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Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Ten Worthless Opinions – The Indy 500 Edition

I was on overload at the 500 this year.  As the wrangler of our extended entourage, numbering 16 this year, there is always the stress of buying supplies, packing coolers, hosting the Checkered Past Soiree on Saturday afternoon, and cajoling and threatening my extended family to get out of bed on race morning.  And that is every year.  This year, I had the additional stress of being a member of the inaugural Social Media Garage at the 500.  I needed to get to the track early this year. In past years, my feckless family truly enjoyed my angst on race morning.  They love it when I threaten to leave their asses at home.  To a person, they are intelligent, witty, and sarcastic.  As a newcomer to the race said of my nephew this year, “Everything he says is the opposite of what he means.”  Yep.  We are that family: happiest when identifying a person’s weakness and exploiting it for humor.  I love them dearly, and they have my eternal gratitude for getting up early (I was up at 4:15 AM) and making sure I had my Social Media Garage experience even though they mocked me without mercy the entire time.  In any case, here are my “Ten Worthless Opinions – The Indy 500 Edition.”  Feel like a member of my family and mock them without mercy.  They are a compilation of both the at-track experience and the TV viewing later.

  1. First and foremost, my sincerest gratitude to IMS and Cassie Conklin for the opportunity to be a part of the first Social Media Garage.  The other bloggers and I didn’t really know what to expect and were gratified to be included in the evolution of the SMG.  Apparently, my loud voice and rather large personality put me in the position of tweet-up wrangler and lead interviewer when I was there.  You can check out my interview with Wade Cunningham here.  If you want a real interview, then watch Zack Houghton follow my cat queries with true race questions.  Blah, blah, blah.  And thanks to @TheMiniChad for the cat swag.  I wore my cat button proudly, and the can cooler really came in handy in the heat.  I also had the opportunity to embarrass drivers Pippa Mann, Ashley Freiberg, Shannon McIntosh, and ESPN.com’s John Oreovicz.  Thanks for playing along.  And huge thanks to my fellow bloggers: Zack Houghton, IndyCarAdvocate.com and @IndyCarAdvocate; Chris AKA Johnny Montona, andhesonit.com and @andhesonit; Mike Knapp, 15daysinmay.blogspot.com and @15daysinmay; and Eric Hall, anotherindycarblog.wordpress.com and @Erock_in_Indy.  You guys really do rock.
  2. The drive to the track (earlier than normal as explained above) was the easiest in memory.  The only line we had was for one or two minutes as we pulled into the Coke Lot.  And thank you IMS for the parking credential.  It got three cars into the front lot.  After last year’s changes in traffic, I was expecting a similar FUBAR.  Good job, nameless traffic pattern people.
  3. I had the opportunity to interview John Oreovicz from ESPN.com in the Social Media Garage Sunday morning.  He has some strong opinions.  The best part is he did not treat the bloggers like the bottom feeding catfish we are.
  4. Eric Hall from anotherindycarblog.com and I used our credentials to walk the grid.  I have been coming to the Indianapolis since 1966, and I never thought I would have that opportunity.  I felt like I was doing it for every fan who will never have that chance.  Neither Eric or I used the opportunity to take many pictures; we simply wanted to focus on the moment and the experience.  The track on race morning breathes; it whispers.  It speaks to you about history.  It makes you think about all the drivers who motored down that narrow front straight.  It say, “I’m here.  I’ve been here.  I’ll be here.”  It moved me.
  5. The pre-race was well done.  Martina McBride knocked it out of the park with the “National Anthem.”  The Jim Nabors video of “Back Home Again in Indiana” worked.  I wept during “Taps.”  Never forget what Memorial Day means.  The fly-over absolutely blew me away.  Two P-51 Mustangs flanking an A-10 followed by an F16 in tight formation?  Are you kidding me?  Beyond cool.  Did anyone else notice that the balloons were released a little late?  Trying to coordinate all the actions of this event must be tough.  The prayer was interesting.  It was a Catholic priest giving a Baptist call and response.  Can I get an “Amen?’
  6. Thanks to IZOD for sponsoring the spotter’s guide that could be found in the Social Media Garage and other places.  If you could not recognize the livery of the cars, you could not identify them.  For a series that touts the fan as paramount, they did a poor job on numerical recognition.  I can fix the problem:  BIGGER NUMBERS ON THE CARS.  You’re welcome.  I am available as a consultant.  I will work for credentials, swag, and a small per diem.
  7. The restarts, even single file, were AMAZING.  The almost made me incontinent.  Here’s a marketing sell: “This restart brought to you by Depends.  Feel free to piss your pants.”  Or is that too NASCAR?
  8. Do I even have to list the reasons I love Tony Kanaan?  Our stands erupted when he took the lead near the end.  He gets Indy, and Indy loves him for it.  With that said, I have to give credit to Dario Franchitti for his emotional Dan Wheldon remarks after the race.  It made me cry.  And what a classy gesture to take Suzie Wheldon on the victory lap.  Much respect to Dario.
  9. And now, my ABC television coverage review:
    • The pre-race was world-class.  Give it the Emmy right now.  The Dan Wheldon tribute was poetry.  It made me and everyone else in the room weep.  As much as I malign ABC’s race coverage, their feature productions are superb.  Well done, ABC.
    • The Tony Kanaan/Rubens Barrichello feature was touching, particularly with TK choking up talking about his father.  I knew the two were friends from karting days, but I did not know how Rubens father was such a surrogate to Tony.  This segment was powerful.  Again, well done, ABC.
    • The Charlie Kimball story about his impact on a young female athlete with diabetes was moving.  Once again, the camera caught someone choking up without making us feel like voyeurs.  That’s the art of a producer.  Well done, ABC.
    • J.R. Hildebrand talking about last year had to be done.  Insightful and humanizing, I felt for him then and feel for him now.
    • Brent Musburger can be cloying, but he has a certain combination of gravitas and enthusiasm that I like.
    • Scott Goodyear, Eddie Cheever, and Marty Reid made their usual number of head scratching mistakes, but the race was so good that I refuse to point them out.  The best I can say is that the trio did not ruin the race.  And that’s saying something.
    • Vince Welch did a great job in Victory Lane.  The raw emotion of Dario Franchitti tells you that Indy is more than a race.
  10. Every year we create a shirt for the Checkered Past Soiree.  Here are some of the quotes from past years: “Drive it like you stole it,” “Race Globally – Drink Locally,” “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough” by Mario Andretti, and “You just don’t know what Indy means” by Al Unser, Jr.  Here’s this year’s shirt.  Considering the race we just had, it still seems apropos after all these years.

