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Archive for the month “February, 2012”

A Bowl of Indy Stew – Day 2, 1986

Did you hear that?  The timer on the stove just went off, and you know what that means, don’t you?  Another bowl of Indy Stew has cooked up and is ready to be served.  This is the third bowl of 1986 stew.  It’s kind of like a good pot of ham and beans.  The more you reheat it, the better it gets.  So tuck in your napkins and grab your spoons.  Dinner is served.


Will 1986 ever end?  This is the third time I’ve written about it and the race still hasn’t happened.   As we know, day one ended soggily, so we packed up our shelter and headed home.  Maybe better luck and blue skies would show up on Monday.  Wishful thinking.  Monday was just like Sunday with intermittent showers.  Even though there were no cars on the track, we were certainly entertained.

In 1986, in addition to the regular cast of characters, my buddy Vic rolled in from Florida.  Vic was a hometown friend of mine from Shirley, Indiana.  In ’86, he brought his biker buddy Nick with him.  Yes, I know.  It’s Vic and Nick.  If I was making this stuff up, don’t you think I could do better than that?

In any case, our new friend Nick fit right in.   There’s something to be said for having a biker looking guy who really is a biker hanging with you.  Nick had long dark hair, bulging muscles, and wore a sleeveless jeans jacket…with patches.  The patches I remember said “In Memory of Wheelchair John” and “In Memory of Troll.”  Let’s just say that Nick got your attention.  Some people have an aura around them.  That was Nick.  Truthfully, he was a funny and friendly guy.  He brought a battery-powered blender and mixed a great margarita.  He had never been to the race and wanted to experience it at least once.  He certainly added to a stranger’s race experience.

The IMS staff had just built the new infield restrooms.  If you ever used the old pits-with-plywood-over-them restrooms that used to dot the infield, then you know what an upgrade they were.  We were almost giddy to have stainless steel troughs and stalls.  Nick and I happened to be heading that direction at the same time, and we were discussing how he was enjoying the race experience.  He commented that his expectation was that the race crowd would be a little wilder.  Now, I’m not quite sure how to phrase this next part.  There is a certain lavatory etiquette among men when troughs are used.  Conversation is kept to a minimum unless you are conversing prior to trough approach.  You don’t talk to strangers.  Never smile at the guy next to you.  These are unwritten rules, but every guy knows them.  I am sure there are corollaries and codicils, but rules do exist.  I was about to witness what happens when these rules, a biker, and a nasty sense of humor intersect.

Following the rules, we entered the lavatory without talking.  At this moment, some poor citizen had the misfortune of taking the spot next to Nick.  He was either unaware of the rules or inattentive to the situation, and he smiled at Nick.  Wrong choice.  Nick hit me with a quick elbow and whispered, “Watch this.”  I watched as Nick slowly turned his head toward the guy and in a low, slow, and evil voice said, “You know, I can’t pee with someone standing next to me.  I guess I’m going to have to kill you.”

I’ve always wondered what went through the poor guy’s mind at that moment.  Did fear course through his body?  Could he hear his own heart beat? Did his life flash before his eyes?  I was stunned.  I had never witnessed anything quite like it.  The stranger’s knees buckled slightly.  He gasped.  And then he ran out of the lavatory.  Nick turned to me and laughed loudly and long.  His laughter was full of humor and danger.  That was life in the infield in 1986.

Nick never came back to the race.  He started going to the motorcycle rally at Sturgis, and I’ve not seen him since.  Every now and then, I wonder if the stranger ever came back to Indy.  I wonder if he ever tells the story of the biker in the bathroom.  It’s just one more tale from the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” that makes me smile when I tell it.  How can you not love Indy?


The adventure has just begun.  Next time, we finally get to race day in 1986.  I’ll just put the pot of Indy stew on a slow simmer until then.

Can you smell what IndyCar is cookin’?

I attended the State of IndyCar at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis last Monday.  It’s a very staid, old-school opera house, and the car out front added a certain “wow” factor to the proceedings.  The welcome to the hoi polloi (of which I am a card carrying member) was decidedly less than enthusiastic.  The teams, sponsors, and other well-heeled types loitered in the lobby sipping wine while the rabble – sorry, I mean the fans – were herded – again, my apologies, I mean were directed – to the balcony seating.  And not just any balcony seats, mind you, but the upper balcony.  The lower balcony seats were reserved VIP seating for fan club chumps – once again, sorry, I mean to say fan club members – who paid to have a better bad view.  It was exactly what I expected.

