Sunday, November 25, 2018

An IndyCar Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Since it's still the weekend that's appropriate, isn't it? If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you had the greatest of times with friends, family, football...and shopping. If not, I hope you had a great weekend.

Another weekend down, another step closer to St. Pete!

Of course, part of Thanksgiving is taking time to think about your blessings and things that make you feel thankful. I'm thankful for lots of things: a great wife and my blended family of four sons, my home, my health and the good health of my family, and my new dog, Boomer.

He is a rescue that we adopted three weeks ago. I've always been a cat person, but my brother has two dogs and I have become more and more attached to them every time I have gone to Atlanta for a visit.

I'd been thinking about getting a dog for a while but my wife and I had reservations. But, we finally took the plunge.

Worth it!

Boom is the first dog I've had since a family pet in high school, so we've had some challenges so far, but I am thankful he is part of our family.

Oh yeah, I know that it goes without saying, I am extremely thankful for racing!

I love racing, and I have for 40 years. Like any relationship, it's had ebbs and flows, but like baseball, it's just something in my blood.

So what are a few racing things I'm thankful for? Let me count the ways.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway/Indianapolis 500. For me, IMS is where it all began back in 1979, and I can honestly say there are very few days in my life since that I haven't thought about IMS or the 500. I lived in Indy from 1989-94 -- including a year just down the street from the track -- and I'll always have a few regrets about that. When Steve McQueen talked about racing being life and the rest was spent waiting, he was talking about how I feel about the Month of May. Waiting. Like many of you, Race Day is my Christmas, there isn't a better day of the year for me, especially every few years when the race falls on my birthday. My experience working with John Cummiskey Racing and Lazier Racing Partners the last couple of years showed me an IMS I hadn't experienced before, and allowed me to take a picture that makes me smile every time I see it. I hope to have the chance to take another one someday!

This year was my 20th 500, and has become a family tradition with my kids too. I look forward to someday adding grandkids to that too -- but not too soon! Family is what the 500 is all about, isn't it?

People who care. If you go back to the beginnings of this blog, you'd find several posts that were critical of IndyCar, team owners, and even sometimes IMS management too. I think if you look at the last 25 years of the sport, lots of that criticism has been valid. "How did we get here?" is definitely a question people who have followed the sport since the days when it featured full houses, massive sponsorship dollars and the stars of racing.

I'm thankful for the fact that right now the sport of IndyCar is in great hands. The arrival of people like Mark Miles and Jay Frye have been a huge boost to the sport. Finally we have people in charge who have a true vision of how this sport should grow, and they have assembled a core group of track owners who want their races to succeed.

Then on the IMS side, of course, is Doug Boles. In the five years Mr. Boles has been in charge he has played a huge part in once again turning the Indy 500 into the biggest motor race in the world. The secret of his success is that he loves the 500 as much -- if not more -- than the fans do, and he is a great steward for both the track and the race.

Racing friends. One of the hard parts about growing up in Central Illinois in the 1980s is that I didn't know anyone else like me. Most of my friends made fun of my love of racing, one of them came around about 15 years later, but the only person I knew who even had a passing interest in racing was my friend Tonya, who I should've girlfriended up as fast as possible based on that alone. I did take her to the prom -- shoulda tried harder.

Tangent over! Ever since I launched this blog in late 2010 and became active on social media, I've connected with people all over the world and have been able to talk about and share my fandom for IndyCar racing. Then in 2012 I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the Social Media Garage during qualifying weekend. It was so cool to finally meet people in person and talk racing.

I could go on and on listing the names of people I've met in the name of racing, but you know who you are, and I'm thankful for you.

I'll also give a special thanks to my best racing friend, my wife Darcy. While she doesn't know a lot about racing and isn't much more than a casual fan, she has gone to races with me, knows what it's all about, and most of all gets why I love it so much. One of Darcy's gifts is that she gets me in a lot of areas in my life, and she is totally supportive of my quest to somehow work in racing. I hope that it all comes together someday so I can repay her faith in me.

