It’s that time of the year again – time to figure who I’m going to vote for in Racer Magazine’s Racers of the Year poll. As usual, I won’t even touch Drag Racer of the Year because I don’t watch enough drag racing to form a valid opinion.
Oval Racer of the Year
Racer Magazine suggestions: Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Dario Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, and Dan Wheldon. I’ve thought a lot about this one and have decided to cast my vote for none of the above. Carl Edwards did a great job in 2011, but at the end of the season, lost the championship to Tony Stewart. Stewart put together a great end of season, but really had to make up for a subpar beginning of the season. Dario Franchitti won the IndyCar championship and was at the head of the IndyCar class on ovals, but still didn’t get my vote. Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, and Dan Wheldon performed well at single races but didn’t show the season long success that would justify an “of the Year” award. After much thought, my Oval of the Year vote goes to Jason Meyers from the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series. Meyers won his second consecutive WOO title, beating the likes of Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser with an impressive 9 wins, 41 top 5s, and 56 top 10s. That is a very impressive showing in a very competitive and overlooked series.
Road Racer of the Year
Racer Magazine suggestions: Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Will Power. Racer Magazine’s list is F1 heavy and I am surprised that they included Hamilton and Alonso; frankly they just didn’t have season that I would think justifies Road Racer of the Year. Other road racers that deserve mention in this discussion would be Joey Hand, Scott Pruett, Anthony Davidson, and Ricky Taylor. That said, however, Road Racer of the Year for 2011 is an easy decision to make: Sebastian Vettel. He didn’t just win the championship, he destroyed the competition (although there were a few errors and chinks in the armor through the season). It was an incredible and undeniably magnificent performance.
Rookie of the Year
Racer Magazine suggestions: James Hinchcliffe, J.R. Hildebrand, Trevor Bayne, Sergio Perez, Paul di Resta, and Pastor Maldonado. This is another one that I’ve put some thought into. Trevor Bayne I immediately shuffled out – he won the Daytona 500 but the rest of his season was partial Cup and illness kept him out of Nationwide full time. Pastor Maldonado crashed too much for me seriously consider him. As far as IndyCar rookies go, I’d rate Hinchcliffe over Hildebrand, especially considering Hinchcliffe didn’t have a ride to start the season and still won IndyCar rookie of the year. I was very impressed with Paul di Resta’s performance and rated him over Perez in F1. Given that di Resta was very competitive with his more experienced teammate and finished ahead of him on more than one occasion my vote has to go to di Resta. It was really a split decision between di Resta and Hinchcliffe but the fact that di Resta bested his senior teammate more often than Hinchcliffe did pushed my decision to him.
Racer of the Year
Just as in Road Racer of the Year, this was not a difficult decision. On the basis of performance you just can’t overlook Sebastian Vettel this year. He dominated F1, no one else was close in the driver’s championship. The counter argument would be that he had the best car and that is undeniably true – but that car had to be driven. The gap between Vettel and his teammate Webber can’t just be put down just to the fact that the car was designed more for Vettel or that Vettel’s car was better prepared. Vettel’s season was simply spectacular.
I’m sure this will be unpopular amongst my IndyCar friends, but I just can’t support, as many do, the calls for Dan Wheldon to win various Driver or Racer of the Year awards. I am saddened by his death and respected him as a racer but I just don’t think his season qualified him to win “of the Year” awards. If you look at the awards as a popularity contest, you can argue that he deserves it. On the other hand if you look at the awards, as I do, as based on performance then it is very hard to argue. Personally, I consider an entire season’s work when making my decision on Racer of the Year awards. Wheldon only ran a partial schedule of three races in 2011, so I just can’t put him in the same category as those I mentioned above. Yes, he won the Indianapolis 500 but that is still just one race amongst a full season and he didn’t have a very good showing at Kentucky. I don’t have a problem with honoring Dan Wheldon but I don’t think it’s right to honor him with awards that are more deserved by other racers.