Another Indianapolis 500 has come and gone.  We had new cars, new engines, a Social Media Garage, credentials for the race, and the love and abuse of friends and family.  I will now go sit moodily on my back porch and start the countdown to May 26, 2013.

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Climbing the IndyCar Ladder

(Editor’s note:  This is the second post this month from the cagey Canuck Steve Wittich.  Pay attention.  He really knows his stuff.)

I wanted to thank Mark one more time for allowing me to contribute to his blog.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a soft spot for the feeder series.  It goes back to my childhood and my Dad who closely followed the Formula Atlantic Series in the 1970’s.  What wasn’t to like with names like Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, (Uncle) Jacques Villeneuve, Bill Brack, Keke Rossberg, Price Cobb, Tom Gloy, Howdy Holmes and Danny Sullivan?

But this blog is not going to be about Formula Atlantic’s (although it might be the subject of another blog if Mark has me back).  I’m going to concentrate on the two iterations of Indy Lights (another possible blog) and their impact on this year’s Indianapolis 500.

First, let’s start with a few quick statistics about how Indy Lights drivers have fared at IMS in the past decade.  Five of the last ten Indianapolis 500 winners have been Indy Lights graduates: Dan Wheldon (twice), Helio Castroneves (twice) and Scott Dixon.

The 33 drivers in the Indianapolis 500 come from very diverse backgrounds: Formula One, Indy Lights, Formula Atlantics, GP2, World Series by Renault, International Touring Car Series, and Mexican Formula 2.

The Indy Lights contingent makes up the largest proportion of the field with 15 graduates competing.  That list includes seven past Indy Lights champions: Josef Newgarden, J.R. Hildebrand, Wade Cunningham, Townsend Bell, Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia, and Tony Kanaan.   It also includes Sebastian Saavedra who is currently leading the 2012 Indy Lights points chase.

But the Lights graduates aren’t just confined to the starting field.

Former Lights champions Bryan Herta, Eric Bachelart, & Robbie Buhl are car owners in the 2012 Indianapolis 500, and Ed Carpenter is an owner and a driver.

If you watch the NBC Sports coverage of Carb Day, two more Indy Lights grads are featured.  Wally Dallenbach, Jr. joins 1988 Indy Lights champion Jon Beekhuis in the booth to provide expert coverage of IndyCar racing.

It is not uncommon to hear whispers that Indy Lights doesn’t provide a lot of value to IndyCar.   And while it would be great to see more recent Indy Lights grads (Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann, Rafa Matos, Martin Plowman and others) in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 field, it is clear that Indy Lights plays a starring role in the production of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

A Bowl of Indy Stew – Day 3, 1986

Hang on just a minute…it’s back here somewhere…just let me move the ice cream…there it is!  Way back in the freezer in an unmarked Tupperware container is the very last bit of the 1986 Indy Stew.  Let me look.  Yep, there’s one bowl left.  I just need to stick it in the microwave and give it a quick stir.  And here it is.  The last bowl of Indy Stew from Day 3 in 1986.  If interested, I suggest you click the link to check out these other servings from 1986 in “A Bowl of Indy Stew” archives.

If you remember, our race goers have been guilty of trespassing, avoided the law, laughed at vomit, watched our biker buddy scare a citizen, and witnessed assault with a hammer.  And now, after three nights on 16th Street and two rainouts, we are entering the gates at IMS for the third time hoping for a smooth landing.

As we entered Turn 2, we saw an open area to park my VW Rabbit, but as we pulled in, an angry young man waving a 2 iron told me that he was saving the ten or twelve spots there for his friends, and we should move along.  He waggled the 2 iron menacingly.  I’m not small.  I shut down the car and got out.  He stepped closer, informing me that his friends would soon be there, and it would be in our best interest to leave.  My friend Gil, an offensive lineman in college, stepped out of the passenger side and looked over the top of the car at golf club guy.  Still emboldened by his club and inebriation, golf club guy stepped closer, raising his voice and frowning powerfully.  I just smiled.  I smiled because our buddy Marv was just starting to get out of the back seat of my small car.  It must have seemed like a nightmare for golf club guy. His buddies had not arrived, and Marv was unpacking his 6′ 5′, 300 pound self from the back seat.  A nicer man you will never meet, but Marv had been in the football trenches as a college defensive lineman.  He knew how to menace.  And he did.  Imagine Swede from Heartbreak Ridge [1] walking around the corner to intimidate Gunny Highway (Clint Eastwood).  Except golf club guy was no Gunny Highway.  After giving us the eye for a few more moments, golf club guy made a great choice.  He said we could keep the spot, but would we help him hold the others?  One confrontation down.

