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Where’s the noise? – the silence of IndyCar management.

Listen.  Can you hear anything?  I know, Robin Miller is still rattling some cages in “Miller’s Mailbag,” and Track Forum is always Track Forum: someone is always saying something over there.  But other than the recent test at Barber Motorsports Park, what is there to talk about?

And yes, I see the irony in my managing to write about the fact that there really isn’t anything about which to write.  The question is whether that is a good thing or not.  I believe there are two schools of thought on the subject.

The first school of thought is the drone of the dour doubters on “Miller’s Mailbag” and at Track Forum.¹  From their point of view, the silence of the post Randy Bernard regime is borderline criminal.  How can the series grow if the leaders of the series are not constantly out promoting the product?  My god, we are up the creek in a barbed-wire canoe!  We are going straight to a hell where we will be forced to watch NASCAR and listen to Darrell Waltrip tell us how that series invented the breaded tenderloin and steering wheels!  This school of thought sees a Hindenburg of a series just tossing the mooring lines out at Lakehurst, New JerseyOh, the humanity!

The other perspective is a little more restrained.  They see the silence of the management team as a sign that a deliberate and thoughtful plan is in place to move the series forward that does not include the bosses being the story.  Randy Bernard’s popularity with the fans (which was much deserved) stuck in the craw of some of the drivers who believed (and rightly so) that they were the stars of the series.  This new low-key style was played out at Barber this week when a decidedly unpublicized meeting took place with Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, IndyCar CEO Jeff Belklus, and IndyCar COO Robby Greene meeting with IndyCar drivers and team principals.  This would have been press conference material in the recent past.  The agenda would have been leaked and dissected before the event.  Interviews and comments about the meeting would have found their way into Curt Cavin’s “Pit Pass” as well as a snarky column from Robin Miller.  This year?  Crickets.  No press release, no leaks, no videos, no snarky comments.  What in the world is going on here? This may be a sign that IndyCar is becoming  a serious business.  The focus was on the product.

In any case, it appears that a new management model is in place.  That may be good news for IndyCar, but it is absolute hell on bloggers who need the series dysfunction that had become the norm so we have something about which to write.  A successful IndyCar series would silence the snark.  So come on, IndyCar people, do something stupid.  I cannot keep writing about nothing.  This is not Seinfeld, you know.


1.  I love “Miller’s Mailbag” and Track Forum.  And I’m not just saying that so the maniacs there don’t feel the need to verbally attack me here, although that would make a lot of sense.  The fact is we need the maniacal and the fanatical.  Every sports entertainment property needs the hard-core fans.  They are the sourdough needed to make new bread.  You have to have yeast, and I am sure there are very doughy body types single finger typing behind those 10-year-old HP computers.  I appreciate the passion.  We need more of it.

Fast Times in Noblesville

(Editor’s note:  This article was written for The Polk Street Review, Noblesville’s only literary review, after interviewing Noblesville, Indiana racer Bryan Clauson at Kokomo Speedway this summer.  The editor is stoked since someone actually printed a piece of his writing in a real publication.  This piece was part of a series on influential/interesting citizens, both past and present and was written assuming the readers were not necessarily racing fans.  If you are interested in supporting The Polk Street Review, click here to check out the website and to order your copy.  Whether it’s grassroots racing or grassroots writing, your support is invaluable.)


Bryan Clauson could be the guy that Hoosier musician John Mellencamp was singing about in his hit song “Small Town.”  Clauson, the 23 year-old championship auto racer from Noblesville, is fully grounded with his sense of place. “Noblesville has grown into a big town, but it still has that small town feel.  That sense of community is part of what keeps me planted in Noblesville.  It would be hard to ever uproot me.”

Bryan has been a USAC (United States Auto Club) champion in both the midget and sprint car series, driven in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and piloted an Indy car in the 2012 Indianapolis 500.  The nomadic life of a racer parallels life in a tight-knit community. “(Racing is) something I grew up with, something I love.  It’s definitely one of the places I’m at home.  Everybody’s here to beat each other, but it’s one big family.”  Competing over 100 times a year in the high stress environment of auto racing creates a bond.  Bryan understands that the racing community is like any other family.  “We’re like siblings.  We can pick on each other, but if someone else does it, it’s not OK.”  That’s just the kind of relationship you might see in any home in Noblesville.

