Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Barrichello to IndyCar -- It's Getting Closer

Sometimes I hate being a night person. It's 12:15 in Aurora and I am still up as usual. Oh what I would give to go to bed at 10 p.m. some night! You people who think it's bad to be old and have to go to bed early? No, you've got it all right, trust me.

Insomnia rant over, staying up late does have benefits sometimes. Besides getting to see great 80s movies and Rocky marathons, I sometimes get tidbits of news several hours before the old people. So I have that going for me, which is nice.

Tonight it appears I get to celebrate Leap Year Day with the news that Rubens Barrichello will be joining the IndyCar series in 2012 as a part of KV Racing. Robin Miller "confirmed" the news in a story on, and it appears that the presser will be Thursday in Brazil. Miller tried to contact all of the principals involved, and believes they are unavailable due to being en route.

If the info is correct, he will join a team with "brother" Tony Kanaan and crash test specialist E.J. Viso. The trio will be wheeling Chevy power and Barrichello will have sponsorship from Brazil Maquinas, a South American construction firm.

With his test at Sebring and again over the weekend at Sonoma, we could kind of see this coming, but it is welcome news. Many of the drivers in the series are looking forward to competing against a racer who has made a record 322 Formula 1 starts and was runner-up for the F1 championship twice.

It's good for the series in terms of competition, and even better when you consider the media implications. Now, I'm not going to be delusional in thinking it will bring a wave of fans into the series, but with 1.4 million Twitter followers Barrichello has the numbers that can help add eyes on IndyCar, and hopefully some of them like what they see. Let's also remember, he is an international personality. That carries weight.

Now that many pieces are in place, the question remains what will he do with the ovals? Honestly, I wonder if that is even an issue. The guy loves to go fast, and loves to compete, and regardless of what others may say or believe, the ultimate challenge of both lies on the west side of Indianapolis. He'll be there.

Look for KV to take a huge step forward this year. With an even-more-than-usually motivated Kanaan driving with his usual vigor and his best friend riding shotgun, don't be surprised if they make a huge impact on the series.

This just gets better every day.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daytona 500 Recap

(Note to my IndyCar peeps: I'm not abandoning you! I merely invested six hours of my life yesterday to watching this race and want something to show for it.)

Monday Night Racing turned into a ratings winner for NASCAR last night, as the race was the highest-rated show on network television according to overnight ratings. It may have been the first Monday night race, but not the last. Randy Bernard, please tell me you were watching!

As always, craziness ensued. I'm a creative guy, but even I can't make this stuff up. Given the events of the last few years the best thing to expect at Daytona is the unexpected. Welcome to Looneyville.

A few thoughts:

*Of course I'm leading off with Juan Pablo Montoya. The dude just likes hitting stuff! Now, I am only joking because everyone involved walked away from the incident, which thankfully occurred in a place where there were no grandstands. Still, JPM is the poster boy for "checker or wrecker" because of his aggressive driving style, and he took that to a whole new level Monday night when he plowed into the jet dryer and set off a literal inferno. The wreck was the result of a mechanical failure and not on JPM, but I think after this we can replace the saying "only in America" to "only in Daytona". I have officially seen it all...until next year that is.

*As a driver, Brad Keselowski is going to be a superstar. In the world of social media, he already is. His tweet of the view of the fire form his car set off a firestorm (get it?) on Twitter, and as he continued tweeting during the long delay he picked up an estimated 150,000 more followers. He later tweeted moments after being involved in a wreck that ended his night. Like it or not, this is the future. I think IndyCar gets it for the most part, but a presence during the race (not necessarily from the drivers) is huge. People want to feel part of it. One of the things I enjoyed watching the race was sitting on Twitter at the same time and exchanging thoughts and conversations with other people. It was a lot of fun and I am all for fan/driver/team interaction in whatever form it can take. NASCAR does too, as it announced that not only will Kes not be fined for what he did, they are encouraging other drivers to follow suit.

*Danica went 3-for-3. Now, if you added two doubles and four RBIs to that line it would be a heck of a night. Instead, that is the number of races she drove over the weekend, and the number of wrecks she was involved in. She wasn't to blame in any of them and had the misfortune of being wrecked by a teammate in the Nationwide race and getting caught up in the melee on Lap 2 in the 500. Nothing can be done, but it was quite the baptism and a huge learning experience.

*There were times I thought I was watching iRacing instead of the supposed best drivers in the world. I spent a virtual weekend at Talladega and in all five race in which I drove there was a first lap "Big One" that took out a large chunk of the field. I finally posted the following message: "If you can't get through a lap without wrecking don't enter the effing race!" Who knew that EXACT same scenario would happen at Daytona? I'm sure the drivers were amped up to be starting the season and racing after the long delay -- and at night -- but they went less than 2.6 miles before the year's first incident. I think that what was funny was that after Jimmie Johnson was eliminated from the race in the opening melee he still had time to fly home to Charlotte and catch the end of it on TV.

*Oh, and there was a race too. Matt Kenseth won. Lost in all of the extracarriculars and drama was the fact that Kenseth dominated the final 100 miles of the race and won for the second time. I thought the actual "racing" was a bit drab. Just because the cars are racing in a big pack does not make things exciting, and I'm not saying that because I am not a big fan of pack racing. All it contributed to last night was the edge-of-your-seat feeling that a wreck was just around the corner, and the huge power and freight-train noise effect, which yes, is pretty cool. For the most part the cars drove nose to tail and a driver couldn't hook up with someone else and drive to the front like in the past. Plus the high line never seemed to work well so it was hard to change positions.

