Need to fill your 2011 calendar with important dates? We’re here to help. Check out the 10 must-watch motorsports races in the coming 12 months.
Prelude to the Dream – June 8
A bunch of NASCAR stars along with a few from the NHRA and IRL get together to play in the dirt for a few hours – Sounds like fun, no? Tony Stewart’s annual dirt late-model charity race might not be a sanctioned event in a major racing series, but that’s part of the appeal. Drivers forget about “points racing” and go all out for the win. Along with Stewart, such big names as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and many others have put this on their radar every year.
NHRA 4-Wide Nationals – April 14-17
Gimmicky, sure – but there’s no spectacle quite like it in all of motorsports. The brainchild of promoter Bruton Smith, the event is the only one on the NHRA calendar to feature four competitors racing heads-up at the same time. Although the race drummed up a lot of interest in its debut last season, it also created plenty of controversy as drivers were vehement in wanting to discontinue the format. The NHRA didn’t cave, and we’ll get to experience it again in April.
Dakar Rally – Jan. 1-16
The Dakar Rally is a test of man and spirit, a 13-stage affair that chews up favorites and frontrunners on a daily basis. The course now runs through Argentina and Chile and features competitors in a variety of vehicles. The www.dakar.com site keeps international fans updated on developments, with blog-style entries chronicling the continuous crashes and setbacks competitors suffer throughout this challenging event. It’s one of the toughest races in all of motorsports and one in which the shifting terrain and weather conditions change the race not only year to year but day to day.
German Grand Prix – July 24 on SPEED
Since Germany no longer hosts two Formula One races, the two historic venues in the country – Nurburgring and Hockenheim – have been relegated to trading race dates since 2007. Nurburgring gets the honor in 2011. Although it is no longer a 14-mile behemoth (that once featured more 150 corners), Nurburgring still provides a strong challenge, particularly if it rains (as it often does). With few overtaking options, this race rewards risk takers. The event also marks a return home for the sport’s greatest driver, Michael Schumacher.
Talladega Superspeedway– April 17 on FOX
Talladega offers what every race fan yearns for – big, fast packs of race cars, high drama and plenty of passing. Last year’s version of the spring race featured a record number of lead changes (88), one of the closest finishes in history (.011 seconds) and plenty of excitement as crashes determined the outcome. Expect this year’s race to deliver just as much action – if not more.
Le Mans – June 11-12
It’s the oldest endurance race, dating to 1923. It has been glorified in movies – and Paul Newman actually raced there. The race carries a mystique all its own. It’s an event both admired and coveted by those in the racing community, one that truly challenges the competitors and equipment trying to best the course.
Rolex 24 at Daytona – Jan. 29-30 on SPEED
The premier event of the Grand-Am Sports Car Series marks the start of the motorsports calendar in the U.S., and it draws a slew of superstars from all forms of racing, including NASCAR and IndyCar. But by far the biggest start of the endurance event is the track itself, which combines the traditional oval with a road course that becomes tougher and tougher to navigate as time flies. Only the best last 24 hours, so imagine the skill level of the actual race winners.
Indianapolis 500 – May 29
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Now it’s the 100th anniversary of the IndyCar Series premier event, adding even more spectacle and excitement to the annual event. Team owners Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske have owned this event in recent years, with Dario Franchitti’s 2010 victory serving as not only a stepping-stone to the title but also helping Ganassi to a rare triple in winning NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 for three of American motorsports top victories.
Brazilian Grand Prix – Nov. 27 on SPEED
Since the start of the millennium, five Formula One championships have come down to the final race of the year. Perhaps the most memorable was in 2008 at Brazil, where would-be champion Felipe Massa won the race, but a pass for fifth place by Lewis Hamilton on the last corner of the last lap gave him enough points to clinch the trophy. With F1 returning the finale to Brazil, expect just as many dramatics – as long as rivals stay close going into the final event.
Daytona 500 – Feb. 20 on FOX
The race’s moniker, the Great American Race, says it all. NASCAR’s crown-jewel event has created some of the most memorable moments in the sport’s history – from amazing last-lap finishes to multicar crashes that leave fans in awe. With a brand new surface put in place during the offseason, this year’s version is even more unpredictable – but sure to create more unforgettable moments.