Tuesday, May 29, 2018

102nd Indianapolis 500 Wrap-up

The roar is over, but what a roar it was! Sunday's 102nd Indy 500 was one of the hottest races on record, but from the SW Vista it was all worth it as we were entertained by another great show. While I will admit it wasn't as "thrilling" as the last several, I will never see a race in person and complain about it being "boring".

If you go to watch racing in person and find it boring at any level, you probably can't be helped. Anyway, as in the past, let's run through the Top 10 finishers and other notable topics.

Winner -- Will Power: Anyone who has followed the series for any length of time knew this day would come. Power has consistently been one of the best driver in IndyCar for close to a decade, and being employed by Penske Racing is a big help too. Power's experience at Indy has always been a bit mixed. Since 2009 he's always started in the top nine, and this year marked the fourth time he has started on the front row. Yet, before 2018 he'd only recorded two Top 5 finishes. Still, he's always been fast and had a strong car, it just hadn't been his "day" before Sunday.

Runner-up -- Ed Carpenter: Like Power, Carpenter has had a weird relationship with the Speedway. He's a three-time polesitter of course, and one of the bravest guys out there, but the results haven't always been stellar. In fact, his only Top 5 finish came in 2008 and he hadn't recorded a Top 10 in the last eight races. He showed he had come to play when he took the lead at the drop of the green flag and led the first 30 laps, part of the race-high 65 laps he led on the day. Ed's a guy you think will have his day too, but on Sunday Power was just faster down the stretch.

Third place -- Scott Dixon: Dixon is one of the most consistent drivers in 500 history, and he used a little bit of fuel saving magic to pull off his seventh Top 5 finish. Dixon pitted several laps earlier than the leaders to get more track time, and while several other drivers who did the same thing had to come in for fuel in the closing laps, he was able to stretch his fuel to the finish.

Fourth place -- Alexander Rossi: Easily the most entertaining driver in the field Sunday, Rossi charged from his 32nd starting position to his second Top 5 in three races. What was even more impressive is there was no off-strategy moves involved, the 2016 champ simply raced his way through the field. His outside moves on restarts will be talked about by fans for a long, long time.

Fifth place -- Ryan Hunter-Reay: Since winning the 500 in 2014, race day hadn't been very kind to RHR before Sunday. Over the last three years he had led laps by eventually finished P15, P24 and P27, dropping out of the race last year when his engine let go with 150 miles remaining. He's always a threat at Indy, just got a little bit of luck to go with it this year.

Sixth place -- Simon Pagenaud: Simon was really, really quiet Sunday, as his run was solid if not spectacular. Still, he ended up with a career-best finish, topping his eighth-place effort in 2013.

Seventh place -- Carlos Munoz: I don't know what it is, but Indy just brings out the best in this guy. Well, I do know because it fits his aggressive driving style, but he's just one of those guys that got comfortable very quickly and knows the fast way around. In his six races, he completed all 1,200 laps of competition, five total Top 10 finishes. Though it's unfortunate he probably won't sit in an IndyCar again this season, he's always a good bet to find a seat for the 500.

Eighth place -- Josef Newgarden: Honestly, I'm a bit disappointed in Newgarden's finish. He was fast all month and while he did lead three laps Sunday, you just never heard his name called the rest of the day. It's kind of strange to think that in his Indy 500 career, he's led a total of just 17 laps and one Top 5 finish.

Ninth place -- Robert Wickens: This year's Rookie of the Year has just been so impressive. His finish Sunday was more of a workman-like effort as opposed to much excitement, but it was a good start to his 500 career. After watching him finish second and Phoenix, it seemed like a good run at Indy might be in the cards. I also want to give props to my friend Jeff Campbell, who is a part of Wicken's crew.

Tenth place -- Graham Rahal: Rahal may have been the second-most exciting driver in the field behind Rossi Sunday as he improved 20 spots from his 30th starting position. It's kind of surprising to discover that this was just his third Top 10 finish in 11 races.

15th place -- Stefan Wilson: To be honest, when Wilson moved to the point on the Lap 193 restart, there was a good part of me hoping that somehow he would make it to the finish and win the race. He drove a great race and is proof of good things happening to good people.

