Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Are They Really This Dumb?

My 16-year-old son Matt has the unfortunate role of being on the receiving end of a lot of my rants. None are directed towards him, well most of them aren't, most of them are about stuff we see on TV or hear on the news.

I think he knows when I am getting amped up because I'll say "You know..." and his response is, "Heeerrre we go!"

That's my response to the drama in IndyCar that has been festering for a while but is finally bubbling towards the surface concerning some owners and other hangers-on in the series wanting to get rid of Randy Bernard. I'm trying to decide if the people involved are really this stupid, gluttons for punishment or both.

Jenna Fryer of the AP reported this about 10 days ago, and Robin Miller said his piece here. He names names, among them being Michael Andretti, John Barnes, Tony George (WTF?) and Kevin Kalkhoven.

Really? People care what George and Kalkhoven think? Didn't they at one point each run a series, and didn't they run said series into the ground? And they want to be in charge again? Didn't George spend hundreds of millions of dollars of his family fortune to support an idea that was terrible in the first place, and then got canned by his own family?

Bernard went public last night, saying he knows what he is going on and is "disappointed". Ed Carpenter, who at one point was believed to be part of the revolt -- and in my mind if George is involved he is guilty by association, because my weekend in the garage area made me think ECR looks a lot like Vision Racing 2.0 because George was all over the place -- came back with a tweet that said he had nothing to do with it, then added another saying we should be focusing on selling tickets and propping up the series. (To that I say a rousing AMEN!)

After Miller's piece ran, Michael Andretti came back to say that it is all being blown out of porportion and that Robin is out of his mind. Given how hard Michael is working to build the series through the events in Milwaukee and Baltimore, I'll give him a pass here.

But beyong that, at this point, who do you believe?

At face value, the idea of ousting the current CEO is a head-scratcher. Attendance is up, ratings are up, people are finally beginning to make money. The series in terms of competition and health is sitting on its best footing in years. But yet people want to get rid of the man who is responsible for much of it.

I'm sure that means that there are plenty of things going on behind closed doors that we know nothing about. Some promises were made that apparently weren't kept, but I'm going to guess most of it has to do with the owners having little input in Bernard's decisions. Now, most of them are CEO's themselves, and while their minions have little input in THEIR decisions, they feel that they should be consulted on things, because, well, they are the owners. Makes sense doesn't it?

This is about power, I get that. And when power is involved, it doesn't matter if stupid decisions are made in attaining said power, as long as you get it in your little hands that's all you need. It's like a faction of guerillas that stage a coup in a small third world country. They blow up buildings, kill a lot of people and throw the country's economy further into the tank. But at the end, they have the power, so the path of destruction they left behind doesn't matter.

What's funny is that all of these owners are successful businessmen who would never make these types of emotional deicisions in their work, so you wonder why they do it here. Not only that, they do it again, and again, and again. The owners and the establishment have been fighting this battle for 30-plus years, don't you think they would have figured it out by now?

I just don't understand how the same people do the same self-destructive things over and over. Not only that, they pick the worst time to do it. Now, maybe this is something that has been going on for months and months, but the worst thing you can do is bring this to the surface just after the series hit one of the highest highs it has experienced since 1996, staging an event that, if managed correctly, could be the official start of the comeback of IndyCar. There is finally, FINALLY (!) a buzz, the series races the next four weekends, and by Iowa they could be on quite the roll, but yet this is the news instead.

They decide that it is time to eff all of this up. And the worst thing they are doing is fighting this battle in the public eye. Power struggles like this go on in the business world all of the time. Yet most of the time they are done when nobody is watching. Nobody wants to see it go public because it devalues a brand and drops consumer confidence in a company and its products.

And here is a tip for any owner that reads this (really, I know they don't): people who live everyday lives, who struggle with their jobs and their bills and their families but still shell out their hard earned money to come see your product, HATE IT when millionaires haggle about money and power. Yeah, we hate it. I spent a lot of money that I probably didn't have to go to Indy the last two weekends, but I did it because it is Indy and it is what I do -- and I am not looking for sympathy because I would do it again in a heartbeat. I for one can't stand this kind of bitching. Some of us, lots of us, have real problems, idiots. If you are worth over $100 million and you have to pay 100 grand extra for a car (and especially if it isn't even your money, it's your sponsor's), I don't feel your pain. Go cry someplace else.

I've held off calling every little thing that has happened in the series a "black eye on the sport" because many are just overblown by the faction of haters that hover over IndyCar, waiting to pick the carcass and say "I told you so" when all is said and done.

This one, this one is a black eye, and it is quite a shiner I might add. Remember in old movies where someone would get punched in the face and they would put raw meat on the wound to keep it from swelling? You need a Porterhouse, and later a lot of makeup, to cover this one up.

That is what pisses me off, that this battle is being waged in a public forum. At this point, I don't care who is right, wrong or otherwise. It should never have gotten this far.

As I said on Twitter, do you really, really think that all of the owners in NASCAR are happy with the way the France's run their business? No! NASCAR is run by people who have egos just as big, if not bigger, than the people in play here. Still, for the sake of everyone's best interests they keep their greivances within the family, and that's exactly how it should be handled here.

(Before anyone goes on a rant, I am not supporting NASCAR. They have their own issues to deal with.)

I'm not close enough to the series to totally understand what is going on, and I'm not going to try. I just wish everyone would get their heads together and say "we have to figure this out" and do whatever is best for the fans.

IndyCar, the series, is one of the most fan-friendly sports organizations in the world. The owners are not, and cannot understand, or do not care, about the fans and giving them what they want. They are in it for themselves, and the sport suffers because of it.

They want this series run by a Bud Selig-type. A guy that will do their bidding, push through things that they want -- whether they are good for the game or not -- and make them money. Selig does all of that for them, and yes they are all very, very rich. However, the game itself, and especially the fans, are the ones that in the end will pay for all of it.

In fact, the structure of baseball looks much like IndyCar. A few franchises dominate, and the rest are on the cusp of losing 100 games a year. The teams that lose all the time can deal with it, because they get money from the powers that be. And far be it that they would say anything because that cash spigot can be turned off at any time. That sounds really, really familiar.

I'd love to think this is another of Miller's ridiculous pieces that he throws out there from time-to-time, but despite some damning evidence, the only words we have heard from the people involved are tweets that Miller is delusional. If that's the case, tell us the truth. Take the opportunity to tell us what is really going on. We're waiting.

So even though it will fall on deaf ears, here is my plea: for once, everyone involved needs to put the fans and the best interests of the series ahead of their own personal agendas. Focus on what is important. Keep your eye on the prize.

Because if you don't, history will repeat itself. Again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Musings

Still have a little bit of the "Indy hangover", but life is getting back to normal, so I guess we start the countdown to next year. 363 days by the way.

I've had a couple of things bouncing around my mind the last day or two, so I figured I would throw them out there for public consumption.

Dario Franchitti. I can't say I am a fan of his, but I do appreciate his talent. I have been researching a few things on Dario's accomplishments at Indy and hope to have a post up on him later on this week. But let's get one thing out of the way: criticism for his winning all three of his races under yellow is BS. No doubt you need some luck to win the 500, and he is fortunate to have gotten that at the right time, but he didn't back into any of his wins. He closes. I had a British gent sitting behind me at the race and he called Dario winning at about the halfway point of the race because "He knows how to win.". Yes he does. And besides, Rick Mears won a race under caution, so did Dan Wheldon (technically both his wins were under caution) and two of AJ Foyt's wins came when the leader dropped out with less than 10 laps remaining and I don't hear much said about them. Indy 500 wins don't come with asterisks.

Takuma Sato. I have bashed the hell out of Taku several times for his propensity to hit things, but man he is really growing up this season, no doubt getting the benefit of working with a mentor like Bobby Rahal. I still have no problem with the move he made, we can all second-guess him but he saw an opening and he took it. There was just over 2 miles to go in the race and he saw an opportunity. Maybe experience might teach him to try later the next time, but Mears faced the same move in the same situation in 1982, backed off, and ran out of time in finishing second to Gordon Johncock while earning a lot of criticism in the process. One thing I can say for certainty is that I saw a great Youtube video of the turn 1 incident and it was just hard, clean racing. Dario gave him room, not a lot, but enough, and it just didn't stick. In fact, it didn't look a lot different than when he followed Dario underneath Dixon just a couple of laps before.

Scott Dixon. Speaking of Dixie, I saw a stat today that he has seven straight top-6 finishes in the 500. In fact, eight of his 10 career starts are in that category. Just an amazing run of consistency. Dixon has completed all 1,366 laps in competition over the last seven years (2006-12). Believe it or not, that breaks a 71-year-old record as Wilbur Shaw completed 1,351 between 1935-41. Franchitti also has completed all of the laps in his last seven races, but missed the 2008 race so it isn't consecutive. Dixon might have a couple more wins if things had gone his way a little more, but he's also driving in such a deep era -- since 2000 the race has had three drivers win a total of eight of the races, it's just tougher now than it used to be.

