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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.

Ten Worthless Opinions: St. Petersburg “Adventures in Paradise” Edition

The first race of the IZOD IndyCar Series FINALLY arrived in paradise, or if not paradise, at least St. Petersburg, Florida.  All else being considered, it sure looked like paradise for those in the North who were locked in the embrace of winter’s last gasp effort to deny global warming.  The water and palm trees dancing on our TV screens brought back visions of Gardner McKay and the Tiki III as he cruised the South Pacific in “Adventures in Paradise.”   In this case, it looks like James Hinchcliffe took the title role in his own adventure in paradise.  A new season brings out another volume of WO’s (worthless opinions).   Mai Tais for everyone!

1.  It looks like this may be the last gasp for the Firestone Indy Lights Series.  There were nine, count ’em, NINE cars on the grid to start the St. Petersburg 100.  With only two lead changes and six cars running at the end, compelling drama it was not.  It’s easy to say that a new car and more entries are needed to save the series, but who is going to invest in a series with no traction (sorry) with fans or sponsors?  The success or failure of the IZOD IndyCar Series is the key to the future on Indy Lights.  And that result will not be evident in the short term.  I’m not sure the labor of love that is Indy Lights can wait that long.  The real downside to the possible demise of the series is that it has been successful as a stepping stone to the IZOD IndyCar Series.  IndyCar drivers like James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, and Dan Wheldon all graduated from its grid.  IndyCar needs this series.

Another Indy Lights graduate making a name for herself is Pippa Mann.  Even though Pippa would rather be behind a wheel at IMS for the 500, her smooth debut on NBCSports portends a possible career in broadcasting.  She obviously did her homework for the broadcast.  She knew the drivers and teams and offered spot-on racing commentary.  Just remember to look at the camera, Pippa.

2.  I observed on Twitter that some people were complaining about the qualifications for St. Pete being slightly time delayed.  So what?  It actually made the broadcast run more smoothly and kept it in a time window so NBCSports could show it.  They don’t have to broadcast it, you know.  Baby steps, people.

3.  The new broadcast team takes some getting used to.  Jon Beekhuis is much better in the booth and as Professor B. than he is in live interviews.  His in-race questioning was a little obsequious.  You are the media, Jon.  Flex your muscles!  Show them who’s the boss!  Stir the shit!  I hope NBCSports will continue to use his strength in technical matters.  Kevin Lee is solid, even if he did manage to suck up to David Letterman with a gratuitous Ball State reference.  Can a Garfield/Jim Davis comment be far behind?  Brian Till was acceptable and had the quote of the weekend during an interview with Will Power when he said Power was at the top of the “championship shart” last year.  I didn’t even know they had a contest, Brian.

The booth team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. was competent as they hashed out their dynamic and their roles.  Diffey did a good job calling the action, but struggled at times to rein in the back-and-forth between Bell and Dallenbach.  Remember guys, most people tune in for the race, not the commentary.  Focus.  The TV commentators are at the mercy of their directors regarding what they see and what they know.  When they appear clueless, it’s most often the fault of the people talking in their ears.

4.  I really don’t want to beat a dead horse, a horse as dead as Robin Miller will be if someone does not take charge of that damned grid run.  At least he found people to talk to this time, highlighted by Alex Tagliani mentioning how close he was to the Port-O-Potty.  Good TV.  Here’s an idea:  add a second person so we don’t have to listen to Miller puff his way along the grid.  It is brutal!  That way you can switch back and forth between interviews, which give the viewer entertainment value.  How about adding Pippa Mann?  You need a female voice in the pits, and she probably can jog to the next interview without pausing to catch her breath like Miller.  This can be a great segment instead of a joke.

5.  It seems NBCSports and IndyCar are getting on the same page in regards to promotion.  The Mav TV 500 was advertised.  Robin Miller interviewed retiring Firestone honcho Joe Barbieri, which was really a hat-tip to Firestone for all the series and advertising support.  It certainly was not impromptu since NBCSports had pictures ready to roll.  The #Indy500orBust Twitter and Instagram promotion for the Indy 500 was prominently mentioned, as well as a Helio Castroneves commercial for distracted driving awareness with the snail from Turbo.  I guess J.R. Hildebrand didn’t preview that  before the race.  Maybe later.  In any case, promotion of the series and its partners was evident.  More of that, please.

6.  And then they had a race that happened to be engaging.  To begin with, the drivers made it through Turn 1 without incident.  I think the guys in the booth were a little disappointed.  They had all the statistics handy to deal with the accident.  The cars were racy and entertaining throughout the field.  Of course, TV can rarely show that on a street course since you can only see a small portion of the track.  That’s one reason the radio broadcast of a street course is so exciting.  There’s action everywhere, and the broadcasters around the track can see it.  The TV guys are tethered to a monitor controlled by a director.  Simona de Silvestro showed she is a racer.  A podium is absolutely in her future.  She ran out of rubber on her Firestone Reds at the end of the race, or she would have been there at St. Pete.  Takuma Sato started falling back but still managed a P8.  Good start for AJ Foyt and the boys from Texas.

7.  Poor Will Power.  He cannot catch a break.  J.R. Hildebrand popped a wheelie on his bumper (thought that was not supposed to happen).  This Hee Haw video is all that comes to mind regarding his luck: “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me.”

8.  James Hinchcliffe is an absolutely deserving winner.  He was in position to take advantage of a Helio Castroneves mistake and ducked under last year’s champion in Turn 1.  His Firestone Blacks held off Helio’s Firestone Reds as the different compound gimmick created the drama is was supposed to create.  His emotional comments on Dan Wheldon and his family were sincere and spot-on.  The Canadian flag was a perfect point of pride.  Did anyone else notice a PR person hand him a notebook with the words “Thank Bob Parsons” on it.  Parsons is the CEO of Go Daddy, his sponsor.  Just a little TCB, baby.  On his interviews with Speed Center, Wind Tunnel, and local TV affiliates, he was friendly, engaging, and authentic – exactly what IndyCar needs in a champion.  And prerace, he said he “might need to pee in Will Power’s gas tank” to slow him down.  THAT’S entertaining.  More than James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport, and Go Daddy, IndyCar needed this victory.  IndyCar needs a marketable champion like James Hinchcliffe.  It was big win all around.

9.  It was good to see that dysfunction exists in other motorsports and not just IndyCar.  The F1 race in Malaysia had a contratemps between teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber about who was supposed to win the race.  They also had Lewis Hamilton pulling into the wrong pit box and wheels nearly falling off cars.  Maybe those 2.5 second pit stops leave a little to be desired.  And in NASCAR land, the series continues to allow and endorse a driving style that will ultimately lead to tragedy as Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin wrecked on the final lap with Hamlin crashing HARD into a non-safer barrier wall, requiring a hospital stay.  The “Woo hoo!  Yee haw!” crowd needs to come to their senses.  They are living in a fool’s paradise.

