Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Indycar Fan Adrift for 40 Days and 40 Nights

With an innate sense of purpose, I've refused to post anything regarding the firing of Randy Bernard. Most of you have already heard my initial viewpoint via Twitter anyway ("I'm DONE with constantly being taken for a ride down a dark alley by Indycar").

Now 40 days on, and hopefully with the shock of the dismissal largely over, I wanted to fully assess what is going on with Indycar before I open my yapper.

Those who have read much I've written know I've been at different times supportive, critical, realistic, fatalistic, fanatical, and possibly overall even-handed with regard to Indycar, but above all, one stance I've maintained consistently over the many years since 1995 - apologist.  'Apologist' is a noun defined by Merriam-Webster as "one who speaks or writes in defense of something." I'm finding that position unbearable anymore.

Beginning with the dawn of the IRL in 1995, my position as fan has always been under attack either from the opposing side of the open-wheel war, lacking TV coverage, from the burgeoning masses clamoring for the lower common denominator that is NASCAR, to the fractious within IRL itself. 

The history of the 'whys and wherefores' is out there to be read and re-read and evaluated for perspective and factual basis, ad nauseum, AND, unlike more recent fans, I can actually recall living it. The fact remains that since the mid-90s, Indycar has put the sport and especially the fan in consistently less tenable positions.

So, Indycar, here's about where I am at this point: 
(NOT counting the 15 years following the sport prior to 1994) During your current 18-year slide into oblivion, I've done the following; 

  • defended the sport, 
  • supported the sport, 
  • cajoled friends to watch on TV, 
  • cajoled friends and family to see a race, 
  • organized groups of 4-13 people to see 34 races, 
  • bought numerous race tickets, 
  • bought numerous camping passes, 
  • bought merchandise, food, books, hats, shirts, videos, games, flags, museum trips, 
  • made thousands of dollars in product sponsor purchases, 
  • taken bus rides, taken indycar rides, 
  • fan group memberships, bought paddock passes, 

and JUST when I begin to feel like maybe things were on the uptick and I can begin to think about not having to be an Apologist for the sport, you:
  • eliminate the most fan-focused CEO of the sport since Tony Hulman, 
  • replace Bernard with a prior, lackluster, and fan-indifferent CEO,
  • proclaim status quo for 2013,
  • promise to 'reach out to stakeholders' (i.e. everyone BUT the fans),
  • eliminate the West Coast office which had a conduit to all the media and marketing potential that is L.A.,
  • continued talk of 'paring down' budgets,
  • look at extending already bad TV deals beyond 2018,
  • lose IZOD as title sponsor prematurely,

And you're surprised that I am done taking your crap?!

You're goddamned right I am. Yes, I apparently am STILL mad as hell (truthfully since 1994), and I am NOT taking it anymore.

It is unfortunate that you, Indycar, are that unbelievably, stunningly, hopelessly out of touch with your most loyal, longest running, and engaged suckers ehr.. fans.

So you see, Indycar, it is not me who is letting you down, it is you. 

Don't worry about me though, Indycar, I'll be fine. I still have people I consider friends who understand where I'm coming from. I have old memories of how great it once was. I have tons of enjoyment to be found on old videos and YouTube and other sparkly internet places where we can recall a day when the product was a premium and the fan was well-served.

I won't be your apologist anymore.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012



As childish as it may sound, I'm opting for escapism as a method of coping with the ridiculousness that has already become the Indycar off-season... 

My form of escapism you ask? 

Statistics.  Historical statistics.

Hey, groan all you like but I'm finding more every day that the old axiom holds true - 'the older I get, the less I know'. Rather than suffer through the off-season lamenting why I never studied a foreign language in my many years of book-learnin', or feeling remorseful for not learning more 
from my mother about how to, from scratch, cook a great meal, I'm going to spend a considerable chunk of the Indycar doldrums with my nose in this:

"When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, 
take down this book and slowly read, and dream of the soft look 
your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep." -William Butler Yates

Ah yes... the smell of soy-ink-printed semi-glossy paper. Black-on-white typography with no graphics or visual representations. Just numbers... sweet, sweet numbers... arranged tightly in columns and rows... will I dare to follow that footnote which teasingly runs onto another page of... *gasp* more numbers and perhaps a brief snippet?  OOOooohhh tingly bits, why must you betray me so? (I always have wondered about the juxtaposition of accountancy and erotica so thanks for indulging me briefly).

As much as I think I know about Indycar, there is always something to discover in a sport with over 100 years of history.  I'm going treasure hunting this off-season and I aim to bring you nuggets of interest/trivia so stay tuned. Also, if you desire a tangible countdown method for the upcoming Indycar season, buy one of these and make a habit of crossing off the days until St. Pete 2013...

Here's a quick example:
Q: in 2013, Indycar will make its first return to Pocono Raceway since 1988 and attempt to smash the qualifying record speed of 205.724 set by whom in 1986?  

A: Michael Andretti

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Days of Reflection

Almost nothing of human construct has come without death some way attached. 

Not only is it the final stanza of our earthly existence in human form, but as a species, we are quite unique in that we also spend an incredible amount of time and energy creating opportunities and ways for this to occur 'unnaturally'. As if nature and life doesn't throw us enough curveballs, we humans seem quite good at devising ways to alleviate what I can only see as our existential boredom from times of relative calm.  Curious, that.

At any rate, I choose to see humans that die as moving on to another place, another existence, so those left behind (the living in this realm) are always forced to deal with the aftermath. Oftentimes we learn from that which has taken life. Sometimes we do not.

