Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lights At IMS?

With NASCAR in town this weekend, the idea of lighting up the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Cup race (and maybe even the 500), has been the topic of some discussion.

Some say the problem with declining attendance at the Brickyard 400 can be traced to the heat, which, because -- surprise -- it's summertime in the Midwest and as anyone who has spent time here knows, it gets hot. In fact, someone Tweeted earlier that it is 87 degrees in Indianapolis and how much better the race may be at night.

It's a bit confusing because it is usually pretty damn hot on Memorial Day weekend too, but 300,000 people still show up for the 500. Whether it is 100 degrees out, like it approached this year, or freezing, I would still go to the race because it is a great tradition, and one of my personal traditions too. I don't let uncomfortable weather stop me from going to IMS in May.

Let's stop kidding ourselves, people don't come to the Brickyard because they aren't happy with the single-file racing. If it were the best track on the circuit for racing, they would deal with it. How are lights going to improve that product? Maybe the darkness and cooler temperatures give the cars more grip, but I don't think it would change things THAT MUCH to make side-by-side racing at Indy that everyone wants.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not so much of a purist that I don't think Indy should have lights. I'm a Chicago Cubs fan (a post about IndyCar and the Cubs is coming, by the way) and while I at first had an issue with lights being installed at Wrigley Field, I enjoy going to night games and find them a lot of fun.

I just don't see how lights would make things better. Would it make the Cup racing better? No. Would making the 500 a night race improve ratings? Nope, because unless you want to move the race to a different day it would then be up against the Coke 600. Moving it to Saturday night won't work, and neither would Monday night because people have to work the next day and they wouldn't have the built-in rain date like they do now.

There just isn't anything positive that would have the folks at IMS ready to make a multi-million dollar investment. Maybe the first handful of Brickyards at night would bring back the fans, but long term the problems that keep them away would still exist.

And here is another difference: Indy has, at most, three race weekends a year. The 500 is at least 90 percent full -- and growing each year -- the Brickyard is half-full today (and I'm being extremely generous), and I don't even know if MotoGP races anywhere at night. So from a business standpoint, where does it make sense?

I can see it at a place like Charlotte, where they hold both Cup races at night and entertain other series during the year, and of course at Daytona, where they have a 24-hour event among its full slate of racing. Should the Speedway add more events over time it might be worth it, but now...not so much.

I will grant you that there is something about night racing. It is really, really cool. But it is not needed for the Indy 500 and wouldn't cure what is ailing the Brickyard 400, so I just don't see the point of having them.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I'm stealing this headline (and paraphrasing) from a British gent who sat behind me at the Indy 500 as he yelled "Dario!" in a clipped accent every time Franchitti came by in the lead. Awesome dude, hope he comes back next year!

And you know what? Helio Castroneves' name deserves an explanation point behind it every time he wins a race, because the guy celebrates like no other. As anyone well should, when you don't win 90 percent of the races you drive in your career every one you do should be a big deal.

So we got a celebration like that today as Helio crossed the line first at the Edmonton Indy to win for the second time this season and 27th time in his career, which ties him with Johnny Rutherford for 12th place on the all-time list.

Let's roll through the top five and some other notes and thoughts.

Winner: Helio Castroneves. I called this in my blog post just after midnight, but it is more an indication of a blind squirrel finding a nut more than it is my racing expertise. Still, it was an easy pick given Helio's three runner-up finishes in his four races at Edmonton. Outside of cycling through pit stops, Helio was in the top four all day long and took the lead for good in the final stint. More importantly, he leapfrogged Will Power for second in the points, and stands just 23 behind Ryan Hunter-Reay, who placed seventh.

