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The Grand Prix of Watkins Glen?...By Hartley Henderson

In the movie Talladega Nights, Jean (the French F1 driver played by Sasha Baron Cohen), is the greatest F1 driver in the world and comes to America to join NASCAR. While he feels that NASCAR is beneath him, he thinks the only driver that can beat him in auto racing is Ricky Bobby, played by Will Ferrell. Jean feels once he is finally beaten in a race he can retire in peace or something like that. The movie shows the contradiction between the snobbish formula 1 series and the redneck dominated NASCAR series. The fact that a top tier F1 driver would even be interested in NASCAR is almost laughed at outside of North America. To many people overseas, F1 is the predominant series in the world and a driver moving from F1 to NASCAR would be the equivalent of an NFL player at the top of his game belittling himself to play in the Canadian Football League. But enough about Ricky Williams, err I mean Ricky Bobby. On October 27th, Juan Montoya who was a top tier driver in F1 raced in his first Busch Series NASCAR race. The former Williams and BMW driver (also winner of the 2000 Indianapolis 500) made the unheard of switch. In 2007 he will drive full time for Chip Ganassi racing in Nextel Cup.

If that was the only switchover it would not be big news, but it isn't. Cristiano da Matta who raced for Toyota in a relatively unexciting campaign was expected to join a NASCAR team also, until he collided with a deer. If he gets healthy he is expected to race sometime in the Nextel Cup Series. As well, Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula 1 Champion and 1995 Indy 500 winner, announced in August to Autosport magazine that he was finished with F1 and was considering a ride in NASCAR. His manager, Craig Pollock, stated that he was seeking the change himself. And while Villeneuve wouldn't admit it or deny it, he did state he would only race in Nextel Cup. That makes two prime F1 drivers who would be riding in Nextel Cup in 2007 and one former F1 driver who could ride in NASCAR in 2007 if he gets healthy.

But hold the phone, the best is yet to come. recently reported that Michael Schumacher is about to sign a deal for $10 million to drive in the two NASCAR road courses at Watkins Glen, New York and Sonoma, California in 2007. The German sensation recently announced his retirement from Formula 1 racing, and has always had a desire to challenge Jeff Gordon on a road course. The two did race in an exhibition type touring race in France 3 years ago, but Schumacher wants to beat Gordon on his own turf and this could be his chance. Right now Jeff Gordon is the best road course racer in NASCAR, (OK, maybe Tony Stewart is better but that doesn't matter for the sake of this article). So while the notion of the greatest F1 driver belittling himself to race in NASCAR may have seemed absurd at one time, in 2007 it may become a reality.

But the question has to be asked: why is there all of a sudden such an interest by drivers of multi million dollar F1 race cars to don their equipment and race in souped up Chevrolet Monte Carlos, Dodge Chargers and Ford Fusions? Perhaps the answer is that NASCAR is the most famous motor racing series in the world today. While debacles continue to occur in F1, NASCAR goes merrily along without the distractions, and hundreds of thousands of people sell out racetracks each week. The idea of watching cars go around in circles 300 to 500 times may not be exciting to all, but it is a big American pastime and is the fastest growing spectator sport today. And we all know that when you get an athlete who is great at anything, his ego tends to take over and he finds it necessary to prove to the world that he is the best in his respective sport. In Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby states: "I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence." So with the ego Michael Schumacher likely has, it's not surprising that he wants to prove that he is a great car racer and can win in any series, including NASCAR.

If all the deals go through, 2007 should be a very exciting year with the diversity of the Nextel Cup field. In fact, even the cars are not all American next year, as Toyota is introducing a car in the Nextel Cup series. Let's hope, however, that if Jeff Gordon beats Michael Schumacher, he doesn't give him a long kiss him on the lips as Will Ferrell did to Sasha Cohen at the end of Talladega Nights.

Hartley Henderson

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