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Archive for the month “April, 2013”

The Mods and Rockers: what IndyCar can learn from British pop culture

The IZOD IndyCar Series needs fewer Mods on scooters and a few more Rockers on motorcycles

In the recent NASCAR Nationwide race at Richmond, a typically long and relatively boring race was spiced up by a post race contretemps between Brian Scott and Nelson Piquet, Jr.  It was the kick felt around the racing world as Piquet, Jr. took rather low aim as he connected with Scott below the belt.  The juxtaposition of Scott, your typical American stock car racer, and Piquet, Jr., a Brazilian scion of F1 champion Nelson Piquet seemed oddly familiar.  Suddenly, an image from popular culture came flashing back.  The fight between Piquet, Jr. and Scott was a modern version of the British conflict between the Mods and the Rockers in the early 1960’s.  It certainly ramped up the media interest in the Richmond Nationwide race, just as the events in the ’60’s exploded in the British media.  And truth be told, it is exactly what IndyCar needs in 2013.

To make my point, a little history lesson is in order.  If you are not familiar with the Mods and Rockers, I did some time-consuming and exhaustive research on the subject (I went to Wikipedia and watched the TV show Cafe Racer on Velocity).   The Rockers were rock and rollers who wore leather and rode British motorcycles like BSA’s, Triumphs, Nortons, and Vincents.  In other words, tough guys.  The Mods were clean-cut, suit-wearing, jazz and R & B aficionados who drove scooters.  We would probably call them preppies today. The two groups had some near riots that sent the British press into paroxysms of angst and conjured images of youth run amok.  All of this brings us to what the IZOD IndyCar Series needs right now.

IndyCar is all Mods and no Rockers.  Proof?  Check the scooters in the garages and pits at any IndyCar race.  What message does this send?  It screams effete hipster snob! Even the Penske stable uses matching scooters that are always lined up perfectly in front of their motor homes.  These latter-day Mods need to have a counter-point.  Where are the Rockers, IndyCar?  Where is the leather?  IndyCar may not need the post-race fisticuffs of NASCAR, but it certainly needs a little antipathy among the racers.  Robin Miller of Speed and NBC Sports always says that hate is good.  I’ll settle for a little hostility.

Fans like to know that competitors really want to beat the other guy, not just win the race.  Even though IndyCar has marketable young Mods like James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Marco Andretti, and Graham Rahal, these young guys don’t have a Rocker nemesis cast as an antithesis to their Mod coolness.  The closest IndyCar comes to a Rocker is IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield, who drives a two-wheeler that is decidedly not a scooter.  At least we can still have bad blood between the Mod racers and the Rocker race director.  It’s something.

Beaux Barfield's Rocker ride. (photo: Mark Wilkinson)

Beaux Barfield’s Rocker ride. (photo: Mark Wilkinson)

It’s time for IndyCar to develop some real rivalries.  The frat house that is the IndyCar paddock needs a little dive bar biker atmosphere to spice it up.  Could it be oval specialist Ed Carpenter in a leather jacket?  Maybe J.R. Hildebrand and A.J. Allmendinger could bring a little of their California Rocker ethos to the paddock.  I’m afraid it may be a lost cause.  The boys and girls in the paddock are just too nice.  And that’s just too bad.

Bad blood is good copy and good televison.  Will Power (who may be the Rocker the series needs) made news with his double finger salute to Brian Barnhart at New Hampshire as well as the same gesture to E.J. Viso at Iowa last year.  Sadly, Power has not taken his Rocker role to heart.  He is back in the frat house with the rest of the Mods.  A.J. Foyt, the true IndyCar tough guy who may have never listened to rock and roll in his life, had his Rocker moment at Texas when he threw Arie Luyendyk to the ground in Victory Circle.  Those were the days before politically correct sponsor concerns trumped human emotion.  You were still allowed to publicly dislike someone.

Even though the IndyCar drivers have the occasional fit of pique over on-track indiscretions, don’t expect them to start kicking and swinging anytime soon.  Unfortunately, you just don’t see much Mod on Mod violence anymore.  And IndyCar is a little less fun because of it.  The Vespas are winning.

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Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach: Surf’s Up Edition

According to information on the Legendary Surfers website, Long Beach, California is often credited as being the site of the first use of Hawaiian surfboards in North America when two world travelers arrived home with boards after a trip to the islands.  They started a culture in California that largely defined the West Coast to the rest of the world.  And once you add cars and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, you have the beginning of another Endless Summer on the track.  With that kind of history, how can you not be totally stoked about the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, dude?  And yes, I will be attempting to use surfing slang in this “Surf’s Up” edition.  Since I am landlocked in Indiana, you can assume I will fail miserably.

