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Ten Worthless Opinions: Indianapolis 500 Race Fan Edition

How did the Indianapolis 500 start for a citizen journalist (read: blogger)?  I was up at 4:30 AM wrangling a household of relatives that included two from Greece, two from Virginia, and one from North Carolina.  Add to the mix my own young adult son and daughter plus a family friend.  I screamed, threatened, and cajoled until showers were taken, coolers were iced, and the van was packed so we could leave at 6:00 AM.  Drove 20 miles to rendezvous with friends only to find that I had forgotten the new North 40 parking pass that I purchased for them.  After formulating a new plan that required a split-second connection with my wife to get the parking pass, we left for the track.  It was 7:00 AM.  The difference between a real journalist and me is that I don’t relinquish being a fan to pretend to have objectivity.  I am a fan of the Indianapolis 500 first and foremost.  I saw the race live from our seats high in the Northeast Vista (Turn 3) and watched the replay on Memorial Day.   Here are my Ten Worthless Opinions: Indianapolis 500 Race Fan Edition.

1.  Hint to the brain trust at IMS:  If you plan to search every bag and cooler coming in the gates, it might be a good idea to add lines and employees to facilitate it.  I have absolutely no problem with security requiring these searches.  Safety first is always the correct mantra when dealing with large crowds today.  If IMS plans to make the fan experience the primary focus, then be aware that about 200,000 of your fans park outside the track.  The weather might have been part of why it was a late arriving crowd, but having security lines rivaling airport TSA at its worst just might have slowed down the fans, too.

2.  The fabled Yellow Shirts sure seemed to be spread much more thinly in the hinterland of the Northeast Vista, and they did not seem to have the zest for their jobs as the old-timers did.  Many staircases were closed and security was not as evident as in the past.  Cost cutting?  New guidelines?  The facility sure seemed to be much more bare-bones than usual.  When poachers took seats for which I paid, I could find no one nearby to settle the dispute.  Tension prevailed.  This did not enhance my experience.  Also, there were fewer concession stands open, and the ones that were seemed to have fewer offerings.  I hope all that money from the state of Indiana will upgrade more than lights and video boards.  The facility needs more than just cosmetic changes.  The fan experience is not what is was.

3.  Plenty of greatness ensued, too!  The pre-race flyover of the B-25 was aces.  Archbishop Joseph Tobin went a little long on the prayer, though.  After asking for God to bless the Indiana Pacers, I would not have been surprised if he said the prayer was brought to us by Verizon and IZOD.  He may want to dial it back a little next year.  Or just go ahead and sell commercial time.  Both work for me.  Also, Jim Nabors can still bring it.  Kudos.

4.  According to the gossips at the Indy Star, Randy Bernard was a special guest of Josie George, who is on the Hulman & Co. board of directors.  I LOVE politics.  I assume this is to be continued.

5.  Tony Kanaan!  What a popular winner.  All my thousands of new friends in Turn 3 agreed that he was most deserving.  Regular fans were crying in the stands.  It was very Lloyd Ruby-esque in that he is such a popular person and not just a great driver.  The story of his receiving the good luck necklace back from a girl he gave it to years ago was made-for-TV drama.  All hail TK!

Additionally, the NE Vista denizens gave a rousing Bronx cheer for Dario Franchitti when he was introduced.  While some may find him a little whiny, he has been nothing but a gracious 500 champion.  The NE Vista crowd is a surly lot.

6.  Kanaan’s win also brought up the ugly specter of IndyCar adding the reviled green-white-checkered finish to spice up the ending to attract more NASCAR fans.  Why else would they do it?  The casual IndyCar fan is not aware of GWC, and the majority of hard-core IndyCar fans do not want it.  The ONLY reason to do it is to attract the tin-top crowd since they are habituated to end-of-race carnage and bad behavior.  Don’t do it, IndyCar.