Since the race was now on its third day, you could sit where you pleased, so we decided to see how the race looked from the outside of Turn 2.  We headed for the SE Vista.  All went well until a gentleman wearing black pants, black shirt, black vest, and black boots walked up the stairs.  For whatever reason, an old song called “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” [2] went through my mind.  I sang, apparently not softly, the lyrics, “He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots.”  From behind me came a female voice singing, “And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back.”  What could I do?  I turned around to see a quite fetching young lady and sang, “He rode a hopped up cycle that took off like a gun.”  She smiled and replied, “That fool was the terror of Highway 101.”  And we both sang “Doo Wa, doo wa!”  I’m not making this up.  I have witnesses, including a rather perplexed and most definitely scowling boyfriend.  We sang the other verses to the song and had a good laugh.  Later, as I was applying suntan lotion to my back, she asked if she could be of assistance.  Having been taught that good manners meant not saying no to a lady, I allowed her to apply the lotion.  Maybe she had been drinking, I don’t know, but it seemed to take a good, long time for that lotion to soak in.  At some point, I heard her obviously irritated boyfriend say, “Do you think that lotion is rubbed in yet?”  Point taken, I thanked the young lady and turned my attention back to the race.

Being exhausted from the night before (read the previous entry “A Bowl of Indy Stew – The Night Before Day 3, 1986”), I began napping in my seat and was told by my buddies that I was turning my head to listen to the cars go by but keeping my eyes closed.  I informed them later it was a scientific experiment regarding the Doppler effect.  They did not buy it.

From all indications, Bobby Rahal won the race, beating Kevin Cogan in the last laps.  It only took three sleepless nights, two rainy days, and a Saturday in the sun to get it done.  And there is distinct possibility that I did not tell all of the stories of 1986.  Find me at IMS on almost any day in May when cars are on the track, and I will tell you the rest of the story.

I guess it’s about time to start cooking up another big pot of Indy Stew from a different year.  I’ll just need to run to IMS for some 2012 ingredients.

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1.  OK, so Marv didn’t look quite like this, but he did to golf club guy.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4gAZKsL2CU

2.  I have found THREE versions of the song “Black Leather Jacket and Motorcycle Boots.”

Indy Tenderloin Tour – Charlie Brown’s Pancake and Steak House

In the previous stops on the Indy Tenderloin Tour, we have only visited Speedway once.  This final edition takes us to an absolute “must see, must eat” stop.  Within sight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and across the street from the Dallara facility, you will find Charlie Brown’s Pancake and Steak House at 1038 Main St. in Speedway, Indiana.  If you are in Speedway and need to mainline a breaded tenderloin, this is the place.

From the outside, Charlie Brown’s is nondescript.  The awning is faded and in need of repair.  But when you  walk in the door you are greeted with a life size photo of Sid Collins, for many years the voice of the 500.

Once inside the door, the walls are a tour of Indy memories.  Any place that has a Parnelli Jones painted 98 picture hanging from the ceiling is aces in my book.  Take your time and stroll around the joint.  It’s OK.  The management understands its patrons.  Look in the display case.  Check out the quilt over the waitress station.  Look at the walls as you go to the lavatory.  This place is an Indy fan Mecca.

Seen enough yet.  I don’t think so.  Now it’s all about the tenderloin.  Make sure you CAREFULLY order the “Hand Breaded Pork Tenderloin.”  Do NOT order the pork fritter.  The fritter is frozen; the hand breaded tenderloin is not.  Shannon, our overworked waitress on an incredibly busy Saturday, tells us she was just a part-timer…33 years ago.  She knows her stuff.  The tenderloins are pounded and breaded on site with a commercial breading that has a few added (secret) ingredients.  My suggestion is to get the platter; it comes with fries and slaw.  The slaw was delivered promptly and was tasty.  Within minutes, our breaded beauties arrived.  Looks great, huh?

I loved the sandwich.  Charlie Brown’s does it a little differently.  In other posts, I have commented on sandwiches that have a thick pork center.  This one was pounded thin with a breading that stayed on the pork.  No slippage.  I dislike breading that slides off the meat.  This was great meat pounded very thin.  It’s a great counterpoint to some of our other stops.  Stop here for the whole package: the platter for $7.15, the kitsch on the walls, and the meat between the bun.  THIS is a Hoosier classic.

Our rating?  This is an absolute checkered flag!  Do not miss this sandwich and this shrine to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ratings:

Checkered Flag: It’s a winner.  Picture should be on the Pork-Warner Trophy.
Green Flag: It’s a go.  Solid competitor with a chance to be a winner.
Yellow Flag:  Warning.  Something is not copacetic.
Black Flag:  Get this pig off the track.

I hope our little tour has been informative and entertaining.  An Indiana breaded pork tenderloin is a great way to enhance your visit to the track.  Bon appetit!

