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Archive for the month “January, 2012”

A Bowl of Indy Stew – Day 1, 1986

You know the trouble with diets?  Temptation.  It lurks around every corner: breaded tenderloins, White Castles, sundry cured meats.  How can I get down to my “race weight” when temptation is whispering sweet nothings in my ear.  Right now, for instance, I can smell a bowl of Indy stew simmering on the stove.  Can you smell it?  It’s the essence of suntan lotion, beer, and ethanol.  Delicious.  I can’t resist.  I’ll start my diet tomorrow.  Today I’m going to ladle up a heaping helping of Indy stew, circa 1986.  Grab a spoon and dig in.

In the last installment of “A Bowl of Indy Stew,” our intrepid race-goers survived sneaking in the track the night before the 1986 race, setting up a canopy, and hosting  a horde of yellow shirts who sheltered from the rain with us.  But the day had not even started.

Race morning in 1986 dawned hot, humid, and rainy.  Things did not look promising, but the crowd poured in anyway.  The rest of our crew arrived and pulled the van in next to our canopy.  Perfect.  We had two spots next to the fence in Turn 2.  We lived for this moment.  When you went to the race with a general admission ticket, you couldn’t exhale until you got your vehicle in the gate and parked.

Surprisingly, some of our crew had been drinking the night before.  I know, who would have thought that?  Just after we got our van parked, someone walked behind the canopy and had a liquid laugh.  You know, called the elephants, chundered, yacked, had a technicolor yawn, played the whale.  Got the picture?  Highly entertaining.  As the vehicles pulled in behind us, they veered away from the guy with his hands on his knees.  Being Good Samaritans, we waved people away.  Moments later, all the spots behind us were filled except that one.  Who would want to park there?

A short time later, two girls with a tent hiked up and started to set up camp directly over the spot.  We told them not to set up there, but before we could tell them why they informed us they could take care of themselves, thank you.  Well, live and let live.  Exchanging knowing glances, we left them to their sullied campsite.  They crawled in the tent and went to sleep.  The heat and humidity that day were stifling.  We glanced back at the tent and wondered what it smelled like inside that nylon oven as the day heated up.  The girls slept on.  When they woke up, we heard one of them loudly complain in what can only be described as an entitled whine, “Ew, what’s that smell?”  A lone voice responded, “That’s puke, sweetheart!”  They hopped out of their tent, accused us of complicity in their degradation, broke camp, and flounced away in a huff to a round of laughter and applause.  Apparently, they were not amused.  Obviously, we were.

It was a good start to an interesting day.

Want more?  Just give me time to add a few more ingredients to the pot and let it simmer.  Another bowl of Indy stew from 1986 will be coming up soon.

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What does NASCAR have that IndyCar doesn’t?

I don’t hate NASCAR.  I just hate some things about it.  Allow me to make a list:

  • Digger
  • DW
  • “Boogity, boogity, boogity”
  • That NASCAR claims it invented safety (SAFER Barriers, safety teams, Band-Aids)
  • Its owners heavy-handed attempt to control all tracks in America
  • Its owners more subtle attempts to marginalize IndyCar racing
  • That NASCAR is broadcast on multiple networks
  • That ESPN owns broadcast rights and acts like it’s reporting on an event when in reality it’s promoting its product
  • That hillbilly jackanapes now look down their noses at IndyCar because of the popularity of their series (my apologies to hillbilly jackanapes everywhere)
  • THAT NASCAR IS MORE POPULAR THAN INDYCAR, AND YES, I KNOW THAT SOUNDS LIKE SOUR GRAPES AND JEALOUSY BECAUSE IT IS!

Whew.  I’m glad I got that out of my system.  My jealousy overflowed this past weekend as I watched NASCAR testing broadcast on Speed.  And it was fully sponsored.  TESTING!  *Excuse me a moment while I take my medicine… Back now…Blood pressure under control.*  TESTING!  ON TV!  WITH SPONSORSHIP!  How did this happen?  When did America jump the shark?  Is the current administration in DC responsible?  Is it the economy?  Does it have something to do with the residual effect of concussions from football?  I NEED ANSWERS!

Now, I do understand a few things.  I know the networks heavily promote NASCAR.  IndyCar is lucky to be mentioned unless there’s tragedy or comedy.  Purported news organizations like ESPN are just shills for their own products, and I hate the inherent dishonesty of that.  There should be a disclaimer.  I understand that IndyCar is locked into the Versus/NBC Sports contract, but what’s the future of that?  Will NBC cross-promote the series?  Will IndyCar become a network star or a cast-off?

