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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.

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: 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 – Milwaukee IndyFest Weekend Edition

The run of good racing continued at Milwaukee for the IZOD IndyCar Series (with their lack of activation and interest, I don’t think it really matters if I put the word “IZOD” in the series title).  Leaders changed, drivers bitched, and a world-class screw-up cost a driver hugely.  In other words, it was business as usual.  In this edition of my WO’s (worthless opinions), expect to read about what’s really important in Milwaukee: beer.

1.  Tip back a Tsingtao beer.  The IndyCar race in China has been canceled, purportedly to not interfere with the Qingdao beer festival scheduled at the same time.  If that is the real reason, you have to admire a city and a mayor who have their priorities straight.  I am sure this would be appreciated by the residents of Milwaukee.  Sister cities, anyone?

2.  Pop a Pabst Blue Ribbon, Milwaukee Mile.  The Mile likes to brag that it is older than Indy.  Well, Pabst is 168 years old, youngster.  From one Milwaukee old-timer to another, then.  It was sad to think that this venerable track might have been done with IndyCar, but the news that Andretti Sports Marketing will promote the IndyFest in 2013 was announced during the race.  Looks like we don’t have to pour out a 40 for the mile.  Word.

3.  Throw back a Blatz, ABC.  Add another Milwaukee beer to the list.  ABC, as we have all come to expect, does just enough to get through the broadcast.  But what happens when it rains?  Send the pit reporters on a mission to find interviews.  Jaime Little, Vince Welch, and Rick DeBruhl did a great job entertaining us.  Not unexpectedly, they started with Ganassi and Penske drivers, but they worked their way through the paddock.  As always, Tony Kanaan was in the background of Rubens Barrichello’s interview mugging for the camera.  Do you ever see that in NASCAR?  How about Katherine Legge being interviewed as a driver, not as a female?  Take notes, NASCAR.  By the way, the ABC IZOD IndyCar Series pit reporters are the best in the business.  How about working on the broadcast booth to match it up?  We’d appreciate it.  Just one example of booth information: After Simona de Silvestro spun, we were told that she has talent because she spun at Milwaukee and didn’t hit anything.  Uh, guys?  She spun.  Isn’t talent more in evidence by not spinning.

4.  Have a sip of warm Old Milwaukee, ABC/ESPN.  It was nice of you to pimp Go Daddy like you did.  I’m sure they appreciated it.  How about doing the same for all of the sponsors?  Maybe you only promote the ones who advertise with you, huh?  Promote them all!  Build the series and you build the brand.  Make IndyCar a hot property.  Then you can pimp everything about it.  You know, like you do for NASCAR.

5.  Go have a flat Schlitz, ABC.  What is that flapping flag background on the split screen?  I know, you must have the interns do something.  Make it go away, please.  The background movement while I’m trying to focus on the small split screen boxes gave me motion sickness.  Does anyone at ABC even care about sports programming anymore?

6.  Sorry, Beaux.  It looks like a case of warm Wisconsin Club for you.  The worst beer of my youth goes well with the worst call of the year for IndyCar race control.  While I appreciate you manning up and offering your mea culpa for the call, IndyCar took one in the chops here.  As the series tries to regain a legitimacy with the public, we once again have a glaring example of why our fans are so long-suffering.  And to add insult to injury, ABC was flailing about, trying to explain what happened to the viewing audience.  Basically, the booth couldn’t make heads or tails of the call.  The lack of communication with your broadcast partner made the series look amateurish.  Again.  *deep sigh*

7.  Open a bottle of Miller High Life – The Champagne of Bottled Beer so the viewers can celebrate.  I was so excited when ABC did not switch to the NASCAR Nationwide race when the time rolled around.  Yeah, suck it, NASCAR!  I enjoyed the thirty minutes of feeling superior to the number two series of NASCAR.  And then ABC switched to the Nationwide race.  Yeah, we preempted the pre-race show.  So suck it, NASCAR!  Our series is better than your number two series’ pre-race show.

8.  How about some Ale Asylum Ambergeddon (6.8% ABV) for Andretti Sports Marketing?  The Andretti group prevented the Milwaukee Mile from extinction.  Commend them with a toast!  Here’s to you, iconic race track saving marketing team!  You made something out of nothing.  You added activities that gave fans something to do at a price they could afford on a day they could attend.  It’s still a simple proposition.  If IndyCar wants promoters to pay a hefty sanctioning fee (as I assume Andretti Sports Marketing will next year), the promoters must create a festival atmosphere with entertainment options.  In other words, if people don’t come to the event, the promoter loses money.  No money, no event.  Oval tracks, take notice.  Hire Andretti Sports Marketing to promote your next event.

9.  Quaff a Steven’s Point Brewery Nude Beach Summer Wheat while you read a few race notes:

  • Dario in the wall!  “Sorry guys, not my fault.  I drive for Chip Ganassi, where blame lies elsewhere.  Ryan Briscoe caused it all on the last lap” (not a real quote).
  • Sometimes it’s simple.  John Erickson, Helio’s strategist, on Milwaukee plan: “We just want to get him to the front.”  ‘Nuff said.
  • James Jakes was upset with Takuma Sato’s “banzai moves.”  What’s next, a Pearl Harbor reference?
  • Chip Ganassi was less than supercilious when he could not find someone to blame for lost positions under yellow.  Is he changing?
  • Chip does not change!  The sun still rises in the east.  Now has Ryan Briscoe to blame for Dario’s wreck.
  • Why is someone not sponsoring SFHRacing and Josef Newgarden?  WHY?  Who really wants a personable, funny, and fast racer with a feel good story team.  What can a marketing department do with that, anyway?
  • Tires went away and cars were passed.  The racing was pretty good, but on a short track it was so hard for TV to keep up with the action.  And that’s not a knock.  There’s was too much going on.  It seemed TV just missed every exciting thing.  Sometimes you are just not looking in the right direction.
  • Poetic justice for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport to win the race.  RHR was due, and AA deserves to elbow the Big Two aside every now and then.

10.  Treat yourself to a Lakefront Brewing Fixed Gear American Red Ale, a Horny Goat Hopped Up ‘N Horny IPA, or a New Glarus Fat Squirrel.  You are an open-wheel racing fan and deserve the best.  To cap off the weekend, I attended the final night of the USAC Indiana Midget Week at Kokomo Speedway.  You have to love a dirt track that has pictures of Jim Hurtibise, Bobby Grimm, Bob Tattersal, Rich Vogler, and Mel Kenyon hanging on its grandstand.  You owe it to yourself to find your local dirt track and support the grass-roots racing that gives us our future stars.  The future stars on display at Kokomo were Kyle Larson and Bryan Clauson, who finished 1-2 in both the sprint and midget races.  USAC might be a villain to IndyCar fans, but they sure know how to run the sprints and midgets.  As I tweeted, the 30 lap midget feature was like a mullet: all business in the front and crazy in the back.

That’s it for this week’s WO’s (worthless opinions).  Time to line up a few Leinenkugel Summer Shandys and enjoy the rest of the day.

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