Runner-up: Takuma Sato. This was one of the better drives of Taku's career. He was smart and patient, was fast all day and made great decisions while making Helio seriously work down the stretch. He could have pushed the issue -- a la Indy (a situation where I don't blame him for doing so) -- and perhaps made things messy, but he drove with a lot of poise. Sometimes it's better to keep turning the screws on someone in hopes of forcing them into a mistake as opposed to throwing a high-risk move out there and ruining two people's day. When he keeps his head and the car in one piece, Taku is very, very good.

Third place: Will Power. Power took an engine change and the 10-grid penalty so eventually started 17th before putting on what can be now called one of his patented drives to the front. Today was hard work, because without the benefit of a yellow, he had to move up by making passes for position. Power appeared he might have something for the top two but dropped back at the end and fell to third in the standings.

Fourth place: Graham Rahal. Like Sato, Rahal needed a finish like this after some frustrating moments the over the last few weeks. Graham's season has been true feast for famine: he has four top-10s (including a second and two fourths) and the rest of his finishes have been 13th or worse.

Fifth place: Alex Tagliani. The native Canadian brought the fans to their feet when he made a pass for the lead on the opening lap and eventually led the most laps on the day. Still, over the course of the second half of the race he just couldn't find the magic he had in the first 45 laps. This does represent BHA's best finish of the season.

No yellows! An IndyCar race went caution-free for the first time since the nightcap of the Texas doubleheader last year. I liked it! Yellows are good for strategy sometimes but you gotta earn what you get when there isn't any cautions.

Big movers. Power jumped 14 spots from his 17th starting position, while Mike Conway moved from 23rd to 11th. Conway had been quick in practice but got stuck in the back because of fuel pickup issues during qualifying. Scott Dixon moved up eight spots officially, but came from even further back after his car suffered an electronic issue early on in the race that involved a reboot. Once again, proving that while people make fun of their tech support guy's suggestion to restart their machine when something goes wrong, it is usually what works.

(Editor's note: I worked tech support for three years so I know what I'm talking about!)

Points. Ryan Hunter-Reay didn't seem to be having much fun today as his run of three straight wins ended. He now has 362 points, 23 ahead of Castroneves and 26 in front of Power.

Push to pass. I still don't know how I feel about this, because while it did enhance some of the racing it also made the end of the race more about hitting the button as opposed to actually driving the car. I wanted to see Sato and Helio actually battle using their cars and talent as opposed to the electronics doing it for them.

But that is a small complaint as I thought the race was outstanding front to back. So the series takes a break next week and comes back stateside to run at historic Mid-Ohio in two weeks. Four races to go, it's getting down to crunch time.

Edmonton Indy Preview

It's been sort of a quiet week in the IndyCar world. No real drama and nothing happened that could have given the series the weekly "black eye" that a lot of people love to write about. It just didn't seem...normal.

Although in the sense of fairness and to make sure EVERYONE knows I am not a full-fledged member of the kittens and rainbows crew, I'm airing my one complaint for the weekend in the second graph. Why in the heck isn't qualifying on live television?

Friday we celebrated the 43rd anniversary of the first ever moon landing, where Neil Armstrong said it was "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". Much respect to the men and women who have strapped themselves to the top of a 200-foot tall rocket in the name of science and exploration.

(Quick trivia: Of the 12 men who have set foot on the moon, nine are still living, despite the last moon landing occurring in 1972. Of course they are, they are immortal badasses.)

The space program is a perfect example of what people can do when they put their minds, thoughts and ideas together. If we can figure out a way to do that, why can't we show television programming live? Does a re-run of Tour de France coverage REALLY draw more viewers than IndyCar qualifying? If that's the case, then we have to figure out a reason why.

In the end, NBC has other stations, and even though I don't like the way ABC punted its coverage on a whim, why can't they just schedule qualifying on one of those channels? Or better yet, after looking at the IndyCar weekend schedule, why didn't they just put off IICS qualifying until the TV window was open?