Even with the dreaded green/white/checker finish there was little drama, as Greg Biffle threw up a huge screen on Dale Earnhardt Jr. so his teammate could win. (My opinion) Biffle and Junior were hooked up, so how did one car break away and beat two that were drafting? I'm not saying that Kenseth didn't have the best car, because he did and deserved to win. But Biffle looked like he was content on finishing second, because his options were a) win the race over a teammate, b) win the race over a teammate and drag Junior to second or c) give Junior enough momentum to pass both of them and win. Guess none of them sounded appealing.

Speaking of the green/white/checker, I'm glad the driver who was ahead at the end of the scheduled distance went on to win the race. Doesn't happen all that often.

All in all it was quite the season opener for NASCAR. IndyCar is going to be hard-pressed to top THAT, but I think maybe they will pull it off.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Daytona 500 To Prime Time

(Insert Deion Sanders highlights here)

Very interesting call by NASCAR to move the Daytona 500 start time to 7 p.m., especially given how looking at the radar as I write this at 12:35 p.m. CT the skies look pretty clear and nothing looks to be rolling in.

All right, that is all of the conspiracy theories I'm going to throw up about that one. Actually, from a competition standpoint it is totally the right call. I think the idea of upping the odds that the drivers can get 500 miles of uninterrupted running is a good one, race organizers owe the competitors -- and fans -- the best opportunity for an event to go the scheduled distance.

Although I must admit that when weather is coming it makes for some great racing. When the 2007 Indy 500 went off with storm clouds in Terre Haute (the old Tony Hulman barometer of incoming weather), the drivers were going at it incredibly hard. Even after the rain came at Lap 113 and the race was started three hours later -- I think was the right call despite Tony Kanaan being in the lead -- there was some fierce driving going on.

Which, by the way, watching the cars racing around the Speedway well past 7 that night was a very, very, cool thing to see. Especially since I had taken the optional seat upgrade and moved into the top row of Stand B. Incredible view. Someday, when money isn't an object...

Then again, drivers going at it at the Indy 500 trying to beat the rain and drivers doing the same at Daytona would bring two different results. Under the same circumstances, I think Daytona would become an absolute crash-fest because of the close-quarters pack racing. Given the unexpected nature of plate racing which gives more cars the potential to win, there would be a "big one", guaranteed. Probably a couple.

Heck, weather or not, I worry about that happening at the halfway mark when 200 grand is on the line.

Of course, with the way the weekend has gone down there, with something like two-thirds of the entered cars being involved in one incident or another, maybe that won't change things. But if the drivers know when the green flag falls they have four hours of good weather to run, it won't lead to as many knuckleheaded moves. At least one would think.

But, the even bigger deal to all of this is that the race moves into Monday primetime. Football is over, the NBA is on break, and the college basketball schedule is very light with only three ranked teams playing. This could be an even more perfect storm than the 1979 blizzard that gave NASCAR a captive audience for the 500 that year.

Oh, and let me wave hello to the elephant in the room -- the Ms. Patrick factor.

While the race will run up against some popular primetime shows, I think most people will DVR the shows and watch the race. Live sports almost always takes precedence. Well, it does in my house. This sort of reminds me of the final round of the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, which was specifically set up to show in prime time on the east coast. With Tiger Woods in contention and the golf rolling later on a Sunday night for the first time, the broadcast picked up the best ratings of the year. When Woods nailed the putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff the next day, it was just about 10 p.m. in the east and for a Sunday night in the summer NBC couldn't have asked for more.

It will be interesting if the weather holds out how all of this plays out, and for sure it is a referendum as to whether or not racing can play on TV on a weeknight. If it does, it changes everything. I'm a proponent of IndyCar racing on weeknights during the summer, and I can bet that Randy Bernard will be watching with a lot of interest to see what happens. For sure, the Daytona 500 is the most-watched race of the year in this country (while the Indy 500 has more viewers/listeners worldwide), and that might skew the numbers a bit, but I'm sure the powers-that-be will know how that translates to other events.

It's been a crazy weekend in Daytona, this just kind of adds to it. One thing for sure, one way or another this will more than likely turn out to become a very historical event.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sarah Fisher Proves It Helps to Be Nice to People

I've had this weird thing lately that when I post stuff in the blog about races being added to the series, drivers looking for rides or teams looking for engines, that somewhere around that time it actually happens.

I could say its because I am fully plugged into the IndyCar series (despite not paying enough attention to sign up for blogger night on Trackside Thursday), but it is more that I am a step behind or just plain lucky.

Either way, my manifesto yesterday contained a blurb about Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing still not having an engine package for the coming season. It's getting down to crunch time here, St. Pete is now FOUR weeks away (yay!) and SFHR and new driver Josef Newgarden were without a motor and had zero track time in the DW12.

Her problem was solved Friday when Rahal Letterman Racing gave them the lease to a Honda motor they were hanging onto for a possible second car that had yet to materialize. They will finally take to the track Mar. 8-9 at Sebring.

Bobby Rahal stated one of the reasons he was so willing to work with SFHR was because of the assitance the team gave Graham Rahal when he was a man without a team in 2010. Fisher stepped out of the car so the younger Rahal could run four races and keep his career going. The rest of course is history as Graham is a rising star in the series.