The IndyCar drivers. I think everyone who reads this has had several positive experiences with an IndyCar driver or two. That's one of the greatest things about this sport, we are allowed to get up close with the teams and drivers.

The beauty? All you need is a ticket. You buy a ticket, you get to meet a driver if you want to -- it's that simple! Indy is a different animal, but at any other stop on the series, if you want a photo or a chance to chat with an IndyCar driver, you can get one if you want to.

I don't throw a lot of shade at NASCAR, because honestly I spend very little time thinking about them. But when you see a picture at the track of people with drivers, don't forget that chances are they bought a ticket and paid extra for the access, or had a friend of a friend that got them that close to their favorite driver.

IndyCar drivers are available at the track, they are always out and about in Indianapolis, almost all of them are accommodating with the media, bloggers, and podcasters, and will do anything in their power to grow the sport. We can't ask for anything better.

I know a lot of people who would love to see the sport just explode into the mainstream. I don't. While I'm happy with the slow, steady growth we have seen the last few years, I don't ever want to see the days where drivers are secluded and unavailable to the fans. As long as IndyCar is profitable and healthy, I'm happy, just don't grow too big that the fans just become people who buy tickets. The fans and the close relationships they have with their favorite driver is the fabric of the sport.

Robert Wickens. I'm breaking Robbie out of the previous point because over the course of the last few months he has proven to everyone that he is just one special freaking person.

I saw Wickens' accident at Pocono live on television, and I'm OK with the idea of never seeing it again. While I appreciated all of the transparency that he provided us over the last few weeks, it really wasn't until he posted the word "paraplegic" in one of his Instagram videos that it hit home how badly he was injured.

But despite all he has been through, Robbie has shown nothing but a positive attitude and a determination that is no doubt inspiring to many. What I love about his videos is that he's always smiling and showing a positive attitude, no matter the situation.

Robbie is a helluva race car driver, and he more than proved that this season. He's also an incredible man who looks like he will dig as deep as possible to make the most of his situation. I hope he walks again, and in fact, I think he will. When I broke my humerus three years ago I dealt with nerve damage that left me with a drop wrist. I couldn't lift my left hand for seven months, and then I woke up one day and I could. The improvement was about a centimeter at a time, and it was almost a year before my wrist and hand started working like it used to.

This kind of stuff just takes time, and there are certain people in this world who can will themselves to almost anything.

I truly believe that Robbie Wickens is one of those people. I can't say if he will ever drive a race car again, but he will find a way to get 100 percent out of what he's given. I try to think about him a lot, as his story inspires me in my daily life.

So Robert, thanks for making a difference in my life, and that of lots of other people.

I could keep going on all of the things are thankful for, but what are a few of yours? I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Off-Season Sunday Musings

Don't be sad that there wasn't any IndyCar racing this weekend, just be happy that we are yet another weekend closer to the start of the 2019 season.

I was actually going to have this posted earlier this week with a plethora of topics, but lost my Internet at home for two days, and in that time frame many of those topics were already covered. But, thankfully, McLaren and Fernando Alonso bailed my butt out yesterday, and they will be one of the handful of things I'll talk about below.

Let's get started with that one:

Is #FredWatch officially over?

Maybe, maybe not, as McLaren and Alonso have not committed to their full 2019 plans yet, but they put a big piece into the puzzle Saturday when they announced an entry into the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Color me a little surprised, as recently McLaren announced they would not be competing in the IndyCar series next year, which seemed to have closed the door to a 500 run. What is even more surprising is that they are coming in as their own standalone team, as opposed to working directly with Andretti Autosport in 2017.

Andretti will still be on board for some technical help, but McLaren principal Zak Brown said that said McLaren shareholders wanted to race under the McLaren banner. He also remarked that personnel won't come from the Formula 1 team, but through "relationships" they have built in the past.

No doubt that means #FredWatch is still alive! I don't believe McLaren would be investing this kind of capital into IndyCar unless they were hoping to expand the team to a full-time effort at some point. And if that happens, will Fred be behind the wheel?