It's 2012 and qualifying is being shown in tape delay? This has to change, as does the lack of live video streaming. I know that part of it is a bit more complicated because of rights/ownership issues, but it's inexcusable. In this day and age of instant information, delaying the broadcast of a live event is a killer. Who watches when you already know the results? Unless you deliberately stay away from any technology all afternoon (which I did today) it's only the diehards that will take the time to watch.

Not only that, the broadcast "fast forwarded" through parts of the sessions. Come on, guys! 

IndyCar can't get live qualifying but NASCAR's Class AAA farm league gets its practices shown live on one of the ESPNs. To quote Allen Iverson, "We talkin' about practice, man. Practice!" Fix this soon.

I'm done...let's return to the fun stuff.

Qualifying today was a bit interesting, and once again, at least on paper, we should be in for a good show later today. With the dry-rain-dry pattern during qualifying, there were a few surprises and the Fast Six eventually featured six drivers from five different teams. This coming after practice sessions where the top-20 cars (at minimum) were separated by less than a second over the 13-turn, 2.224-mile course.

With the weather adding in an extra variable, qualifying took on more strategies and decision-making on the part of the teams when a brief rain shower fell during the Fast 12 session. The led to some serious parity in the Fast Six as five separate teams were represented.

In the end, Ryan Hunter-Reay continued his roll in capturing his first pole of the season, and first since 2004. Coming off three straight race wins, RHR flexed his muscle some more and most importantly picked up a valuable point that may come in handy later on in the season.

Unfortunately, he may have won P1, but he won't start there as an engine change dropped him to 11th. Scott Dixon will also have his work cut out for him as a new Honda powerplant in his car means he starts 18th.

So for the fourth straight race Dario Franchitti, who finished second to RHR by .0118 seconds, will take the field to the green for the 75-lap race. Ryan Briscoe, who briefly held the pole in the Fast Six session, starts next to Franchitti, and they are followed by Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani and Helio Castroneves.

Will Power will go off sixth after missing the Fast Six for the first time since Barber back in March. He overcooked it into turn 1 on what was setting up to be his fast lap and did not advance. But starting seventh isn't so bad, and he will become a factor very, very quickly.

With weather not an issue, I expect a lot of fast and furious action out there as the track's surface will put the drivers a little further out on the edge than they usually go. The bumpy track means the car's ride heights are a bit higher this weekend, meaning a little less downforce. That's made more than a few cars get off the ground going around corners, and fast laps have been lost by drivers having to correct cars that get a little jumpy. No one will be able to take anything for granted, that's for sure.

Actually, since I'm from the Midwest, watching qualifying today I had the thought that if sprint cars ever raced on a dirt road course, this is what it would look like.


Winner: Helio Castroneves. Helio was quickest in the Friday practice and has three runner-up finishes here. He also had the race almost sewn up in 2010 until he was assessed a penalty for blocking, which set off one of the greatest tirades in IndyCar history. He has three sixth and a seventh-place finish in his last four races, and his consistency will begin paying off.

Podium contenders: Franchitti and Power will be in the mix, although Toronto wasn't good to either of them, was it? I expect Simon Pagenaud to work his way up from his fourth-row starting position. And you know what would be great? To see one of the Canadians, either James Hinchcliffe or Tagliani, take home some hardware in their home country. Both had some quick moments in qualifying.

IndyCar 36: Look for Hinch in this week's edition, as the crew followed him around for his hometown race in Toronto. I fully expect it to be one of the more entertaining shows of the year.

The race will be shown live on NBC Sports Network beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern following IndyCar 36 and the Indy Lights race.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday Stuff

Eight days since my last blog post?!? You'd think I had a real life and job and stuff like that.

First of all, congrats to Mark Wilkinson at New Track Record for being asked to join the Social Media Garage crowd at the Brickyard weekend. Mark is one of the good guys in the blogosphere and is a fun guy to read because he writes exactly like he talks (and that's a good thing). His insights are stellar and as an English teacher in real life he definitely writes with a special style.

