Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Day For Firsts

No matter how many times you go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 500, something happens that you probably haven't seen before.

Yesterday, I saw not one, but two new things, and if you watched the race you probably know what I'm talking about. But one thing I had seen before was a great race, and the guys (and lady) of the IndyCar series put on another great show, with Ryan Hunter-Reay putting on two passes for the ages when he got around Helio Castroneves and went on to his first-ever win.

But I don't think it will be his last.

So here are a couple of talking points and a rundown of the Top 10 finishers.

Long green: Last year saw a green run of close to 135 laps which saw the race finish with a record average speed of 187.433 mph. Sunday was green for the first 149 laps of the race (obliterating the previous record of 65 set in 2000) and through that point the event was being run at a furious pace. The five caution periods over the race's 50 laps "slowed" the average to 186.5, but it was pretty amazing to see how quickly the laps fell by the wayside. I don't have the official number, but the first 250 miles were covered in about 70 minutes. That's just crazy.

I like long green runs, and there have been a lot of them the last two years. It's like a two-hour baseball game, it seems like the race is a lot more intense and the drivers are sharper and get stronger as the green goes on.

The red: I was a little surprised when race control decided to stop the race after Townsend Bell's Lap 192 incident, and a day later I'm still on the fence as to whether it was the right thing to do. From a fan standpoint, it was certainly the right decision. It gave the safety crew time to clean up Bell's debris field (and make any repairs to the fence/SAFER barrier) while giving the fans the opportunity to see a green finish.

On the other hand, from a purist perspective, it is a slippery slope. But given the three options of 1) red flagging the race, 2) finishing the race under caution, which was a possibility and 3) going to a green-white-checker finish, I would choose option one all the time. That's not to say I'd agree with it had the accident happened on Lap 198 or something, but there were enough laps left that I felt given every option available it was the right one. Because in the end there was an Indy 500 title on the line and huge points implications, and beyond what was great to the fans, race control owed it to the drivers to try and settle it themselves while keeping the integrity of the 500-mile race distance.

The crash: You know the one, the Ed Carpenter/James Hinchcliffe shunt on the Lap 176 restart that saw both of them taken out of the race and Ed looking to punch Hinch in the face. Hinch was smart to keep his helmet on, but what was up with putting them both in the same safety vehicle for the ride to the infield care center?

Oh well. Having watched the replay, I couldn't believe all three of them thought they could fit into a one-groove corner. Bell was a little too optimistic going wide and with 60 miles of racing left Hinch shouldn't have tried to stuff it into the corner. But as we saw with Ryan Hunter-Reay's race-winning pass with a couple of laps left, there was a "no attack, no chance" (thanks, Takuma Sato) attitude to a lot of the racing. They did a lot of crazy stuff that had me worried.

For Carpenter, he lost a chance to win the race he cares most about winning, and for Hinch it just piled on to the horrible month, and season, he's been having.

Jim Nabors: No post would be complete without a mention of the farewell performance of Nabors. As always, he nailed it, and as the song went on I just couldn't stop thinking of how it will never be the same to me. Maybe they will find someone else to sing it, but he IS Mr. Back Home Again, and I don't know how you replace that. I never knew how big of a deal it was until I saw my first race in 1988 (like many aspects of Indy, TV does it no justice), but when I think of the 500 ultimately I end up thinking of Jim Nabors and his beautiful singing, not to mention his kindness to people and his humility about his amazing talent. Thanks so much for everything you have done, Jim. You are one of the many reasons why we love the 500.

I could go on with storylines all day, but let's talk about the drivers, shall we?

Winner: Ryan Hunter-Reay. When RHR qualified 19th last weekend I wondered how long it would take him to push his way to the front. The answer was not very. He drove a brilliant race and was hands-down the combination of the best car and driver Sunday. Plus, his passes for the (eventual) win is the stuff of legend, the epitome of Al Unser Jr's comment about there being a point in a race that life or death doesn't matter, just winning. That pass is one that people will be talking about years from now.

He's also the first American-born champion since 2006 (Sam Hornish) and is a good bet to add another win or two in his future. He also became the first driver since Bill Vukovich (1954) to win from the 19th starting position.

Runner-up: Helio Castroneves. Helio put up a good face for TV, which he's good at, but you know that he is gutted about this race, and it will be one that eats at him for a long, long time. No doubt he didn't do anything to lose this race -- he just flat got beat -- but when a man comes .06 seconds from winning his fourth 500, he won't get over it very easily. If there is any solace at all, it's that Helio drove an incredible race, by far the best one he's run since last winning in 2009.

