Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pocono - The Other 500

(c) 2017 LAT Photographic - Abbott

While other tracks have cheekily claimed 500 or 550 or 600 in their event titles, Pocono remains the only other true, old-school, 500-miler on the schedule. With the news that Pocono is considering signing for Indycar events beyond 2018, fans of this unique and legendary palace of speed will certainly be relieved if and when it happens.

What is it about '500' that adds a certain cachet in automobile racing? As a number, it was rather basically developed over a hundred years ago to provide an "all-day" event in Indianapolis each May. Ever since, the 500-mile distance still remains a race that tests team and machine and driver more than most any other race, and most typically at storied venues like Pocono. 
Of course the 24-hour sports car races are much longer, but also utilize multiple drivers and crew members during their events. Those races, however, have also become more like a 24-hour sprints, rather than paced endurance races.

Maybe it's the speeds attained and maintained during these races that add to their lore and attraction. In 2014 at Pocono, the top-10 drivers (all finishing on the lead lap) averaged over 202 miles per hour for the entire race distance. This currently stands as the fastest race by average speed for a 500-mile race in the history of Indycar.


It truly takes something special to win a 500-miler. Pocono also boasts a who's who of Indycar legends as its winners. Among them you will find the legendary likes of Donohue, Leonard, Foyt, Rutherford, Sneva, Unser, Mears, Andretti, Rahal, Dixon, Montoya, and Power. 

In past, venues like Ontario Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, and California/Fontana Speedway all hosted 500 mile events for Indycar. Aside from Indianapolis, the only 500-mile race distance venue remaining on the schedule is legendary Pocono.

Pocono stands alone in many ways.

Currently, it can list the following titles among all Indycar ovals; the farthest east, the fastest, most unusually shaped, "tricky", 
widest straightaway, longest straightaway, remote, camper-welcoming, and "green" (100% solar-powered, 75% event waste stream diverting). All of those features combine for a modern Indycar fan's delight, deserving Indycar's support whenever possible.

(c) unknown - aerial

While some bemoan the lack of support races found in it's current format, it's noteworthy to remember that this is the only other 500-mile event on your Indycar calendar. If you enjoy outright speed, history, legend, majesty, scenery, camping, or any combination thereof, you will find it difficult to match the allure of Pocono on the Indycar schedule.

Let's hope Indycar and Pocono can secure this storied and worthy venue and the 500-mile race distance for years to come. 





Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Greatest 33 Update - 2018 Post-race Edition

With just hours left of May on the calendar, and in keeping with all good traditions of May, we humbly submit, in the waning moments of May 2018, the ongoing review of my "Greatest 33" following the completion of another sun-scorched and interesting Indy 500. Making this post every year also seems to serve as a bit of a salve for the sting of realizing one of the greatest weekends on my annual calendar is now over.

To briefly review, IMS took great pains to create a special interactive website for the 2011 100th Anniversary race, for which fans could log in and vote for their "Greatest 33" to race at Indy from the 100 or so nominees provided. The site survived for a few years, but has since been taken down.

I had participated in the original, but in wanting to maintain relative fairness, I devised a set of objective criteria I could use to at least help make and rank my selections. I have, as you may have correctly guessed, saved and updated a spreadsheet every year following the Indy 500. Prior posts of mine on this subject can be found by searching this blog's tags for "Greatest 33". On the mobile site which lacks the tags feature, you will need to go to previous posts in May find them. Today's post reflects the changes to the standings from last Sunday's race and include the points gained from qualifying.

Will Power's win obviously gives him the most-improved location on my rankings, but he suffers from what many single-time winners who haven't cracked my Greatest 33 do - notably fewer races, poles, laps led, and top-5 finishes than other single-time winners. In fact there are not many single-time winners on my 33, so only the best of the best for "one-timers". Mario is the best with one win currently and the best active one-timer is Scott Dixon.

With yet another Top 5 finish for Dixon, he did manage to begin to move up the scoring pylon from 18th to 16th. Dixon's raw score in my formula actually has him ranked at 13th, however, I've also reserved the right to a few intangible calculations in the ranking so I have a hard time pushing him beyond Vuky, Ward, and Rose, all two-time winners with many laps led and similar Top 5 finish counts to Dixon. Scott's longevity and steady performance keeps him in a close grouping of scores with the legends mentioned, but a second win for Dixon will certainly see him vault up the rankings. As it stands, the Top 5 rows remain unchanged.   