There is so much going on down there that weekend that Mark should have a ton to write about. If you haven't given him a read, please do so. His most recent post includes his fellow blogger celebs, give them a follow on Twitter and check out their writing.

So talking about NASCAR gives me the perfect segue to launch into my first topic, and that's the green/white/checker debate. I think pretty much everyone was disappointed to see both Iowa and Toronto end under yellow, but it happens sometimes.

(Quick sidebar: I realize Indy ended under yellow too. But it would not have been eligible for a G/W/C as the leader had been shown the white flag.)

Look, IndyCar has problems that need to be fixed, and dealing with races under yellow is way, way down that list. If the focus is on building the fan base and increasing TV ratings, I want to see how a G/W/C accomplishes that. If you can prove to me that G/W/C has done those things in NASCAR, I will happily change my stance.

Someone on Twitter mentioned that the series needs to "adapt". Adapt to what? Artificially providing an "exciting finish" to the fans? What if that "exciting finish" deprives someone of a deserving win...which in many cases it does? The purpose of a race is, like any sporting event, to identify the best on that day. If a G/W/C had denied Ryan Hunter-Reay either of his wins at Iowa or Toronto, it didn't do it's job and in my opinion would have provided an unworthy winner. If you are giving away trophies and at the end of the season crowning a "champion", that's not the way to do it.

As we are in the midst of a dry spell in the schedule that will unfortunately last most of the summer, it's a good time to speculate what the docket might look like in 2013. And as if by magic, Randy Bernard provided me with a little help. From Twitter:

. Our goal is 19 races for 2013. Trust me, we want to watch you race more! 

Love the enthusiasm, but 19 should be the minimum. I'd more prefer 22-23, which gives the series several back-to-back weekends or a long run like what we had from Indy through Iowa. I know that some space needs to be left in there for travel and prep, but with just five races over the next two months, IndyCar is killing any momentum it had gained through that great stretch of racing.

With Houston already in the mix, it sounds like ovals are the emphasis right now, and they well should be. It sounds like Pocono is looking solid, and Phoenix can happen with one catch: the race has to be in the spring. The Phoenix people are also saying a decision needs to be made soon.

Shoot, we've heard that one recently, haven't we? That was all the rage in the Road America discussion, which is one other track I'd love to see on the schedule. Michigan should be as well, but I'd rather wait until 2014 for those two so there could be enough spacing in the schedule to give Milwaukee and Belle Isle a chance. Yeah, Belle Isle sucks, but it's a good corporate opportunity and some of those are necessary too.

More than anything, the schedule needs to be ready by the time we reach Fontana in September. It's important, top to bottom, that everyone knows so that the fans can plan and the promoters have as much time as they need to succeed. The way this year's schedule was handled didn't do anyone any good.

Robin Miller is predicting a 2013 season that includes 19-20 races and 7-8 ovals. We're getting there...

With an abbreviated schedule, it lends itself to the talk of where drivers might be heading in 2013. "Silly season" has already begun in NASCAR, with Matt Kenseth announcing he wasn't returning to Roush Fenway Racing next year. Other drivers appear to possibly be on the move, including Stewart-Haas' Ryan Newman, who lost his sponsorship with the US Army last week.

So over on the open wheel side, who might be going where? Right now I think a lot of things pivot around three drivers: Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti and Dario Franchitti.

Looking at Briscoe, it's obvious that good fortune hasn't been one of his best friends the last couple of years. He is capable of winning, but hasn't and Roger Penske only deals in absolutes. Sure he has a pole at Indy and is ninth in points, but has four finishes of 16th or worse (and nine in his last 27 events) and has torn up a lot of equipment. At what point do you stop using "bad luck" as an excuse? I think he is a capable driver but Penske has high standards and I'm not sure he is meeting them.