Sunday also proved how much of a game-changer the DW12 has become. In years past, Helio would've made that pass for the lead and laid down qualifying-style laps from there to put it away. He's one of the best closers the 500 has ever seen, but that just can't be done any more.

Third place: Marco Andretti. Once again, Andretti ran a race in the same style of his dad (Michael) and grandpa (Mario) -- pushing hard and always trying to move to the front. I thought he was another driver who drove an exceptional race, but his car just wasn't fast enough at the end. He's drove with even more maturity than he had in the past, and finished with the fourth podium of his Indy 500 career. He's going to win one day...right. Right?

Fourth: Carlos Munoz. When a golfer has a knack for playing a certain course -- or even a certain hole -- particularly well, people say that the course (or hole) "fits his eye". With a P2 and P4 in his first two years, I think you can say that IMS fits Carlos' eye very, very well. Sitting in the SW Vista, I paid particular attention to his driving line, and I wouldn't be surprised if the left side of his car was full of grass stains at the end. He loves that low line, and he is young enough (and crazy enough) to make it work. This guy has to be considered a serious threat from here on out.

Fifth: Juan Pablo Montoya. JPM showed that he didn't forget much in the 14 years since he won the 500 in his only start in 2000. But, just like the Brickyard 400 in 2009, he made a mistake that probably cost him the race when he had to serve a drive through penalty on Lap 134 for speeding on pit road. As both JPM and Will Power -- who served a drive through of his own four laps earlier -- learned, you can't make a single mistake and expect to win.

Sixth: Kurt Busch. During the long green run when he was driving by himself and mired in about 16th place, I made the crack on Twitter that Kurt was looking for a NASCAR-style debris caution. I kid, I kid. At the time it was obvious that Busch was struggling with the car (which was Marco Andretti's backup since he had crashed his primary car last Monday), but once he got back into the lead pack he came to life. This year's Rookie of the Year, Busch was as advertised.

Of course, his performance left some saying "it just shows that NASCAR drivers are better than IndyCar drivers". No, it shows that he's a pretty talented guy, talented enough to do something not a lot of other drivers could do. I'm not going to nit-pick that his move to sixth was aided by attrition, because it's harder than that, so I'm going to give the guy the respect he deserves. He put himself out there, with the knowledge that a bad result, especially a crash, would've been a blow to his reputation. He talked it and backed it up, I hope to see him at Indy again.

Seventh: Sebastien Bourdais. After finishing P12, P20 and P29 in his first three attempts at Indy, Seabass put together the best month of his career. Very nice effort.

Eighth: Will Power. See Montoya, Juan Pablo. Power showed that his win at Fontana was no fluke with his performance, but a drive through penalty dropped him out of the Top 10 and left him struggling the rest of the day. This was his best chance to win, no doubt, but Power's kryptonite is his penchant for making mistakes. When he runs clean, he's tough to beat, but for an elite level driver, he makes too many mistakes.

Ninth: Sage Karam. Whenever I mentioned to my 18-year-old son Matt how well I thought Karam was doing, he would shake his head and say "I can't believe he is only a year older than me!". I know, me either. He was certainly solid and spent a stint in the middle of the race at or around the Top 5. In all he improved 22 spots from his P31 starting position (to match his car number), an impressive feat for any driver, especially one making his first 500 start.

Tenth: JR Hildebrand. Remember the "redemption" slant that I touched on after qualifying? He didn't have it then, but he has it now. I don't know what, if anything, this leads to for him, but as I stated after qualifying: he's a good guy and it's good to see nice things happening for him. It may not lead to much this season, but I can guarantee he's locked himself into something for May, 2015, and that's not really a bad thing. Besides, if he wants some inspiration, he can look no further than Hunter-Reay, who had to prove himself a couple of times and never really got his career on track until his late twenties. Age and experience...age and experience.

Once again, Matt and I had a wonderful time at the race, the fourth time we have gone together. I keep telling him he's a bit spoiled because he's always seen incredible races, but at the same time, that probably won't change. Spending a weekend with Matt was a blast, and that is a tradition that I also hope never changes, and next year my soon-to-be-14-year-old, Kevin, will probably join us. He loves supercars and can't wait to come with us to the Speedway.

I also think we have a new fan in my soon-to-be-brother-in-law, Adam. He texted me several times during the race and at the end of the race said "You got me back into the 500". Hopefully he can make the trip down next year, too.

After all, there's always room for more, although I'm not sure how many more. Over the last few years the increase in attendance has been really encouraging, and outside of qualifying the attendance at the GP, Carb Day and the race way exceeded my expectations. The biggest race in the world keeps getting bigger.