That remains to be seen, but let's keep our fingers crossed that maybe a couple of other races in 2019 may be on the horizon.

As for Fernando Alonso, I'm thrilled he will be coming back to Indy. Like many, I thoroughly enjoyed 2017, it was a lot of fun to have him run the 500. Having spent the week in Gasoline Alley with Lazier Racing, there was most definitely a buzz around the garage area and up and down the pits when he was around.

And of course, he brought it on race day, leading 27 laps and still in contention before his Honda cut loose with about 50 miles to go. I'm a fan of racing -- and of course, of racers -- so I thought it was super cool having him in the field, and it will be super cool next May as well.

Since its inception, the Indy 500 has always been an all-comers race. Three of the first six winners of the 500 were from Europe, and where would the "Golden Age" of the 1960s be without the European rear-engine revolution, Grand Prix drivers Graham Hill and Jim Clark, NASCAR's Wood Brothers changing pit stops forever, and the participation of NASCAR drivers during that era as well?

I welcome any and all racers to the 500, because that's what the race is about. Having Alonso in the field again just continues that legacy.

Many would say that having him here doesn't "move the needle". Welp, given the fact that I'm not responsible for moving needles -- at least not yet -- I honestly don't care about it. Racing to me is about competition, and if you add the best racers in the world to make the race more competitive, all the better. Anyone who is a competitor would say they not only want to beat you, they want to beat you when you are at the top of your game. No excuses.

Many current IndyCar drivers expressed that they were happy to have Alonso back, and while some of it stems from the fact he's a good dude that seemed to get along with everyone, they want to compete against him as well. If you don't, you shouldn't be racing!

Of course, someone also asked if McLaren would be fielding a second car, about which they declined comment, but if they do, can I make a suggestion?

A.J. Allmendinger. If he's still available. Even though he has run close to 400 races in the various NASCAR series, he's an open wheel driver, and someone needs to bring him home.

Just saying. If I had a one-off car, he'd be my guy.

Godspeed Mari Hulman George

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway lost a monumental member of its family last week when Mari Hulman George passed away at age 83. Mrs. George had been involved with IMS since her father, Tony Hulman, purchased the track in 1945, and from 1988-2016 served as its Chairman of the Board.

Mrs. George certainly led an interesting life. During the 1950s and 60s she owned cars that raced in the AAA and USAC series, and later even entered cars in the 500 itself. She later played a role in helping Willy T. Ribbs become the first African-American to race in the 500 in 1991.

As a woman in racing, she was certainly a trailblazer for many reasons, but her contributions to the sport may have paled in comparison to her desire for philanthropy. Among her many endeavors, Mrs. George was involved with the Special Olympics, and especially had a very soft spot in her heart for animals.

I think her passing is as good a time as any to commend the Hulman-George family for their contributions to auto racing, and their role as stewards of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's from their efforts that the IMS is a cherished place to hundreds of thousands of people and that the 500 is the greatest race in the world.

Through the years, IMS has also been a leader in the advancements of safety, and drivers who hit a wall with a SAFER barrier protecting it owe them a debt of gratitude.

Imagine spending seven decades of your life tending to something that so many people love, and that you love even more than they do. That's the huge legacy that Mrs. George leaves to racing and its fans. My thoughts to out to the entire Hulman-George family.

Pitfall of the Week

Ok, with the blessing of Host Mike Joachim I'm going to steal a segment from the awesome IndyCar podcast Pit Lane Parley. If you don't listen to PLP, why? It's a great podcast done by folks who have a huge passion for racing, and that flows through on their pod.

Pitfall focuses on, well, let's just call it, a "DOH" moment from someone in the world of racing. So I'm going into the NASCAR world and giving mine to Stewart-Haas Racing and it's incredible dive into the world of stupid regarding its post-race penalties in the aftermath of last week's race at Texas.