10. If IndyCar and NBCSports do not promote and market this race champion and this racing series with its remarkable cast of characters and its scintillating on-track product, then it is on them.  I hate to be all political and pissy here, but it is time for IndyCar and NBCSports to step up and do their jobs.  The continuing problems plaguing IndyCar racing are not the fault of the fans.  Maybe they can channel Cassius as he speaks to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

That’s it from paradise.  I guess Jimmy Buffett’s song is as about as close as I’m going to get.  Just substitute “breaded tenderloin” for “cheeseburger.”  And I prefer mayo, not Heinz 57.

Ten Worthless Opinions: Daytona Edition

NASCAR certainly knows how to put on a show.  The monolithic racing series has grown to iconic status.   The problem with that is the warts become iconic, also.  This week, the WO’s (worthless opinions) look at NASCAR with HD.  And you know the problem with that.  As American writer Dorothy Parker said, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes right to the bone.”

1.  First the serious: NASCAR did an absolutely tremendous job in the aftermath of the NNS last lap accident.  They had an emergency plan and followed it.  First responders swarmed the grandstands, ambulances were rolling, and the pits were cleared for helicopters.  Whatever discussions will come regarding spectators and fencing, NASCAR had plans to address this situation.  Kudos.

2. Some on social media were critical of the NASCAR officials’ demeanor in the press conference Saturday evening.  It was mentioned that they seemed cold and/or indifferent.  I thought they handled it very professionally.  In a litigious society that demands instant information that will be parsed for every nuance and hint, the truth is that your PR/communication people have to tread very lightly.  Any misstep can be worth millions in the courtroom.  Total honesty cannot be expected so soon after the fact.  Facts were given and questions were answered as well as can be expected.

3.  Tony Stewart’s muted response in after his NNS win Saturday was spot on.  It was neither contrived nor delivered for effect.  It makes a fellow proud to be a Hoosier.  Well done.

4.  But not all is shiny and pure in HD land.  Sometimes the blemishes cannot be ignored.  NASCAR had YouTube take down fan video shot on a smartphone of the accident on grounds of copyright infringement.  YouTube later reinstated the video saying that it did not violate copyright.  NASCAR backtracked and said they wanted it down in deference to the victims.  Sure. That’s why.  I’m sure it had nothing to do with possible lawsuits stemming from the accident.  Deadspin, bless their sarcastic little hearts, posted an assessment of the situation.  NASCAR claims to own the copyright on every picture or video taken at the track.  Good luck with that.  For all I know, some communications wonk overreacted.  Or maybe it’s just another big corporation assuming they own everything.  If only the American public didn’t believe in that pesky Constitution.

5.  I don’t have the answer for fencing.  It’s a dangerous sport for the participants as well as for the spectators.  Someday, when a lawsuit, or the threat of one, really scares a major racing series, a solution will be found.  Until then we will wring our hands and jerk our knees until the next race.  Then the blinders will come back on until the next step toward the government enacting more regulations to protect us from ourselves.  In other words, fixing the problem will become the cheaper alternative to settling lawsuits.  That time will come.  This issue affects NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, and every Friday and Saturday night track in America.  It will not go away.

6.  Lawsuits over the accident may be filed, but it is doubtful that any will go to court.  They will all be quietly settled.  Any racing series is in a no-win situation with spectator injuries.  Court is open.  The media would be a circus.  A lawyer would ask if a series had a contingency plan.  If the answer was yes, then it would be shown that the series expected an accident with spectator injuries.  Guilty.  If you had no plan, then the series would be negligent for not expecting the accident.  Guilty again.  It’s the situation Yossarian faced in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22.  NASCAR can’t win.  It is almost always cheaper, and better business, to settle.

7.  Kyle Larson is a racer.  He’s young, aggressive, and talented.  So naturally he followed the money to NASCAR.  It will be fun to watch him move up to the big boys.  I just hope he’s a Tony Stewart clone who never gives up the dirt tracks.  He certainly went to Tony’s class on how to win friends and influence people on his last lap bump on C.E. Falk in the Whelen All-American Series race on that freaky backstretch track.  Milk it, NASCAR!

8.  Who says NASCAR doesn’t work on diversity?  They had 50 Cent (rapper Curtis James Jackson III) in the pits trying to kiss Fox reporter Erin Andrews as she searched for Danica Patrick on a grid run that made Robin Miller look like a star.  I just LOVE the random absurdity of large events.  I guess 50 Cent was going to Get Erin or Die Tryin’.  Truth is so much stranger than fiction.

9.   Of course I have a Danica Patrick comment.  She drove a smart race, and other than hitching her star to Greg Biffle on the last lap, did everything right.  It was a great run for a rookie on the big stage.  Women can drive race cars.  Period.  She puts on the helmet and takes her chances.   Gender has nothing to do with driving.  It has a lot to do with endorsements.  Sometimes it pays to be a pretty face, and I don’t grudge Danica cashing that check.  She’s just “Taking Care of Business,” baby.

10.  What else was great about the Daytona 500 weekend?  The Winter Indy Tweet-Up (@WinterIndyTwtup) made the weekend.  Big thanks to all involved in the effort.  The Dallara tour was fun, but I’m going to need some translation on the brew served at Lino’s Coffee in the factory.  The two lap 100 MPH ride around IMS may have been the highlight of the day.  Finally, it was fantastic to hang with so many other people who share my love for IndyCar racing during the Main Event party at Detour in Carmel.

That’s all I’ve got about Daytona.  The racing season is upon us, but we all know what the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” really is, don’t we?  If not, here’s a little reminder:

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Ten Worthless Opinions – MavTV 500 IndyCar Championships Edition

I really don’t know if I can condense the action from the MavTV 500 IndyCar Championships to just ten WO’s (worthless opinions).  There were retirements, new contracts, an American series champion, awkwardness, and a race winner who was roundly ignored by everybody.  It’s IndyCar at its best.  Here we go.

1.  What a race.  If you watched it, then you don’t need me to explain it.  If you didn’t, then you need to read Curt Cavin’s Indy Star article here.  Or read John Oreovicz’s ESPN.com article here.  Or Jenna Fryer’s AP article here.  They have the quotes and insights.  I just make stuff up.  I was on the edge of my seat and sweating trying to do math in my head to figure out what Ryan Hunter-Reay needed to do to be the first American champion of this iconically American series since 2006.  Robin Miller will tell us that’s a good thing because of fan interest.  I will tell you it’s a good thing because of the racing.  After a desultory first 200 miles, all hell broke loose when Will Power, who only had to keep pace with Hunter-Reay to finally win the championship, spun into the wall and opened the door for Hunter-Reay to go from journeyman to champion.  The rest of the race was a story problem from 7th grade algebra.  “Solve for x, where x is the place a driver needs to finish to score enough points to beat his closest rival.”  The math made my head hurt, so I let NBC Sports do it for me.  Unfortunately, all NBC Sports wanted to talk about was the championship.  It was still a race, and the drivers competing to win it should have been recognized a little.  Just my opinion.  And it’s likely Ed Carpenter’s opinion, too.

2.  As reported by the AP’s Jenna Fryer on Twitter, Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske both have come to the startling conclusion that there may be something wrong with the owners’  perspectives.  There has to be a back story here.  Comments about the owners not seeing the “big picture” and worrying about the parts prices instead of “building the series” were mentioned.  There is a plot afoot.  Something is about to happen.  Stay tuned.  Roger and Chip never say anything that does not in some way point to their self-interest.