Of course Indycar fans around the globe will remember all too well where they were at this point of Earth's previous loop around the sun, and perhaps other events in their lives for which time seemingly warps while the brain tries to comprehend what has happened. I am no different. Along with many, many others, I posted on the internet about my thoughts and feelings in the aftermath. Now a full year beyond, I'm not sure I have any better feeling or understanding for those events than I did then.

If you recall or go review that post, you will read about another death that occurred locally to me and was also quite shocking and saddening to our relatively modest community of Goshen, Indiana. That murder continues to remain unsolved and the healing is still very much in process. Just yesterday I received the unexpected and quite unfair news that a relative of mine and her husband were now parents grieving from the death of their one-week old baby. My wife and kids are currently travelling to visit family and extended relation who experienced the loss of a husband and father in the events of 9/11/01.

It could seem that loss, darkness, negativity, and void 
are in more places than they are not. 

Perhaps that is so, but acknowledging that darkness should also serve to better allow us to recognize how fortunate we are to have moments of illumination, light, positiveness, substance, when it occurs.

Felix Baumgartner's recent ascent and descent (quite unexpectedly) also helped expand my sense of community. In a broader view I also share in the overall pain of struggles with people in every corner of the globe who suffer daily from starvation, violence, and disease.

So here it is again. In the last 24-48-72 hours (and seemingly daily in some form), I must pause and consider what of our earthly existence has true value. 
I've yet to be sufficiently convinced that anything beyond what we consider family or community should have our greatest attentions for those are the things we most miss when removed from us.

The fact that the internet allows non-localized operations and communities to exist and thrive is perhaps one of humankind's most interesting uses of the telecommunication invention. We can share in each others joy and pain. We can find new methods of thought and life. Today I share pain with those for which related DNA is most apparent, with numerous people for which I have an 'electronic community', and for everyone else who are restrained to the Earth of ours.

Perhaps what I take most from days like these - days of reflection - is that the world is, at the same time, both immense and limited. 

Enjoy your time here - it is limited. 
Be thankful for those you love and who love you - wish well to those who don't. 
Treat others how you would like to be treated - do not expect it in return.
Be true to yourself - be fair to others.

Basically, those who have gone before us might simply say...

"Live your life, it's the only one you get."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Now THAT'S a season.

As Indycar seasons go, that was one of the absolute best in recent history and as good as any I can remember. The finale was all anyone could ask for (save for maybe Will Power and Penske).

Seriously people, how could one have any beef at all with the ON-track product this year?   

Lists and bullet-points are to my thought process as Salt and Vinegar kettle chips (or perhaps a fine Belgian White Wheat ale) are to my taste buds (can't not partake in them) so any doubters may want to try to fairly consider the following items of 2012;
  • the aggregate depth of talent for the entire field, 
  • the aggregate competitiveness of teams throughout the field, 
  • the aggregate competitiveness of equipment through the field (Lotus motors being the only real glaring exception),
  • the quality of racing provided by the new equipment, rules, and officiating,
  • the variety of venues to test driver versatility, 
It's hard to quickly come up with another season that beats the one just finished.  Given the current auto-racing and economic climates, what more can we fans really and truly ask for?  Before a critic can list the requisite (and typically relatively minor) bitch-du-jour, consider these stats:

The 15 Races (5 ovals, 10 road/streets) of the 2012 season yielded:

  • 8 different winners
  • 5 different winning team owners
  • 5 different teams in the Top 10 of points
  • a first-year team owner in winner's circle
  • a Championship hanging in the balance until the completion of the final lap of the final race
  • a record-setting number of passes for the lead in the Indy 500 
  • an Indy 500 win in the balance among 17 leader-lap drivers going into the final lap

Feel free to do some requisite research by purchasing the combined Indycar records book.  I've already looked up three sample seasons from the Golden Era of CART/PPG Champions (1983, 1987, 1991, not including any USAC Championship Points listing). 

Here's the tale of the tape:

1983 - 13 races (7o, 6 r/s), 7 winners, 7 winning teams, 8 teams in Top 10.
          (can you imagine the uproar if we had just 13 races today?!)
1987 - 15 races (5o, 10 r/s), 7 winners, 6 winning teams, 9 teams in Top 10.
1991 - 17 races (5o, 12r/s), 7 winners, 5 winning teams, 6 teams in Top 10.

When you consider the ratio of different winning teams vs. number of teams scoring championship points for those years, 2012 had the highest (5:15, 1:3) weighed against 1983 (6:24), 1987 (5:23), 1991 (5:19), one could argue that 2012 had more evenly spread competition than during the heyday of the CART years. 

I know, I know... figures lie and liars figure, but I think it's safe to say there is reasonable evidence to support the feeling I've had these last several months that 2012 was as good as any season we've seen.

If anyone still has any doubts about the greatness of the 2012 season, I encourage them to spend some time early in this off-season, go back into the records, and get a more clear picture of the schedule and competition in those golden days. They just might find that today isn't as bad as they think... if they care enough to get an accurate picture that is.

If you haven't yet bought the combined records book, you may use the terrific and free resources of ChampCarStats.com or even search Wikipedia for solid CART/Indycar info.

This off-season might seem unusually long coming off the great race and season finish we had in Fontana. Increase your INI (Indycar Nerdery Index) and check out some history while we wait for 2013..

..should the Mayan apocalypse theory fail us, anyway. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gangnam Style

Indycar peeps need some Gangnam Style

If you don't know WTF I'm talking about, do not proceed until you open the above link in a new tab in your browser, then watch it... then watch it again... and then one more time to let it all soak in.

