Ebbs and Flows

LOUISVILLE, December 21, 2004 – The lights are dimmer this time of year as nature on the North American continent decrees shorter days and soft descents to darkness.

In the realm of motorsports, it seems that doors are opening and closing with even more velocity. New teams coming, older ones retreating – or at least retrenching – and, once again there’s changing of the guard.

One thing appears constant, though, and that would be the pervasive nature of the sport to reinvent itself on a cyclical basis. And so we bid adieu to some and welcome others to the fold.

And we look to the successful constants in this business and wonder how, why some manage to keep it all together.

After a difficult two years working with Toyota, the home country arm of Pioneer Electronics and their designated driver Tora Takagi, it looks like Morris Nunn will finally allow himself the golfing retirement he’s merited for such a long time.

Nunn rightfully declined the services of Takagi for a third season after a semi-successful first run and moribund – call it terrible – second year in partnership.

It wasn’t enough the team floated between Panoz G Force and Dallara chassis; there was never sufficient synergy to compel Takagi to do the job. Toyota’s lack of driveability with the IRL’s decreed 3-liter power mill didn’t help much either.

And so a reluctant Nunn late last week asked his workers to find new jobs because he wasn’t about to put together a mid-pack, shoestring effort in 2005. Morris might still pull a rabbit out of his cap but it doesn’t look promising at this point.

Single-car teams in the Indy Racing League, Champ Car World Series and even Nextel Cup competition are waning like the light on a December night leading up to Christmas.

In the IndyCar Series this winter there has been no news from 2004’s single car teams: Tom Kelley, A.J. Foyt Jr., U.E. “Pat” Patrick, Dreyer & Reinbold, Access Motorsports haven’t made a peep about their future plans.

Now Rahal Letterman Racing has added driver Danica Patrick to a strong pairing of Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira, hoping for the same synergy (that word again) wrought by Andretti Green Racing’s four-driver squad of champion Tony Kanaan, runner-up Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta.

At the same time, three-time 2004 winner Adrian Fernandez has to renounce his driving duties with the departure of longtime backers Tecate and Telmex. Fernandez won’t partner Kosuke Matsuura in 2005; rather Scott Sharp will be the sophomore’s new teammate.

Adrian will be making “a huge transition” from driver/owner to owner’s duties, said partner Tom Anderson. “You don’t pull on the rope the same way,” when you’re an owner.

As he began Super Aguri Fernandez’ tentative steps in the IRL as a single car team with rookie Roger Yasukawa in 2003, Anderson knows the difficulties of the genre.

Adrian Fernandez won’t be doing a one-off at the Speedway in 2005 for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mille Race Anderson thinks. Maybe a single effort at the inaugural Mexico City NASCAR Busch Series race?

Many people bitched that this was a poor year for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Perhaps in the Indy Racing League this group had a letdown after coming in for a first full 2-car season in 2003 and wiping ’em clean with a championship. Then came the post-season death of Tony Renna in a testing accident that defined the 2004 campaign.

But the Chipster’s Indianapolis operation brought back a Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series title this year for a second championship in two seasons in two diverse disciplines. His Mooresville NC NASCAR operation hasn’t looked half bad either.

Ganassi and his squad epitomize a group that lives to race, lives to win races. Each year they produce a mission statement for the coming season and pretty much abide by it. Core values for 2004 were performance, innovation and partnership.

Mike Hull, Ganassi’s team managing director extraordinaire who gave me last season’s business-card-sized statement believes in the doctrine and uses it.

You can hear it in his conversation the day before he heads for a holiday family get-together. Quoting Roger Penske: “Your best resource is people” who want to do their jobs at the highest level, Hull can build to a crescendo of good will and motivation.

“We’ve won six championships in nine years,” Mike reminds anyone who cares to listen. The most recent two titles Ganassi’s squad won against great odds in 2003 as Scott Dixon emerged on top in a final race five-driver IndyCar Series shootout; Scott Pruett and Max Papis took their Lexus to the checkers against General Motors’ strong, entrenched Grand Am squads this year.

There’s not much to argue with here but it’s never enough for folks like Ganassi, a man who wants to win today, no matter what day it is or what the competition. Made of the same genetics as a Roger Penske, Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, people like Chip Ganassi live to race and win. Today.

Therein may lie the problem with those who aren’t going to be around to make the call at Homestead for the League’s first open test next month or in Long Beach when the Champ Car World Series reconvenes in April. Or even at Daytona in February when NASCAR reopens shop.

That will and desire to race and win today is what makes great teams what they are and what leads those who have taken dips in the road to make proper repairs and continue.

Against all odds sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t. But at least they try and try hard each time they come to the track.

At this time of year as deals are placed in action or tabled, it is a wise thing to look to people like Hull, Anderson, Penske, Ganassi, the indefatigable Rick Hendrick, Roush, Carl Haas, Carl Russo and others who keep plugging away toward the prize.

They are truly the engines that power motorsports.

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