3.  I will miss Bob Jenkins in the booth.  NBC Sports, and I assume IMS productions, put together a stellar retrospective of his career as an announcer.  When I think about a race, I think about it in Bob Jenkins’ voice.  Here’s to you, Bob.  Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.

4.  Mike Conway stepped out of AJ Foyt’s car because he was spooked by oval racing.  What impressed me most is the support he received from the driving fraternity.  It’s a dangerous business and nobody understands it better than the drivers who risk their lives weekly in pursuit of winning.  IndyCar drivers are a special, and rare, breed, and I have immense respect for what they do.  I get spooked at 80 mph on the interstate.  I cannot imagine hanging on in a corner at 200 mph.

5.  Did anyone else notice the crowd behind Kevin Lee’s gear-like structure in the pre-race?  They were excited!  Of course, they were excited because someone was throwing free t-shirts to them for making noise.  Here’s a hint, NBC Sports.  Don’t throw them so high that the viewers can see them on TV.  You want us to believe that the crowd is cheering for IndyCar, Kevin Lee, and the guests, not their own self-interest.  Remember, the Wizard of Oz was successful only when he stayed behind the curtain.  As always, this advice is a free service from New Track Record.  I am available for consultation.

6.  Does NBC Sports talk in production meetings about how to make Robin Miller look like a clown?  Would he wear a red nose and floppy shoes if they paid him enough?  On the pre-race, the broadcast team sat perched high on their chairs.  All except Robin Miller.  His chair was at least a foot lower than all the others.  It was entertaining to watch him try to raise it.  He failed to do so.  The sad part of this is that RM is aces when it comes to series info and gossip.  His quick overview of the silly season possibilities of drivers and teams was spot on.  Viewers need that information.  The grid run, as always, was an afterthought.  Add Marty “The Shit Stirrer” Snider to it.  If NBC sports is going to show the segment, then they should at least plan the segment.  It’s embarrassing.

7.  I say this every week, but Jon Beekhuis adds tremendous value to the broadcasts.  He not only talks, he thinks.  His “Professor B” segments tell me things I don’t know.

8.  I am warming to Ryan Hunter-Reay.  His openness talking about chasing the championship was refreshing.  Yes, he mentions his sponsors and team, but he also has his emotions right there for us to see.  When he got out of the car at the end of the race, he did not have a speech prepared.  He was moved by the moment, and we saw an honest reaction.  He’s a little wooden and a little awkward.  And that’s OK.  I like my heroes to be human.  Plus, he remained loyal to Andretti Motorsport by signing a contract extension.  I think I like that.

9.  Sometime in the near future, Will Power will be as classy a champion as he is a runner-up.  His responses last night after losing the championship in a gut-wrenching fashion just oozed class.  He allowed the fans to see the rawness of the moment.  He shared his bitterest disappointment with the world.  I seem to remember rather churlish behavior from the tin top drivers in similar circumstances.  Will Power is just another reason to like IndyCar.

10.  I will end with a shout-out to Ed Carpenter for a great win last night (called by Robin Miller).  Ed’s an oval driver.  Period.  He’s a hometown Indy guy with an Indiana sponsor who deserved to be celebrated for his win at Fontana.  And he was an afterthought to Ryan Hunter-Reay in the post-race activities.  I hope ECR decides to team up with either another car or another driver (Hey, Mike Conway) to be competitive on all the circuits next year.  The new Dallara has opened the door for the small teams to win.  It’s another reason to like IndyCar.

New Track Record’s WO’s (worthless opinions) are in the bag for 2012.  Just like the new Dallara, they were designed to be quick, functional, and used in the IndyCar Series.  I will likely hold them in abeyance until the start of the 2013 season.  But, thanks to the relative dysfunction of owners, drivers, series officials, and fans, I will have plenty to write about until then.

Ten Worthless Opinions – Sonoma and Baltimore Combo Edition

You take one weekend to attend a sprint car race at Kokomo, Indiana to research a profile on Bryan Clauson because you assume the next two races are going to be road course/street course events with very little excitement and what happens?  Strategy! Weather! Passing! Thrills!  Who knew?  The plan was to combine the WO’s (worthless opinions) of Sonoma and Baltimore into one post then move on to the finale at Fontana (Finale at Fontana…has a little ring to it, huh?).  So here they are, your “Ten Worthless Opinions  –  Sonoma and Baltimore Combo Edition.”

1.  Sorry for the missed week.  I was at Kokomo Speedway in Kokomo, Indiana to interview Bryan Clauson for an upcoming profile in The Polk Street Review, Noblesville, Indiana’s finest literary review.  Well, it’s also Noblesville’s only literary review, but that doesn’t nullify the previous statement.  Be sure to pre-order your copy now.  How fun were the races at Kokomo?  I’ll let the picture do the talking.  That’s my pensive look.

2.  Just a quick comment on the TV pre-race at both Sonoma and Baltimore.  It was a smart move to put the odd gear-like structure on which Kevin Lee perches in the IndyCar Fan Village at Sonoma.  Suddenly, it seems that there are people at the race, and that really makes a difference to the viewers.  The spot at Baltimore did not have the same crowd.  It looked like ten people wandered by as they were going from bar to bar.  Come on, NBC Sports Network, at least make it seem that there is excitement in the crowd.  In a related comment, I have never liked the location of the gear-like structure at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The garage area there certainly has a cool vibe, but it always seems so empty compared to the plaza behind the Pagoda.  Just one more WO (Worthless Opinion) from your always helpful host here at New Track Record.

3.  Once again, Robin Miller gets his own WO (worthless opinion).  At Sonoma, he disappeared during the broadcast since so much of the race was run under green.  Even though he stumbles through his comments at times, he brings knowledge and insight to a sport that needs it.  He knows the drivers, owners, and WAGS of the series.  He is passionate about a sport that needs passionate fans.  But then we have Baltimore.  His cartoon icon trotted across the screen as he began his grid lurch.  Let’s face it, it’s hardly a grid run now, is it.  In truth, it was one of his better grid runs of the year.  He huffed and puffed his way to talking with a number of drivers.  I really like his “friendly frog” sobriquet for Simon Pagenaud, who mildly mocked him with a comment about his age.  I finally figured out who Miller sounds like, though.  He calls everyone “brother.”  It’s always “Hey, brother,” or “Thanks, brother.”  Robin Miller is channeling Hulk Hogan at his finest!  He just needs to lower his voice a little and have a slight rasp to it. I only hope he doesn’t steal Hogan’s move of ripping his shirt off.  Even New Track Record has its limits.

4.  Sonoma, now with GoPro sponsorship, did some work and created some passing zones.  Even so, this race was decided under yellow with cars slowing down Will Power as he tried to race back to the blend line while his teammate Ryan Briscoe slid out in front of him.  The TV announcers did a great job of pointing this out as it happened.  It was exciting.  Keep in mind that I am an oval guy to the core.  I like the speed and edginess.  I have warmed up to the strategy of the twisties.  All it takes is one overly optimistic choice (sorry, Tags) to change the whole complexion of the race or even the championship.  The same thing happens on the ovals.  And for those who don’t thinks danger lurks everywhere in racing, just watch the replay of the Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden crash.  That was hard.  Thanks, Dallara.