In a series full of nice people, it is pretty well known that Sarah Fisher is one of the nicest. She has always had a huge following, and in fact attributed the deal going down to the effort of her fans. She has always more than understood what the fans mean to the sport, which is why she has so many loyal followers.

No doubt all of that came into play when it came time for this deal to go down. One less thing to worry about now as we begin careening towards the season opener!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Let's Stop Being So Sensitive!

I had to work during the Gatorade Duels yesterday, so without Facebook, Twitter and other social media, my exposure to the races was to stream the first duel during my lunch and try to catch up on the second race later.

As I got home from work and jumped onto Twitter in hopes of getting caught up, and lo and behold, there was a bunch of bitching going on. Ugh. Apparently Danica Patrick thanked NASCAR for installing the SAFER barrier that saved her from a serious injury after a humongous hit on the inside wall of the backstretch.

Talk about committing a Cardinal sin! Danica was drilled by the open wheel folks who thought she should have also added the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman-George family and the University of Nebraska as well. After all, she can rattle off all of her sponsors that quickly, right?

This comes just a few months after Jimmie Johnson (according to the IndyCar fan translation) was quoted in the aftermath of the death of Dan Wheldon that open wheel cars should stop racing on ovals because it was too dangerous. Even though he came back and said it was an emotional response because he had lost a friend and didn't want to lose any more (which is a normal reaction given the circumstances) didn't matter, he was a pariah because he was either a) an IndyCar hater or b) too chicken or wife-whipped to get into an IndyCar himself.

People making emotional comments in a time of grief...who knew?

Now, some of what I'm saying is tounge in cheek, because a year ago I would have been piling on too. I was one of those people who got completely bent out of shape when NASCAR would talk about innovations like the SAFER barrier and the HANS device, all the while patting themselves on the back and taking credit. And I resented NASCAR for its popularity despite the fact that their on-track product isn't as good as IndyCar.

But you know what? Somewhere along the line I decided to get over it. Because just like the BS that went with the CART/IRL split, it's time. For way too long, I carried a chip on my shoulder about IndyCar being the red-headed stepchild to Cup, but lately I just decided to let it go.

I did it for a few reasons. First, from a pure racing standpoint I've come to the realization that I kind of like NASCAR, especially after I went to the Nationwide race at Joliet last summer. I like a lot of the drivers -- Tony Stewart (of course) and Johnson among them -- and hell, it's racing. Some of it is pretty good too.

Now, that's not to say that I have my issues. I could do without the WWE side of the sport: the competition cautions, green/white/checkers, boys have at it and the weekly contrived "feuds" that supposedly exist between the drivers. Now, I'm going to guess in a garage area of 45-odd drivers and crews, a few of them don't like each other, but seeing a bunch of buttoned-down corporate millionaires bitch slapping each other and calling it fights, or crashing each other just because they can just degrades the sport, in my opinion.

Some may argue that it just goes with the sport, and is a representation of the sport's roots. True, but so are beanballs to baseball and forearm shivers and clothesline tackles in football, but at some point someone realized they were stupid and dangerous and decided that they should stop.

Second, it's also because I am happy with the IndyCar series, so why should I waste time worrying about NASCAR? I live in Chicago and I am a Cubs fan. I go to White Sox games, and watch some on TV, but I don't spend hours obsessing about the Sox like some do because I'm too busy rooting for the Cubs. IndyCar has momentum, it has heightened fan interest and we are possibly entering a sort of golden age with the sport in terms of depths of fields and driver talent. So why should I worry about what is going on in NASCAR, or what they think of IndyCar? There is too much fun going on in IndyCar to worry about them, and if they haven't gotten the memo, they are missing out, not me.

And finally, the safety stuff. You know what? Who really cares? I think at this point the sport as a collective group have all contributed to an unprecedented level of safety at the top levels of the sport. And while I think IndyCar has always been proactive while Formula 1 and Cup were reactive following the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Dale Earnhardt, respectively, they are also the series that have the resources to continue developing higher safety standards. NASCAR's reasearch and development lab sets the standard in terms of crash analyzation and the steps that go from there to make the sport safer.

That was indicitive of Danica's crash yesterday, which was by far the hardest hit I had seen in a long time. To view it through the in-car camera she was totally protected and never in danger. And better yet, she climbed from the car. The fact is, the work of hundreds of people in many series over the course of several years contributed to her making it through that wreck unscathed so she can race again on Sunday. Ten years ago that wreck was a trip to the operating table or -- even worse -- a basilar skull fracture waiting to happen.

At this point my thought is, who cares who comes up with the ideas and who cares who takes credit for it? Whoever comes up with ideas or innovations that keep us from having to go through another day like last October, I'm all for it.

And for the record, was Danica wrong? Daytona is owned by NASCAR, which put up the safety barriers on the inside wall (before they did at Indy, by the way), so ergo, she was correct in thanking NASCAR for putting up the barrier.

A lot of my fellow bloggers have been writing about the IndyCar "haters", or the people that piss and moan about the slights that we preceive the series is getting. I'm on that bandwagon, too. I'm not one to say that IndyCar is perfect and that there aren't things that need to be made better, and I will continue to write about those things, but do we really have to have as much drama as we do?

The DW12 is a pig. Drama! Fact is, everyone involved is happy with the progress of the car and its development hasn't gone any differently than the development of any other car in the past. It's just no car has ever been developed with so much of a social presence. And now that the cars have been painted and have turbos under the cowling, they are kind of cool.

