Summer formally arrives this week and we are literally in the heat of the racing season. Both the Le Mans 24 Hours and the United States GP at Indianapolis took place this past weekend and, only a few hours north of Indianapolis, at the Michigan Speedway, NASCAR ran another of its many races at the same time the F1 cars were racing at Indy.

And, in my home state of New Hampshire, last week was 'Bike Week', with thousands of Harley and other two-wheeled aficionados descending on the Granite State and, in particular, the towns of Laconia and Weirs Beach near Lake Winnipesaukee. Some of the 'bikers even made it out to New Hampshire Int'l Speedway to watch Sunday's 84th Loudon Classic - America's oldest motorcycle race - on the Speedway's road circuit.

Of course, the big news last week was Dale Earnhardt Jr's announcement that he's joining Rick Hendrick's team next year, signing a five-year contract with Hendrick. Dale Jr's move to Hendrick's operation consolidates the team as NASCAR's most powerful in equipment, technology, drivers and commercial and marketing strength. With Jimmie Johnson winning last year's championship and Jeff Gordon dominating the first half of this year's Nextel Cup series, it's clear that Hendrick Motorsports is NASCAR's top team and that Gordon and Johnson are a pair of fast, smart drivers who are able to dial-in their cars at each track a good deal better than most of their rivals.

Indeed, next year, Earnhardt no longer will have any excuses about not having the equipment to win races and challenge for the championship. Without doubt 'Junior' is NASCAR's most popular driver and biggest draw. By all accounts, he's a good guy and NASCAR could not have invented - or cloned - a better marketing tool for modern stock car racing. But no other superstar in the sport's long history has made it to 32 years of age with such a meagre list of accomplishments as Dale Jr. With Hendrick over the next five years, we'll find out what he's really made of as a driver and how he stacks up against Gordon and Johnson.

Certainly, there are no doubts about the driving ability of Lewis Hamilton. At Indianapolis, the young Englishman won his second grand prix in a row, withstanding constant pressure from his team-mate, and world champion, Fernando Alonso and confirming that he is one of the finest racing talents to come along in many years. To qualify on the pole and win back-to-back races at tracks he'd never seen is a sign that Hamilton is going to be a hard man to beat this year and possibly for many years to come.

He is the first black driver to race and win in Formula 1, and it's inevitable that comparisons now will be made between him and Tiger Woods. Like Woods, the 22-year old Hamilton is the product of a mixed-race marriage and it's beginning to look as if his prodigious driving ability may be the equal of Woods' remarkable skills as a golfer.

"It's fantastic," Hamilton said after winning at Indianapolis, "I'm extremely pleased and proud for the team. I would have never thought in a million years that I'd be here today sitting with these drivers here and winning both races in North America. So, a great leap in my career, in my life, and I'm extremely proud and thankful to my family and to God and to the team."

Hamilton is an amiable, pleasant young man as well as a fierce competitor and, at this stage of the season, with ten more F1 races to go, it looks as if he and Alonso are going to battle among themselves for this year's world championship. Indianapolis was the third one-two sweep of the year for McLaren-Mercedes and the team already has amassed 106 points, 35 more than Ferrari. So too are Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen third and fourth in drivers' points and really, nobody else is in the hunt.

To read the rest of this Gordon Kirby column and other 'The Way It Is' columns go to



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