Thursday, June 22, 2017

Overdue Love for Dr. Trammell and the Holmatro Safety Crew

(c) 2017, Indycar.com video
Recently, in what was simply the cutest letter of appreciation from a fan to Indycar, revealed the depth of understanding even an 9-year-old has for the dangers of the sport. Thankfully the dangers weren't realized in their worst and Lucy got to meet her favorite driver and see that he's OK after a terrifying, flying shunt during the Indy 500.

For driver Scott Dixon and 9 year-old fan Lucy to even be able to have this touching moment, much of the sentiment expressed by Lucy also needs to be extended to the source of most all of the racing safety innovations of the last 20 years, Dr. Terry Trammell. 

(c) 2016, FIA
The world-class team and overall driver safety/emergency response that exists these days started with orthopedic and racing specialist extraordinaire, Dr. Trammell.

This piece by the IndyStar gives a great background into the depth of involvement Dr. Trammell had in evolving the chassis design, driver safety gear, track design, Holmatro Safety Crew procedures, and injury evaluation criteria.
This is due, sadly, to the fact that because of Indycar's history as one of the most visible and most relatively dangerous forms of auto racing for nearly 100 years. Basically everything now we see as a standard is an immense improvement over the ghastly accidents that took life and limb for over 90 years.  Nearly all of it comes from the first-hand experiences of Dr. Trammell and the constant work, care, and forethought that he guided for over 20 years, continues to this day. 

Credit for forethought and support must also be given to the leagues associated with Indycar racing over the years and their desire to constantly look to reduce the consequences of those unfortunate events for those who choose Indycar racing as their profession, as well as the safety of crews and fans in the stands.

(c) 2016, Chris Jones, Indycar
For me, this man and those he worked with should be honored quite publicly via a permanent display and in presented in an honorable and heroic manner befitting one who saved others' lives.  

As a fan, I can only extend my most sincere gratitude to Dr. Trammell, his co-workers, and crews for all of their efforts to make Indycar racing, and all forms of auto racing, safer for all.



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Here I Go Again

Once again, it's that time of year that many of us struggle with. Mere hours after the checkers fall for the newest driver to add their name and likeness to the century-old legend, Indy 500 Seasonal Affective Disorder engulfs those for whom "364 days to the Indy 500" is quite possibly the saddest sporting phrase uttered at any point during the year. Instead of wallowing, I'll somewhat wistfully recap my view of the 101st Indy 500.

Tres Amigos de la 500 - 2017
Aside from my raceday attire, for which my son grows increasingly unimpressed, and those of my two Indy 500 compatriots (who you may have seen in the IndyStar, et. al.), I've learned to simply take in the events we choose to attend as they're presented.

Admittedly, the ominous daily weather forecast required that we have at least some idea of contingencies and ingress/egress plans. It was one of the worst Indy 500 weekends for weather forecasts I've seen in a very long time. Fortune allowed us some really terrific weather for being at the track and we were able to catch all the events and nearly all of the people we wanted. 

This year was my 30th race.

I didn't have any specific plans to celebrate the milestone, other than my tried and true mantra of simply "being present" without trying to manufacture genuinely good times. 

In reflecting on 30 races I've attended, 1979-'80, '88-'17 (except for 1997 and 1998 when I protest-voted with my wallet to not attend because of my view that the sport was fractured and severely diminished), I find myself currently relatively healed from much of the heartbreak and tragedy during the last 20 years. I grow more weary of that process each time I've done it but, after the thrilling race that was the 2017 edition, here I go again, starting to fall in love with modern Indycar racing and the 500 in a new way. 

Firstly, I am extremely thankful and aware that the Howard-Dixon crash in the South Chute was perilously close to a result that would have many again calling into question a great many things about the sport. I've made those thoughts and concerns evident on more that one occasion both here and via Twitter over the last six years, so I won't take up that banner again, except to only state that we should all be well-aware that we were lucky in the extreme to have the result we did. 

During our slow progress through traffic back to our hotel, I kept thinking about this Indy 500, and the word that kept popping up in my head was "prototypical". 

In more current terms of the racing anyway, the myriad of storylines and strategies coming into raceday, the speed, pageantry, excitement, and spectacle of it all seemed more natural and just as amazing as most any previous, culminating in 10 of the most riveting closing laps of drama I've seen in 30 races. Takuma Sato's redemption from the slightest of miscalculations 5 years earlier was a classic heroic story which will only grow with time. 


It is perhaps a blessing and a curse that each race of this legendary event gets compared and contrasted to the many before it every year, but I revel in the fact that the old Brickyard seems to always produce something amazing and unpredictable along the way. 

The 101st running was no different in that manner. 