Not enough ovals. Drama! The series is dying because we are going the route of Champ Car! No, it is what is economically feasible for the series in 2012, later on down the road it should be a different story. Once a formula is found that will make ovals a profitable venture for all parties, more will be added to the schedule.

Sarah Fisher doesn't have an engine. Drama! I love Sarah to death and think she is one of the best things about IndyCar. I also hope that these issues can be worked out. But still, this is the business side of the sport, and yeah, it does suck, but the fact that SFHR doesn't have an engine shouldn't be considered a black mark on the series as a whole, or the indication that the series sucks because they cannot accomodate her team.

Too many foreign drivers. You all do realize that in 1993 the Indy 500 was won by a Brazilian, with a Dutch and British driver coming in second and third, right? And that the same Brit won the series title in a walk? And that in 15 of the last 32 years the Indy 500 pole has been captured by a foreign-born driver? Foreign drivers have been a part of the series since I started being a fan. Maybe the series isn't littered with Americans, but I'm really happy with the ones we have.

It's time to stop worrying about stuff, and to stop being so sensitive to what we perceive as a slight to IndyCar. Let the haters hate, let the uninformed remain, well, uninformed, and let's focus on what we can control, and that is supporting IndyCar and looking forward to what could be an incredible 2012 season. I know that the Dan Wheldon tragedy aside, 2011 far exceeded my expectations, and I don't doubt 2012 will do the same.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Frenetic Friday -- Daytona 500/Indy 500 Edition

While IndyCar still has a couple weeks to go before the season opener in St. Pete, the Sprint Cup series gets underway this weekend with the Daytona 500. I thought in its honor this week's post should be dedicated to a few drivers who have driven (and had success) in both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500.

* A.J. Foyt -- Along with winning Indy four times, of course, Foyt tasted victory in the Daytona 500 in 1972, and twice won the then-Firecracker 400 (now Coke Zero 400) in 1964-65. Foyt did very well at Daytona, and one item I didn't learn until just the other day was that he finished third by less than a second to Richard Petty in 1979 in a race that featured Petty's sixth win and the famous fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison.

* Mario Andretti -- Interestingly enough, Andretti won his Daytona 500 two years before he won at Indy for the only time. As such, he became the first driver to win both races. He is still the only foreign-born driver to win the Daytona 500. While Foyt competed in stock cars for the better part of two decades, Mario only raced a handful of times in NASCAR competition.

* Tony Stewart -- Oh what could have been. Stewart's multi-dimensional driving talent would suggest he was more than capable of winning both 500s, but neither as yet has meant to be. Smoke raced in the 500 five times, the last in 2001, leading 122 laps and finishing in the top-10 three times. This year will mark his 14th crack at winning the Daytona 500 but he is still seeking his first win. Still he has won at both tracks, visiting victory lane in the Coke Zero 400 and Brickyard 400 (more on that in a bit). Hopefully he has gained a bit of mojo with his win in the first Gatorade Duel on Thursday.

* Juan Pablo Montoya -- JPM dominated (and decimated) the 500 field when he led 170 laps while winning in 2000, and has the lone distinction of participating in the 500, the Brickyard 400 and US Grand Prix Formula 1 race. Montoya also almost started a list of his own when he had the field covered at the Brickyard in both 2009 and 2010 only to lose the race after having to serve a penalty for speeding on pit road (2009) and pitting late for tires (2010). That would have made him the first (and probably only) driver to win at Indy in both open wheel and stock cars.

* Cale Yarborough -- Cale of course cemented his fame in stock cars, winning 83 times, including three championships and four Daytona 500s. He did make the jump to Indy in 1966, making four starts over the next seven years, with a best finish of 10th in 1972.

Just as an added note, a total of seven Cup drivers have won both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400: Dale Jarrett was the first when he won the Brickyard in 1996, but he has been followed by Tony Stewart (as mentioned earlier), Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray, who is the only driver to accomplish that feat in the same year (2010).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Public Service Announcement. Support Our Sponsors!

I'm sure most people who come to this site read many of the other blogs that are devoted to IndyCar. And if you don't, you should!

Still, I want to direct, you, my fellow fans, to a couple of places that deserve your attention. The first is a new blog site called IndyCar Sponsors which lists and provides links to companies that have a vested interest in the series via their sponsorship dollars. It is a great resource if you want to take the time to a) find products and services you use that you can buy through an IndyCar sponsor and b) a place to go to get contact info to drop them a line and thank them for their support.

No doubt companies use IndyCar for exposure and to increase potential business. We should do our part by patronizing them as much as we can. I bought a 2-liter bottle of Sun Drop yesterday, solely because of their involvement with Andretti Autosport and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Seems like a small thing, but if the fanbase shows a company that their investment is worth it, they are more than happy to continue making that investment.

Link No. 2 comes from Zach at IndyCar Advocate. His post yesterday challenged his fellow fans to send at least one item of correspondence per day to a sponsor (Twitter and Facebook don't count) between now and the opener at St. Pete, which coincidentally was 33 days from yesterday.

I decided to get in on it, and my first two e-mails have been to Sun Drop and Fuzzy's Vodka. It has taken a total of about five minutes of my time and is kind of fun. It's also a great way to learn more about sponsors (I had no idea there were so many) and try to give them as much of our business as possible.

Update! (2/23/2012) I received a personal reply from Eric Timmerman, CEO of Fuzzy's. Sounds like a cool guy, and it was very classy for him to give me a shout back.

