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Ten Worthless Opinions: Indianapolis 500 Race Fan Edition

How did the Indianapolis 500 start for a citizen journalist (read: blogger)?  I was up at 4:30 AM wrangling a household of relatives that included two from Greece, two from Virginia, and one from North Carolina.  Add to the mix my own young adult son and daughter plus a family friend.  I screamed, threatened, and cajoled until showers were taken, coolers were iced, and the van was packed so we could leave at 6:00 AM.  Drove 20 miles to rendezvous with friends only to find that I had forgotten the new North 40 parking pass that I purchased for them.  After formulating a new plan that required a split-second connection with my wife to get the parking pass, we left for the track.  It was 7:00 AM.  The difference between a real journalist and me is that I don’t relinquish being a fan to pretend to have objectivity.  I am a fan of the Indianapolis 500 first and foremost.  I saw the race live from our seats high in the Northeast Vista (Turn 3) and watched the replay on Memorial Day.   Here are my Ten Worthless Opinions: Indianapolis 500 Race Fan Edition.

1.  Hint to the brain trust at IMS:  If you plan to search every bag and cooler coming in the gates, it might be a good idea to add lines and employees to facilitate it.  I have absolutely no problem with security requiring these searches.  Safety first is always the correct mantra when dealing with large crowds today.  If IMS plans to make the fan experience the primary focus, then be aware that about 200,000 of your fans park outside the track.  The weather might have been part of why it was a late arriving crowd, but having security lines rivaling airport TSA at its worst just might have slowed down the fans, too.

2.  The fabled Yellow Shirts sure seemed to be spread much more thinly in the hinterland of the Northeast Vista, and they did not seem to have the zest for their jobs as the old-timers did.  Many staircases were closed and security was not as evident as in the past.  Cost cutting?  New guidelines?  The facility sure seemed to be much more bare-bones than usual.  When poachers took seats for which I paid, I could find no one nearby to settle the dispute.  Tension prevailed.  This did not enhance my experience.  Also, there were fewer concession stands open, and the ones that were seemed to have fewer offerings.  I hope all that money from the state of Indiana will upgrade more than lights and video boards.  The facility needs more than just cosmetic changes.  The fan experience is not what is was.

3.  Plenty of greatness ensued, too!  The pre-race flyover of the B-25 was aces.  Archbishop Joseph Tobin went a little long on the prayer, though.  After asking for God to bless the Indiana Pacers, I would not have been surprised if he said the prayer was brought to us by Verizon and IZOD.  He may want to dial it back a little next year.  Or just go ahead and sell commercial time.  Both work for me.  Also, Jim Nabors can still bring it.  Kudos.

4.  According to the gossips at the Indy Star, Randy Bernard was a special guest of Josie George, who is on the Hulman & Co. board of directors.  I LOVE politics.  I assume this is to be continued.

5.  Tony Kanaan!  What a popular winner.  All my thousands of new friends in Turn 3 agreed that he was most deserving.  Regular fans were crying in the stands.  It was very Lloyd Ruby-esque in that he is such a popular person and not just a great driver.  The story of his receiving the good luck necklace back from a girl he gave it to years ago was made-for-TV drama.  All hail TK!

Additionally, the NE Vista denizens gave a rousing Bronx cheer for Dario Franchitti when he was introduced.  While some may find him a little whiny, he has been nothing but a gracious 500 champion.  The NE Vista crowd is a surly lot.

6.  Kanaan’s win also brought up the ugly specter of IndyCar adding the reviled green-white-checkered finish to spice up the ending to attract more NASCAR fans.  Why else would they do it?  The casual IndyCar fan is not aware of GWC, and the majority of hard-core IndyCar fans do not want it.  The ONLY reason to do it is to attract the tin-top crowd since they are habituated to end-of-race carnage and bad behavior.  Don’t do it, IndyCar.

7.  Yes, IndyCar has spec racing.  Yes, IndyCar’s all look alike.  Yes, we need aero kits to separate and identify the cars.  With that said, how can anyone who watched the race complain about the racing?  For the first time in my four decades of watching the race live, I did not want to leave my seat for anything. There were 68 lead changes, breaking last year’s record of 34.  As a fan, you had to watch the cars come by you every single time or you missed a pass for the lead.  If ABC/ESPN and NBC Sports cannot find a way to promote this type of racing, then it’s on them.  There is no need to put lipstick on this pig.  Wow!

8.  One or two popular journalists decry that IndyCar has (gasp) pack racing, and it will surely lead to the end of auto racing and Western civilization.  I agree that the racing is awfully close, but the danger of pack racing with the old Dallara chassis lay in the fact that cars could not pass each other.  The new DW12, while not creating separation, not only allows passing but almost requires it.  Artificial it may be, but exciting it is.