"Here I Go Again" is an oft-used phrase in music over several generations and genres to describe that degree of yearning and even helplessness one feels when experiencing a similar love or situation again that, for whatever reason, once ceased to be. So whether it be Ricky Nelson, or Whitesnake, or Salt N Pepa, or The Hollies, or Country Joe and the Fish, or Dolly Parton, or Bobby Wright, the theme of loss and re-connection with someone or thing once precious feels most apt for my most recent experience with The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

I guess I have no choice now but to do my best to wait patiently for the coming 51 weeks to pass until the next Indianapolis 500.



Monday, May 22, 2017

News Update and The Greatest 33 Revisited - 2017

Firstly, I'll address the post-Pole Day Monday news which is in various parts disturbing, sad, and hopeful. Following those notable items, I'll forward the lesser, pithy bits I had already planned for this space today.

From the "Sad is the news from Italy" department, Kentucky native son and racer at IMS during the Moto GP days, succumbed to his injuries received after automobile collided with him in Italy as he was physically training on a bicycle. He was noted by racers of all types as a great racer and equally good person. My only witness to his skills was a demonstration lap at the Indy 500 in 2008 and I will never forget the sensation of seeing and hearing what moved and sounded much like an Indycar, but terrified to see it was only a diminutive man on a motorcycle absolutely flying by us in a colorful flash on the main straight. I'd never seen anything so fast and so exposed in my life. Here's a video of that demonstration shot by a person nearly directly across from our seats. Thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time. 

In a hopeful bit of news, a reported successful surgery to repair multiple fractures of Seb Bourdais' pelvis and a hip bone sustained in one of the most violent collisions with the Turn 2 wall ever seen at IMS, see the driver already beginning the long healing process which will keep him out of the rest of the Indycar and Sports Car seasons this year. Blessings to Seb, his family, and friends for the prognosis.

And finally from the "I guess we'll say they're fortunate but this is really disturbing" department, yesterday's 101st Indy 500 Pole Winner Scott Dixon, his wife Emma Dixon, and pal Dario Franchitti were the victims of an armed robbery while attempting to secure some delicious trappings from the West 16th Street Taco Bell Sunday evening. Thankfully, they weren't physically harmed and the suspected culprits are in custody.

And now, the post, that post was meant to be today...

(drum roll, regal trumpet fanfare)


The Greatest 33, Revisited - 2017 Pre-race Edition!

If you recall, back in 2011 IMS produced a Greatest 33 feature on their website , allowing fans to review over 100 drivers of the Indy 500 and create their very own Greatest 33. Eager to create my own, I spend many an hour developing a format and formulae for scoring and ranking drivers. Even made a blogpost or two or three about it for which you can still read today. I enjoy updating this list after qualifying and after the race each year to see how it changes.

One thing that is abundantly clear to me, and as I've noted before, is how we're in a second golden age of Indycar driving talent. Not quite the immense shadow cast of the original Golden Generation of Indycar racing, but still, a very stout and talented bunch whose depth of skills encompass a variety not matched by any other driving series on the planet.  They are also those whose time before us in a car sadly grows shorter all the time.

Listed here is my spreadsheet which processes for me, my vision (a blend of longevity, skill, and consistent performance) of what my Greatest at Indy requires. Of course wins count heavily and their value is of greatest importance, however I reserve the last row (11) of my Greatest 33 for the three best drivers to never have won, at the expense of some 1-time winners but those lacking other major accomplishments in comparison.

Following the results of yesterday's Pole Day qualifying, Here are the current rankings: 


Currently, 7 Indy 500 winners are actively in play for the 101st Indy 500, and 9 active drivers rank in the Top 80 here. Most notably perhaps are the greats of this era who have steadily risen in this ranking and have certainly made their mark on the Speedway in the last 20 years. Helio, 
Dario, Iceman, TK, and Montoya, Solidly in the Top 25 all-time for me and all of which spent (except the 1999 race of Montoya) their Indy 500 careers racing against each other. Should Hunter-Reay add a second 500 to his legacy, he would join the other 5 in the Top 25 at Indy. That's a pretty strong representation of this era through the lens of statistics at Indy.

Not only are those greats closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, but there is an excellent crop of young talent ready to make their permanent mark as well.

Largely graduates from the assorted ladder series both domestic and foreign, the young guns enrich the overall talent, making the depth of fields quite impressive.
Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Newgarden, Hildebrand, Kimball, Munoz, Carpenter, Daly, and Marco Andretti, all came up through the modern ladder and their notable longevity is also a testament to the good work being done in developing talent for Indycar. Often drivers who arrive from another major series are looked at as outsiders, but I find they truly add nothing but spice to the simmering recipe of American Open-Wheel Racing and I'm grateful for their added flavor. Bourdais, Sato, Rossi, and now Alonso are excellent drivers and only add to the depth of greatness that we see today.

So while you sit back and take in the 101st Indy 500 this coming Sunday, don't forget that no matter the outcome, no matter who becomes the latest to add their likeness to the Borg-Warner, be they young or old, you're witnessing true racing titans of our era, comparable in many ways to the Golden Era of the 1960s and 70s. 

Appreciate it, because it sure doesn't come around very often.