Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spicing Up The Triple Crown...And My Weekly Rant

The beauty of social media is that it gives people a chance to share their interests with others, and sometimes that sharing leads to some crazy ideas.

But you know what? Sometimes it's the craziest of ideas that work the best.

Anyway, as he does most days, DZ at @groundedeffects posted a trivia question, and this time it involved Pocono. Namely, who holds the open wheel 4-lap track record there? Surprisingly enough, it is Peter Revson, who averaged 190.648 mph in 1973. The one-lap mark has since been long shattered, of course, but since qualifying no longer involves four laps, it still stands 40 years later.

So it brought up an idea in my head...why not make all of the Triple Crown races (Indy, Pocono, Fontana) 4-lap efforts? Indy, of course, is taken care of, as is tradition, but how about the other two?

I know IndyCar flirted with the 4-lap procedure at ovals a few years ago, and it didn't go over very well. But given we now have a Triple Crown designation why not give it a special qualifying process too? Iowa has its own with the heat races and they could just leave Milwaukee and Texas alone with their 2-lap qualifying.

So while we were sorting that out, Steve (@stevewittich) brought up the idea of the "Tri-Pole" crown, which is actually kind of awesome. Get a sponsor and put some money up for anyone who can win all three poles, or even a lesser amount if someone wins two.

The trophy would look a little like this... (Photo credit to @groundedeffects)

And if you read my last post about the rules changes, you know what is coming next...more points. If you win all three, you deserve more points. Or go cross country style and add up the qualifying positions for the three and give something out to the driver that has the lowest total. Say Tony Kanaan wins the pole at Indy, qualifies third at Pocono and second at Fontana -- that's 1-3-2 for six points. Lowest score wins, gets some bonus points. Or pass out some cash, which is just as good as money.

I've even come up with the idea for the trophy: one that has each of the scoring pylons mounted on a base, with the driver's car number etched in P1 on each one (or their starting positions if you add up all three). 

A big check, a cool trophy and (possibly) bonus points. Can't go wrong.

Is it a crazy idea? Certainly. Should IndyCar listen to crazy ideas from the fans? Absolutely.

The whole point of this post is I had an idea I wanted to share, because I thought it was funny and in a way, might actually work. And some of it is the hope that IndyCar is listening, because we as fans come up with ideas on how to better the product all of the time. In all the discussion about "fixing" IndyCar, the biggest one, to me, is that the fans should have a voice. Whether that is through a fan panel (which NASCAR and Texas Motor Speedway both have, for example) or someone who monitors social media and passes things along to the higher-ups, we need to know that they are listening to us. Really listening to us, not by paying lip service and staying with the status quo.

If you are going to get a consulting group to come up with answers, why not come to the fans as well? We are passionate, and we are invested. Better yet, we know what we want. 

I think the more fans know they are being listened to, the more excited they get because then there is a true connect between the series and the fans. This should all be about what WE want, within reason, of course. But when they implement ideas and say it was due to fan response and suggestions, it makes us feel good because it makes us feel part of something.

That's why we follow sports, is for that connection. One reason drivers like Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe are so popular is because they connect with us. Off the track they pose for pictures and sign autographs and interact with the fans, and as a result when they are on the track it makes their fans feel like they are racing for them too.

In my mind, that connect has to be at every level for it to click. It's 2012, customer service extends well beyond whether we enjoy our experience at the track, it's all encompassing, in not only the real but virtual worlds.

Yes, I know it's business, and a big one at that. I can barely fend for myself, so I have no idea how to run a huge company. But I do know what gets me (and other fans) going, when I sit in my seat at the track or in front of the TV on race weekends. In that sense, we are the ones that are the experts.

So that's my (our) idea for the week, what do you think? Anyone in IndyCar, if you decide to implement this, e-mail me for my address to send me the big royalty check. You're welcome.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

New in 2013!

After a bit of a hibernation the last few weeks, IndyCar hit us with a plethora of news over the course of the last few days.

Other than Alex Tagliani finally resigning with Barracuda Racing -- they were gaining their legs late last year and I could see them winning a race in 2013 -- the biggest tidbits came in the form of the new rulebook. Now that I have had a bit of time to digest some of the changes, I figured I'd share my thoughts on them.

So anyway, here we go. By the way, a few of these aren't rulebook stuff per se, but they represent real changes that the fans will see.