Speaking of active drivers, and since none of the three who currently reside in my Greatest 33 (Helio, Dixon, and Kanaan) won, their places are relatively cemented as previous. Tony Kanaan leading laps again moves his raw score higher than Arie Luyendyk, but remains just behind Arie in my ranking due to Luyendyk being a two-time winner in addition to currently holding the qualifying records set in 1996.

Helio would've become a true Titan of Indy if he had won his fourth last Sunday.  Rough projections would see his score rise somewhere into the low 1900s, moving from 6th the 4th on my Greatest 33. 

Next shown is the graphic representation of Rows 6-11 of my latest "Greatest 33". 
Row 11, if any long-time readers will recall, is a nod the "Last-Row Party" thrown by the Indianapolis Press Club and is reserved for the three best and most notable drivers who never won it.

Will Power now joins active driver Ryan Hunter-Reay and several others just outside my Top 33. That group includes Buddy Lazier, Bobby Rahal, Sam Hanks, Jimmy Bryan, Eddie Cheever Jr., and Danny Sullivan. Other notable and currently active drivers are: Marco Andretti - 56th - 471pts., Ed Carpenter - 64th - 429, Takuma Sato - 65th - 428, and Alexander Rossi - 70th - 398.

Shown below is the spreadsheet ranking as it stands updated following the 102nd Indy 500. 






In all, not much movement in my top 33 rankings as a result of the 102nd Indianapolis 500, but a win by any active winner will certainly see them move into the rarefied air that is "The Greatest 33".






Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Figures Don't Lie, but Liars Figure

Oft attributed (but never actually substantiated) to Mark Twain, this kitchy axiom reflects a sense that the truth via factual numbers can be perverted into something in the interest of supporting a position that might need help outside a purely factual representation.



This seems all too commonplace in the era of mass consumerism as most products and services need something akin to facts to help bolster their place in the market. Even market leaders like to "massage the stats" to maintain their advantage.

In the game of sales - for media rights, sponsorships, and financial commitments of all sorts - using relevant statistics to assist can be an Olympian exercise in numerical gymnastics. Indycar as a sport has been well aware of this for decades, and quite acutely following the split of sanctions in 1996.

Even to those who follow me regularly here or on Twitter would have a hard time recalling my stance, and that's because I've never made much of a statement regarding the 'split of '96'. I feel that it's all water under the bridge and focusing forward, with the knowledge of the past, is far more useful than attempting with utter futility to settle a decades-old argument.

In the early days of the '96 split, I knew what my feelings told me, but we didn't have the benefit of facts to back up anything we may have wanted to believe or hope. I had a very close friend, who always joined me on the annual Indy 500 trip, who was against the split and vowed to not return to Indy.  I understood this position as my reaction was largely negative to the idea as well.  So much so that I failed to maintain my reserved tickets for the race I'd held since 1988, boycotting by not renewing or attending after 1996. As fate would have it, I wouldn't have been able to attend the final running in 1997 due to it's rain delay to Tuesday anyway.

After missing the race for two years, something inside me called me back and I re-ordered tickets for the 1999 race. My bride of 3 years at the time suggested that I might enjoy going back, but that she had seen enough in her two races in '95 and '96 to not return if I had no objection. It was alright with me as I knew she really had no interest in being a racing fan. Not really having any new friends who were interested in going, I called my formerly stalwart Indycar friend to see if he wanted to join me. He was surprised I had softened my stance, as he hadn't.

I attempted to persuade him with some statistics in hopes we could get the band back together and rekindle his love of the race. He said he would give it a chance and we attended the 1999 race, viewing it from a section more northerly in Tower Terrace. The approach of fuel-less Robby Gordon, falling out of the lead directly in front of us on lap 199, was among the most notable dramatic events of that day.

What you see below is a spreadsheet I started in 2000, which I shared with my friend in hopes of maybe showing that the Indy 500 at least was maybe turning for the better. 
What I had attempted to show following 1999 is that the Indy 500 is on the right trajectory and isn't really all that different from what we saw as our 'golden era' of the late 1980s (HA!). With what little data I could access in the early days of the internet, this is what I sent my friend. 




Out of sheer tradition now, I maintain it to this day. It's one of those May traditions that now happens in my build-up following qualifying and prior to leaving for Indy and now looks like this.



Despite the original 'sales' intent of those very rudimentary numbers from early-2000, it's now nothing more than a fun, 32-column-wide-and-growing tradition for me now and Indy is all about tradition - even if recalling (and embracing) a not-so-golden era.