7.  Yes, IndyCar has spec racing.  Yes, IndyCar’s all look alike.  Yes, we need aero kits to separate and identify the cars.  With that said, how can anyone who watched the race complain about the racing?  For the first time in my four decades of watching the race live, I did not want to leave my seat for anything. There were 68 lead changes, breaking last year’s record of 34.  As a fan, you had to watch the cars come by you every single time or you missed a pass for the lead.  If ABC/ESPN and NBC Sports cannot find a way to promote this type of racing, then it’s on them.  There is no need to put lipstick on this pig.  Wow!

8.  One or two popular journalists decry that IndyCar has (gasp) pack racing, and it will surely lead to the end of auto racing and Western civilization.  I agree that the racing is awfully close, but the danger of pack racing with the old Dallara chassis lay in the fact that cars could not pass each other.  The new DW12, while not creating separation, not only allows passing but almost requires it.  Artificial it may be, but exciting it is.

9.  IMS is certainly looking to the future.  My tickets cost $80 and remain the same price for next year.  A section or two over the price increased from $85 to $100.  If you raise the price, the expectation of the level of service rises, too.  It will be interesting to see how the new bosses of IMS make this happen.  The ball, as well as the money, is in their court.

10.  Even though I watched live at the Speedway, I feel obligated to comment on the ABC/ESPN coverage.  The pre-race storylines, particularly the Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves segment, were prescient.  Lindsay Czarniak is quite the upgrade, too.  She may have been a little too reverent for my taste, but she gets auto racing and its personalities.  The camera work around the track and the super slow motion shots are beyond cool.  Now, I am sure that the trio of Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear, and Eddie Cheever are wonderful people.  They are probably active in their communities and coach their children’s youth league teams.  But their somnolent tones and torpid delivery make you forget that the race is so freaking exciting.  Can they take some classes?  Wake up!  Make me sit on the edge of my seat.  Make the race so exciting that I have to tune in, not next year, but next week.

The post-race celebration and libations with friends and family capped off another fabulous month of May.  I am reminded of the liner notes from Jimmy Buffett’s  Son of a Son of a Sailor.  He used a quote from Robert Wilder’s Wind From the Carolinas that sums of my month of May every year:

“There had been a time when the settlement had made a profitable living from the wreckage of ships, either through the changing of lights or connivance with an unscrupulous captain…

There would be a time of riotous living with most of the community drunk and wandering about in an aimless daze until the purchased rum was gone.  After that the residents sat moodily in the sun and waited for something to happen.”

Now if you’ll excuse me,  I need to go sit moodily in the sun until next May.

 

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The Indianapolis 500: iconic is more than a word

An icon is someone of something regarded as a representative symbol of something.  It is fair to say that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 are icons of auto racing.  Oh, other tracks like Le Mans and Daytona can lay claim to this iconic status, but primarily as icons of types of racing like sports cars and stock cars.  Even though Indy is open wheel racing, it has always been the track and the race most associated with racing in general.  Other tracks and series will not agree, but it is a fact.

Certain names, dates, phrases, and activities become associated with anything that rises to iconic status, and IMS and the Indianapolis 500 are no different.  Allow me to present a short list of the iconography of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