24th place -- Jay Howard: I was really excited when I discovered my John Cummiskey Racing boss was part of Howard's crew, so I was watching that car with a lot of interest. They didn't have an easy day, as John mentioned to me in a text after the race, but at the flying of the checkered flag the car came home running and in one piece, which isn't bad either.

27th place -- Helio Castroneves: Prior to his crash on the Lap 145 restart, I thought Helio looked great. He was almost always above the white line in Turn 1 (pretty much everyone else was down to the grass), and was consistently in the Top 5 all day long. I know he started lobbying for a 2019 ride as soon as he got out of his car, and given how he is still competitive he should get that chance.

30th place -- Danica Patrick: I could probably write a couple of blog posts about how I feel about Danica, because I have a lot of conflicting viewpoints about her. Now that her career is over, looking back I would've liked to have seen how Danica would have done if racing were her passion.

Of course I don't know her personally, but I've always thought that she looked at racing as a job, and there is nothing wrong with that. Racing made her a lot of money and it opened up a lot of doors that helped her build a brand that made her very, very rich.

She had talent, you don't get to where she was without it. However, I don't think we ever saw a person that lived and breathed racing, that wanted to be successful at racing like her life depended on it. That person would have been just as successful off the track as on, that person would have built a true legacy than just lasting in the sport longer than the women that had come before her.

I doubt we will see her at a racetrack much after this. She is moving on with her life, and that's her right. But when I look back at her career I see a lot of wasted talent and opportunity. Racing with passion is high art, she just never seemed interested in it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Bump Day Thoughts

The return of Bump Day was a little more interesting than we thought, wasn't it?

When the 34th and 35th entries were announced a couple of months ago, making bumping possible for the first time in a while, I wasn't all that enthused. I thought it would just be a couple of one-off or back-marker cars going at it at the end, and when the day was over it would all be pretty much a ho-hum affair.

I'm not saying that to demean any of the drivers or teams that put everything on the line yesterday. If there were 35 entries a year ago, I would've been in the thick of Bump Day as part of Buddy Lazier's team. I know how hard everyone works to get a car onto the track, I just didn't think Bump Day would be the excitement needle-mover a lot of other people thought it would be.

In quick summary, I was wrong. When 5 p.m. rolled around Saturday and things had shaken out, we had three of the most popular drivers in IndyCar fighting it out for two spots.

Yep. Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann were our bumping candidates. Amazing.

Conor later put himself solid in the field with an incredibly ballsy run, and then there were two.

High drama ensued. Pippa couldn't find speed, Hinch went out and had to come right back in due to a vibration, and Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal added to the fray when they decided to run back out to try and improve their times.

When 5:50 rolled around, Pippa was on her final run and Hinch was left sitting next in line. We all know how it ended up.

Mercy.

Like all of you, I was pretty gutted by the end result, but it was also some of the most thrilling theater I've seen at Indy qualifying in a long time. This was 1995-type stuff. You know, the year Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi didn't make the field.

My stomach hurt during those final 30 minutes, and afterwards I needed to decompress a little bit. It was that incredible.

It was everything all of us had waited for, and what we had wanted. Bumping was back!

The problem is, this is 2018. Thanks to social media, no one goes quietly in 2018. While Pippa and Hinch handled themselves with as much grace as possible given the circumstances, the rest of the racing world melted down.

Indy Star racing writer Jim Ayello called it a "mess". Whatever, dude. Turn your tape recorder off.

Other people decried the fact that qualifying ended at 5:50 instead of its "traditional" 6 p.m. Forget the fact that 5:50 had been the finishing time since at least 2014. Others blamed Rossi and Rahal for going out and burning time with their futile efforts. And finally, people blamed Mann for repeatedly going out when it was clear she didn't have the speed to bump James Davison.

People, it's time to give this all a rest. While you may not agree with the end result, it was all done fair and square and within the rules.

I'm going to sound like a soon-to-be-49-year-old man yelling at a cloud, but one thing I dislike about a current trend in our society is that if the outcome isn't what you wanted it to be, something wasn't "fair" or that rules need to be changed.

I know I'm a traditionalist when I say this, but racing is still a competition. Somehow over the years we were given the impression that it was entertainment, which is part of the package of course. But in the end, it's people competing with one another.

The end result should be that we as fans are entertained, but the rules shouldn't be shaped in a way to fit it to exactly what we want it to be. I know I'm in the minority here, but it's not about us! We go to races to be entertained, but at its core we are just people showing up to watch other people compete.