Some attention needs to be paid to the bruhs on the NBC Sports telecast.  It would be a step in the right direction if the viewership on TV was greater than the total attendance at the event.  That remains to be seen.  The deep thinkers at the network continue to tinker with the production.  With Leigh Diffey calling F1, they had Brian Till as the anchor with Townsend Bell and Wally Dallenbach as color.  Brian did a nice job, but I cannot tell one announcer from another since all three sound alike.  The booth needs Leigh Diffey’s Aussie dialect to differentiate him from his booth mates and his firmer hand to rein in Townsend and Wally, so they don’t get off subject and, you know, miss what is happening on the track.  And missing the action is not cool, man.  Don’t be a Barney.

Pre-race with the boys in the pits was absent human interest, features, and Robin Miller, who seems to be slowly hanging up his NBC longboard.  If you are a hard-core fan of racing, the pre-race worked.  If you are new to the sport, and the series needs new fans, then NBC Sports did nothing to bring you closer to the competitors as human beings.  It is a fine line between simply reporting and telling stories.  I think the pendulum moved to the reporting side a little too much this week.  I do like the Wally Dallenbach/Townsend Bell track lap better than Robin Miller’s grid lurch, though.  Wally shooting Silly String in Townsend’s ear to disturb his focus while driving was a nice touch.

Dakota Meyer, a Marine Corps Congressional Medal Of Honor winner said the most famous words in racing: “Fire those things up!”  OK, he decided, in true California fashion, to do it his way.  Anyone with a CMH can say anything he wants for the rest of his life.  Semper Fi, Dakota.

The start was gnarly.  As long as you have the hairpin at the head of the frontstretch and the flagstand in the same location, rolling starts at Long Beach will always be ugly.  Standing starts anyone?  The benefit of this line-up is that it strings out the cars before the point break of turn one.  Even so, it seems that there is always someone ready and willing to drop in on another driver as they enter the turn.  These drivers can be so territorial here in Long Beach.

One thing you don’t want to do in the line-up waiting for a set is to drop in on a wave when it isn’t your turn.  Charlie Kimball did just that to Alex Tagliani at Long Beach, trying to snake under him and wiping out in the same location and in the same way as Sebastian Saavedra did earlier in the race and Ryan Hunter-Reay did near the end.  That’s what happens when you try to snake a wave, or a racing line, dude.

In case anyone is noticing, the IndyCar series has the best racing anywhere.  The DW12, even though it is as ugly as a mud fence, is a racy machine.  Cars competed for position throughout the pack all day with Justin Wilson, Marco Andretti, and Scott Dixon surfing through the field to the front.  The problem with TV is you never see the great racing until it reaches the top five.  That’s just another reason to watch this series in person.

But the Big Kahuna at Long Beach was Takuma Sato for A.J. Foyt Racing.  He carved the corners all day on his way to his first IndyCar win.  After the race, team director Larry Foyt said Sato had driven the perfect race.  You know what he was doing, don’t you?  He was in the pocket, riding the front of the IndyCar wave at Long Beach.  He was in the zone.  He never put a wheel wrong all day.  Takuma Sato was soul surfing down Shoreline Drive.  The way he drove, he may not be looking to share many waves this year.

Well, it’s time to put the longboard back in the quiver and tool back home in the woodie.  Until next time, listen to the Surfaris and try not to “Wipe Out.”  Hang loose.

Sun Tzu and the Art of IndyCar

Faced with an off-week for IndyCar this past weekend, I decided to tune in for the Chinese Grand Prix from Shanghai. I am open-wheel to the bone, and even though the drivers of F1 often make the word “entitled” seem an understatement, they certainly put on a good show. There must be something IndyCar can learn from the Chinese Grand Prix, some Zen or Tao that will offer sudden enlightenment to a series in desperate need of it. Then I had my own vision, my own flash of understanding. IndyCar must have some connection to Sun Tzu and The Art of War. This Chinese general from 2500 years ago is credited with writing a treatise that explained the intricacies of warfare and has been used in military academies, boardrooms and athletic fields to help guide leaders to victory. It is pretty clear that some of Sun Tzu’s philosophies could apply to IndyCar. Allow me to offer my interpretation and commentary on a few of the general’s quotes.

