2010-12-30 / Sports

Robby Gordon To Race In Dakar Rally

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Robby Gordon Robby Gordon Robby Gordon turns up his winter racing schedule in preparation for the Dakar Rally

Gordon will be participating in his seventh Dakar Rally and piloting the No. 303 Speed Energy/Toyo Tires Hummer. Gordon will depend on his navigator, Kellon Walsh, to maneuver through the ever-changing terrain of the cross-country race

2011 marks the 33rd running of the international test of endurance and determination known as the Dakar Rally, which for the third consecutive year will take place in the South American countries of Argentina and Chile after security threats in Mauritania in 2008 caused the ASO, the race organizers, to move the race from Africa.

With more than 5,903 miles to be completed from January 1 to 16, 2011, the Dakar Rally is easily the “world’s most grueling race.”

Based on 14 stages, known as “specials,” the winner of the rally is the team with the shortest elapsed time over the 15-day event. The terrain that competitors traverse is extremely difficult. Most of the competitive specials are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks among other elements.

To be successful at the Dakar Rally, a team must possess three things: stateof the-art equipment, firstrate driving and navigational skills, and true determination and perseverance. The slightest mistake by man or equipment can cost a team valuable seconds in their effort to achieve the ultimate objective: winning the Dakar Rally.

“Sports Illustrated” named Jimmie Johnson’s fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship as their top racing story of 2010.

The careers of most of the Sprint Cup drivers younger than 35 will eventually be considered in context of the Jimmie Johnson era. Like baseball’s Dead Ball Era, Johnson’s dominance will influence the consideration of every achievement within it. And there’s no telling when this epic NASCAR epoch will end. Not in 2010. Johnson withstood a challenge from Denny Hamlin, overtaking him for the title in the final race of the season in what might be both Johnson’s and crew chief Chad Knaus’ most masterful effort.

For Johnson fans it was good news, but others in NASCAR didn’t see the previous season as all that glamorous. NASCAR battled declining TV ratings and attendance.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway President Jerry Gappens says NASCAR has sustained a 67 percent drop in interest from the coveted 18- to 34-year-old demo- graphic and is “at the tail end of losing a whole generation.” Television ratings have cratered, and attendance continued to flag despite a compelling season and the most interesting Chase for the Championship ever.

NASCAR’s woes involve more than the financial plight of its fans. After years of wild growth, the sport faces great self-evaluation as it attempts to prevent a recession out of the major leagues.

For the past several years, NASCAR has been trying to promote a friendly oriented approach. They encourage drivers like Johnson and Jeff Gordon to bring their babies to the track, so they can be seen by viewers on television. Another angle NASCAR has taken is to introduce Hollywood celebrities during racing events, in hopes of creating more “glitz.”

One of the latest drivers to try his hand in Hollywood is Carl Edwards

Edwards has been cast in HBO’s forthcoming Civil War mini-series, “To Appomattox,” as General John B. Gordon, a Confederate general selected by Robert E. Lee to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia. The real Gordon became one of the two authors of “Honor Answering Honor” and, by this gesture, returned the private Southern soldier to the Union with respect and dignity.

The series centers around the final battle of the Civil War and stars Michael C. Hall (Dexter) as General Ulysses S. Grant, William Petersen (CSI) as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Paul Giamatti (John Adams) as James “Pete” Longstreet and Bill Paxton (Big Love) as Stonewall Jackson. The series is in discussions with additional NASCAR drivers to play other roles.

There was much hype about Danica Patrick’s 13- race Nationwide Series excursion into NASCAR this past season. It was documented with opinion-page scrutiny and reality-show drama. Crowds swarmed her, especially early in the season at Daytona; other drivers humored her, then stopped abruptly late in the season, leading the 28-year-old Indy- Car star to ask if she had a target on her person or race car.

Ultimately, the statistical analysis was mundane: an average finish of 28th with three DNFs. Her final race of the season, at Homestead- Miami Speedway, was her best, starting fifth, finishing 19th. She’ll do it all again in 2011, and the drama this time around will be the fact that she’s racing in a contract year with both her IndyCar team and JR Motorsports.

Unless her performance improves, she is not likely to garner as much attention as she did this past season. The new has worn off.

There are various theories about the causes for NASCAR’s decline, and one of them involves Patrick’s car-owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

He needs to win some races. He leads the sport in fans, T-shirt sales and commercials, but he rarely leads a race. The move to Hendrick Motorsports didn’t produce the expected success, but if he could get one or two checkered flags, 2011 could be a different story.

Racing trivia question: Which Cup team will Ryan Newman drive for in 2011?

Last week’s question: How many Cup championships does Bobby Labonte have? Answer. His single Sprint Cup championship came in 2000.

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