That's sports!

The drivers and teams went into the day knowing what the rules were, and those rules were followed with integrity. As a result, we should accept the outcome. The two participants most affected are somehow able to do that, why aren't we?

It makes me think back to the 2000 Super Bowl, when Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped The Titans' Kevin Dyson one yard short of the end zone on the game's final play.

I didn't hear any outcry that the Rams should have gotten one more play, I didn't hear people complaining that a football game is 60 minutes long, or that the rules needed to be changed to "fix" it for next year. Time ran out, the game ended. Rams win.

That's exactly what happened yesterday. Time ran out. While the delays for rain didn't help matters, the fact is that the rules stated and end time to qualifying, and when time was up we had our 33 qualifiers. If you didn't want to be one of the two cars left on the outside looking in, the remedy was simple.

Go faster.

I'm going to be honest, I didn't like the end result. Hinch is one of my favorite drivers, and I know Pippa personally and know the passion she has for the 500. I'm gutted for them. It will be hard to watch the race next week if they aren't in the field.

I imagine business decisions will be made and one -- or both -- of them will be racing next Sunday. Even if that doesn't happen, and even if they are two of my favorite drivers, I still accept what happened yesterday, because that's competition.

I get the idea that it's not 1995 and sponsorship money is harder to come by, but that isn't any reason to change the rules. It's not a reason to expand the field, and it isn't a reason to lock in all of the full-time entries.

It's competition, and at the top levels of professional competition, it's hard. I've seen that firsthand following professional baseball for the last 18 years. It's so hard.

Then again, it's supposed to be. If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the greatest track in the world, and the Indianapolis 500 is the fastest and most prestigious race in the world, it should be the hardest thing these drivers have ever done.

It should be hard to go 230 mph, it should be hard to qualify, and the hardest thing should be to win the race. There should be winners, and there should be losers. The people who participate in this sport aren't 12-year-old kids, and they shouldn't be treated that way.

What happened yesterday didn't create a "mess". What happened yesterday was competition. The "mess" would occur if IndyCar changed the rules and let 35 cars run, or made other rule changes to accommodate the bumped drivers.

No, yesterday wasn't a "mess". It was crazy, it was dramatic, and it was everything good about sports and competition.

On other words, it was perfect.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Color Me Shocked!

No, not really.

It was confirmed today that Danica Patrick has decided to retire from racing full-time and only run two races in 2018, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. It seems that at age 36 that it might be a little soon to be walking away from racing, but with no significant ride opportunities on the horizon, it's not really a bad time, either.

It's a little weird to think about Danica walking away from the sport at age 36, but at the same time, when you look at the life she leads, it's not really that surprising. She has a lot of off-track ventures that she seems happy to be involved in, like her cookbooks, clothing line, fitness and philanthropy, and those will keep her busy -- and provide her with a lot of income -- for years to come.

Plus, it wouldn't surprise me if she and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. decide to start a family in the next year or so. For a woman who races, that has to really be a tough decision. First, because it keeps them out of the car for a significant amount of time, and second, because once the baby comes, do they really want to get back into a car again? Sarah Fisher is a good example of that, once she started her family in 2011, she took her life in another direction.

If this is indeed the end of the road for Danica, it will close out one of the more polarizing careers in racing history. She was definitely a topic of conversation, and most people had an opinion, usually a very strong one.

Some people saw Danica as a trailblazer, a woman competing with the men at some of the highest levels of racing in the world. Others saw her as an overhyped driver who only had her job because of her gender and the ability to draw in a gob of money in sponsorship.

The funny thing about both people? They always paid attention to how she did.

Time has a funny way of measuring people. In the here and now, tied to emotions, we might think of people one way, but down the road we change our opinion. Today, one win in 13 years of combined NASCAR and IndyCar competition isn't all that impressive, but in the years to come I think Danica will take a place in history.

Whether we like it or not, women have a difficult time competing with men in racing. I don't blame that on gender, of course, because there are a lot of great racers out there who just happen to be female, but most of them never really got the chance they deserved due to some leftover opinions that still exist in some factions of the sport.

Danica was one of the few that got a real, legitimate shot. She had the funding, the equipment, and the sponsorship, and while the results didn't follow, the fact that she held her own in competition and showed women can be legitimate competitors in racing will pay dividends for another woman somewhere down the road. I actually look forward to the day a woman has a significant amount of success in racing, winning races, finishing on the podium and even contenting for a championship. That will be really cool.

