Friday, December 30, 2011

Frenetic Friday -- State of 15 Days In May

It is really hard to believe that I started this blog over a year ago. Certain things got in the way from my posting as much as I would have wanted to -- like I mentioned back in June...what kind of an idiot has an Indy 500 blog and doesn't make a single post in May? -- but hope to get back to where I would like to be in 2012.

I've noticed that a lot of content that people liked mostly revolved around the 500, so I am going back to that while still sprinkling in some IndyCar news and views. As you can tell, I am very opinionated!

Looking back, it is interesting to note the posts that people liked to read. I will post my top 5 (in terms of reported page views) as well as a couple of others that I enjoyed writing.

1) Buddy Lazier's Place In History Since it had three times as many views as any other posts, I think this one was a bit of a spammer's special. But Buddy's place amongst the (almost) Greatest 33 was a good debate.

2) The Most Important Race in History I love the history of the 500, so my look back at the 1946 race -- my choice for the most important -- was a lot of fun. The best part of this blog is learning more and more about the 500.

3) Dan Wheldon Memorial Like many, I was shocked at the events in Las Vegas on Oct. 16. I tried to put my feelings into words.

4) George Snider Who would have thought Ziggy would be so popular? Then again, the guy was a fan favorite during a very romantic period of the race's history.

5) Cup of Coffee at the 500 Again, another great history lesson. We all know the epic accomplishment it is to qualify for the 500, and given that one in three drivers who have ever made the race only made one start shows what kind of effort it takes.

Along with those, here are a couple of my favorites:

1) Jake Query Q&A Jake is a great guy and has a huge passion for the 500, so spending some time talking to him was a lot of fun.

2) Greg Moore Like Wheldon, the sport was just gutted the day Moore lost his life at Fontana in 1999. He would have been an incredible driver at Indy, and the history that we now know would have been completely different had he been given the chance to drive there.

3) The Agony...Of Victory Some pictures tell a thousand words, others tell a million. The photo of Bill Vukovich that I commented on in this post was one of the latter. Vuky was one tough hombre, but even he was humbled after almost four hours of wrestling with the Brickyard.

My 2011 in many ways followed the fortunes of the series. I had some ups and downs, and lost someone close to me that I held very, very dear (my sister Joni passed away from cancer on Dec. 22). Still, we are blessed to be here to see 2012, and in the end I think everything is going to be OK. I hope everyone has a great New Year's, and remember that our Christmas is just 148 days away!

Monday, December 19, 2011


Over the weekend I finally had an opportunity to check out "Senna", the documentary on the life of the late Ayrton Senna that was released over the summer to very good reviews.

I have to say the movie was excellent. As someone who has never followed Formula 1 racing all that much, I thought it was a good look into the life of a very complex man. On the racetrack, Senna was intense, fearless and brilliant, while off of it he could be very charismatic in public, but also quiet and introspective when alone or with friends and family.

He loved racing, but hated the political crap that went along with it, and like many drivers, time and experience exposed him to his own mortality and though he sometimes questioned why he should continue racing, he knew he had to because it was who he was.

Much of the film details Senna's time in F1, from his stunning runner-up finish to Alain Prost at Monaco in the rain in 1984 to his death in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix in Italy. Senna's numbers as an F1 racer are just insane: in 161 Grands Prix starts he won 41 times, sat on the pole 65 times and had an amazing 80 podium finishes.

Senna didn't just drive race courses, he attacked them, finding an edge to his car that few were able to match. By the time he joined Prost with the powerful McLaren team in 1988, he was on top of his game, and it showed as he won the world championship in three of the next four seasons.

That stretch of his career made for the most fascinating point of the movie. Though Senna and Prost, who also won three world titles, were able to somehow get along in the beginning, their competitive streaks and opposite personalities (and driving styles) quickly led to plenty of strife, much of which was unfortunately settled on the track in a way that at times seemed to leave both of them very conflicted.

Any working relationship they had went over the line in Japan in both 1989 and 1990, when blatantly deliberate racing incidents between the two at the series' penultimate race in Japan ultimately decided the world championships in each year. Prost wrecked Senna in 1989 in what he thought was a move to protect his series title, and when Senna was able to return to, and win the race, Prost protested the result and Senna was disqualified.

The next year, Senna returned the favor to clinch his own championship. It seemed like in both instances their actions went completely against what they stood for, but they held their noses and did what they needed to do in order to protect their own self interests.