Sunday was also a reminder of why I do this blog, which is to share the my passion 500 and the IndyCar series with others. Like many, Race Day is like Christmas, so I want to take this opportunity to tell everyone who reads my little corner of the Internet how thankful I am for you and how much you all help in my enjoyment of the sport.

Is it May, 2015 yet?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Field is Set

What a weekend, wasn't it? Both on-track and off, the new qualifying format added excitement a new buzz within the media. I think even the most cynical types will have to admit that Mark Miles and Company have stumbled on to something they can build on, and with that crew I expect that to happen.

I don't know about you, but I held my breath as each driver headed out on their Fast Nine runs. That was some high drama, and to be truthful, it was kind of scary. Those guys were hung so far over the edge of what those cars can do it wasn't even funny. But at the same time, when a car is THAT trimmed out we get what we want, and that is the skill (and bravery) of the driver is brought into the equation.

To a man, all of them said yesterday was one of the hardest things they have ever done. Good! It should be hard, in fact winning the pole for the Indianapolis 500 should be the second hardest thing a driver does in his/her lives, and the hardest should be winning the race itself.

I'm going to run through the Fast Nine participants and highlight a couple of other things I observed this weekend.

Pole winner: Ed Carpenter. Say it with me...Ed's the man. Only a handful of drivers have won consecutive pole positions at IMS, and Ed joins a list that includes AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves. What do all of them have in common? They have all won the race too. You have to take your hat off to the job Ed has done with his team. I think he has a lot more he will accomplish in his driving career, but when we look back at things 20-25 years from now, he's going to be like Michael Andretti in that his career as an owner will probably surpass what he does as a driver.

Front row (Middle): James Hinchcliffe. As with his near pole run two years ago, Hinch dropped a huge lap out of the gate at 231.6, but a bobble in T3 on his final lap scrubbed him down to 229 and left him in the second starting position again. What separated Carpenter's run from Hinch's is that Ed ran four consistent laps, in fact he was P4 after one lap but didn't suffer the same kind of dropoff the others did. But all the credit goes to Hinch for working his way back from his concussion in the GP. He didn't even get into the car until Thursday but was fast all weekend.

Front row (Outside): Will Power. WP has been relatively good at qualifying at Indy, yet that hasn't translated into race success over the last few years. He hasn't had a Top 5 since 2009, and in the last three years has gone P14, P28 and P19. Does he have some more confidence after his breakthrough win at Fontana last year?

Row two (Inside): Helio Castroneves. Helio usually lives for the spotlight, so you would think the Fast Nine is right up his alley. But surprisingly enough he's fallen flat the last three years, and starts in Row 2 for the fourth time in his career. Although he scores major points with me for rocking the back-in-the-day Pennzoil paint scheme with the Rick Mears helmet livery, and seeing that car pull into Victory Lane on Sunday would be pretty sweet.

Row two (Middle): Simon Pagenaud. So far Simon has had a great month and after starting P23 and P21 in his first two 500s he moves way up the grid for Sunday. After winning the GP last week he was at the top of the speed chart one day last week and seemed genuinely happy with his effort over the weekend. Speaking of liveries, Simon will be sporting the Ayrton Senna scheme on his helmet, then is auctioning off the helmet to benefit Senna's foundation in Brazil that helps disadvantaged children. Solid.

Row two (Outside): Marco Andretti. This year Marco will be making his ninth career start and given his performance the last two years, where he's led a combined 90 laps, you have to wonder if this race is starting to come to him. He just needs to stop putting so much pressure on himself, especially in qualifying.

Row three (Inside): Carlos Munoz. I felt like Carlos' qualifying effort was a bit of a letdown, but only because he's raised the bar pretty high in just a handful of IndyCar races, and it's kind of a bummer if we aren't entertained. If last year was any indication, he won't be in his starting spot long. He wants to get to the front, and isn't at all scared to do so.

Row three (Middle): Josef Newgarden. Like Pagenaud, Josef moved waaayyyy up the grid this year, having been in Row 9 (P25) in 2012 and Row 10 (P28) last year. What a great month for Newgarden and his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team. They took a huge step forward here this year, but I have to wonder if Sunday will be an audition of sorts for Newgarden. He's in a contract year, after all.

Row three (Outside): J.R. Hildebrand. Please no one take this the wrong way, but I wasn't quite sure what to take of the "vindication!" screams when Hildebrand qualified this weekend. Yes, we all hate John Barnes, but you have a guy who wrecked out of  two of his three 500 starts (including in the final corner with the checkered flag in sight to win in 2011) and has one podium in his IndyCar career, so I don't think he was screwed over in any sense of the word. Still, he's a nice guy, he's good for IndyCar and  I like it when nice things happen to good people. So in that sense I'm glad he's back. Vindication doesn't come from qualifying well, it comes from racing well, and with the resources he has for Sunday's race he has a chance to exorcise a few demons, big time.