That's the thing about opening doors: the person who opens the door doesn't always reap the most rewards. People like Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James got the door open, and people like Sarah Fisher, Simona De Silvestro, Pippa Mann and Danica Patrick opened it a little wider. Thanks to them, somewhere there is a girl racing a kart or in a junior series who is going to bust it wide open.

So enough about her career, for now, what about the Indy 500? I'm going on record as stating she has the opportunity to do very well. There is no doubt that she will find the sponsorship and find her way to a good team, most likely, I'd say, Andretti Autosport.

When it comes time to race, past history speaks for itself. Though maybe the "era" she ran in wasn't as competitive as it is today, she still had two Top 5 finishes and six Top 10 finishes, and in six of her seven starts she completed every lap of competition. She's also led 29 laps, and if you don't think of that as significant, check out this list of all of the drivers who have led laps in 500 history. Danica is in good company.

I'm not going to go super out on a limb and say she is a contender to win, but a finish in the 10-15 range isn't out of the question.

At the end of the day, Indy is really a good place for Danica to finish her career, because that's where it all got started. I think it's a good deal, and I will be rooting for her -- unless she is going head-to-head with my driver for the win of course! Hopefully she has a great month and goes out on her terms, which is what we should hope for for any athlete who is walking away from their sport.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Indy 500 Wrap Up

As I sit in my kitchen typing this out and reflecting on the last couple of weeks, the same thought goes through my mind over and over.

Best. May. Ever.

As many of you know, I worked for Lazier Racing Partners on Buddy Lazier's 500 effort. It was an incredible experience to say the least, and a post on that will be forthcoming. I'm very appreciative of the people who helped make that happen, and forever in their debt. Hopefully if all goes well and Buddy's back in the car next year I will be a part of a fun group of people again.

As for the race? It went as advertised...again. I watched the first 60 laps of the race in the pits then went to the Southwest Vista. and watched the rest with Matt and Kevin as part of our usual traditions. This was my 19th 500, it was Matt's seventh (already!) and Kevin's third.

The race was what we have become accustomed to over the last few years: lots of passing, several lead changes and a lot of late-race drama. So, as usual, let's go through the Top 10 and some other notables.

Winner -- Takuma Sato. Taku's mantra of "No attack, no chance" has not always served him well, but when you are in the mix to win the Indianapolis 500 in the closing laps, it's a good one to have. Five years and one day after trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the win but instead hitting the Turn 1 wall, Sato made his Lap 195 pass of Helio Castroneves to stick and held on to become the first Asian driver to win the 500. Like Alexander Rossi last year, Sato's win came as a bit of a surprise given his best 500 finish before this year was 13th, but like Rossi, he will prove to be a popular champion and a great representative of the 500.

2nd -- Helio Castroneves. When Castroneves moved to the point with six laps to go, it seemed like he was on his way to picking up his fourth 500 win. The universe had other plans, of course, but all-in-all the 42-year-old drove a phenomenal race, overcoming a drive-through penalty and working his way up from his 19th starting position to once again find his way into the mix at the end. Helio now has three runner-up finishes to go with his three wins and will always be a factor at Indy as long as he his in a Penske.

3rd -- Ed Jones. OK, let's get this out of the way -- he got absolutely stiffed out of the Rookie of the Year award. But truthfully, Ed's driven like anything but a rookie since his car rolled off the track at St. Pete. This is his first podium and third Top 10 finish in six races so far this season, and he gave Dale Coyne Racing its best-ever finish at Indianapolis. Just 22 years old, he looks as if he's ready to stick around for a while.

4th -- Max Chilton. Quick, who led the most laps in Sunday's race? It was Chilton, who paced the field for 50 laps, or one-quarter of the race's distance. This may have been the best car he ever had and was certainly the best drive of his career.

5th -- Tony Kanaan. As always, the 2013 champ drew the biggest cheers all day (and month) and was his usual entertaining self during the race. He paced the field from Laps 6-27 and was in the mix all day long. This was the sixth straight year he led a lap and he now has eight Top 5 finishes in 16 starts.