35 lead changes. Watching the highlights with the radio call spliced in I heard track historian Donald Davidson say he was disappointed as his favorite 500 record fell Sunday. It is amazing that Jim Rathmann and Rodger Ward's 1960 duel that produced the previous record (29) stood for as long as it did, but for sure is a testament to the competition level and the raciness of the DW12.

On to Milwaukee. OK, so the series heads to Belle Isle first and then Texas, but personally the Mile will be my next stop. I found out today that I will be credentialed for race weekend, meaning I will cover the events on Friday for this little blog and drop in my impressions after watching Saturday's race. Should be a good time, by the looks of the Twitter feeds the drivers are having a great time up there in testing today, so hopefully it will be a great event.

Thanks for reading! I'm a stat geek so the Blogspot stats page has drawn a lot of my attention. It's been the best month of this little blog's existence, and I want to thank everyone who reads the blog and follows me on Twitter. I had over 1,000 page views in each of the last two weekends, and Sunday/Monday (the software tracks from 7 p.m. to 7 p.m.) I had an amazing 734 views! Even though the month is over, please keep coming back, I promise I'll keep the good stuff coming.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

That. Was. Amazing

As I sit here watching the replay of today's Indianapolis 500, I keep thinking of how many different superlatives I should use to describe what I saw from my seat in the SW Vista.

You know what? I'm not going to use any, because it speaks for itself. It was just an amazing show.

35 lead changes (among 10 drivers), four coming in the final 10 laps, breaking a record that had stood since 1960.

Dario Franchitti becomes a three-time winner, just the 10th driver in the race's history to win the race three or more times.

Lots of great action throughout the field, great passes, outstanding restarts and an insane amount of drama.

Should I keep going? Nah. I'll just run though the top-10 and mention a few different notes.

Winner -- Dario Franchitti. Started 16th and led 23 laps. Among his three wins, this was Franchitti's finest. An early pit snafu at the hand of EJ Viso put Dario in 29th place, and he carved his way up the field to become a factor in a hurry. Most of those passes for position were on the track as he picked drivers up and knocked them down. I'll hold off on an opinion as to his turn 1 actions on the last lap skirmish with Takuma Sato, because honestly, I saw it happen live and saw several replays and I still don't know. So I will just take my hat off to him for driving a brilliant race and getting it done when he had to.

Runner-up -- Scott Dixon. Dixie drove well and finished second for the third time this season while leading 38 laps. He was at or near the front of the field all day long, and for the second straight year came one break short of winning.

Tony Kanaan (3rd place). Dammit! TK was there, the race was in his hands, but he fell short. Still, his sixth-to-first move on a restart on lap 187 was the typical TK, the best move of the day and one that brought out the biggest cheer. It's unfortunate that fans can't will a driver to a win, because if it were the case TK would've won in a runaway.

Oriol Servia (4th place). A couple of minutes after the race ended I looked at the scoreboard and saw No. 22 listed in fourth. My first thought: "Where did HE come from?" Servia lost a lap early in the race and didn't get it back until very, very late, then pushed forward in the final two restarts. The Spaniard placed third last year so has back-to-back top 5 finishes. Great run in his first event with a Chevy, and he improved 23 spots from his 27th starting postion.

Ryan Briscoe (5th place). The polesitter was in the mix early but spend much of the day outside the top 10. He shuffled his way up to his fifth-place finish and led a career-best 15 laps.

James Hinchcliffe (6th place). Hinch looked great early on and was pretty quick down the stretch, but his final 13.5 second pit stop just put him too far behind to make a move. Still, it was an impressive run for Hinch in his second 500.

Justin Wilson (7th place). The big Brit looked about as racy as I have seen him, especially on an oval. He had a great car and needed a top 10 finish badly to stop the bleeding of what had up to this point been a lost season.

Charlie Kimball (8th place). See Wilson, Justin. Charlie led three laps and drove a consistent race.

Townsend Bell (9th place). Bell stepped out from behind his NBC Sports mic as a one-off effort for Sam Schmidt, and represented himself well. Moved up late and picked up his best finish since placing 4thi n 2009.

Helio Castroneves (10th place). Castroneves wasn't a factor for the 2nd straight year, and proves how hard it is to win this race. Many (me included) thought he was a lock to win four, or even five races, but since his last win in 2009 he has gone P9, P16 and P10.

Rubens Barrichello (11th place). OK, we are going to go top 11 as Rubens was named the Rookie of the Year. He led two laps while shuffling through pit stops, and while he didn't do anything spectacular, he didn't do anything stupid either. I realized after the race that prior to today he had probably never run a race much over 200 miles, so he was in uncharted territory for a good part of the day.

Takuma Sato (17th place). Taku started 19th but had a rocket most of the day. Sato led 31 laps and his move in the first turn of the final lap was crazy but ballsy. At that point it's about winning, and I will give him props for going for it. He is running up front more and more often.

Ed Carpenter (21st place). Until today, Carpenter's month had been one to forget. He was slow in practice and crashed hard in Time Trials before becoming the final qualifier on Bump Day. It was awesome watching him move up as high as third place, but I'd seen him wiggling around a lot, and his spin was a case of probably pressing a little too hard. Still, good run for Ed.

Katherine Legge (22nd place). Legge is actually a late addition to this list, but I thought it was appropriate to give her a shout out because of the tumultuous month she and her Dragon Racing team suffered through. After not getting an engine until midweek and not getting through the Rookie Orientation Program until Fast Friday, Legge had a steep learning curve on race day. Given she had just one oval race under her belt, she did an admirable job. Like many other drivers (including Barrichello and Newgarden), laying down laps and getting experience meant more than anything.

Marco Andretti (24th place). Marco led the most laps (58) on the day and was dominant the first half of the race. But a crash in turn 1 with 12 laps to go ended his day. In my preview I mentioned patience, and his radio rage and visible frustration at times when things weren't going his way is to me the sign of someone who needs to learn some more patience. He had the car but he lost his head at the worst time.

A few other notes...Josef Newgarden got off sequence with the rest of the field early and was playing catchup for most of the day before losing a motor with 39 laps to go. Still, he has a lot to build on from here, and has to leave Indy with a lot of confidence...Ryan Hunter-Reay started third but finished 27th after having a suspension issue...Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi's days lasted 10 and nine laps, respectively, before being parked due to the 105 percent rule. De Silvestro was 22 seconds behind just six laps in, so it was the right decision...Speaking of, Beaux Barfield called a great race. The start was one of the best in years and single-file restarts were the way to go as they were still very exciting.

From a personal standpoint, it was one of the best race days I've ever experienced. In fact, it was the best Month of May I've ever had. It was great to once again share the day with my son Matt, and I once again enjoyed spending time with my new friends in the Social Media Garage before the race. The Fast Friday-Pole Day-Pump Day trifecta was a lot of fun thanks to them.

I could probably go on and on but I'll leave it at that. Maybe I will add to it later, but for now I'll just say thanks to everyone I met and hung with all month. When I started doing this blog 18 months ago, this was what I envisioned, an opportunity to share my love of the Indy 500 with others. What a great ride!

It's Race Day!

It's 1 a.m. and I can't sleep. Actually, that is nothing new but I figured a long day and some Tylenol PM would do the trick. Not yet, but I'm going to try. Wakeup call is for 5 a.m.!

My son Matt is probably already asleep. He still thinks Christmas comes on Dec. 25. He'll learn, it's only his 2nd year. But to make matters even more exciting, we have a newbie coming with us, my niece's boyfriend Ned. He's a good guy, hopefully we convert a new fan today.

This is going to be a short post (one I will probably lengthen when I wake up in the morning) but I have a couple of things on my mind.

I posted on Twitter the following two questions: How many drivers are like us, just lying in bed staring at the ceiling? How many of them are thinking "is today the day I win the Indy 500?"?

I got a couple of answers, and they were both the same. 33 and 31.

Good call! But I think the answer is 33 and 33. I doubt for a second Jean Alesi or Simona de Silvestro are thinking about how many laps they will run today before they are pulled off the course. Sports are where miracles happen, maybe they are thinking "man, what if?". The great things about dreams is that there are times they come true. No, they won't win, but it's still fun to dream about it. It's why we play the games.

Still, somewhere in a motorcoach, a hotel room or even their own bed at home, a driver is sleeping on the fact that at this time tomorrow their life will have changed. The race is going to be run, and someone is going to add their name to the list of drivers who have won the Indianapolis 500. It might be the first time, like for a guy like Marco Andretti or James Hinchcliffe, it might be an historic win, in the case of Helio Castroneves, or a second (or third) trip to Victory Lane for Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti.

Either way, something amazing is going to happen today. Something historic, something those of us who love Indy and all it stands for will put another bit of a great memory into our minds and hearts. After all, it's why we keep coming back.

One thing that fascinates me more than anything is the mind of an elite athlete. One reason we look up to them is that they can do something that we cannot. Especially race car drivers. In high school I batted against a player who went to the major leagues, I later played basketball with guys who played at Division I colleges and for a time I was a single-digit handicap golfer. I never did any of those things as well as a professional, but I have done it at a enough of a level that I have a point of reference to what it takes to accomplish what they do.

