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2016 Indy 500 Turn 3 Diary

5:10 AM

As we roll out into the darkness, the family is restive¹.  There are murmurs of discontent from the younger element about arising at 4:00 AM.  My explanation about heeding IMS president J. Douglas Boles warnings about traffic and long lines at the gates fall on increasingly militant ears regarding my tenure as high potentate of our annual pilgrimage.  I will keep an eye on the more vocal of the group.  My anxiety increases as we are already 10 minutes behind the scheduled time of departure.

5:37 AM

We arrive at our first rendezvous in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood of Indianapolis.  After the perfunctory comfort stops, we pose for pre-dawn pictures.  I stay in the shadows, worried once again about lines, parking, and recalcitrant Yellow Shirts waiting at IMS.  Our caravan grows to three vehicles, again increasing my anxiety as images of stop lights and blissfully unaware family members causes digestive discomfort.

6:05 AM

We arrive on 30th Street via Moller Road and move briskly past the Coke Lot towards our parking in the North 40.  Parking tagless drivers are denied entry to the Coke Lot, resulting in hooting and jeering from the line of cars waiting to park.  Schadenfreude is strong in a race day crowd.  Better you than us, bub.  The traffic stops.  We wait moodily.

6:29 AM

We enter the North 40 parking lot, our lead car deftly maneuvering past a slow line and cutting in at the gate, both perplexing and irritating a yellow shirted whistle blower standing guard.  Score one for the proletariat.  We arrive at our parking spot.

6:56 AM

The mood darkens.  It seems that the celery salt for early morning Bloody Marys has been left behind.  Like true pioneers, we persevere.

7:00-9:00 AM

Breakfast, camaraderie, lies, and insults follow in succession.  A small contingent breaks from the alcohol induced early morning lethargy and enters the track for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.  I go along, acting as our all-knowing leader.  I imagine myself as Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans and mention this to the group.  My nephew says, “Last of the pains in the asses, more like it.” I take it as a compliment.

9:30-11:30 AM

I enter the NE Vista alone as my “family” eats tenderloins and ascend to Row NN Seat 1 in Section 27.  This is always a soothing moment.  I watch the parade of dignitaries and was truly impressed by the 33 museum cars that rolled by in review.  I imagined what the track looked like when it was full of those cars.  Pretty cool.

Pre-Race

One issue with the NE Vista is the disconnect with the action on the main straight.  While most fans see what is getting ready to happen, we mostly guess.  The upgrade in the sound system was noticed and appreciated.  The absence of the Florence Henderson’s warble was much appreciated.  Darrius Rucker’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was completely acceptable and the fast movers in the flyover were on point.   “Back Home Again in Indiana” by Josh Kaufman and The Indianapolis Children’s Choir was as good as Jim Nabor’s ever was.  There, I said it.  Let that Indiana boy do it forever.  The Hulman family’s multi-generational “Start your engines!” command was a nice touch, covering up an increasingly awkward moment.  And balloons!

Race

As expected, the Hondas were wicked fast and passing was nonstop.  If we have to have spec racing, this is the spec racing to have.  A radio or scanner was needed to help keep the leaders straight.  The beautiful video screen is wonderful, as long as the information presented there is big enough to be seen.  It’s not.  The scroll at the top of the screen is impossible to see without binoculars.  Either increase the size of the scroll or find a new style.  This was very frustrating to everyone in our section without exception.  I suggest the leadership sit in my seat and try to see the screen.  If they do, they will make changes.  The win by a fuel-saving Alexander Rossi was met by a collective shrug of the shoulders, not because he was a rookie without IndyCar pedigree, but because his ascension to the top spot caught everyone by surprise, announcers and fans alike.  I memory serves, fan favorite Dario Franchitti won in similar fashion.  This was expert strategy, plain and simple.  If an earlier pit road incident had not taken out Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell, things may have been different.  Rossi is an American driver in an American series who won the crown jewel as a rookie.  That’s a good story.  He never put a wheel wrong all month. An 82 year old Florence Henderson, denied an opportunity to sing, found her way into Victory Lane to kiss the winner.  This is a rather dubious new tradition, but I can guarantee no other race has it.

Potpourri  

It seems the denizens of the NE Vista were remembered by their overlords this year.  Food tents and trucks were everywhere.  Potent potables were all around, including a very tasty Fuzzy’s lemonade.  It felt good to be part of the race again.  Of course, the NE Vista was denied its opportunity  to toast the winner with commemorative plastic bottles of milk.  So we cheered, milkless, but not altogether bereft like past races.  The Yellow Shirts were not in evidence as much as in the past.  In fact, there were very few along the walkway in the Vista, which allowed a veritable throng to stand next to the fence and revel in the speed, noise, and proximity of the cars.  Our exit down the back stairs, closed for the duration of the race, was fine until we stumbled across the carcasses of quite possibly two or three pigeons that were left on the landings of the stairs by a nameless predator.  Ugh.

5:23 Post Race

I once again lost the race pool to a mocking relative.  After food and more alcohol induced frivolity, we packed up our empty coolers and our sunburns and headed home.  Many kudos to the soul who somehow managed to part the cable that kept the inhabitants of the North 40 from cutting unassisted onto Hulman Boulevard.  It saved us at least an hour in line.  Muchos gracias, my unknown hermano borracho.