*Recounting the laps. The one that the fans will notice the most is that four of the races will be changing in distance, with St. Pete adding 10 laps to go to 110, Milwaukee will increase 25 laps to an even 250 miles, Mid-Ohio will tack on five laps (85 to 90) while the race distance for Long Beach will decrease by five laps, from 85 to 80.

The intended purpose of the change is to try and eliminate fuel mileage racing by making the race fall in line with regular fuel windows. With fuel no longer a concern, the thought goes, teams would turn drivers loose to go hard.

In theory, that's all good, but I don't know how much that will change things. As long as pit stops that include fuel are involved, conserving will be part of the strategy, it's that simple. Race tactics are narrowed down to the nth degree, and fuel mileage is part of that, no matter the race distance. No matter what, teams will still want to stretch fuel between stops because if you can eliminate a stop or stretch the time between stops by a lap or two you are ahead of the game.

Perfect example: I'm watching the Rolex 24 as I write this, and what are they talking about? Fuel. Twenty-three and a half hours in, and a 2,000-plus mile race is coming down to who has the most fuel left. That's racing!

But at the same time, the move is great for the fans because it makes the races longer! St. Pete and Milwaukee will be 10 percent longer, how can that be a bad thing? I'm especially excited about Milwaukee, more because it is on my list of races to see in person this year. The more laps, the merrier.

*Practice your starts. The doubleheaders at Toronto and Houston could have some different looks as it was announced that Race 1 of each weekend would be a standing start and Race 2 would be of the traditional rolling variety.

I think standing starts are something that have been a long time coming (they were used in the end days of CART), and I'm looking forward to seeing them. There is a different type of drama involved in a standing start. It's cool to see F1 cars pull up to their starting spots and then hear the engines go into this insane whine before the lights go off and they are away.

It seems that people are a little worried about it becoming an epic fail and there could be some sort of incident. Really, though, how is that different from any other IndyCar race? How many road/street courses saw every car go through the first corner clean last year? I don't think we should avoid standing starts because we are worried about the worst thing that can happen. After all, it happens a time or two a year in F1 and no one thinks the worse of it, and these guys are professional race car drivers. I think part of that job description involves being able to execute a standing start properly. But that's just me.

What it also helps to avoid is the nasty-looking starts that the series has become known for, where the first few cars bolt to the line before everyone is in formation and they throw the green anyway. I hate that way more than any possible snafus that could come from a standing start. Now THOSE are embarrassing.

*Iowa. I'm singling Iowa out because one, it's my second favorite circuit behind Indy and two, since it has a unique qualifying procedure, which was tweaked, hopefully for the better.

The idea of heat races was good in theory, but last year the actual races themselves were pretty flat. If you were in the slow heat there wasn't much incentive to drive hard, and if you were in the fastest heat you didn't want to mess up your car for the show.

The new change this year has the top two finishers in each of the first two heat races transfer to the final heat for the six fastest qualifiers. So basically if you have a screw-up in qualifying you get a bit of a mulligan.

I hope the changes Beaux Barfield and Co. made to the heat races helps, because last year was more of a glorified practice session. While heat races are part of the roots of Midwest racing, the way the guys "raced" last year just won't cut it in the future in terms of fan interest. Of course, the way it looks now there won't be much interest if it is shown tape delay like last year, but that is a conversation for a different time.

*Speaking of points. Yet another change revolved around points. Now a driver gets a point for leading a lap, with the driver who leads the most picking up two points. Also, positions 19-25 in the final classification will see a decrease in points, as opposed to all of those positions being worth the same.

I'm not going to go all stat-geek and rescore last year using the new format to see what changed, but I bet it would have changed them, and perhaps even brought a driver or two into the hunt into Fontana. Put it this way: Last year Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power finished 19th or worse three times and Scott Dixon twice. Helio Castroneves' worst finish was if you were to score it like this year, he could have been, what, 15-20 points closer? All of the sudden, was it possible we could have had three, or maybe even four, drivers in the championship hunt heading to Fontana?

I don't feel like doing that exhaustive research, but if someone else wants to figure it out, cool.

It's pretty simple: the more points you award the more of a chance you have of having more drivers in the championship hunt at the end.