It's hard, damn hard, and people have no idea how talented you have to be to do any of those things for living.

I have a taste, but I don't have a reference for racing, one thing I haven't done is driven a race car at 200 miles an hour. That's why these people are my heroes, because they can do something I can't, and will never, be able to do.

But on the eve of a day like today's, how do they do it? How do they settle in and get focused and shut everything else out? How do they keep from dreaming?

They have a job to do, but this is different. This is Indy, the one race the entire world watches, the one where you will be known forever for winning. Like Prince said, forever is a mighty long time. You become almost immortal. Some of the drivers who have won the 500 have been dead for more than 80 years, but we know their names and we can see their faces.

Quick, tell me who won the 1965 Daytona 500? Most people don't know, but if you ask them the same question about Indy they will have "Jim Clark" out of their mouth before you finish.

AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, the Unsers, Rick Mears...and Dan Wheldon. Those are the names one person will join today, a member of a fraternity that just numbers just 67 strong. An honor that can never be taken away from you.

How do you sleep on that? I'm just sitting in the stands today, and I sure as heck can't. I hope every one of the 33 drivers is dreaming of holding that trophy and drinking that milk, and later, cashing that REALLY big check, because they deserve it. This is the representation of a lifetime of work taking you to one moment in time. They are all on top of the world right now, and for one of them the dream they are having RIGHT NOW, the dream of winning the greatest race on the planet, is going to come true.

Is that awesome or what?

Update! 5:11 a.m.

Short night for sure! I'm just starting to get up and around, soon I will be packing my coolers and getting ready to head out around 6:30. If you are going to be at the track, stop by the Social Media Garage at 9:30, we will be having a tweetup there and hopefully ESPN writer (and big friend of IndyCar and the 500) John Oreovicz will be there.

The last year has gone by so quickly, it's hard to believe it has been 52 weeks since we all last got together. I'm as excited for this race day as I have been any other in a long time. I really think it is because I have been working on this blog, as last year I -- in the words of fellow blogger Eric Hall -- "dropped off the face of the earth" and did NOTHING during the month of May. And most of June for that matter.

This is my 26th post in May, which is a record for one month for me. It's been a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun as well. Being as "close" to the race this year as I have been has made me that much more excited as to what is to come today.

I hope to throw down a wrap-up post tonight after the race, but it might be tomorrow morning. I may be hitting the sack a little early tonight but I'll have a great one ready. In a way I wish I could live blog the race, but today is the day to enjoy the race and the experience, to savor this once a year awesomeness. I'll write later. It's just as much fun to rehash the race and talk about what happened during the day as it is to watch the race itself.

But as with every race day I have one wish: that everyone, from drivers to officials to fans, has the time of their lives and then gets back home safely. Here's hoping for a fast, clean race for the drivers, and that they are kept safe.

So until tonight, wherever you are, really enjoy today. I know I will!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Indy 500 Preview, Predictions and Other Stuff

It's Thursday night and I am going to start working on this post now, because a) as you have all probably discovered in the last week I have a lot on my mind and b) I have so much going on over the next few days that I would like to get this posted by the start of the race at noon (EDT) Sunday.

Actually 12:12 is the official green flag time, so if it is noon and you aren't in front of your TV don't fret. No, do fret, because the pre-race is a necessity. It's Indy, nuff said.

First of all, happy birthday to me! Yes I turn 43 on Friday, meaning I was five days old when Mario Andretti won the 500. Crazy to think that Mario wasn't even 30 and entering the prime of his career, yet that was his only victory, and still the only one for the family. That could change this weekend, but more on that in a minute.

On another media note, I found out today that the newspaper I freelance for, the Aurora Beacon News, is handing me a story for next week on Sam Schmidt Motorsports engineer Kent Boyer. He is from just down the road in Yorkville and is working with Townsend Bell this month. Their PR person told me to stop by the garage and meet him Sunday, so I will try and do that, then interview him a day or two after the race to get his reaction to his team's performance. Very, very cool!

Anyway, here are a few things I'm thinking about:

Honda vs. Chevy -- When you look at the grid, Chevy is obviously the dominant powerplant, but once the race rolls around, what will that mean? What I noticed in practice is that in race trim the cars become a little more equal, so while it is a safe bet to pick a Chevy driver for the win, there are lots of experienced drivers/teams behind the wheels of Hondas, and that will make a difference. As James Hinchcliffe noted Wednesday, no one has ever (officially) gone 500 miles in these cars and the conditions will be an equalizer.

And of course I have to update this because Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon were fastest in Carb Day practice with HONDAS! But given they were turning laps in the 222 range with the boost back to regular levels, it's hard to say how they accomplished that in terms of setups.

But the most important thing to remember is the fastest car doesn't win, it's the one who manages their way to the front of the field at the end of 500 miles.

Lotus -- I wish this could be a three-way fight but Lotus will be far off the pace. How long Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi stay on the track will be up to them. I don't necessarily think they are going to be black flagged as soon as they fall off the lead lap. At 2.5 miles around, IMS is the track where the cars can spread out a little, so it will be more how well they stay out of the way. I have to honestly say I hope they can stay out there for a while, both teams have worked really, really hard, and while I've never been a proponent of everyone winning a trophy, both Lotus teams deserve an opportunity to see what they can do.

Weather -- Speaking of, it will be a hot one on Sunday, with temperatures soaring to close to 95 degrees. If you are going to the race, be smart and take care of yourself! I went and bought a couple of dri-fit shirts today, and might bust out a bucket hat for the festivities too. Drink water and bring sunscreen.

As far as the cars go, you will have to, have to, have to, nail the setup. I think the warm temps last weekend during Time Trials helped them get some data, but those were for short, quick runs. What if they get a long green run, say 40 or 50 laps, how will they adjust through a stint like that? Last year featured four stints between yellows that lasted more than 30 laps, with the longest being 42. The team that can stay one step ahead is big, and how much input the driver can give to those conditions is going to be huge.

Handicapping the field. A couple of my fellow bloggers have covered the entire field, but I'm just going with the top 6 and highlight a few others.

Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe is almost always fast (remember he has two poles this year), but struggles in the luck category. It just seems like he hasn't had much over the last couple of years. The last four years he has finished P23, P15, P24 and P27. In 2009 he was running well at the front of the field and dropped like a stone after getting a bad set of tires on a pit stop. This is his best bet to win, but he will need breaks he hasn't gotten the last few years. Still, he has made no secret of the fact that he loves driving the new car and has a lot of confidence behind the wheel.

James Hinchcliffe. I'm still sticking with Hinch as my pick to win the race. He's been fast and consistent all season, sitting third in points, and has been a huge hit around the Speedway all month.

Ryan Hunter-Reay. But you know, the more I think about it, the more I am liking RHR as a winner. He kind of reminds me of Dixon, he's had a very business-like month, practiced well and qualified on the front row while flying under the radar a bit.

Marco Andretti. Marco has been extremely well in practice all week long, and his is comfortable in traffic. This is by far his best chance to win, and he looks to break a 43-year losing streak among the Andretti family. The only thing that isn't one of Marco's virtues is patience, and that's what the 500 will take. The difference between a win and a top-3 finish -- and he has three of those -- is closing. Whether or not he can do that is the question.

Will Power. One of the best road racers on the planet, Will has one oval win to his credit, and that was one of the 275K races at Texas last year. Winning a 172-mile race and a 500 miler are two different things, and I just don't have a lot of confidence in him.

Helio Castroneves. After last year's epic debacle, he is back, and win No. 4 is not out of the question. If you talk about closing, Helio is a closer, big time, and if he has a lead with 15 laps to go he will put it away.

Ones to watch. As far as a sentimental favorite, everyone would be pretty happy to see Tony Kanaan take this one. TK has done everything but win in his career at IMS, and is due big time. You know who he is beginning to remind me of? Tom Sneva. The Gasman followed a similar career path and picked up his first win in his 10th start. This year is TK's 11th....hmmm...Graham Rahal crashed his first two years and wasn't a factor in 2010, but drove like a maniac last year, running from his 29th starting position to lead laps 166-171 and passed more than 60 cars. He will be a factor...Franchitti/Dixon. Really, do you expect these two guys to sit this one out? Dixon has been outstanding so far this year and along with Simon Pagenaud has been carrying the Honda banner. Franchitti is a two-time winner, he knows how to get it done...Josef Newgarden is going to go to school big time. How he finishes depends on how quickly he can learn, and I expect him to do well enough to earn Rookie of the Year, although Rubens Barrichello can sneak into a top-10 finish as well...Takuma Sato was the big-time charger at Rio, while Oriol Servia has made it clear that with Chevy power he can contend from the 27th starting position. Johnny Rutherford won from the 25th starting spot in 1974, and that is the furthest a driver has come from to win in the race's history.

I agree with the sentiment that this is the most wide-open race in years. Your best bet is to pick an Andretti Autosport or Penske Racing entry to win, but there are probably another 10 cars that are in the mix. There will be a lot of variables to work through and manage tomorrow, with the biggest two being the weather and the DW12 in oval racing trim. But in the end the strategy is the same as always: get to the final 100 miles and then go for it.