9.  IMS is certainly looking to the future.  My tickets cost $80 and remain the same price for next year.  A section or two over the price increased from $85 to $100.  If you raise the price, the expectation of the level of service rises, too.  It will be interesting to see how the new bosses of IMS make this happen.  The ball, as well as the money, is in their court.

10.  Even though I watched live at the Speedway, I feel obligated to comment on the ABC/ESPN coverage.  The pre-race storylines, particularly the Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves segment, were prescient.  Lindsay Czarniak is quite the upgrade, too.  She may have been a little too reverent for my taste, but she gets auto racing and its personalities.  The camera work around the track and the super slow motion shots are beyond cool.  Now, I am sure that the trio of Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear, and Eddie Cheever are wonderful people.  They are probably active in their communities and coach their children’s youth league teams.  But their somnolent tones and torpid delivery make you forget that the race is so freaking exciting.  Can they take some classes?  Wake up!  Make me sit on the edge of my seat.  Make the race so exciting that I have to tune in, not next year, but next week.

The post-race celebration and libations with friends and family capped off another fabulous month of May.  I am reminded of the liner notes from Jimmy Buffett’s  Son of a Son of a Sailor.  He used a quote from Robert Wilder’s Wind From the Carolinas that sums of my month of May every year:

“There had been a time when the settlement had made a profitable living from the wreckage of ships, either through the changing of lights or connivance with an unscrupulous captain…

There would be a time of riotous living with most of the community drunk and wandering about in an aimless daze until the purchased rum was gone.  After that the residents sat moodily in the sun and waited for something to happen.”

Now if you’ll excuse me,  I need to go sit moodily in the sun until next May.

 

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Ten Worthless Opinions: Daytona Edition

NASCAR certainly knows how to put on a show.  The monolithic racing series has grown to iconic status.   The problem with that is the warts become iconic, also.  This week, the WO’s (worthless opinions) look at NASCAR with HD.  And you know the problem with that.  As American writer Dorothy Parker said, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes right to the bone.”

1.  First the serious: NASCAR did an absolutely tremendous job in the aftermath of the NNS last lap accident.  They had an emergency plan and followed it.  First responders swarmed the grandstands, ambulances were rolling, and the pits were cleared for helicopters.  Whatever discussions will come regarding spectators and fencing, NASCAR had plans to address this situation.  Kudos.

2. Some on social media were critical of the NASCAR officials’ demeanor in the press conference Saturday evening.  It was mentioned that they seemed cold and/or indifferent.  I thought they handled it very professionally.  In a litigious society that demands instant information that will be parsed for every nuance and hint, the truth is that your PR/communication people have to tread very lightly.  Any misstep can be worth millions in the courtroom.  Total honesty cannot be expected so soon after the fact.  Facts were given and questions were answered as well as can be expected.

3.  Tony Stewart’s muted response in after his NNS win Saturday was spot on.  It was neither contrived nor delivered for effect.  It makes a fellow proud to be a Hoosier.  Well done.

4.  But not all is shiny and pure in HD land.  Sometimes the blemishes cannot be ignored.  NASCAR had YouTube take down fan video shot on a smartphone of the accident on grounds of copyright infringement.  YouTube later reinstated the video saying that it did not violate copyright.  NASCAR backtracked and said they wanted it down in deference to the victims.  Sure. That’s why.  I’m sure it had nothing to do with possible lawsuits stemming from the accident.  Deadspin, bless their sarcastic little hearts, posted an assessment of the situation.  NASCAR claims to own the copyright on every picture or video taken at the track.  Good luck with that.  For all I know, some communications wonk overreacted.  Or maybe it’s just another big corporation assuming they own everything.  If only the American public didn’t believe in that pesky Constitution.

5.  I don’t have the answer for fencing.  It’s a dangerous sport for the participants as well as for the spectators.  Someday, when a lawsuit, or the threat of one, really scares a major racing series, a solution will be found.  Until then we will wring our hands and jerk our knees until the next race.  Then the blinders will come back on until the next step toward the government enacting more regulations to protect us from ourselves.  In other words, fixing the problem will become the cheaper alternative to settling lawsuits.  That time will come.  This issue affects NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, and every Friday and Saturday night track in America.  It will not go away.

6.  Lawsuits over the accident may be filed, but it is doubtful that any will go to court.  They will all be quietly settled.  Any racing series is in a no-win situation with spectator injuries.  Court is open.  The media would be a circus.  A lawyer would ask if a series had a contingency plan.  If the answer was yes, then it would be shown that the series expected an accident with spectator injuries.  Guilty.  If you had no plan, then the series would be negligent for not expecting the accident.  Guilty again.  It’s the situation Yossarian faced in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22.  NASCAR can’t win.  It is almost always cheaper, and better business, to settle.