7:38

Arrived home, spent but happy, and settled onto the back porch to begin planning next year’s foray.  Maybe an earlier start is in order.

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¹ restive – unable to keep still or silent and becoming increasingly difficult to control, especially because of impatience, dissatisfaction, or boredom.

 

 

 

 

 

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of the 2014 Indianapolis 500: Part II – the bad

It always comes down to this.  For every yin, there’s a yang; for every oversteer, there’s an understeer; for every drunken race fan there’s a smug glare of self-righteousness.  Part I of this series was the “good” of the title; the events, people, and actions that make Indy what it is.  For the sake of fairness and snark, there must be a “bad.”  Presented here are the ones that made the cut.

Bad

1.  The bad on the track was easy.  The contretemps among Ed Carpenter, James Hinchcliffe, and Townsend Bell took out two cars that had a chance to win with Bell wrecking later with what may have been problems stemming from this incident.  It was nice to see the bad side of Ed Carpenter, though.  His dirt track days just jumped out of him.  Not only did he physically loom over Hinchcliffe while Hinch was sitting in his car, he was quoted on ABC saying that it’s lucky Hinch had a concussion two weeks ago.  The indication being, I think, that if Hinch wasn’t already concussed then Ed would have been more than happy to oblige.  Dirt track meets championship wrestling with Ed Carpenter flipping from face to heel.  Bad boys.  Hinchcliffe did accept the blame, though.  Stand up guy.  Of course when video shows clearly that you made it three wide, there’s not much else to say.

2.  The luck of Chip Gaanassi racing was most definitely bad at Indy this year.  Not only did the boys have trouble qualifying, but Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, and Ryan Briscoe placed 29th, 26th, 31st, and 24th respectively.  Ouch.  Now that’s a “Bad Moon Rising.”  It’s time for someone there to say “Got my Mojo Working.”  Just a couple of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Muddy Waters references for you.  Again, it’s all about racing and popular culture here.

3.  As someone who paid $75 to IMS for parking passes to the North 40 (Lot 7), I was more than a little miffed when the parking attendants told me at 7:30 AM that there were no spots available for me to park.  My explanation that having a reserved spot to park is precisely the reason that IMS sold the parking passes and why I decided to buy them left the dead-eyed, yellow shirted parking attendant unmoved, and I was forced to park at the back of the North 40.  Imagine my surprise when I checked the front of the lot where I was supposed to park and found almost no cars with parking credentials.  It was just a smaller version of last year’s line fiasco being played out on a grassy stage.  Normally, commerce is conducted in such as way as to give a guest or client what they paid to get.  When you pay a year in advance for something you don’t get, it’s called chiseling. To put it another way, imagine how you would feel if you stood in an enormous line behind the NE Vista to purchase a $9 tenderloin and were told AFTER you paid for it, that it was given to an earlier patron for free.  “Thank you, and please come again.”  Bad business, that.

4.  Let’s talk about those bad concession lines.  In the NE Vista, which was packed, the new food service professionals at Levy Restaurants decided it was better to have fewer open concession stands to serve more people.  The lines were endless and slow.  I’m just glad IMS contracted the food service out to those that do it for a living.  I’m sure there’s an explanation for how this is better for the guests on site.  Spin it!

5.  With the last “bad” in mind, let’s consider that the marks customers are now paying more for every item on the concession list.  Again, I’m just a plebeian, untutored in the art of separating acquiring money from rubes guests.  I am sure a computer wonk in accounting can show how much better all this is for IMS.  And that is what counts.  I am sorry for being so selfish here and thinking only of my experience.  Mea culpa.

6.  I am sure I am no the only one who has noticed the decline in the interest, enthusiasm, and competence of the fabled Yellow Shirts at IMS.  Even though I have called some “petty tyrants and martinets,” it was obvious that they took their jobs seriously.  Many of the workers now seem unhappy and disinterested in improving the guest experience. For all the world, it seems like most have little or no training.  Many out in the hinterlands of the facility seem to have the dead, vacant stares of those who have the seen the world at its worst: fast food workers.  It’s not pretty.

7.  Finally, what saddens me the most is the passing of an era, the loss of innocence.  IMS has finally gone over to the dark side of corporate America.  No longer do I have the sense that the series, the race, and the facility are some Mom and Pop organization run on whims and greyhound rescues.  No, it has become the antithesis of that. It is now a business run on the American virtues of greed and profit.  And I’m really okay with that.  Money is good for the drivers, the owners, the promoters, the tracks and the networks.  It’s just not good for the soul.  I miss my old friend, the one who let you get falling down drunk on reasonably priced beer, the one who sold you a greasy frozen fritter of pork without acting like it wouldn’t give you heartburn, the one who allowed you to torch couches and old cars in the infield for the sheer joy of socially accepted arson.  Today, Simon and Garfunkel would sing, “Where have you gone, Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Our nation turns its bloodshot eyes to you.”  Woo, woo, woo, indeed.

Don’t get me wrong, the good far outweighs the bad in regards to my race day experience.  The Verizon IndyCar Series still offers the best racing on the planet.  I’ll be coming back with more cash in my wallet and lower expectations of what that cash will buy me but higher expectations for the action on the track.  And that is really the bottom line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good, the bad, and the ugly of the 2014 Indianapolis 500: Part I – the good

The new month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is behind us, and as the sunburn, hangovers, tenderloins, and poor choices recede into our memories, it is best that we all reflect on the events before they fade away completely.  So as not to break any new ground with creative thought, I would like to look at recent events through the conceit of the Clint Eastwood movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  This three part series will look at one aspect each day.  Today, we look at the good.