Juan Pablo Montoya (Starting P10). When JP headed back to IndyCar over the winter, some wonder if he still "had it". After he qualified tenth Sunday faster than eight of the Fast Nine participants (231.007) wonder no more. He's driven with a lot of passion all season, and this means something. Fourteen years ago, when he came, saw, kicked ass and bucket listed the 500 before heading to greener pastures, I'm guessing it didn't. But time and age changes everyone, doesn't it?

Kurt Busch (P12). The Outlaw met the Turn 2 wall earlier today in practice, but that doesn't take away the month that he is having. I still think a Top 10 will be a great accomplishment, but I would love to see him drive more IndyCar races someday. One thing that I think is great about having him at IMS is the fact that by all accounts he has been gracious and accommodating to almost everyone, and has been honest and forthcoming in his interviews. I think he's made a few fans the last couple of weeks.

Scott Dixon/Tony Kanaan (P11 and P16). Both of the Ganassi drivers -- the defending IndyCar and 500 champions, respectively -- struggled on Saturday but dug deep on Sunday to put in some solid runs. I don't think we have to worry about either of these two, Dixon has finished P6 or better in seven of the last eight years, and Kanaan won from the 12th starting spot last year. And besides, the way TK is on restarts, its like he's starting in the Top 10 anyway.

Ryan Hunter-Reay. I'm trying to act surprised about his P19 starting spot, but outside of 2012 when he started on the outside of the front row he's never qualified that well at IMS. I'm a little mixed on RHR at Indy, past history shows that compared to many tracks he's really underachieved here, but at the same time over the last couple of years he's driving with a confidence that he didn't have in his first few efforts at the Speedway.

A couple of other things...

Dario Franchitti. First of all, Happy Birthday to the champ. But second, was he amazing in the booth Sunday or what? I learned so much from listening to him, and it gave some really good insight as to what made him such a good driver -- his technical knowledge and attention to detail are amazing. I know I'm probably one of the few people who saw this fascinating, but one point I thought he pointed out that was cool was how hard Simon Pagenaud was breathing while he was trying to qualify, which is a huge indicator of the stress he was under while he was driving.

I would love to see him in the booth, and hopefully that will happen because he and Allen Bestwick had instant chemistry. Seriously, Bestwick is showing he's one of the best. But I think Dario's love is the action of the race and his involvement with TCGR, though he's not driving you have to bet that he is heavily involved with everything from setup to race tactics. He's not ready to give that up yet.

Jack Brabham. Racing lost a true legend when the three-time F1 World Champion passed away over the weekend at age 88. Though he only competed at Indy four times and had a best finish of P9, he drove the rear-engined car at Indianapolis in 1961 and helped start a true revolution. In 1966 he won the F1 title in a car that he designed, engineered and built himself. Racing in the same era as giants of the sport like Graham Hill and Jim Clark meant he didn't get a lot of headlines, but he left a legacy on the sport that is undeniable. His son Geoff made ten starts in the 500 from 1981-93 and his grandson Matthew won the Indy Lights race at the Speedway last weekend and looks to someday become a third-generation driver in the 500.

Got a big week ahead, but look for my 500 preview this weekend!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Getting Close to Go Time

So yesterday (Wednesday) I had started this post with the idea that track activity would be cancelled due to inclement weather. Just when I was ready to hit "publish" I see Tweets that cars were being towed to the pits for a quick practice session.

Darn it! You know what? Since I had taken the time to write, I'm plowing forward, because it's May and we have plenty to talk about!

For disclosure, it's now Thursday night and we are all set and ready for Fast Friday and Time Trials, which we could also refer to as "Crank It Up Weekend". Yes, I just invented that. But it fits, doesn't it? With the motors boosted up and the pressure on the drivers reaching a fever pitch, things start to get serious in the next 72 hours.

So let's discuss, shall we?

*The weather: Let's go with that first. With rain and cold weather dominating the week it left the window for getting things done got a bit compressed. Now that we are in the middle of the week, though, we can get a better gauge of what to expect with the weather for qualifying this weekend. When IMS/IndyCar came up with the new procedures, one of the potential problems that arose was the threat of rain. That's a concern because I've been around long enough to see entire weekends washed out (thankfully not since we went to one-weekend qualifying), and that would seriously complicate things, not to mention send the fanbase into a frenzy. (Come on, you know it would) Looking at the extended forecast through the weekend, it looks pretty good, at least on Sunday. Hopefully they get everything in as scheduled.

