President Trump immediately takes to Twitter and asks if Bubba has apologized.  


And then there was real racing!


In F1, it was business as usual as Mercedes continued its dominance of the hybrid era with a seventh consecutive championship for both the constructors and drivers.  Spoiler Alert!  Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes will be the 2021 F1 Champions.  But as with many seasons past when one team is dominant, there are always moments of excitement and intrigue to keep the fans coming back for more.


Here are a few of my standout moments:


The Austrian GP.  After waiting 4 extra months for the season to get started, F1 was back at the beautiful Red Bull Ring, or Osterreichring for the old school fan.  Regardless of what happened on track, it just felt great to have racing back. As a bonus, it was a chaotic race that involved three safety car periods and multiple penalties for Lewis Hamilton.


Back to Back Sundays at Silverstone.  This current configuration of Silverstone is a masterpiece and I’d be content to watch 18 races a year on that circuit.  In my opinion, an outside pass into Stowe is as good as it gets.  The first race was a relatively processional affair until both Mercedes cars encountered delaminating left-front tires in the closing stages.  For Lewis in the lead, it meant having to navigate the final sector on three wheels while Max was closing fast in hot pursuit.  Lewis showed his class by keeping his cool and crossing the line with 5.8 seconds to spare.  The following weekend, Max was the class of the field and scored the first non Mercedes win of the year.  


Gasly wins Monza!  Monza was the first shock result of the year as Pierre Gasly won the safety car lottery and drove brilliantly to hold off Carlos Sainz for his first victory.  The historic venue has been good to the little Italian based team as their last and only other win was at Monza with Seb Vettel in 2008.  


Mugello, The Nurburgring, Algarve, Imola, Turkey & The Sakhir Outer Loop Added to the Calendar.  That is an incredible list of race tracks and it was a joy to see F1 cars in their element on beautiful circuits with fast sweeping corners and massive elevation changes.  


Romain Grosjean Survives a Fireball.  I have to go back to Gerhard Berger’s 1989 crash at Imola to recall such a horrid looking accident.  And like Berger, I’m amazed that Grosjean was able to walk away from piercing a metal armco barrier and stopping from 130mph to zero in about 6 inches.  He then had to extract himself from a burning, mangled cockpit that looked more like a plane crash than a F1 car in a wall.  Incredible luck and proof that the halo is a genius, albeit ugly, invention that will likely save more lives in the future.  


Georgie Boy Replaces Lewis and Perez Wins.  What a nice bonus the Sakhir outer loop proved to be.  Let’s face it, probably the most common question in the mind of an F1 fan is what would another driver do in the Mercedes?  With Lewis testing positive for COVID, we got our wish.  But before proclaiming that any driver could beat Bottas and win in the Mercedes, I need to make it clear that Russell is a massive talent in the Max-Leclerc category.  I strongly believe those three are the future of F1.  So, with that being said, it was fascinating to see Russell lead FP1, 2 & 3, and qualify a close second to Bottas.  In the race, Bottas made shit getaway and Russell had the race under control. That is, until the safety car came out and Mercedes completely botched a double stack pitstop.  The stop was so un-Mercedes like that I thought I was having flashbacks to a Colini pitstop in the late 80’s.  Even with having to stop a second time to fit the correct tires on the car, Russell had a shot at victory until a puncture brought him back yet again for more rubber.  The beneficiary was Checho Perez, who brilliantly conserved his tires and won after being in last place at the end of the first lap after getting punted by Leclerc.  It was the feel good story of the year seeing Perez, Ocon and Stroll on the podium and likely was the deciding factor in the Red Bull drive going to Perez.   


Biggest Disappointment-  Ferrari finishing P6 in the constructors championship.  This was their worst showing since 1980!  The talents of Leclerc were totally wasted and a lame duck Vettel looked more like a club racer at times rather than a four time champion. 


Looking to ‘21, I think it will again be Max chasing the Mercedes cars while Checo has many a lonely run to 4th.  The mid-pack F1.5 battle will be mighty between Ferrari, Renault (Alpine), McLaren, Racing Point (Aston Martin), and Alpha Tauri.  The revamped lineups will be fascinating to watch: Sainz partnering Leclerc in the red overalls,  Alonso joining Ocon at Alpine, Danny Ric joining McLaren and taking on Lando with Mercedes power, Vettel leading the Aston charge and Tsunoda partnering Gasly at the junior Red Bull squad.  On paper it sounds amazing!  