While the car passed all inspections at the track, further inspection at the R&D center showed the car had a rear spoiler that was offset between .2-.3 inches to the right. The result of that creates more downforce to the right-rear of the car, of course thereby helping it turn better.

As a result, Kevin Harvick's race win was declared "encumbered", which meant he lost his automatic spot in next week's championship Final Four, 40 of the 60 points he earned in the race, and his crew chief and car chief for the rest of the season.

Given SHR didn't appeal the penalty, they knew they went into a very charcoal gray area of the rulebook. And, in the end, it didn't cost them a run at the championship, as Harvick's fifth-place finish at Phoenix today locked him into the chance to race for the championship anyway. Still, the penalty made it a lot more difficult than it should've been, as the point-counting in the pits went on almost until the final few laps.

As a very competitive person, I get the fact that teams look for every edge they can get, even if it means going into those gray areas. That's just part of sports, I did the same thing as both a competitor and a coach. If I discovered an edge that was at the far end of the rules, I took it.

That happens, but this was beyond that, it was just blatant cheating. How in the world did they even think they wouldn't get caught? What takes this to an insane level of stupid is the fact that Harvick has been one of the most dominant drivers in the series this year with eight wins.

Harvick spent all year doing what he had to do: he won races and stages, and during the playoffs was piling up enough points that he was going to probably get in, barring something unforeseen happening. So why take the chance and do something like that to put it all in jeopardy? It makes absolutely no sense, unless, of course, they had been doing it all along.

It's just a really bad look for everyone involved, and in the risk versus reward argument, was about the dumbest thing they could do.

Veterans Day

Finally, 15 Days In May would like to take this opportunity recognize our veterans for all that they have done in service to our country, and to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to make our country, and our world, safe.

Family members who have traced our genealogy can confirm that a member of our family has served since at least World War I, where a great-uncle of mine was killed in battle in Europe. My dad, Dan, served in the Air Force during Korea (spending his 18th birthday at the top of a mountain as part of a radio crew there), and I have had many other family members serve, including my niece, Cindy, who has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the military police, and has one more deployment to Kuwait coming up as she wraps up her military career.

It certainly takes a special kind of person to do what they do, and I salute all of them. Our world isn't perfect, but it's run by human beings, who weren't wired that way. Still, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have fought in the name of peace and freedom.

I've been very fortunate to have traveled to several places around the world, including France, Monaco, Italy and Singapore, and just last week returned from my third trip to Dubai. All of those places are awesome in their own ways, and all the people I've met along the way have inspired me and changed my outlook on life and the world.

That said, this is my home, and no matter what, I believe in our country and the people that live here. The sacrifices made by those who look after us is a big reason why I feel this way.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Born Racer Movie Review

When you are as good at something as Scott Dixon is at racing, you don't magically become that good at some point, you are born that way.

That's why Born Racer is a perfect title for the movie that followed the five-time IndyCar champion and 44-time IndyCar winner through the 2017 season.

Starting with his pole position and horrible crash at the 2017 Indy 500, and literally fading to black the last time he walked off the track to close out that season, the movie is an outstanding look behind the curtain of one of the greatest open wheel drivers in history and the team that has helped propel him to all of his championships and all but one of his wins.

I won't give away any spoilers, I'll just say that this was a really freaking good movie. It wasn't as mind-blowing as say, Senna, but it is the perfect match to Dixon's personality. The movie was calm, passionate, calculated, determined -- all in all it captured who the man is and how he has been able to position himself as a Rushmore-level driver on the track.

As a long-time IndyCar fan, I didn't really learn anything new about Scott Dixon, but to talk about what makes him successful, and to actually see it are two different things. We know the guy is all-in -- he has been his whole life -- but to see the dedication he puts towards his craft just solidifies why he is who he is.

Dixon's life and success is built on a synergy and a balance between himself and the people around him who are tasked with putting him in a position to succeed. It's almost like a glacier, we know what he does when he gets in the car every weekend, but that's just the tip of it. The rest that sits underwater is 90 percent of the gig.