Ten Worthless Opinions – Time Trials Edition

You would think after spending the last three days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I would have more than ten WO’s (worthless opinions) to give you.  I assume you expect only the best in WO’s, so I have culled the herd, so to speak.  I will just be trotting out the best selection of trimmed USDA Prime opinions.  Just don’t look in the back room where the cutting occurs.  In no particular order, here are this week’s Ten Worthless Opinions.

  1. The Social Media Garage (yes, I am shilling again) has been a hit.  Tons of Twitter followers have come through and the elite, select, top-notch bloggers (I may be exaggerating) have had a great time.  Go to the Social Media Garage and follow Zack Houghton, Eric Hall, Mike Knapp, and Johnny Montona (real name is Chris…long story) on Twitter and bookmark their blogs.  They are great writers with interesting perspectives.  The staff has been wonderful, and the access has been unbelievable (did I mention the credentials?).  Again, I can be bought.  I am without shame or conscience in these matters.
  2. I do miss the very unique appellation “Time Trials” over the more pedestrian “Qualifications.”  If you have something special to your brand, don’t just keep it, market it.
  3. I have never met a nicer professional than Pippa Mann.  If you need a model on how a racer should interact with fans, then watch her.  She’s gracious, friendly, and accessible.  Pippa had agreed to show up in the Social Media Garage on Saturday afternoon.  Moments before she was to arrive, she got the news that any possible deal to race at Indy was gone.  We would have completely understood if she had passed on the Social Media Garage.  Not Pippa.  She showed up, smiled, and took questions from the bloggers and the audience.  She let her emotions show as she spoke about what Indy means to her.  She gets Indy.  She made some new fans, and I’m one of them.
  4. I had a chance to interview Wade Cunningham, and the result is posted on his rookie diary on YouTube.[1]  Cats, rugby, and A.J. Foyt were discussed.  He was a great sport, and now has another new fan.  That’s the benefit of being a blogger: I don’t have to be impartial.  With that said, I may be partial to the Canberra Raiders in Rugby League.  Wade is an Auckland Warrior fan.  The Warriors do have a cooler logo, though.  The Maori symbolism rocks.  Give us the Haka, Wade. [2]                                                                                                                                                                        
  5. Love the music selection on the PA at Indy.  I noticed some Lynyrd Skynyrd [3] on Bump Day.  I guess they are warming up the crowd for Carb Day.  Good idea.  We discussed Lynyrd Skynyrd in the SM Garage.  We wondered what demographic the marketers at Indy were after.  It seems a departure from Kid Rock, Stone Temple Pilots, Staind, and Papa Roach.  It seems closer to the ZZ Top choice two years ago.  Skynyrd was popular in the mid-70’s.  I guess the older crowd will show up to hear songs from their youth, and the younger crowd will show up to hear “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.”  In any case, wouldn’t you like to listen to the suits in marketing discuss who they are going to bring to Carb Day.  It makes me smile.
  6. And there was more music at Indy.  Here Come the Mummies [4] played on the Pagoda Plaza after Pole Day and they KILLED it.  The have a great horn section and play dirty, undead funk.  I had to shout, “Play that funky music, dead boy!”  And the lead singer Java is one sick dude, you know, for a dead guy.  You MUST see this band.
  7. Pack racing may make me incontinent.  The cars sliced and diced all week in practice and REALLY chopped on Sunday evening.  Wow.  Let’s hope the car is as safe as it seems because if they race like this on May 27, then someone is saying hello to the SAFER Barrier.  Will Power and two other drivers were VERY displeased with James Jakes taking a Sunday drive in the groove in Turn 1 on Bump Day.  Say hello to my one fingered friend, James.
  8. There were a number of feel good stories.  Bryan Clauson, the local boy from Noblesville, Indiana, came back from a hard hit in Turn 1 on Saturday to qualify for the race.  The SFHR team did a great job getting the car ready.  The same can be said for the ECR team after Ed Carpenter hit hard in Turn 2.  Fuzzy’s Vodka Bloody Mary’s all around tonight, boys.
  9. The DW12 is still ugly, but it has done its job.  It may rotate on contact but it did not get airborne after three hard hits that took the cars off the ground.  If that’s the case, I can live with ugly.  I know that because I look in the mirror every morning and am still able to walk out the front door.
  10. We have pissed and moaned for years about competition and good racing.  I’m glad Lotus is in the race.  We need as many marques as we can get.  Steve Wittich (@stevewittich) did a guest post for New Track Record on Thursday called “Honda: Checkered Past to Checkered Flag” that followed Honda’s rise to the top of the heap.  Give Lotus time.

There they are, my “Ten Worthless Opinions – Time Trials Edition.”  So grab your knickers on Sunday, May 27 because my opinion, worthless or not, is that we are going to be highly entertained.  Once again, it’s going to be the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

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1.  Here’s the link to Wade Cunningham’s Rookie Diary on YouTube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6memYAIUhe8

2.  I tried to convince Wade to intimidate his opponents with this New Zealand Mauri original.  The Haka rocks.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHW1K2LeQXE

3.  Dig the dinosaurs! Her’s a link to Lynyrd Skynyrd.  http://www.lynyrdskynyrd.com/

4.  Party with the undead.  Check out the Mummies site. http://www.herecomethemummies.com/

What I Like About Indy

As a music fan with eclectic tastes, I have always been drawn to singer songwriters, particularly those from Texas like Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Pat Green, Robert Earl Keen, and Gary P. Nunn.  I don’t know what draws me to Texas songs, but one of my favorites is “What I Like About Texas” by Gary P. Nunn. [1]  The song is simple; it lists the people, places, and icons of Texas.  With that in mind, I have compiled a list of “What I Like About Indy.”  This is not an all-inclusive list nor just a historical list.  It’s basically what moves me in 2012.  And I did NOT try to replicate the song.  Just writing sentences and paragraphs stymies me.  And I apologize for the faulty parallelism[2] you find in the list below.  Sometimes you just say it the way you think it.