*Speeds: It's what we all come for, right? Despite the less-than-stellar conditions, speeds have been gradually climbing all week, with Helio Castroneves leading the way today at just over 227 mph. Ed Carpenter made his way out of the woodwork to post his best time of the month at 226.2, with Will Power, Townsend Bell(!) and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounding out the Top 5.

Practice has been highly entertaining all week as the guys have been going at it pretty hard, as has been the trend all three years of the existence of the DW12. The only downside to the fun is that most speeds are inflated within the tow and it's difficult to know who has what to qualify. Then again, is that such a bad thing?

Plus, with the weather all of the teams are working on different schedules, from race setup to qualifying trim, so it's really going to be hard to know until everyone tilts their rear wings back to minus-10 on Saturday. I would really like to see one (or more) of the drivers break 230 in qualifying. No real reason, since I'm not as obsessed with the speed as I used to be, but it's fun to see a "230" flash up on the board.

Speaking of barriers, it was 49 years ago today that Jim Clark became the first driver to crack 160 mph in qualifying, and it is 42 years (plus one day) that cars at the Speedway broke the 180 AND 190 mph barriers on the same day. Could you imagine what it was like to see Bill Vukovich come out and turn laps at 185 mph and then a while later Bobby Unser bust four of them at over 196? Wish I had been there that day.

And it's also 37 years (and a day) since Tom Sneva officially went 200 mph for the first time. He later became the first driver to go over 210 as well, making him the only driver to have two barrier-breakings to his credit.

Wow, sorry, didn't mean to go that far with that, but it was getting kind of fun. Personally, I have witnessed three: Sneva in 1983, Rick Mears (220) in 1988 and Roberto Guerrero (230) in 1992.

*Hinch. Great news to hear that James Hinchcliffe had been cleared to drive today after suffering a concussion in Saturday's GP when he was struck in the head by a piece of debris. It was a dicey few days for Hinch, because there were doubts he would be able to drive, either this weekend or even next week in the 500.

While that would've sucked I also commend IndyCar, and most professional sports, for having concussion protocols on the books that look out for the safety of the athlete. It also means I'm still alive with my prediction he's going to win the race.

In his absence, EJ Viso has been working with the car and had been racy all week before his Honda motor cooked this afternoon, leaving Hinch time to run an install lap before activity for the day ended. No big deal as I'm sure like many teams they were trying to get to their 2,500 mile limit to get fresh power for the weekend.

With Viso out of the car, it raised questions as to if Michael Andretti may field a sixth car for him. While unlikely it would be a good thing because you know what that would mean?


*Double Outlaw: I haven't watched a lot of practice, but from what I have seen Kurt Busch looks pretty comfortable. He was also 9th fastest on the speed chart today at 224.739. One thing I have noticed is that as the week's gone on there has been more and more talk about how he could fare on race day. I'm still sticking with my prediction of a Top 15, but others have gone on and said they see him finishing in the Top 5.

That would be a massive stretch, to say the least. I think Kurt is an elite-level driver, but he isn't an elite-level open wheel driver, and in this era those are two completely different things. A couple of Tweets I read invoked AJ Allmendinger, but I see him as an open wheel guy who chooses to drive stock cars. Dinger had 41 open wheel starts in CART/IndyCar before running the 500 last year, not to mention three years of open wheel ladder experience. Two different things.

It's just when I think about the last 50 miles, I just don't see him beating that many series regulars, not to mention guys like Ed Carpenter and Oriol Servia. Regardless of where Kurt finishes, I'll be standing and applauding for him because I respect his desire to put himself out there and race. In fact, the victory comes in completing 1,100 miles of racing in one day, which I think is 10 times harder to do now than it was the last time anyone attempted it.

*BEAST. The wait is over...Jade Gurss' book about the story around the Mercedes engine that was built specifically for -- and won -- the 1994 Indianapolis 500 finally arrived on my porch Tuesday. While I'm only about 100 pages in (they haven't even begun testing in the snow in Nazareth yet) it is every bit as advertised. Great stories and insight, and even taught me a few things I didn't know. One of those surrounds Mario Andretti's engine failure in the 1987 500, but you'll have to read the book to learn the rest.

What strikes me the most is just the time and effort (not to mention money) that went into a project that everyone knew the motor was either going to fail miserably or succeed at such a level it would probably never be allowed to race again. In the end, these people worked 70, 80 and 90 hours a week for one event, one race, one day.

What made it work is that the people involved gave everything of themselves to make it happen, and they seemed happy to do it because it was the project they had been waiting their whole lives to try. Legacy stuff...and not many of us get the opportunity to do something like that. They did, and seized it.