5.  Michael Andretti and his team of promoters did a yeoman’s job of providing CPR to a Grand Prix of Baltimore that was  drowning in debt and mismanagement.  It looked like the crowd was down, but it sure seemed big enough to have a go again next year.  IndyCar needs the East Coast and this race.  It had passing, strategy, rain, and chicanery.

6.  Ah, the chicane at Baltimore.  Once again, it seems that IndyCar has pissed on its trousers.  You know what I mean.  IndyCar dresses nicely, has all the right connections, and as it voids its bladder before a very public appearance, it leaves a tell-tale track across the pleat of its pants.  That’s the chicane.  I could rant rhapsodic on it, but Alex Lloyd already did in this piece from Jalopnik called “Why Einstein Should Have Designed Racetracks (And the Insanity of the Baltimore GP).”  Any driver that quotes Einstein is aces in my book.  Read it now and thank me later.

7.  The chicane at Baltimore notwithstanding, that was a hell of a race.  Simon Pagenaud’s pass on a re-start was world class.  If that didn’t make your heart race watching the replay, then go watch football.  The rain created strategy with the choice of slicks or rain tires allowing Ryan Hunter-Reay to move to the front of the field.  And even though not all corners allowed passing, the turn one re-starts were worth the price of admission.  The drivers were aggressive and willing to take chances.  That always makes good racing.

8.  The start of the race and the restarts were schizophrenic.  The start and the restarts were FUBAR in relationship to the full field being through the chicane.  The front half or so would be lined up and taking the green while the rest of the field was still single file coming through the chicane.  It looked bad.  With that said, the front of the pack sliced, diced, chopped, and bumped each other without serious damage.  The chicane has to go.  It ruined the start and restarts for the second half of the field.  They deserve a fair start, too.

9.  The big question is whether Ryan Briscoe got cheated or snookered on a restart that quite likely cost him the race.  Here’s the rule in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Rule Book:

7.11.1.3. When the Track is clear for racing, the Safety Car will assist the field in preparing for a restart. At the appropriate time, the flashing lights will be turned off, indicating intent to restart. The leader is required to maintain the pace lap speed until reaching a point designated by INDYCAR near the start/finish line when the leader shall accelerate smoothly back to racing speed and the green condition will then be declared. All Car(s) must maintain their respective Track position for the restart.

Hmm.  Briscoe says he did not have time to accelerate back to racing speed before the green condition was declared.  Hunter-Reay said he came along side of Briscoe and the green flag was shown, and that means start.  Watching the video, it is clear that Hunter-Reay was accelerating at a speed greater than Briscoe’s when the green flag fell.  Briscoe was quite obviously bringing the field up at a speed that he thought all other cars would be doing at the drop of the green.  As the leader, it was his field to pace to the restart, and it was the responsibility of all other drivers to be paced by Briscoe.  So who’s at fault?  The easy answer is everyone.  Hunter-Reay snookered Briscoe.  He said he just did what Pagenaud did earlier in the race, and everyone raved about that.  Briscoe has the responsibility to protect himself from being snookered.  And the flagman for IndyCar has the responsibility to call off the restart if he sees something amiss.  That restart was a comedy of errors, and the only one still smiling is Ryan Hunter-Reay.

10.  A big difference to a TV viewer between a natural terrain road course like Sonoma and a street circuit like Baltimore is recognition of course features.  After a while, a viewer can tell the difference among the corners at Sonoma.  They look different.  You can tell where you are.  Some of the corners at road courses have names like the Bus Stop or the Keyhole.  You can see where you are.  At a street circuit like Baltimore, you just don’t have the visual cues to differentiate the geography.  It all looks the same, hence the confusion a viewer has watching the race.  New Track Record is always ready to offer suggestions that make the viewing better for all fans.  Most street circuits have advertising posted on the fences in the corners.  Why not add the turn number in the advertising?  As a viewer, I would actually look at the ads to see the turn numbers.  Why can’t you have “Dr. Pepper Turn 5” or “DSL Turn 2?”  Selling advertising and making money for the series, the promoters, and the networks doesn’t bother me.  Just don’t forget making the experience at-track and on TV better for the fans.  We deserve it.

There you go.  The IZOD IndyCar Series had two exciting races that should create interest in the “Finale at Fontana.”  The championship is still undecided.  Ryan Hunter-Reay is stalking Will Power, who has yet to show he can close out a championship season.  IndyCar has 500 miles to go in another exciting and dysfunctional season.  IndyCar may not always make it right, but they certainly make it exciting.

Ten Worthless Opinions – Mid-Ohio Back-to-School Edition

August is here and you know what that means, don’t you?  That’s right, it’s back-to-school time everywhere.  Open the newspaper or turn on the TV and you are inundated with ads and commercials for every item your entitled little geniuses need.  With that as a backdrop, here’s this weeks WO’s (worthless opinions).

1.  Everyone line up, please.  Single file.  Let’s take a seat in Professor B’s classroom.  Every school has that teacher that’s a little off-center but so sincere and bright that he becomes a favorite.  That’s Jon Beekhuis.  Every broadcast he explains something that helps me understand the engineering marvels of racing and how these concepts affect the teams and drivers.  Class, pay attention.

2.  Sometimes it takes a practical lesson for students to see the value of their knowledge.  After the deluge at Mid-Ohio and the tragic lightning strike at Pocono, it behooves us to pay attention to weather warnings.  I met Brian Nuedorff (@NASCAR_WXMAN) at IMS last week.  His real job is a TV meteorologist in Idaho, but he is an avid NASCAR fan and provides up-to-the-minute forecasts for fans of the various NASCAR series.  Like most bloggers/social media types, he does it for free.  Leading up to the red flag at Pocono, he was screaming on Twitter to stop the race and evacuate the stands.  It didn’t happen in time.  As someone who has managed large events for a living, I can tell you that there is a certain inertia in making the decision to evacuate a facility.  Is your information accurate?  Do you have a plan?  What effect will it have on the event?  What effect will it have on everyone involved in the event?  The simple answer is to say “do the right thing.”  Right is always easy to ascertain in the past tense.  It’s much more difficult in the present.  Here’s a link to Brian Nuedorff’s response on the Pocono weather situation on Sunday.  Read it, please.  And the next time lightning is in the area of an event you are attending, do the right thing and seek shelter.  Don’t wait to be told.  Trust yourself to do the right thing; don’t wait for someone else to make your decision for you.

3.  Justin Wilson is the strong “B” student in class.  He pays attention, does all of this homework, participates in discussion, but when the test rolls around he just misses an “A.”  After getting spun and not stalling his car, he battled back as best he could to soldier home in 18th.  Sometimes a teacher just wants to give a kid an “E” for effort.

4.  Every class has a kid who cuts up, makes jokes, and basically keep a smile on everyone’s face, whether you are a teacher or student.  Josef Newgarden is that kid.  Teachers want to discipline him, but he just ends up making them laugh.  Newgarden almost cracked the top ten this week.   He ran up front until the second half of the race.   Let’s have a short Socratic seminar using this question:  HOW IN THE HELL DOES THIS GUY NOT HAVE A SPONSOR?  Please discuss following the Socratic rules.  What?  Not familiar with them?  Damn American educational system.  Just watch this video and talk among yourselves then.  You won’t see this kind of stuff in NASCAR, class.