It’s that sense of community, in both Noblesville and racing, that helps Bryan handle the traveling that is inherent in big time auto racing. “There’s times you go a month, two months, without seeing your bed.”  While Bryan and his racing team often stay in motels, they also stay with friends and family throughout the country, using both their homes and garages.  He knows how lucky he is.  “I travel the country doing what I love.  It’s hard to beat that.”  In many ways, Bryan is doing what so many people long to do: he is following his dream.

Bryan began racing quarter midgets in California before moving to Noblesville.  His new central Indiana home landed him in the middle of one of the hotbeds of auto racing.  As he progressed through the ranks of USAC sprint and midget racing, he caught the eye of Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR.  His short career in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, which most would consider successful, was cut short by the money woes that plague auto racing at all levels.  He returned to his roots on the short dirt ovals of the Midwest and California and returned to his championship ways.  In 2010, Bryan won the USAC National Driver Championship, earning a scholarship from IndyCar’s CEO Randy Bernard to compete in the 2011 Indy Lights Series with Sam Schmidt Motorsports.  He parlayed that opportunity into a ride with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for the 2012 Indianapolis 500.  Even though Bryan was fast in practice for the 500, a hard crash in qualifying ended his chance of a good starting position.  A spin early in the race left him with handling problems that led to his early exit and a 30th place finish.  Bryan takes away good memories, though.  “It’s the Mecca of motorsports.  The experience is something I’ll hang onto forever.”

What is it like to do what Bryan does?  He struggled to describe it.  “You take a 1000 pound, 900 horsepower car, and you’re slinging it sideways on a turn at a little over 120 miles-per-hour around a quarter-mile dirt track in a little over 13 seconds.  I don’t think there’s a feeling like it.  You drive it by the seat of your pants.  It’s basically a rocket ship you’re trying to sling around a quarter-mile dirt track.”  It doesn’t quite sound like a trip to town in the family sedan.

When asked about his favorite track while waiting to race at Kokomo Speedway, Bryan smiled and looked around him.  “My favorite Indiana track?  We’re standing in it. Kokomo Speedway.  It’s as good as it gets right here.  It’s the baddest bullring in the country.”  Whether it is the summer racing throughout the United States or his winter racing tour of New Zealand, Bryan’s roots always seem to bring him back to his home tracks in central Indiana and his hometown of Noblesville.  And that is quite all right with him.

Even with all his time away, Bryan always knows where home is.  “Noblesville is home, the place that I love, the place that I’ll probably always call home.”  No matter how fast or how far Bryan Clauson drives, he will always know the road back home to Noblesville.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Will all due apologies to science fiction writer Robert Heinlein and his seminal book Stranger in a Strange Land [1], that title sums up how I feel about being in the Social Media Garage for the Super Weekend.  First and foremost, I am an open-wheel fan.  Something about IndyCars, sprints, midgets, F1 and other open-wheel formulas just does it for me.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  I am a racing fan.  I enjoy the NASCAR series, even though the recent iterations of the Sprint Cup seem somewhat less than dynamic.  I know, I’m sure if someone took the time to tutor me in the esoterica of Sprint Cup aerodynamics, pit stops, and strategy then I would come to the light, drink the Kool Aid, and don a wardrobe of Tony Stewart shirts and hats.  It just hasn’t happened so far.

That begs the question of what the hell I’m doing in the NASCAR Super Weekend Social Media Garage.  Basically, I am loud, opinionated, and willing to embarrass myself in public.  I am sure IMS mentioned how important that is when they recruited the other social media types for the weekend.  I am still figuring out my persona for the weekend.  The fact is, I’m an Indianapolis Motor Speedway guy.  I know its history, its cultural meaning, and the good places to eat and drink in the area: an IMS idiot savant, so to speak.  I am offering my services to any blogger/social media expert/passerby who wants to talk Indy.  I might even be willing to listen to other opinions about racing.  But don’t count on it.

The reality is that fenders are OK with me.  I spent last Friday and Saturday at Anderson Speedway, a quarter-mile high-banked asphalt track watching three different series of stock cars (JEGS Crate Late Models, McGunegill Engine Performance Late Models, and the ARCA CRA Super Series in the Stoops Freightliner-Quality Trailer Redbud 300) race and, I had a blast.  Support your local grass roots racing by attending the show at your local track.  And the tenderloins were as big as hubcaps.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out.  That’s a full size plate.