The Good

1.  Ryan Hunter-Reay is absolutely going to be a good Indy 500 champion.  I have always been rather lukewarm towards RHR.  He seems to say the right things and avoids controversy.  Fair enough.  His two passes of Helio Castroneves for the lead in the closing laps of the 500 were gutsy and aggressive and belied his rather vanilla persona.  When Castroneves throws his samba blocking moves on, he’s more than tough to get around.  Hunter-Reay’s quotes in Victory Lane showed an emotion previously kept hidden and that, along with his refreshing honesty, resonated with me.  He truly gets the 500.

2.  Hunter-Reay said in his post race interview that he was “a happy American boy.”  Although it may seem jingoistic, an American winning the 500 is important to a series that currently runs all but one race on American soil.  The lifeblood of the Verizon IndyCar Series is the red, white, and blue flag waving fans that were in abundance on Memorial Day in Indianapolis.  We can only hope that the series is able to capitalize on this American winner of the 500 more than they did the same winner of the series in 2012.  Wait, did I snarkily offer a “bad” in here?  Sorry.  I will try to stick with the script.

3.  As expected, the racing was great.  What more do the fans want?  There were multiple passes for the lead, including those by RHR and Castroneves in the closing laps that required more than a little sand.  The cars once again protected drivers like Scott Dixon and Townsend Bell in HARD hits.  Give me safety over aesthetics any time.  Fie on the fans who decry this ugly beauty.¹  The DW12 is a great race car, no matter how it looks.  And it is ugly.

3.  The red flag at the end of the race, while unexpected and without precedent, was good for the fans in attendance and the TV audience.  As a traditionalist in general, I initially thought that one more IMS accepted protocol was going down the drain.   But after seeing the debris from Townsend Bell’s crash and watching the SAFER barrier being repaired, I realized it made the race better.  Change is sometimes good, even if it causes apoplexy in the hard-core constituency.  Who knew?

4.  The crowd was not just good at the race, it was great.  The Coke Lot was full at 7:30 AM as we arrived at the Speedway.  I have not seen that in 25 years.  Of course the downside of that is the Coke Lot was full of Coke Lot type denizens at 7:30 AM.  Estimates  of the crowd were up to 230,000.  Don’t let those empty seats fool you.  The place was full.  The lines to get into the facility that made life miserable last year were not issues.  The purchased parking credentials in the North 40/Lot 7 were another story, though.  Dang.  There I go again with the snark about one of the “bad” issues.  An official for the Speedway told me that ticket sales were up 25% this year.  Indy is back, baby.

5.  Although the commercials on ABC seemed interminable after I got a chance to watch, the pre-race portion is still the best around.  The network wove in Memorial Day, human interest, and race goodies in just the right proportion.  Watching the race in HD, particularly the in-car shots, is absolutely thrilling.  Although not “bad” by definition, I do find the constant video and interviews of the WAGS a little cloying.  Nobody ever yells “Show us the wives and girlfriends for god’s sake!” as a race winds down.  Nobody.  Ever.

6.  The pre-race ceremonies at IMS for the 500 are nonpareil.  If you have never witnessed it in person, put it on your list.  The fact of the meaning of Memorial Day is always there, as it should be.  I hope that IMS, in its quest for more profit, never turns the pre-race into a sponsored circus to make a quick buck.  It is already the gold standard.  Keep it that way.  With that said, I really will miss Jim Nabors, a B-List singer and actor who found a home in Speedway, Indiana on Memorial Day weekend.  He sang “Back Home Again” the right way.  Please IMS, don’t bring in an oddball assortment of record label sponsored train wrecks to audition.  Find another baritone who gets Indy and can make it each May for the next 30 years or so.  The name is not as important as the song.  Do NOT mess this up.

7.  The month of May is back as an event in Indy.  After years of condensing the month due to lack of fan interest, the gang in the blue glass edifice on 16th and Georgetown finally packed in enough activities to interest new fans.  The Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the new Time Trials weekend, Carb Day, the Jason Aldean concert, glamping, and the electronic dance music in the Snake Pit on race day all added fans through the turnstiles.  The numbers for the month could be pushing 350,000 fans.  Do the math.  More fans = $$$.  $$$ = more racing.  More racing = happy fans.  Repeat.

That’s the good, great, and just okay as well as some sub-textual bad that just keeps popping up.  Sorry about that.  Tomorrow brings the defined “bad” of the race.  And possibly a little more snark.

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¹  In my continuing effort to bring culture to racing, I used the oxymoron “ugly beauty” to describe the Dallara DW12.  An oxymoron is when two opposite terms are used together for effect.  Old Billy Shakespeare used them often when describing bear-baiting and cock fights, so there is some tradition of sporting usage.