5.  After lap 4, ABC/ESPN/NBC showed a graphic on the biggest movers.  Graphs and charts are always a hit when doing multi-media presentations.  It listed Newgarden and Conway at +4, Tags and Barrichello at +3, and Viso at +2. I liked this; however, it would have been nice to SHOW SOME OF THE PASSES.  You have to support your assertions with proof.

6.  Just like the over enthusiastic student who becomes enamored with props and graphs during a presentation, ABC/ESPN/NBC followed that up later with a new graphic that showed Simona de Silvestro,  James Jakes, and Ed Carpenter as the new biggest movers.  Now I was really confused.  I didn’t see those passes, either.  Just like a student who finds facts while researching but does not think about those facts, our broadcasters missed that those passes occurred during pit stops.  Give yourself extra credit if you noticed this.

7.  The booth crew of Bob Jenkins, Jon Beekuis, and Wally Dallenbach did a fine job of explaining the 2-stop versus 3-stop strategies.  It made me long for a yellow flag to allow the 3-stoppers to cozy up to the 2-stoppers.  The back and forth between Beekhuis and Dallenbach explaining these situations works.  That’s the kind of classroom discussion you need: disagreement without animosity.  Both of them are willing to be convinced by the other.  Poor Bob chimes in occasionally trying to draft off their knowledge.

8.  Every class has the answer guy who always knows the right formula, law of physics, or equation for any situation.  In this IndyCar class, the valedictorian is going to come from either the Penske or Ganassi families.  They always have the right strategy and the right fuel mileage.  And to top it off, they’re cool, too.  You are always a little jealous of their seemingly effortless success, at least until you see how hard they work to be cool and successful.

9.  Push-to-pass was…something.  Sometimes the newest fashion you see in a catalog or on a mannequin just doesn’t quite work when you wear it to school.  That’s push-to-pass.  The five second delay seemed like a good idea to prevent it being used as a defensive measure.  The problem with the new iteration seems to be that the driver has to stay on the gas or the button clicks off.  This pretty much means that you can’t use the PTP in a corner if you are not accelerating.  Not only does the driver have to plan to push the button five seconds before it takes effect, he needs to plan to push it at a time when he is on the gas.  In other words, it’s FUBAR.  I think IndyCar needs to dial it back to how they had it.  Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey comes to mind here.

10.  Every student in school needs an assignment notebook with a calendar to plan what they need to do and when they need to do it.  I think it’s time for Randy Bernard to start filling his in.  We only have three races left.  Three!  Next year, IndyCar needs a solid schedule put together as early as possible.  Bernard says 19 is the number of races IndyCar needs to fully activate sponsorship and stay current with the public.  He also says the promoters need to pay up front.  Total agreement here.  Just my opinion, but the schedule for next year is vital.  IndyCar needs the traction that a firm schedule provides to induce sponsorship, both at track and on TV.  This test will not be graded on a curve.

Those are my WO’s (worthless opinions) for this week.  Now please excuse me.  I’ve been told to stand at the board and write “I will compose better WO’s next time.”  It seems I got caught cribbing from the Internet.

Ten Worthless Opinions – Stranger in a Strange Land Redux

Well, I did my tour of duty in the Social Media Garage at the Super Weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Met some great people, had a few laughs, got caught in the rain, and saw “the other side” of racing.  I have attended 44 Indianapolis 500’s; this was my  first Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com.  OK, I copied and pasted the name of the race because GOOD GOD, THAT’S A LONG NAME AND WHO THE HELL IS BIGMACHINERECORDS.COM, ANYWAY.  With that said, I will refer to the race as the Brickyard 400 from now on.  You’re welcome.  Here is the tale of an innocent IndyCar blogger/social media neophyte as he observes and reports on the monolith we call NASCAR.  These are the WO’s (worthless opinions) on his experience.

1.  I thought I had at least a working knowledge of the power of social media.  Untrue.  I am a babe in the woods compared to Jessica Northey, Jenny DeVaughn, the myth that is nascarcasm, and the Idaho weatherman known as Brian Neudorff.  At the Indy 500, my Social Media Garage brothers and I merrily tweeted and blogged our way through the month of May, never once saying the word “impressions.”  It seems that this word is a vital component to judging just how valuable a Twitter account or blog is to someone.  The names listed above have MILLIONS of impressions.  Jessica Northey already has business plans to make these impressions pay.  The two bright things I did this weekend were to shut up when they were explaining the power of social media to me and to ask questions after they stopped talking.  I know nothing, but I’m interested in this stuff.  I suggest all users of Twitter start tracking their metrics.  And by the way, I would LOVE for you all to re-tweet my idiotic comments on Twitter.  It seems that is of value.

2.  People are always ragging on the yellow shirts at IMS.  They yell, blow whistles, and generally brook no argument.  When alcohol induced stupidity by the fans is not involved, I have found the majority of these men and women to be friendly and helpful.  The rest, of course, are petty tyrants and martinets.  Do the workers at IMS really have a sense of humor?  Check out this sign I saw as I entered the track on Sunday.

Love it, right?  Good stuff.

3.  I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when I walked down the merchandise trailer row.  I counted over 30 trailers hawking hats, shirts, baby apparel, models, scanners, and various and sundry cheaply made and overpriced items that a person does not need.  EVERY name driver has a trailer.  IndyCar cannot compete.  I continued my tour and came to a trailer that had a giant picture of Jeff Gordon wearing camouflage posing with what appears to be a large, dead elk.

This trailer was selling nothing but camouflaged team and driver gear.  I have never seen this merchandise at an IndyCar race.  I think we are appealing to a different demographic.  Of course I now have a Tony Stewart camouflage hat to wear golfing.  Stylish.  When in Rome…

4.  The Continental Tire Series, with its production based cars and “gentlemen drivers,” and the Rolex Series both put on damn good shows on Friday.  They run in the rain!  I consider myself an Indy guy, but I have no problem with Indy hosting other series.  It’s their track and their business.  Make some money so the IndyCar series stays strong.  Keep these races.

5.  The Indy 500 has its share of drinkers, tattoos, mullets, and boorish behavior, but I’m pretty sure the per capita on these belongs to NASCAR.  I’d bet the 500 leads in total arrests, but I’ll have to go the over on NASCAR with concealed weapons.  It’s a different crowd.  A strong need to root against someone seems to exist in stock car racing.  You not only rabidly pull for someone, you just as rabidly pull against an opponent you perceive to have done your driver wrong.  I’m convinced you could get shanked in the lavatory for wearing a Juan Pablo Montoya shirt if he had just wrecked Junior.  Or maybe just for wearing a Juan Pablo Montoya shirt.  And I’m just talking about the women’s lavatory.  It’s a rough crowd, particularly for my refined tastes.

