| ||Monday, December 20|
|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.|
So, with that in mind. Here's where the sport has been and where it might be headed.
Feb. 14, 2000
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 World.com 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. 2047-2062
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 ESPN.com