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Archive for the month “December, 2011”

The ghosts that follow us

Everyone knew something terrible could happen.  The track was not suitable for an automobile race.  The drivers complained to the officials and the promoter, but it was too late.  The promotions were in place, the tickets were sold, and the crowd was arriving.  The old show business adage held true: “The show must go on.”

And we know how it ended: in the death of a driver.  Cars flew through the air.  The drivers blamed the track, the officials, and the promoter.  And the promoter was new to the game.  He had a rich history of promotion, but no real history in promoting  a race like this.  He was vilified in person and in print.  The news organizations wrote scathing editorials about the evils of racing, comparing it to bullfights and Roman gladiators.  There was even talk of banning this kind of racing.  And the track was unsuitable for this kind of racing.  The drivers, the ones risking their lives, had been spot on with their criticism.  The track had problems with its design.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  The place was Indianapolis in 1909.  Carl Fisher, one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was the promoter.  As an automobile salesman and the owner of Prest-O-Lite, a headlight manufacturer, he was well known for his outlandish publicity stunts.  He was a true entrepreneur, risking his own money to build a track and host races.  He didn’t know much about promoting a big time race, but he knew how to excite the crowd.

The track design was unsuitable for racing.  It was a blend of creek gravel, crushed limestone, and taroid.[1]  The track came apart with sharp bits of stone flying through the air, hitting cars and injuring drivers.  Dust created a huge visibility problem.  And a channel appeared in Turn One, creating a huge bump for the cars and leading to one car becoming airborne.[2]

What was the human toll?  In 1909 five people died at IMS: one driver, two riding mechanics, and two spectators.  The lieutenant governor of Indiana lambasted the track and suggested that the governor call a special session of the legislature to debate a ban on auto racing.[3]  The race was fodder for the people who thought they knew best.  And there are always people who think they know best.

But the Speedway survived, and the Indianapolis 500 began in 1911.  Changes were made to the track and the cars.  An evolution in safety began that continues today with the SAFER barriers, HANS devices, and the Holmatro Safety Team.  Tracks, cars, and safety equipment will continue to evolve in this most dangerous of sports.

And now we have Las Vegas.  And the drivers’ concerns.  And Randy Bernard.  And the media.  And a track that had “no limit” to the speed or racing lines.  And like 1909, there will continue to be a gnashing of teeth and a jerking of knees.  But IndyCar and the Speedway will survive.  The IndyCar series will evolve, as will the media and the fans.  And evolve they all must.  In this most dangerous of sports, we cannot excise danger; it is inherent.  The steely-eyed missile men who pilot these rockets will continue to do so with a full understanding of the risk involved.  And the ghosts that follow us will continue to whisper in our ears.  They will always be there, the famous and the forgotten, asking if we are doing all we can to keep the sport safe, asking if we remember their sacrifices.  And like always, we have a choice to listen to the whispers or ignore them.  The historian George Santayana said it best: “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  The choice to remember belongs to us all.

1.  This link will take you to the IMS site that shows a core of the track at the Speedway and explains how the track has changed over the years.  Informative.

2.  For a very well researched and informative narrative about Carl Fisher and the years leading up to the first race, read Blood and Smoke by Charles Leerhsen.  His descriptions and quotes from the 1909 debacle make you realize how safe we are today.  The images I used were recounted in his book.  Much of the same information can be found in Al Bloemker’s book 500 Miles to Go.   A link to this free e-book can be found at

3.  Stephen Wylder wrote an interesting historical perspective regarding the post-race responses in 1909.  I found the lieutenant governor information here.

Money (That’s What I Want) *

Thomas Edward Brown wrote that “Money is honey my little sonny,/ And a rich man’s joke is always funny.”  But laughter is hard to find in IndyCar right now.  Just like money.  A common strategy in police work is to “follow the money” when trying to put together a case.  IndyCar’s problem right now is having some money to follow.  In terms of finances, IndyCar and its racing teams are like most of us: just trying to make ends meet.

It’s a fact that “money talks and bullshit walks.”  There is no better example of this axiom than IndyCar’s current plight.  At this time they have a 15 race schedule instead of the contractually required 16 to satisfy their agreement with title sponsor IZOD.  Maybe IZOD is an understanding corporate entity that does not expect its business partner to honor its contract.  Sure it is.  IndyCar is bought and paid for.  They owe a huge debt to IZOD for stepping up when no one else would.  IndyCar owes IZOD 16 races.  The question is whether IZOD will hold IndyCar accountable or give them a pass if they fail to deliver.  THIS is scary.  An unhappy IZOD walking away from a series that cannot honor its obligations would be a disaster.  And after Las Vegas, it’s easy to see why a corporation would not want to be associated with an entity that could be perceived as bad for business.  The name is the “IZOD IndyCar Series” after all.  They pay for positive PR.  The press after Las Vegas was decidedly not positive.  If IndyCar cannot produce the events in the contract, IZOD could walk away.