6.  How about that race?  Be honest with me.  You took a nap, didn’t you?  In a race to race comparison, the Indy 500 laps the Brickyard 400.  Indy had lead changes, charges through the pack, and a last lap dive bomb in Turn One that THRILLED the crowd.  I get it that NASCAR has more pit strategy with 2 or 4 tires and all the adjustments you can make during a race.  In my opinion, it’s a product of a relatively low-tech series that is just coming to grips with its “shade tree mechanic” past.  Still figuring that fuel injection out, huh?

7.  Give credit where credit is due, though.  The traveling carnival that is NASCAR dwarfs the IndyCar show.  NASCAR is BIG.  They have a mass of haulers just for the series gear.  The downside to that is NASCAR has a very high overhead as a series in a very bad economy.  IndyCar’s more streamlined product may be in better shape to weather the economic storm.  IndyCar is lean.  NASCAR  has to feed the bulldog EVERY week.

8.  Traffic in the Brickyard 400 Social Media Garage was much stronger than the Indy 500 traffic.  Even though the room was hidden this week, a good number of NASCAR fans came in to check it out.  This second iteration of the SMG was also better suited to move people from entrance to exit.  Also, the Brickyard 400 brings the local Indy 500 fans.  It was good to see so many of my social media friends, especially those that had Fuzzy’s Premium in a chilled flask.  Cheers, friends.  I was hoping people were stopping in to see me, but I have a suspicion the air conditioning was the main attraction.

9.  One of the highlights of the Social Media Garage was when Chevrolet brought Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart in for special wristband interviews.  Doug Boles, VP of Communications conducted a very professional Q and A.  The drivers were relaxed, engaged, and funny.  When I asked Gordon if he ever wanted to get back in the sprints and midgets, he said he gets the itch every time he sees a race, and he plans to attend the Knoxville Nationals this year.  Loved that answer. When Tony Stewart was asked what he does when it rains, he said, “I try to get somewhere out of the rain.”  He said it with a smile.  When I asked him what car or formula had the steepest learning curve, he said the winged sprint cars he’s racing now are the hardest to learn because the left side digs in going through the corner, not the right like the non-wings.  The guy is a flat racer.  Johnson talked about moving from bikes to buggies to stock cars.  Basically, he has been in a stock car since his teens.  It’s all he knows.  All three love Indy, and it shows.

10.  NASCAR drivers are rock stars.  They can’t walk anywhere without a crowd forming.  One thing I like about the 500 is that the fans respect the drivers as they walk from place to place.  If they stop, then of course the fans will ask for autographs, but it’s not a free-for-all with drivers ducking for cover.  I like the more mature reaction of the IndyCar fans.

Let me just give credit where credit is due.  Cassie Conklin is the IMS person in charge of new media.  The social media people who come in (like me) are pains in the neck.  Cassie’s a saint.  Pippa Mann stopped in and was her usual friendly and professional self.  What an ambassador for IndyCar.  Jarrett Peyton, the son of Walter Payton, stopped in with his amazingly positive personality to just hang out and talk.  Ashley Stremme, wife of NASCAR driver David Stremme, stopped by to chat with Jessica Northey and stayed to talk racing.  She grew up in a racing family and drove dirt modifieds.  She had interesting comments on being a one car team struggling to find sponsorship.  I’m now a fan.  Last, but not least, Todd and Cary Bettenhausen, the twin sons of Gary Bettenhausen, were in all three days helping visitors to the SMG experience iRacing.  Every kid that needed it got positive and friendly instruction.  And the boys had some racing stories to tell.  IMS history was right there next to me.  My opinions may be worthless, but the experiences I’ve had this year through IMS, Twitter, and this blog have been far from that.  Sometimes that stranger mentioned in the title finds a home.

Ten Worthless Opinions – (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy Edition

After such a great race in Edmonton, Alberta, it was discouraging to hear talk of the race not coming back due to sponsorship difficulties.  The talk seems to center around local engagement and activation.  Nothing a title sponsor can’t solve.  What does it take to get the folks from Medicine Hat, Okotoks, Wetaskiwin, Athabasca, Waskastenau, Atikameg, Ponoka, and Sexsmith to fully engage?  OK, judging by the name, maybe the folks at Sexsmith are busy with other activities.  This was a fantastic race.  C’mon, local Canadian populace, you can’t just fish and drink beer all summer.  With the oil business at the center of Edmonton commerce, you would think local connections would flourish.  That’s why this week’s title is (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy Edition.  I’m willing to do my small part to help recruit sponsorship.  Here are this week’s WO’s (worthless opinions).

1.  I thought I would familiarize myself with Edmonton by taking out my atlas and HOLY SMOKES, EDMONTON IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!  I grew up in a small Indiana town (Shirley) and thought it was the middle of nowhere, but now I know how wrong I was.  I can only assume the winters at this northern latitude are brutal, and the summers are plagued by giant biting flies.  Am I wrong?  I can see why a title sponsor is difficult to find.  Bad economy, wrong location (notice I did not say “bad location”), and low TV ratings may doom this race.  And that’s too bad; the racing was excellent.  Speaking of races, Randy Bernard is still adamant on 19 races while reports suggest that some owners are happy where they are and don’t have the money to expand to 19.  Sometimes I just shake my head at the dysfunction in the IndyCar family.  I think they all need therapy.  As a fan, I know I do.

2.  The teams complained about the long drive.  What’s the payoff for them?  Are they going to excite their sponsors with hospitality in Edmonton?  Sadly, there is no compelling reason for owners, teams, and sponsors to go to Alberta, Canada.  The Calgary Stampede does draw a huge crowd, though.  Hmm.  Maybe Randy Bernard can use his rodeo connections to combine the Stampede and the (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy race.  I’m an idea guy.  Just one of the many services offered here at New Track Record.

3.  Is it my imagination, or is NBC Sports tweaking the pre-race a little?  The giant gear that serves as Kevin Lee’s pre-race perch was missing.  That was probably a cost containment move, though.  Again, the costs to go to Edmonton are enormous, and does NBC Sports really need that piece of modern art and the wranglers that go with it?  It will be interesting to see if it continues to show up at other races.  NBC Sports cutting an already low-budget presentation is not good news.

4.  Robin Miller has been marginalized as an in-race reporter.  His schtick is the grid run.  He even has his own cartoon graphic now.  He’s NBC Sports version of Fox Sports’ Digger.  Here’s my idea.  Create a college-type mascot of Robin Miller.  He can parade up and down pit row in his suit with the Firehawk.  They can even play little tricks on each other.  With the quality of the questions he’s asking in the grid run now, the mascots vow of silence can only be a benefit to the viewer.

5.  What’s up with Marty Snider?  He went from a pretty good pit reporter to a shit-stirrer.  Pre-race, he tried to get Sebastien Bourdais to comment on Charlie Kimball from last week, even asking if an apology was offered.  Post-race, he tried to get Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power in a dust-up about Power’s alleged chopping of RHR while exiting the pits.  He also tried to get Helio Castoneves to comment on last year’s penalty.  It seemed contrived.  Is some faceless producer trying to spice things up?  Is NBC Sports trying to create some soap opera controversy?  I can’t blame NBC for trying to start things.  Ratings rule.  Let’s see if this continues.