  • The Brickyard: Go ahead, name another track whose nickname is as famous as its real name.  Can’t do it, can you?  Only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a moniker with such a great backstory.  According to the Speedway, 3.2 million bricks were used to pave the track in 1909.  Iconic, indeed.
  • Speedway, Indiana:  There are many famous tracks named after the town where they are located.  IMS has a town named after the track.  Now THAT’S a return address to have on your mail.  Eat your heart out Talladega.
  • Memorial Day: How can you not love a holiday sporting event that NEVER forgets the holiday on which it races.  IMS honors the military with fly-overs and an always emotional rendition of “Taps.”  I’m crying as I write this and will cry again on Race Day.  Thank you for remembering our veterans, IMS.  And thank you to our veterans for serving.
  • Time Trials:  Any other race has “qualifications.”  At Indy we have Time Trials.  I can picture men in suits wearing fedoras and skimmers reading their hand-wound stop watches to figure lap speeds.  The name screams history.
  • Bump Day: Only at Indy do you have a name for another day of qualifying.  It’s agreed that Bump Day has lost some of its luster since there are no longer enough cars to bump anyone from the field, but the concept is still cool.  I will hate to see it go, but economics and the lack of action may doom it.
  • Carb Day:  Where else but at an iconic facility do you have a practice session named after a piece of technology that is no longer used in the race.  At least the deep thinkers at IMS were smart enough to move this day from Thursday to Friday to increase crowds and encourage heavier drinking.  And wasn’t Poison, this year’s Carb Day band, around when the cars were still running carburetors?
  • Snake Pit: The Indianapolis 500 has a LONG history of heavy drinking and bad behavior, and the Turn 1 infield area known as the Snake Pit was the epicenter for all of it.  It got so bad in the 70’s and 80’s that Tony George felt compelled to get rid of it to help make the 500 more family friendly.  Who needs an extra 20, 000 fans anyway?  I do admire IMS for resurrecting the concept with their own corporate version appealing to the twenty somethings that they already had on a yearly basis in Turn 1 before they cleaned it up.
  • 11 Rows of 3:  Some things never need to change and this is one of them.  Anyone who says 33 is just a number is either a casual fan or just doesn’t get it.  This is what makes Indy special.  If you have never seen 11 rows of 3 roll down the front straight at Indy into Turn 1 in person, then, as Al Unser Jr. said,  “You just don’t know what Indy means.”
  • The Pagoda: The scoring tower at IMS has always been called the Pagoda and has twice actually looked like one.  When you see the current version in film or in pictures, you do not have to ask where it is.  You know.  That’s iconic.
  • The Wing and Wheel:  Indy’s logo has been around as long as the bricks have.  You don’t change history.  The Wing and Wheel is a simple logo that suggests both speed and history.  I like the fact that speed has always been the calling card.
  • Gasoline Alley: The lane from the garage area to the pits is the original Gasoline Alley.  When you have the original, then you won history.
  • Back Home Again: The song has been sung since 1946.  It’s NOT the state song, but who cares?  It’s the 500 song.
    Back home again in Indiana,
    And it seems that I can see
    The gleaming candle light, still burning bright,
    Through the Sycamores for me.
    The new-mown hay sends all its fragrance
    Through the fields I used to roam.
    When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash
    Then I long for my Indiana home.
  • Gentlemen, start your engines!: Even though the provenance on this bit of Indy 500 history is a little suspect, let’s just say that Anton “Tony” Hulman owned it like a boss.  It was his, and no one will ever do it better.  I can’t wait to hear it again on Sunday.

Religious icons in history were often mosaics found in ancient churches.  I completely understand.  I hope you liked the little pieces of tile that help make up the picture of the racing shrine I will be visiting this Sunday.  Everyone is welcome.  The last time I checked, you only have to worship speed to step into this cathedral.

The Time Trials at the Indianapolis 500

Even with all the changes to its format over the years and the possibility of more to come, the pathos of qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 never gets old.  The Time Trials both test and reveal character every year.  The true cognoscenti of IndyCar racing understand and savor the power of these raw moments of human emotion.  John Mellencamp, a good Indiana boy, sang that we live “Between a Laugh and a Tear.” That describes the Time Trials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the drivers and the teams.

With a series and a venue on the cusp of change, both major and minor, decisions are in the offing regarding every element of the race.  The question is what to do with the Time Trials.

One suggestion, even with changes in format, is to keep the historical moniker of Time Trials.  In an era of homogenization, the IZOD IndyCar Series needs to find ways to get noticed.  As much as the current formats of the series and the race are going to change, anything that defines you as different, particularly historically different, needs to be accentuated.  As much as the name Brickyard or the slogan The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the term Time Trials shouts Indianapolis 500.  Recent comments by Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., suggest that both IMS and the series do not want to be wedded to a past that not only comes with some baggage, but often seems to stifle forward thinking.  Instead of being guided by its past, IMS needs to use its history to define its product to a modern audience.  The name Time Trials does that.