One thing last year taught us is that the race isn't over until the winner crosses the finish line. Honestly, I would be surprised, and disappointed, if the same thing didn't happen this year.

Safe travels to everyone and Godspeed to the 33 brave drivers who will be racing tomorrow, not to mention the F1 drivers in Monaco and the 43 Cup drivers at Charlotte. It is a big day for racing, and I think it will be one for the ages.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Social Media (Garage) Experiment Wrap-Up

I've talked a lot about my Social Media Garage experience this past weekend at IMS, it was a memorable time and I made a bunch of new friends.

One thing that it gave me the opportunity to do is to have the best of both worlds. I could cover Time Trials weekend for my blog while also experiencing the event as a that had some pretty good access. I could cheer in the blogger area (like we all did when James Hinchcliffe went P1 in qualifying), follow stories and trends that I thought you, the readers, would like to see, and best of all do this while not wearing my official "sportswriter" hat.

One "story" I had in mind was to find out for myself just how close a fan can get to the pulse of the race. I've read lots about how IndyCar is the most accessable sport in the world, how the fans can interact with the drivers and get thisclose to their heroes.

So with the blessing of Cassie Conklin, the IMS Social Media Garage guru and appointed "den mother" for us bloggers -- and trust me, if you saw the picture I posted of the blogger crew you would know we need all the supervision they could muster -- I set out to get pictures with every notable person in IndyCar I possibly could.

In the end, I felt like I had made contact with a large slice of the IndyCar world. I interacted with drivers past and present (and picked up a future interview in the process), crew members and series officials. I met past winners, series champions, and one of the best drivers that ever lived. I got pictures upon pictures that draw a tapestry of the life inside IndyCar. It was amazing.

And here is the best part: you can do it too! I, along with other fans and autograph seekers, accomplished what we did with garage access that is available to anyone who wants to buy a badge or a ticket. While I had a Silver Badge that also gave me access to pit road, everything I collected for the gallery below came from either the garage area or common areas near Gasoline Alley.

Everyone I dealt with was cordial and happy to reply to my requests, and one thing I noticed is that many of them especially went above and beyond with children. You want to expose your kids to IndyCar and get them hooked? Take them to the garage, and if they are too young get them as close as you can. You won't regret it.

One other secret I learned was to catch them at the end of the day. Many of the people I came across were in total work mode during the day but once everything was wrapped up were much more relaxed and accommodating.

Yeah, it's that simple. While I busted my tail over the course of the three days to do what I did, it is something any fan can do at any stop on the series. If you want to learn about IndyCar, put down the extra money and come into the garage area. It opens up a whole new world.

One thing that I got out of it is that it really helped me be a fan again. Of course I'm an IndyCar "fan" and as I've stated before, I love the Indy 500. But 12 years of sportswriting has at times left me a bit reserved, even when I'm not wearing that hat. It was nice to get a real feeling of enthusiasm towards this, and I think it even helped my writing over the weekend.

So while this post will get long, I am going to post all of my pics as a gallery and the story that goes with them. Enjoy!


I arrived at the track around 2 p.m. and my project got off to a bit of a slow start. It wasn't until after the track closed at 6 did I get my first photo. And best I might add.

The Godfather. Do I need to go on? I will. Mario was posted outside the Firestone garage just north of Gasoline Alley. He drew and absolute crowd everywhere he went, and while sometimes he had somewhere to be, he usually stopped and signed autographs and posed for pictures for anyone who asked.

Mario is 72 years old but in terms of energy outlasted pretty much everyone over the course of the weekend. Then on Monday he tweeted that he drove the two-seater 700 miles around IMS!

James Hinchcliffe was walking through the plaza behind the Pagoda during the qualifying draw. Walking with an Andretti Autosport staffer, I went up to him and said, "Hey, Hinch, got time for a quick photo?" He immediately smiled, walked up to me and put an arm around my shoulder. A very warm guy. I became a huge fan of his over the course of the weekend.

Sebastien Bourdais. Seabass isn't considered one of the more personable guys in IndyCar, but he stayed well after the draw to talk to a few fans. Fellow blogger Eric Hall told me he'd had a conversation with Bourdais and said he was actually pretty funny and kind of a smartass. Just takes a bit to warm up I guess.

Katherine Legge was in a good mood as she'd had a pretty good day. After waiting all week to find out if Dragon Racing would have a motor for her car, Kat finally got into a car on Thursday, finished her rookie test Friday and got in some valuable practice time.


Most of my day was spent in sportswriter mode as I went between the pits, the garage and the Social Media Garage getting info and posting plenty of content.

1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier was surprised when I told him that my post about him last year was the most-read in this little site's history. I asked him for his contact info so maybe we could do a follow-up story and he said "yeah, give me a call and we'll make the next one better!". Cool guy who wants to drive Indy again badly. What does the Firestone commercial say about "checkered flag fever"? Buddy still has it for sure.

Randy Bernard's best asset is his people skills. He makes you comfortable right away and has a very firm handshake. While I waited for this photo op he was talking with a guy who had flown in from England, and sounded genuinely excited that the guy had made the trip. He asked me if I'd had fun Saturday (ummmm...yeah!) and where I lived. One interesting thing with this picture and the one above is that all three of us are roughly the same age. Randy and Lazier are both 44 and I turn 43 on Friday (hint, hint). Man, I gotta get to the gym!

The closer you get to Josef Newgarden, the closer he looks to being about 14 years old. I can't tell who is older, Josef or my 16-year-old son Matt. Still, he is total charisma and has "it", not to mention he can flat-out drive. He will be a huge star for a long, long time.


I apologize for the poor quality of my photos as I was my own photographer on this one. So with the exception of one shot they were all quick point and shoots from yours truly. Which also led to some strange facial expressions. Try not to laugh too hard!

One thing you will notice is that I did in fact wear a different shirt every day. My mom was so proud!

Helio Castroneves was, along with Tony Kanaan (which was an epic fail) one of my top targets of the weekend. Helio has mastered the art of walking and signing at the same time, so if you want a photo you have to be pretty quick on the draw. His smile is like a light bulb, it comes on fast and bright.

One thing I didn't get to do is that, as I've mentioned in this space before, tell Helio that he won the 2009 Indy 500 for me. I was going through some stuff at the same time as he was, and the month of May, and Helio's performance, was huge for me. Someday.

The run of bad photos begins. But I was pumped about catching up with Jimmy Vasser. Great driver, extremely underrated career that included 10 wins and the 1996 title. He never really had success at Indy, only finishing in the top-10 three times in eight runs. No doubt his luck was fueled by his "Who needs milk?" quote after winning the 1996 US 500. You don't upset the Indy gods. For more proof see Fittipaldi, Emerson post-1993. I've forgiven him, though.

I'm trying to smile in these, really! When I asked Scott Dixon if I could take a quick shot he said "Sure, mate.". Kinda cool. I've warmed up to Dixie the last couple of years, at first I thought he was, well, a bit boring. But he has become a decent interview the last couple of years and has been a couple of turns of luck away from winning the 500 again, including last year. He is doing a really great job this season and deserves a win soon.

Every time I see Rubens Barrichello or hear a story about him, I wonder "how in  the world did such a nice guy survive for 19 years in F1?" It's just so cutthroat there, but the nicest guy in the paddock was one of the most respected drivers. He drew the biggest crowd of fans that I saw among the drivers and signed close to 30 autographs. I got lucky, just after this picture was taken he ducked into the garage. Thanks to his PR person for grabbing my camera and hooking me up. Wish I'd known today was his 40th birthday, I would have welcomed him to the 40 and over club.

Saved the worst picture for last! You know that
little delay with digital cameras from when you push the button until it takes the photo? I thought I had waited long enough before I began to say, "great job bouncing back today". Guess not. Talk about the gym! I should've cropped a couple of chins out of this picture.

So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed my foray into Gasoline Alley and the garage area. It was a lot of fun and I can't wait until next year to maybe do it again. Oh wait, did I say next year? Ummm, how about Milwaukee in a few weeks? I will have my other son, 11-year-old Kevin, along for the ride, and we'll try to get a few more.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

15DIM's Tuesday Media Day

IndyCar had a big media blitz yesterday, sending drivers to 17 cities around the country to tout this weekend's 500. This post isn't a blitz, just a few media-related items that I have come across in the last couple of days.

*Bob Jenkins! Sad news comes in two forms on this one, in that Bob is stepping away from the microphone after this weekend in order to take care of his wife, Pam, who reportedly is battling brain cancer. Prayers to the Jenkins family, and best wishes to Bob. He and his wife have been married for 42 years, which is awesome in and of itself.

(Edit! Bob has clarified that he is going to continue his duties through the end of the year.)

If you have been following racing in almost any form over the last 25 years, you have heard Bob call a race. He has a passion and enthusiasm that is hard to match, and I like it. He was the MC for the qualifying draw Friday night and turned it into a really fun event.

He loves racing and loves his job, and I know of a lot of other folks that have been in the media that long who are jaded and sad. While we have all teased Bob for some of his mis-steps on the air over the last couple of seasons, he is an institution and a Hall of Famer.

