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Ten Worthless Opinions: 2014 Month of May Edition

Living in central Indiana offers very few perks most of the time.  There’s corn and soybeans.  And humidity and mosquitoes.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our provincial outlook on politics and life.  And, uh…well, I’m sure there are many other features of Midwestern life that I’m missing, but you get the picture.  As the monochromatic landscape of winter gives way to the burst of color that is springtime in Indiana, we suddenly have the month of May and the Indianapolis 500.  In other words, central Indiana does have at least one truly redeeming characteristic.  I would like once again to offer my ill-conceived and poorly rendered “Ten worthless opinions: 2014 month of May edition” to identify some of the perks of this year’s race.

1.  IMS finally fixed the road course to make it racy for IndyCars.  We are not being relegated to a support series show with just the USF2000, Pro Mazda, and Indy Lights.  You want on track action? All three support series will race on Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11 followed by the Verizon IndyCar Series on Saturday afternoon.  There are cars on track both days with seven total races.  It may not quite be the Field of Dreams mantra, but they built it, so they will race.  That’s the idea, right?

2.  The return of former Indy champions Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve and the addition of Kurt Busch is so combustible that you just know it’s going up sometime in May.  Best case scenario: all three get in an altercation and start swearing at each other in different languages.  I assume that hand gestures will fill in any missing context.  Make this happen, racing gods!

3.   The IMS Radio Network, after years of foisting Mike King on the listening public, finally bowed to public opinion and threw a bone to the die-hard fans by bringing back Paul Page as the voice of the Indianapolis 500 and the Verizon IndyCar Series.  Does his voice still resonate with older IndyCar fans?  Absolutely.  Do younger fans care?  Not at all.  They do not listen to the race on the radio.  They either go or watch it on television.  Game changer?  Nope.  Nostalgia?  Yep.  And that’s good enough.

4.  Enough cannot be said about the value of ABC covering the month of May from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis to qualifications to the Indianpolis 500.  The series, as well as the 500, has lacked any traction nationally for a long time.  Should IMS bow and scrape to the TV gods to create buzz for the race and the series by adding races and butchering the traditional qualifying program  The NFL, NCAA, and NASCAR do it all the time because it is good for their properties.  This is good business.  The race is the tradition, nothing else.

5.  How about that change in the qualifying procedures, huh?  The die-hard fan screams, “It ruins the month of May!”  The casual fan says, “There’s a qualifying procedure?”  They still go four laps.  I can’t say I’m enamored of the extra day to set position.  The fact is qualifying at Indy is a dangerous proposition and everyone knows it.  I don’t mind a change in the qualifying procedures; I do mind a change that creates unnecessary risk.  This change, made exclusively for television, creates unnecessary risk.  Unfortunately, risk equals interest.  And that’s your answer.

6.  The 500 will be the first real test of new series sponsor Verizon.  They are a telecommunications company that wants to be known as a technology company.  Here’s some advice: make my Verizon phone work at the race.  Don’t upcharge me to make my mobile communications device do what it is supposed to do.  I want to text, tweet, update Facebook, and utilize the Verizon IndyCar app during the race.  You’re on the clock Verizon.  Signage and other activations are vital to the business, I know, but make my phone work, please.

7.  Huge ups to IMS for taking risks and making big changes to almost everything.  They rebuilt the road course, changed qualifying, hired new people, restructured management, added new races, scheduled a big concert, hired a new food service, and offered glamping inside the track.  I’m sure I missed something.  IndyCar fans have long shouted for IMS management to fix everything but change nothing.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it works that way.

8.  Pork tenderloins become a big topic in Indy in May.  Indianapolis is stuffed with tenderloin joints that all have their own take on this pounded, breaded, and deep fried delight.  If you plan on coming to town in May, give me a shout on Twitter (@newtrackrecord) and I will hook you up with this Midwestern delicacy.  And yes, it is a direct descendent of the schnitzel brought to the Midwest by German immigrants.  You can find a pretty good one at IMS.  It’s not fresh cut, pounded, and breaded on site, but it still does the job.  I’m not such a snob that I won’t eat a frozen fritter.

9.  One common complaint heard from the casual fan is that there is nothing to do in Indy over Memorial Day weekend except the race.  Granted, much of what happens socially is directed to the local populace, but I think the weekend is pretty packed.  From Carb Day on Friday until the race on Sunday, you can drink, watch cars, drink, eat tenderloins, drink, watch the parade (it’s exceptional), visit Indy’s thriving brewing scene, watch live music, and drink.  Some of Indy’s best nightlife can be found in Broad Ripple, on Mass Ave., and in Fountain Square.  Hey, IMS can’t plan your whole weekend for you.  Do a little homework.

10.  Apparently, there’s this soiree on Sunday, May 25 that’s been around for a while.  There are bands, princesses, celebrities, military personnel, balloons, iconic songs, prayers, and someone says something about engines.  And then they race cars.  Sounds like an outstanding time.

Climbing the IndyCar Ladder

(Editor’s note:  This is the second post this month from the cagey Canuck Steve Wittich.  Pay attention.  He really knows his stuff.)

I wanted to thank Mark one more time for allowing me to contribute to his blog.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a soft spot for the feeder series.  It goes back to my childhood and my Dad who closely followed the Formula Atlantic Series in the 1970’s.  What wasn’t to like with names like Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal, (Uncle) Jacques Villeneuve, Bill Brack, Keke Rossberg, Price Cobb, Tom Gloy, Howdy Holmes and Danny Sullivan?

But this blog is not going to be about Formula Atlantic’s (although it might be the subject of another blog if Mark has me back).  I’m going to concentrate on the two iterations of Indy Lights (another possible blog) and their impact on this year’s Indianapolis 500.

First, let’s start with a few quick statistics about how Indy Lights drivers have fared at IMS in the past decade.  Five of the last ten Indianapolis 500 winners have been Indy Lights graduates: Dan Wheldon (twice), Helio Castroneves (twice) and Scott Dixon.

The 33 drivers in the Indianapolis 500 come from very diverse backgrounds: Formula One, Indy Lights, Formula Atlantics, GP2, World Series by Renault, International Touring Car Series, and Mexican Formula 2.

The Indy Lights contingent makes up the largest proportion of the field with 15 graduates competing.  That list includes seven past Indy Lights champions: Josef Newgarden, J.R. Hildebrand, Wade Cunningham, Townsend Bell, Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia, and Tony Kanaan.   It also includes Sebastian Saavedra who is currently leading the 2012 Indy Lights points chase.

But the Lights graduates aren’t just confined to the starting field.

Former Lights champions Bryan Herta, Eric Bachelart, & Robbie Buhl are car owners in the 2012 Indianapolis 500, and Ed Carpenter is an owner and a driver.

If you watch the NBC Sports coverage of Carb Day, two more Indy Lights grads are featured.  Wally Dallenbach, Jr. joins 1988 Indy Lights champion Jon Beekhuis in the booth to provide expert coverage of IndyCar racing.

It is not uncommon to hear whispers that Indy Lights doesn’t provide a lot of value to IndyCar.   And while it would be great to see more recent Indy Lights grads (Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann, Rafa Matos, Martin Plowman and others) in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 field, it is clear that Indy Lights plays a starring role in the production of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

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