The most obvious element of Time Trials is the true humanity that is revealed every year.  The ticking of the clock down to 6:00 PM on Bump Day creates a tension that is absolutely not artificial.  A game is not on the line as time counts down; a chance to participate in one of the world’s most iconic events is.  It doesn’t get much more compelling than that.  The faces make for perfect TV drama.  The moments that bring tears, sighs of relief, and joy always do.  The pit scene with Ed Carpenter after he secured the pole for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 was a moment custom-made for television.  Those David and Goliath stories always are.

Lack of interest and the cost of opening the doors at IMS may doom even the current two-day Time Trials, which were pared down for those same reasons from the four-day Time Trials of the past.  Will the future bring a shortened week one with Fast Friday being the opening day followed by one or two days of qualifying?  The shortened attention span of the modern sports fan says it will.  The drawn out two weekends of track activity will most likely be packed into a much shorter time span.

Of much more concern is the viability of Time Trials on television.  NBC Sports was unfairly pilloried on Pole Day because they cut away from the Fast Nine shootout to show a Preakness post-race show.  It has to be assumed that contracts and paid advertising were in place for that live show.  IMS made the decision to extend the Fast Nine not only beyond 6:00 PM, but past the 6:30 PM coverage window of NBC Sports.  Doing so most likely created a fair and equal opportunity for all participants to have a chance to practice and qualify, but if social media outrage is any indicator, the switch infuriated fans who had invested hours of their Saturday in watching the lead-up to the Fast Nine drama and then were denied the pay-off.  IMS made the best decision for its drivers and teams; unfortunately, this decision put its television partner in a bind.  If a series or race is looking to expand its media reach, locking out viewers or telling them to go to live streaming may not be the best avenue to pursue.  With that said, in ten years switching from broadcast or cable networks to live streaming will simply be a button on the remote.  Maybe IMS is just way ahead of the times.

The nexus of television, live streaming, compelling drama and the modern fan’s attention span is changing how we interact with our sports.  Darwin’s theory of natural selection suggests that organisms must evolve or diminish.  The Time Trials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been evolving over the past twenty years and must continue to do so.  If not, the concept of the Time Trials will be just another grainy newsreel of a diminishing past.

Value added Fast Friday at IMS

As IMS rubs its hands together and gleefully prepares to spend its own tax money on moving both its facility and fan engagement into the modern era, the question is how to spend the money.  Since I have absolutely no qualifications to offer any suggestions or advice,  I feel compelled to do so.

The obvious and easy answer is to simply maintain the existing facility.  Roads need repaved, rust needs scraped, and walls need painted; money needs to be spent on this every year, and while maintenance does not necessarily enhance the fans experience, lack of maintenance absolutely devalues it.  And value for the fan is paramount in attracting patrons who will continue to attend the Indianapolis 500 and other events at IMS in the future.

At sports venues across the country, the concept of “value added” is at the forefront.  Go to a Major League baseball game and you can purchase tickets in a section that includes food and drink.  At NFL stadiums, your tickets for the club section often includes concession servers and private restrooms.  Barcoded tickets often carry extra benefits that can be redeemed at concession and merchandise stands.  Basically, owners have found a way to add value, or at least appear to add value, to attending an event.  In the past, this value was almost always reserved for the captains of industry and their minions sitting in the suites.  Extra value cost a lot of extra money.  But after these suites dwellers were mined for their cash, team owners cast their gazes at the hoi polloi in the bleachers and realized that there were ways to extort extract more money from them.  And let’s face it, the metrics of management showed that giving the plebes a little something extra once in while made them feel so good that they spent even more and came back again because their experience had “value added.”  The question is how can IMS add value to the experience at the Indy 500 and other events?

IMS has already started to add value to the Indianapolis 500.  The new Snake Pit, with DJ’s Afrojack and Diplo, absolutely adds value to the young people who go to the race, not to see the cars, but to see these celebrities and hear their music.  Many of these people will return again next year, quite likely because their experiences were enhanced.

The addition of the zip line that will be moved around the facility during the month has been much reviled by many hard-core racing fans as a gimmick, which it absolutely is, but will it bring local fans out during practice, qualifications, and Carb Day?  Yes, it will, and that is added value to the consumer.

