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The 2015 IndyCar season in the rearview mirror

Horace Walpole wrote “This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.”  That pretty much sums up the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, doesn’t it?

The tragedy of Justin Wilson’s death at Pocono will cast a pall on this season for years to come.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will always be known for the deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald in 1964 and Scott Brayton in 1996.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway will always be remembered for Dan Wheldon’s death in 2011.  These types of accidents leave indelible scars on facilities, series, and fans.  Indelible.

Accidents like these leave other lasting marks, too.  Smaller fuel loads, fuel cells, and methanol were mandated after 1964.  Soon after the basal skull fracture death of Scott Brayton, HANS devices were mandatory.  Catch fence research is still ongoing after Dan Wheldon’s accident in Las Vegas.  Now, after Justin Wilson’s death, discussion about how to protect drivers in open cockpit cars is taking place.  Lasting.

But pathos has two faces.  While we are heartbroken for the family and friends of Justin Wilson, other far less tragic situations in the 16 races of the season leave us smiling, pulling our hair, or just shaking our heads.

  • Scott Dixon’s come-from-behind pulling-a-rabbit-out-of-his-hat championship surprised everyone and no one.  A strong, consistent team with the steadiest of drivers is a pretty good recipe for success.
  • Graham Rahal and his one car team proved once again that relatively equal equipment in a series can be exciting.  Fans were pulling for him to finish in the top three in the championship.  Underdogs make for compelling drama, and the series had plenty of that.  Nice to see Rahal mature into the racer people always hoped he would be.  Plus, he is the absolute best shill among all the drivers. *sips Steak ‘n Shake milkshake while hooking my car to a Battery Tender*
  • The Indy 500 qualification debacle once again proved that perception is reality.  Series officials looked like knee-jerk reactionaries bent on placating Chevy while hanging Honda out to dry.  The truth is probably different, but who can tell?  This is how it looks so that must be how it is.  People believe what they want to believe.  And the Verizon IndyCar Series quite often makes it easy to believe anything.
  • The loss of Derrick Walker as IndyCar president of competition and operations is another example of perception being reality.  The perception is even the best qualified individual cannot stay in this position.  I’m not sure Mark Miles, who has appropriated the job, is best qualified to head the competition aspect of the position.  Did anyone else hear General Alexander Haig’s declaration, “As of now, I am in control here in the White House”¹ in Miles acceptance of the job?
  • The ascension of Josef Newgarden to star status has begun.  The series needs him as the face of the series.  Real recognize real.
  • The failure of Penske Racing in general and Juan Pablo Montoya in particular down the stretch is another reason to like equal equipment.  With spec racing, money will buy a pretty good driver, but it can no longer guarantee a championship.  Still comes pretty close, though.
  • With all the talk about “date equity” for races, the series really needs “race equity” instead.  Let’s have the same races each year.  The maybe-but-not-quite race in Brazil and the rain-soaked one year experiment in New Orleans aside, the loss of Fontana and the life support of Pocono and Milwaukee leaves fans wondering not just what the dates of next year’s races will be, but what next year’s races will be.  It’s understood that races and promoters come and go, but IndyCar seems to dispatch both with an easy regularity.
  • All is not doom and gloom, though.  The addition of Road America and the possible addition of Phoenix could be harbingers of better things to come.  Or not.  Paying customers are what the series needs.
  • The TV ratings are up.  What a wonderful thing to be able to say.  It could also be said that figures lie and liars figure.  The hope that springs eternal is that high ratings usher in commercial partners and open pocketbooks.  At least it’s something to watch during the interminable off-season.

There you have it.  The season as it fades over the horizon was one to both remember and forget.  2016 cannot get here soon enough.

 

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  1.  The history behind Alexander Haig’s quote for the youngsters out there. http://adst.org/2014/03/al-haig-and-the-reagan-assassination-attempt-im-in-charge-here/

 

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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.

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