Let me be honest.  I am a fan first and foremost.  I enjoy inflicting my opinions on others as a blogger, but that is not my raison d’etre.  I like racing, and I am happy IndyCar let the general public see behind the curtain a little bit.  Gracias, amigos.  You didn’t try to see how the event fit with your business plan.  You didn’t try to monetize it.  Other than parking and dinner downtown, it was a freebie.  But the truth is we were there as seat fillers, as extras on a movie set.  Our attendance made the special people feel more special.  Would it have killed you to have a few signed pictures to hand out?  How about a sponsor keychain or two?  Heck, you could just put brochures and sponsor stickers in a bag, and we would have wet ourselves.  Yes, I know, it was FREE, but I am reminded of the immortal words of Carl Spackler in Caddyshack: “ ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.” [1] Thanks, IndyCar. I guess just being allowed to mingle with the upper crust was our reward.  It’s nice to know we have something going for us.  Which is nice.

But that’s enough about my very minor negative observation.  The lights went down, the smoke machines purred, and the show started.  Trophies were awarded in multiple categories. The champion was introduced.  The “Fearsome Five” were trotted out as the ones chasing the champion this year.  Here came the American drivers, ready to wrap themselves in the flag and win one for Uncle Sam. Something was starting to look familiar.  I had seen this all before somewhere.  And then I knew.  This marketing strategy was taken from one of the most successful sports entertainment brands of all time, a brand that fills arenas weekly and whose big PPV’s rake in millions of dollars.  IndyCar is becoming the WWE.  Randy Bernard, please let me introduce you to Vince McMahon.

It’s all there.  In the WWE you have multiple championships and belts.  RAW has the WWE Championship and SmackDown has the World Heavyweight Championship.  IndyCar has the AJ Foyt IndyCar Oval Championship and the Mario Andretti IndyCar Road Championship.  In fact, I think a championship belt is way cooler than a trophy. Can’t you see Scott Dixon and Will Power walking through Gasoline Alley at Indy with those big honking belts around their waists?  Those two guys would rock it just like C.M. Punk and John Cena.  They would just need a little intro music to spice things up. The  WWE really knows how to brand and sell.  I’m glad IndyCar is looking to them as a model.

WWE has a monster event called WrestleMania that parallels the Indy 500.  We’ll call this one a wash.  This is WWE’s big payday, but Indy has a little more cachet.  Maybe IndyCar can teach the WWE something about brand loyalty since it has been around a little longer.  If you stop and think about it, the two brands are probably going after the same crowd in Turn 3 and on Carb Day.  I’m guessing that Lynyrd Skynyrd appeals to the same fans, too.  Looks like a shift in demographics to me.  Let me be the first to start the rumor: IndyCar has partnered with WWE for its marketing.  Before you dismiss this as impossible, let me say two words: Gene Simmons.

Do you need more proof that IndyCar is turning into the WWE?  Something the WWE has always been able to do is create controversy and adversaries.  They are famous for the “worked shoot.” [2]  In wrestling something “worked” looks real but is really just part of the show, like the conflicts between the various stables of wrestlers.  A “shoot” is something unscripted and real that happens.  A worked shoot is something scripted that is made to look unscripted.  In other words, confuse the fans; blur the line between real and fake.  IndyCar did a a bang-up job with its worked shoot when they brought the Fearsome Five onto the stage.  It was like a Steel Cage Death Match.  These five drivers – Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, and Oriol Servia – became a stable of “faces” trying to bring down the prima donna “heel.”  For those of you not familiar with wrestling argot, a face is a good guy and and a heel is a bad guy.  These roles often flip, with wrestlers changing from face to heel in a week’s time.  The IndyCar brain trust has decided that for now, Dario Franchitti is a heel.  We need to pull for the faces that are chasing him.  At least pull for them until one of the faces flips and becomes a heel.  I assume this will happen at St. Pete when one of the drivers punts somebody and acts like it wasn’t his fault.  You have to change the narrative if you want to keep the fans interested.  Another lesson learned.

If all of that doesn’t prove that the WWE is pulling the strings for IndyCar, then this should: IndyCar had all the American drivers come out on stage to challenge the foreigners.  Holy jingoism, Batman!  Talk about creating something out of nothing.  The drivers looked embarrassed to be out there.  They don’t want to win for America; they want to win for themselves.  Worked shoot, indeed.  Wrestling has always created foreign heels: the Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, and Yokozuna are some recent examples.  These are people we love to hate.  IndyCar has ripped this page right out of the WWE business plan.  IndyCar is creating a new storyline that plays right into the xenophobic hysteria of the far right.  So far, IndyCar is following this worked shoot to the letter.

