We’re just one month into the season and, for me, the racer of the year award is already a dead solid lock.
No, not Jimmie Johnson, who’s going for an unprecedented sixth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Certainly, he’s a top candidate.
But for me the competition is over. One driver has already demonstrated more heart, courage, strength, resolve and discipline than other drivers will display in an entire career. An impressive performance, one that every real race fan should get up off their seat and acknowledge. This is the heart of a racer.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you America's uncontested, unchallenged, unquestionable racer of the year for 2011 – Jennifer Jo Cobb
That’s right. She didn’t win Daytona. She didn’t win at Indy. She didn’t win at Texas. She didn’t win at Charlotte. She hasn’t won any races this year. She hasn’t even come close. But the choice is undeniable. Jennifer Jo Cobb – racing’s newest J.J. – has already locked up the award. And she did it by refusing to get in the car.
That’s right. She wins by not racing. Or, to be more accurate, for not NOT racing.
Cobb, an independent racer who has spent her career piecing together rides and sponsorships from week-to-week and season-to-season, refused to join the rusty old barnacles known as “Start & Parkers” that are now found in NASCAR’s top-three divisions. And for standing up and saying she was only going to race if she could really race ... well, she’s really got some coconuts. And you need a set to be a race car driver.
Teams walked away with $423,342 at Bristol last weekend after their start & park efforts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In those two races, 10 drivers parked their cars quickly with “vibration” or “brake” problems. For an average of approximately seven-and-a-half minutes of work, each driver took home an average of $42,000. Not a bad gig if you can get it. What does it say about a sport where teams enter a “competition” but doesn’t hide their intent not to “compete” and choose to work a loop-hole and pocket some easy money Phoning it in? Certainly it cheapens the experience for everyone involved.
Did you see the crowd at Bristol? As the economy continues to creep along anemically, race tracks struggle. Tracks like Memphis, Gateway and Pike’s Peak closed over the last several years. Unlike NFL and Major League Baseball stadiums or NBA and NHL arenas, the speedways are not built with taxpayer money. The start & park disease is a huge financial hit for the speedways to pay for teams that don’t add to the event and don’t sell tickets.
As for Cobb, she has benefitted for standing up for herself. She will drive for a different team this weekend --Rick Ware Racing -- in the NASCAR Nationwide event at Auto Club Speedway. Hopefully she will ride the crest of attention diverted her way by making the right choice and turn this into the big break her career needs.
But if nothing else, I bet she’s sleeping well this week. You can do that with a clear conscience and the knowledge that the other J.J. could win every NASCAR Sprint Cup race remaining this year en route to a sixth straight title and I would still consider Cobb the racer of the year.
Clearly she has a racer’s heart.