7.  Kyle Larson is a racer.  He’s young, aggressive, and talented.  So naturally he followed the money to NASCAR.  It will be fun to watch him move up to the big boys.  I just hope he’s a Tony Stewart clone who never gives up the dirt tracks.  He certainly went to Tony’s class on how to win friends and influence people on his last lap bump on C.E. Falk in the Whelen All-American Series race on that freaky backstretch track.  Milk it, NASCAR!

8.  Who says NASCAR doesn’t work on diversity?  They had 50 Cent (rapper Curtis James Jackson III) in the pits trying to kiss Fox reporter Erin Andrews as she searched for Danica Patrick on a grid run that made Robin Miller look like a star.  I just LOVE the random absurdity of large events.  I guess 50 Cent was going to Get Erin or Die Tryin’.  Truth is so much stranger than fiction.

9.   Of course I have a Danica Patrick comment.  She drove a smart race, and other than hitching her star to Greg Biffle on the last lap, did everything right.  It was a great run for a rookie on the big stage.  Women can drive race cars.  Period.  She puts on the helmet and takes her chances.   Gender has nothing to do with driving.  It has a lot to do with endorsements.  Sometimes it pays to be a pretty face, and I don’t grudge Danica cashing that check.  She’s just “Taking Care of Business,” baby.

10.  What else was great about the Daytona 500 weekend?  The Winter Indy Tweet-Up (@WinterIndyTwtup) made the weekend.  Big thanks to all involved in the effort.  The Dallara tour was fun, but I’m going to need some translation on the brew served at Lino’s Coffee in the factory.  The two lap 100 MPH ride around IMS may have been the highlight of the day.  Finally, it was fantastic to hang with so many other people who share my love for IndyCar racing during the Main Event party at Detour in Carmel.

That’s all I’ve got about Daytona.  The racing season is upon us, but we all know what the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” really is, don’t we?  If not, here’s a little reminder:

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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:

7.11.1.3. 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 – Mid-Ohio Back-to-School Edition

August is here and you know what that means, don’t you?  That’s right, it’s back-to-school time everywhere.  Open the newspaper or turn on the TV and you are inundated with ads and commercials for every item your entitled little geniuses need.  With that as a backdrop, here’s this weeks WO’s (worthless opinions).

1.  Everyone line up, please.  Single file.  Let’s take a seat in Professor B’s classroom.  Every school has that teacher that’s a little off-center but so sincere and bright that he becomes a favorite.  That’s Jon Beekhuis.  Every broadcast he explains something that helps me understand the engineering marvels of racing and how these concepts affect the teams and drivers.  Class, pay attention.

2.  Sometimes it takes a practical lesson for students to see the value of their knowledge.  After the deluge at Mid-Ohio and the tragic lightning strike at Pocono, it behooves us to pay attention to weather warnings.  I met Brian Nuedorff (@NASCAR_WXMAN) at IMS last week.  His real job is a TV meteorologist in Idaho, but he is an avid NASCAR fan and provides up-to-the-minute forecasts for fans of the various NASCAR series.  Like most bloggers/social media types, he does it for free.  Leading up to the red flag at Pocono, he was screaming on Twitter to stop the race and evacuate the stands.  It didn’t happen in time.  As someone who has managed large events for a living, I can tell you that there is a certain inertia in making the decision to evacuate a facility.  Is your information accurate?  Do you have a plan?  What effect will it have on the event?  What effect will it have on everyone involved in the event?  The simple answer is to say “do the right thing.”  Right is always easy to ascertain in the past tense.  It’s much more difficult in the present.  Here’s a link to Brian Nuedorff’s response on the Pocono weather situation on Sunday.  Read it, please.  And the next time lightning is in the area of an event you are attending, do the right thing and seek shelter.  Don’t wait to be told.  Trust yourself to do the right thing; don’t wait for someone else to make your decision for you.

3.  Justin Wilson is the strong “B” student in class.  He pays attention, does all of this homework, participates in discussion, but when the test rolls around he just misses an “A.”  After getting spun and not stalling his car, he battled back as best he could to soldier home in 18th.  Sometimes a teacher just wants to give a kid an “E” for effort.