Here is what he wrote:


Thank you for the email and support.  We are glad that we can support both Ed Carpenter Racing and IndyCar.  We look forward to being involved for a full season this year and are confident that Ed and Ed Carpenter Racing will deliver strong results.

Again, thank you for the support.

Best regards,

Monday, February 20, 2012

What's the Over/Under on Indy Qualifying Speeds? And Should We Really Worry About It?

I've been reading more and more lately that the development of the DW12 on ovals is improving, and it is now possible that Indy speeds this May could come close to reaching the levels that we have been seeing the last few years. Bobby Rahal mentioned in an interview that he could see the cars turning 230 mph laps by May.

If that is the case, it's quite the testament to the work of the drivers, crews and of course Dallara to get the early bugs ironed out of the new chassis. When Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were struggling to hit 215 at Indy back in November, people were starting to get a little restless.

I'll admit, when the plans of new engines and chassis programs were announced, and Randy Bernard commented that he would like to see track records at Indy, I was one of those who hoped that in the coming years the drivers could threaten Arie Luyendyk's now 16-year-old record. I still feel that way for the most part. Altough I'll admit the fact that it isn't going to happen -- at least for now -- isn't a huge deal-breaker for me.

As I've mentioned in a previous long ago post, I was fortunate to have witnessed the one-lap track record broken 17 times between 1982-92. It was an amazing time and amazing place to be to watch year after year the speeds rise from Rick Mears' 193 mph pole speed in 1979 to Roberto Guerrero's track record of 232 set 13 years later. But again, that was the past, and sooner or later we reached a point where for several reasons that may or may not happen again.

I want to see the track record broken. Don't get me wrong, I would be absolutely, and will be absolutely, jacked when or if that day comes. But I don't NEED to see it happen to get excited about qualifying or the race itself. Maybe they have broken tradition by implementing the Fast Nine shootout and giving cars three chances to qualify each day, but has that changed the drama of qualifying? Nope. I still get as excited for it as I did back when I was a kid, and over the last few years the final hour of Bump Day has provided a lot of excitement.

I think those of us who are fans need to really readjust our priorities. Looking back over the last couple of years we have been spoiled by great qualifying runs and even better racing. Helio's pole run in 2010 in the extreme heat was epic, as was Alex Tagliani's dash last year. And twenty years from now people will look back at the 2011 race as one of the best in history.

Honestly, would you trade ANY of what has happened in recent 500 history for a couple of track records? I wouldn't. No way. Let's be real, 225-230 mph is still hella fast, and faster than any other race in the world. Maybe it isn't what we want, but do we have any room to complain?

I have heard the argument that higher speeds will bring back the fans. Maybe to a point, but we are kidding ourselves if we think 100,000 people will show up for time trials if the cars are going 240 mph. It sounds like a broken record, but times have changed. People have other things to do. I was watching Daytona qualifying today and the stands there were close to empty.

We need to stop thinking track records would validate IndyCar and bring back legions of fans. It might, but we are better served with putting on a good show week after week and sustaining fans for more than one weekend.

As many of my fellow bloggers have said, let's remember the past (fondly) but let's stop being stuck there. Instead, let's focus on the fact that we are at what I believe is the forefront of an incredible era at the Speedway. The drivers and teams now in the series have shown that the last couple of years are just a preview of what is to come.

IndyCar is slowly building something, and as long as they keep building a day will come when people start paying attention. A few 240 mph laps isn't going to do it any faster.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Frenetic Friday -- Rich Vogler

Hard to believe that winter is starting to come to and end, and along with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, we are now officially less than 100 days away from the 2012 Indy 500. It's all downhill from here, peeps.

There has been a lot going on in the IndyCar scene this past week, but most of it has been well-covered by my fellow bloggers. So in honor of cracking the 100-day barrier I'm going with a little 500 love.

There was a time when the Indy 500 was not only a chance for the best in the world to come together and complete, it was the opportunity for some of the best USAC drivers of the day to come to the big leagues for the shot at matching their skills with the best in the business. It was their chance for a moment in the sun before heading back to the long nights in the shop and the dusty tracks where they would spend the rest of the year.

Much respect to that, by the way. I'm not knocking that at all, the heart of our sport still lies on the folks that work hard during the week so the can drive hard during the weekend. But it is long, hard work with little in they way of reward, beyond making a living and personal satisfaction. So the 500 was the chance to step up and show what they could do.

One of the last of the USAC drivers to give Indy a try was Rich Vogler, who, arguably, was one of the best sprint and midget drivers of his era. Or of pretty much any era, to be honest.

A two-time sprint national champion and five-time midget champion, Vogler won 171 USAC races and more than 200 non-sanctioned events. His total of 134 national event wins is second only to A.J. Foyt and his 169 victories. In 1980 he became the first driver to win the sprint and midget national titles in the same year (Tony Stewart would win the sprint, midget and Silver Crown championships in 1995) and he belongs to the national midget, sprint and motorsports halls of fame.

Vogler teamed up with Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria in 1985 and made the trek to Indy, where he was part of a rookie class that included Arie Luyendyk, Raul Boesel and Jim Crawford. He started last and completed 119 laps before a crash in turn 1 ended his day in 23rd place.

Driving a Buick-powered machine in 1987 he posted his career-best qualifying position when he started 11th, but the usual Buick engine gremlins knocked him out after 109 laps. The next year, he was the final driver on the track on Bubble Day and bumped Gordon Johncock from the race after Johncock had bumped him from the field minutes earlier.