While I haven't seen any formal announcement and plans for future telecasts, I'm sure details will be forthcoming.

*ESPN is sending its A team to the 500 this weekend, as Ed Hinton, Terry Blount and John Oreovicz will be in the house. Most of the time Hinton and Blount are on the NASCAR beat but it will be good to have them back at the speedway. Oreo, of course, is a good IndyCar writer.

Blount wrote an awesome piece about Dan Wheldon on ESPN's website today. Very emotional read. I wish people would write like this more often because those are usually the best stories. This will be his 20th consecutive 500, a nice streak. If you like the story, send Terry an e-mail or catch him on Twitter (@terryblountESPN). I e-mailed him earlier and got a nice reply. Writer tip: sometimes we wonder if people like what we write. If you find something that moves you, send a quick note or tweet to that writer, they will definitely appreciate it since it doesn't seem to happen all that often!

I'm not always the biggest fan of Hinton and we had an e-mail showdown last year that I now regret, but he does great work when there is a good story to be told. His long series about open wheel's issues into the mid-90s is a fascinating read, and I used to like his list that came out every Memorial Day of the top 10 drivers in the world. I'd love to do a list like that but won't touch that subject with a 10-foot pole!

*Jenna Fryer is no longer a fan. I shouldn't say that, but this article is pretty brutal. I know that it is an opinion piece, and she is entitled to that, but to close it with a sentence like "So from the outside, it sure looks like a mess for IndyCar." is a little misguided. Look, I'm not one of these people that thinks that the month of May is reserved for kitties and rainbows, and when I see an issue I'll address it. In fact I addressed the Lotus issue yesterday. But this wole "drama" thing is played out.

I had a long retort written but took it out. I'm just going to leave it at this: people see (and perceive) what they want to see. If she (and others) believe the series is full of drama, there is nothing I can say to change their mind.

What I will say is that Fryer did some great -- and objective -- writing in the aftermath of Dan Wheldon's death, and was one of the first to get Randy Bernard on record after the tragedy. That's what I guess is so disappointing, she is a better writer than one who resorted to that hit piece. I may disagree with what someone might write, but when it is factual and well thought out and reasoned, I'll respect their opinion.

*On a lighter note. I'm going to shill for a couple of things here. First, if you haven't made it to the Social Media Garage yet, get there! I think for a maiden voyage it was a pretty good effort from the IMS folks, and it is worth the time to stop in. I'm trying to organize a 9:30 tweetup so if that comes together I will provide more details. Either way, stop in and have fun with us before the race. And did I mention it's in the shade?

Second, when I picked up my race tickets yesterday (a friend of a friend still orders tickets but never goes) they told me they had two more they hadn't found buyers for. They are in the SW Vista and are the pair to my pair, if that makes sense! $85 face and you get to watch the race with me and my 16-year-old son Matt. Is that a great deal or what? I get nothing out of it, just trying to help out my peeps.

*One more thing. Does Donald Davidson have an e-mail address? I ran into a fellow the other day who said he drove at the Speedway in 1948 but I didn't see his name in the box score. Perhaps he was a relief driver or didn't qualify? I would love to find out so if someone could get me in touch with Donald that would be tremendous.

Lotus Needs To Give 105 Percent This Weekend

A few rumors had floated around the internets this afternoon about the status of the Lotus cars being driven by Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi this weekend. Not knowing who to believe, I threw a tweet at race steward Beaux Barfield, in whose hands the call rests.

I asked him if he could clarify some of the rumors, and he graciously replied:

Rumors can fly in 140 characters. Clarifications cannot. I'm sure it will be in the news shortly.

So lo and behold John Oreovicz quotes Barfield in this ESPN piece that should put all of the discussion to bed. According to IndyCar rules, cars must run within 105 percent of the leader, which in this case will be about 10 mph. With most of the top cars in race trim running in the 216-218 range (at least that's what they were doing in Sunday's practice), the Loti will have to pedal it to keep up, especially given the fact that they will have their Time Trial weekend boost dropped to normal levels.

First, that is a good call. Of course in the past the powers that be would allow cars to run more boost to be competitive -- like a generation ago when the Buicks would get more than everyone else. If they had updated that rule to give Lotus a chance prior to the start of May, I would have been on board. But a change this late in the game is unfair to all other teams involved. 

So they race what they brung. Barfield had a good comment in the story:

"I'm certainly willing, based on the two Lotus drivers' ability, to let them start the race and see how it plays out and see what their race pace is compared to everybody else," Barfield added. "We'll do what we need to do to keep them up to speed or get them out of the way."

Meaning, he will show them enough respect to give them a chance, but should they become a hazard to the rest of the field he won't hesitate to park them. This goes contrary to a story floating around that had IndyCar pulling them before the race even started, which would have been the crappiest scenario they could've put together.

I don't worry about the drivers involved, because they are both accomplished and can handle the situation well. De Silvestro is in her third year in IndyCar and this will be her third 500, while Alesi is running his first oval race of his career, he has run 201 races in Formula 1 and has been driving professionally for more than a quarter century. With patience, good strategy and an excellent spotter (1996 winner Buddy Lazier has been working with Alesi, could he be upstairs on Sunday?) Alesi should make it through.

The strategy of just running a pace and seeing what happens was long a strategy of underfunded teams, who would turn laps well below race pace and hope to move up through attrition. Sometimes it would pay off, as they might finish a race 10 laps down but still earn a top-10 finish.

An example of that was in 1991, when Gordon Johncock started 33rd, drove in circles for three hours and finished sixth, 12 laps off the pace and nine laps back of fifth-place John Andretti. Johncock drove smart and stayed out of everyone's way. That year also saw rookie Hiro Matshusita have engine problems but still running at the finish despite being 51 laps down. I was there, Hiro was woefully off the pace.

However, they had the advantage that many of the cars were all running different paces. The Indy 500 was once an endurance race, and you did what you had to make it to the end. Now it is just a really long sprint. Think about it, when 12 cars finish on the lead lap and 23 finish within three laps of the lead, as was the case last year, if you are running slow you don't get passed by a couple of cars, you get run over by a 20-car train.

A smart driver can work around that, and some smart people in race control need to be paying attention. I think Barfield understands what is going on. If last year's race was dubbed "The Most Important Race In History", this year's is a close second.

(Sidebar: I disagree with both, as in my mind the 1946 race was the most important. Read here.)

I think everyone in IndyCar knows what is at stake. This is the first oval race since Las Vegas, with new cars and new rules. His spiking the double-file restarts and promising a more disciplined start to the race is a sign he knows what is going on. So with that in mind I'm going to make the call that eventually they will get it right.

Worst comes to worse, they enforce the rule. For some reason, this regime doesn't find that idea all that difficult.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Going With 33 Was A Total Business Decision (My Conspiracy Theory)

A big topic of conversation this weekend was whether or not a few mystery cars would come out of the woodwork and we would have bumping on Bump Day. Unfortunately, it never materialized and we went with the 33 that showed up.

That's not to say people weren't trying. Both Pippa Mann and Jay Howard were openly working on a ride, and I spoke to a third driver (who shall remain nameless) who said he had a package to present to teams as well. All three had the plug pulled from their effort, without much explanation, at one point or another during the weekend.

It's not that there weren't enough car/engine combinations. According to the official entry list, Ed Carpenter Racing had an extra car (No. 21) in its stable, while Rahal Letterman Lanigan had the No. 45. So that is at least two. I don't know the rules of entering cars by heart, so we will leave it at just those.

Now, depending on who you believe, some said drivers and teams were told that entries were closed and there would be no bumping in order to protect Lotus from being left out of the field. Others said deals just didn't materialize in time.

Hard to say, but you have to lean towards the political/business decision side. I don't know if that is the case, and if I am out of line or misinformed I apologize. Just going on what I feel from what I heard. While I don't blame them, I don't like it and wish it had been handled differently. I'm a believer in the fastest cars and fastest drivers get in, no matter who those happen to be. But not everyone feels the way I do.

So let me throw a conspiracy theory at you.

Here's the deal...if any entries materialized, a couple of things would likely have happened: 1) Lotus would more than likely be out of IndyCar, 2) Simona de Silvestro -- one of the more popular and fan friendly drivers in the series -- would be out of a ride and 3) a solid, full-time sponsor (Nuclear Clean Air Energy) would have more than likely been lost, either now or at the end of the season.

Somewhere along the line it was decided that the price to pay for giving Bump Day some drama and other drivers a chance to qualify (and they would have been in the field had they secured a Honda or Chevy) was too much of risk for what they could lose on the other side.

Does it go against what racing, and competition, stands for? Of course. Was it made with business interests in mind? Yes. Given the way of the world we live in, if all of that is true, was it the right decision? Absolutely.

That doesn't mean I'm on board, but as I have said in this space before, I'm not the one who writes the checks. The people that do decided that losing a motor supplier (no matter how effed up the Lotus program is right now) just five races into the season, after said supplier has had several defections and a lawsuit filed against it, was a bad deal.

