Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dan Wheldon, We're Lucky to Have Him! Now Get Him A Ride Please!

I have to admit that for a long time I wasn't a big fan of Dan Wheldon's. I don't know why, so I'm not even going to offer an explanation. But over the last year or so I have really become a fan, and the main reason is because he honestly gets it. He really has a passion for the sport, the series, and the Speedway.

My respect for him really grew in the off-season when no matter what was thrown his way, he just didn't jump into any car or any situation. He could have taken a ride with any team, drove around in circles for the season and made a lot of money, but that obviously isn't who he is. He was waiting for the perfect ride, and somehow that perfect ride was a one-off for the 500, and next year might even become more than that. Being there in person to see him win the 500 was a special experience, just like it is when any driver who has a true reverence for the race finds Victory Lane. Actually, that was also why I was pretty moved by Paul Menard's victory in the Brickyard 400 today, because of the passion and commitment that his family has shown towards the Speedway for as long as I have been a fan.

It was while listening to the broadcast of the Cup race on the radio that I got the idea for this post. I was flipping channels and came to a station where I heard Wheldon's voice. I caught the end of the interview but what he said struck me. After he talked about how special it was to win the 500 for the second time, and especially on the race's 100th anniversary, they asked him why he was there for a stock car race, and he replied something like "any time the Speedway asks me to come here, I am usually on a plane within the hour". Later on in the TV broadcast we find out he was the driver coach for Hope Solo as she prepared to drive the pace car for the Brickyard. Of course, you probably couldn't ask for a better person to show you the fast way around, but I think for him to do that shows his desire to pay it forward for what the Speedway has done for him.

That's just awesome. I think we all have this jaded impression that today's professional athlete cares little about anything but showing up and making as much money as they can. And, yes, for a lot of them that is true. It's refreshing to see someone who understands what made him rich and famous, and that they are appreciative of the history of the people who came here before them.

I don't think Wheldon has always gotten a fair shake over the past few years, and I wouldn't blame him if he were pissed or bitter. Flat-out, the guy can drive and deserves a full-time ride with one of the series' best teams. Instead, he has made the best of the situation by being an ambassador to the sport and doing what he can to help it grow. And the one time he got in a car this year, he won!

So this is just a shout-out in appreciation of what this sport has in people like Dan. People like him are why I love sports.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Travis Pastrana, Welcome to IndyCar!

Interesting, but not surprising, news today that X-Game legend, rally car driver and all-around adrenaline junkie Travis Pastrana has committed to becoming one of the five non-IndyCar drivers to accept a seat in the race for the $5 million prize to the driver who can win the season finale in Las Vegas.

You can read about it here.

"For me to not do that, I would regret it for the rest of my life," Pastrana says in the story. "It's absolutely amazing, and I'm definitely looking forward to it."

Good news to have a commitment like Pastrana's, as hopefully more interesting names will begin popping up as the roster becomes finalized over the next few weeks. Should he not make the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kasey Kahne looks to be a possibility, and there have been several other drivers who have been linked as possibles for the race.

Pastrana is a great get. He's popular, very media (and social media) friendly, has great sponsorship in Red Bull, and seems like the type of guy that is going to be a good partner with IndyCar in this deal. I think he understands what Randy Bernard is trying to accomplish, and from what I have seen and read about Pastrana, he will do what he can to help promote his participation in the event.

Because let's be honest, Pastrana has no chance to win the race. A couple of hundred laps of practice isn't going to get him on par with guys like Dario Franchitti, Will Power or Tony Kanaan. That's not to say he isn't a great driver. In fact, if he found a team and decided he wanted to stick around for a while, I wouldn't mind.

I think he understands that, and that is a good thing. He's just a guy that likes to do different things and LOVES to compete. He wants to go fast and see how he stacks up against some of the best drivers of the sport. And as he mentioned in the story, if he can't do that, he will park the car. He seems pretty smart too.

It's also important that Red Bull come into this with him as well. They have had no problem hyping some of his ventures (like his world record jump in a rally car a couple of years ago) and if they would be willing to put together a couple of commercial spots in support of him, that would be incredible exposure for the series.

In the end, that's what this is all about. I expect the series to promote the hell out of every driver it chooses, and in return I'm sure there are agreements in place for their sponsors to do the same. I feel like this is the "all-in" race (pun intended) race for Bernard, it is his experiment to find out what this series can be with the proper promotion and exposure. It is a real test to find out where the series can go if all of our "what if" scenarios could come true.

The series took a big step forward with Pastrana's commitment. Where are they going to go with that from here?