By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. I've awarded the Racer of the Year periodically over the 14-year run of this publication. To some out there the pick should always be obvious, at least obvious as to whatever form of racing they're interested in. But to me it's not always obvious and sometimes, like last year, when Roger Penske was my choice, it's not even a current driver, although to be sure Roger was a tremendous talent behind the wheel back in his day.
The standout performances this year are obvious, frankly. There is Jimmie Johnson, who claimed an incredible sixth championship in NASCAR's highest category, which is a noteworthy achievement in this day of NASCAR's dreaded "managed" competition, and as I said last week, he is the best - bar none - to have ever wheeled a stock car. (Note: You can read previous columns by scrolling down to the bottom and clicking on "Next 1 Entries" - WG.) Johnson certainly deserves proper consideration for our Racer of the Year, there's no doubt.
Then there's Marc Marquez, who, at the age of 20 years and 266 days, became the youngest rider of all time to win the world title in MotoGP. Riding his factory Honda, Marquez took the record from Freddie Spencer, who was 21 years and 258 days of age when he won the 500 title in 1983 (also on a Honda). Not only that, Marquez is just the fourth rider in the 65-year history of Motorcycle Grand Prix racing to win world titles in three different categories. The others? A stellar list comprised of Mike Hailwood, Phil Read and Valentino Rossi. Besides putting together an incredible finishing record in 2013 of 16 podium finishes - the greatest number of podium finishes ever by a rookie in motorcycle racing's top class - Marquez qualified on the pole position nine times in 2013, the most poles by a rookie, ever. That Marquez performed magnificently in what a lot of people consider to be the most spectacular form of motorsport in the world is certainly noteworthy, and in fact, his achievement and the consistency with which he performed was simply incredible.
Then, of course, there is Sebastian Vettel, whose talent behind the wheel in what's considered to be the pinnacle of auto racing is simply undeniable. Still just 26 years old, he is now a four-time World Champion. That he has now won four championships in a row, something only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher achieved, and that he won nine races consecutively this season on the way to 13 total victories is simply mind-boggling. Yes, I've heard all the whining as in, it's the car, if he didn't have Adrian Newey he wouldn't be all that special and all the other noise, but it's just so much blah-blah-blah at this point. I'll leave you with this: Sebastian Vettel has entered 120 Grand Prix races and won 39 of them. He has also sat on the pole 45 times. This just in: The Kid is pretty good.
And finally there's Scott Dixon. He won his third INDYCAR Championship this season winning four races along the way, which makes it 33 career wins in America's premier open-wheel racing series for the 33-year-old driver from New Zealand. Dixon has also recorded 21 poles and one Indianapolis 500 win during his outstanding career.
I refer to Scott as "The Racer's Racer" because he is simply an incredible talent who brings it race-in and race-out in one of the toughest forms of motorsport imaginable. Yes, we can all carp about the way Indy cars look these days and that the spec nature of the series has diluted its impact and resonance with racing fans, but there's no denying that this type of racing puts a premium on overall skill, requires performance on a diversity of tracks, and features a tremendous level of competition at the front edge of the grid, where Dixon finds himself competing on a consistent basis. Ask people in the INDYCAR paddock who know, and Scott Dixon will always be right at the top of the list of the drivers competing today.
Dixon is truly gifted behind the wheel, a gritty and gutty driver who can dominate from the front or claw his way through adversity from the back. He is the rare talent who can emerge victorious simply by the sheer force of his will to win.
Which is why Scott Dixon is the Autoextremist Racer of the Year.
Riverside, California, November 26, 1967. F1 World Champion John Surtees at speed in the No. 24 John Mecom-entered Bowes Seal Fast Lola-Ford in the Rex Mays 300 USAC Champ Car Series race at Riverside International Raceway. Surtees qualified fourth but retired with magneto issues early on in the race. It would be his only start ever in an Indianapolis-type race car. Dan Gurney (No. 48 All American Racers/Olsonite Eagle Weslake-Ford) qualified on the pole and won that day. Bobby Unser (No. 2 Bob Wilke/Rislone Eagle-Ford) finished second and Mario Andretti (No. 1 Al Dean/Dean Van Lines Brawner Hawk-Ford) came in third. Watch a video of the beginning of the race here, and see more Dave Friedman images here.