That’s the kind of information I bring to the Super Weekend Social Media Garage.  It’s just another service provided to fans here at New Track Record.

The truth is I really like the NASCAR drivers who wheeled midgets and sprints as their paths to the big time.  I’m a fan of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and all the others who know what it means when they see a t-shirt that says “Slide or Be Slid.”  Even though I’m a stranger who will be attending my first NASCAR race after being in the crowd for 44 Indy 500’s, I don’t really think it will be that strange a land.  It’s still Indy.

See you in the Social Media Garage.  I will try to send out a lie post or two every day.  You can also follow my ramblings on Twitter @NewTrackRecord.


1.  Want to know more about Robert Heinlein?  This link takes you to the Heinlein Society site.  Don’t worry.  He’s no L. Ron Hubbard, and no pseudoscientific religion has formed around him.  I doubt Tom Cruise or John Travolta have ever read his stuff.  I do love his philosophies, though.  I recommend you read Time Enough for Love.

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 ·
  • nascarcasm (@nascarcasm, 19,827)  Motorsports follower with poor sportsmanship. Reliable source of misinformation. contributor. Can’t pronounce his own Twitter handle.  Indianapolis ·
  • 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 ·

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.

The survival of ovals in IndyCar

As a fan of IndyCar racing, I like all the venues to some degree or another, but I love the ovals.  I grew up on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Saturday and Sunday night stock car races at my local paved ovals of Sun Valley Speedway (now Anderson Speedway) in Anderson, Indiana and Mt. Lawn Speedway near New Castle, Indiana.  Just like you become a fan of a baseball or football team due to its proximity to you, I became a fan of oval racing because it’s what I saw on a regular basis.  If the midgets or sprints were there for a show, it was true exotica.  The Indy 500 was the pinnacle of the auto racing world.  I make no apologies for holding open wheel oval racing in such high regard.  Friends have tried to explain the nuances of road and street racing to me in the hope I will love it like they do, but I keep coming back to the speed, intensity, and danger of the oval track.  As I watch the slow withering of my favorite form of auto racing, I am buoyed by the success of Iowa Speedway.  They have figured out how to make oval racing successful.

Iowa Speedway has become a favorite oval of mine.  The cars are fast and the track is tricky.  The new aero package has them lifting in the corners.  The tires go away making the teams choose to be fast early in the run or save the tires to be fast later in the run.  Setting up a pass may take two or three laps, but passes can be made.  The cars actually need to be driven.  A team needs a strategy to be successful.  And Iowa had on-track action throughout the weekend.  No longer can IndyCar just run one race.  At Iowa we had three IndyCar heat races, a midget race, a Silver Crown race, a Star Mazda race, an Indy Lights race, and the IndyCar feature.  By my count that’s eight races.  Plus, the Indycar practice sessions set the fields for the heat races.  Take note, promoters: put action on the track.  That’s called VALUE.

But a successful race needs more than good racing.  It needs a promoter that knows how to sell and fans that come to the race.  With all of our eyes glued to the success of the series and the TV ratings, we forget that the promoter must make money – money that comes from either the paying customer through ticket, concession, and merchandise sales or from the promoters ability to sell sponsorships and partnerships with businesses.  Oval track promoters should take note of how Iowa Speedway does business.

Andretti Sports Marketing did a masterful job of creating interest and value for the Milwaukee race.  They created value by adding racing events, a midway, and lowering ticket prices.  People in the seats create a profit.  What they don’t have is a title sponsor paying them money.  And that is where Iowa Speedway excels.  Iowa Speedway succeeds because it attracts sponsorship and sells tickets.  Period.  How does this small track with about 30,000 seats manage to survive?  The simple answer is they find local sponsors who want to connect to local customers.