6th -- Juan Pablo Montoya. This race typically brings out the best in JPM, but he was unusually quiet this year. He wasn't the only one, though, as the parity between the top 20 cars or so was so tight it was difficult for many to move up, and having so many yellows in the last 80 laps (7 yellows for 31 laps) meant there weren't any long runs like we have seen in the past where drivers have been able to make moves.

7th -- Alexander Rossi. The defending champ drove a great race, running at or near the front all day, but got shuffled back on his last pit stop due to a fueling issue. I thought for much of the race he had the best car, and with this performance he certainly backed up his win from last year.

8th -- Marco Andretti. Certainly not the finish or effort he was looking for, as an unscheduled pit stop put him back in the field and he couldn't recover. It's hard to believe that this was his 12th 500, I'm convinced he is going to win someday, but then again, I felt the same way about his dad, too.

9th -- Gabby Chaves. Gabby is a solid driver who always makes the most of his equipment. He drove a great race on Sunday -- stayed out of trouble, stayed on the lead lap and took advantage of the mistakes of others. It's tough, in today's IndyCar there are more capable drivers than seats, but I'd like to see what he could do in a really decent car.

10th -- Carlos Munoz. We didn't get the typical, drive to the grass and use every inch of pavement type of drive that we know and love from Carlos, but he did a great job moving up from his 24th starting spot, especially falling a lap down at one point. A great stat is that after Sunday he has finished the race on the lead lap in all five of his starts, making him 1,000/1,000 in laps completed.

20th -- James Davison. There was a lot of shade thrown to Dale Coyne Racing when Davison was chosen as Sebastien Bourdais' replacement after Seb's brutal crash in qualifying, but after starting 33rd he was up there in the mix until being involved in a four-car crash on Lap 184. We can talk all day long about who "deserves" a ride and who doesn't, but the only thing that matters is what you do when given the opportunity, and he stepped up and got the job done.

24th -- Fernando Alonso. I was a little shocked to open up the box score and find there were 32 other drivers in the race -- how'd that happen? All joking aside, Alonso came here to race and did a pretty amazing job, leading four times for 27 laps and was in the mix for the win until his Honda blew up on the front straight with 50 miles to go. I hope he comes back next year.

29th -- Buddy Lazier. This team was near and dear to my heart this month, of course. A crazy set of circumstances led to my getting the chance to work with this group, and it couldn't have been a better experience. Leading up to the race, everything was going so smoothly, and the team truly felt we had a good, competitive car. Losing two laps after running out of fuel before the first pit stop set us back, but Buddy only lost one lap over the next 250 miles before crashing in Turn 2 on lap 122. I'll get more into things with a separate blog post here over the next week or so, but I do want to thank Mitch Davis, Corey Krause and Bruce Bohlander for such a wonderful opportunity.

32nd -- Scott Dixon. What an up and down month for Scotty D. Wins the pole, gets robbed at Taco Bell, then is running great in the race before running into Jay Howard's disabled car and flying several hundred feet into the South Chute inside catch fence in what my boys called the scariest thing they had ever seen. Call these cars whatever you want, and the DW12 has a lot of detractors, but the thing is an absolute tank when it comes to safety. The fact that Dixon climbed out of the car and walked away is such a testament to the safety of the car and the series.

Just when you think you see a great race, like we thought we had each year from 2011-16, the next edition is always better. This year's race was, in one word, incredible. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 33 drivers put on a show that we will always remember.

But now, as Steve McQueen once said, we are waiting. Is it May, 2018 yet?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

One Thing From Back In The Day I Miss

So, did you watch much of Fernando Alonso's test at IMS today? I watched a good bit and thought he did very well. It was a good start, although the real work begins in 12 days when he returns for practice and they start trying to make the car go faster. It's pretty amazing how they can pin the car to the track at 222 mph but the drivers are hanging on hard when the car's going just 5-7 mph faster.

Before I get started on waxing poetically about something from my youth, I wanted to come here and admit that I was wrong. It turns out this whole deal is way bigger than I could've possibly imagined. If the data is accurate, close to 1 million people worldwide tuned in via various social media channels to watch the coverage.

How that transfers to anything on May 29th is for another discussion, but it's just another fun element and storyline to May, and that can't be bad.

Despite being social media savvy and having an understanding of how all of it works, there are times where I am still completely fascinated by the wide reach media and social media actually has. The information about today's test just moved so quickly, from video to lap times to interviews, that anything you wanted to know was easily available and accessible.