In Andretti, you have a name driver and a legacy who has been underachieving and has seen his talent and performance regress over the last couple of years. Sure he is competitive on ovals, but in a series that is two-thirds twisties where does that get you? If his name were Marco Polo (yeah that was supposed to make you laugh) would he have this much rope? He has a great team (three wins, two drivers top-5 in points), and has just ONE top-10 for the season. In fact, he has failed to put a car in the top 10 in close to half of his career starts.

As a dad, I don't envy Michael. Moving Marco on would make for some very strained Christmas conversation, but as James Hinchcliffe has proven this year, there are lots of great drivers out there who could probably improve the finishes in that ride. Maybe with the success of RHR and Hinch he can afford to have Marco driving around midfield, but on the business side it doesn't make a lot of sense.

There have been more than a few places that have mentioned that if Andretti goes to Cup that he takes an IndyCar driver with him. Marco going to Cup makes sense given his success on ovals, and it would be a graceful way to get another driver into his IndyCar seat.

I wish I could figure Marco out. I can't question his commitment to the team because I'm not privy to that sort of info, but why in the world does he struggle week in and week out (and has been for the better part of two years) while his two teammates are thriving in the same work environment? He does hamstring himself every weekend with poor qualifying efforts, which doesn't help, but then on race day usually he doesn't do much of anything. He comes to life at Indy, but do you tow him around as an anchor the rest of the season for one race a year?

With Dario, I just wonder how much longer he plans on racing, and what the challenges he has faced all season have affected that decision. It seems like he is still enjoying the process, at Milwaukee he mentioned that setting up a car is like "putting together a puzzle" and that he still likes working on puzzles. But for a guy with four championships, is it worth the effort?

I hardly think Dario has lost a step because he has made some adjustments and qualified well since Texas, but that hasn't produced results on race day. He hasn't struggled like this for a long time, and maybe the problem isn't that we think he is ready to retire, it's just that he has set a standard that is so high we wonder if he is satisfied when he isn't competing up to those standards.

I thinking winning Indy for the fourth time will be enough to get him out of bed each morning, and the problems he is having this year won't continue forever. But, you have to call it a career sometime, and I'm saying this as a true compliment, he seems like he has enough going on in his life that he can walk away and be happy.

Still, if he chooses to walk away, hopefully it will be to the television booth, where he could be really, really good.

If any of those three drivers move, it will definitely cause a shift in the series, and I wouldn't be surprised if Josef Newgarden or Simon Pagenaud would fall into one of those seats. His antics at Toronto aside, I think Pagenaud would fit in well at Penske, where his ability to set up a car and his driving style would compliment him well with Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Having Newgarden at Penske would be a huge get, and putting another American driver into a championship-caliber ride would be huge. Given that my top three favorite drivers are a Canadian and two Brazilians I'm not particular, but to some it matters and getting a top-level American into a top-level seat might make a difference.

Personality-wise, I think he would fit in well at Andretti Autosport. But if those are his two options, he certainly can't lose.

Wow, for an off-week, this one got a bit epic! All in all it was a slow week news-wise and hopefully with Edmonton on the horizon things will speed up this week. Like Toronto, Edmonton has had some interesting to-dos since its might be a great weekend.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Toronto Wrap Up

Could we be seeing a changing of the guard? It appears that might be the case as Ryan Hunter-Reay's victory today at the Honda Indy Toronto not only gave RHR his third straight win (Milwaukee, Iowa) but that, coupled with some bad luck by some of the other points leaders, moves him to the top of the classification by 34 points over Will Power.

Let's roll through the field a bit. Maybe we'll talk about the stupidness that permeated the end of the race, but then again, maybe not. Between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races and today's IndyCar event, millions of dollars of equipment was destroyed due to dumb driving. Let's hope they can all do better next time.

I'm sorry, I know some people find flying sheet metal and carbon fiber exciting, I see it as tearing shit up unnecessarily. To each their own.