Lotus is responsible for many of its problems, I will agree with that. Still, what would amount to dumping an engine supplier would be bad business and a bad example to set with a couple of other manufacturers knocking on the door. Lotus is one of IndyCar's dates for the season, they have to dance with her and see if she gets better looking as the night goes on.

Then you have de Silvestro, who has been a professional through this entire process. I think everyone knows Simona can drive, has talent and even though it is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, is a female. She has a package of personality and skill that the series couldn't afford to lose.

Nuclear Clean Air Energy is a good sponsor that seems committed to the series. Those sponsors are hard to find. Ergo, you do what you can to keep the sponsor happy. Were there sponsors knocking at the door and begging to get into the series, maybe you let them walk. But is that the case? I doubt it, sponsors with deep pockets are hard to find in any form of racing.

(Edit: Fellow blogger Nathan Gruenholz Tweeted me that Simona is in the midst of a 3-year deal.  So let's call this the worst thing that can happen. Holy crap, now I'm channeling Jenna Fryer. Read on.)

Jean Alesi was able to ride on her coattails because they would have both been bumped out should other drivers have come along. Lucky him, and lucky for Fan Force United.

(Sidebar: Fan Force United was a hard-working team with a lot of camaraderie and spirit over the weekend. Their garages were typically wide open and they were engaging with the fans. Even Alesi did his part. I appreciated their effort and am happy for them. Hopefully they become and asset to the series down the road.)

Back to my rant.

This is a different day and age, people. Don't think for a moment that Sun Drop and DHL weren't behind the decision to put Ryan Hunter-Reay in another car a year ago after he failed to qualify for the 500. Because if it were about buying a way back into the field, why didn't Andretti do the same for Mike Conway, a guy who had already won a race (Long Beach) at that point in the season? Because Conway didn't have sponsors at the time to make happy.

That cost a lot of money to put RHR in that ride, way more than the $252,805 they won back after he finished three laps down in 23rd place. He hated doing it, and so did Michael Andretti, but they did it. I think both driver and owner were willing to pack up and head to the next stop, so any hatred thrown there way at the time was severely misguided.

Sponsors pay to have their names on the sides of a car in the biggest race of the year. Indy is the most attended and most watched race of the IndyCar season, and you expect a bunch of privileged people with money and a sense of entitlement to sit this one out? Get real.

What went down this weekend involved a lot of people and a lot of moving parts. And besides, there is a precedent: let me introduce you to the Top 35 program.

Now, if you follow NASCAR at all, you know what I'm talking about. The top 35 cars in the standings are guaranteed entry from week to week, meaning of Jimmie Johnson wrecks in a Gatorade Duel, he still drives in the Daytona 500. Or if Tony Stewart blows an engine in qualifying, he still starts the race.

Not only that, the points from the previous year can be transferred to other cars, and deals can be made, say, like the one that has Danica Patrick technically racing for another team other than Stewart-Haas Racing so she can use the top 35 rule to make certain races. Trevor Bayne's Wood Brothers team took that same route for the 2011 Daytona 500, and Bayne went on to win the race.

Yes it's stupid, but it is how this gig works. You take care of the drivers (actually sponsors) who are the regular part of the series first, then worry about the rest. The rule is in place to make sure drivers the fans want to see drive, and sponsors get the maximum exposure for their investment.

Is it any different here? I don't think so. Love it or hate it (I choose the latter) this is how it works.

Weekend Leftovers

After such an awesome weekend at the Speedway and in the Social Media Garage, I woke up in my own bed this morning, looked around and thought to myself, "did that really happen?". In 33 years of coming to the track the last three days were the most memorable of my life. From when I arrived at 16th and Georgetown at 1 p.m. Friday until I packed up and headed home just after 6:30 on Sunday night, I spent a total of close to 24 hours on the grounds. Lots of time and stories to cover, but I've got a couple odds and ends that I want to throw out to keep the month moving.

*No bumping. Quite the disappointment, I must say, but we kind of knew that going in and there was plenty of drama on Saturday during the Shootout that should have appeased people. If you can't get jacked up about the pole being won by nine inches, just stay home. Maybe not the same kind of drama, but it was exciting. If people I talked to are to be believed -- and I spoke with two drivers who said they had deals but were quickly told those weren't happening -- it may have been a deal to keep Lotus in the race, and maybe in the series. The more I think about it, the more think this might be best served as it's own post later. So look for it.

*Once thing the lack of qualifying did for me. Is that it gave me a chance to check out a few things I normally don't when I am there for Time Trials. I headed over to the museum for a while and besides the nice perk of walking around in some AC for a bit it was the chance to check it out again because since the last time I was there after the race a year ago it was completely set up for the past winning cars collection, which was awesome. The cars were set up in order of the year they won and you could totally see the evolution of the automobile at the Speedway.

This year the smaller room (to the left as you enter the main museum floor) was featuring cars of the late 60s and early 70s. They had one of the Granatelli "wedge" cars from 1968, both of Al Unser's 1970-71 Johnny Lightning Special winning cars and several cars driven from 1971-73. Talk about the evolution of the cars! It's amazing to see how far the cars came in a short time, to go from roadsters in, say, 1964 to the rear-engine, huge bolted on wings and sidepods less than 10 years later.

Of course the main reason I headed over there was to see the No. 98 car. Lots of emotion at seeing it again. It's actually the restored version since Wade Cunningham wrecked the original at Texas last year, but it looks just as it did the day Dan Wheldon won the race a year ago.

I also checked out the photo store on the second floor for the first time. I was only there a few minutes but saw some great pictures and reference books. Later on I bought some photos in another shop: a picture of Wheldon hugging his two spotters after last year's race, Bill Vukovich's official photo after winning in 1954, and Rick Mears' victory photo in 1979. I chose that one since it was the first year I went to the Speedway.

But back to the museum. I hope someday they have expansion in mind. I know that they have a lot of items to display, but if you only get there once every year or two you miss a lot of things. I'd love to see the museum expanded so they could have more permanent displays, and a lot more interactive things so that kids could get more involved.

*Pippa Mann. Pippa came in and hung out with us in the Social Media Garage on both Saturday and Sunday, and was a blast to be around. From where I come from, we refer to people like her as "good people". Very nice, very polite and an interesting person to talk to. No doubt she was hugely disappointed by not getting a ride, but she didn't let that get in the way of spending time talking with us and with the fans. I will leave it to the rest of the guys, but if you want to consider her an "honorary Social Media Garage blogger", it's OK by me.

 *Speaking of the Garage. First, let me get a little housekeeping out of the way. The garage is actually located in the public area of IMS, south of the Pagoda just off the plaza. Apparently there was some confusion on a few people that thought it was in the garage area and you needed access to get in. Nope, just show up, it's open to everyone and for a small space has lots to do.

By the way, here is a photo of the cast of characters I hung out with. From the left is IMS staffer Jamie Metcalfe, The Stig (whose real identity is a mystery), yours truly, Mark Wilkinson (Newtrackrecord), Eric Hall (Anotherindycarblog), Pippa Mann (no intro needed) and Zach Houghton (Indycaradvocate). If you can't tell from the photo, a good time was had by all.

That out of the way, I appreciate what the folks at IMS did for us over the weekend and giving us the opportunity to do something so unique. Along with a bit of swag (the Silver Badge was awesome) we were giving everything we needed to do what we do.

What I also appreciated was more than a few members of the IMS staff came and welcomed us and welcomed our input from everything to improving the Social Media Garage to what we feel it would take to attract more fans. Chief Information Officer Rhonda Winter stopped in and talked to us every day, while Mark Dill, the IMS Vice President of Marketing, stopped in for a visit on Sunday. He spent about 15 minutes with us and gave us his business card and told us to keep in touch with him with our thoughts and ideas.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard stopped by outside the garage on Sunday as well. Darn, I wish he had come in as I had my tape recorder ready!

It's nice to be wanted and to feel like when you offer an opinion, that opinion matters.

Oh yeah, and there were also sweet iRacing simulators in there offering laps of the Speedway. My best lap was 41.553 seconds, which put me in the 216.5 mph range. From what I heard the best lap was in the 40.8 second range so I wasn't far off. Maybe I'll practice some at home and try again when I am back on Sunday.

I should be at the garage Sunday morning, and a tweetup is tentatively scheduled at 9:30 a.m. So come by and say hello.

Bump Day Video, 5/20/2012

Shot some video with my son Kevin's flip camera, so apologies for the amateur filming job.

Still, I took a couple minute's worth of video from pit road. Have a look! I'll have the second video I shot at the north end of the track a bit later.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bump Day Live!

Wired in at the Social Media Garage and getting primed for a little Bump Day action. It's already a hot one here, 79 degrees at just before 10 a.m. with the high expected to top out at 88. Practice is ongoing and cars will be presented to the qualifying line at noon.

Ten cars have been on the track today, with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's Oriol Servia leading the way at 223.752 mph. Sebastien Bourdais is second on the pylon at 223.479 and Wade Cunningham third is rolling at 222.794.