“What I Like About Indy”

  • One of the joys of the track is meeting all the people who are just like me.  We belong to a club whose only requirement for membership is to love the Indianapolis 500.  Being naturally gregarious and because of my work with the Indy Social Media Garage this year, I have tried to engage as many people in conversation as possible.  There are stories everywhere and people who love to tell them.  This year, I have stopped to listen.  Fathers talk about bringing their sons; sons talk about coming with their fathers.  In essence, I have been told love stories.  And I have been telling mine, too.
  • Even though I still think the DW12 is an ugly car, it did what it was designed to do in two accidents on Pole Day.  Bryan Clauson climbed out after a hard hit in Turn 1, and Ed Carpenter’s car lifted off the ground but did not become airborne after a very hard hit in Turn 2.  Good job, Dallara.
  • The grounds and facilities at Indy have always been immaculate.  The grass is cut, the stands are clean, and the restrooms are checked regularly.  I even like the year-old graffiti in the Pagoda Plaza restrooms, but I am a little puzzled that IMS has not painted it over.  I guess it’s one of the original forms of social media, and I’m all for that.
  • I love the access to the drivers, owners, and media personalities.  From the Alley Cats in Gasoline Alley to the stroll along Pit Lane, you can get up close and personal.  Drivers pass out hero cards, sign autographs, and interact with fans.  Not many sports work as hard to connect with fans as INDYCAR, and not many places provide the opportunity as IMS.  Just stand at Gasoline Alley for an hour or two and you’ll see.
  • The advent of social media (yes, I’m shilling for the Social Media Garage, and I understand the irony since I have mocked the shills in this space, but I have said before that I CAN BE BOUGHT) and its use by drivers, teams, and fans has created a connectivity that has never existed in sports before now.  I can’t wait to see where it leads.
  • This year, I have absolutely loved meeting so many of my social media (Twitter and blog) connections.  I thought I was too old to make new friends.
  • The night before the race is Christmas Eve.  I love the planning and logistics.
  • The morning of the race is special.  From the time the alarm rings until the green flag falls, the anticipation palpitates; you can feel it.  The choreography of the event is designed to bring you to a fever pitch.  It works.
  • The moment you pull into your parking spot, wherever it is, is beautiful  Stress is gone.  You have arrived.
  • I like the traditions: the “Spectacle of Bands,” the princesses, the Boy Scouts, the balloons, the police motorcycles with the officer standing on the seat, and the celebrities.  I am moved by the songs: “On the Banks of the Wabash,”  “God Bless America,” “Back Home Again in Indiana,” and “Taps.”  Don’t forget the invocation, the fly-over, and the “National Anthem.”  And, of course, everyone loves “Gentlemen, start your engines.”  Some things we never want to change.
  • Even though we don’t want our traditions to change, change they do.  I like the new qualification format.  It’s exciting.  I am happy that IMS was not so hidebound that they could not change when change was called for.
  • The fact that IMS is willing to try something new like the Social Media Garage is another example that they are looking to the future (or just acknowledging the present).  That’s good.
  • The Pagoda is truly iconic.  I love it.
  • Long’s Donuts, Charlie Brown’s, Mug-n-Bun, Dawson’s, McGilvery’s, and Kelly’s Pub Too are long time eateries and pubs.  And you might as well add White Castle.
  • I love the crowd when the stands are full.
  • The acceleration of the pace lap and the anticipation of the start cannot be matched.
  • The last laps of the race as you determine who is still in contention is thrilling.
  • Now that I think about it, I like everything.

There you go.  A short list of what I like about Indy.  Please feel free to add your favorites in the comments section. In the words of Al Unser, Jr. in 1992, “You just don’t know what Indy means.”  Kind of sounds like a song lyric, doesn’t it?

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1.  Here’s link to Gary P. Nunn’s song “What I Like About Texas.”  Great song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGukLuXzH1E

2.  Need a grammar lesson?  Here’s one on parallelism. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/623/1/

Paint It Black

“I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes” [1]

Judging by the outcry over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s decision to paint an advertisement in the Turn One infield grass, you would think the marketers at IMS had just sold naming rights to the Pagoda.  Oh, wait.  They did that a few years ago with Bomdardier, didn’t they?  People are acting like they put a sponsor on the Borg-Warner Trophy.  Wait a minute.  Sorry.  Well, you would think they partnered with Coca-Cola to be the sole supplier of soft drinks at the track.  What?  Really?  Well then, you would think they entered into a deal with Cholula Hot Sauce …Tag Heuer…Shell V-Power…Apex Brasil…Peak Performance…Miller Lite…IZOD.  Oh, they DID enter into marketing agreements with all of these companies?  What do you know, IMS is acting like it is a business trying to make money.