In the end, I think Senna and Prost were more alike than they would have cared to have admitted, but were unable to see it because of the circumstances surrounding their lives. Really, if Senna were alive today they might be great friends, and in fact Prost is a trustee with Senna's foundation that assists in the education of Brazilian children, something that was very dear to Senna's heart.

Of course, we all know how the movie ends, but even so it is very difficult to watch. That particular race weekend was one of utter tragedy, and marked a turning point for Formula 1. Senna, who had moved to Williams in 1994, was driving a balky car that had been stripped of much of its technology after the team's dominant performances in the previous two years, which saw Nigel Mansell and Prost, respectively, capture titles.

He hadn't finished the first two races before coming to Italy, and became even more frustrated in practice as the car would not cooperate. Senna's angst grew even deeper when Rubens Barrichello, a fellow countryman and protege, was involved in a crash that sent his car into a catch fence before rolling upside down.

Barrichello walked away from that accident, but the next day Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was killed in qualifying. The footage captured Senna and his team watching both accidents on television, and he was deeply affected by them. In fact, despite putting the car on pole for the race, many on his team were worried that Senna might not show up the next day.

In a way that only racers can do, Senna did show up the next day and was in the lead and in front of Michael Schumacher on lap 7 when something broke in the steering column of his car and it jumped sideways and into a barrier at 135 m.p.h. Senna suffered fatal head injuries and was declared dead a short time later. Amazingly, the doctor who attended to him said that Senna had no broken bones or bruises, and had the suspension pieces that struck his helmet and provided what many feel were the mortal blows missed him, he would have walked away.

The movie ends with his funeral, which was preceeded by a procession through the streets of Sao Paulo that was attended by almost three million people. Senna of course leaves a great legacy as a racer, and in fact is considered by many to be the finest Formula 1 driver ever. But much like Dale Earnhardt and ultimately even Dan Wheldon, his greatest contribution might be the improvments in safety that followed his death.

Today the Formula 1 series has one of the best safety records in racing, and to my knowledge has gone the longest of any major racing series in the world without losing a driver.

In all it is just a great movie, and well worth its 105 minute running time. Though primative compared to today's standards, the movie uses lots of in-car camera footage, which captures even more his skill and talent. He was a fascinating man and I feel like this movie captures him well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Great News for Sarah Fisher

I think Sarah Fisher made everyone collectively hold their breaths a couple of months ago when she announced – in Victory Lane at Kentucky after her first win as an owner no less – that the primary sponsor that had just helped them get in the winner’s circle was more than likely leaving the team at the end of the season.
Everyone can exhale now, as Fisher announced that she had formed a new partnership with businessman Wink Hartman to form Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, and that Indy Lights star Josef Newgarden would be their driver next season. While their schedule has yet to be completely formalized, it sounds like it will be a full-season effort.
It was good to hear that Fisher and her crew will be moving forward, especially in light of Newman/Haas’ departure from IndyCar racing. With an estimated $3 million outlay for the 2012 equipment, her team was one that could have fallen by the wayside had funding not been secured.
And from a business sense, it was imperative to keep Fisher and her team going in the series. It’s pretty obvious that her abilities as an owner are even more impressive than her considerable talents as a driver. She and her team get a lot out of a little, and it is very obvious that the organization knows what it is doing.
As we have seen with the departure of Newman/Haas, somewhere, someday the possibility exists that even the best teams won’t be a big dog forever. With their racing backgrounds and apparent business acumen, I think it is possible that people like Sarah Fisher, Ed Carpenter and Bryan Herta are the ones who could become the next generation of winning owners.
From a driving standpoint, they made a good decision with Newgarden. Though just 20 years old (he turns 21 on Dec. 22), he has been successful at every level in which he has driven, and after three seasons racing in Europe returned home last year won the Indy Lights title with five wins and 10 podium finishes. Despite his age he is more than ready to make the jump.
He also represents the new generation of drivers in that not only is he fast, he deals well with sponsors and is very media and social media (fan) friendly. And, he is an American. While that doesn’t matter to many (like me) who just want the best drivers in the best cars, it does to a faction of the fanbase, and from that side the series has been fortunate to have secured the services of (North) American drivers such as Newgarden and J.R. Hildebrand, not to mention Canadian James Hinchcliffe, who hopefully will find his next ride soon.
No doubt, the last couple of months have been up-and-down in terms of the happenings in the series, but with this announcement and the fact there is still a lot of jockeying left for the rest of the open seats, hopefully we head into the new year with plenty of good news and vibes for the future.