Winner: Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR became the first American open wheel driver to win three straight races since AJ Allmendinger (who had a tough weekend himself) turned the trick in Champ Car in 2006, and became the first American to sit on top of the points since Sam Hornish in the same year. In a period of about 22 days, RHR has made up 75 points on Power in the season-long standings and is driving with so much confidence he is now the man to beat.

Runner-up: Charlie Kimball. Kimball shook off an early-race incident with teammate Graham Rahal to post a career-best finish. Kimball has had a consistent run on the twisties lately, finishing P8 at both Brazil and Belle Isle before today.

Third: Mike Conway. Really? Between crashes and mechanical issues, Conway has for the most part been MIA the last few races save for his P9 at Belle Isle. It's very safe to say that his season isn't going the way he or his team wanted, but he was very aggressive and racy today and drove with some confidence that has been missing for some time.

Fourth: Tony Kanaan. Add this week to the reasons why he is getting closer to breaking out and stopping a two-year winless streak. He ran as high as second for a while and was no doubt stymied by a drive through penalty for hitting a tire. It will all come together for him sometime this season. Won't it? Either way, he's sitting in sixth place in points but is just a point behind James Hinchcliffe for fifth. He's been climbing fast.

Fifth: Oriol Servia. The benefit of the race finishing ahead of its TV window was that it gave the Voice of God a chance for some airtime, and he was very excited about it. The Spaniard is a fun guy to watch on race day, and his "cars left in Servia's wake" count is now up to 98 on the season. If only he could qualify a bit better!

Points: RHR and Helio Castroneves are the only drivers at the top of the points who didn't suffer through some sort of epic fail Sunday. Power, the former point leader, cut down a tire after some contact with Josef Newgarden and lost a lap, Scott Dixon blew up a motor and fan favorite Hinchcliffe, who after starting 19th and was on the move early to the delight of the hometown crowd, exited early with mechanical issues.

So now RHR leads the way with 335 points with Power (301), Castroneves (289), Dixon (281) and Hinchcliffe (268) represent the top five. Defending champion Franchitti fell to last after a 25-second pit stop and while he climbed up near the top 10 as the race went on, was involved in an accident with Ryan Briscoe on the final restart, all but ending his hopes of a four-peat.

*Crazy stat of the day. Since first running at Toronto in 1998, Sunday was just the second top-10 finish for Castroneves. No wonder he was so happy afterwards.

*Second crazy stat of the day. Drivers in the top 10 all came from different teams. The top 10 was made up of five Chevrolets and five Hondas.

There is lots more to talk about, but I don't want to go on all day. So we'll pick this up sometime during the week. Edmonton is the next stop in two weeks.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Toronto Pre-Game

Kinda glad I waited as long as I did to write this one! It's been an interesting couple of days, and given that Toronto has a propensity for some drama, what does tomorrow have in store?

The storyline for the Honda Indy Toronto starts in the front row, where Dario Franchitti and Will Power start first and second, respectively. Don't forget that this was the scene of their little dust-up last year where Power called Dario a dirty driver and then stepped up the insults on Twitter, stopping just short of the famous double birds.

Power is already feeling a bit froggy this weekend, having tangled with both Simon Pagenaud and Takuma Sato. He's also sent out the following message: if you take me out you are gonna get one across the chops.

Man, am I looking forward to all of these guys dive into the first couple of corners!

Look for Dario to press the issue from the start tomorrow. Believe it or not, this is his third straight pole (and first at Toronto since 1997), meaning Target Chip Ganassi has taken four straight after their ugly qualifying effort at Indy (though that worked out for them). Unfortunately, Dario has nothing to show for it, having had serious handling issues at Texas, crashing at Milwaukee and never even took the green at Iowa after his motor blew on the parade lap.

Power, meanwhile, is looking to get his twistie mojo back after the oval portion of the schedule took its expected toll. Now he has five races to build up his lead, which has shrunk to just three points over Ryan Hunter-Reay, who starts sixth after winning the last two races at Iowa and Milwaukee.