Simona de Silvestro is up to almost 215 in her Lotus but Jean Alesi is still sitting around 209 in his machine. Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti have both run over 25 laps in the 215-216 range to get in a little race setup work.

Nine spots are up for grabs today, and with the conditions the way they are I expect those to be filled in the first hour of qualifying. That fills the field of all "available" cars, so the big question for the day becomes: does a mystery car come out of the woodwork and give us a little bumping action? It sure would make things a little interesting.

Today is also Armed Forces Day, and there are plenty of military personnel and equipment on the grounds. As the son of a Korean War veteran I'd like to thank all of the men and women who protect our country and wish them Godspeed in their service.

Update! 11:40 a.m.

De Silvestro is first in the qualifying line as we are now about 20 minutes away from the start of Bump Day. Again, all the people I've listened to and eavesdropped on say we will have just 33 cars so once the final nine are in the track will open for practice.

Walking through the garage, there is a decent amount of activity among the qualified cars, and several teams have tweeted they will be out later on this afternoon. Today is a great sim for next week as the initial weather reports indicate we will have a day just like this for the race.

This is a funny picture from back in the garage area as several teams were waiting in line to pump gas. De Silvestro's car was getting some Sonoco racing fuel (shameless sponsor plug) and Bourdais was just behind. Wow, Seabass' car is just gorgeous. The livery absolutely pops when it is on the racetrack.

With what looks like 33 cars on the grid, drivers Pippa Mann and Jay Howard have officially released statements to the effect that they are no longer in the running for a ride. Pippa was tremendous in the Social Media Garage yesterday, very gracious and classy despite just receiving news that her ride had fallen through for this year.

Update. 1 p.m.

Seven cars are in the field, including the Lotuses (or Loti) of de Silvestro and Alesi. Simona averaged about 214 for her laps while Alesi tiptoed through his run at 209. Two spots are left before the field is full, with Bryan Clauson and Ed Carpenter the lone two looking in right now.

Clausen just did an install lap and brought it back in, and his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team has the cowling up doing a few extra checks. He seemed very relaxed in the qualifying line, chatting up his boss and looking like yesterday's turn 1 crash was behind him.

Bourdais' four-lap average of 223.760 is the best of the day so far. Servia's last three laps were all within .4 mph of each other, meaning he was pretty hooked up. His team tweeted after qualifying that he believes he can still get to the front from his current spot on the outside of row nine.

With little action on the track, I've done a little more looking around, and got this picture on pit lane. Something is definitely missing this month as Dan Wheldon has been on everyone's minds. I ran into the Lids store next to the Social Media Garage and checked out the display of Wheldon's Lionheart memorabilia and have to admit that I got a bit choked up looking at his stuff.

I'll recap last year's event later on this week and talk about Wheldon's day. Unless you were here and watching him, you just have no idea how brilliantly he drove.

Update. 1:30 p.m.

Clauson is in the field after four very conservative laps at an average of 214.455. He's been a popular guy around here this weekend as he has a lot of followers from his USAC racing. I'm going to editorialize for a second -- I've heard a lot of old school fans say the way to bring folks back to the Speedway is to bring more drivers up through the USAC ranks as people will want to follow them.

You know what? Maybe they might be a bit right. A guy like Clauson has proven he more than belongs here, and if the sponsorship is there maybe teams should consider testing USAC guys out and who knows, some of them might work out. And it appears the fans like it too. So let's not close off the advancement to the series from the USAC ranks just yet, for a lot of different reasons.

Anyhow, rant over. Cars are out on the track now for practice, and I am going to the museum and grab a couple of different perspectives of the track.

Update. 2:30 p.m.

So I was halfway out the door of the Social Media Garage and Ed Carpenter headed to the track. Since he is (supposedly) our final qualifier I headed to pit road for the action. Carpenter ran an easy 222.324 to snag the 28th starting spots. Clauson, de Silvestro and Alesi earn invites to the 11th Row Party.

Charlie Kimball just went hard into the wall after losing the car in the middle of turn 1. The car's momentum popped the No. 83 car in the air momentarily, just as Carpenter's car did yesterday. If they can rebuild the car he will start 14th, if not and they move to the 83T he goes to the back of the field.

His mess is cleaned up and practice has resumed.

Update. 5 p.m.

Last Happy Hour of the weekend is approaching. Lots of action on the track as everyone is getting a little more work done before it gets real next Sunday. It's 88 degrees right now, but a few clouds have moved in and the track is cooling a bit.

I've spent the last couple of hours walking the garage area and the museum, as well as watched some practice from between turns 1 and 2. At the time there was about an 8-car train that included Bourdais, Ryan Briscoe, Graham Rahal and EJ Viso. Good stuff. Can't wait to see 33 of them out on the track next Sunday.

While I was back in the garage area I ran into another familiar face, and if you have read this space before you know he is one of my faves.

I'm heading out to watch the last hour of practice, but will file a weekend wrap-up either tonight or tomorrow. With the Speedway going dark for a few days, I'll get caught up with photos, more stories and a few perspectives.

One of those perspectives involves this photo and many others I took that show the awesome access and fan-friendly attitude that exists in the IndyCar series. I had no more access than anyone off the street can get (at least where these pictures come from), but I still came into contact with a lot of great people.

Hey, the purpose of this blog is so I can meet people, cheer in the press box (or blogging area) and act goofy around drivers and other famous people. In that vein I had a blast this weekend!

I'm going to sign off from the Social Media Garage and will check back in later. Thanks so much to Cassie Conklin and all of the folks at IMS who made this happen. It was so much fun to hang with all of my fellow bloggers and talk a little racing. It has certainly been a special weekend, but I'm guessing the 500 next Sunday will top this!

Pole Day Recap

Sports is a game of inches, and after Pole Day qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, both Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe will probably remember that fact for the rest of their lives.

It was only a few inches, just over nine to be exact, that gave Briscoe the pole Saturday over Hinch in the closest pole shootout in history. The Aussie's winning speed of 226.484 mph was just 23 TEN THOUSANDTHS of a second better than Hinchcliffe's 10-mile run of 226.481. That's like a Chicagoland finish, and we know how close those were!

The Fast Nine shootout -- at least for those two guys -- lived up to its billing. Let's run through all of the Fast Nine participants and a few notes on each.

There's your pole winning car!/Photo credit: Me
*Briscoe. After being buried on the speed chart for most of the week while working on other things, Briscoe had a nice practice session Friday and Saturday morning showed he was in play with the third-best time in the opening practice. He just needed one run in the shootout to put his car on the pole for the first time in his career. Indy hasn't always been the best to Briscoe, because while he will now have started in each of the top four positions that has never transferred to the race, but this year he has a great shot at improving at his career-best 5th place finish of 2007. You need to be good and have a little bit of luck to win the pole at Indy, and while Briscoe has plenty of the former he got a little bit of the latter when the sun fell behind a cloud just as he headed onto the track. Briscoe notched the 17th pole position at Indy in Team Penske history.

*Hinchcliffe. Wearing the driving gloves of his hero, the late, great Greg Moore, Hinch has the fastest time in open qualifying (225.746) and then dropped a 227 mph practice lap prior to taking the green flag in his shootout run. But like many of the other drivers, he couldn't stop a drop off in times through the course of his run. Though his first lap of 39.6571 seconds was the fastest lap of the month, he lost time to Briscoe on each subsequent lap. Still, he starts in the middle of the front row and Andretti Autosport has officially reversed its nightmarish fortunes of a year ago.

*Ryan Hunter-Reay (226.240). See above. RHR had it the worst last year as he didn't even qualify, then had to deal with the backlash when AA bought out Bruno Junqueria's ride from AJ Foyt just so he could drive the 500. Hunter-Reay was the most consistent of all drivers in the Fast Nine, with his first and last laps separated by just over .1 seconds.

*Marco Andretti (225.456). The speed Andretti showed in Fast Friday practice was just not there Saturday, but he recovered with a late run that gives him the best starting position in his seven starts at Indy. Marco has looked great in traffic all week.

 *Will Power (225.422). He couldn't muster up enough of his namesake (thanks to track announcer Dave Calabro for that one) and will start from the 5th position for the second year in a row. The points leader has never finished better than 5th at the 500 and needs to break some new ground next week to move his winning streak to four races.

*Helio Castroneves (225.172). Couldn't capture the magic as in years past and wasn't able to notch his fifth pole. Still after qualifying 16th and never being a factor in finishing 17th a year ago, he shows that a comeback could be in the works. He seems happy and confident, that usually bodes well for Helio on race day.

*Josef Newgarden (224.037). The 21-year-old Tennessean continues to impress as he was the only rookie to make his way into the Fast Nine. He seemed pretty content to be there and drove four conservative, but solid laps to earn a spot on the inside of row three. By the way, he becomes the first native of Tennessee to qualify for the 500.

*Tony Kanaan (224.751)/EJ Viso (224.422). Both drivers seemed content with taking the green flag in the shootout as required, picking up a free set of tires, and calling it a day, hence their original qualifying times are listed. I was hoping TK would take a shot at it but given the names ahead of him probably realized that it would be a tall task.