South Korean Dance Pop may not be the world's predominant form of music but, despite SoKo's relatively recent affluence, it is one that enjoys itself and doesn't take itself too seriously. How can it? Why should it? I think the above music video (remember those?) is a stellar example of showing how fun taking yourself not soooooo seriously can be.

Indycar is closing it's 2012 season this weekend and, when you consider the total competitiveness each race, and depth of the fields of all races, multiplied by the breadth of talent required to maintain competitiveness at the variety of venues, I contend that 2012 has been one of the greatest seasons Indycar has ever turned out. 

BUT, that's just my personal opinion.

Do I feel bad if no one outside of Indycar's 400,000 loyal followers sees it? I used to, but that feeling week in and week out slowly gnaws away at the enjoyment of it until you hit bone and then there's really nothing left to enjoy.

I'm not about to go on a rant bemoaning the whys or rail against the wherefores. It's been done ad nauseum and, at the end of the day, as a fan who chooses to consume the product or not, it doesn't matter. 

Why we (the greater Indycar fanbase/community) feel the need to be more widely accepted beyond our nice little table near the back of the cafeteria has grown quite tiresome, unhelpful, and more questionable by the day to me. 

If the model that currently exists is sustainable and even allows some room for modest growth, so be it and who the fuck cares beyond that?

400,000 Indycar loyalists worldwide means Indycar is a niche sport - simple as that. Indycar will be whatever it's going to be. People will love it or not. If you're enjoying Indycar, enjoy it to the maximum!  

Accept it.

Own it.

Enjoy it for what it is. 


Or not. 

That's Gangnam Style.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Alternate End-of-Race Options

Green. White. Checkered.

Three words which, among a vast majority of Indycar fandom, produce stomach convulsions so violent, you'd think RC and SunDrop just issued an ipecac flavor.

The thought of the Indycar higher-ups even considering this type of conjured, made-for-dopes, end to a top level racing series event is horrific enough, but as so often is the case, I wondered what it would be like to reverse my thought process and embrace this newfangled thinking. Maybe I too could come up with some alternate types of Indycar finishes of worth. Surely the racing gods are aware the earthbound, mortal NASCAR fans cannot fathom or appreciate the fates of a race-ending yellow. What effect would an Indianapolis 507.5 International Sweepstakes have on our sometimes-combined/sometimes not/demi-official Indycar records book? 

I came up with no less than three crazy ideas only a Granatelli could love...

Yellow. Red. Green. Checkered. (aka Qindao Fire Drill)
With 2 laps to go of all Indycar races, we throw the yellow as soon as the leader hits the Start/Finish line. Under control of the pace car before the first turn, we bring the field around the course and into their respective pit boxes, where the red flag is displayed. All cars stop, drivers unbuckle, exit the car, run around the car, get back into the car as quickly as possible. As soon as a driver is re-buckled, the crew re-fires the car and out of the pits to a green flag lap for the end of the race. Any incident on the said green lap which may cause a yellow flag to be thrown again, will result in the same process until we get a full green flag final lap. The winner is showered in victory lane with confetti thrown by the famous Rip Taylor. Only with such reverence are lasting traditions born.

Firestone Spin to Win
All races run to fit a scheduled TV window less 20 minutes when all cars return to their pits and the Firestone tire flip stage from Texas 2011 is highlighted on victory lane. Firehawk rapid-fire launches t-shirts into the crowd. IZOD Cameron approaches the stage and randomly selects from a group of wheel guns which are numbered and assigned to a correspondingly numbered wheel. She moves to the Firestone wheel wall and uses the guns on its matching wheel/lug nut. The TV audience, no doubt breath bated, watches as Cameron uses the gun and slowly removes the wheel which reveals a lap number on the wheel hub. The leader of the revealed lap number is your race winner. Made for TV! Wait'll Marty and Scott hear about this! They'll positively be slightly elevated above placid with excitement.
Pros - Firestone amortizes the cost of that wacky tire wall and more Cameron!
Cons - I don't really care to examine this side of the argument because.. CAMERON! 

The Brady Bunch
Leave it to Mike Brady to come up with such an equitable and efficient solution. He was an architect after all. Race is run in typical manner until the penultimate lap when a competition yellow is thrown and all cars not on the lead lap must pit, television coverage ceases immediately. Abridged from the season 5, episode 20 storyline of The Brady Bunch, the remaining cars follow the pace car from pit out. Orange cones with an egg on top for each of the remaining cars are set up across the start/finish line. To complete the final lap, the cars all come to a cone and stop as closely as possible without touching the cone or breaking the egg. Closest  measured nose to their orange cone is the winner. THE Orange Cone of Twitter fame will have exclusive rights to the tweet the finish to the world and Florence Henderson will serenade the victor with Queen's 'We are the Champions'.

Ridiculous? Perhaps. I contend they are ALL better than a green-white-checkered.

Leave your mark on the future of Indycar by commenting and vote now for your favorite! Suggest a great idea of your own! I promise to take all of these options directly to Indycar headquarters and deliver them directly to the hand of one Randall Bernard myself, for he is THAT accessible*.
(*While incredibly open and engaging with fans, he is not THAT accessible).

Friday, July 6, 2012

Indycar's Drama - Untapped Veins of Gold?

As you, my much-appreciated (and very select) readers may have noticed, this blog has taken a mid-summer's fortnight siesta and actually it appears a little break from the E85 ethanol fueled contrivances was just what the Dr. Jerry Punch ordered. I feel ready to open my eyes and enjoy the Indycar universe again... 