It made me think back to when I was first starting to get interested in the Indy 500, and how I got my information then. When I went to IMS the first time, in 1979, we only lived an hour from Indy, so we got to see the wrap-up shows on the news and then got to read everything in long form the next day in the Indianapolis Star.

A year later, we moved to Central Illinois, and for the most part my only lifeline to Indy -- other than Pole Day when I was there and lines of agate in the Peoria Journal Star -- was a month-long subscription to the Star.

Not the digital edition, mind you, since that was 15 years away, but the real, actual newspaper delivered to our house on Apple Drive via US Mail. Sometimes I would get lucky and the paper would arrive a day after it was published, but usually it was 2-3 days before I got my hands on it.

Then again, that didn't matter to me. As soon as I got home I would tear the brown paper the Star was wrapped in and open it up to the sports section. Despite being "old news" it felt new to me. I may have heard a little news or saw some speeds or something, but not enough to spoil it for me. I loved reading the stories and seeing the great photography -- the Star had some amazing shooters back then -- and for a while I felt like I was back in Indiana again, living for the 500.

Of course, I still live for the 500, but it's funny to think about how 30 years ago I would wait 2-3 days for information, and how now I really can't wait 2-3 minutes. I HAVE to know, right now!

While I love the speed, it's fun to romanticize about those days, because it was through those newspapers, those words combined with my sense of imagination, that I developed the love for the 500 I have today. Back then, Indy was this mystical place that my eyes only got to see once a year, but in my imagination I was there pretty much every day. The newspaper was what brought it to life for me.

I'm sure people still do that today, but what's left to the imagination, you know? There is nothing to picture in your mind, it's all delivered to you in an instant. I love technology and everything it brings to our world, but I wouldn't trade those days of jumping off the school bus, grabbing the paper out of the mailbox and devouring it as quickly as possible for anything.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Help Wanted: Good Writers

Social media has been a sad place today with the stream of tweets coming from people at ESPN who have lost their jobs today. While loudmouth Stephen A. Smith and his $3.5-million per salary is safe, good, solid journalists like Ed Werder, Jayson Stark, Dana O'Neill and many others are now looking for work.

With the massive amounts of internet sites devoted to sports, as well as sport-specific networks for the NFL, NBA, MLB, and networks devoted to conferences like the Big 10 and SEC, most of them will find work, which is a good thing.

Still, it's frustrating, for several reasons. First of all, as with most layoffs, the people who made the decisions that put a company in a predicament get to keep their jobs. Despite writing checks he obviously can't cash and not having the foresight to see the trends in how fans get their information, John Skipper keeps his job, just like he did after the last two rounds of layoffs in 2013 and 2015.

Another thing that angers me is that it's obvious that sports media would rather have a bunch of loudmouth meatheads screaming ridiculous hot takes at each other that have about a 30-minute shelf life than dig deep and do real, actual reporting. Thankfully, some of that does still exist at ESPN with Bob Ley and his staff, but unfortunately they are typically regulated to one of the lesser ESPN channels at times that most people aren't watching.

Personally, I've reached the point that I only watch games on ESPN. I don't need a 90-minute pregame show for an NBA or NFL game, and I find the yelling back and forth on other shows as an insult to my sports intelligence. If I'm watching pre-or post-game coverage, I want to learn something, I want something of substance.

Unfortunately, we've been conned into believing that the only people that have an opinion worth anything are those that "played the game". Hence, the meathead mentality. The only problem is the next time one of the many idiots ESPN trots out on its shows says something that actually contributes to the discussion and teaches the fans something, it will be the first time.

But the thing that bothers me the most about this move, as well as many other layoff situations over the years, is that it's a clear signal that no one cares about good writing anymore.

As a sportswriter, I've gone through this before. While thankfully my day jobs kept me gainfully employed for over 25 years, I was laid off from my part-time position at the Aurora Beacon News in April, 2009. In a strange twist, I started working for the paper as a stringer the next day (and got paid more, but it made business sense because the money came out of a different till -- or something like that), but many of the full-timers didn't get that offer.

I'm not alone...most of the people I know in my little writing circle have either lost their jobs at one time or another or had to take a buyout and leave. Some found work, some are still stringers years later and have never found a full-time gig, and others just left the industry altogether.