Take a look at the sponsors for the IndyCar, Nationwide, and Camping World truck weekends:

  •  Casey’s General Store USAC Challenge Presented by Messerschmidt Ice and Kix 101 (USAC Midgets and Silver Crown)
  •  Sukup 100 (Firestone Indy Lights)
  •  Iowa Corn 250 (IndyCar)
  •  American Ethanol 200 (TWICE!  Once in July and once in August for the trucks)
  •  Prairie Meadows 200 (ARCA)
  •  U.S. Cellular 250 Presented By the Enlist Weed Control System (Nationwide)
  •  Pizza Ranch Winner’s Circle

Notice anything in the list?  Other than the U.S. Cellular 250 Presented By the Enlist Weed Control System, every other race is sponsored by an Iowa business (U.S. Cellular is Illinois based and Enlist is weed control for corn marketed by Indianapolis based Dow AgroSciences.)   And guess with whom Iowa businesses want to connect?  Yep, those convenience store shopping, grain bin storing, corn growing, cell phone using, weed killing, ethanol producing, pizza eating Iowa farmers.  And connect they do.  The track was packed and the hospitality tents were full.  These local sponsors reaching out to local consumers were activated at Iowa Speedway.  Are the sponsors happy?  I asked Mindy Williamson, the communications and PR director for the Iowa Corn Growers Association, a few questions about their sponsorship of the Iowa Corn 250:

NTR: What is the value of this sponsorship to your organization?

Williamson: We have an excellent return on investment. We have the opportunity to talk with those outside of agriculture about things like ethanol, but also what corn means to our state and the many products we produce. We also have an opportunity to thank our members and give farmers a chance to enjoy themselves as VIP’s in our hospitality tent. We have each year about 1500-2500 farmers and their families that join us for the fun!

NTR: How do you activate at the track?

Williamson: We activate on many levels from advertising, to working with drivers, to promoting ticket sales, to on track involvement. We use traditional media, social media, member communications and more to reach people with our messages. I hope you saw and heard messages from Iowa Corn while you were here!

NTR: What response do you receive from your members?

Williamson: They love racing. In fact, racing is the number one sport among farmers. Some of them are new to IndyCar racing, but they are interested in the mechanics, the technology, and the innovation – many of the same things they invest in on their farms.

Clearly, the Iowa Corn Growers, the sponsor of the Iowa Corn 250, see value in this event.  I would expect the sponsors of the other events at Iowa Speedway see similar value to their sponsorships.  What lesson can be learned from Iowa Speedway?  It’s simple.  Ovals can thrive when the promoters seek out sponsorship that connects to the people who will be sitting in the stands. In Iowa, that demographic had a connection to agriculture.   Milwaukee, Phoenix, and Pocono, for example, would be attracting a different demographic.  But Iowa has a secret weapon.  It is not owned by ISC or SMI.  It is not a pawn in the battle between all the competing motorsport series.  Iowa Speedway is like the small oval tracks of my youth.  Its success or failure is its own.

The sad part of this story is that the locally owned and operated oval that works hard to make each event a success has been replaced by the corporate gamesmanship of both ISC (International Speedway Corporation) and SMI (Speedway Motorsports, Inc.), the owners of most major speedways in America who use their tracks like pawns in a large chess game to deny access to IndyCar or to devalue the series for the betterment of the NASCAR series events they prefer.  The Iowa Speedway model works for ovals.  The problem is there are so few independent ovals to use the model.  So unless IndyCar decides to get in the track-owning business by buying the ovals in Nashville and St. Louis, they had better take real good care of the people who are taking good care of them, or the oval racing that is IndyCar’s past will be relegated to the history books.  And any promoter that wants a model for oval success should give Iowa a call.  They get it.

Indy Tenderloin Tour – Iowa Speedway Edition

I’m a breaded tenderloin snob.  I know its history (the schnitzel German immigrants brought to America), and I know the good from the bad.  The bad generally means a frozen fritter, one dripping in grease, or just bad meat.  I consider myself an aficionado of the sliced, beaten, breaded, and fried pork sandwich.  This pork hubris led me to start my “Indy Tenderloin Tour” during the month of May to introduce out-of-state Indy 500 fans to this local delicacy, the likes of which can only be found in Indiana.  And then I went to Iowa Speedway.

I was minding my own business.  Oh, I noticed the pork chops and stopped to talk to the fine folks from the Tama County Pork Producers.  These were just the type of grilled pork offerings you would expect from Iowa residents.  They were quite tasty.  But of course, they weren’t breaded tenderloins.  And then I walked past The Machine Shed, a local restaurant that operated one of the concession stands.  It was very hard not to notice The Machine Shed, since this was cooking directly in front of it.