Ten Worthless Opinions: Thanksgiving Edition

One of the problems of being a “columnist”¹ is coming to grips with the fact that your opinions are all you have.  I have no Rolodex full of IndyCar movers and shakers, no behind-the-scenes intrigue and gossip, and no discernible credentials to support anything I say.  It is that lack of valuable information that makes writing during the off-season so difficult; I have to just make things up as I go.  Many of my regular readers would say that is no different than in-season.  So what does an opinionaire like me do?  One simply attaches a few hundred words to whatever event is handy.  So here it is, New Track Record’s “Ten Worthless Opinions: Thanksgiving Edition.”  These are ten things about IndyCar for which I’m thankful, or at least they don’t make me want to bang my head on the wall.  Thankfully.

1.  Everyone realizes that the entity known as Hulman Racing now controls both IMS and the IndyCar Series, right?  Mark Miles being in charge of all things IndyCar is something for which to be thankful.  He does not seem to have someone looking over his shoulder, and he has quietly consolidated his power by putting his people into key positions.  In the struggle among IMS, the IndyCar Series, and the Hulman family, previous bosses were never seen as totally in control.  No more.  For better or worse, Miles is calling the shots and all the parts report to him.  It may take time, but at least he has a long term plan.

2.  The inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis made the news and will most likely add some life to a moribund month of May in Indy.  The crowd will likely be local, but who cares?  The locals and the out-of-state visitors were not coming out early in the month anyway, so changes were in order.  Look at it this way.  I had a favorite pair of jeans that I wore so long that they fit me perfectly.  I loved them.  Unfortunately, they wore out.  At some point I needed to break in a new pair.  That’s the month of May in Indy.  It’s worn out.  And it’s going to take some time to break in a new schedule.  Just look at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as a new pair of skinny jeans.  Sometimes fashions change, and it takes time to get used to the new styles…and the chafing.

3.  NBCSN (NBC Sports Network) has made IndyCar a priority.  The pre-race interviews and features were tightened up.  It looks like the interns were finally told they could no longer produce this segment of the broadcast, other than Robin Miller’s grid run, which still has the monkey/football aspect to it.  The booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. works.  They are intelligent, excitable, witty, and fun.

4.  ABC Sports and its overlord ESPN finally decided to do something about the broadcast booth at IMS and in the IndyCar Series.  I’m not sure Marty Reid was the only problem, but at least it appears the network has turned its eye to improving the product.  I assume ABC knows that Dario Franchitti is available.

5.  Speaking of Dario Franchitti, every fan of open wheel racing needs to thank Dallara for building a solid car.  The car did its job at Houston.  It may be ugly, but it’s racy and saves lives.  If there is a problem with the racing, it is not the car’s fault.  It works.

6.  IndyCar fans should be thankful Juan Pablo Montoya is coming back to the series.  He is a real wheelman who has the ability to run up front, win races, and piss off owners, racers, and fans.  The series needs villains, and JPM can certainly fill the role.  Truth be told, he has done more globally than Franchitti and has more world-wide fans, as evidenced by his 777,000 Twitter followers as compared to Franchitti’s 115,000.  He is NOT over-the-hill.

7.  Quite frankly, I’m thankful for the nuts who follow IndyCar racing.  Disturbed?  Take a stroll through TrackForum sometime.  These people are opinionated, argumentative, angry, and necessary.  The series absolutely needs to find a new demographic to assure the future of open wheel racing,  but the hard-core traditionalists will need to be brought kicking and screaming to whatever new paradigm is developed.  And listening to those crazy bastards always makes me smile.  Rage on!

8.  Although it seems like a death wish for the series, I’m thankful for the right-sized schedule…for now.  The series has contracted the number of dates and shortened the calendar to avoid football.  Now the series can build the schedule slowly and methodically, adding races, venues, and dates that fit with the strategy that Mark Miles and Hulman Racing have developed.  Smart businesses have both long-term and short-term goals that fit with a strategic vision.  Right or wrong, Hulman Racing now has a plan.

9.  A special thanks to past, current, and future sponsors of teams, venues, and races.  I will buy your vodka, wear your underwear, and ride on your tires.  There is value in the series, but the businessmen at 16th and Georgetown need to sell it.  So go sell it.  I really hated to see IZOD leave, though, because I really liked their pocket t-shirts and socks.  They were my fashion statement.

10.  Finally, a thanks to the drivers and teams in the series for putting on the best show in racing.

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¹ I realize I’m not really a columnist.  I write a blog about a niche sport.  It’s fun to pretend, though.

Ten Worthless Opinions: Honda Indy Toronto Poutine Edition

IndyCar had quite the time in Toronto.  Border security, rules interpretation, feuds, and Scott Dixon’s domination mixed together in a doubleheader race format to provide a highly entertaining  weekend.  In other words, the IZOD IndyCar Series is sometimes just a blogger’s dream.  So grab your poutine (fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds) and settle in for that other messy treat that is “Ten Worthless Opinions.”

1.  There are so many interesting/entertaining/puzzling storylines to the weekend, I truly don’t know where to start.  Let’s go ahead with what was the big interest going into the weekend: standing starts.  The IndyCar series has a knack for taking the big story and fumbling it like Sebastien Bourdais did his runner-up trophy after Saturday’s race.  Standing starts are a big deal only because IndyCar has for years been unable to have competent two-wide starts due to driver gamesmanship and officials unwillingness/inability to enforce a standard for rolling starts.  The only reason to use a standing start to spice up the beginning of the race is because the normal rolling starts are so brutally ugly.