The Bronze Badge at $100 and Junior Garage Credential for $75 are tremendous added values.  Access to restricted areas and special events is an easy and relatively cheap way to make people feel special.

Those are here now.  But how can IMS add value in the future?  Here are some ideas:

  • More and mobile video boards are needed.  The current ones are dark, blurry, and out-of-date.  Instead of enhancing the fans’ experience, they diminish it.  The modern fan expects more.  Instead of installing permanent video boards that are likely to be obsolete in a very short time, lease or buy portable devices that can moved around the facility as needed.  These can be updated when necessary, and IMS Productions could become the leasing agent of these portable boards when not in use at IMS.  That can add value to not only IMS but the whole IZOD IndyCar Series.
  • Special sections with ticketed benefits are necessary.  For an upcharge, ticket holders can get concessions and merchandise by simply having their tickets scanned.  This can include special lines for patrons with these tickets.  There should be club sections where fans have wait staff to take their concession orders.  Fans love to feel like they have something others do not.  If IMS wants to see tickets to the Indianapolis 500 be a premium again, then they need to offer premium services.  And they can charge a premium for these tickets.
  • Add seatbacks in the Vistas.  These massive sections in the turns have fantastic sight lines and back-breaking benches.  If  money and space are a limitation, then add an extra cost to the ticket to include a temporary seatback.  At major college venues, this is an upfront cost and the seatback is installed for you.  Currently, you have to rent the seatback on-site at IMS and lug it up the Vista yourself.  This would absolutely be a value added option.
  • More special parking is in order.  This year, the Speedway charged $75 for front row infield parking and $25 for general admission infield parking.  They even offered front row parking in the North 40 lot outside Turn 3.  I guarantee that every patron who paid money for these spots feels special.  It is value added, baby.  Find parking in every nook and cranny and charge for it.
  • Make sure the facility has the best cell phone reception in the world.  Your event can’t be the greatest if some things are the worst.  Today’s fans demand that their handheld devices work on all networks.  The Verizon IndyCar 13 app is fantastic, but not if I can’t use it at the race.  If it does not work at the 500, then I walk out with my experience less than enhanced.  I will be upset with IMS and Verizon.  Spend your money on making sure the fans basic expectations are met.

The formula for value added is simple.  Make it fun, make me happy, make me feel special.  Make it seem that I get something for nothing.  For me, the racing is enough, but for the vast majority of fans, it’s not.  Modern fans want to have a great experience, not just a great race.  Everything at the event needs to be incomparable.  IMS legend Eddie Sachs said it best: “If you can’t win, be spectacular.”  With its history and pageantry, IMS should have no problem making the experience spectacular for its patrons.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s past is not its future

I doubt if Tony Hulman ever envisioned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway being what it is today: a multi-race, multi-series venue poised to add lights and reap a favorable interest free loan from the state of Indiana derived from its own taxes.  The fact is, he never had to see this future.  Under Hulman’s watch, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened its doors to the public on May 1st each year and closed them after the facility was cleaned in early June.  As long as one race a year made a profit and allowed some improvement to the facility, everything was copacetic.

But a funny thing happened to IMS on its long march to immortality – the American sports’ fan changed.  While still loving iconic facilities like IMS, Churchill Downs, and Augusta National, fans want more than an event; they want an experience that transcends the event itself.

Before a knee jerks in response, I will add that a die-hard race fan does not need more than the Indianapolis 500 offers.  The slow, daily rise in speed at practice, the expectant pause as fans wait for each lap time during Pole Day, the shattering disappointment or the sudden euphoria of Bump Day are moments of history repeated every year.  On race day, the march of bands, “Back Home Again,” the invocation, and “Gentlemen, start your engines” prove to us that we share something with history.  These links to Indy’s past are powerful reminders that we are not alone as we ride the wave of history into our individual futures.  The power behind that wave is our shared human experiences.  For race fans, that shared experience is the 96 other Indianapolis 500’s that have come before now.  The problem is that not everyone cares about the history.  Many just care about right now.