4.  Every class has a kid who cuts up, makes jokes, and basically keep a smile on everyone’s face, whether you are a teacher or student.  Josef Newgarden is that kid.  Teachers want to discipline him, but he just ends up making them laugh.  Newgarden almost cracked the top ten this week.   He ran up front until the second half of the race.   Let’s have a short Socratic seminar using this question:  HOW IN THE HELL DOES THIS GUY NOT HAVE A SPONSOR?  Please discuss following the Socratic rules.  What?  Not familiar with them?  Damn American educational system.  Just watch this video and talk among yourselves then.  You won’t see this kind of stuff in NASCAR, class.

5.  After lap 4, ABC/ESPN/NBC showed a graphic on the biggest movers.  Graphs and charts are always a hit when doing multi-media presentations.  It listed Newgarden and Conway at +4, Tags and Barrichello at +3, and Viso at +2. I liked this; however, it would have been nice to SHOW SOME OF THE PASSES.  You have to support your assertions with proof.

6.  Just like the over enthusiastic student who becomes enamored with props and graphs during a presentation, ABC/ESPN/NBC followed that up later with a new graphic that showed Simona de Silvestro,  James Jakes, and Ed Carpenter as the new biggest movers.  Now I was really confused.  I didn’t see those passes, either.  Just like a student who finds facts while researching but does not think about those facts, our broadcasters missed that those passes occurred during pit stops.  Give yourself extra credit if you noticed this.

7.  The booth crew of Bob Jenkins, Jon Beekuis, and Wally Dallenbach did a fine job of explaining the 2-stop versus 3-stop strategies.  It made me long for a yellow flag to allow the 3-stoppers to cozy up to the 2-stoppers.  The back and forth between Beekhuis and Dallenbach explaining these situations works.  That’s the kind of classroom discussion you need: disagreement without animosity.  Both of them are willing to be convinced by the other.  Poor Bob chimes in occasionally trying to draft off their knowledge.

8.  Every class has the answer guy who always knows the right formula, law of physics, or equation for any situation.  In this IndyCar class, the valedictorian is going to come from either the Penske or Ganassi families.  They always have the right strategy and the right fuel mileage.  And to top it off, they’re cool, too.  You are always a little jealous of their seemingly effortless success, at least until you see how hard they work to be cool and successful.

9.  Push-to-pass was…something.  Sometimes the newest fashion you see in a catalog or on a mannequin just doesn’t quite work when you wear it to school.  That’s push-to-pass.  The five second delay seemed like a good idea to prevent it being used as a defensive measure.  The problem with the new iteration seems to be that the driver has to stay on the gas or the button clicks off.  This pretty much means that you can’t use the PTP in a corner if you are not accelerating.  Not only does the driver have to plan to push the button five seconds before it takes effect, he needs to plan to push it at a time when he is on the gas.  In other words, it’s FUBAR.  I think IndyCar needs to dial it back to how they had it.  Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey comes to mind here.

10.  Every student in school needs an assignment notebook with a calendar to plan what they need to do and when they need to do it.  I think it’s time for Randy Bernard to start filling his in.  We only have three races left.  Three!  Next year, IndyCar needs a solid schedule put together as early as possible.  Bernard says 19 is the number of races IndyCar needs to fully activate sponsorship and stay current with the public.  He also says the promoters need to pay up front.  Total agreement here.  Just my opinion, but the schedule for next year is vital.  IndyCar needs the traction that a firm schedule provides to induce sponsorship, both at track and on TV.  This test will not be graded on a curve.

Those are my WO’s (worthless opinions) for this week.  Now please excuse me.  I’ve been told to stand at the board and write “I will compose better WO’s next time.”  It seems I got caught cribbing from the Internet.

Ten Worthless Opinions – (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy Edition

After such a great race in Edmonton, Alberta, it was discouraging to hear talk of the race not coming back due to sponsorship difficulties.  The talk seems to center around local engagement and activation.  Nothing a title sponsor can’t solve.  What does it take to get the folks from Medicine Hat, Okotoks, Wetaskiwin, Athabasca, Waskastenau, Atikameg, Ponoka, and Sexsmith to fully engage?  OK, judging by the name, maybe the folks at Sexsmith are busy with other activities.  This was a fantastic race.  C’mon, local Canadian populace, you can’t just fish and drink beer all summer.  With the oil business at the center of Edmonton commerce, you would think local connections would flourish.  That’s why this week’s title is (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy Edition.  I’m willing to do my small part to help recruit sponsorship.  Here are this week’s WO’s (worthless opinions).