What else we learned:

*The DW12 can take a punch. There was some concern among the fanbase about the DW12 since it hadn't been crashed on an oval in actual competition. Until Saturday, Newgarden's spin in turn 4 on Wednesday was the only incident of the month, and he made only mild contact with the front stretch wall at the end of a long slide that scrubbed off all of his speed.

Saturday, Bryan Clauson and Ed Carpenter made significant contact with the turn 1 and turn 2 walls, respectively, and the car responded well as they both climbed from the car with only minor injuries. Carpenter's hit was particularly bad and while his accident left quite a debris field he was safe. Oriol Servia also crashed at the entrance to pit road and tore off the front and rear wings, but yet the tub stayed intact. All will be looking for one of the nine remaining qualifying spots on Sunday.

*Chevy's still got it. Turbogate sure is old news, isn't it? Newgarden is the only Honda among the top 10 qualifiers and they just didn't seem to have a chance Saturday. Alex Tagliani, last year's polesitter, will start 11th in what he called the most exhausting qualifying run of his career, while Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Graham Rahal (12th), Charlie Kimball (14th), Scott Dixon (15th) and Dario Franchitti (16th) could only manage mid-pack starting positions.

*Who impressed me. Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay for starters. Hinch went old school on his runs as he used the high line and made very high exits to within a foot or two of the walls in the corners. He will win a pole someday, and I am going to make the following prediction...James Hinchcliffe wins the 2012 Indianapolis 500. You heard it here first.

Rubens Barrichello was also very sharp, turning in his four best laps of the month in really harsh conditions as the temperature hit 88 degrees and the track temp was over 130 at times. He was brought along slowly all month and was given a chance to showcase his talent on his run as he barely missed out on the Fast Nine. I hope 2012 isn't a one-and-done in terms of Rubens' IndyCar or 500 career, he is learning and I think next year will be a huge factor.

*Who didn't. Who was the guy that talked about the buzz of Carpenter winning the 500? Oh yeah, that was me. They have been off the pace all month and tore up a perfectly good race car Saturday.

Neither Wade Cunningham or Mike Conway made it into the field for AJ Foyt racing, Takuma Sato will start 19th and Simon Pagenaud will start 23rd.

*What's in store for Bump Day. Still quite a few cars and driver combinations looking to get into the field, including Cunningham and Conway, as well as Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge. How will Servia, Clauson and Carpenter respond to their wrecks, and more importantly, how will their cars?

Sunday is also the chance to see the Lotuses of Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro hitting the track for qualifying attempts. They are the only two of what looks like the 33-car field who did not make an attempt on Saturday.

So while there might not be any bumping (so we think) there is still plenty to see at the Speedway Sunday, and personally, I think there might be some drama involved. It has to be...has there ever been a Bump Day without it?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Live From Pole Day!

Didn't have a lot of luck with the wifi at my hotel, so I have a little catching up to do! I will recap a bit about Friday later on this weekend. But for now, we are about 50 minutes from the start of Pole Day qualifying.

It gets real from here. There is nothing more democratic than how they do it here, everyone gets four laps, 10 miles, to stake their claim. Twenty-four spots will be up for grabs between 11-4, then the Fast Nine shootout gets underway at 4:30. If you remember last year, the drama went all the way up until 6 o'clock when Alex Tagliani went out last and snatched the pole from Scott Dixon.

After the morning practice session, Helio Castroneves appears to be the one to beat...again. Helio dropped a lap of 227.744 mph, almost two mph faster than (surprise!) Ana Beatriz, who ran a 226.187. Ryan Briscoe continues a late-week surge with a third-best time of 226.027, while Dario Franchitti (225.846) and James Hinchcliffe (225.784) round out the top five.

Today should be interesting, it's gonna be very hot and the drivers that go out in the first hour will have the advantage. That should bode well for Tony Kanaan, who drew the first qualifying position last night and will hit the track just after 11 a.m.

Castroneves drew a very low number but the heat doesn't usually stop him. I heard broadcaster du jour Kevin Lee refer the the "Castroneves bravery factor", as the Brazilian usually takes it a little deeper into turn 1 than his contemporaries. Don't forget that in 2010 Helio withdrew his car at around 3 p.m. and threw down one of the most epic runs in recent history, a dash in 86-degree heat that gave him the provisional pole.

Marco Andretti didn't practice this morning, surprisingly, but Andretti Autosport must be happy with where his No. 26 machine is at right now. What is even more surprising is that an Andretti has not sit on the pole since godfather Mario (now a friend of 15DIM) accomplished that feat in 1987.

Marco has never been a good qualifier, as a 7th-place spot on the grid is the best he has managed in his six previous starts. In the last two years he has qualified 16th and 27th, respectively, although with three top-3 finishes to his credit it doesn't hurt him any.

Pippa Mann is in the Social Media Garage for a Tweetup! More on that later.

Update! 12:25 p.m.

Graham Rahal is on the track now, but we have seen the highs and lows that Indy can bring. Tony Kanaan went out and put in a solid 4-lap average of 225.100 to start the festivities and stands stands fourth on the grid. Will Power is quickest at 225.399, Ryan Hunter-Reay checks in at 225.289 and Helio is third at 225.282.

On the flip side, Seb Saavedra blew up his Chevy just after taking the green flag to start his run, then Bryan Clauson, after putting together three solid laps in the high 223s, had the back end jump out on him entering turn 1 on his final lap and pancaked the wall on the left side.

This was the damage when the car was brought back to the garage. Really too bad for the Noblesville, Ind. native who had worked his way up to the big time from the USAC ranks and was quick and clean all month.

No doubt that his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing crew has a long night of work ahead of them. Without a backup car, this is what they have to go with.

Josef Newgarden is solid in the field at 224.677. He's either the coolest guy on the planet or is just too young to know any better. One thing for sure, the kid is a rock star.

Ryan Briscoe just bumped Newgarden to the fifth spot after his 10-mile tour at 225.078.

Breaking news, TK's No. 11 KV Racing Technology car failed post-qualifying inspection. Wow. He's going to have some work to do to get into the Fast Nine.

Ana Beatriz on the course now.

Update! 1:25 p.m.

James Hinchcliffe just threw down the gauntlet! In the heat of the day the Canadian dropped four laps in the No. 27 GoDaddy car at an average of 225.746. He did it the right way, taking the high line and rolling up within about a foot of the wall on exit. That's how you drive this racetrack, peeps!

To quote Indycar Advocate scribe Zachary Houghton..."he's hooked up". Good thing the "No Cheering in the Press Box" rule doesn't apply in the Social Media Garage, we all got pretty excited!

He was in great spirits at the qualifying draw last night. Stopped for a moment for a pic with yours truly. So Hinch is now a friend of 15DIM!

Marco just went out at 224.680, sixth fastest. Bit disappointing but we'll see how the car responds when things cool down at 4:30.

Update! 2:20 p.m.

Tony Kanaan just came back out and picked up where he left off, putting himself sixth on the grid at 224.761, and impressive run considering the conditions. Turns out a weight was missing from one of his mirrors and he was 1.5 pounds underweight. Details, details.

It's an absolute bake sale here. says it is 85 degrees here but it sure feels much hotter than yesterday as there isn't a cloud in the sky. Will update the track temperature when I hear it.

TK's run unfortunately bumped his "brother" Rubens Barrichello out of the Fast Nine. Barrichello turned his four fastest laps of the month and is solid in the field at 224.664. Slow and steady work this month got him up to speed and that was a great run in the heat for a rookie, which is what the F1 veteran still is when it comes to ovals.

Oriol Servia had the second incident of the day when he spun on the exit of turn 4, slid into the inside wall and then pinwheeled into the end of the pit wall. The car seemed OK and Dreyer & Reinbold principal Robbie Buhl said the tub is intact so they will be ready to go tomorrow.

Here's the damage.

And this.

I dropped by Bryan Clauson's garage on the way out and they are hard at work. As I walked by a new Honda engine was being wheeled into the garage, and the door was quickly close.

Mike Conway's No. 14 car also failed tech, meaning  Ed Carpenter is back in the guaranteed field of 24. He had been bumped out by Kanaan.

Ran in to 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier in the garage area. Hard as it is to believe, but this post I wrote about Buddy from April of last year is the most viewed post in the 15DIM history.

Carpenter is back out practicing and is in the 224 range. If he gets bumped again he has enough to improve his position.

Update! 4 p.m.

Seb Saavedra is out with his new motor, just beating the gun to close the first portion of qualifying and dropped a 222.811 to bump Wade Cunningham from the top 24 and set the field of first-day qualifiers.

Ed Carpenter's month from hell continues as he had hard hit in turn 2 and left a huge debris field in his wake. He has a backup and an unassigned car carrying No. 21 so he has some fallback for tomorrow. Here is a crash scene photo.

 I've noticed that wrecked cars always draw a big crowd. Very sad scene, and one like this means the owner (in this case Ed himself) has just spent a lot of money. But they will be back tomorrow at another shot at glory.

Fast Nine is next. I'm going to become a fan for the next 90 minutes and cheer Helio, Hinch and TK on to the front row. Check back when qualifying is over!