Speaking of F1 fantasies, this is my fantasy 2021 lineup with the drivers confirmed for next year:


Mercedes:  Latifi, Mazepin

Red Bull:  Mick Schumacher, Tsunoda

Ferrari:  Leclerc, Sainz

Aston Martin:  Lando, Russell

McLaren: Max, Lewis

Alpine: Alonso, Danny Ric

Alpha T:  Gasly, Perez

Alfa Romeo:  Ocon, Giovinazzi

Williams:  Bottas, Kimi

Haas:  Vettel, Stroll


Indycar- As always, the Indycar series had a bunch of highly entertaining races with the now customary championship coming down to a battle between Dixon and Newgarden.  They each won 4 races, but JoNew definitely missed out more often in the yellow lotto and couldn’t overcome Dixon’s 3 wins from the first 3 races.  Personal highlights were watching O’Ward and Herta cement themselves as the future of the series, Sato winning a second 500 and the last lap of the Road America 2 race, in which Rosenqvist tracked down a fading O’Ward and snatched his first win with a forceful move down to turn 5.  On the subject of Road A, if Silverstone is my 1A track then I think I’m nominating RA as my 1B.  What a badass place!


Biggest Disappointment – Alexander Rossi finishing 9th in points.  Rossi can usually be counted on to lead the AA charge against the might of Penske and Ganassi, but he seemed to have the curse of ‘20 following him around and couldn’t get anything going until the last couple of races.


Looking ahead to ‘21, I can’t wait to see what The Captain has in store.  The announced street race in Nashville sounds interesting and at some point in the near future a third engine manufacturer will likely jump into the game.  On the driver front, it will be entertaining to see how Jimmy Johnson and Scott McLaughlin fare in single seaters.  I have huge respect for all that Jimmy has accomplished, but shame on the series regular who gets out qualified by the 45 year old single seater rookie.  Now if he enters an oval race that may be a different story.     


MotoGP – The championship that nobody wanted to win.  After Marquez did himself in for the year by crashing out in Jerez and breaking his arm, the championship was suddenly wide open.  Quartararo looked like he was going to dominate after winning both races in the opening doubleheader at Jerez, but more wins were to prove elusive for El Diablo.  In fact, there were 9 winners in 14 races.  Yamaha bikes won 7, but it was the Suzuki that proved to be the most consistent and friendly bike over the course of the year.  Joan Mir, who had two DNF’s in the first 3 races, settled into a great rhythm and pulled off one of the biggest upsets ever.  Before the year started, Mir was a +12500 to win the title.  He only won one race, his first in the series, but his 7 podiums got it done.  It reminds me of the Keke Roberg ‘82 F1 title with only 1 win.  There were so many breathtaking moments that my head is spinning, but the Rossi miraculous escape from the ghost riding Zarco bike is something I won’t forget.  There was also the last corner in Austria when Miller and P Espargaro ran wide fighting each other and Olivera snuck by for the win.  God Bless MotoGP riders!


Biggest disappointment – Marquez missing the year (for my fantasy team) and the factory Yamaha team only winning a single race.  


Looking to ‘21, I’m excited to see if Mir can hold up to the pressure of defending the title, especially with the Repsol Honda filling his mirrors.


Nascar-  With the three series mentioned above all in my mandatory, must-watch category, I usually don’t have any time to devote to NASCAR, especially if I want to keep my marriage.  However, with NASCAR going back to work before any other series or professional sport, suddenly I was loving the midweek evening Cup races in May.  And to add intrigue to the mix, these guys were starting the races with no practice or qualifying.  They would roll the cars off of the trailer, follow the pace car for a few laps and Boogity Boogity.  Harvick seemed to revel under these circumstances and won 9 of the 32 races.  Hamlin (6), Elliott (4) and Keselowski (4) were the other standout drivers.  Young Chase got hot in the playoffs, winning 3 of the final 5 races to claim the title and gave all at NASCAR headquarters an early Christmas gift, being a young, handsome Southern lad with a famous last name. 


So I think this is enough.  I feel fortunate that we were able to have any racing at all.  I can only imagine the work that the folks behind the scenes put forth to make these events happen and I’ll raise a frosty mug of beer as a salute to an amazing job done!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Rest up, because I think come Jan-March, you will have a whole new set of headaches on your hands.  Go Vaccine.  Go Tsunoda.  Goodbye 2020, you little bitch!


Peak Covid Fro