To take their place, newspapers have hired untrained stringers who are more than happy to do a game for $85, but have no idea how to write a good, compelling story. Of course, that's an industry-wide trend, as internet sports media outlets have done the same thing, handed the keys to eager people, many of whom work for free under the con that they will get paid down the road, who might have an internet connection but are ridiculously short on writing talent. As a result, they get sloppy content that fills a space but does little else.

I get it, the whole thing is about traffic and clicks. AP writer Jenna Fryer's two Fernando Alonso IndyCar stories probably got more clicks in the span of a few days than this little blog has in the last two years. Her job is based on that, so it's no surprise that she will paint stories in a way that gets what she needs.

I get it, because getting clicks and selling papers has always been part of doing business, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Another thing that bothers me is that there are a lot of people in media that use their position to try and create personal relationships with the people they are covering. Creating a sense of comfort and trust is vital to a reporter's toolbox, but at the same time, a line has to be drawn as well. That line seems to be getting blurred more and more every day. I see a lot of people who seem to be more interested in becoming friends with drivers and taking selfies with them than doing real reporting.

(Editor's note: I see that more and more, and I think it's the height of unprofessionalism. If you have a media credential around your neck, you shouldn't be posting pics of you and drivers on social media. I've had lots of opportunities to do the same over the last year or so and refrained because it's just not right. End of rant.)

I know, I know, I'm old school! But when I started my writing career 17 years ago, the guys I worked with were true pros. When I first started working with them, I really couldn't believe it! I'd read their stuff in the paper for years and now I was on staff with them? It was crazy.

What was even better, though, was that from the beginning they treated me as an equal. They were always there to offer suggestions or answer questions that I may have had. Sometimes we would "double staff" an event and I would pay attention to how they did their jobs and the questions they would ask afterwards.

I wanted to be a good writer, I wanted to be like them, and while I am admittedly not the most talented writer in the world, if you read one of my stories over the years you would know that I always tried my hardest to write the best story that I could, whether it was for a city house league baseball or softball game, a college football game, or the PGA Tour.

That's part of the reason I got out of the sportswriting gig a couple of years ago, because that's not what the editors wanted. They didn't want a good, well-written story, they wanted someone to go to an event, keep stats and grab a couple of quotes. Or, they wanted a story written before the event even started. That just wasn't me.

I hope I'm not coming across as snobbish. I'm really not, it's just that I have tried my entire career to be a professional, and to represent who I'm writing for and the writing profession itself with integrity. Sadly, that is becoming less and less of a job requirement.

I'll always hold out hope that good writing, and good writers, will always have a place, but it gets hard sometimes. I'll admit, there are times where crossing over to the "dark side" is appealing. In my personal life, I am a mixture of quirky, funny, sarcastic and at times profane. Writing with no filter would be pretty easy to do, and it would probably lead to a lot more site clicks and maybe more attention.

But that isn't me. There are certain areas of my life where I take pride in my integrity, and writing is one of them. Heck, I've been serious about my writing since I was a teenager, so I can't quit now!

The dream of mine is that people will get sick of the noise and demand the good writing. Everything in life goes in cycles, and this is no different. Many of the people who lost their jobs today have been at this for more than 20 years, meaning they have been there and done that when it comes to what the public wants.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a member of Generation X, and back then we were what was wrong with the world. But you know what happened? We grew up and our interests changed, as Rocky Balboa said in Rocky IV...we became "normal people". Millennials will eventually do the same, and the landscape will change again.

As a writer, I'm sticking to my guns because I think (or hope) (or dream) that what I write and how I go about my job every day will become relevant once again. Even in my racing PR pursuits, as frustrated as I am with the culture right now, I know that what I find important -- good writing, smart, constant social media and good photography -- will eventually be what drivers and teams want. I believe that with all my heart.

So despite what happened today at ESPN, and what has happened with other organizations around the country, I'm staying faithful to my core beliefs. The written word has always been important, and the desire for people to read it will never go away.

We'll be back.






Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nigel vs. Fernando

I have to admit, I was as stunned as anyone by the announcement yesterday that current McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso will be driving for Andretti Autosport in this year's Indianapolis 500. Not only can't I believe the announcement, I also can't believe that it was all pulled off with so much secrecy.

