The culture of cars and music in America started in Southern California, so it was fitting in a way that the IndyCar Series ended its season at this nexus of automobiles, sand, girls and song. Just like the movie American Graffiti, one can follow the adventures of the cast of IndyCar through vignettes and a blaring soundtrack to try to recapture the time when open-wheel racing in America was king. For this edition, just assume you are cruising down the road in your drop-top ’65 Impala listening to the dulcet tones of your favorite IndyCar DJ as he spins your favorite platters about the recent MAVTV 500. So it’s time to buckle up, tune in, and head out to your favorite drive-in for a night of California cruising with your host with the most, New Track Record. Here’s the playlist and patter for tonight’s show.
“California Dreamin'” The Mamas and the Poppas This song goes out to Helio Castroneves from Team Penske. After two days of uncharacteristic Penske problems at Houston, Helio was looking for some magic at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Unfortunately, the Magic Kingdom is in Anaheim, not Fontana. With the Captain Roger Penske at the helm to guide him, Helio fell short after leading the early part of the race. It didn’t help that Penske pitted Helio into a closed pit, but the car went away in the latter stages of the race and Castroneves finished one lap down. It looks like Helio’s California dream is on hold for another year.
“California Here I Come” Al Jolsen Do you know this is not the state song of California? Something called “I Love You, California” is. It’s awful. In any case, you can listen to the scratchy original Al Jolsen version or the ultra cool Ray Charles one, but either way, the song is all about Scott Dixon from Target Chip Ganassi Racing. After moving ahead of Helio Castoneves with a dominating performance at Houston, Dixon and the TCGR team were locked, loaded, and dialed in at Fontana. On a night that saw Chevy dominate, Dixon wheeled his Honda to fifth place to seal his championship. How dominant was the team? On one pit stop, Dixon picked up SIX places. How do you do that? Dixon rolled.
“Hotel California” The Eagles We’ll toss this one out to the NBC Sports Network crew for a stellar pre-race broadcast. After the start of the race was moved back to keep the setting sun from blinding the drivers, the crew had some serious time to fill. The segments have become much more professional with the boots-on-the-ground crew of Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, and Kevin Lee rotating to bring out the storylines for the race. The length of the pre-race show did bring to mind the line “You can check out anytime you like / But you can never leave.”
“California Sun” The Rivieras This one is going out to the IndyCar Series for moving the start time back to keep the sun out of the drivers’ eyes. To most people, this seems like a simple safety fix, but if the IndyCar Series has shown us anything over the years, it’s that nothing is simple. Instead of consulting an almanac to see when the sun was going to set, the series waited until they could see it set with their own eyes before making a change. The drivers certainly were not going to “…be out there a’havin’ fun / In that warm California sun.” Many moving parts figure in a change like this. The promoter and the broadcaster both need to agree to the change. Being on NBC Sports Network really helped here. The change would have been difficult on network TV where people were watching. A rerun of Seinfeld after the race would have put the change in jeopardy.
“Streets of Bakersfield” Dwight Yoakum with Buck Owens NBC Sports Network continues to let Robin Miller embarrass both the network and himself by doing the increasingly inept, unfunny, and uninformative grid run. Unless they are looking for cringeworthy unintentional comedy. In that case they have it nailed. The viewers’ confusion results from not knowing which one it is. Please tell us so we know how to react. If you just change a few of the following lyrics, then you can imagine Robin Miller singing “The Pits of Fontana” to us.
I came here looking for something
I couldn’t find anywhere else
Hey, I’m not trying to be nobody
I just want a chance to be myself
I’ve spent a thousand miles a-thumbin’
Yes, I’ve worn blisters on my heels
Trying to find me something better
Here on the streets of Bakersfield
Hey, you don’t know me, but you don’t like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?
A little help from the producers would go along way to improve this segment. At least put an intern on it. The viewer gets a better grid run and the intern gets resume fodder.
“California Sucks” Screeching Weasel Yes, there really is a band called Screeching Weasel, and no, they do not like California. I bet the crews and drivers have a few reasons to think California sucks. Sitting at the bottom of the Cajon Pass as the winds blow down sand from the high desert may not be an issue with the locals, but the drivers sure can’t like it. Race winner Will Power had to have his tear-offs replaced. The cars and helmets were pockmarked with 210 MPH sandblasting. And the radiators were blocked by all the wind-blown detritus, resulting in overheating and engine failure. While the lyrics “I can’t wait ’til your state erodes and you fall into the drink” might be a little severe, I’m sure the teams were glad to see Fontana in their rear-view mirrors.
“Going to California” Led Zeppelin In this song, Robert Plant sings of the risks of going to California and the wrath of the gods. Once again the sturdiness of the DW12 chassis and the Dallara safety cell mitigated the risk of auto racing just a little, and like with Dario Franchitti in Houston, possibly saved the life of Justin Wilson. Wilson had pulmonary bruising, which is a wicked, life-threatening injury common in auto accidents and explosions. When you bruise your lungs due to blunt force trauma, you are in a world of hurt. This one is dedicated to Dallara for making such a sturdy and safe machine. Complain about the ugliness all you want, the car is beautiful on the inside.
Thanks for cruising with me tonight. Let me sign off with the immortal words of racing philosopher Tom Carnegie: Let every day of your life be “a new track record.”