2.  The standing start concept did, however, generate interest, which makes the fumbling on Saturday even more egregious.   I have no problems with IndyCar using standing starts.  My problem is the seemingly amateurish handling of the concept.  The drivers and team principals are allowed to publicly question/ridicule the choice of starts.  That’s the way to build a brand, if your brand is churlishness.  The fumbling occurred when the officials decided to abort the standing start when Josef Newgarden had an issue.  And I’m OK with that choice.  What leaves me rolling my eyes is how IndyCar did not make clear to its on-site and TV audience what the rules for using or not using the standing start were.  I’m pretty sure if IndyCar handed a list of the standing start rules to NBC Sports and said,”You might want to make a graphic of this for your booth and your audience,” they would have done it.  And NBC Sports is not off the hook.  How could they not request/demand the rules in a production meeting?  Picture the fans at the venue and the hundreds watching on television with their palms up saying, “What the hell’s going on?”  Be prepared to tell the story.

3.  Loved the NBC Sports booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Steve Matchett.  Matchett in particular brought enthusiasm and insight to his first foray into IndyCar.  He watched it like a well-informed fan.  Bell continues to be smooth, and his low-key delivery is a nice contrast to Diffey’s exuberance.  Jon Beekhuis excels at giving technical information, this week explaining how the clutch works in a standing start.  NBC Sports broadcast shames ABC, which seems to simply go through the motions.

4.  I did question how NBC Sports handled the Dario Franchitti/Will Power contretemps, though.  After Franchitti blocked/held his line against Power’s aggressive/optimistic/stupid move in turn three, there was a great opportunity to build a feud between members of the two dominant teams in the series.  How did NBC Sports handle it?  They had the two talk it out on the Sunday broadcast with Robin Miller, the same Robin Miller who says, “Hate is good.”  What a let-down.  Where’s the shit-stirring Marty Snyder when you need him?

5.  The racing was great.  And that’s not just shilling.  Other than Scott Dixon absolutely checking out on Sunday, cars were passing and being passed on both days.  Scott Dixon may be rather vanilla when it comes to personality, but what a racer.  He did not put a wheel wrong all weekend.  Speaking of Ganassi Racing, the in-race and post-race comments of Mike Hull are always informative, even when he is being sly about strategy.  Chip Ganassi was at his well-behaved best in the post-race interviews, even welcoming Dragon Racing’s Jay Penske to the rich guys’ club.  His feigned magnanimity chafes me since his normal demeanor is peevish and irascible.  Leopards and spots, you know.

6.  I wonder if we will ever hear the full story of IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield and his border bang-up?  Was he smuggling Cuban cigars into Canada?  I mean, who doesn’t like a good Cuban to smoke after dinner?  Was his passport not up-to-date?  That happens to the best of us.  The truth is probably mundane, but I would love to know.  Until then, I will just make it worse by offering conjecture and innuendo, as a reputable blogger should.  Of more concern is Derrick Walker’s seemingly less-than-enthusiastic support of Barfield in Jenna Fryer’s recent AP story.  Beaux had relatively free rein under former boss Randy Bernard.  My guess is life is different under the dominion of Walker.  Keep your eye on this relationship.

7.  Let’s talk about rules!  In race one, the rule was that two wheels had to be in contact with the racing surface at all times to keep the drivers from curb jumping.  IndyCar gave warnings for violations and then rescinded the rule during the race Saturday when the drivers continued to jump the curbs.  I imagine the conversation going something like this:

  • Race Control: “Stop jumping the curbs!”
  • Drivers: “No!”
  • Race Control: “Stop it!”
  • Drivers: “No!”
  • Race Control: “Never mind.”

8.  More rules interpretation.

  • Race Control: “Dario Franchitti, you blocked Will Power!”
  • Franchitti: “No, I didn’t!”
  • Race control: “Yes, you did!”
  • Franchitti:  “I’m getting my dad!”
  • Race control: “Never mind.”

9.  Even more rules interpretation.

  • Race Control:  “You will do standing starts/double-file restarts/two laps on red tires.”
  • Drivers: “No.”
  • Race Control: “OK.”

10.  OK, that last was a cheap shot.  The drivers and teams knew about the rules for aborting the standing start, the change from double-file to single-file restarts, and the codicil permitting a change of tires without using them for two laps.  The people who did not always know were the broadcasters and the fans.  And since IndyCar is trying to engage the fans, it might consider keeping them informed.  Just a suggestion.  One more: when announcing rules interpretations to the audience, IndyCar might want to include the phrase, “Pursuant to Rule #…”  That would certainly have helped the NBC Sports crew give the audience the facts instead leaving both the booth and the fans twisting in the wind.

There you go, my WO’s (worthless opinions) for Toronto.  Now if you will excuse me, I have to get these poutine stains out of my shorts.  The stuff really is messy.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach: Surf’s Up Edition

According to information on the Legendary Surfers website, Long Beach, California is often credited as being the site of the first use of Hawaiian surfboards in North America when two world travelers arrived home with boards after a trip to the islands.  They started a culture in California that largely defined the West Coast to the rest of the world.  And once you add cars and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, you have the beginning of another Endless Summer on the track.  With that kind of history, how can you not be totally stoked about the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, dude?  And yes, I will be attempting to use surfing slang in this “Surf’s Up” edition.  Since I am landlocked in Indiana, you can assume I will fail miserably.