(but his demeanor and unwillingness to look his readers in the eye betrayed his statements of goodwill as a lie...)   DUHN-DUHN-DUUUUHHHHNNNNNNNN...


Was just reading a post from.. our good friend.. Mister.. Bill.. ZAAAHHHRRENNNN (aka the mighty pressdog), who has ongoing advice for the majority of kerfuffled blog and forum voices that cannot seem to ever find a common-sense middle-ground on matters relating to Indycar (Iowans are perhaps the most effective of midwesterners like that - common-sensical, middle-grounded). Even I, who purport to be 'Grounded' (hence the naming of this blog) admittedly get my raceday knickers twisted now and again (not in a good way). I even shake my head at myself when in a heated Indycar moment I can almost see the disappointed stare and hear the paternal words of Uncle pressdog chiding me from the ZOMGoodness reactions that I muster from time to time.

Then it hit me.

Perhaps the desire to reduce the drama associated with Indycar is the exact opposite thing we need. Perhaps to INCREASE the viability of said dramas, a'la Soap Operas, is a way to increase the total populous of eyeballs, thereby increasing numbers across the board (I can hear your shrieks and groans, but hear me out). Danica was a perhaps but an unintended experiment into capturing the fans of drama which, by most accepted accounts, garnered many thousands of new fans. Properly nurtured (aka exploited), these everyday dramas can be used for the expansion of the sport (the owners and drivers must be in on the act as well for this to work). I daresay the almighty NASCAR is already a fer-piece up the road from Indycar on this one, but not out of sight.

Racing as a 'true sport' in my view is for the most part, deceased. Much as the 'race for space' galvanized country, government, and tax revenue into the ever-escalating and literal heights for supremacy, there comes a point at which the economic Law of Diminishing Returns (I've spoke of before) will begin to fight back at the pure progress gained by the input of money (capital). Only by inputting exponentially more and more money will noticeable levels of progress be made while fewer and fewer participants will exist. CART much? 

Professional Wrestling, as another good-blogger-friend, Mark Wilkinson noted in his blog New Track Record, has long lost any semblance of its Olympic sport origins and become the testosterone-fueled, pyrotechnic offspring of gymnastics and the afternoon soap opera. Racing as a form of entertainment, he contends, rather than pure sport is what appears to currently flourish. I find it very hard to argue against his point.

Perhaps I should reframe my stance by borrowing a definition of 'soap opera'.Take this excerpt recapitulating the form of modern soap opera from the website of The Museum of Broadcast Communications
The "soap" in soap opera alluded to the sponsorship by 
manufacturers of household cleaning products; 
while "opera" suggested an ironic incongruity between the 
domestic narrative concerns of the daytime serial and
the most elevated of dramatic forms.
It isn't difficult to see the similarities between this description of soap operas and the existing Indycar or NASCAR as a form of soap racing entertainment. Both are some ways removed from the most elevated or purest of racing forms (for good reason I'd argue - cost in both life and resources). The drama? We've had quite a bit of it already just in these past 2 seasons haven't we?

Are we missing a larger audience for Indycar events by trying to extinguish the drama du jour or can Indycar gain previously unwatching eyeballs by showcasing the very interesting things going on over here and, oh by the way, they do this amazing stuff at over 200mph

Is Indycar the place where racing is the backstory is equally if not more important than the on-track outcome? 

I can't answer those questions, but I will pose them.

NASCAR supporters already shows a willingness to consider trading the science of racing for the art of entertainment when one of its larger event promoters is willing to publicly suggest scripted yellow flag periods. While largely scoffed at, I'm not so sure it isn't a bad idea for the NASCAR bunch. It's not much different than timeouts or periods or playclocks or shotclocks in most other popular American diversions when you look at it. It's all manufactured drama. It also implies that the original elements of the sport are inherently not good enough for the viewing public or they wouldn't have changed them, but I digress..

Ultimately, this thing, auto-racing, must become either science or art. Both avenues are expensive in their own right, but for Indycar to try this 'double-major' in such divergent fields will be impossible and the time to decide is yesterday.

Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 Milwaukee Indyfest and a Joule of an Idea

With the Milwaukee Indycar race being the final leg of our 12-day family summer vacation, you'll forgive me for not posting since just before the Indy 500 race weekend.So much has already transpired and been written by others since my last post for me to fathom another recap so I'll simply jump to the here and now.

In short, my first trip to the Milwaukee Mile was great. Not only did it cap a terrific extended family vacation, but I left quite satisfied at the ease we had in doing most everything in and about the track. Luck perhaps, but I feel more than comfortable considering the trip again for 2013. Also, I found the Milwaukee Indyfest plan and execution quite good for the venue and would encourage them to adopt the same 'event-based' approach in the future. With kids, we took advantage of the midway and family fun zone which added much value for us in addition to the racing event itself. Full marks for Andretti and his team for producing an enjoyable event around the race.  

I have noted in the past on this blog that outside of the Indy 500, Indycar must create an 'event' at each stop to draw more than just adults interested solely in Indycar racing or  relatively uninterested persons there because a corporation doles out the free tickets and swag. Andretti Sports Marketing did a terrific job on an abbreviated timeframe in my opinion.

And now, for what may be the best little gem I found during the Indyfest... The Joule

I am the first to admit that any sort of engineer I am not, but also in previous posts here and here, I contend the series needs to consider developing its platform around propulsion system competition. In light of the recent victory by a 'hybrid' engine at the 24 hours of LeMans, efficient propulsion systems will only continue to become a larger factor in passenger car decision-making. If Indycar can become a showcase for a variety of propulsion systems and hybrids of those with an emphasis on efficient power, it can entrench itself in the automotive racing landscape of the future.