1.  I thought I would familiarize myself with Edmonton by taking out my atlas and HOLY SMOKES, EDMONTON IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!  I grew up in a small Indiana town (Shirley) and thought it was the middle of nowhere, but now I know how wrong I was.  I can only assume the winters at this northern latitude are brutal, and the summers are plagued by giant biting flies.  Am I wrong?  I can see why a title sponsor is difficult to find.  Bad economy, wrong location (notice I did not say “bad location”), and low TV ratings may doom this race.  And that’s too bad; the racing was excellent.  Speaking of races, Randy Bernard is still adamant on 19 races while reports suggest that some owners are happy where they are and don’t have the money to expand to 19.  Sometimes I just shake my head at the dysfunction in the IndyCar family.  I think they all need therapy.  As a fan, I know I do.

2.  The teams complained about the long drive.  What’s the payoff for them?  Are they going to excite their sponsors with hospitality in Edmonton?  Sadly, there is no compelling reason for owners, teams, and sponsors to go to Alberta, Canada.  The Calgary Stampede does draw a huge crowd, though.  Hmm.  Maybe Randy Bernard can use his rodeo connections to combine the Stampede and the (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy race.  I’m an idea guy.  Just one of the many services offered here at New Track Record.

3.  Is it my imagination, or is NBC Sports tweaking the pre-race a little?  The giant gear that serves as Kevin Lee’s pre-race perch was missing.  That was probably a cost containment move, though.  Again, the costs to go to Edmonton are enormous, and does NBC Sports really need that piece of modern art and the wranglers that go with it?  It will be interesting to see if it continues to show up at other races.  NBC Sports cutting an already low-budget presentation is not good news.

4.  Robin Miller has been marginalized as an in-race reporter.  His schtick is the grid run.  He even has his own cartoon graphic now.  He’s NBC Sports version of Fox Sports’ Digger.  Here’s my idea.  Create a college-type mascot of Robin Miller.  He can parade up and down pit row in his suit with the Firehawk.  They can even play little tricks on each other.  With the quality of the questions he’s asking in the grid run now, the mascots vow of silence can only be a benefit to the viewer.

5.  What’s up with Marty Snider?  He went from a pretty good pit reporter to a shit-stirrer.  Pre-race, he tried to get Sebastien Bourdais to comment on Charlie Kimball from last week, even asking if an apology was offered.  Post-race, he tried to get Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power in a dust-up about Power’s alleged chopping of RHR while exiting the pits.  He also tried to get Helio Castoneves to comment on last year’s penalty.  It seemed contrived.  Is some faceless producer trying to spice things up?  Is NBC Sports trying to create some soap opera controversy?  I can’t blame NBC for trying to start things.  Ratings rule.  Let’s see if this continues.

6.  It was nice to hear Simon Pagenaud tell us that his run-in with Josef Newgarden at Toronto was not really blocking.  It was just two moves (his and Newgarden’s) at almost the same time.  I’m reminded of the guy caught in the act asking his wife, “What are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”  I’ll stick with my own eyes, but thanks for asking, Simon.

7.  Push-to-pass, or PTP, seemed to work well.  NBC Sports showed a graphic that let the viewer know when PTP was in use and how many seconds were left.  It had my interest in the last few laps as Takuma Sato tried to overtake Helio Castroneves.  In other words, it engaged me.  Keep it.

8.  I did notice that IZOD used two different commercials, one with golfer Kevin Na and one with their normal set of models splashing fully clothed in the ocean.  Still no commercials using or connecting to IndyCar.  So long, IZOD.  It’s been good to know you.  I’ll miss buying your socks and pocketed T-shirts.  They have become my signatures.  And the Van Heusen commercials with Jerry Rice and Steve Young will also be gone since Van Heusen owns IZOD.  But before you go, can you do one commercial where Robin Miller is the “schlub.”   Please.

9.  I loved all the passing at the (Sponsor Name Here) Edmonton Indy and how NBC Sports continues to show the passes, both live and on replay.  This is how you keep your core fans engaged.  Show them racing.  Let Marty Snider titillate the casual fans with  gossip; show me the action.  And I agree NBC needs both because they need the viewers.  Whatever works.

10.  I love the IndyCar post-race interviews.  The NASCAR drivers are often surly and pissy.  The IndyCar drivers seem approachable and willing to sell the brand, both their own and the series.  Helio Castroneves bubbles over with emotion.  How can you not like him?  Alex Tagliani was gracious in defeat.  Takuma Sato was all smiles.  OK, Ryan Hunter-Reay was a little moody now that he expects to win every race, but I’ll give him a pass this time.

There you go.  I hope you found this week’s WO’s (worthless opinions) satisfying.  Hopefully, IndyCar finds itself back in Edmonton, Alberta next year with a title sponsor and plenty of insect repellent to keep those damn biting flies off.  In honor of our northern friends, I leave you with this famous paean to western Canada.  You’re welcome.

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