Some attention needs to be paid to the bruhs on the NBC Sports telecast.  It would be a step in the right direction if the viewership on TV was greater than the total attendance at the event.  That remains to be seen.  The deep thinkers at the network continue to tinker with the production.  With Leigh Diffey calling F1, they had Brian Till as the anchor with Townsend Bell and Wally Dallenbach as color.  Brian did a nice job, but I cannot tell one announcer from another since all three sound alike.  The booth needs Leigh Diffey’s Aussie dialect to differentiate him from his booth mates and his firmer hand to rein in Townsend and Wally, so they don’t get off subject and, you know, miss what is happening on the track.  And missing the action is not cool, man.  Don’t be a Barney.

Pre-race with the boys in the pits was absent human interest, features, and Robin Miller, who seems to be slowly hanging up his NBC longboard.  If you are a hard-core fan of racing, the pre-race worked.  If you are new to the sport, and the series needs new fans, then NBC Sports did nothing to bring you closer to the competitors as human beings.  It is a fine line between simply reporting and telling stories.  I think the pendulum moved to the reporting side a little too much this week.  I do like the Wally Dallenbach/Townsend Bell track lap better than Robin Miller’s grid lurch, though.  Wally shooting Silly String in Townsend’s ear to disturb his focus while driving was a nice touch.

Dakota Meyer, a Marine Corps Congressional Medal Of Honor winner said the most famous words in racing: “Fire those things up!”  OK, he decided, in true California fashion, to do it his way.  Anyone with a CMH can say anything he wants for the rest of his life.  Semper Fi, Dakota.

The start was gnarly.  As long as you have the hairpin at the head of the frontstretch and the flagstand in the same location, rolling starts at Long Beach will always be ugly.  Standing starts anyone?  The benefit of this line-up is that it strings out the cars before the point break of turn one.  Even so, it seems that there is always someone ready and willing to drop in on another driver as they enter the turn.  These drivers can be so territorial here in Long Beach.

One thing you don’t want to do in the line-up waiting for a set is to drop in on a wave when it isn’t your turn.  Charlie Kimball did just that to Alex Tagliani at Long Beach, trying to snake under him and wiping out in the same location and in the same way as Sebastian Saavedra did earlier in the race and Ryan Hunter-Reay did near the end.  That’s what happens when you try to snake a wave, or a racing line, dude.

In case anyone is noticing, the IndyCar series has the best racing anywhere.  The DW12, even though it is as ugly as a mud fence, is a racy machine.  Cars competed for position throughout the pack all day with Justin Wilson, Marco Andretti, and Scott Dixon surfing through the field to the front.  The problem with TV is you never see the great racing until it reaches the top five.  That’s just another reason to watch this series in person.

But the Big Kahuna at Long Beach was Takuma Sato for A.J. Foyt Racing.  He carved the corners all day on his way to his first IndyCar win.  After the race, team director Larry Foyt said Sato had driven the perfect race.  You know what he was doing, don’t you?  He was in the pocket, riding the front of the IndyCar wave at Long Beach.  He was in the zone.  He never put a wheel wrong all day.  Takuma Sato was soul surfing down Shoreline Drive.  The way he drove, he may not be looking to share many waves this year.

Well, it’s time to put the longboard back in the quiver and tool back home in the woodie.  Until next time, listen to the Surfaris and try not to “Wipe Out.”  Hang loose.

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama: Untimely Edition

I understand this post is a little late and not in my usual WO (worthless opinions) format.  There are reasons.  Good reasons.  I could blame it on the fact that I was on vacation last week, and it took a few days to sober up get back in the swing of things.  Certainly, there was yard work to attend to that just could not wait.  Of course, there were the usual family obligations, not to mention the day job that provides the money to pursue my writing and racing habit.  These are all valid.  Those that know me understand my deeply rooted love of procrastination.  Add to that the fact that I am the editor-in-chief and sole unpaid employee of this joint, and you could assume that I can post whenever I damn well please since nobody reads this stuff anyway.  All true, but not the truth in this case.  I am late posting because I had a creative idea.

If you are a regular reader here (thank you both), you know I have an unhealthy attachment to the odd and the quirky.  I have connected IndyCar and its denizens to the following over the past year:

  • The movies The Shawshank Redemption, Sunset Boulevard, Fever Pitch, Animal House, and Christmas Vacation
  • The Warner Brothers cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, and Porky Pig
  • Championship wrestling
  • The Mayan apocalypse (twice)
  • The Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black”
  • The songs of the Beach Boys
  • Texas singer/songwriters and their music
  • The Delta Wing and the Tanya Tucker song “Delta Dawn”
  • The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein and his novel Stranger in a Strange Land.
  • Tony Dungy, Bob Knight, and Jesus Christ

I’m proud of the eclectic collection I’ve put together.  I feel I have carved out a niche within a niche sport.  It suits me.  The question, of course, is what does all this have to do with this week’s post being late?  Let me explain.