With that in mind, I was struck by a non-descript booth in the Fan Village of the Milwaukee Indyfest. Hosted by the Milwaukee School of Engineering, this group displayed an open-wheeled vehicle used in a recent competition utilizing battery electric and internal combustion motors to propel their vehicle on (what I recall in a brief conversation as, but don't quote me) 20 megajoules of energy equivalent over a 22km street course. First team to cross the finish line with the given amount of energy available, wins. 

Apparently the Joule is the measure for multiple forms of energy (combustibles, electric, etc.) I've been longing to discover as a means of having an equivalent measure of energy to apply to multiple forms of racing propulsion. The megajoules used in the above contest was described to me as the equivalent of energy that would be provided (if used entirely as gasoline) by approximately one-eighth gallon of standard 87-octane automobile fuel in an internal combustion system to go 13 miles (roughly 104 mpg) or taken as all-electric power would equate to approximately 5.5 kilowatt hours. The MSOE car utilized both battery electric motors and a small internal combustion motor to propel their vehicle.

I was fascinated by the possibilities this type of racing could present and really believe it is the wave of the future which should be embraced as quickly as possible. Does it need to be the primary racing form for Indycar now? Not initially, but could be addressed as an experimental class that races concurrently at several of Indycar's variety of venues, with the future possibilities to be explored from there. 

Ultimately, I see the continued challenge to develop the most efficient of multiple forms of propulsion as what will become the prime focus for manufacturers and producers of mobility vehicles. Where brute speed was once king, things eventually changed and the future almost certainly holds the continued refinement of efficient power. The DeltaWing begins to scratch the surface from the physical load side of the equation. The propulsion system is the other.

I would love nothing more than for Indycar to become that major player in developing or becoming the series that allows these companies to showcase the newest in propulsion technology. 

I also hope I (or at least my kids) will be around to see it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Qualification Recap/Race Predictions - 2012

That was perhaps the least suspenseful Bump Day in recent history and maybe of all time. Oh welps, it was a beeyootiful weekend and I finally got to see the new cars in person. I must agree with nearly all accounts of them looking better in person than on TV. I'm also looking forward to the first laps in 500 race conditions with the new chassis. 

When comparing my previous post's predictions with the actual outcomes, I'm delighted to announce a tripling of accuracy from a year ago by correctly predicting 3 of the 33 drivers in their qualified position. Messrs Power, Bell, and Cunningham all spot-frickin'-on! Whoopty-do. Charlie Kimball's possible shuffle to the back of the field pending the outcome of repairs to the primary 83, however, could also shuffle my accuracy.  Yes, a whopping .0909 accuracy rating for me gives me the slightest hope for predicting the winner.

Now excitement shifts into top gear, for raceday is nearly upon us and I for one cannot wait to see what this ol' Speedway is going to give us this year... Last year's race prediction wasn't far off (if you squint) and given the fact that something out-of-the-already-special norm ALWAYS happens on years that end with 2, 6, or 7, I again foresee this race being one for the ages...

"Are you serious?", you ask. "You can't just have AH-MAZING every year!" 
Fair enough, but tradition and history have their way perhaps nowhere else more than at IMS, sooooo...

Ever the glutton for punishment, I'm not gonna just pick a winner, but a Top 10.

Penske's triple threat will prove to be too much for the rest of the field to handle this day and the continent of Australia erupts in wild celebration as an Aussie finally gets his mug welded to the Borg-Warner Trophy. 

Greg Norman and Vern Schuppan slug a beer and weep with the most bittersweet joy you can imagine. 

Willy P to send OZs into raptures
However, it shan't be pole-sitter Briscoe but Will Power winning his first 500 and Roger Penske's 273rd Indy 500. "Not a real surprise", you say? How about this, he comes from a lap down due to an early race Pit Road penalty (yet again), recovers and covers the field with the most superb and determined drives in the 2nd half of the race since Jaques Villenueve in 1995. It will also come at the expense of dominant teammate Castroneves stumbling late (tripped up by the ever-fickle racing gods perhaps), with his 4th win all but assured.

Marco Andretti 2nd (again), Dixon finishes 3rd, Hunter-Reay 4th, Bell 5th, Briscoe 6th, Kanaan 7th, Franchitti 8th, Rahal 9th, and Newgarden takes 10th and Rookie-of-the-Year voting.  

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  Think I'm nuts and want to tell me so?  Please do. There's an old joke that goes something like... "I can tell you're crazy because, in those shorts you're wearing, I can clearly see your...  ANNNYWAYYYY, Leave a comment below.

Enjoy your race weekend (I know I plan to), and we'll chat again on the other side of this 96th Indianapolis 500!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Indianapolis 500 Gettin' Serious Time - 2012 (aka Cut-and-Paste Edition)

The rapidly approaching weekend means one thing and one thing only to me.  Gone are concerns for the condition of my lawn or the tidyness of my backyard from kids' toys or the amount of items crossed of my 'to do' list at home... it's qualifying weekend at Indy.

In the past, I've been tuned to some device to hear the qualifying events as they occur. This year, my family and I will attend Pole Day and despite 25 races over 33 years, I'm getting quite excited as I type. Banzai runs for myself and for all the drivers at IMS tomorrow. I plan to also catch as many of you as possible while I'm there.

Having said that, it is now time to make my qualifying predictions, in order, as I've done the previous two years. As we know there are precisely 33 entrants with motors that have tested. Will there even be any bumping? Who knows - it's Indy and it's May and nothing is over until it's over. 