Like a starting pitcher in baseball, the four days between his starts are just as vital and important to his success as the fifth day when he gets the ball and goes to work. That's part of Dixon's brilliance: he has figured out a balance between his family and his job, he knows how to compartmentalize and when each task in his life needs to be executed.

That synergy starts at home with his wife, Emma, and extends to the people of Ganassi Racing. As a former elite athlete herself, she knows when he needs to be pushed and when to give him space, all the while walking the racing spouse tightrope between letting them follow their passion, and the fear and the constant worry that you are going to be the "next one".

The movie also spends a lot of time focusing on the team, and what needs to be done to get Scott (and then-teammate Tony Kanaan) on the track each weekend. The working relationship between Dixon, Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull is very reminiscent of the relationship that Rick Mears shared with Roger Penske during his driving career (and that Hull and Ganassi had with Dario Franchitti). It's that combination of and elite-level driver and elite-level personnel that makes everything work.

One thing the movie shows is that at the end of the day, success is a complete team effort. I'll explain more about my observations of professional sports on my podcast this week, but the success of a team is everyone doing their job and being accountable for it. Understanding their role and how that role affects the well-being of everyone else.

It leads to a lot of emotional highs and lows, and we see all of that in the movie. Racing lends itself to passion and emotion, which we see as the team absolutely pours everything it has into each race weekend. By the end of the movie, you will be pretty invested in all of it as well.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

15 Days in May Rides Again!

Back in December, 2010, I started this blog as a way to connect with what was then a much smaller group of IndyCar fans.

At the time, I was having trouble getting (back) into IndyCar, just because I had no one to talk about it with. This blog, as well as Twitter, helped me connect with a lot of people, and I made some friends that I look forward to seeing whenever I would go to a race.

The blog also paid off in another way, as in May, 2012 I was invited to be a part of the Social Media Garage, which was a great experience that I'll never forget.

15 Days in May has provided me a forum to air my thoughts, opinions, grievances, and any other ideas my whirlwind of a brain comes up with. It's been a great thing.

At some point, though, I started looking for newer and shinier things. ADHD -- can't live with it, can't shoot it. The posts came fewer and fewer, and my interest in IndyCar kind of dwindled as well.

It kind of all came to a head this year. In my quest to become involved in IndyCar in some sort of capacity, I suffered through a good deal of rejection and frustration. I know I have ideas that could make a difference...I know it! I'm good at this stuff, and I couldn't understand why no one wanted to take a chance on me.

Another thing I did was I chased a couple of rainbows that didn't pan out. They seemed like great ideas at the time, but in the end weren't for me.

As a result, for the first time in a long time, I didn't really care all that much about the start of the IndyCar season. I mean, I watched the races and followed a little bit, but my excitement level wasn't where it had been in the past.

Just recently, I chased another rainbow. I listened to what sounded like the greatest pitch of all time, and as of now, it's fizzled off into oblivion.

Going through all of this made me realize something:

I need 15 Days in May.

I have realized that my little blog, whether one person or one hundred people read each post, is my lifeline to the sport. In my quest to become a member of the IndyCar community, I lost sight of the fact that I was already a member of the IndyCar community! It would be nice if someday I could be paid to be part of said community, but for now I just want to be back in the fold.

I'm bringing back the blog, and I'm also making a huge commitment to a 15 Days in May podcast. Like, really, really huge. Like, in your face until y'all recognize huge.

I've also decided that I'm happiest when I'm myself. I've gotten pretty stale and corporate because I didn't want to offend any potential employers, but that's over too. I'm going to be myself, and if that's not for you, it isn't.

In the end, I love to write and I love to talk. I love to share, and collaborate. It's who I am. Racing is my passion, and I want to pursue that passion, regardless if there is a payoff down the road.

I've always thought that everything in our lives could be fit into two categories -- who we are or what we do. I believe there is a difference between the two. Writing and creating is who I am, and doing that for racing is next level stuff to me. Not doing it left a pretty big void in my life, and I realized I didn't like it.

So here we go again...

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.