It's hard to comprehend all of the moving parts to getting it done, and by moving parts I mean people designed different components of the engine not knowing if it would be compatible with the components someone else was designing, most of which was done by hand. It was all done with a faith in their abilities (and each other) and a level of teamwork that is so rarely found in any team or organization. I can't wait to read the rest of the book.

OK, I'm publishing now. So if anything comes up in the next five minutes we can talk about it later!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Black Noon Review

I love to read, but sometimes my opportunities to do so are few and far between. That usually means that when I do get the chance to sit down with a book, I never like to put it down, and pretty much inhale it in a couple of days.

While most of the racing community has been buzzing about Jade Gurss' book BEAST (which I'm excited to read), up until about a week ago I knew nothing about Black Noon: The Year They Stopped the Indy 500, which is Art Garner's account of the Month of May in 1964, culminating with the race and the deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald.

This is the first book by Garner, who had spent more than 30 years working PR and communications throughout the automotive industry, and I have to say I'm inspired by the guy's story. He had worked on several books during his life but never was able to finish one, until he stumbled upon this one and decided it was the story that he needed to tell. That's my dream too, and hopefully I find a story like this one someday.

The book is very well-researched, and includes interviews from some of the surviving racers from that era, including A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Mario Andretti (who was in the grandstands that day and raced at the Speedway for the first time the next year). I mean, how cool is that? Given the carnage of the era, the drivers that were lost along the way (seven drivers in the starting field -- counting Sachs and MacDonald -- were killed in racing accidents, and many more were at one time in their careers badly burned or injured) and the fact that 50 years has passed, it's amazing that four of the greatest drivers of all-time are still here to tell their story.

I think I will cover the 1964 race in another post, because it deserves one all of its own. What I will say is that race day was the culmination of a month of total turmoil, as controversies were a daily occurrence, whether it was dealing with tires, engines, chassis or drivers. Looking back it was certainly a turning point in the history of the Speedway.

That year was the bridge between the old guard of the 500 -- the roadster and its tried and true Offenhauser engine, not to mention Firestone tires -- and the new guard of rear-engine cars, constant innovation and the invasion of foreign drivers. Change was on the horizon, and the resistance to change is what added to the drama of the month.

The most important thing to note about the book is that less than 1/3 of it is spent on race day. The book actually begins with the 1963 race, won by Parnelli Jones, and works its way towards May, where it takes the form of a daily diary.

The book also dispels many of the rumors that over the last 50 years have taken on a life of their own. To this day, the Sachs/MacDonald crash is a subject of discussion and conspiracy theories, and the book does a nice job of finally putting many of those to rest. The author spoke to MacDonald's family extensively, especially Sherry, his widow, who told many heartwrenching details of that day for the first time ever.

One thing to note is that both the Sachs and MacDonald families had extensive input into this story, and both families have gone on record as being very happy with the finished product.

Most of all, I feel like it really humanizes Dave MacDonald. Prior to picking up Black Noon, I knew little of the man, and by the end of the book I ended up really liking him and feeling sad about his death, and how 50 years later it still has an effect on his friends and family, many of whom watched the accident happen via a closed circuit feed at the LA Sports Arena in Los Angeles.

I also discovered that solely blaming MacDonald for what happened is short-sided, as this accident was something that was the result of lots of different things converging on a specific moment in time, as things like these usually are.

I'll leave the rest of the book for you to read, and while it is a bit long at 350 pages, it's definitely worth the effort if you enjoy the history of the Speedway and want to learn more about one of the more significant eras of its past.

GP of Indy

I could sum up the events from yesterday with a simple...what. a. crazy. day.

But I have more to add so I will. First, though, let me say Happy Mother's Day to everyone who is a mother, grandmother, godmother, caretaker or anyone who has or is raising children. You are the cornerstone to their lives.

I'd also like to give a special shout to my own mom, Pat. She has had such a positive impact on my life and I'm so thankful for her love and influence. My mom turns 77 in June and thankfully is still healthy and happy. She loves sports and won't mind getting into a discussion or two about them. We still have yet to come to a consensus on our recent discussions on pitch counts and how a team should handle pitchers. Old school versus new! I'll let you know how it turns out.

Anyway, there were plenty of storylines, so many that I'm eschewing my usual top-5 finishers (going with three) to add in a couple more.

Winner: Simon Pagenaud. Raise your hand if two years ago you thought Pagenaud would be this good. (Pause) Anyone with their hand in the air, y'all are all flat out liars! I had him pegged to be a pretty good driver, but in his last 17 races he now has three wins and nine top-5 finishes. He's also now third in points, just six points away from Will Power in the top spot. Better yet, he's a contender to win the 500 in two weeks as well. He did a great job managing his fuel and getting to the end of the race with an onrushing crowd behind him.