The traditionalists want nothing to change.  They want the new ad painted in Turn One painted black, like the Rolling Stones lyrics suggest.  They can’t fathom ads on the walls.  Really?  You have a problem with money?  Maybe a short history lesson is in order.  If you want tradition, look no further than Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl Fisher.  To drum up business for his car dealership, he attached a car to a balloon and had it fly across Indianapolis.  THAT’S a promotion, and promotion is why he built the track.  He wanted to sell cars and headlights.  He understood that you had to advertise to make money.  And I guarantee if painting the infield was worth a dollar to him, then the infield would have been painted.

After Tony Hulman bought the track, the cash cow that was IMS was only milked once a year.  For years the Hulman family did not own a racing series, did not build a road course, did not pay F1 a sanctioning fee, did not host NASCAR, did not host MotoGP, and did not own a Pete Dye golf course.  They became rich selling Clabber Girl Baking Powder and hosting the 500 in the month of May.  But when the Hulman-George family did do all of those things, they spent a substantial amount of money, possibly enough money to cause a restructuring of the board of directors.   Suddenly, making money, or at least not bleeding money, became VERY important.

Things changed at Indy when making money became the primary objective.  The marketing types suddenly were looking for ways to increase revenue.  If you wanted to produce the ring for the winner, you had to do more than just make the ring: you had to pay for the privilege.  That’s the way they do it in the real world.  The Pagoda, the video boards, the upgrades to seating, the yellow shirts, and the maintenance to the facility are costs that continue to increase.  A business has to make money; people have to get paid.  If a few ads keep my ticket prices down and the sponsorship up, then I’ll be happy.

And the last time I looked at the cars, they had sponsors on the side.  What’s the difference?  I hear no one bemoaning the sanctity and tradition of the car. You don’t expect the cars to all be painted black, do you?

“I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a new born baby it just happens ev’ry day”

Some fans consider the Speedway to be a somber matron dressed in subdued colors.  How many somber matrons do you know who get any attention?  Matrons today are ditching their drab and dreary attire.  You stay young and vital by acting that way.  So let the old girl put on some leopard print pants and high heels.  I say strut your stuff, Indy.  You’re only as young as you feel.  If your make-up includes a few ads, so be it.  We are all walking billboards for designer clothing companies, anyway; I proudly sport my IZOD logos.

The tradition of Indy is alive in its history, pageantry, and tradition.  And the tradition includes having a viable family business that stays in the family.  I don’t begrudge the Speedway creating a little more cash flow.  Consider the possibility of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway being sold to some faceless multinational corporation because of financial issues.  Now that’s a picture that is truly painted black.

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1.  Like the Rolling Stones?  Here’s the song “Paint It Black” along with the lyrics.  I love the intro. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Egt1Hq4wpE

Honda: Checkered Past to Checkered Flag

(Editor’s Note: Steve Wittich, today’s guest blogger, is one canny Canuck.  New Track Record was lucky enough to get him to write about some real history instead of the semi-lucid ramblings usually found here.  We hope he will follow this up with another post next Thursday.  You can find a daily dose of racing opinions from Steve on Twitter @stevewittich.)

I’d like to thank Mark for this opportunity to guest blog on NewTrackRecord.  I had a grand plan to explain the IndyCar engine wars of the past and dovetail that into explaining why engines are leased instead of purchased.  I decided that might be a little deep for my first blog attempt, so I have instead decided to focus on a study in perseverance for one of IndyCar’s current engine manufacturers.

Honda’s mid-80’s foray into IndyCar racing was a disaster.  Their “badging” of the Judd AV lasted only one year.  Fast forward to the mid-90’s, 1994 to be exact, and this commercial:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osNyXkMWnSE

This time instead of partnering with a third-party engine manufacturer, Honda took matters into their own hands and formed Honda Performance Development.  They chose to partner with Rahal-Hogan Racing with drivers Bobby Rahal and Mike Groff.  As far as the overall season went, it wasn’t a total disaster.  Bobby Rahal finished 10th in points and Mike Groff finished 20th in points. The results were extremely inconsistent with mechanical failures being quite common. .

But remember that the tag-line in the above commercial was “See ya at Indy”.  From the beginning Honda has made it quite clear that winning Indy was their goal.  Unfortunately for Honda the month of May didn’t quite go as planned.  Rahal and Groff were unable to get their Honda powered Lola’s up to speed and ended up leasing two Ilmor powered Penske PC22s from Roger Penske.  Both easily qualified for the field.  Groff’s day ended early when he and Dominic Dobson made contact, and Rahal was able to ride his rented mule to a third place finish.

One might think that after those two missteps, Honda would reconsider their involvement in IndyCar racing.  They doubled down and pressed on, and in 1995 they joined forces with Tasman Motorsports.  Tasman fielded one full-time car for Indy Lights standout Andre Ribiero as well as a part-time car for Canadian Scott Goodyear.

The year started off slowly for Tasman and Ribiero with three DNF’s in the first three races, but their luck started to turn around at Nazareth.  Giving us a hint of Honda’s new found power was a sixth place start and 11th place finish.  It was now on to Indy where Goodyear would drive a second Tasman car.  Goodyear’s surprising outside front row starting position was overshadowed by the failure of Team Penske to qualify for the race.

The Honda’s race day horsepower was evident as soon as the green flag dropped when Goodyear swept to the lead and led the race for 42 laps.  Unfortunately while leading during a late restart, Goodyear passed the pace car, and his refusal to acknowledge the black flag meant he finished in 17th place.  Honda came “that” close to achieving their goal in only their second try.  I’m not sure anybody knew at that point that it would be almost two decades before they got another shot.

