The caution flag is out

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

We already are two weeks into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, 30 days away from the Formula One season start in Australia and 38 days to the opening of the IndyCar series at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It's time to shake off the cobwebs.

The 2009 racing season is proving to be a brave, new -- and not necessarily better -- world for motorsports.

The world-wide economic meltdown has reconfigured the racing landscape to such an extent that you really can't tell the players without a program this season.

Iconic NASCAR teams such as Petty Enterprises, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Wood Brothers Racing have either been swallowed up in a orgy of mergers or starved to near death from lack of funding.

Petty now is controlled by Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett Jr. and re-branded Richard Petty Motorsports, but the King only is a figurehead and there wasn't a Petty in the Daytona 500 for the first time in almost half a century.

At DEI, Chip Ganassi, who made his bones in open-wheel racing, now is in charge both on and off the track for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team.

The Wood Brothers team, once the home of such legends as the Alabama gang of Donnie, Bobby and Davey Allison is now operating race-to-race this season.

In IndyCar, Rahal Letterman Racing -- once a jewel in the series -- has no plans to field a car in St. Petersburg as of yesterday and is concentrating its efforts in the American Le Mans Series.

Across the pond in F-1 land, Bernie Ecclestone finally may be seeing first hand that the bloom definitely is off the rose in the most prestigious and pretentious racing series in the world.

Honda already announced during the winter it was disbanding its team and just this week rebuffed an offer from Ecclestone to sell the assets so a new team could emerge from its ashes.

Also hinting at quitting the billionaire's club are Renault and Toyota.

As for the announcement this week that an American outfit -- USF1 -- out of Charlotte, N.C., will field a team in 2010, read on.

AN AMERICAN DREAM

The excitement was less than palpable at the live televised unveiling of the USF1 outfit on Tuesday. Team principals Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor may have had their heart in the right place, but their thought process was missing in action.

In an era when Toyota and Ferrari spend upwards of $500 million US each annually to put two cars on the grid, how does this pair plan to do it with a reported budget of about $65 million?

Not to mention that their first pick as a driver, Danica Patrick, hasn't even had a phone call from anyone yet and their second pick, Scott Speed, has turned them down cold.

But, hey, they still have 11 months to design and build a half dozen cars, find someone to lease them motors and, oh yes, figure out how to make this all work some 8,000 kilometres from the nearest available F-1 test track.

A GRAVE DISSERVICE

That sound you just heard was Paul Newman rolling over in his grave.

Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, the IndyCar team that Newman nurtured over the final decades of his life, let it be known this week that it will give Venezuelan driver Milka Duno the opportunity to test one of its race cars at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Duno has been widely criticised for her lack of skill, but is courted for the millions in Venezuelan oil money she can bring to the race shop.

Although some in the motorsports business -- such as my friend Michele-Marie Beer -- swear the pulchritudinous Duno is both capable and smart, she has yet to convince her peers, who fear her presence on a track where cars are going upwards of 200 m.p.h.

IT'S THE ECONOMY

Another sign that the economic apocalypse is upon us came in an news item yesterday in The Sporting News.

Writer Michael Smith reported that DuPont -- the only primary sponsor four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon has had on his No. 24 Chevrolet continually since 1993 -- will cut its racing budget "significantly," starting immediately.

The first the thing to go is 15,000 of the 17,000 VIP race packages -- tickets, hotels and entertainment -- it gives out each season. No word, however, on the future of DuPont's $20-million annual investment in Gordon, a deal that runs out in 2010.


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