Tony George, Tony Hulman’s grandson, changed the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Under his watch, the original Snake Pit in the first turn was sanitized.  His vision was a venue that was clean and safe for its patrons.  Do I miss the original Snake Pit?  I don’t miss it as place to watch the race, but I miss it as a touchstone of the past.  IMS has hijacked and monetized it by adding modern music and amenities that attract modern fans.  Face it, the original Snake Pit was a place to party and watch one lap of the race.  The new version is a corporate attempt to lure a specific demographic of twenty-somethings into the track to have an experience that will bring them back again.  It helps create a history for them that does not include listening to Donald Davidson amaze with his arcane knowledge of races, cars, and drivers.  IMS and IndyCar need the fans in the new Snake Pit to come back in the future just as much as they need the die-hards to continue their love affair with history.

George also added a road course, a new Pagoda, modern garages, and, most galling to purists, additional races with F1, NASCAR, and MotoGP.  While not to the liking of many purists who want to see IMS remain host to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing only, the track and its owners have a vision for the future that includes racing at night and most likely another IndyCar race on the road course.  While reviled by many, these are simply economic decisions to improve the bottom line.

If adding lights increases the attendance at the Brickyard 400, then add lights.  If adding an IndyCar race to the road course is profitable, then add it.  Will it diminish the historical relevancy of the 500?  Maybe, but I doubt it could be diminished much more than it is now to the vast majority of people who just do not care.  For the continued success of the Speedway, more money needs to be made and more fans need to be found.  The die to maximize profits was cast when all the major infrastructure upgrades that were needed were made.  These upgrades to seating, technology, and the fan experience need to be made every year.  Money is needed to support these upgrades, and fans are needed to supply the money.  Fans want video boards and dependable cell service.  Maybe we are spoiled, but these are the expectations.  Attendance, sponsors, and TV ratings are the coin of the realm when it comes to profits.  Businesses that survive use sound business practices.  IMS is no longer a hobby for a philanthropic family; it is the source of income.

The cost of keeping a historic venue like IMS up and running is enormous.  While I certainly like touring historically significant houses, I would not enjoy the daily and expensive upkeep that such a house requires.  Plus, I like the modern conveniences that I have come to expect in life.  The cost of maintaining the facility at 16th and Georgetown will never decrease.  The business masters at IMS will spend money only if they can make more money.  If not, you can expect cracks in the foundation and dandelions in the grass, just like at home.  You can only slap paint on the old gal for so long.  Sooner or later, you have to feed the bulldog.

So bring on the tin-tops, the motorcycles, the sports cars, and a second IndyCar race if it makes more money and allows the Greatest Spectacle in Racing to still be exactly that and not just some faded piece of history.  Winston Churchill said it best: “If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”  It is time for fans of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 to accept that the future is now.

Ten Worthless Opinions: Sao Paulo Indy 300 Samba Edition

Dancing is life in Brazil.  The main straight for the Sao Paulo Indy 300 is the Sambadrome, the 30,000 seat home to the carnival parade put on by the samba schools in Sao Paulo.  The samba schools are year-round organizations that are the social hub of the city.  Think the Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans or the 500 Festival for the Indianapolis 500.  You can always count on New Track Record to sprinkle a little culture in with the racing.  With that in mind, here are this week’s WO’s (worthless opinions) on the IndyCar dance soiree in the streets of Sao Paulo.

1.  Of course, you have to get to the dance first.  Penske Racing may have outsmarted itself by waiting to put down a hot lap in the first round of knock-out qualifying.  Both Helio Castroneves and Will Power were unable to get a time since Tristan Vautier and James Jakes both had problems on track and the clock kept on ticking.  The line to the dance starts in the back, boys.  The Andretti Autosport strategy of banking a lap early paid off for pole sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay.  Will this become the strategy in future rounds of road and street course qualifying?

2.  Like a dance, a race needs a great first step.  The long straight of the Sambadrome allowed a stellar start and great restarts all day.  It is a matter of fairness.  Backmarker or not, no driver should be at a disadvantage at the beginning of a race other than that of his qualifying position.  The hairpins at St. Pete and Long Beach are unfair on starts and restarts to any driver from the middle of the pack back.  If you cannot get all the cars lined up in a fair way, then standing starts are in order.