And the problem with the number of races can be linked directly to oval tracks.  Ovals are dying like moths in a tiki torch at a 4th of July cookout.  And this is happening for one simple reason: they don’t make money.  Loudon and Milwaukee have great racing but no fans.  The promoters can’t profit, so the races can’t prosper.  The attendance at these races did not make money for the promoter.  If a promoter can’t eat, they won’t promote an event.  It’s truly a conundrum.  Oval racing is IndyCar’s heritage and identity.  Fans and bloggers are apoplectic about the dearth of oval tracks on the schedule.  IndyCar absolutely wants ovals on its schedule.  The problem is twofold.  One, many of the ovals do not attract paying customers, and two, the oval tracks are in the driver’s seat in negotiations for races.  They want a good deal from IndyCar regarding sanctioning fees because they know IndyCar is desperate to add races to get to the contracted number as well as add ovals to satisfy their fan base.  Texas Eddie Gossage can play hardball because IndyCar is negotiating from a position of weakness.  That’s called business, folks, and those tracks and promoters should not be vilified for negotiating the best deal they can.   Phoenix may be back on the radar after this year, but the same business policy is in place: IndyCar needs Phoenix more than Phoenix needs IndyCar.  Hopefully, more ovals will come.  If not, then three or four may be all we have.  That is better than none.

The street courses make money.  They drive tourism in downtown areas like Long Beach, St. Petersburg, and Baltimore.  They have value.  They connect to the community and businesses.  Fans complain about the racing, but that is not the point. Wake up!  The racing is secondary to the profit.  The series needs races; the kind of race really doesn’t matter right now.  Economics is behind the wheel, hopefully on the accelerator and not the brake.  Fans need to celebrate every race because it keeps the series in business and the drivers, mechanics, engineers, and support people employed.  Expect more street circuits, not fewer.  And be happy about it.

We should celebrate Sara Fisher and Wink Hartman.  Money just spoke again with SFH Racing’s announcement of construction of a new headquarters in Speedway.  Do you think Honda noticed?  Do you think a potential sponsor noticed?  You tell me, does an infusion of Hartman’s money make it more or less likely for SFH Racing to land a new sponsor?  Money speaks its own language and other money understands.  But sugar daddies like Wink Hartman are the exception, not the rule.  Most struggling teams don’t get this lucky.  You only have to look as far as Newman/Haas Racing to see what happens when a perennially successful team can’t find solid sponsorship.  Every driver and every team is pounding the pavement and working the phones to secure more money.  These sponsors demand a solid product for their advertising dollar.  The question right now is whether IndyCar offers that product.  Would you be signing up right now after the tragedy at Las Vegas, the laughable officiating last year, and the possibility that IndyCar might not be able to present a contracted schedule to its title sponsor?  Tough question, huh?

It’s expected that IndyCar will offer a full schedule.  We might see a street race in Vegas.  We will go to Texas for one or two races, and Eddie Gossage will leverage a great deal because he can.  Worst case would be a road course race at Indy to satisfy the IZOD contract.  It would be short lived, but it may be necessary.  IndyCar cannot afford to lose IZOD.  The officiating question has been addressed.  We don’t know if it will improve, but there will be a new voice and a new face in race control.  And IndyCar completed its investigation of the crash at Las Vegas.  The response has been positive from people who truly understand the dynamics of this crash on this particular track.  They say IndyCar did its job and did it well.  A number of factors came together to cause the accident, and a flying car hit a fence at exactly the wrong place and at exactly the wrong angle.  IndyCar will survive…barely.

The cost of racing is high.  It takes money and, at times, it takes a life.  We, as fans, need to accept the realities, both financial and emotional.  IndyCar needs to race at the places that are willing to pay the sanctioning fees.  It needs to cater to the needs of its sponsors, both as a league and as teams.  It needs to protect its racers.  If that means fewer oval races, or that we don’t race on certain tracks, or that changes have to be made to the cars, then so be it. Josh Billings, an American philosopher, said it well: “Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those you hold well.”  It’s your deal, IndyCar.