6.  It was nice to hear Simon Pagenaud tell us that his run-in with Josef Newgarden at Toronto was not really blocking.  It was just two moves (his and Newgarden’s) at almost the same time.  I’m reminded of the guy caught in the act asking his wife, “What are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”  I’ll stick with my own eyes, but thanks for asking, Simon.

7.  Push-to-pass, or PTP, seemed to work well.  NBC Sports showed a graphic that let the viewer know when PTP was in use and how many seconds were left.  It had my interest in the last few laps as Takuma Sato tried to overtake Helio Castroneves.  In other words, it engaged me.  Keep it.

8.  I did notice that IZOD used two different commercials, one with golfer Kevin Na and one with their normal set of models splashing fully clothed in the ocean.  Still no commercials using or connecting to IndyCar.  So long, IZOD.  It’s been good to know you.  I’ll miss buying your socks and pocketed T-shirts.  They have become my signatures.  And the Van Heusen commercials with Jerry Rice and Steve Young will also be gone since Van Heusen owns IZOD.  But before you go, can you do one commercial where Robin Miller is the “schlub.”   Please.

9.  I loved all the passing at the (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy and how NBC Sports continues to show the passes, both live and on replay.  This is how you keep your core fans engaged.  Show them racing.  Let Marty Snider titillate the casual fans with  gossip; show me the action.  And I agree NBC needs both because they need the viewers.  Whatever works.

10.  I love the IndyCar post-race interviews.  The NASCAR drivers are often surly and pissy.  The IndyCar drivers seem approachable and willing to sell the brand, both their own and the series.  Helio Castroneves bubbles over with emotion.  How can you not like him?  Alex Tagliani was gracious in defeat.  Takuma Sato was all smiles.  OK, Ryan Hunter-Reay was a little moody now that he expects to win every race, but I’ll give him a pass this time.

There you go.  I hope you found this week’s WO’s (worthless opinions) satisfying.  Hopefully, IndyCar finds itself back in Edmonton, Alberta next year with a title sponsor and plenty of insect repellent to keep those damn biting flies off.  In honor of our northern friends, I leave you with this famous paean to western Canada.  You’re welcome.

Ten Worthless Opinions – Ennui Edition

*Deep sigh*  No IndyCar race this weekend.  And since I like racing, I tuned in to the TNT coverage of the NASCAR race at New Hampshire.  *Deeper sigh*  The WO’s (worthless opinions) just keep bubbling up, even with NASCAR as the impetus.  I don’t even have a theme for this week’s WO’s unless moodiness counts.  Hence the ennui.  Here are a few debris caution opinions for you.

1.  Just looking ahead, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has displayed an enormous lack of common sense and a disturbing disregard for its reputation by inviting me back to reprise my role as a blogger/mechanic/village idiot in the Super Weekend Social Media Garage.   Again, my reputation as shill-for-hire has resulted in access and credentials in lieu of any monetary considerations.  I’m still trying to get a grip on my persona for the weekend.  Should I have a supercilious smirk because I believe IndyCar is the most entertaining racing series in America?  Should I ask tough questions regarding the relatively boring style of racing and the heavy-handed management of the series?  Should I just drink the Kool-Aid and shut up?  Decisions, decisions.

2.  I am looking forward to meeting my Super Weekend SMGarage compadres at Indy.  Their Twitter followers, and one can only assume their blog hits, absolutely dwarf mine.  As a public service, I will include their Twitter numbers, Twitter links, Twitter profile, and other links.

  • Jenny DeVaughn (@JennyDeVaughn, 11,685)  Pay-It-Forward Social Media Manager at @WasteManagement, Relationship Builder, Digital Marketer, Mobile Geek + a traveling NASCAR Fan. Views are my own.  Atlanta, GA · http://socialprecision.com
  • nascarcasm (@nascarcasm, 19,827)  Motorsports follower with poor sportsmanship. Reliable source of misinformation. SBNation.com contributor. Can’t pronounce his own Twitter handle.  Indianapolis · http://sbn.to/ntPE8Y
  • Brian Neudorff (@NASCAR_WXMAN, 10,804)  Unofficial NASCAR Meteorologist providing accurate weather forecast for Sprint Cup, NNS, & Camping World Trucks each week on Twitter & SBNation.comTwin Falls, ID · http://wx-man.com/NASCAR

3.  I will compliment NASCAR on its partnership with Twitter.  Even though they seem to use it as another pit reporter, the quick access to information from multiple sources almost simultaneously will, if used correctly, make broadcasts better.  IndyCar and IMS should go to school on this partnership.  It will be interesting to see if the Social Media Garage at the Super Weekend will be marginalized in any way because of this partnership.  I wonder if the NASCAR Twitter feed will hook us up.  It would be an entertaining mistake choice.

4.  IndyCar managed to stay in the news with the “resignation” of Marc Koretzky as COO of IndyCar.  This might have been more interesting if we knew who he was, what he did, and what really happened.  Talk about a kiss off.  The rather terse press release basically said…well, it basically said nothing.  It could be translated as “don’t let the door hit you…” or, in a more modern vernacular, “AMF.”  In any case, we can speculate on what happened.  Either someone was not getting the job done, someone was left standing when the tune stopped in the game of musical chairs on the responsibility for the China race, or a purge to consolidate power in the IndyCar/IMS semi-dysfunctional family took place.  Or all of the above.  You can assume that politics in the IndyCar “bag of snakes” is ongoing.  I do hope that a kiss-and-tell book will be written someday.  I would stand in line for a signed copy.

5.  I attended the opening race of Indiana Sprint Week at Gas City I-69 Speedway Friday night.  Great show and a great crowd.  IndyCar needs the passion of these fans.  People from California, Colorado, and other states travel in RV’s to each of the races in the series.  After watching both, I have decided that I really like the wingless sprint cars.  They may not be as fast in and off the corners as their winged brethren, but they are fun to watch.  Go all grass roots this weekend and attend your local show, whatever they race.

6.  Bryan Clauson is the MAN in USAC.  And it’s possible that his being from my hometown of Noblesville, Indiana has nothing to do with this opinion  In the heat race at Gas City, he came from the back to the front, went over the cushion out of turn two, and came back to finish second.  In the feature, he rode the cushion to finally get by Levi Jones for the win.  Exciting stuff.  Would love to see him at Indy again next year.

7.  More short track props.  At Kokomo for Indiana Midget Week, we dined on pork chop sandwiches and $2.00 beer.  At Gas City, the beer was $2.50, but they had breaded tenderloins.  I am not a snob.  Even though these were frozen fritters, they were perfect with pickles, onions, and mustard.  I love it when the locals don’t try to gouge the fans at the big event.  Call it Hoosier Hospitality.

8.  Speaking of tracks, there was an interesting back-and-forth on Twitter this week between Randy Bernard and Brandon Igdalsky, president of Pocono Raceway.  Very flirtatious.  Almost uncomfortably so.  In any case, the series needs ovals, and they need the East Coast.  Let’s face it, IndyCar just needs friends, preferably friends with benefits, particularly if those benefits include an oval on which to race.  What will it take to make this happen?  Most likely IndyCar will be asked to make financial concessions.  Poor IndyCar is over a barrel.  The promoters smell blood (or money) and want a sweetheart deal.  IndyCar just got torched when China walked without leaving a deposit to soothe the burn.  The paddock sharks are circling IndyCar management, smelling the same blood.  IndyCar needs to cement a calendar for 2013 as soon as prudently possible.  I hope 19, as mentioned by Randy Bernard, is the number for next year.  A casual fan will find something else to do if the races are this sporadic.  It’s even tough on the hard-core fans.  I mean, I’m being forced to ignore NASCAR while I type this.