3.  The Penske boys just didn’t seem to have the rhythm at Sao Paulo.  It’s low-hanging fruit, but Dancing with the Stars champion Helio Castroneves and his dance partner Will Power stepped on each other’s toes going into the newly designed first turn.  Come on guys, figure out who’s leading.

4.  After moving quickly through the field, Power’s day ended with what seems to be the new IndyCar problem du jour: a header fire.  Will there be more flames at Indy?  Castroneves, always the entertainer, even did a nifty pirouette in the first turn to show the crowd that he still has some sick dance moves, but the judges weren’t impressed with his cha-cha as he headed to the back of the pack.

5.  There didn’t seem to be any wallflowers at this ball, though.  Everyone wanted to dance.  Passing was happening throughout the field.  The problem with a television broadcast is the inability to follow action throughout the field.  A street course, live or on television, only allows you to see what happens in front of you.  Ovals allow you to see action building.  At the risk of sounding like a shill, that’s why you should attend an IndyCar oval race.

6.  The boys in the booth back in Indianapolis did what they could with the Brazilian television feed.  Jon Beekhuis added intelligent technical commentary without speaking down to the ordinary fan, and Robin Miller apparently had nothing better to do, so he showed up in the studio.  Miller is the most underutilized asset of the NBC Sports broadcasts.  He has value.  Find him something to do, or don’t invite him to the dance.

7.  Spec racing or not, the IZOD IndyCar Series is fun to watch.  Whoever choreographed this big dance number deserves an award.  Edginess permeated the day.  Multiple, and interminable, cautions ruled.  Takuma Sato took the lead late and fought off Josef Newgarden before finally succumbing to James Hinchcliffe on the last turn of the last lap.  The newly patient Marco Andretti quietly finished third.  NASCAR had the “Big One” at Talledega and made the news.  IndyCar just continues to have the best racing on the planet and is ignored.  I guess the dance marathon at Talledega was more exciting than the IndyCars doing the lambada at Sao Paulo.  America still like its dancing and racing the old-fashioned way: boring.

8.  The judging of this particular dance contest was called into question on both the broadcast and social media.  As the laps wound  down, Takuma Sato made some highly questionable moves to keep James Hinchcliffe behind him.  Beaux Barfield gets the benefit of the doubt if only for being so transparent on the fact that something is being investigated.  The secrecy and favoritism that typified race control in the past has disappeared.  Of course, that does not mean that every call is correct.  If those moves had happened between cars fighting for 4th and 5th, would the call have been the same?  One would hope so, but no one likes to see the winner decided on a call on the last laps.  Blocking?  Yes.  Right call?  Yes.  As Townsend Bell said on the broadcast, “It’s good, hard, knife fighting racing.”

9.  Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing are fast becoming the stories of the year.  These single car entries are tap dancing at the front of the pack and challenging for wins.  The spec formula for the Dallara DW12 was designed to do just this – give smaller teams a chance to win.  It’s working.  Of course, since it benefits the smaller teams, Chip Ganassi will have a problem with it.  Don’t those teams know they are the chorus, not the headliners?

10.  The belle of the ball was James Hinchcliffe, though.  He pressured Sato after Newgarden fell back and took advantage of Sato’s last corner slide to duck under him for the victory.  The bigger story is Andretti Motorsport.  After years of being the best dancer in the chorus, the Andretti team is auditioning to be the prima ballerina in the IndyCar company.  The aging grande dames of Penske and Ganassi are just not quite as robust and hungry as Michael Andretti’s team.  It is interesting to note that Andretti Autosport does not split its resources and time with a NASCAR team but has instead invested in the IndyCar ladder series.  It takes focus to be a champion.

All in all, the IndyCar samba in Sao Paulo was a great performance.  While the ratings may not be as high as Dancing with the Stars, I’ll take Dancing with the Dallara anytime.  It’s time to quick step to Indy.

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