The rest of the year for Tasman and Ribiero was a mixed bag of results as they generally qualified in the top 10 but due to mechanical issues and incidents failed to finish many races.  They did have one VERY bright spot as Ribiero put his Reynard Honda on the pole at New Hampshire and proceeded to run away with the race.

The following season (1996) saw Honda greatly expand their effort to include seven full-time cars including Chip Gannasi Racing.  Honda won all but three races that season and won their first series championship with Ganassi’s Jimmy Vasser.

This started an impressive string of six straight CART championships including two by Alex Zanardi, two by Gil de Ferran and one by Juan Pablo Montoya.

In 2002 Honda announced that they had unfinished business at the Indy 500 and would begin supplying engines to IRL teams in 2003.  They had some success in 2003 with wins by Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta, but they would have to wait until 2004 to finally taste victory at Indianapolis.

Buddy Rice came out on top at the 2004 Indianapolis 500 giving Honda victory exactly two decades after they went home with their tail between their legs.  It was a dominating performance by Honda that saw them take home the first seven spots in the race.  That win began an era of Honda domination, and they have won the last seven Indianapolis 500’s and drove their competition from the series

Honda came to dominate IndyCar, but I’d like to remind people not to forget their inauspicious start and applaud them for the perseverance and dedication that it took to overcome that.

Whether Honda can make it eight Indianapolis 500 victories in a row is a big question mark.  Engine competition has brought some new story lines to IndyCar and watching Chevrolet try to wrestle control of the Indianapolis 500 away from Honda is definitely the headliner.

Indy Tenderloin Tour – The Red Key Tavern

I am an unabashed lover of kitsch. [1]  Tacky?  I love it.  Over-the-top odd?  I’m there.  That is why I absolutely love the Red Key Tavern at 5170 N. College Ave. in Indy.  It suits me.  The term “eclectic” [2] comes to mind when you walk in the door.  It is a neighborhood tavern in every sense of the word.  The regulars all know each other.  You can leave your money on the bar when you hit the head.  The jukebox has Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Bing Crosby on it.  How cool is that?

The bar was owned by Russ Settle, a WWII bomber crewman, who passed away in 2010.  You MUST read his obituary in the Indy alternative paper NUVO, as written by one of his former employees. [3]  It explains everything from a much more personal perspective.  I know my limitations; I can’t tell his story like Nora Spitznogle can.  And it’s his story that makes the bar.  He had rules you had to follow and expectations you had to meet.  Everything in the bar, from the songs on the jukebox to the model planes hanging from the ceiling, defined him.  The Dan Wakefield novel Going All the Way, had scenes set here.  The movie of the same name starring Ben Affleck had scenes filmed here.  If “keeping it real” is just a phrase to you, don’t stop.  If you want a real experience – and a great breaded tenderloin – this place is a “must see.”

How about that tenderloin?  Our friendly bartender Robin told us the meat is pounded and breaded on site.  The breading is nothing fancy.  It’s just a commercial product.  But that’s OK.  The magic is in how this baby is cooked.  Most places deep fry their breaded tenderloins, but the Redkey has no deep fryer.  What they have is a 60-year-old flat-top grill.  The breading is light because they cook your breaded beauty on this grill with just a splash of oil.  And pause for a moment to consider the flavor that a flat-top grill has burned into it over 60 years.  That’s called seasoning.  Get the picture?  This is a great sandwich because of how it’s cooked.  Add a couple of locally brewed Sun King Cream Ales and you have a great meal.

Russ Settle had his rules.  Here are my rules for visiting the Red Key Tavern

  • Get there early if you want a tenderloin.  They run out.
  • Order the potato salad.  Again, they run out.
  • If the tenderloins are gone (you have been warned), then get a hamburger.  They are cooked on the same seasoned grill.
  • They have no beer on tap.  They do, however, carry locally brewed products.  I suggest the Sun King Cream Ale or the Sun King Wee Mac.
  • Play the jukebox.  Try something you have never heard before.
  • Behave yourself.  Follow the rules.
  • BRING CASH!  The Red Key does not take plastic.  Old school, baby.  This is the kind of place you might expect to see Blue from the movie Old School. [4]
  • Enjoy this place.  Bars like this are vanishing pieces of Americana.

I have to give the Red Key Tavern a checkered flag, not only for the tenderloin, but for the whole experience.

Ratings:
Checkered Flag: It’s a winner.  Picture should be on the Pork-Warner Trophy.
Green Flag: It’s a go.  Solid competitor with a chance to be a winner.
Yellow Flag:  Warning.  Something is not copacetic.
Black Flag:  Get this pig off the track.

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1.  Here’s a good primer on “kitsch.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitsch

2.  For the vocabulary impaired, “eclectic” is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as “deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources: her musical tastes are eclectic.”  And yes, I am a supercilious prick for using the term “eclectic” and for assuming that the reader does not know the definition.