Yep.  That’s a whole hog roasting its way to succulent perfection.  Again, wonderful pork presentation, but not a breaded tenderloin.  But as I scanned the menu, it jumped out at me.  There it was: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich.  But so far in Iowa, most pork products were naked.  The pork loins, pork chops, and pork burgers might be seasoned, but they were not breaded.  After a brief moment of discussion, I found that the tenderloins here were indeed breaded, so I ordered up one of the breaded babies.  Here is what arrived:

I believe I insulted the workers in The Machine Shed when I asked if the tenderloin was a frozen fritter.  These tenderloins are sliced from the loin by The Machine Shed in their cutting room, pounded by real human beings, and breaded/battered in their own recipe.  I was also pleased to learn that the pork is locally sourced.  Iowans care about their food.

All that’s nice, but what about the taste?  Well, I included this sandwich in my “Indy Tenderloin Tour” didn’t I?  Doesn’t that tell you something?  My first bite told me that these Hawkeyes knew what they were doing.  The meat was thick and cooked to perfection.  Tenderloin fans know that you hide bad meat by pounding it thin and breading it heavily.  This was a thick piece of meat with nary a bit of gristle.  The coating was more of a batter than a breading and was crispy, bordering on crunchy.  My personal preference is for breading instead of batter, but that does not change the fact that this was a great tenderloin.  If you are in Iowa and are lusting after a breaded tenderloin, The Machine Shed is ready for you.

I have to give The Machine Shed a checkered flag.  My hat is off to my first out-of-Indy stop on the “Indy Tenderloin Tour.”

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

Ten Worthless Opinons – Iowa Corn 250 Edition

Corn was in evidence at Iowa this past weekend.  Coming through the tunnel into the infield at Iowa Speedway for the Iowa Corn 250, you are greeted by a healthy stand of Pioneer corn.  Yep, Iowa Speedway uses corn as landscaping.  Now that’s what you call sponsor activation.  This week’s theme for my WO’s (worthless opinions) is that staple of both human and cattle diets, zea mays.  How American is corn?  It is the American grain, domesticated right here in this hemisphere.  Feel proud, Americans.  This corn’s for you.

1.  Let’s give a little high fructose corn syrup to the people at Iowa Speedway and the people of Iowa.  Not that they need it, though.  Iowans are just nice.  It’s a Midwest thing.  At the race this weekend, people wanted to know where I lived, how I was doing, what I thought about Iowa, and if I was having a good time.  As a fellow Midwesterner, I answered all the questions and asked the same ones back.  A gentleman even apologized to me when I was told my credentials did not allow pit access on Saturday.  I think Iowans could tell me to go to hell and make me look forward to the trip.  There’s just something homey about Iowa Speedway.  It’s probably the green corn vistas everywhere you look.

2.  Is corn oil a lubricant?  If so, I think the padre who gave the invocation used a little with the Big Guy to smooth the evening weather.  He thanked God for the rain to help the corn, and thanked him again for keeping it away for the IndyCar race.  Don’t underestimate these Iowa corn farmers.  They know people.

3.  After watching this race in person and watching it later on TV, I can only say live is WAY better.  Make the drive to Iowa to watch this race.  You can see the whole track.  It’s a cornucopia of visual delight.  Watching Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud work through traffic all evening was racing at its finest.  TV can focus on one thing.  Being at this race, you can focus on all the battles.  Ed Carpenter battled back from a lap down to get into the top ten.  The Andretti Autosport drivers were wicked fast all night and aggressive as hell.  Watching a pass being set up for two or three laps adds real drama to the racing.  Ryan Hunter-Reay’s pass for the win had me twitching in my seat.  You get the sense of it on TV; you see it and feel it at the track.  Attend your local race.  It’s good for the series and good for your soul.

4.  Open up a jar of corn liquor for the pit reporters on NBS Sports.  Townsend Bell brings it.  He knows the drivers, the cars, and racing.  His questions on race set-ups and balance with Dario added insight.  And Dario’s answers were informative.  The thin line being treaded here is whether the Q and A is sometimes a little too esoteric.  In other words, does the technical jargon go over the head of someone not versed in the minutia of mechanics?  Even of it does, I would have to say it is balanced out by the SFHRacing home movies of Josef Newgarden sleeping on the couch and riding a Jet Ski.  IndyCar offers a little insight for everyone, I guess.