I will guarantee you one thing; this list will be wrong, but such is the life of a 'seer of sooth, sayer of all'.

The PEAK Performance Polesitter: A Sandbaggers Delight - I'm going away from the Fast Friday beasts of Andretti Autosport and going with the suspiciously quiet Penske stable.  By a whisker this year for the pole... Helio Castroneves.
Pole Speed: 227.383

The Top 9: 
Row 1 - Castroneves, Andretti, Dixon, 
Row 2 - Hunter-Reay, Power, Hinchcliffe
Row 3 - Franchitti, Hildebrand, Briscoe

Mid-table Obscurity (18):
Row 4 - Kanaan, Beatriz, Newgarden
Row 5 - Carpenter, Rahal, Kimball
Row 6 - Viso, Sato, Saavedra,
Row 7 - Conway, Bell,Wilson, 
Row 8 - Jakes, Clauson, Pagenaud, 
Row 9 - Tagliani, Cunningham, Barrichello 

Danger Drives (6):
Row 10 - Servia, Jourdain, Bourdais, 
Row 11 - Legge, Alesi, DeSilvestro

____________ Bump Line _______________
Just missing out on this year's fun will be...
Only those who haven't driven to date.

I make these predictions just minutes after the conclusion of Fast Friday practice and prior to the Pole Day Qualifying draw. As always my caveat for predictions is that any mid-table or lower driver forced into a backup car (due to practice crash or what-have-you, will likely move them down a group. In the immortal words of 80s rockers Asia, only time will tell...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

DZ's Davidsonian-Rambling Trip Memories... 2004 - Act III: Fin.

...I used every bit of personal soft good to insulate my head from sound, returning to whatever form of rest I could muster...

The next sound I remember hearing was the pitter of a merciful light rain on the tent. I noticed a more balmy temperature as well and settled my mind back to sleep. Waking with the traditional BOOM of the 5am gate-opening shells, we also continued to relax as the rain was also pittering away. I had warned the lads of the impending alarm and we lounged further into the AM.

Once I noted a rather significant presence of daylight, I was surprised to find we had slept to  just a tick before 9AM.  9AM??!! Recognizing the rain had stopped, I bolted up and out of the tent, fearing we were about to need a mad dash just to make it through Gate 6 and into our seats, likely missing much of the beloved pomp and circumstance.

Hearing via the WIBC radio coverage that the morning track schedule was delayed approximately 2 hours settled me into thinking about getting to some breakfast, water, and Acetaminophen into the system pronto. The others rose as well and quickly we fired up the mini gas-grill and polished off a hearty breakfast, secured the belongings and got ready for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. 

Short of recapping the race, it was certainly memorable and the lads got to see a classic race start build-up. Enthusiasm was short-lived however as a shower came again around Lap 27 and the 2-hour red flag seriously hampered the early momentum. Fortunately, we had PLENTY of beer for just such an occasion. Reliving the previous day' events and we were happy to have the racing resume with Buddy Rice, Sam Hornish, and Dan Wheldon all hanging the top 3, but a crash and yellow and impending pits stops to be made for fuel, another ominous-looking storm approaching made the final strategies quite frantic. Seemingly there were lead changes every lap from 165 on and the thrill of the show was equaled only by the doom-like thrill of weather we faced to the west.

Buddy Rice was leading when heavy rains and lightning came crashing down for the final time of the race and the leader was declared the winner. Oh, "and by the way", it came across the PA system, "please DEPART THE STANDS IMMEDIATELY - THERE ARE TORNADOES IN THE AREA!" Ever-closer lightning strikes made us scurry from the aluminum Pit Road Terrace stands and into a concrete souvenir garage for safety. Thankfully the weather radar was on the TV but it didn't give us a very favorble overview. We passed another hour buying IMS knick-knacks for the loved ones at home (assuming we'd get to see them again), and trying to determine our next move.

The rain let up slightly and lightning seemed to subside. Some reports placed tornadoes both south and west of the Speedway area.  We decided to make our dash from the concrete cover, get wet perhaps, and dash across Georgetown into our Lot 2 confines to break down camp before doomsday struck. We were teased with a decent let-up of rain and headed for camp. About three-quarters of the way back into our run to camp, we could see the wall of rain approaching from the southwest... Time was most certainly our enemy.

The wisdom of the apparent early departure of the Wisconsin boys seemed more evident.  The air cooled as we knocked down soaked camp chairs, and began loading the van. The sweet smell of rain signaled the next wave approaching and we began to thrash violently to get the tents back to packed. Green-gray clouds enveloped us on all sides.  We knew we were losing this race so the mashing and tossing in of anything remaining was greeted with large and very cold drops, pelting us as we ambled into the van and began our navigation away from Lot 2 and hopefully away from danger.

Clearing IMS property, we asked a police officer a recommendation for evading possible tornadoes with surprisingly little assistance. We made a path to the north and west which appeared the next clearest direction, finally winding through neighborhoods to Lafayette Road area and out to 465. We cleared the Marion county North line and were felt as sense of comfort as the sky looked slightly better to the north.  Only as far as Kokomo did we make it before the trailing wall of rain hit us again and we parked at the Hardee's for some shelter and food (and mainly for our driver whose white knuckles were evident for all to see). 