“To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” Well, this seems simple enough. The leaders at IndyCar over the past few years have worked very hard at becoming their own worst enemies. I’m not sure that is what old Sun Tzu was talking about, though. The list of self-inflicted wounds in IndyCar is a litany of lost opportunity. The IRL was a spec series that hemorrhaged money. Sponsors ran for the hills. A TV contract was signed that relegated IndyCar to the backwoods of cable. The palace intrigue that cost Tony George his leadership role also resulted in a very messy and embarrassing parting of ways with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. Yep, I think IndyCar has practiced this particular stratagem.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” In assessing how IndyCar has marketed itself in recent years, it is clear that Sun Tzu would have had a problem with the series. The vision of Kiss’s Gene Simmons with his “I am Indy” campaign that went nowhere is an example of strategy without tactics. It was a great overall concept that was never implemented as more than a slogan. Randy Bernard, on the other hand, was a master of the moment. He always had a good idea of what to do today, but it never seemed to reach the level of strategy or vision. Let’s see if the new IndyCar masters have the ability to put the two together.

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” Sun Tzu mentions leadership often. This comment seems like it was directed at Penske Racing and Roger Penske. I’m pretty sure Penske’s new driver AJ Allmendinger would follow Roger into the deepest valley. No other owner has more loyal employees or less turnover. When you have that kind of loyalty, you win the battle. I guess following that old Golden Rule bromide has some staying power. Chalk another one up for Sun Tzu.

“Opportunities multiply as they are achieved. Which team has made the most of its opportunities this year? Which team is on a roll? The answer is Andretti Autosport. First James Hinchcliffe wins in St. Pete, and then Ryan Hunter Reay finishes first at Barber. Our Chinese general understood momentum. And Andretti Autosport has it.

“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.” Wow. It seems like Sun Tzu actually knows Chip Ganassi. How do you beat Chip? The general knows. Make him discount you. Nothing entertains me more than watching an in-race interview with Chip and hearing him complain about some backmarker getting in the way of his world domination. The nerve of those…people. Sooner or later, Ganassi’s arrogance will cost him a race. I just hope it is one of those backmarkers that beats his car to the line. How sweet will that karma be?

There are not more than five primary colours, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.” Enough cannot be said about the raciness and safety of the Dallara DW 12. Even though the only thing different about the cars is the livery, they have provided quality competition on all three types of venues. Is a spec series and controlled costs the way to put spectators in the seats and eyeballs on the TV screens? No, good racing will do that, and that is what the IZOD IndyCar Series has right now. The cars are just the paint and brushes; the artists are sitting in the cockpits.

“Great results, can be achieved with small forces.” Even though fans and writers rail against the idea of a spec series, it does create a parity that would not exist if the wealthy owners were able to spend their way to Victory Lane. Whether it was Dan Wheldon winning the Indy 500 for Bryan Herta, Justin Wilson winning at Texas for Dale Coyne, or Ed Carpenter winning at Fontana driving for himself, the DW 12 creates a situation where anyone can win. Let’s hope for some more great results by the little guys. Sun Tzu would get a kick out of it. And it would really irritate Chip.

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” This should be the mantra for the IZOD IndyCar Series this year. You have diverse venues, a competitive car, and a cast of fan-friendly characters both in and out of the car. Much of Sun Tzu’s philosophy can be distilled as “strike while the iron’s hot.” It is incumbent on the series to do something with this wealth of talent and entertainment. The leaders of the series need to lead. That seems simplistic, but much of what Sun Tzu says is common sense and simple. He advocates planning and strategy. Seize the day, IndyCar.

If Mark Miles cannot right the IndyCar ship, it may be time to bring in an Eastern philosopher/warrior/priest to instruct him. Maybe it is time for Mr. Miles to watch the old Kung Fu TV series and channel his inner Kwai Chang Kaine and meet Master Po for some instruction. Listen to Master Po, young grasshopper.

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama: Untimely Edition

I understand this post is a little late and not in my usual WO (worthless opinions) format.  There are reasons.  Good reasons.  I could blame it on the fact that I was on vacation last week, and it took a few days to sober up get back in the swing of things.  Certainly, there was yard work to attend to that just could not wait.  Of course, there were the usual family obligations, not to mention the day job that provides the money to pursue my writing and racing habit.  These are all valid.  Those that know me understand my deeply rooted love of procrastination.  Add to that the fact that I am the editor-in-chief and sole unpaid employee of this joint, and you could assume that I can post whenever I damn well please since nobody reads this stuff anyway.  All true, but not the truth in this case.  I am late posting because I had a creative idea.