5.  Robin Miller is the corn pone king.  His jokes are lame, and he lacks the presence and delivery of a good TV guy, but I love him.  He knows everyone in the paddock and the drivers respond to the fact that he is knowledgeable and interested in their opinions.  Plus, he is trying to get the foreign drivers to hop in sprint cars.  Now that is something I would pay to see.  Walking through the garage area at Iowa, you see just how hard RM and the other TV guys work.

6.  Do you think Dario has a future in TV?  His presence in the booth was entertaining.  And entertainment is the bottom line in TV.  To use a pro wrestling term, Dario has become a heel (See my post Can you smell what IndyCar is cookin’ for my take on IndyCar as professional wrestling).  Some fans actually boo him now, and some cheers went up with the smoke rolling off the back of his car.  IndyCar is not NASCAR.  People are not ready to fight you because you root for, or against, a specific driver, but we need both heroes and villains in the series.  For whatever reason, Dario has become a villain.  In the booth Saturday, he commented on E.J. Viso’s pointing to his head after Will Power came down on him by saying, “Little rich coming from E.J.  He’s hit everything but the pace car.”  Nice.  Way to take a corn knife to him, Dario.  He calls them like he sees them, which we like.  What we don’t like is the way he sees them.  The boy has a future in television.  He’s not vanilla.

7.  I thought race control was going to have some cream corn on its hands Saturday night.  What the viewers at home did not see was a safety truck on the front straight as the pace car turned off its lights and pulled off the track on a restart.  The cars accelerated past it as they formed up for the restart.  Fans in our section were standing and pointing.  The truck was just backing into its spot on pit exit as the cars entered turn one.  That was WAY too close.  I would expect somebody to notice it.  As of this writing, nothing has been mentioned in print and nothing was said on TV.  Scary.  How about it Race Control?

8.  How did TV not play up the E.J. Viso – Will Power gestures is beyond me.  They showed it and then chose not to comment on E.J. and Will exchanging sign language pleasantries.  Watch this clip with some popcorn.  Now do the new dance I am calling the Viso.  It’s kind of like the Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. [1]  It’s a point to the head with both hands.  Then do a stylish flipping of the double birds.  Follow that up with a single or double crotch grab with a pelvic thrust.  It works best with a Samba beat.  Top that, NASCAR.

9.  The booth on the NBC Sports broadcast held its own.  Kevin Lee started during pre-race and moved to the pits after the arrival of Bob Jenkins.  Tommy Kendall added insight, but Jon Beekhuis is still the man with pithy observations.  Kendall needs to smooth it out in there and stop the long-winded observations when a pass is taking place on track.  Don’t forget you are there to provide narration to the event.  Most fans want to know what’s happening on the track, not what’s happening in your head.  Fill in when the action is slow.  Narrate when it’s happening.  Basically, you need a little less butter on the cornbread.

10.  Just to show you it’s not all racing, I managed to sample some great Iowa pork products this past weekend.  I had sausage gravy, bacon, pork chops, a pork burger, and a great breaded tenderloin that is getting its own review in my Tenderloin Tour coming up later this week.  My pal Steve Wittich (@stevewittich) tried the non-pork offering of fried meatloaf on-a-stick from The Machine Shed at the speedway.  Rave reviews all around for everything.  But there was one thing missing.  There was no corn on the cob drenched in butter.  Guess it’s not in season yet, and the good people of Iowa refuse to import any corn products from out-of-state.  That’s brand loyalty, folks.

The citizens of the Hawkeye State love their racing, their corn, and their pork.  They’re my kind of people.  Now where’s that can of hominy for dinner?


1.  Everyone do the Time Warp.  Still one my favorite dances.  Ah, Magenta and Columbia.  Here’s the scene from the movie.

Indy Tenderloin Tour – The Red Key Tavern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1.  Here’s a good primer on “kitsch.”

