Race fans, get your motors running –

“Winter’s over, and we’re back to racing, fans!”

How many times – make that years, or maybe even decades – have you heard that phrase (or derivatives thereof)?

To many racing fans, particularly those who’ve been following motorsports for 30, 40, 50 or more years, the racing season typically begins in mid-to-late February and with NASCAR’s Daytona 500.

Of course, that’s just not been the case for quite a few years now. Yet, many of those same racing fans STILL think the overall motorsports season begins with Daytona. They ignore a lot of other great, quality racing that comes before the 500 – and that’s a mistake for them to do so.

ARD 2

Before any of the 40 Cup cars take the green flag to start the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20 (or the Truck Series and Xfinity Series season opener preludes to the 500 on Feb. 18 and 19, respectively), we will already have a number of racing events under our belts by then.

Here we are, January 20th as I write this, and we’ve already completed the first major race of the year, the 44th edition of the world-renowned Dakar Rally, which began on New Year’s Day and ended last weekend in its new venue, Saudi Arabia.

This weekend, we’ll have IMSA’s Roar Before the 24, the prelude tune-up to next weekend’s more well-known Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona International Speedway.

Then, on February 6th, NASCAR will regale its fans with one of the most unique races that the sport has seen in decades, namely, stadium racing. And what better site for such a display than the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which will kick off its 99th year of hosting sports events with NASCAR’s Bud Light Clash.

NASCAR is betting big on the Clash, having spent a reported $1 million-plus to build a quarter-mile track around the Coliseum’s infield. With thousands of folks heading to Los Angeles a week or more early to attend Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in the suburb of Inglewood, and to also potentially leave winter behind to enjoy some sun, warm temperatures and, yes, maybe some racing, the Clash will draw even more attention and create more buzz for winter-weary sports fans.

It’s my hope that NASCAR fills every one of the 75,000-plus seats in the cavernous Coliseum.

But wait, there’s more if you’re an overall race fan who likes racing across a number of different series.

On Super Bowl weekend – well, to be precise, the Thursday, Friday and Saturday preceding the NFL’s biggest game every year – the NHRA (after a year hiatus when it shifted things last-minute to West Palm Beach, Fla. due to COVID restrictions at the time in Arizona) returns to its traditional home at Wildhorse Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix for an event many racers look forward to, namely NHRA “spring training.”

It’s where many of the best in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock will try to knock off off-season rust and prepare for the following week when the annual season-opening NHRA Winternationals take place in Pomona, California.

That the final eliminations of the Winternationals will once again be held on the same day as the Daytona 500 doesn’t matter to fans of fast – like 330-plus mph fast down the 1,000-foot dragstrip. Drag racing fans want to see stars like John Force, Steve Torrence, Ron Capps, Erica Enders and so many more kick off a championship run in Pomona.

Many of those same fans also hope the “Winters” – as it’s affectionally nicknamed – will kick off the first full season of racing normalcy in the NHRA after two years of a multitude of COVID-19 restrictions, rescheduled and canceled races, capacity and social distancing limitations, and a general wondering whether drag racing in particular and the world of motorsports in general will ever get back to the way “it used to be.”

Frankly, it was just a few weeks ago that rumors started flying that NHRA might once again postpone the Winters due to the COVID flareup of late. But California would be hard-pressed to force the cancelation or even postponement of the Winternationals, and potentially the Clash two weeks earlier, yet still hold the Super Bowl in-between. That left state and local officials no choice but to keep things status quo and hope for the best .. as we all hope for, as well

With the overall racing season having already started off successfully in Saudi Arabia with the Dakar Rally, and then moves on this week and next with the Roar Before the 24 and then the Rolex 24 Hours, and then the Clash, NHRA spring training and the Winternationals, and then the Daytona 500, followed a week later by the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, let’s keep the momentum going because I believe we all hope 2022 could be one of the best overall racing seasons we’ve seen in a long, long time.

Race fans, teams and organizations, drivers, crew chiefs, pit crew members, media members and anyone else whose heart still jumps when they hear “Gentlemen and Ladies, start your engines,” deserve it. We’ve suffered long enough. Now it’s time to celebrate!

Follow Auto Racing Digest (ARD) on Twitter @AutoRaceDigest and also follow ARD editor Jerry Bonkowski on his own Twitter account @JerryBonkowski

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