What does NASCAR have that IndyCar doesn’t?  We have strong teams, drivers who can run multiple circuits, a new car, compelling story lines, and momentum.  What do THEY have?  They have fans who provide ratings.  And ratings that attract sponsors.  And sponsors who provide money.  And money that supports the teams.  And teams that go racing.  And racing that attracts fans.  And we start the circle again.

We all know what NASCAR really has.  They have the eyeballs that watch TV.  That’s it.  The racing is no better than IndyCar.  NASCAR was just another racing series until ESPN decided to make them a big deal.  And they did.  IndyCar’s best hope is to get what NASCAR has: a network sugar daddy.  Our long-term survival as a series is uncertain, and NBC Sports/Versus is our hope and our future.  We only hope that they need us as much as we need them.

If all else fails, we can go the NASCAR route and tell lies and half-truths about our competition with a snide superiority.  Audacter calumniare; semper aliquid haeret.  Slander boldly; something always sticks.  Oh, did you hear that the France family is going to sell NASCAR after the Daytona 500 because of financial issues?

A Bowl of Indy Stew – The Night Before Day 1, 1986

After reviewing all my posts in this blog, a few things have become apparent:
1.  I trend to the negative.
2.  I REALLY like quotes.
3.  Footnotes amuse me.
4.  I might be pretentious.
5.  I am a topical writer, not a news reporter.
6.  I do not have a “go to” feature.

Not much can be done about numbers 1-5.  It is what it is.  Or they are what they are.  Whatever.  As I work my way through the writing of the IndyCar “bloggerati,” I notice that the real pros have recurring features; “The Paddock Pulse” and “Haiku Tuesday” on Pop Off Valve, “Six Quick Questions” over at IndyCar Advocate, and “Counterpoint” at More Front Wing are just a few examples.  After intense cogitation and a few cold beers, New Track Record is proud to introduce a semi-regular feature called “A Bowl of Indy Stew.” [2]  So when I am too busy or too brain dead to REALLY think of a topic, I can cook up a quick olio from my hodgepodge memory of races past.  Let’s see what savory morsel I have today.

1986 was a watershed year for race stories since it took a Sunday, Monday, and a Saturday before Bobby Rahal held off Kevin Cogan and Rick Mears for the victory.  This “Bowl of Indy Stew” will deal with the night before Day 1 of the race.

This was the last year of general admission for my friends and me.  We moved into the Tower Terrace the next year and have had seats ever since.  Since I was ten years old, we always had the same modus operandi: we would arrive on 16th Street the evening before the race and park across from the track until the gates opened.  We always sent an advance guard through the Turn 2 pedestrian gate at 5:00 AM to hold a spot next to the fence for our cars.  But in 1986, we had a new plan.

After a long negotiation, I convinced an acquaintance working night security at the track to let a friend and me in around midnight.  With our cheap blue canopy in a box under our arms and our hearts pounding in our chests, we walked to the infield assuming a stench of guilt was wafting off us like the aroma of steaming onions at a White Castle.  We set up our canopy in Turn 2 to hold a spot for our cars.  So far so good.  We were on the outside of a few beers and feeling the adrenalin rush of a crime committed.  Around 4:00 AM it started to rain heavily and a number of yellow shirts started taking shelter under our canopy.  We were caught.  Should we confess now or wait and wilt under interrogation at some infield penal colony?  None of the yellow shirts asked why we were there, though.  They didn’t care.  We were keeping them dry.  We were heroes!  We were going to get away with it!  But right before the gates opened, their boss showed up and told them to get their asses to work.  The bomb to open the gates was just moments away.  Our plan was wilting in the pouring rain.  But he just stood under the canopy with us.  After a few uncomfortable moments in his withering glare, he asked what the hell we were doing there.  The words just jumped out of my mouth.  I told him we had worked night security and stayed in for the race after our shift.  He looked at us for a few seconds and said, “Smart.”  Lying is truly performance art.  The bomb to open the gates exploded overhead.  Another race day had begun.

The next helping is on the stove and starting to bubble.  More about Day 1 of the 1986 Indy 500 in the next “Bowl of Indy Stew.”

1.  Chris Sheridan has a site called Indy Soup.  You can also find him on Twitter @indysoupdotcom.  Since my “Indy Stew” feature is similar in name, I checked with him to make sure he was OK with it.  Chris is planning a documentary on the Indy fan experience called What Indy Means.  You can find out more about it at whatindymeans.com and on Twitter @WhatIndyMeans.  Check out his documentary trailer and his back story.  It’s interesting and inspirational.  No kidding.  Do it.