The final bit of evidence was Randy Bernard’s rant at the end of the show. His script was a perfect take on WWE boss Vince McMahon standing at center ring with a microphone putting down the law.[3]  He told the crowd that he had a job, the series had a great year financially, the drivers had a new car, and the schedule was getting better.  Now, that was not a worked shoot.  And if it was, he had me fooled.  As the Rock, a staple of the WWE for years would say: “Can you smell what IndyCar is cookin’?”  And if you don’t like it, then Marco Andretti will rip off your arm and beat you with the wet end. [4]

1.   For your viewing pleasure, here’s Bill Murray doing Carl Spackler.  True story:  The other actor in the scene did not know that Murray was going to improvise the pitchfork.  Check him out; you can see the fear in his eyes.

2.  Need a wrestling vocabulary lesson?  Here’s a link to all things WWE.

3.  Here’s a video of Vince McMahon being a heel.  Classic.  Is this Randy Bernard’s model?

4.  This a quote from my all time favorite wrestler, Dick the Bruiser.

New Track Record’s State of IndyCar

In anticipation of Randy Bernard’s State of IndyCar address coming up, it’s time for New Track Record to offer its views on the current state of the racing series.  I might add that I am totally unqualified to have any views on the subject, which in recent years would mark me as an expert.

Re: the cars
Contrary to recent reports, the wheels have not been falling off of the new DW12’s.  Unless you mean that figuratively.  Really, what were the expectations for a car designed with computer simulations and models.  Were we really surprised that it was slow on ovals?  The media, both new and old, was just waiting to celebrate the problems.  What else is there to do in the off-season?  I guess we have been conditioned to expect, and accept, the worst.  That’s the price of being an IndyCar fan. I know that form follows function, but damn, that is not a pretty car.  As a long time owner of boxers, I am used to pretending that something ugly is cute, but I just can’t act like this car is a movie star.  I would like to thank the F1 constructors, though, for designing something uglier.  Grazie, Ferrari.

Re: the engines
What happens to a series that has only one engine manufacturer for a dozen years?  It opens up the series to new manufacturers as long as the old builder can help write the rules.  Don’t get me wrong, the new engines and competition between the builders are GREAT.  We needed it.  But the very real possibility that teams wanting to join the series could be left out in the cold leaves me cold.  Some have discussed capping the number of cars, but closing the door to new teams now will not give them incentive to come knocking again when, not if, teams drop out later.  The builders are holding all the cards, and they want a new buy in for the newcomers to get in the game.  They want to charge new teams a premium to buy the same motors as their monied peers.  The PR flaks for IndyCar and the builders are putting in some LONG hours to spin this pile of shinola.

Re: the Leaders Circle
Here’s an idea: right before the State of IndyCar presentation, let’s release the winners of the Great Money Goat Rope.  Did anyone else have a vision of a bag of money tied to a goat while a bunch of greenhorns with ropes tried to wrangle it?  No?  I’m the only one with that picture in my head?  Well, that’s my gift to you then.  Once again, let’s see if IndyCar can clearly call some of its teams winners and some LOSERS.  If the losing owners can be believed  (and they can’t) then they did not know the criteria for choosing the winners after the presentation of their business models.  Wouldn’t you think that for a $60,000 ante, you might ask some questions about the rules?  If I plop $60,000 on a table in Vegas, it’s damn sure I’m going to know how to play the game.  Maybe the teams could ask for a rubric?  What the fans need here is a little transparency.  Let us in on the process.  We do want to keep teams in the series, right?

Re: the rule book
Kudos to Beaux Barfield for tackling the rule book in a systematic fashion and taking the time to EXPLAIN why he was doing what he was doing.  The proof will be in application of the rules, though.  As long a he puts the screws down consistently, he can put them down all he wants.  These rules and their applications will be part of the entertainment of the year.  I am looking forward to the Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti hand-wringing pronouncements of innocence and bewilderment when they are assessed penalties.  The more things change…

Re: xenophobia
Xenophobia is defined as “an unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange,” and it’s rearing its ugly head in IndyCar land with Rubens Barrichello and China.  The less worldly of IndyCar fans continue to bemoan the fact that the series does not have enough American drivers, enough ovals, and enough publicity.  Let me ask a question.  WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?  Barrichello has  almost 1.5 million followers on Twitter.  IndyCar needs fans, and it doesn’t matter where they live.  We exist in the world, not just North America.  IndyCar needs to make, not hemorrhage, money.  Brazil is full of racing fans.  Let’s make them IndyCar fans.  And China, with all of its human rights issues, unfair business practices, and, you know, the repressive communist regime thing, is still a money factory with 1.3 BILLION possible fans.  Come on, people, do the math here.  The American education system hasn’t failed that miserably, has it?

