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IndyCar weathers the storm at NOLA

The inaugural Indy Grand Prix of New Orleans has come and gone…and hopefully comes again next year.  While not everyone liked the weather, or the Verizon IndyCar Series reaction to the weather, it seems as if NOLA Motorsports Park will be in the line-up in the future.

The public needs to remember that this is a new track attempting to move up to the major leagues with IndyCar.  The facility made the safety and fan upgrades that IndyCar required and had to expect some issues.   A weekend of horrendous weather can neither be predicted in the long term nor changed in the short.  The track and the series had to deal with it.  And that was problematic.

The series and promoter were in no-win positions with decisions this weekend.  During qualifying on Saturday, approaching lightning forced the series to evacuate the grandstands and ask the fans to seek shelter.  With one lawsuit looming over flying debris at St. Pete, the series could in no way delay action on this call.  Legal counsel always errs on the side of safety with lightning.  If it is on the way, get out.  All major sports do this now without delay.  On Saturday, NOLA sent fans to every inside shelter on the facility, including buses.  Great call.  And the lightning certainly came in.  It doesn’t matter if the weather is deemed severe or if a warning exists.  Lightning equals evacuation.

The more noticeable issue, and the one that brought the most criticism, was making the race on Sunday a timed event with so much TV window still open.  The series and promoter made the call to start the race early.  This is fan friendly.  This likely would not have been as doable on ABC.  NBCSN had a little more wiggle room with programming.  This gave the series a chance to have rain delays and still get a race completed.

So the windows, both TV and weather, looked good on Sunday.  The teams handled the wet track pretty well at the beginning of the race, but as the track dried and the slicks replaced the wets, so too did yellow flags replace green.  By the race’s end, 26 of the 47 laps were run under yellow conditions.  Why?  Slick track, slick tires, aggressive drivers.  But not to worry, there was plenty of time to get all 75 laps in.  Or not.

Weather was coming in.  It could be seen on the radar.  Predictions said it was going to rain.  Simulations were done that predicted both the time and place of the storm’s arrival.  People saw it on their phones.  Here it comes.  Such was the dilemma on Sunday.  While not a full house, the crowd was robust for the race, the weather, and the facility.  It must be assumed that most had checked weather and brought umbrellas and raincoats.  Even so, if lightning rolled in, there was no place to put all the people.

The people.  The ones that had to park offsite because there was no onsite parking.  This is not a criticism of the venue.  Many major golf events move 30,00-40,000 people from parking lots to courses via shuttles daily.  NOLA Motorsports Park does the same thing.  But as with any new event, the wait times for the shuttles after the race were going to be very long.  It would not do to have thousands of people waiting for shuttles in a storm with no place to harbor them if lightning showed up.

So the decision was made to shorten the event.  The expectation had to be to have great green flag racing, finish the race, and get the people to their cars and safety.  The call was the right one except for the fact the expected weather did not roll in.  Poor IndyCar.  They made the right choices and still managed to provoke every troll on Twitter and every critic with an ax to grind.  Everyone wanted a full race and lots of green flag racing on a sporty, fast circuit, but fan safety trumped all.  IndyCar made the only choice it could make for the circumstances.

IndyCar will weather this storm, and hopefully NOLA Motorsports Park will, too.  The Verizon IndyCar Series needs to be the premier race at this track as it grows in the coming years.   A spot on the calendar needs to be found in the early spring where this event will blossom.  Until other road courses starting knocking on the series’ door, IndyCar needs to party in New Orleans, rain or shine.



Fast Five Worthless Opinions: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Yes, it’s true.  The rarely beloved and often reviled “Ten Worthless Opinions” feature is no more.  Why, you may ask?  “Well, it seems that due to the vagaries of the production parameters of this fragmenting of the audience to the cable television, carnivals, water parks,”¹, the 1000-1300 word length of the feature is much more relevant and readable when it is nearer the 500-750 word limit.  Plus, it’s so much easier to come up with five opinions than it is ten.  So there’s that, too.  In any case, here you go.

1.  Penske Domination: What can be said?  Will Power was the class of the field until a very slight pit delay allowed Juan Pablo Montoya to take the lead during pit stops.  After that, it was all Montoya.  The Penske posse dominated the time charts all week and did the same in the race.  This leads to the real question of how Penske does it.  They have the same Chevy engine and aero kit as the other Chevy teams, so that is not the only reason.  While the team does have more driver depth and talent than any other organization, it cannot be just the pilot.  And yes, the pursuit of perfection by the whole organization certainly leads one to believe that Team Penske could dominate by sheer attention to detail.  But after the parity of the last two years, what does this group have that other teams don’t?  Hmm.  I wonder how the Team Penske cars support all that downforce?  Remember what other area is open to development, and you might have your answer.

