The good, the bad, and the ugly of the 2014 Indianapolis 500: Part I – the good
The new month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is behind us, and as the sunburn, hangovers, tenderloins, and poor choices recede into our memories, it is best that we all reflect on the events before they fade away completely. So as not to break any new ground with creative thought, I would like to look at recent events through the conceit of the Clint Eastwood movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This three part series will look at one aspect each day. Today, we look at the good.
1. Ryan Hunter-Reay is absolutely going to be a good Indy 500 champion. I have always been rather lukewarm towards RHR. He seems to say the right things and avoids controversy. Fair enough. His two passes of Helio Castroneves for the lead in the closing laps of the 500 were gutsy and aggressive and belied his rather vanilla persona. When Castroneves throws his samba blocking moves on, he’s more than tough to get around. Hunter-Reay’s quotes in Victory Lane showed an emotion previously kept hidden and that, along with his refreshing honesty, resonated with me. He truly gets the 500.
2. Hunter-Reay said in his post race interview that he was “a happy American boy.” Although it may seem jingoistic, an American winning the 500 is important to a series that currently runs all but one race on American soil. The lifeblood of the Verizon IndyCar Series is the red, white, and blue flag waving fans that were in abundance on Memorial Day in Indianapolis. We can only hope that the series is able to capitalize on this American winner of the 500 more than they did the same winner of the series in 2012. Wait, did I snarkily offer a “bad” in here? Sorry. I will try to stick with the script.
3. As expected, the racing was great. What more do the fans want? There were multiple passes for the lead, including those by RHR and Castroneves in the closing laps that required more than a little sand. The cars once again protected drivers like Scott Dixon and Townsend Bell in HARD hits. Give me safety over aesthetics any time. Fie on the fans who decry this ugly beauty.¹ The DW12 is a great race car, no matter how it looks. And it is ugly.
3. The red flag at the end of the race, while unexpected and without precedent, was good for the fans in attendance and the TV audience. As a traditionalist in general, I initially thought that one more IMS accepted protocol was going down the drain. But after seeing the debris from Townsend Bell’s crash and watching the SAFER barrier being repaired, I realized it made the race better. Change is sometimes good, even if it causes apoplexy in the hard-core constituency. Who knew?
4. The crowd was not just good at the race, it was great. The Coke Lot was full at 7:30 AM as we arrived at the Speedway. I have not seen that in 25 years. Of course the downside of that is the Coke Lot was full of Coke Lot type denizens at 7:30 AM. Estimates of the crowd were up to 230,000. Don’t let those empty seats fool you. The place was full. The lines to get into the facility that made life miserable last year were not issues. The purchased parking credentials in the North 40/Lot 7 were another story, though. Dang. There I go again with the snark about one of the “bad” issues. An official for the Speedway told me that ticket sales were up 25% this year. Indy is back, baby.
5. Although the commercials on ABC seemed interminable after I got a chance to watch, the pre-race portion is still the best around. The network wove in Memorial Day, human interest, and race goodies in just the right proportion. Watching the race in HD, particularly the in-car shots, is absolutely thrilling. Although not “bad” by definition, I do find the constant video and interviews of the WAGS a little cloying. Nobody ever yells “Show us the wives and girlfriends for god’s sake!” as a race winds down. Nobody. Ever.
6. The pre-race ceremonies at IMS for the 500 are nonpareil. If you have never witnessed it in person, put it on your list. The fact of the meaning of Memorial Day is always there, as it should be. I hope that IMS, in its quest for more profit, never turns the pre-race into a sponsored circus to make a quick buck. It is already the gold standard. Keep it that way. With that said, I really will miss Jim Nabors, a B-List singer and actor who found a home in Speedway, Indiana on Memorial Day weekend. He sang “Back Home Again” the right way. Please IMS, don’t bring in an oddball assortment of record label sponsored train wrecks to audition. Find another baritone who gets Indy and can make it each May for the next 30 years or so. The name is not as important as the song. Do NOT mess this up.
7. The month of May is back as an event in Indy. After years of condensing the month due to lack of fan interest, the gang in the blue glass edifice on 16th and Georgetown finally packed in enough activities to interest new fans. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the new Time Trials weekend, Carb Day, the Jason Aldean concert, glamping, and the electronic dance music in the Snake Pit on race day all added fans through the turnstiles. The numbers for the month could be pushing 350,000 fans. Do the math. More fans = $$$. $$$ = more racing. More racing = happy fans. Repeat.
That’s the good, great, and just okay as well as some sub-textual bad that just keeps popping up. Sorry about that. Tomorrow brings the defined “bad” of the race. And possibly a little more snark.
¹ In my continuing effort to bring culture to racing, I used the oxymoron “ugly beauty” to describe the Dallara DW12. An oxymoron is when two opposite terms are used together for effect. Old Billy Shakespeare used them often when describing bear-baiting and cock fights, so there is some tradition of sporting usage.