* OK, since Tony at Pop Off Valve noticed I did not have a link to a song, I have added the links to three, count ’em, THREE songs.  I even changed the name of the post to “Money (That’s What I Want).  Of course, all three links are the same song by different artists: “Money (That’s What I Want).  These three are posted in chronological order.  The artists are Barrett Strong (the original), the Beatles (the most popular), and the Flying Lizards (the oddest).  Enjoy.

Barrett Strong:

The Beatles:

The Flying Lizards:

I’ve got your next Race Director right here, IndyCar

In an effort to expedite the search for a new IndyCar Race Director, I’ve been out headhunting and have compiled a list of possible candidates for the position.  The prospects I’ve put together include some of the guiding lights in their fields.  And yes, some of them come with a little baggage, but who doesn’t?  I’ve tried to find experienced leaders with broad appeal throughout the racing community.  I am sure the next Race Director is listed below.

Bob Knight (former Indiana University basketball coach):  You want authority?  You got authority.  No mincing around here.  This Race Director will not take lip from anyone.  OK, he’s got this little “authority” thing going on; he has been known to assault people both verbally and physically.  That’s OK.  This series needs an enforcer.  And at 6’ 5” and 250, he towers over the racers and the owners.  Immediate respect!  The buck stops here, baby!  The only person who is a possible threat to him would be his security chief Charles Burns.  Now THIS would be a dynamic duo.  Click here to check out Mr. Knight’s leadership style:  Classy, huh?  Yes, Mr. Knight may create some extra work for the PR department, but he’s worth it.

  • Won Three NCAA Championships
  • Coached Olympic gold medal team
  • Coached Pan Am Games gold medal team
  • Convicted in absentia for assaulting a Puerto Rican policeman
  • Stuffed an LSU fan in a trashcan

Tony Dungy (former Colts head coach):  Is low key more your style?  Then this is your man.  How about a little Quiet Strength in Race Control?  I am SURE that all the owners will bow to Mr. Dungy’s force of will; the power of prayer and positive thinking will win the day.  IndyCar is like a football team: the players just need to be “coached up.”  He will clean up the paddock and take the high moral ground.  This man can bring it all together: the drivers, the owners, the promoters, the sponsors.  And he can use a telestrator!  That’s invaluable for this high profile position when explaining “lines” and “passing zones.” The PR value of a former Super Bowl champion is priceless, and good PR is just what IndyCar needs right now.  Mr. Dungy brings a level head to Race Control.  Though some might consider him boring, his decisions will be thoughtful and deliberate.  The show is about the drivers and the cars, not the “man upstairs.

  • Super Bowl champion coach
  • Best selling author
  • TV analyst
  • Zealot

Jesus H. Christ (Savior of Mankind): Who better to have in Race Control than God’s Son (I realize that Brian Barnhart’s relationship with Tony George was similar; something had to give Mr. Barnhart that messiah complex).  IndyCar wants to rewrite the sporting regulations, and Mr. Christ brings His own rule book which He often shortens to ten easily remembered behavioral tenets.  This should satisfy the assorted auto racing writers, bloggers, and critics who found fault with every decision of the previous Race Director.  Really, who is going to question His decisions?  His relationship with Dallara should be strong since He’s also known to have a very good relationship with another powerful Italian brand.  Nom sum dignus.

  • Son of God
  • Messiah
  • Religious Icon
  • Infallible Arbiter

What, none of these applicants fit the bill?  Maybe IndyCar needs a Race Director who is a combination of all these candidates.  He needs the unquestioned authority of Bob Knight, the quiet strength of Tony Dungy, and the infallibility of Jesus Christ.  Maybe that would please everyone.  But we all know the truth: whomever IndyCar hires as Race Director will be seen as a bad choice by some segment of the racing world.  His qualifications will be found lacking.  EVERY decision will be questioned.  EVERY rule will be parsed and examined.  The small but vocal legion of old and new media will both attack him and accept him with its regular hysteria.  It’s a thankless job.  I don’t have a candidate or an answer.  Someone will get hired, and the rules will be written.  Mistakes will be made.  Some people will benefit by race control’s decisions while others will suffer.  His life will be lived under a microscope that truly is life or death.  Drivers want someone who understands them.  Owners want someone who owes them.  And the fans want someone who is consistent and fair.

Who should be hired?  Henry Ford said it best: “The question, ‘Who ought to be boss?’ is like asking ‘Who ought to be tenor in the quartet?’  Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.”  Good luck finding Pavarotti, IndyCar.