2.  Honda vs. Chevy: It is way to early to tell which will be dominant throughout the year.  Chevy (read: Team Penske) certainly seems to have the upper hand on the street.  We will see if the same holds true for natural terrain road courses at NOLA Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park.  The ovals are still a tossup between Honda and Chevy, particularly with the removal of so much downforce.  What the series does not need is for Chevy for run away with everything, particularly after the last two years of parity and multiple winners from both large and small teams.  When you hang you marketing hat on the series being competitive and it’s not, then you have a problem.  Follow the leader (read: Team Penske) is not good for the series.  Let’s hope Honda and the other Chevy teams get it figured out.

3.  Wingapallooza:  At least in St. Pete, the worst fears of many came true: Wingapallooza.  In a clear demonstration of aerodynamics, a broken wing proved it can fly, sailing over the grandstands in Turn 10 and seriously injuring a spectator.  It is the Law of Unintended Consequences in action. If injuries to fans isn’t enough of an issue, wing related issues affected the racing, also. No race needs 20% of the laps run under full course yellow conditions, particularly if most of those laps were a direct or indirect result of the less-than-robust wing assemblies being unable to take the punishment of the old Dallara wing.  And it could have been worse!  Race Control was very judicious in not throwing the yellow for every piece of carbon fiber that found its way onto the track.  They even had a track worker pick up a piece on the main straight during green flag conditions.  Let’s hope that this is a simple learning curve, and the drivers adapt to the new fragility of the front wing pieces.  In any case, I can see an old Italian man sitting in a big office in Varano tapping his fingers together saying, “Eccelente.”

4.  Tears for Graham: Let me go on record by saying that IndyCar needs Graham Rahal, an American driver with a superb racing lineage, to be successful.  He is great with sponsors and supports charities.  I pull for him.  Really.  But he makes it so hard sometimes.  Even though I have a scanner, I really like the Verizon IndyCar 15 app.  It offers drivers’ radio communication, the IMS Radio Network, and great visual information.  And it’s free!  This week, Graham Rahal was one of the featured drivers, and all I can say is that he is the poster child for the over-indulged generation.  Nothing is his fault.  He biffed Charlie Kimball, an aero kit casualty, and blamed him for basically being in front of him.  When he was penalized with a drive-through, he radioed his dad and said, “They’ll find anything they can to screw me!”  C’mon.  Of course, this all may be sour grapes on my part since he also loves to tweet how much he loves flying with his new partner Wheels Up in their new Cessna King Air private plane.  Just rub it in, Graham.

5. Chip’s Chatter: According to an interview at TrackSide Online, a subscription IndyCar news service, Chip Ganassi may be less-than-enthused about how Mark Miles is going about building a new schedule.  His concern is that a short calendar season makes it hard to find sponsorship, and that the series should have extended the front of the series in February before axing the schedule after Labor Day.  As much as I enjoy pointing out Chip’s foibles, I tend to agree here.  Even though Chip Ganassi Racing is one of the big boys in the Verizon IndyCar Series, he does not have the budget and personal fortune of someone like Roger Penske.  He must have the sponsorship to compete, and sponsors do not like the short season.  Maybe it all gets sorted out with next year’s schedule, but for now, Chip is not happy and he is not afraid to make himself heard.  As if there was ever any doubt of that.

That the five fast WO’s for this week.  Let’s hope we have fewer flying wings and more passing at NOLA Motorsports Park.


¹ This is Kramer’s explanation to Raquel Welch in a Seinfeld episode as he fires her from the production of The Scarsdale Surprise for not swinging her arms when she dances.  Seemed apropos here.

IndyCar’s Endless Summer

As the end of summer looms on the horizon, I have been listening to the band that has defined summer for me through the years.  That’s right, nothing says “summer” like America’s Band, The Beach Boys.  And wouldn’t you know it, it seems like their songs have something to say to IndyCar.  So get out that scratchy copy of Pet Sounds and drop the needle.  IndyCar’s Endless Summer is here, courtesy of your host with the most, New Track Record.

“Fun, Fun, Fun”  Really, did you think our trip through the summer could start anywhere except America’s playground for the rich, Nantucket?  In the song, our teenage girl is driving her daddy’s T-Bird when she should be doing something else.  Poor, privileged Jay Penske was standing on the sidewalk in one of America’s richest enclaves when he was accosted by a simple bartender for urinating in the street.  The horror.  All of IndyCar hopes he can recover from this tawdry display of the rabble trying to take a picture of the rich and famous answering the call of nature.  In today’s political climate, the rich should be pissing on the middle class with impunity.  Accountability is for the poor.  Of course, what makes this story delicious is that Jay Penske owns the gossip website, which specializes in covering the sordid affairs of the rich and famous.  Funny, I could find nothing about him on the website.  It seems rival gossip site TMZ has no such qualms.  Go here to see their article.