Runner-up: Ryan Hunter-Reay. A win at Barber and his finish at the GP makes it a little easier to forget his bush-league move at Long Beach, and now he sits second in points. Three podiums in four races, and he heads into Indy (and all of the points involved) with mo on his side.

Third: Helio Castroneves. It would've been a nice 39th birthday present for Helio, and he certainly made it interesting in the end. His 2014 season is beginning a little like last year's did, with two podiums and two mid-pack finishes. Will that trend continue? Possibly, because you know how HCN comes to life at Indy, and his 6th-place finish at the 500 a year ago kickstarted a consistent run that put him in position to win the championship. Not only that, he will be running the old Pennzoil livery, which is super cool.


Standing starts: I'm a big proponent of them, because when they are pulled off correctly they are super cool, like Long Beach. But yesterday's crash -- started when pole-sitter Sebastian Saavedra's car stalled -- makes me wonder if they should continue. This is the third time in the short history of standing starts that it has either been aborted or there was an incident at the start. I'd love to see them continue, but not this way. More than anything, wrecked cars are a huge expense, and at some point that would get difficult for a few teams on the grid.

Restart: Again, there were a couple more incidents as the cars came to green, which didn't end until race control jumped in and threatened to penalize anyone who jumped the start. After Graham Rahal was knocked out of the race, he wondered why NASCAR could get restarts right and IndyCar can't. Well, the main reason is that Cup restarts are heavily scrutinized by race control and penalties are handed out for stupid driving. And here is the rub: what happens during restarts isn't about the rules, it's about stupid driving. We could still have outstanding restarts if everyone followed the rules and showed some professional courtesy, rather than treating it like a jailbreak. If the drivers can't police themselves, then it will be left to race control, and I don't think anyone wants to see that happen.

Hinch: James Hinchcliffe's concussion, suffered when a piece of debris jumped up and hit him in the head, was not only a storyline for yesterday, but is one of the first for the 500 as well. Right now he is out of the car for at least seven days -- per IndyCar standards -- putting him out of this week's practice and maybe even next weekend's 500 qualifying. E.J. Viso takes over the car until he is cleared, which may not be until Carb Day or even Race Day. If that happens, he moves to 33rd on the grid. Because I'm unfailingly loyal he is still my pick to win the race, but this is just another blow to his mojo, as he now has three finishes this year of P19 or worse.

Oriol Servia: As he is wont to do, the Voice of God, passed a lot of cars and after starting 22nd eventually worked his way to the point in the race's final stages. Though he had to stop for gas with just a couple of laps left, he drove a great race and showed that there is something he just likes about Indy. Fast fact: Servia has just as many points (55) in three races this year as his teammate, Graham Rahal, has in four. If this keeps up, we might have to start asking the questions. 

Jack Hawksworth: I hope he has proven to everyone that he "deserved" the ride he got with BHA. ("deserved" is a pretty stupid concept, by the way) He has been fantastic so far this season, and had his best weekend of his short IndyCar career, qualifying second and leading the most laps before finishing seventh. Given what I saw of Jack in person at Milwaukee last year, I don't have a lot of high hopes for him heading into the 500, but he just might surprise with a podium this year.

The TV booth: Allen Bestwick was of course outstanding, well-prepared and professional as always. Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear looked lost and not really that interested in being there.

Overall: I have to say the weekend was a success. After all, I'm a cheerleader, aren't I? While the racing wasn't perfect at times, the first lap may have been the best first lap of any road course race EVER and it was a typical road race event. I enjoyed watching it. Most of all, I want to give props to the fans who came out and supported the event. IMS put a lot into this weekend, and I think the got a lot in return. Most of all they gave an option to fans, a chance to bring their kids to see some racing on a day when it's not as crazy as the 500. Giving fans options, and bringing new, young fans to the sport. What a concept!

So here we are, it's time for 15 Days in May! So far it's off to a pretty good start!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Rant

...or, if you want a different title "Why I Don't Write Critical Stuff About IndyCar"

OK, so this weekend is off to a great start at IMS, which is awesome. I'm so looking forward to this weekend, as well as the rest of the month. Especially since these babies showed up in my mailbox today:

I hope to do a lot of blogging this month, but with all of my stuff going on, especially Matt's high school graduation activities, I'm not quite sure how much I'll get done. Certainly not the epic posts of two years ago, but I'll try.

But today I'm tackling a different subject, and one that I've felt was too controversial to take on before now. Or maybe I just wasn't comfortable blogging about it. I'm not sure.