We set out North again with a much clearer vision behind and west of us. The passengers watched in disbelief as the east and south view still contained some very angry-looking skies. We later found out we had missed the Indy tornadoes by being a bit north of the danger but, passed only minutes behind the ones which hit east of Noblesville.  By stopping in Kokomo, we also missed driving right into the second wave that bounced around Lafayette and again hit near Peru, Indiana, approximately 20 minutes north of where we stopped.  Here are the tornado tracks of that day: 

Needless to say we had a few beers remaining and those of us not driving all imbibed a 'bracer' for our final leg home. Our exit to Indiana 24 East found no lights at all (highway or otherwise) in Peru, scattered chunks of fiberglass insulation and siding debris in areas. We all felt as if we just missed something that would've ruined our trip in a major way. Darkness and more reasonable calm settled in the final hour's drive home and we were all thankful to arrive back home again in Goshen, Indiana, tired, thrilled, and a bit frazzled. Our mission to retrieve all personal effects and gear was graciously delayed to Monday. 

I don't recall getting into bed that night. I don't recall what I said to my wife or family either. As much as I wanted to watch the replay of the race, my mind and body let slip that day, May 30, 2004, with great memories and energy spent. 

I vowed to be content with the future decision these guys may make if they either never-ever wanted to try that trip again or if they dared to once again go with me to the 500.

They most certainly did.

Monday, May 14, 2012

DZ's Davidsonian-Rambling Trip Memories... 2004 - Part Deux.

...joy turned to shock as we discovered.. the beer's nearly ALL GONE!!

Suddenly everything became difficult. Indecision reigned. The heat haze of 90-degree, May 29, seemed to choke our beer and meat-addled brains' ability to comprehend reality. The steamy grass and gravel confines of Lot 2 had suddenly become a desperate place tinged with the smell of panic. Our ranks constricted into a more defensive posture. Even the slightest of issues so easily dispatched just minutes earlier, became cause for alarm. Gravel dust and sweat were mating with abandon on my skin. There are GRASS BLADES AND DIRT IN THE ICE SLURRY!! 

This trip will NOT end like this. We have the entire Indianapolis-fuckin'-500 tomorrow. The time to overcome obstacles was now. First up, each man took a quick inventory of beverages consumed. Preliminary calculations went beyond initial comprehension. In times like this it's almost as if the brain understands it is no longer functioning at 100 percent, furiously ignores the messages and signals from the most-affected area, and allows for basic logic and math calculations to be performed. 

Through some well-thought-out teamwork, we were able to arrange a party for supplies.  When they returned with two cases to last the remaining 20 hours, we were surprised with the extended bonus of cheap cigars and magazines whose theme seemed to revolve around a poorly-lit, yet vaguely art-like appreciation for the female form, complete with pages and pages of telecommunication ads, all in a foreign language that appeared to be Russian. I took this as a sign that things would be OK. For what remained of the now-scant daylight hours, we set about a final straightening of the camp site.

A sense of order restored, we settled back into our chairs, reconvening around our re-stocked cooler and makeshift soft-sided pictorial gallery.  We offered thanks for the fresh beer and a return to a more serene, seated conversation as our Wisconsin neighbors set about foraging for local food and investigating the rising nightlife on Georgetown Road.

Those moments, huddled as a small group far away from the trials and tribulations of everyday life, I believe gave us a better appreciation for the value of our adventure, comradeship, and even our friendships. Daylight and activity waned. Consumer-level fireworks popped and sparkled in the distance.  Music from other camps wafted as we noticed the campground nearing capacity. Sights were now beginning to affix on the remaining 20 hours that lay ahead.

Drinking light lagers continuously for extended periods of time prior to age 40 isn't terribly difficult nor is very complicated. It is almost cleansing in fact. It was easy for us to see why, as men age, they seem to increasingly treasure times like these - they afford us a respite and time for reflection. My race rookies and I even indulged in some poor-tasting cigars, salty snacks, and Indy 500 race conversationAs 1am beckoned and final arrangements made for tent-sleep, we all also settled the final tabs with our bladders and retreated to our modest nylon shelters, satisfied that we sucked the marrow of that Saturday with appropriate vigor. 

Regardless of how much we choose to believe the illusion of how evolved or civilized we are, the body and brain has it's millenia-old systems of well-groomed self-preservation if we dare to listen. 

I find mine becomes apparent only when asleep. This system was activated with a rustling of grass and snickers that were much too close to our defensively-placed tents near the vehicle and back of our lot. Ears pricked up and alerted all senses to an ominous shadow on the tent's far side, but it was already too late. Our playful neighbors had pulled a trump card from their camper and decided that we would be the victims. 

At approximately 3:11am local Indiana time, we were quite rudely awakened to a standard-issue crowd bullhorn just 12 inches from our tent and one of the Wisconsin boys singing some currently popular song and also imploring us to come out and play some more. We all remained motionless and through visual communication realized we had been had. Our first strategy was to ignore it and play 'possum even though no person would ever assume sleep could be maintained though a bullhorn's call. The strategy worked for a couple of minutes but the bullhorn was then set on the tent sidewall and the taunt continued.

At approximately 3:14am local time, nearby female voices giggling with our neighbor boys implored them to stop as the joke was clearly over and now were only antagonizing us. The one of us closest to that tent wall only later admitted it was only through both great fatigue and restraint that he didn't violently send the bullhorn back through the jokester's incisors and canines...

An uneasy calm returned to camp as the voices again trailed away whether back into the night or just into the camper, I don't know. Knowing the day's physical expenditure and requirements of the next day, I used every bit of personal soft good to insulate my head from sound, returning to whatever form of rest I could muster...