I'm all about points, because points and money are what these drivers (and teams) race for, after all. You put points (or money, in terms of enough to get people out of bed in the morning) on something and they will go after them.

I brought up this idea and got flamed for it on Twitter, but why not make Fontana (or whatever race is the finale) worth double points? If you are going to call it a "championship" race, put more points on the line and give more drivers a chance to win.

Some may argue that it could lead to a driver who isn't "deserving" win a title. Really? Let's say you made Fontana worth double last year and Castroneves and Dixon were brought back into the mix. They win the title...would either of them be less deserving? Nope.

Another argument is that why would you make a race worth more points than the Indy 500? OK, you got me there. If that is the case, make it worth more too.

I don't see that as "gimmicky". I see it as weighing some races as more important than others, and if that is set ahead of time, and everyone knows the rules and adjusts accordingly, it's just a rule.

So those are my thoughts for the season now only eight weeks away?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Random Thoughts From A Frozen Mind

I'm back.

Now I don't know if that is a good thing or not, but any time I can make an announcement with Michael Jordan-esque panache I'm going to. Anyway, happy new year, I hope 2013 is treating you well. I'm off to a good start, getting in gym workouts (lost only three pounds, just have to work harder) and trying to stay warm.

Really, it's not that cold here and we've only gotten 1.3 inches of snow, which just outside of Chicago is mind-boggling. But I am bald, so my head does get colder a lot faster than everyone else. Hence, the blog title fits.

I've just been so busy, so I apologize for very few posts as of late. That and I'm resting up for my every day blogging bender once May rolls around.

I also just finished coaching my 6th grader, Kevin, and his hoops team, which at a minimum of four days a week is a bit of a commitment. It was a fun as always, but we eventually finished the season losing eight games by four points or less. I guess now I know what Panther Racing has felt like at the last few runnings of the 500.

Wow, have I just dropped about 300 words on nothing about racing? I must be reading too much Bill Simmons. Anyway, with IndyCar still sort of percolating along on hiatus, I'm just going to throw out a mishmash of stuff. Read what you like and skip what you don't.

*Rolex 24. Honestly, I'm not a big sports car fan, and I don't watch much of the racing the rest of the year (except for LeMans), but I will be tuning in next weekend, and who knows if I might pull an (almost) all-nighter like last year! It's actually some pretty cool stuff, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the IndyCar drivers do. Justin Wilson was part of the winning Michael Shank Racing entry a year ago, while Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon were part of the team that finished fourth.

All three of them are back this year, with IndyCar champ Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Alex Tagliani and Simon Pagenaud among those who will also be racing.

I like the Rolex 24 because I think the idea of racing at 3 a.m. is really cool, and the fact that I go to bed and sleep for several hours, and when I wake up, they are still racing!

What I also like is stuff like driver switches and equipment repairs. Stuff like changing out brakes on pit road or taking the car back to the garage and pulling out the gearbox, then getting the car back on the track in just a matter of minutes. I like that teamwork part of it. A crew is always important in racing, no matter the distance, but in a 24 hour race it's just that much moreso.

That's a race I'd love to attend someday, just to see how all of it works in person.

*Daytona. Speaking of races I'd like to attend, I just bought my tickets today for the Budweiser Duels and the Daytona 500 next month. No, I'm not jumping ship...fear not! But beyond an IndyCar fan, I just like racing, and Daytona has been a place I've wanted to go since I was a kid. Not only that, it gets me into warm weather and sun for a few days and coincides with the start of spring training and so I may go watch a workout or two. (Yes, I'm enough of a baseball geek that I will sit in the stands and watch teams take BP and pitchers throw bullpens)

It will be interesting to see how the Gen 6 car works, but count me in as one of those who at least likes how they look. As Dale Jr. and company proved in their testing accident last week, bump drafting looks to be out, unless you are really, REALLY good at it. So from what I have read it's the proverbial "cars being put back into the driver's hands" sort of thing. The way I see it, anything that gets the drivers' foot off the gas -- even if it's only briefly -- makes the racing better. I don't mind pack racing as much in stock cars since the danger factor isn't nearly as high as it is in open wheels, but lifting and breaking the cars up a bit is always good.

*Silly season. There are still some IndyCar seats up for grabs and some drivers still waiting for things to materialize, but with two months before the opener at St. Pete you have to figure for the most part everything will be settled soon.

