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Ten Worthless Opinions: Honda Indy Toronto Poutine Edition

IndyCar had quite the time in Toronto.  Border security, rules interpretation, feuds, and Scott Dixon’s domination mixed together in a doubleheader race format to provide a highly entertaining  weekend.  In other words, the IZOD IndyCar Series is sometimes just a blogger’s dream.  So grab your poutine (fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds) and settle in for that other messy treat that is “Ten Worthless Opinions.”

1.  There are so many interesting/entertaining/puzzling storylines to the weekend, I truly don’t know where to start.  Let’s go ahead with what was the big interest going into the weekend: standing starts.  The IndyCar series has a knack for taking the big story and fumbling it like Sebastien Bourdais did his runner-up trophy after Saturday’s race.  Standing starts are a big deal only because IndyCar has for years been unable to have competent two-wide starts due to driver gamesmanship and officials unwillingness/inability to enforce a standard for rolling starts.  The only reason to use a standing start to spice up the beginning of the race is because the normal rolling starts are so brutally ugly.

2.  The standing start concept did, however, generate interest, which makes the fumbling on Saturday even more egregious.   I have no problems with IndyCar using standing starts.  My problem is the seemingly amateurish handling of the concept.  The drivers and team principals are allowed to publicly question/ridicule the choice of starts.  That’s the way to build a brand, if your brand is churlishness.  The fumbling occurred when the officials decided to abort the standing start when Josef Newgarden had an issue.  And I’m OK with that choice.  What leaves me rolling my eyes is how IndyCar did not make clear to its on-site and TV audience what the rules for using or not using the standing start were.  I’m pretty sure if IndyCar handed a list of the standing start rules to NBC Sports and said,”You might want to make a graphic of this for your booth and your audience,” they would have done it.  And NBC Sports is not off the hook.  How could they not request/demand the rules in a production meeting?  Picture the fans at the venue and the hundreds watching on television with their palms up saying, “What the hell’s going on?”  Be prepared to tell the story.

3.  Loved the NBC Sports booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Steve Matchett.  Matchett in particular brought enthusiasm and insight to his first foray into IndyCar.  He watched it like a well-informed fan.  Bell continues to be smooth, and his low-key delivery is a nice contrast to Diffey’s exuberance.  Jon Beekhuis excels at giving technical information, this week explaining how the clutch works in a standing start.  NBC Sports broadcast shames ABC, which seems to simply go through the motions.

4.  I did question how NBC Sports handled the Dario Franchitti/Will Power contretemps, though.  After Franchitti blocked/held his line against Power’s aggressive/optimistic/stupid move in turn three, there was a great opportunity to build a feud between members of the two dominant teams in the series.  How did NBC Sports handle it?  They had the two talk it out on the Sunday broadcast with Robin Miller, the same Robin Miller who says, “Hate is good.”  What a let-down.  Where’s the shit-stirring Marty Snyder when you need him?

5.  The racing was great.  And that’s not just shilling.  Other than Scott Dixon absolutely checking out on Sunday, cars were passing and being passed on both days.  Scott Dixon may be rather vanilla when it comes to personality, but what a racer.  He did not put a wheel wrong all weekend.  Speaking of Ganassi Racing, the in-race and post-race comments of Mike Hull are always informative, even when he is being sly about strategy.  Chip Ganassi was at his well-behaved best in the post-race interviews, even welcoming Dragon Racing’s Jay Penske to the rich guys’ club.  His feigned magnanimity chafes me since his normal demeanor is peevish and irascible.  Leopards and spots, you know.

6.  I wonder if we will ever hear the full story of IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield and his border bang-up?  Was he smuggling Cuban cigars into Canada?  I mean, who doesn’t like a good Cuban to smoke after dinner?  Was his passport not up-to-date?  That happens to the best of us.  The truth is probably mundane, but I would love to know.  Until then, I will just make it worse by offering conjecture and innuendo, as a reputable blogger should.  Of more concern is Derrick Walker’s seemingly less-than-enthusiastic support of Barfield in Jenna Fryer’s recent AP story.  Beaux had relatively free rein under former boss Randy Bernard.  My guess is life is different under the dominion of Walker.  Keep your eye on this relationship.