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

3.  Here’s the NUVO obit.

4.  Here’s Will Ferrell’s tribute to Blue from the movie Old School.

Indy Tenderloin Tour – The Mug-n-Bun

(Third in a series of five appearing every Tuesday through May 22, 2012)

What could be better on warm spring evening than curb service at an iconic drive-in?  Nothing!  If only that was our evening at Mug-n-Bun, 5211 West 10th St. in Speedway.  It was cool and rainy, but we persevered and ordered our breaded tenderloins, onion rings, french fries, and frosty mugs of root beer.  Here is the view out of my window:

Even in the rain, that looks GOOD.  And the rings, fries and root beer were good.  Which brings us to the tenderloin.  Our lovely and rain-soaked car hop Heather told me that the breaded tenderloins were really…fritters.  It is acceptable to gasp.  The meaty mecca of Robin Miller fame serves frozen fritters. All of you pork pros out there know that a truly good breaded tenderloin is hand-pounded and hand-breaded, never frozen.  I was so saddened that I needed another root beer.

This is not to say that the visit was disappointing.  The ambiance of a Speedway landmark combined with curb service and home-made root beer almost negated the fritter…but not quite.  This is, after all, the Indy Tenderloin Tour.  My advice: go.  If the frozen fritter leaves you cold, order a foot-long coney.  Be sure to order your root beer in the mug to drink there, and when you leave order a root beer to go in the large plastic souvenir cup.  If you don’t like the in-car experience, you can always sit at a picnic table.  It’s a drive-in.  Just have fun.

My rating: A Checkered Flag for the ambiance and root beer and Green Flag/Yellow Flag for the fritter.


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

Indy Tenderloin Tour – Plump’s Last Shot

(First in a series of five appearing every Tuesday through May 22, 2012.)

Any food tour needs to include things iconic in nature.  Other than the Indy 500, what else is synonymous with Indiana?  You got it – high school basketball.  And what basketball movie is most connected with Indiana?  No, it’s not Blue Chips.  What’s wrong with you?  It’s Hoosiers.  Filmed on location in Indiana,[1] the fictional Hickory Huskers were inspired by the small school Milan Indians of 1954 [2].  The player who took the last shot to beat Muncie Central that day was Hoosier hero Bobby Plump.[3]  Bobby, who still advocates a return to a single-class basketball tournament in Indiana, is the owner of Plump’s Last Shot in Broad Ripple, an Indy neighborhood near Butler University.  And a bar with that kind of pedigree MUST serve a breaded tenderloin sandwich.  They call it The Hoosier Tenderloin.

We rolled in on a Sunday at noon.  Plump’s radiates…something.  And that’s not a knock.  It has a hippie/hiker/neighborhood vibe.  The location is an old house adjacent to the Monon Trail [4] and off the main drag.  It’s dog friendly with a great outdoor seating area.  Our friendly bartender Robin offered up menus and beer specials.  We ordered two breaded beauties and watched ESPN while we waited.

Here’s what arrived.

Look good, huh?  The sandwiches were HOT.  As we decided our plan of attack, we heard a serious pounding coming from the kitchen.  My son and I exchanged knowing glances.  It was Fred, the cook, pounding out pork loin for the sandwiches of the people who had just ordered.  I believe that’s called “fresh.”  Zach chose to cut his tenderloin in half and double it.  I sliced the overhang off and dipped it in mayo until the sandwich was small enough to hold.  It was great.

When Fred emerged from the kitchen, he told us that Plump’s cuts, trims, and pounds its tenderloins daily.  Nothing frozen here.  It’s coated in buttermilk and dredged through panko bread crumbs, flour, and spices.  The panko gave it a really crisp texture that held up for the half-hour it took to eat it.  With pickles, onions, and mayo, it was an absolute game winner.  My rating: it’s a checkered flag.

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


1.  Here’s the link to the gym that was the home of the Hickory Huskers in the movie.  It’s in Knightstown, Indiana, just a short hop on US 40 or I-70 east of Indy.  When I was in high school, we would occasionally sneak in and play ball on a weekend.  The gym was no longer used for competition.  We would crawl through the window of the old Wilkinson High School gym to do the same thing.  Good times.

2.  This is the true story of Bobby Plump and Milan.

3.  Bobby Plump is truly iconic.  Here’s his Wikipedia page.  The links to the USA Today and The NY Times articles are worth the click.

4.  The father coaching the team in Hoosiers tells Gene Hackman: “Fact is, mister, you start screwin’ up this team, I’ll personally hide-strap your ass  to a pine rail and send you up the Monon Line!”  We really do talk like that in Indiana.  The Monon Trail is a hiking/biking trail in the Indy area that was called the Monon Line when it was still a railroad.  Pretty cool.  Here’s a link.

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