Either way, it's about the criticism of IndyCar (or its subsidiaries) and why I don't partake in it. I got into this mode because there was a discussion on Twitter about a certain website -- which I won't mention -- that posted an anonymous blog post from someone who was hyper critical about the Road To Indy ladder program.

It was an anonymous post using anonymous sources, and while I can't say I disagree with the content, it should have been done better and in a way that lends it more credibility. And it could've been, had whoever wrote it not been too lazy (or scared) to do some research and talk to the right people to get it done. Whether you agree with the idea or not, something that scathing and with that much information to it needs more work done to it.

I've discovered over time that one of the worst things you can get labeled as a fan of this series is a "cheerleader". You know, the people who love IndyCar and think that everything is great. Sometimes I wonder if people put me in that category, and they probably do. And for that I don't really care, because I am.

You know what? I have too much shit going on in my life to get all rankled about IndyCar. I love the drivers, I love the tracks and it's a great way to get away from the rest of the world every so often. I also love IMS, it is the greatest place in the world to me, a living, breathing place that even the thought of has gotten me through some black days in my life. 

I'm not going to get upset about TV ratings, or what the marketing department does, or how the PR staff does their job, or whatever it is others seem to get their shorts in a bunch about. It's not worth my time, because even if I thought I knew, I have no idea.

Sports are supposed to be a diversion, and my experience as a writer has shown that pro sports, whatever the sport, and whatever the level, are way more complicated than we could imagine. I've been a baseball fan for 40 years and have been a beat writer for the Kane County Cougars for the last 15...but yet there is rarely a night I'm at the park that I don't learn about baseball. I take that attitude into everything I write, because I don't know everything, and I'm never going to try and act like I do.

Going a few paragraphs back up, the reason I rarely, if ever, criticize the IndyCar series is because I don't have the access to do so. I don't know people inside, I don't have any contacts, and I can't say I'm friends with any drivers. 

Which means this...if I posted something on here in trying to act like I knew what I was talking about, I would be a fraud. Yes, I know this is a blog and people can do whatever they want to do with theirs, but when post something here, it is with the same eye towards credibility and professional integrity that I take to my writing assignments. 

Have I editorialized? Sure. A lot. That's what makes this fun. Have I crossed a line from time-to-time? Yes. But at the same time, I've never tried to be anything on this site that I am not.

While I don't follow the same sorts of rules here that I do in my writing gig -- mostly because this blog is probably full of run-on sentences, dangling participles and profanity -- and this is an outlet of sorts for me, I also try hard to adhere to the same values. And the biggest one is this...I write about what I know.

What is frustrating to me is that many people don't. Don't get me wrong, I love blogging, and I love most of the people that blog about racing. I've met almost all of them, and they are great people who have a huge love for racing. They are my peeps, and a big reason why I am into this sport again.

What rubs me the wrong way are the people that post on blogs or Twitter who think that an Internet connection and the fact they can type coherent sentences makes them a journalist. Or that they can use big words like "sources" to try and give them credibility. Problem is, most of them have never picked up a credential and earned the right to call themselves that.

When an accredited writer has a story lead come across their desk, there are certain rules that apply. Check sources (and have at least two), do research, get all of the information you need should the integrity of the story get called into question. People have lost jobs failing to do such a thing, and it is the toughest part of the job.

I get angry because in my 15 years of writing I've spent thousands of hours covering events, driven thousands of miles to get there, and eaten thousands of pounds of really bad food. I've worked hard at this, and so have a lot of people that I call my friends. I have a great day job in an IT department, but when people ask me what I do I tell them that I'm a sportswriter. It's my identity.

If you are still reading, some of you might be thinking: "he needs to come down from his high horse". Look, I said I'm a writer, I didn't say I was a good one. There are lots of guys I work with on a daily basis who put my writing to shame. But what makes all of us mad is that people who log into some blogging software and slap some stuff onto the web have, in many people's eyes, the same credibility we do. Everyone gets lumped into the same "media" category.

That's just not right. It's never going to change, but it still isn't right.

Look, I'm not telling other people how to act, because there is room in the world for all of us. But what I am trying to say -- without sounding like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men -- is that if you are going to try to act like you are a journalist, or even someone who tries to act like they are in the know, do me a favor. Get credentialed, do the work necessary to write the story and put some time and care into it. Sit next to one of us at a presser and try to get the courage up to ask a question in front of a national press corps. Face up to the people you write about. Most of all, stand behind your work. Maybe then you will know how the real work is done, because it isn't what you think it is. Not even close.

I'm going to say one last thing. My name sits on top of this blog, and that means something to me, despite the fact that most of my posts only garner a couple of hundred page hits. That doesn't matter, because it's still about credibility and integrity, and that means a lot to me. I wish others felt the same.