2.  I really wanted to have a breaded tenderloin as part of the title, but Pop Off Valve already uses it.  Mmm…breaded tenderloin.  I also plan to have a feature in May called the “Indy Tenderloin Tour” to help visitors to Indy find the ever elusive and delicious BEST breaded tenderloin in the Indy area.  I am starting my research soon.

All the pretty hypocrites

The origin of the word hypocrite goes back to the Greek word hypokrites, a stage actor; one who pretends to be what he is not.  And racing is full of these actors, these hypocrites who mouth platitudes and wring their hands over the plight of IndyCar.  These people who know best (and there are always people who know best) are ready and willing to solve all of IndyCar’s problems, real or perceived.

After the multi-car crash at Las Vegas, the hue and cry to end pack racing rose from everywhere: the media, the fans, and the drivers.  The only voices that ring true are the ones of the drivers.  There is an old adage about a ham and egg breakfast: the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.  The drivers are committed.  Their opinions are truly the ones that matter.  And we can assume they do not prefer the high-banked 1.5 mile ovals in the current low-horsepower, high-downforce configuration.  But they race them because that’s where the race is on a particular weekend.  They do this most dangerous of jobs for one simple reason: it’s the job they love to do.

Are the fans hypocrites?  Do we expect the drivers to accept an unreasonable level of danger simply because we enjoy the spectacle and the risk?  The answer to both questions is absolutely.  And how often have you heard this justified with a comment along the lines of “The drivers understand the risk” or “If they don’t want to race there, then they can find another job.”  And if not these quotes, then variations on the theme.  Of course the fans are hypocrites.  Most of us would never strap into a race a car a first time, or a second time if we did it a first time.  If our jobs were unduly dangerous, we would be howling to any government agency or union that would listen.  We really don’t have a horse in this particular race.  The drivers should have some input in where and how they race.  And remember, I am an ovalista.  I want IndyCar to find a way to make it fun, fast, and safer on the small ovals. The question for the ones who do know best is how to do it.  And the fans are not the ones who know best.  In this case, the customer might be wrong.

And how about the media?  Don’t get me wrong, the majority of IndyCar media gets it right.  Of course there are not too many of them left.  And that’s a problem.  Marshall Pruett is a steely-eyed missile man.  He researches, he reports, he informs.  And Curt Cavin from the Indy Star is a daily source of info in his blog.  He’s wired in.  He may be the last of a dying breed: an assigned reporter for IndyCar coverage on a daily newspaper.  What can I say about Robin Miller?  IndyCar coverage would miss his passion, knowledge, and even his opinions if he wasn’t around.  Of course, we have “Miller’s Mailbag” and his Greek chorus of Chicken Littles on Speedtv.com, but I read it religiously.  People may disagree with his negativity, but he has both an opinion and a platform.  Can you name another major national publication with a dedicated IndyCar section on its website?  We ought to be happy that someone still cares.  What about Versus and ABC?  Again, I’m happy to have any coverage, but let’s face it, the TV reporters, no matter how good or bad, are just shills.  Their raison d’etre is to attract viewers and increase ratings.

But the media members and outlets that gall me are the ones that deign to pontificate after the fact.  They jump on auto racing with both feet and condemn the series, the tracks, and the fans for being part of a brutal and deadly sport.  Do these same reporters condemn NASCAR for pack racing at Daytona and Talledega?  Do these same TV networks use the possibility of the “Big One” as a lead in?  And I hold a particular distaste for the reporters who do not follow IndyCar in particular or racing in general but use a tragedy like Las Vegas as a platform to get their names attached to a national story by vilifying a series, a promoter, and a track.  Hypocrites all.

The public has a very short memory.  History has shown us this same picture before at Indy: the1958 first lap multi-car accident in Turn Three that took the life of Pat O’Connor, the 1966 first lap multi-car accident, the 1973 first lap accident that sent Salt Walther spinning and spewed fuel into the stands, and the 1982 first lap accident with Kevin Cogan, Mario Andretti, and AJ Foyt.  And we know there will be another.  We know that we cannot legislate complete safety into the sport.  We close our eyes to the fact that IndyCar has not seen its last multi-car accident or its last fatality.  This dark knowledge sits deep inside us as we defend this sport we love.  And that may be the most hypocritical of all.

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