3.  Here’s the NUVO obit.  http://www.nuvo.net/FoodDrinkBlog/archives/2010/04/05/red-key-taverns-russ-settle-died-sunday

4.  Here’s Will Ferrell’s tribute to Blue from the movie Old School.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnywlzr7Y1o

Ten Worthless Opinions – Indy Social Media Garage Edition

Through some legerdemain, hocus-pocus, super moon cosmic connection, or dumb luck,  I have been selected to be a blogger in the IMS Social Media Garage.  I’m pretty sure it was a combination of more qualified writers being unable to participate and a deadline where the vivacious Cassie Conklin, one of the primary SMG mechanics, simply said, “We have one more spot to fill.  Who’s next on the list?”  However it happened, I’m just happy to park New Track Record in the garage for the month of May.  I do have a few WO’s (worthless opinions) regarding the Social Media Garage and the first weekend of practice.

1.  Bloggers are normally happy in the shadows.  I mean, take a look at our pictures on the SMG web page.  Yikes.  Would you call us edgy, classy, or cool looking?  How about old, fat, or geeky then?  By and large, bloggers live on hope. We hope someone will read our opinions or laugh at our jokes.  We hope that people will follow us on Twitter or comment on our stuff.  And we hope for the blogger bonanza: money, swag, or credentials.  In the case of the Social Media Garage…Yahtzee!  We have been HOOKED UP.  We are still doing it for free, and I haven’t seen any shirts or hats yet, but we scored credentials for the month of May.  Normally, bloggers are told they can come in the back door and not to touch anything.  The SMG people said come on in, and you can even sit on the furniture.  It’s like the Jimmy Buffett song “Gypsies in the Palace.” [1]  We are just taking advantage of the situation while we can.  And I have to tell you, my family and friends now think I am an insufferable ass.  Or as Steve Wittich (@stevewittich) said, “You mean more of an insufferable ass.”  Well, yes.

2.  I have always contended that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is really just a large Mom and Pop business.  It’s family run, and the people you come in contact with in the ticket office, credentials office, the gift shop, and the museum are invariably friendly and helpful.  Maybe it’s the business culture or Hoosier hospitality, but IMS people are just nice.  After getting word that I was one of the chosen/lucky bloggers, I was instructed to head to the corner of 16th and Georgetown to pick up my credentials.  I was hoping for Bronze Badge access, but was given a parking pass, a pass for race day pit/garage/grid access, and a Silver Badge.  Since I previously purchased a Bronze Badge, there was some paperwork/computer issues to work through.  Jennifer, one of the supervisors, was professional, pleasant, and helpful.  I might add that the credentials office runs a tight ship.  I would guess that not too many things fall through the cracks in there.  To add to the festivities, Eric Hall (@Erock_in_Indy), one of the other SMG bloggers, was in the office with the same problem as I.  We both felt like interlopers, waiting for someone to say, “Just a minute, you two.  There’s been some mistake.”  But we walked out clutching our badges and passes like kids gripping bags of candy on Halloween evening.

3.  The sidewalk and lawn in front of the IMS office on 16th and Georgetown is a great place to see the various team personnel pick up their credentials.  And the best part is they have to stand in line in the credentials office just like everybody else.  I love the great equalizers in our society.

4.  As Eric and I left the IMS offices, a woman who was picking up credentials at the window between us stopped to ask what was going on in there.  She was friendly (Hoosier hospitality once again) and interested in our story.  She introduced herself as Joan Parsons Voyles and very quietly, but with great pride, said that her father was a former 500 winner.  Her father was Johnnie Parsons, the 1950 champion. [2]  Stories are everywhere at Indy.

5.  If you see Eric at the SMG this year, be sure to ask him who else we met in front of the IMS offices.  And ask him where he got his picture that you see on the SMG webpage.  It only looks like a mug shot.

6.  Need another place to go to see the IndyCar personnel?  Get to Charlie Brown’s Pancake and Steak House on Main St. in Speedway early on any given practice morning.  Good food and good people watching.

7.  Opening Day at the track is just cool.  The auto show behind the Pagoda this year was superb.  Just assume the cars were beyond description.  Even better was watching the blazer wearing judges making their choices.  They talked, walked, dressed, and smelled like money.  My favorite was the judge wearing a “Gulfstream” logo cap.  Does he think we can’t tell he’s already rich?  And I can mock him all I want because I absolutely know he does not read my blog.  Small victory, I guess.

8.  Planning to buy your beer at the track?  The Foster’s Oil Can [3] holds 25.4 oz. of beer.  At $7.00 a beer that’s only $3.50 for 12 oz.  I dare you to find a better deal at any major sporting event.  At New Track Record, we believe in value.

9.  If you are a regular at the track and do not have a Bronze Badge, you are making a mistake.  Walking through the garage is flat-out fun.  The drivers are approachable, and you are up close to the action.  (Thanks to Bryan Clauson, a Noblesville boy like myself, for taking time to talk to my son and I on Saturday.  He’s genuine, and that is some of my highest praise.)  Plus, having a badge is great just because you can feel special.  And who doesn’t like that?  It’s human nature.  And for $100, you can feel special, too.  Also, I found out that badge envy exists.  Twice, people saw my badge, looked me up and down, and said, “Silver?”  I smiled.  If I only had a hat that said “Gulfstream” on it.

10.  Oh.  And there were some cars on the track, and they went kind of fast.

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1.  Here is a live version of “Gypsies in the Palace.”  I hope I don’t get a cease and desist order.  I hear JB is harsh. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBpG-GEZLCE&feature=related

2.  Here’s a link to Johnnie Parson’s Wikipedia page with an interesting story about the trophy.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnie_Parsons

3.  And of course, a link to Foster’s beer.  Enjoy.  http://www.fostersbeer.com/ 

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