I for one am curious about the Ryan Briscoe situation. It is hard to believe that nothing has materialized for him yet. It seems more like a money thing, and if that isn't the issue you'd have to think he would be going to Ganassi B in Graham Rahal's old ride. Not happening yet, though, so what are his backups? The second car at Rahal Letterman Lanigan sounds like it, but I think you have to bring some cash for that ride and I don't know how much backing he has. Plus, it seems like EJ Viso's name is floating around for that more than Briscoe's.

What I find sad is the fact that a driver who has eight wins and five top-6 finishes in points over the last five years can't find a ride. And besides, as I have lamented so many times's Roger Penske, how can it be about money, or even sponsorship? I don't think anyone wants to spend their own money on stuff if they don't have to, but I've got two words for you: pocket change.

Some have speculated that he is going back to Penske after they announced they intend to have a third car this year, though I don't know how often they are going to run it. Indy and Detroit sound logical, and maybe add in Pocono and Fontana? I would love to see if Roger will roll the dice and up his odds for some more of that phat cash. And in my mind -- sorry Will Power -- he only has one driver that is capable of winning any of those races, let alone two or even three.

So if he is doing that, if not Briscoe, how about a guy like Townsend Bell, who is pretty good on ovals? If it is just a one-off for Indy (and Detroit), maybe even a Conor Daly would be good. I know others have talked about him going full-time, but it looks like that ship has sailed for 2013. I bet he will be back a year from now through.

Back to Briscoe, maybe a strategy is to sit out a year and see what materializes. You've got a few drivers getting up there in either contracts or age. What if Franchitti wins Indy for the fourth time and decides he wants to walk away? What if Helio Castroneves does the same thing? Or even Tony Kanaan, who has one thing left in his life to win? The latter two I doubt, but Dario? If he becomes a four-time winner, what else is left? Sure, a win and a championship to go with it puts him on the cusp of jumping into all-time great territory, and a drive for five (in Indy wins and titles) puts him on the Baby Rushmore of open wheel racing, but he has talked about it for a while, so you never know.

*Speaking of Indy rides. I saw a story today were AJ Allmendinger said if something could be worked out he'd like to drive the 500. Despite losing his ride with Penske Racing Cup ride last year after testing positive for a banned stimulant, he and Roger reportedly have a good relationship, so do you think Penske takes the chance?

Allmendinger has made it clear that he wants to resurrect his career in NASCAR, but every time a mention about Indy comes up his name seems to surface. I could write a whole week's worth of blogs about my feelings about the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports, but my short answer to a guy like Allmendinger goes like this: fool people once, shame on you.

The guy did something stupid, and with no other positive tests (although he did get a DUI just over three years ago) I have to say that it was a one-time screwup, he did what he needed to do to get back on the track, and we just should all move on.

Although Dinger should move on without his PR person. She made that whole incident more of a train wreck than it should have been.

I'd say that about any athlete. With supplements so prevalent anymore, there are so many things they take that can trigger a positive. I give most of them one chance, unless they repeatedly lie about it (Mark McGuire, Lance Armstrong, Sammy Sosa) in the face of a mountain of evidence, or point a finger at Congressmen and say they didn't take any PEDs, then test positive a couple of weeks later (Rafael Palmiero).

If you screw up, you screw up, and I have done my share of epic DERP-ing in my life. Then again, a second one should get at least a two-year ban, if not longer. Do not pass go, nothing. Fool me twice, shame on me.

So what I'm saying is that if Dinger and Penske can work something out, the more the merrier. I can let what happened in the past stay that way.

*Speaking of Baby things. I know what you are thinking, but don't go there! Actually, I was talking about Franchitti getting his Baby Borg in Detroit earlier this week. What made it even better is that Dario stayed on stage and presented one to Parnelli Jones in honor of his win in 1963. I'm sure that won't be the last honor he receives this year, as when we get to May they will more than likely be celebrating the 50th anniversary of said victory. Jones might be the most underrated driver in Indy history, but even though he has just one win he was one of the best, leading 492 of the 1,130 laps he completed, not to mention becoming the first driver to break the magic 150 mph barrier in qualifying in 1962.

You know, an underrated/overrated list might be fun sometime. I've got a list for each put together already, but not sure if I'm ready to write that one!