1989 turned out to be his last 500, he started 33rd but completed 192 laps to finish in eighth place. In his five appearances at the Speedway, he ran a total of 711 laps and made just over $519,000. Vogler returned to the Speedway in 1990 but crashed on a Pole Day qualifying attempt and after jumping into another car on the second weekend was bumped from the field.

Sadly that was his last opportunity to run at the Speedway. Just two months later, and five days before his 40th birthday, Vogler was killed while leading the Joe James/Pat O'Connor Memorial race at Salem Speedway on July 21st. The race was red flagged and by USAC rule he was declared the winner, with Jeff Gordon finishing as the runner-up.

His spirit lives on in the form of the Rich Vogler Scholarship Foundation. Originally set up to help his sons attend college after his death, the fund has awarded over $300,000 in scholarships, including 2011 when it awarded $1,000 scholarships to 17 lucky recipients. NASCAR driver Ryan Newman was a scholarship winner in 1996, which helped fund his education to Purdue University where he earned an engineering degree.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Nazareth Speedway -- Time Marches On

Kind of strange that after writing about what I believe is a make or break effort to keep the Milwaukee race alive, I come across a Facebook page dedicated to saving Nazareth Speedway.

Doing some reading, I found that racing began on the site where the current track stands in 1910. After being purchased by Roger Penske in 1986 it was renovated and became a stop on the CART (1987-2001) and then IRL (2002-04) series and was also used for NASCAR Nationwide (then Busch) Series racing, as well as trucks and IROC competitions.
The flat, .946-mile track was home to fast speeds and great racing, and features an impressive list of winners such as Emerson Fittipaldi, who won there a record three times, and others such hometown hero Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Arie Luyendyk, Paul Tracy and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Dan Wheldon won the final race held there in 2004, after which the track was closed.

The speedway has since sadly fallen into a state of disrepair, looking much like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway did during the World War II years. The Facebook page I referenced above has an entire gallery of photos that show the demise of the track.

It's always sad to see time pass something like a stadium or racetrack by. I have great memories of old Comiskey Park in Chicago, Tiger Stadium in Detroit or even the RCA Dome and Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. So much history reduced to rubble. Some places just outlive their usefulness, or we decide we want something bigger and better.

Turn 2/Save Nazareth Speeway Facebook Page
While I applaud the effort of the people who have put together this page (I "liked" it as well), it is probably too little, too late. It would take millions upon millions of dollars to bring the facility back to life, and in the eight years it has sat silent, several tracks have been built in its place.

Time goes on, but still, seeing these photos makes me kind of sad. Walking through the gates at Indy, I can look around and see 100 years of racing in my mind's eye, just like I can when I walk through my historic neighborhood of century-old homes.

When something is still standing, you can see it, you can still feel it. But when it is gone, that fades away. When I go to U.S Cellular Field I cross the street and find the home plate in the concrete where Comiskey Park used to stand. As the years go on, I find the vision of what once stood there fading from my mind. Ty Cobb played there, so did Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and hundreds of other stars. I was fortunate to see several Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Reggie Jackson play there. But each time I go back the vision I have of my time spent there is replaced by SUVs and tailgaters playing bags.

Yeah, I know that is progress, but I don't always have to like it. The Cell is a great place to watch a game, and I love the amenities and not having to worry about getting water on me from leaky pipes. But it isn't the same, and while I always try to look forward, every once in a while I want to look back, but when the keys to your memories are gone, it isn't so easy.

Time marches on, and tracks come and go. Seeing something like this, though, makes me appreciate the time, money and especially care the people at the Speedway put into keeping the facility vibrant and alive, a living, breathing place of history. Sure, as long as the 500 is around we never have to worry about the Speedway, which is a good thing, because there are so many memories of that place that I know hundreds of thousands of people want to keep alive for as long as possible.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Okay IndyCar Nation

We asked, and received.

We wanted more ovals on the schedule, and we got one. We wanted Milwaukee back, and they gave it to us.

Now, what are we going to do with it? That's the question.

Friday's announcement that Milwaukee will be back on the schedule as a 225-mile race on June 15 came as a nice surprise and good news to all. A great venue for open wheel racing, a favorite of the drivers and a living representation of the history of motorsport, it is a super addition to the schedule and will be part of an outburst that will have the series competing on ovals for five out of six weeks (counting two weeks at Indy) in May and June.

And, as an added bonus, the race will be promoted by a group led by Michael Andretti, who had an incredible amount of success at the track. You would think that promoting this race into a big deal is something near and dear to his heart.

Bonus No. 2 involves a possible Graham Rahal-planned bus trip from Indy. I'm sure if you get on that express Graham will seriously make it worth your while. If I had the money I'd make the drive down from Aurora just for that trip.

BTW, Graham, any way the bus can make a stop in Chicago?

Indy, Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa...what can be better, right?

Indy, Texas and Iowa will take care of themselves, of course. A combination of tradition, history of great racing, tremendous promotion and fan loyalty will make all of those events a success, as always. But Milwaukee is the wild card, no one knows as we stand here today how it will play out.

If it goes like last year, where they put on a race and no one showed up, we can scratch it off the list forever, and plant the seed in Randy Bernard's head that maybe ovals outside of the established tracks aren't the way to go. If the stands are relatively filled, the powers-that-be will know that the fans will support the event, and perhaps a push will be made to bring back some other long-lost ovals of the past.

