Monday, December 20
Racing into a whole new world
By Ron Buck

 It seems like just yesterday, doesn't it? My, how 100 years can fly by when cars are reaching speeds of 300 mph. But take a moment and try to remember the auto racing stories your father told you while sitting on his knee. He was there when the clock struck midnight a hundred years ago, on Dec. 31, 1999. He remembers the roots of today's auto racing.

Remember the stories about Winston Cup? Yes, the racing series back at the turn of the century when people still smoked cigarettes. And what about the FedEx Series? Stop laughing, your father's father used to think overnight delivery was the fastest way to ship a package. And if you really research those auto racing history books, you'll find a short-lived Indy Racing League that actually raced with 3.5-liter engines.

Jeff Gordon
Don't be surprised to see Jeff Gordon in a Formula One ride during the 21st Century.

For a moment, try to imagine what those old stock cars of the 1990's looked like. Not much to 'em, I know. But they still looked pretty cool with those wild paint schemes. And remember, before 500-mile races fit into two-hour prime time blocks, drivers actually had to sit behind the wheels of those cars for more than three hours and steer their machines around a track.

Don't forget, the Auto Racing Safety Act didn't take effect until 2047. And drivers didn't start sitting in simulators until 2052. Not to mention that actual cars were still used until 2056. Drivers actually died back in the 1990s; and you fans were sometimes at risk as well when their cars left the track.

Before the World Cup of Auto Racing Series was established in 2034, the sport wasn't even a single world-wide organization. The century actually started with four major racing series, each with their own rules and regulations. The series that started the move to a world-wide effort was NASCAR, but it wasn't until the CART FedEx Championship Series and the Indy Racing League kissed and made up in 2008 that a true allegiance began to form.

If you remember, the North American Racing Federation was formed in 2016. Now, the early days of the NARF didn't look anything like the sport's WCARS as we enter the 22nd century. But it was the beginning. And once NASCAR and its North American open-wheel brethren decided to race under the same leadership, Europe wasn't about to be left behind.

Soon, the International Automobile Federation realized it needed more of a North American presence than the highly-successful, but overshadowed, U.S. Grand Prix. And with the NARF's television ratings second only behind figure skating, why not join the boom? After all, Formula One's reigning three-time champion Jeff Gordon had been a pretty good draw in America before jumping to F1 with Pepsi's backing in 2012.

The WCARS has flourished in the 66 years since the historic debut at what used to be the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (you know it as the Nike Speedway). Who'll ever forget the inaugural 500 in 2035 when Gordon returned from Europe and drove his Nissan to a trilling victory over his son, Brooks, who had won the NARF championship the year before.

What's in store for the next 100 years? It's really had to say, but with just a few days remaining in 2099, what better time to look back over the sport of auto racing during the 21st century. Make no mistake, some of these historic events seemed truly unrealistic in 1999. But the sport has defied all odds to become the third-most popular spectator sport in the world -- behind only soccer and figure skating.

So, with that in mind. Here's where the sport has been and where it might be headed.

Feb. 14, 2000
When the 21st century started, the race every stock car driver wanted to win was the Daytona 500. Former WCARS presidents Dale Earnhardt, A.J. Foyt and Jeff Gordon all won Daytona, but this "First Daytona 500 of the Millennium" went to a driver auto racing fans knew had all the tools to follow his father into NASCAR glory -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Little E, as he was known early in the century, would go on to win eight Winston Cup titles before winning four WCARS crowns -- the last one at the age of 57. Earnhardt Jr. was able to extend his racing career much further than his father, racing until the age of 73 by mastering the controls of his "VR Car." His final win came on Sept. 12, 2049 in Monaco.

Nov. 31, 2008
Little did we know at the time, but when Juan Montoya returned from a successful tour of duty with Williams in F1 to drive a struggling Dodge program to its first Winston Cup crown since Richard Petty's championship in 1975, it would open the floodgates of other car manufacturers joining NASCAR. Soon, Nissan, Honda, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes and even Ferrari were going "stock." And, while it would take another two-and-half decades to become a full-fledged organization, the foundation of the WCARS was being formed.