“All Summer Long”  The boys sing about how wonderful summer is with all the items that define the season.  One line sings about wearing “T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs” all summer long.  Wait a minute.  I think a definition may have changed over the years.  These are thongs you wear on your feet.  In any case, it must have been nice to have the things you love all summer long.  As we go dark in IndyCar for 20 days or so, the die-hard IndyCar fans wait restlessly while the casual fan finds something else to do.  I understand that China was scheduled in there, but who was going to watch that race, anyway.  The fact is that IndyCar is over before summer ends.  We need to race all summer long.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”  Ah, this one takes me back to a time when what you wanted – in this song’s case, sex – was something for which you were willing to wait, although not necessarily happily.  In IndyCar, many folks just aren’t willing to wait.  Owners want a change in IndyCar management.  Tony George wants control back.  Promoters want a better deal.  The paddock wants cheaper parts.  Fans want more ovals, unless they want more road courses.  Sponsors want better ratings.  China wants a beer festival.  Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was willing to wait and work through the issues together.  The fragmentation of all the constituencies of IndyCar is part of the dysfunction of this particular racing family.  In the song, you know the kids are going to “get together” at some time.  I’m not so sure about IndyCar.

“Good Vibrations”  All is not gloom and doom, though.  There are good vibrations all through IndyCar.  In fact, IndyCar is “giving me excitations.”  The car count is staying up and the racing is great!  Cars are passing each other on every track (except Detroit).  The series championship is still undecided.  Did I mention the racing is great?  The problem seems to be that nobody knows about it.  The monolith of NASCAR dominates the news with its TV partners, especially ESPN.  Still, the product on the track is the best in America, or maybe the world, right now.  Hopefully, these good vibrations will continue and not be an indication of a wheel getting ready to fall off.

“Be True To Your School”  The concept of loyalty to your school is the theme of this song.  And I agree with it.  At the risk of being called a cheerleader (and I don’t even own pom-poms), I think fans should support the series, the sponsors, the events, and the networks.  They also can, and should, be critical of what they don’t like.  But they should also defend the series, at least in general terms.  I would rather have my critics inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.  Right now, IndyCar can use more people in the tent.  And I’m not sure where I want Jay Penske; I just know he’s going to be pissing somewhere.

“God Only Knows”  Sometimes we don’t take the time to show our appreciation for those things that are meaningful to us.  This song says “God only knows what I’d do without you.”  It’s good to be self-aware.  A little self-awareness might be good for all of IndyCar, fans included.  The Indianapolis 500 will always be there, but no such guarantee exists for IndyCar (remember USAC and CART).  If the series fails – and it can – then there might not be a white knight with deep pockets to pick up the pieces.  It might just be a NASCAR knight with an indeterminate color of armor.  If people think IndyCar is a niche sport now, wait until the series is taken over by an organization that views it as competition for its primary business.  It happens in the real world all the time.  Not trying to be all Mayan-end-of-the-world here, but this threat may exist.  God only knows.

“Don’t Worry Baby”  The Pollyanna choir keeps telling me how good everything is.  And the racing is good.  The propaganda of the series and its minions say that TV ratings don’t matter.  They do.  Just ask any sponsor.  The bottom-liners at every business want to calculate the ROI (return on investment).  Right now, IndyCar is iffy.  When your series is handing out Leader’s Circle money to Jay Penske based on his promise of advertising impressions, then we better be singing “Worry Baby.”  Everyone knows he’s only going to piss it away.

“I Get Around”  Whatever else you can say about Randy Bernard, he works.  He is on the road courting promoters, engine builders, sponsors, and the media.  IndyCar is lucky to have him.  It was recently announced that Randy Bernard may be getting ready to ink NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana.  Check out the link to see this very interesting layout.  At a time when tracks are trying to negotiate sweetheart deals, if they want to deal at all, then it’s absolutely imperative that IndyCar goes racing where someone wants it to race.  So where y’at, NOLA Motorsports Park.  I hear it’s nice south of I-10 in the spring.

My recommendation?  Roll down the car windows, cruise your local root beer stand, crank up The Beach Boy’s Endless Summer, and pretend that you’re still that too-cool-for-school kid you were – or wanted to be – when you were in high school.  That summer in our mind never needs to end.

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