Big props to Michael Andretti for getting the deal done, and a tip of the cap to Stefan Wilson, who put the pursuit of his own program for May on hold so that they could get everything arranged. I'm sure that wasn't an easy decision, Wilson, like Pippa Mann, works pretty much year-round to secure funding for a 500 ride, so to eschew that for a year for a greater good has to be absolutely commended.

There is no doubt that this is huge news, and the impact of it covered the entire planet. To me that shows two things: 1) the popularity of F1 and its drivers and 2) the legitimacy of the Indy 500. I hope that the people who think that the 500 has lost popularity and luster are paying attention, because the news and the reaction to it show that rumors of the demise of the 500 have been greatly exaggerated.

Many are comparing this to 1993, when reigning F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell signed a two-year deal with Newman-Haas Racing, finished third at the Indy 500 and went on to win five races and the CART title that season.

So if you had to put each situation head-to-head, which one is "bigger"? Mansell taking America by storm or Alonso giving up his McLaren seat for the Grand Prix of Monaco for a one-off in the 500?

You know, with the spread of information and the power of social media that exists, and the following Alonso has makes the news of his announcement bigger, but having experienced Mansell in 1993, I think that was a bigger deal. Maybe not in terms of current metrics and the idea of "moving the needle" because Alonso will probably do both on a greater scale, but from a racing standpoint, Mansell's 1993 season to me ranks as one of the greatest of all-time.

Mansell came here off of a 1992 season that saw him win nine Grands Prix and finish second three times in the 15-race schedule. In 1991, he had won five races and notched four runner-up finishes while finishing second in the World Championship standings behind Ayrton Senna.

Like IndyCar, Formula 1 racing was at an absolute apex in the early 1990s. When I heard the news that Mansell was coming to drive in the US, I thought it was a "larger than life" announcement. Here was a guy who not only was the reigning F1 champion, he was at the absolute apex of his career.

It was so exciting to think about Mansell coming in and banging helmets with the likes of 1992 CART champ Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy, Emerson Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk, and others who were at or near the apex of their careers as well. Not to mention, he was teammates with Mario Andretti, who won the final race of his illustrious career and finished sixth in the seasons standings at the age of 53.

Then Mansell comes out and absolutely manhandles the car and the field to win at Surfer's Paradise! After a bad crash at Phoenix that saw him suffer a back injury that caused him to miss the race, Mansell returned to finish third at Long Beach. So by the time he got to Indianapolis that year, the excitement for his debut was pretty much off the charts.

I was there when he went to qualify, and the buzz was unmistakable. And the race? Well, you can read my recap of the 1993 race here.

Yes, I'm biased. The 1993 race remains my most favorite of the 500s I have seen in person, and I was rooting hard for Mansell to win that day. I still believe his drive in that race was nothing short of phenomenal. It's hard to explain if you haven't seen it, or have the context of that era, but he drove that race on pure talent, and he raced so incredibly hard. In the end, it was his inexperience that got him, as he was snookered by Fittipaldi on a restart with 16 laps to go.

He eventually won four more races that year, including the ovals at Milwaukee, New Hampshire, Michigan and Nazareth. In all he was just a Tasmanian Devil that year, winning races with talent and brute force. I still look at that season with amazement to this day.

That's why while I am happy to see Alonso running the Indy 500, love the exposure he's bringing, adding to the buzz of the 101st Indy 500 and have a hope that he kicks ass because it would be super cool, it's just so hard to compare that to the impact Mansell made. I'd even feel that way if Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel were doing the same thing, a one-off is just that, a come-into-town-and-leave sort of thing. If they were here, at the height of their career, for a full season, maybe I would think a bit differently.

I guess that's why I see Mansell's deal differently, because the buzz started as soon as he signed, and it didn't let up all year long. He was also a guy you either liked or didn't, and his flair for the dramatic -- like his over the top grimacing when he got in and out of the car after his back injury -- gave him a kind of had a "black hat" thing. And then there was his talent, which was absolutely prodigious.

In the end it's an apples to oranges thing, and there is nothing wrong with that, because this discussion doesn't have a wrong answer. It just depends on your point of view. I choose Mansell because I saw it happen and got to experience it myself. If you didn't, chances are you may not feel the same way.

I guess I just wanted to share my experience in 1993 for the purpose of context. I love IndyCar 2017, but Nigel Mansell circa 1993 was pretty cool too.

What are your thoughts?