If you are a regular reader here (thank you both), you know I have an unhealthy attachment to the odd and the quirky.  I have connected IndyCar and its denizens to the following over the past year:

  • The movies The Shawshank Redemption, Sunset Boulevard, Fever Pitch, Animal House, and Christmas Vacation
  • The Warner Brothers cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, and Porky Pig
  • Championship wrestling
  • The Mayan apocalypse (twice)
  • The Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black”
  • The songs of the Beach Boys
  • Texas singer/songwriters and their music
  • The Delta Wing and the Tanya Tucker song “Delta Dawn”
  • The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein and his novel Stranger in a Strange Land.
  • Tony Dungy, Bob Knight, and Jesus Christ

I’m proud of the eclectic collection I’ve put together.  I feel I have carved out a niche within a niche sport.  It suits me.  The question, of course, is what does all this have to do with this week’s post being late?  Let me explain.

My idea was to use the Master’s golf tournament as the comparison to the Grand Prix of Alabama since so many people gush over the beautiful and verdant scenery of Barber Motorsports Park by comparing it to Augusta National Golf Club, the site of the Masters.  Augusta National is pretentious.  How pretentious?  They name each hole after a tree found on the grounds.  They have names like Tea Olive, Juniper, Magnolia, Azalea and the list goes on.  My idea was to name each one of my ten WO’s (worthless opinions) after one of the 30 or so pieces of art on the grounds at Barber.  All I needed was a picture of ten of the pieces and I would be good to go.  In fact, I spent a couple of hours finding pictures of the art works and making up names for them like “Naked Guys on Wheels” and “Guy Pushing a Rock.”  Classy stuff, right?  But being an English teacher at heart, I wanted to be honest and correct.  I needed permission from the photographers to publish their work.  This, I found, is simple if you are not writing a piece that is time sensitive (I was) and if you have your idea well ahead of time (I didn’t).  So here I sit in the middle of the week after a race has concluded waiting for permission to use photos that may never come, so I can use a cool idea (in my own mind) to make an oddball comparison of a golf course and a race track just so I can offer my rather pedestrian opinions on a race.  So…let me now offer my untimely opinions on the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, late because I had a great idea.

  • The prerace lap with Townsend Bell behind the wheel and Wally Dallenbach in the passenger seat was comic gold.  I loved the Tums going sideways as they missed Wally’s mouth.  That’s nuance.  The vomit bag might have been low-hanging fruit but it was funny.  It’s OK to have flavors other than vanilla.  More of this, please.
  • NBC Sports seems to have an idea on how they want to present IndyCar.  The booth was great, and the camera work stellar.  I am not a fan of shit-stirring, though.  The pit reporters are still trying to bring up a Will Power-Scott Dixon feud from last year and tried to create drama with a Will Power-James Hinchcliffe qualification episode from Saturday.  Just stop it.  The feuds will either happen or not.  It’s organic.  Like pro wrestling, the fans will determine who the heels and faces are.  Less of this, please.
  • I REALLY like Jon Beekhuis in the pits and look forward to more Professor B episodes.  I like it when they teach me something.  More of this, please.
  • You would think I would tire of mocking Robin Miller’s grid wobble.  You would be wrong.  It is unintentional comedy at its best.  He has no idea when he’s going, where he’s going, or to whom he’s going to talk.  Speaking of Robin Miller, did anyone else notice he absolutely disappeared during the broadcast?  More of Robin Miller, please.
  • The start was a little sloppy but VERY edgy.  How you can not sit up on the edge of your seat?  IndyCar is GREAT racing.  Someone is going to get punted on the start at Long Beach.  Then the shit will stir itself.  More of the attacking starts, please.
  • Other than an accordion of cars playing polka music on the first lap causing Hinchcliffe to drop a wheel, the race was green, green, green.  We had tire strategy, fuel strategy, and passes for the lead.  That’s road course racing.  More passes for the lead, please.
  • Hinch was hilarious in defeat.  Ryan Hunter-Reay was aggressive in victory.  Charlie Kimball was an eye-opener.  Scottt Dixon was stalking.  Josef Newgarden was finally in the top ten.  And Helio Castroneves was back on top of the standings.  More of everything like this, please.

Even though I thought I had an entertaining idea to build my column around, the great thing about the race was that I didn’t need it.  Sometimes events just speak for themselves.  More races like the Grand Prix of Alabama, please.

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