Dec. 25, 2010
Time for a new TV deal. In 2002, NASCAR's 34-race schedule was worth $400 million per year. Now $2.4 billion later, NASCAR was ready to take sports viewing into a new realm -- at a price. The NASCAR Channel is programmed into every race fan's remote control and their personal computer has NASCAR Online as its home page. So, starting with the 2011 season, WebTV is the only way to watch a Winston Cup race.

Pay-per-view allows cameras in all 43 cars to show fans every lap of their favorite driver. The telemetry in front of those drivers is also readily available on either the fan's TV or computer screen. Two-way radio communication between driver and pit crews could also be tuned in instead of the announcers in the broadcast booth.

March 26, 2012
His Winston Cup résumé complete with 10 championships, Jeff Gordon needed a new challenge. Why not F1? Ferrari was the only team that could afford Gordon's services.

March 29, 2012
Import-export: Michael Schumacher, unwilling to take a backseat to Gordon, worked out a deal with Hendrick Motorsports and three days after Gordon's news conference in Imola, Italy, called one of his own in Charlotte, N.C., to announce he's taken over as the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet.

(Ironically, these two drivers would be instrumental in the advancement of the WCARS, serving on the organization's third board of governors as president and CEO from 2055-65.)

Jan. 23, 2016
Using NASCAR's soaring popularity as a springboard, the North American Racing Federation was formed. Indy-type racing immediately rises in popularity when established stock car drivers start driving open-wheel cars. Dual sponsorship is a major key as well to the NARF's success, as race track grandstands begin to fill up when Tide, Jimmy Dean sausage and State Farm corn dogs sponsor Indy-car teams.

July 4, 2026
Independence Day took on a whole new meaning when the first fully-integrated NARF race was run at the new Manhattan Speedway. No longer did NASCAR and Indy Racing need separate events. Ford, Chevy, GM and European manufactures are producing passenger cars that too closely resemble the traditional indy car. The terms "open-wheel" and "stock" have become outdated. Welcome to the new world of auto racing in the 21st century.

Dec. 1, 2034
The WCARS was formed. The organization became the strongest governing body in sports by century's end.

Feb. 12, 2035
The first WCARS race was won by Gordon. He retires, leaving the Gordon name in WCARS in good hands with Brooks.

(Ironically, the 50th 500 in 2085 would also be won by a Gordon -- Jill Gordon -- the granddaughter of auto racing's most decorated driver and to date most successful female WCARS driver of all time.)

Nov. 26, 2042
Speaking of a woman who changed the face of auto racing, it was only seven years after the WCARS was formed that it would crown its first woman driver as a champion -- Sweden's Ingrid Sjogan. The accomplishment briefly brought on talk of the WWCARS (Women's World Cup of Auto Racing Series), but despite Sjogan's popularity and the backing of the Swoosh, the series "Just Didn't Do It" for racing fans.

2046 Season
A dark year in the world of WCARS. Fans wanted speed and technology delivered plenty of it as the century reached its midway point. But advancements under the hood also pushed driver's abilities beyond their control. And with speeds reaching upwards of 280 mph, the inevitable happened -- tragedy on the track. Three separate incidents caused the death of some of the sport's biggest stars, forcing the WWCAR to reevaluate its sport. The Auto Racing Safety Act is created, eventually taking drivers out of their cars and into simulators. Reviews are mixed, to say the least.

Over the next 15 seasons, long after simulators have taken drivers out of harm's way, holograms finally replace actual cars on the track by 2056. But in 2062, the WCARS reexamines what it's sport has turned into. Attendance has fallen to an all-time low. Fans are clamoring for the "good old days of auto racing."

Jan. 20, 2063
In a stroke of genius, the WCARS appointed Gordon and Schumacher into office. Their first order of business was to restore the sport's popularity. (It had actually fallen behind the "stick and ball sports" in attendance and TV ratings.)

The pair does two things: One, the put the drivers back into the cars. Two, they put real cars back on the tracks. Within three years, the sport trailed only figure skating in television ratings.

As we witnessed over the century's final 25 years, the WCARS continued to bring new innovations. I know I can't wait until the proposed "Race Around the World" in 2125, and even I can't help but believe those long-rumored plans for a race on Mars by the 22nd century aren't so far-fetched.

But really, if there's going to be another 100 years that have changed auto racing more than the 21st century, I'd be surprised. Those fans back in 2000 don't know how lucky they were to be around to see how today's auto racing's roots were planted.

Ron Buck is the auto racing editor at