My idea was to use the Master’s golf tournament as the comparison to the Grand Prix of Alabama since so many people gush over the beautiful and verdant scenery of Barber Motorsports Park by comparing it to Augusta National Golf Club, the site of the Masters.  Augusta National is pretentious.  How pretentious?  They name each hole after a tree found on the grounds.  They have names like Tea Olive, Juniper, Magnolia, Azalea and the list goes on.  My idea was to name each one of my ten WO’s (worthless opinions) after one of the 30 or so pieces of art on the grounds at Barber.  All I needed was a picture of ten of the pieces and I would be good to go.  In fact, I spent a couple of hours finding pictures of the art works and making up names for them like “Naked Guys on Wheels” and “Guy Pushing a Rock.”  Classy stuff, right?  But being an English teacher at heart, I wanted to be honest and correct.  I needed permission from the photographers to publish their work.  This, I found, is simple if you are not writing a piece that is time sensitive (I was) and if you have your idea well ahead of time (I didn’t).  So here I sit in the middle of the week after a race has concluded waiting for permission to use photos that may never come, so I can use a cool idea (in my own mind) to make an oddball comparison of a golf course and a race track just so I can offer my rather pedestrian opinions on a race.  So…let me now offer my untimely opinions on the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, late because I had a great idea.

  • The prerace lap with Townsend Bell behind the wheel and Wally Dallenbach in the passenger seat was comic gold.  I loved the Tums going sideways as they missed Wally’s mouth.  That’s nuance.  The vomit bag might have been low-hanging fruit but it was funny.  It’s OK to have flavors other than vanilla.  More of this, please.
  • NBC Sports seems to have an idea on how they want to present IndyCar.  The booth was great, and the camera work stellar.  I am not a fan of shit-stirring, though.  The pit reporters are still trying to bring up a Will Power-Scott Dixon feud from last year and tried to create drama with a Will Power-James Hinchcliffe qualification episode from Saturday.  Just stop it.  The feuds will either happen or not.  It’s organic.  Like pro wrestling, the fans will determine who the heels and faces are.  Less of this, please.
  • I REALLY like Jon Beekhuis in the pits and look forward to more Professor B episodes.  I like it when they teach me something.  More of this, please.
  • You would think I would tire of mocking Robin Miller’s grid wobble.  You would be wrong.  It is unintentional comedy at its best.  He has no idea when he’s going, where he’s going, or to whom he’s going to talk.  Speaking of Robin Miller, did anyone else notice he absolutely disappeared during the broadcast?  More of Robin Miller, please.
  • The start was a little sloppy but VERY edgy.  How you can not sit up on the edge of your seat?  IndyCar is GREAT racing.  Someone is going to get punted on the start at Long Beach.  Then the shit will stir itself.  More of the attacking starts, please.
  • Other than an accordion of cars playing polka music on the first lap causing Hinchcliffe to drop a wheel, the race was green, green, green.  We had tire strategy, fuel strategy, and passes for the lead.  That’s road course racing.  More passes for the lead, please.
  • Hinch was hilarious in defeat.  Ryan Hunter-Reay was aggressive in victory.  Charlie Kimball was an eye-opener.  Scottt Dixon was stalking.  Josef Newgarden was finally in the top ten.  And Helio Castroneves was back on top of the standings.  More of everything like this, please.

Even though I thought I had an entertaining idea to build my column around, the great thing about the race was that I didn’t need it.  Sometimes events just speak for themselves.  More races like the Grand Prix of Alabama, please.

Ten Worthless Opinions: St. Petersburg “Adventures in Paradise” Edition

The first race of the IZOD IndyCar Series FINALLY arrived in paradise, or if not paradise, at least St. Petersburg, Florida.  All else being considered, it sure looked like paradise for those in the North who were locked in the embrace of winter’s last gasp effort to deny global warming.  The water and palm trees dancing on our TV screens brought back visions of Gardner McKay and the Tiki III as he cruised the South Pacific in “Adventures in Paradise.”   In this case, it looks like James Hinchcliffe took the title role in his own adventure in paradise.  A new season brings out another volume of WO’s (worthless opinions).   Mai Tais for everyone!

1.  It looks like this may be the last gasp for the Firestone Indy Lights Series.  There were nine, count ’em, NINE cars on the grid to start the St. Petersburg 100.  With only two lead changes and six cars running at the end, compelling drama it was not.  It’s easy to say that a new car and more entries are needed to save the series, but who is going to invest in a series with no traction (sorry) with fans or sponsors?  The success or failure of the IZOD IndyCar Series is the key to the future on Indy Lights.  And that result will not be evident in the short term.  I’m not sure the labor of love that is Indy Lights can wait that long.  The real downside to the possible demise of the series is that it has been successful as a stepping stone to the IZOD IndyCar Series.  IndyCar drivers like James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, and Dan Wheldon all graduated from its grid.  IndyCar needs this series.

Another Indy Lights graduate making a name for herself is Pippa Mann.  Even though Pippa would rather be behind a wheel at IMS for the 500, her smooth debut on NBCSports portends a possible career in broadcasting.  She obviously did her homework for the broadcast.  She knew the drivers and teams and offered spot-on racing commentary.  Just remember to look at the camera, Pippa.

2.  I observed on Twitter that some people were complaining about the qualifications for St. Pete being slightly time delayed.  So what?  It actually made the broadcast run more smoothly and kept it in a time window so NBCSports could show it.  They don’t have to broadcast it, you know.  Baby steps, people.