9.  Even though I believe Canada is a great market (anywhere that wants IndyCar is a great market), Toronto, followed by a week off, followed by Edmonton is a ratings and news cycle disaster.  As far as the media is concerned, IndyCar will cease to exist for three weeks.  After Edmonton, IndyCar has another week off, a race at Sonoma, and then THREE weeks off.  IndyCar has three races in seven weeks in the middle of the summer.  Thanks, China.  One more reason to buy American.  IndyCar has to build momentum by building the summer schedule.  And I know I’m preaching to the choir.

10.  Here’s a shout out to the Saturday morning coffee club of Zack Houghton (aka IndyCar Advocate), Eric Hall (aka anotherindycarblog), and Steve Wittich (aka Steve Wittich).  So far this year, some member of this illustrious group has attended Barber, Indy, Detroit, Milwaukee, Iowa, and Toronto.  It makes for some interesting conversation and not a little flat-out lying.  This past Saturday, the group decided that green/white/checkered has no place in IndyCar.  And that’s definitive.  I’m sure our opinion will influence policy.

There you go.  Take IndyCar away from me, and you get this kind of moody, self-serving drivel.  That’s reason enough to have a full summer schedule next year.

Ten Worthless Opinions – Honda Indy Toronto Edition

It’s hard for me to see Canada as a foreign country.  Most of the citizens speak English (except those militant Quebecers and the taxi drivers) and the social, political, and economic issues parallel ours.  The Canadians I have met seem downright nice.  And that’s what I thought of the Honda Indy Toronto race.  It was nice.  So in a departure from my normal left-handed compliments, I will try to be nice in my “Ten Worthless Opinions.”  The operative word here is “try.”

1.  A recurring commentary in blogs and on Twitter relates to the various renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner” that we are subjected to in most pre-race programs.   American artists love to make the song theirs.  They slow it down, add guitar riffs, or try to jazz it up in some way.  Of course, that’s what you get when you use the tune from a British drinking song with the relatively nonsensical lyrics from the Francis Scott Key poem.  It’s open to interpretation.  With that in mind, I was so looking forward to hearing “O Canada,” one of the nicest national anthems in the world.  Apparently, ABC/ESPN felt that the singing of any other country’s national anthem would rile up those Tea Party folks or something, so no “O Canada” for us.  With that in mind, allow me to present a truly inspiring version of  “O Canada” performed with a truly Canadian twist: click HERE for “O Canada” played using nothing but instruments made from Molson Canadian bottles and cans.

2.  I regularly show great disrespect for ABC/ESPN’s coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series.  They seem to go through the motions.  But this week’s coverage in Montreal was, well, nice.  They didn’t knock it out of the park, but they didn’t drop the ball, either.  Yes, they missed passes, but they came back and showed them to us.  They focused on the racing in the middle of the pack as Ryan Hunter-Reay was running away at the front.  Novel approach showing us action instead of a lock-step front-of-the-pack view.  Keep it up, ABC/ESPN.

3.  While having a split screen for viewing is nice, the waving flag background is distracting and stupid.  Don’t take my word for it, ABC/ESPN.  Do a focus group.  They will tell you the same thing.  Change it, PLEASE.

4.  It was nice of INDYCAR to change the rules to allow push-to-pass.  I like them spicing things up.  But I am still a little confused on why they took an already underpowered car and decreased power only to give it back in the form of push-to-pass.  Now, I have been traveling and off the grid for the past week and may have missed what is a very clear and obvious explanation as to why they did this and what the benefits are.  Still waiting…

5.  It was nicely explained to me that on-board starters cannot be used because they weigh too much and the car already has a front-to-back balance problem.  Thanks for the epic design, Dallara.  One thing this series needs is either an anti-stall system that works or on-board starters so a simple spin or nose-in wall touch is not a race-ender for teams.  As it sits now, a corner issue with two or three cars becomes a lottery on who gets help from the Holmatro Safety Team first.  I am tired of watching a driver gesture for help getting his car refired.  Sometimes that is the ONLY issue a driver has.  Fix this…now.

6.  I do like the side-by-side commercial and racing.  It’s a nice concept, but I’m not sure ABC/ESPN sees it from the viewer’s perspective.  It’s still a commercial, gang.  We are not really still watching the race.  With that said, you should try not to have commercials within two minutes of each other.  “Going side-by-side” is not the same as watching the race.  We are not stupid.  Quit treating us like we are.

7.  Interesting comments after the race from the drivers about the pits being closed during the caution.  Will Power was agitated.  Beaux Barfield did say they would try to open the pits in a timely manner during caution periods, didn’t he?  Power had a lead, managed his fuel and tires, and got screwed by the pits being closed.  Didn’t Simon Pagenaud suffer the same thing?  Please keep IndyCar racing different from other series.  If I want a nice vanilla serving of racing, I’ll watch NASCAR.

8.  How can you not like Sebastian Bourdais?  When Rick DeBruhl asked him if there were too many marbles during the restart, he said there were “too many idiots, that’s for sure.”  And that might have been the nicest thing he could say.  Oriel Servia also used the word “idiots” when describing  his fellow drivers.  They make me smile.  The right kind of controversy is good for racing.  These rascals bad mouthing each other is good for the sport.  We need some delinquents in the sport.  Choir boys are boring.

9.  Poor SFHR.  Joseph Newgarden is finally ready to climb the podium if he doesn’t screw it up.  Even Scott Goodyear got it right when he said all Newgarden had to do was be patient because Pagenaud had to pit.  That’s all he had to do.  I’m reminded of the two vultures sitting on a limb.  One turns to the other and says, “Patience my ass, I’m going to kill something.”  Newgarden decided to force a pass.  Pagenaud decided to block.  Sarah Fisher decided to go all A.J. in the pit box.  By the way, can anyone read lips?  What was that Sarah said?   I don’t think it was very nice.

10.  Here’s my WO’s (worthless opinions) on what IndyCar needs to do to make it the most diverse and exciting form of racing in the world:

  • Work to keep a nice balance between road, street, and oval courses.
  • Use a three wide start for Indy, a two wide start for other ovals, a two wide start for some road and street races, and a standing start for some road and street races.
  • More power, less downforce.  That separates the racers from the drivers.   This has worked!  To be diverse, we need differences on the track.
  • Anti-stall that works or on-board starters.  Cars should start and/or keep running.
  • Continue to make this an international series with international stars.  Run where the money is.
  • Add races.  It’s hard to stay in the headlines when nothing happens.

That’s it for this week.  It’s hard to believe that only five races remain on the schedule.  But with IndyCar’s recent skill at staying in the news cycle for all the wrong reasons, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of things to write about…and that’s nice.

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