So as fans of IndyCar, that is our job...just show up! We've been talking so much how we all want ovals on the schedule, and now is the time to back that up. It's the strangest thing...everyone WANTS ovals, but they aren't willing to make the trip to support many of them (R.I.P. Kentucky).

I'm hopefully going to be there (the only way I won't is if my brother qualifies for the US Open golf tournament) with my 11-year-old son in tow. He's too young to go to the 500 with his older brother and I, but this sounds like the perfect kind of day for him.

It's four months away, set aside the weekend, make the drive and get there. If you think the research numbers that tell Randy Bernard the fan base wants more road and street courses is BS (which, Randy, while we love you, it is totally BS), let him know by supporting this event.

Because in the end, if this doesn't work out, we only have ourselves to blame.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Frenetic Friday -- State of IndyCar edition

Another Friday, the end of a crazy week. My trip to Cancun was "lovely" (as my mom likes to call things), stayed at a beautiful hotel, swam with the fishes (snorkeled in a beautiful national park) and drank lots of maragaritas. Oh yeah, I also got caught up in a riptide and needed to be assisted out of the ocean by a lifeguard, or as my girlfriend and I have now coined it "being baywatched".

baywatched (v): When a gringo goes to Cancun and needs to be fished out of the Gulf less than 15 minutes after getting in the water.

Actually it was a scary experience (not to mention embarrassing) that I am no doubt using humor to try and hold off the post-traumatic stress disorder that may follow. Hope that never happens again!

Anyway, here are a few musings that have hit my mind this week:

* State of IndyCar. Randy Bernard's yearly address goes down Monday and should cover some very interesting topics. I think in 2011 the series took two steps forward and one back, meaning things could be better but at least they are better overall than a year ago. What I like is the fact that it is open to the public and will be streamed live to those of us who can't make it down there. The best part of how the series currently stands is that if you are a passionate fan, you can be involved in the process and even at times get your voice heard. Hats off to Randy for that because I think one of the problems with the pervious regime is that everything was cloaked in secrecy and that made it tough for the fans. No matter how far the series has progressed over the last four years (and two of the Bernard Era), a lot of long-time fans (me included) sometimes worry that the other shoe is going to drop. Knowing better where the series is going and what they are doing to improve it is a big deal to a lot of the Nation.

*I haven't heard anything more about Milwaukee. So I hope that is covered on Monday. I'm not one of those who are upset about the "lack" of ovals this year, but would like to see a couple more additions if possible. Say what you want about the schedule, but to do well you have to be a complete driver. All four ovals are different lengths, speeds and configurations, and each road and street course is its own animal. You have to be skilled in so many areas to win in this series, which is why Will Power is still seeking his first title. Will is no doubt the full-on master of twisties -- someday I believe he might win all of them in a season -- but his struggles on ovals will keep him from winning that coveted championship.

Edit! Apparently there was an internet malfunction on the Milwaukee Mile website that showed a race was a go and would be promoted by Andretti Sports Management. Even Tony Kanaan responded with a tweet. But according to a Milwaukee Sentinel blog post it is not a done deal, just a page that went live a little too soon. Still, good news on that front.

Edit No. 2! Looks like it is an official deal, with the race to be run on Jun. 15, a Saturday. Look for a soapbox-minded post on this next week.

*I have been reading that Beaux Barfield has been working on the rulebook. A good thing, and hopefully that will be addressed too. If what I have read is correct, he has whittled down his iron fist (discretion of race control) to just a few items, and has implemented systems to communicate better with teams and drivers. If all he does is improve communication in the paddock he will be head and shoulders better than the previous regime.

*He has also been giving thought to double-file restarts. I can take those or leave them. I admit I loved them at Indy last year as my seats in the first turn were prime viewing for the absolute chaos that ensued when the green fell. Still, I would take better execution of single-file starts (i.e. don't let them jump on the gas until they see the green) over double-file, only because while it was exciting it is also gimmicky. I like things being about the fans, but not at the expense of the integrity of the competition (ahem, green/white/checker "overtimes", ahem). Yeah I know I was excited about them when I wrote a little something about a year ago, but in the long run it just didn't inspire me, especially because for the most part the drivers never bought into it.

*Another interesting take on race starts comes from Zachary at IndyCar Advocate. In an open letter to Randy he makes mention of standing starts. I kinda like it, just to give things a different look and keep the cars bunched up a little at the start. Some of the starts last season were atrocious and made the series look bush league. Anything that helps alleviate that would be awesome.

*It's been quiet on the Rubens front lately. Apparently he is looking for sponsors and does want to drive in the series, though he isn't quite sure about the number of races. I don't blame him for sitting out the ovals if he so chooses, but I would love to see him at Indy since despite its flat-out nature it is very technical and I would be interested in seeing how his cerebral approach would work there. Hopefully it all gets worked out.

*Finally, a little NRR (non-racing related) thought. As I have mentioned several times before I love great writing. As a former hobby-level tennis player I had been looking forward to reading "Open" the autobiography of Andre Agassi. I finally picked it up at the airport last week and just absolutely devoured it. Agassi and I are about the same age and I have been a fan since the beginning, so it was a great read. Like many sports-related books and movies over the last few years, it isn't a tennis book, it is a book about a tennis player who lived, learned and evolved into a great human being who is giving back tenfold over what he got. Very deep but also at times utterly hilarious, it is worth every second I spent reading.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Frenetic Friday -- Near-Cancun Experience Edition

My brain is fried from being in a Cisco training class all week, and what mind I have left is thinking about the plane bound for Cancun that I will be on in about 40 hours. But I figured a few random thoughts might be fun. So here we go...