An IndyCar/Christmas Vacation Holiday Extravaganza

Well, it’s Christmas for IndyCar.  And since IndyCar sometimes seems as dysfunctional as the Griswold household, this holiday season I’ll be tossing out some quotes from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. To add to the festivities, I’ll connect the names of the characters from the movie with someone in IndyCar.  So put some “non-caloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant” on your saucer and head on down the hill.

Clark: Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f—ing Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.

This can only be poor Randy Bernard as he’s channeling Clark Griswold’s existential moment.  Bernard faces the hardest winter ever in IndyCar.  Sponsors are running for the hills, a new car shows no speed on ovals, the press continues to hammer him about Las Vegas, Newman/Haas shuts its doors, and he has to hire a new Race Director to replace Brian Barnhart.  Here’s hoping for a happy ending to this Christmas Story.

Ellen: What are you looking at?
Clark: Oh, the silent majesty of a winter’s morn… the clean, cool chill of the holiday air… and an asshole in his bathrobe, emptying a chemical toilet into my sewer…
Eddie: Shitter was full!

Why do we love Eddie?  We love him because we all know him.  Or in my case, I may be him.  But who in the IndyCar world would empty a chemical toilet into the sewer?  Robin Miller!  Robin is cousin Eddie!  It fits.  He says all the things that no one else can say and gets away with it.  He’s that semi-lovable relative that never goes away.  And he not only empties the toilet, he fills it up with hate.  And really, wouldn’t you like to see him do the grid run in a bathrobe?

Clark: Hey. If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here…with a big ribbon on his head! And I want to look him straight in the eye, and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?

And who hasn’t thought this about his/her boss?  Could it be Vitor Meira talking about A.J. Foyt?  How about Randy Bernard talking about Tony George (and we all know this time-bomb is going to explode sometime)?  Nope, this is Will Power talking about Brian Barnhart.  These had to be Will’s thoughts as he walked along the pits in New Hampshire.  I mean, it was great to watch, but didn’t you really want to know what Will was thinking?  Here it is.  I bet it’s almost word-for-word.  Go ahead, read it out loud.  Feels good, huh?

Mr. Frank Shirley: [picks up the phone receiver] Get me somebody. Anybody. And get me somebody while I’m waiting.

Apparently, Race Control has been bad this year.  Brian Barnhart seemed to want somebody – anybody – to talk to him during the race at New Hampshire.  If only someone told him it was raining at Loudon, he would have done something other than blame the REST OF THE WORLD.  Mr. Shirley, Clark’s boss, was out of touch with the needs of his employees.  Can you say communication issues, Race Control?  But in lieu of a kidnapping, IndyCar chose to “reassign” Barnhart.  Do you think they signed him up for the jelly-of-the-month-club, too?  “It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” you know.

Art: The little lights aren’t twinkling.
Clark: I know, Art. And thanks for noticing.

And a tip of the antlers to Zach at IndyCar Advocate for this idea.  Art, Clark’s father-in-law, is never satisfied with Clark’s choices; he’s always finding fault.  Art is the media, constantly telling IndyCar Clark that he is doing NOTHING right.  Art is snarky, just like some I know in the social media (I’m looking at you, Twitter).  Clark just wants to put together his complex lighting and make everyone happy.  IndyCar just wants to get its schedule straightened out and a new car on the road without every blogger, website, and media churl noting EVERY LITTLE THING that’s wrong.

Clark: Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?
Eddie: Naw, I’m doing just fine, Clark.

In this case, Clark is IndyCar and Eddie represents the world of blog.  In your heart, you know IndyCar sees the bloggers as freeloading relatives they can’t get rid of.  In fact, this quote sounds like what someone really means in the media center when they ask if you have everything you need.  Just like Clark with Eddie, they really can’t do much about us.  They just hope nobody notices as we drain our chemical toilets into the sewer.  They just pray that we never do anything really embarrassing.  And while I’m on the subject, does it bother anyone else that the IndyCar employed bloggers are used as corporate shills only?  Free the bloggers!  Bring back the Silent Pagoda!

Eddie: Every time Catherine revved up the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour or so.

Cousin Eddie once again, this time commenting on the effects of the plate in his head combined with microwave technology.  For Christmas this year, I wish this moment for every Indy fan around the world.  Here’s hoping the green flag at Indy causes you to piss your pants and forget who you are for just a little bit.  After all that has happened, we need that moment, don’t we?  What could be a better present under the tree this year than 33 DW12’s lined up and racing into Turn One on race day?  Merry Christmas, everyone.*

* Do you have another connection I missed?  Add it to the comment section below.  I triple-dog dare you (the triple-dog dare is for Tony at Pop Off Valve, who likes to mix his movies references every now and then).

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