Are these the only issues facing IndyCar this year?  Please.  The hunt for ovals to host races, the continual search for both team and series sponsors, and getting a tighter rein on those damn bloggers are also problems to be solved.  But all is not doom and gloom.  The best thing about the State of IndyCar is really simple.  It’s IndyCar.

All right, Mr. Bernard, I’m ready for my close-up

I’ve always been a fan of the cinema called film noir [1]: hard-boiled detectives, dark alleys, shadows, grit.  It’s not the place you expect a happy ending.  A high water mark of the genre is Sunset Boulevard [2] with Gloria Swanson as the delusional Norma Desmond and William Holden as the ill-fated hack writer Joe Gillis.  Once again, life imitates art as IndyCar intersects with the characters of Sunset Boulevard.

At one time, Norma Desmond had the adoration of millions, the mansion on Sunset, money in the bank, a classic limousine, a pet chimpanzee, and her butler Max.  The connections to IndyCar are clear: Norma is IndyCar.  At one time, her star shone brightly.  She was adored by millions, and the money rolled in.  It was the same for the previous incarnations of IndyCar.  Its place in the pantheon of sports was unrivaled.  The names of the drivers were known by millions, and the mansion at 16th and Georgetown was nonpareil.  The cars at the mansion were classic.  The media and the fans fawned on Indy’s every action; Indy car racing was worshipped and admired,  just like Norma Desmond.

But the good times don’t last, do they?  In the movie, Norma Desmond, a silent film star, was left behind when sound came to the movies.  She never came to grips with the fact that she was no longer a star.  Poor IndyCar has suffered the same fate.  Both Norma and Indy car are rich, but their popularity has waned.  People just don’t seem to care as much.  But Norma, losing her grip on reality, didn’t get it.  She still thought she was a star.  Similarly, Indy car was a star until the CART/IRL split.  And just like the talkies left Norma behind, the split left Indy car racing out of the eye of an ever fickle public.  Norma never accepted her fate, nor did Indy car racing.  Both continued to wait for the elusive starring role to appear.  IndyCar is still waiting.  Norma says: “I am big.  It’s the pictures that got small.”  Change a word or two, and you have IndyCar’s philosophy during the split.

And how about the character of Joe Gillis.  Joe was seduced by the money of Norma.  He had nothing, so he had nothing to lose.  In many ways, you can say the hard-core fans and the media are Joe.  His self deprecating comments and subtle snark toward Norma highlight the dark comedy of the movie.  IndyCar has had its dark comedic moments recently: a wrong way truck at Baltimore, a rainy restart at New Hampshire, and poorly managed races at more than one venue top the list.  The media and the fans, witnessing the the delusional behavior of a race control that continued to act as if nothing was wrong, rightly pointed out that the belief that all was well with IndyCar racing was a fantasy.  Joe Gillis voiced his comments softly since he did not want to upset the Norma Desmond gravy train.  IndyCar’s media and fans were much more vocal and much less subtle.

This all leads us to the final scene.  Joe has decided to leave the increasingly erratic Norma, who believes Cecil B. DeMille wants to produce a script she has written.  She shoots Joe as he is leaving.  Norma is completely disconnected from reality now, and her butler Max, played by Eric Von Stroheim, coaxes her downstairs to the police, reporters, and cameras by pretending she is in a movie. To get her downstairs, he calls “Action.”   Norma looks at the cameras and utters her famous line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Maybe I’m the one that’s delusional.  Maybe I’m the only one that sees the connection.  Randy Bernard is Cecil B. DeMille.  He is the producer who is going to create the next big movie.  The problem is he doesn’t want to have an aging, delusional IndyCar as his star.  He needs something new, and he has it.  The series has a new car, new engines, new teams, new drivers, new race director, and hopefully a new direction.  As IndyCar descends the stairs for a new season, you know what is going to be said: “All right, Mr. Bernard, I’m ready for my close-up.”  Let’s hope it’s a blockbuster.  Lights.  Camera.  Action!

1.  Just a little background on film noir (nwa) in case you want to know.

2.  Here’s the story of Sunset Boulevard.

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