The Verizon IndyCar Series has taken on a country club feel in recent years. The drivers are all buddies. Before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, James Hinchliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay even joked on camera about flipping a coin to see who was going to lead the first lap. I wonder if those two still had their senses of humor after the race.
Humor is nothing new in IndyCar. Eddie Sachs was known as “the clown prince of racing” in the 60’s. Bobby Unser was not only shockingly honest as a racer and an announcer, he was also a born storyteller. Still is. A.J. Foyt’s humor was always sharp and biting. Still is. So it is nothing new that today’s racers are funny. What’s different is the politically correct way they interact. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach certainly changed all that.
To spice up the broadcast, NBCSN brought in Paul Tracy, four-time Long Beach winner and notorious truth-teller. Everyone just knew he would stir the pot a little bit. Sadly, PT was just another talking head, saying nothing controversial. Sigh. I am sure he will get the message to go find the real Paul Tracy.
This all leads us to how a pretty good race became an entertaining one. Bad moves led to bad feelings, sheepish honesty, and a few apologies that may or may not have been accepted. Hopefully, it will lead to a little ill will. Then maybe Paul Tracy can get on board and put the hammer down on some people.
One of the best products of the close racing in IndyCar is the fact that anyone can win. The spec chassis and similar power plants mean the shoestring budgets can hold their own with the deep-pocketed teams. You just know this small budget competition chafes the big dogs. The best part of the close racing is that Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson can call out Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon; SFHR’s Josef Newgarden can place the blame on Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay; and SPHM’s Simon Pagenaud can mock the apology of Penske Racing’s Will Power. Now THAT’S parity. The Verizon IndyCar Series needs to have this kind of close racing though the pack every week.. TV does not do it justice.
The irony in the series is delicious right now. The top dogs were forced to act like contrite backmarkers. Scott Dixon apologized for pushing Justin Wilson into the wall and the apology was UNACCEPTED. Will Power apologized for punting Simon Pagenaud with his usual it’s-my-fault-that-it’s-your-fault line and the apology was UNACCEPTED. Ryan Hunter-Reay apologized by saying a real racer goes for it when he sees the chance at exactly the wrong spot and his apology was UNACCEPTED. I just love to see the shifty-eyed apologies of schoolboys caught in the act without a plausible story to tell. Not ironically, Graham Rahal was his usual self and refused to accept any blame for anything. Never change, Graham. Both Michael Andretti and James Hinchcliffe were less than pleased with Hunter-Reay’s antics.
Simmering feuds, unaccepted apologies, and possibly a little bit of hate await us at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Barber is narrow, twisty, and just not conducive to the type of racing that the IndyCars are capable of right now. The boys in back are not going to move over for reputation alone any longer. In fact, when push comes to shove – and it will – the little guys are going to flex their muscles and push and shove back. And consider this: Juan Pablo Montoya has not had a problem with anyone in two races. Wait until that happens! It’s good to see some of the politically correct veneer come off the series. This is the racing and these are the racers people want to see.