3.  The new broadcast team takes some getting used to.  Jon Beekhuis is much better in the booth and as Professor B. than he is in live interviews.  His in-race questioning was a little obsequious.  You are the media, Jon.  Flex your muscles!  Show them who’s the boss!  Stir the shit!  I hope NBCSports will continue to use his strength in technical matters.  Kevin Lee is solid, even if he did manage to suck up to David Letterman with a gratuitous Ball State reference.  Can a Garfield/Jim Davis comment be far behind?  Brian Till was acceptable and had the quote of the weekend during an interview with Will Power when he said Power was at the top of the “championship shart” last year.  I didn’t even know they had a contest, Brian.

The booth team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. was competent as they hashed out their dynamic and their roles.  Diffey did a good job calling the action, but struggled at times to rein in the back-and-forth between Bell and Dallenbach.  Remember guys, most people tune in for the race, not the commentary.  Focus.  The TV commentators are at the mercy of their directors regarding what they see and what they know.  When they appear clueless, it’s most often the fault of the people talking in their ears.

4.  I really don’t want to beat a dead horse, a horse as dead as Robin Miller will be if someone does not take charge of that damned grid run.  At least he found people to talk to this time, highlighted by Alex Tagliani mentioning how close he was to the Port-O-Potty.  Good TV.  Here’s an idea:  add a second person so we don’t have to listen to Miller puff his way along the grid.  It is brutal!  That way you can switch back and forth between interviews, which give the viewer entertainment value.  How about adding Pippa Mann?  You need a female voice in the pits, and she probably can jog to the next interview without pausing to catch her breath like Miller.  This can be a great segment instead of a joke.

5.  It seems NBCSports and IndyCar are getting on the same page in regards to promotion.  The Mav TV 500 was advertised.  Robin Miller interviewed retiring Firestone honcho Joe Barbieri, which was really a hat-tip to Firestone for all the series and advertising support.  It certainly was not impromptu since NBCSports had pictures ready to roll.  The #Indy500orBust Twitter and Instagram promotion for the Indy 500 was prominently mentioned, as well as a Helio Castroneves commercial for distracted driving awareness with the snail from Turbo.  I guess J.R. Hildebrand didn’t preview that  before the race.  Maybe later.  In any case, promotion of the series and its partners was evident.  More of that, please.

6.  And then they had a race that happened to be engaging.  To begin with, the drivers made it through Turn 1 without incident.  I think the guys in the booth were a little disappointed.  They had all the statistics handy to deal with the accident.  The cars were racy and entertaining throughout the field.  Of course, TV can rarely show that on a street course since you can only see a small portion of the track.  That’s one reason the radio broadcast of a street course is so exciting.  There’s action everywhere, and the broadcasters around the track can see it.  The TV guys are tethered to a monitor controlled by a director.  Simona de Silvestro showed she is a racer.  A podium is absolutely in her future.  She ran out of rubber on her Firestone Reds at the end of the race, or she would have been there at St. Pete.  Takuma Sato started falling back but still managed a P8.  Good start for AJ Foyt and the boys from Texas.

7.  Poor Will Power.  He cannot catch a break.  J.R. Hildebrand popped a wheelie on his bumper (thought that was not supposed to happen).  This Hee Haw video is all that comes to mind regarding his luck: “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me.”

8.  James Hinchcliffe is an absolutely deserving winner.  He was in position to take advantage of a Helio Castroneves mistake and ducked under last year’s champion in Turn 1.  His Firestone Blacks held off Helio’s Firestone Reds as the different compound gimmick created the drama is was supposed to create.  His emotional comments on Dan Wheldon and his family were sincere and spot-on.  The Canadian flag was a perfect point of pride.  Did anyone else notice a PR person hand him a notebook with the words “Thank Bob Parsons” on it.  Parsons is the CEO of Go Daddy, his sponsor.  Just a little TCB, baby.  On his interviews with Speed Center, Wind Tunnel, and local TV affiliates, he was friendly, engaging, and authentic – exactly what IndyCar needs in a champion.  And prerace, he said he “might need to pee in Will Power’s gas tank” to slow him down.  THAT’S entertaining.  More than James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport, and Go Daddy, IndyCar needed this victory.  IndyCar needs a marketable champion like James Hinchcliffe.  It was big win all around.

9.  It was good to see that dysfunction exists in other motorsports and not just IndyCar.  The F1 race in Malaysia had a contratemps between teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber about who was supposed to win the race.  They also had Lewis Hamilton pulling into the wrong pit box and wheels nearly falling off cars.  Maybe those 2.5 second pit stops leave a little to be desired.  And in NASCAR land, the series continues to allow and endorse a driving style that will ultimately lead to tragedy as Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin wrecked on the final lap with Hamlin crashing HARD into a non-safer barrier wall, requiring a hospital stay.  The “Woo hoo!  Yee haw!” crowd needs to come to their senses.  They are living in a fool’s paradise.

10. If IndyCar and NBCSports do not promote and market this race champion and this racing series with its remarkable cast of characters and its scintillating on-track product, then it is on them.  I hate to be all political and pissy here, but it is time for IndyCar and NBCSports to step up and do their jobs.  The continuing problems plaguing IndyCar racing are not the fault of the fans.  Maybe they can channel Cassius as he speaks to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

That’s it from paradise.  I guess Jimmy Buffett’s song is as about as close as I’m going to get.  Just substitute “breaded tenderloin” for “cheeseburger.”  And I prefer mayo, not Heinz 57.

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