* Rubens Barrichello was all the rage this week, and with good reason as he tested well at Sebring and left Florida for Brazil in a pretty good frame of mind. I say he will be driving in the IndyCar series this season, and I bet it won't take long for the decision on his part and the business side of KV Racing to get everything together. Big ups to Randy Bernard for making the trip to Florida to speak with Barrichello personally...that's what good leaders do, and I'm sure given the crap Rubens dealt with in F1 Bernard's actions were refreshing and made him feel wanted.

*Not everyone is as excited as I am. John Oreovicz, whose writing I typically enjoy, wrote a pretty sour article on today throwing out tons of negatives related to Rubens joining the series. Of course he brings up how this in no way relates to the same buzz Nigel Mansell brought to the series and talks about how Barichello really isn't that good of a driver because Michael Schumacher dominated Rubens in both wins and points during the time they were in F1 together. News flash: Schumi dominated EVERYONE. And besides, how many times was Barrichello racing under team orders (that usually weren't in his favor) when he was driving for Ferrari? Kind of puts in in perspective. It probably sucked to have a great car only to be told the best you can finish is second.

Then he goes on to talk about how bad it would make the series look if Rubens came on board and had a huge amount of success. I think people are being real in the sense that most would just like to see another good driver in the series, and if a higher media/fan presence comes from that, the better. I'd rather see Barrichello, who can still drive, than some lame ride-buyer. And if he does well, good for him! That's like saying Major League baseball would look bad if Japanese import Yu Darvish won 20 games and pitched Texas into the World Series. Maybe the guy is just really that good?

*And for the question of the day...why when anyone bashes IndyCar they go back to the 1990s? Yes, CART was arguably the world's best racing series at the time, but that was 20 years ago and a lot of things have changed. Personally, maybe open wheel racing doesn't have the star power (which yes I do miss) but I think top to bottom the racing is better. How many cars finished on the lead lap of the 500 in that era, or any race for that matter? The 1989, '91 and '92 races were among the best 500s I have ever seen in terms of finishes, but outside of two or at the most three cars, no one else was in the fight over the last 100 miles. In 2011 a total of 12 cars finished on the lead lap, nine of which led the race at one point, including eight in the final 150 miles.

I was watching the 1991 Milwaukee race a few nights ago (yeah I'm geeky like that) and do you know how many cars finished on the lead lap? Two -- in a 200-mile race! Not to mention only 12 of the 21 cars were running at the finish. Michael Andretti had that race wrapped up with 30 laps to go, and guys like Rick Mears and Al Unser Jr. didn't even make it to the end because their motors went south. Don't get me wrong, I can get as romantic as the next person about that era, but as I posted on Twitter last week: "The good old days weren't always good, tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems." (Thank you Billy Joel)

*Speaking of motors breaking...I've been reading that Honda had a tough time at the Sebring test, and Chevy didn't escape unscathed either, although having TK and Barichello beat on that motor for three days says a lot about its progress. Speaking of, have you seen the video of a lap onboard with Barichello? The guy was in full-attack mode, dude was driving that car HARD. I'm sure that all three manufacturers will have things more together by the start of the season, but it's nice to know that maybe attrition will make a bit of a comeback. While I don't want to see mechanical carnage like the post mentioned above or Fontana, circa 2000, I do hope that maybe having having that variable back into the equation might make the end of races a little more interesting than who has enough gas and who doesn't.

*This week the Super Bowl descends on Indianapolis. I moved away from Indy in 1994, and every so often I look back and wish I had never left. The city has earned rave reviews for its presentation, and with good reason. The organizers have done a fantastic job, and they have also had the good fortune of warm temperatures all week too. What I'm glad to see is how IndyCar has been integrated into the celebration and how is has raised the visibility of the series. Three-and-a-half months ago, the series was at such a low point, and rightfully so. But it's been great to see how the drivers and the track have been part of the week. I thought the NFL-themed Indy cars were really cool too, although Pork Chop got a raw deal being painted in Buccaneer colors! For all the dedicated service he gave, you would think he would have deserved better. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but with the weather the way it was, how cool would it have been to have had a few cars on track for some hot laps? Bring out the media and offer the fans a free shuttle to and from...I'm sure a few of them would have come back in May!

*Final thought. The Danica era in NASCAR officially begins next week at Daytona. I'll admit, while I'm not a huge fan I want her to do well, only to stop the IndyCar-drivers-are-inferior talk. Really, has anyone who has made the jump got this kind of equipment and opportunity? Maybe you could argue Sam Hornish did, but he was never Penske's primary driver in Cup and that showed. Yes, I'm biased, but if you gave a top-level IndyCar driver Jimmie Johnson-level resources, they would show themselves well. Maybe not as well as Five Time, but they would hold their own. I just don't think anyone who has made the jump has gotten a fair shake when it comes to resources and equipment. Danica has both, so I guess we will see.

One other random Danica it me or does she completely look like actress Anna Kendrick? I've thought that for a while (especially since 50/50 was only behind Moneyball as my favorite movie of 2011) but didn't know if I was the only one. Just thought I would share.

Below: Rubens doing work.