Friday, May 11, 2012

DZ's Davidsonian-Rambling 500 Trip Memories... 2004: A New Beginning

For each of the estimated 375,000 race visitors who descend upon Speedway, Indiana any given Memorial Day weekend, I would conservatively estimate there MUST be no less than 5 stories to tell. When you extrapolate that, Rainman, you get 1 million, 875 thousand some odd stories... EVERY YEAR. 

Granted at least half of those fall into the 'too disturbing to recall/brain bleach' category or tied to the 'sworn to secrecy' pact, never to reach beyond that inner circle of mind-altered/beer-infused/traumatic-event bonded few who witnessed it. It's akin to being my generation's D-Day, storming the flatlands of central Indiana and invading the fortress known as IMS. Some stories that emerge from an event as such must remain sacred, others may be told. God, I love the 500.

But I digress. This recollection comes from the minority of stories which actually can be told publicly, and from a year which I introduced my current generation of friends to the glories of the Indy 500 - 2004.

Firstly, a slight bit of background I've not yet discussed on this blog...
...so in 2004, and looking for a fresh, more enthusiastic bunch along, it was decided that 3 neighbor/husband/recent-father/friends (and newly minted poker buddies) with reserved seats and a two-day tent camping pass in Lot 2, would head to Indy at dawn on Saturday of the 2004 race.

A minivan replete with two tents, camp chairs, basic charcoal grilling gear, a (unbeknownst to me) huge Jack Stack Freight House Deluxe package of glorious (overnighted on dry ice) barbequed meats and trimmings, modest personal effects, and two large coolers filled with four cases of beer and ice. Certainly more than enough for 4 chaps for 36 hours or so...

...OR SO we thought.

I waited patiently for the a quieter moment at the first of seven county lines we'd cross during our three-hour drive to reach into my sixer-cooler and crack a beer. I did it with no warning or celebration, more just to signal intent for this day. Although I had broken beer with these guys before, this would be our first road trip without spouses or kids or much of any care at all...  >PSSHHhhrrrrrrrTK< ...the silence for the following seconds seemed a bit too long for my liking and was actually concerned that I had maybe overshot my targeted enthusiasm.  Silence was broken when the question came.

"Did you just crack a beer?"   ...  "Yes."   ...   "Alright then, gimme one too."

I suspected right then we had the makings of a winner. Ever-cautiously though, I explained it away by stating that my calculations had us back home in less than 36 hours remaining so every moment needed to be savored. It was agreed. The minivan's cruise control received a bumping-up of 4 mph. Radars be damned.

Six counties later, upon our arrival to Lot 2, we were eyeballed at the gate, asked to affix the camp sticker to the glass of the minivan, and directed to the lowest, muddiest spot to tent camp in the whole of the place. We humbly asked, as tent-campers, if we can be assigned a replacement spot. DENIED by our yellow-clad lot official. This amateur geologist assured us it would be dry before evening. The entire camp lot was half-empty. Rather than argue, we allowed this over-zealous ATV-jockey to hastily depart and we then found a much more suitable locale on our own beside a very demure and friendly-appearing couple with a towable camper in a small clearing of about five spaces. They were nice enough and quite sympathetic to our original placement story.

Our enthusiasm grew as the sun and temperature rose ever-higher that day. After the essential tents and grill were set, a ring of four camp chairs surrounding a large blue and white cooler full of beer was established in the direct sunlight of this latest of May Saturdays. Much commiserating, laughing, and ever-deepening pond of empty aluminum cans later, our serenity was broken again by the now harried yellow-clad jockey directing a 1-800-RENT-RVS camper to park beside us, again with nothing for tens of yards around. 

After The Wizard of Lot sped off again, and seeing the relative proximity of park and our washers and cornhole pitches, the driver came around and offered us the deal of the weekend - in exchange for their moving a half space away from us, we would share the wasted space between us (nearly a full slot) for all of our mirth and merriment. "DEAL!", I said to Mike from Wisconsin. Rapidly all of our gear became wider as did our neighborly stature. The camper, now parked with a sense of permanence, spat out four fresh-faced college-age lads, the fourth of whom was of larger stature than the others. His mission was clear - with beer bong in hand and already loaded, he ambled down the steps, set his feet to the ground, almost Armstrong-like, and hoisted the classic funnel tube engulfing the golden lager in three seconds. Cheers erupted. Spirits soared.

Duly impressed and eager to foster positive relations, we offered this phalanx of clean, cargo-shorted chaps some welcoming beers and a good-natured tone was struck. Several beers later however the tone turned to concern as the large fellow had surprisingly met his fill already and, nearly in the same spot as his triumphant bong, he stood erect and blew a foamy gusher of liquid beer-puke forward with a volume and force I'd not seen before. Much like a fireworks show, we all 'OOOHHed' and 'AAAHHed'. Once evacuated, he retreated into the camper only to emerge minutes later clean, composed, and with a fresh polo of new pastel color tucked into his khaki shorts. Unwavering, he grabbed a fresh beer, opened the top and drank it like the previous 4 minutes never happened. Cheering and laughs ensued.  While never having been formally introduced, I proclaimed him, for our the extent of the weekend, to be known as Derrick Geyser. 

More sporting skills were made evident and our very own collegiate basketball player dazzled the Dairyland visitors with repeated washers bullseyes using a basketball shot technique instead of the traditional underhand. Other fun was had and I even was so bold as to call a 2:00 minute penalty on the visitors for misconduct in which the violator spent the time in a not-so-very-large RV storage bin. More laughs and his mates agreed, so he served his time. Fair play is fair play and I credit him with acceptance of that call. As the games wound down our joy turned to shock then as we discovered... the beer's nearly ALL GONE!!