7.  Let’s talk about rules!  In race one, the rule was that two wheels had to be in contact with the racing surface at all times to keep the drivers from curb jumping.  IndyCar gave warnings for violations and then rescinded the rule during the race Saturday when the drivers continued to jump the curbs.  I imagine the conversation going something like this:

  • Race Control: “Stop jumping the curbs!”
  • Drivers: “No!”
  • Race Control: “Stop it!”
  • Drivers: “No!”
  • Race Control: “Never mind.”

8.  More rules interpretation.

  • Race Control: “Dario Franchitti, you blocked Will Power!”
  • Franchitti: “No, I didn’t!”
  • Race control: “Yes, you did!”
  • Franchitti:  “I’m getting my dad!”
  • Race control: “Never mind.”

9.  Even more rules interpretation.

  • Race Control:  “You will do standing starts/double-file restarts/two laps on red tires.”
  • Drivers: “No.”
  • Race Control: “OK.”

10.  OK, that last was a cheap shot.  The drivers and teams knew about the rules for aborting the standing start, the change from double-file to single-file restarts, and the codicil permitting a change of tires without using them for two laps.  The people who did not always know were the broadcasters and the fans.  And since IndyCar is trying to engage the fans, it might consider keeping them informed.  Just a suggestion.  One more: when announcing rules interpretations to the audience, IndyCar might want to include the phrase, “Pursuant to Rule #…”  That would certainly have helped the NBC Sports crew give the audience the facts instead leaving both the booth and the fans twisting in the wind.

There you go, my WO’s (worthless opinions) for Toronto.  Now if you will excuse me, I have to get these poutine stains out of my shorts.  The stuff really is messy.

Preseason Blogging Practice: Boston Consulting Group Edition

Many thanks to AP’s Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) for doing the hard work of reading the Boston Consulting Group’s 115 page opus on what IndyCar needs to do to be successful and then giving us the Cliffs Notes version of the main ideas.  Since the IndyCar season is still down the road, it is time for New Track Record to get in some preseason practice.  With so little news coming out of the IndyCar camp, even the bloggers need some extra time to dial things in.

Does anyone else find it interesting that the AP’s Jenna Fryer got a “leaked” copy of the BCG report for her “AP Exclusive: Family told to keep IndyCar, IMS” story?  The IndyCar Series has suffered from a very provincial mindset regarding publicity.  One reason the series has not received national coverage, other than the total dysfunction of management, is that they do not work for it.  Since the main daily coverage of IndyCar was by local reporters Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star and Robin Miller of Speed, most information was leaked to them and gleaned by them.  They, along with Speed‘s Marshall Pruett, were the only real media following the series.  They play the quid pro quo game with the teams, drivers, and management.  They get the scoop.  They are also players in the continuing internecine battle for political supremacy among owners, drivers, and management.  Sources give information to reporters because it helps them in some way.  Nothing new there.

What is new is that, after being frozen out of exclusive news last year, Jenna Fryer got the skinny on the BCG information.  I don’t think it was an accident.  With the notoriously leaky ship that is IMS and IndyCar, it is more than just surprising that no one else got a copy.  Someone with unquestioned authority made sure the national media got the story first.  And that is good news for IndyCar, even thought the Twitterless Robin Miller might disagree.

If IndyCar is going to be a BIG DEAL again, then they have to think beyond the Indianapolis 500.  The practice of freezing out local media to give exclusive content to the national media is prevalent in all pro sports.  The Indianapolis sports media is often bypassed by the Colts because the power and reach of ESPN is so great.  It makes better business sense to go national.  The local media hates it, but they understand it.  It’s not personal; it’s just business.  Curt Cavin, Robin Miller, and Marshall Pruett will get their copies.  They just won’t get them first.  Watch how this plays out for the rest of the year.

Well, it was great to take the blog out for a couple of shakedown paragraphs.  I’ll get it back to the shop, check for leaks, take a look at the data, and get it back out later in the week.  For sure.

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.

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