The storylines keep going beyond the front row, as row two has road course aces Justin Wilson and Sebastien Bourdais. Wilson has had a helluva weekend, as Friday practice started with a frightening incident that saw Wilson part of an incident in the pits that sent crew members from his team and Bourdais' team to the hospital. He later had three more on-track incidents, so his posting a P3 in qualifying is an incredible recovery.

Both have won here in Champ Car, Wilson in 2004 and Bourdais in 2005, so they know how to get it done. Scott Dixon, who had the fastest lap in the final practice session, will start fifth, while Alex Tagliani was the final member of the Fast Six but will serve a 10-grid penalty for an engine change.

Also serving penalties will be James Hinchcliffe and Simona de Silvestro, who qualified a much-improved 21st with an updated Lotus engine.


Winner: James Hinchcliffe. I said in yesterday's post that I was going to go with Hinch as my winner and I keep my promises. But if it isn't Hinch I think it will be Bourdais.

Podium possibilities. Wow, there are tons of them here. Lots of great road racers up front, so who do you choose? Let's just say that it will be a toss up among several drivers, notably Bourdais, Power, Franchitti, Dixon and Hunter-Reay.

Another possibility is Simon Pagenaud. Simon practiced well and will go off in P8. He comes off a huge high with his performance at Iowa, where despite his inexperience on ovals he climbed through the field to an impressive fifth-place finish.

And of course, Oriol Servia. Qualifying is overrated, right! Servia will move up, he comes to life when the green flag drops.

Crash-fest! Last year was not one of the better displays of professional driving. Hopefully the DW12 does its usual job of creating great racing and chrome horns won't be necessary. Although given the stoutness of the car, there will be some leaning on each other no doubt.

Push to pass. Still hate it, don't think it is necessary. Still, we'll see how an extra element of strategy plays into the race.

The race will be shown live on ABC starting with the pre-race at 12:30 EDT and the green flag a little after 1 p.m.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sometimes Pictures DO Tell A Story

If you have been on Twitter at all today, you have probably seen the photo of a young James Hinchcliffe getting an autograph from his hero, Greg Moore. If not, here it is:

I'll get to my Toronto preview later on, but as a little foreshadowing, I'm picking the little dude in the photo to win. And yes, I'm picking him to win at Edmonton too. No reason, just because I think a Canadian winning an IndyCar race in Canada would be hella sweet.

This picture just strikes me in so many ways. Part of it is haunting, knowing what happened to Greg Moore just months after this photo was taken in the summer of 1999. Another part of it is sweet because there is still a lot of that little boy in Hinch, which is why he has become so popular. My son Kevin is just about the same age as Hinch was in this picture, and I see that kind of look on his face many, many times.

Most of all, I think it shows the impact that athletes can have on people, especially children. Hinch was so inspired by Greg Moore that he is driven to carry on the legacy of Moore and other Canadian drivers who have come before him. The story of him carrying Greg's red gloves on his epic Fast Nine run at Indy is so incredibly cool, and what is even cooler is the fact that Moore's spirit and memory carries on to this day in the hearts of a number of drivers, not only in Hinch but Dario Franchitti, who was one of Greg's best friends.

I'm sure Hinch might be getting some good-natured ribbing from the people in the paddock about this photo, but I hope at the same time they take a minute and think about the impact they have on young people and fans. I know they are busy and have a lot going on when they are at the track, but just taking a minute to engage someone can leave a long-lasting impression on them. In my two stops at Indy and Milwaukee this season I'm happy to say lots of drivers get that, but then again, some do not.

From all of the accounts I have heard, Greg was very friendly with the fans, which was part of what contributed to his popularity. The fact that we still talk of him with such reverence 13 years after his death is a testament to how he interacted with the public, not to mention his incredible driving ability. On pure talent alone, he is one of the best this sport has ever seen.

Of course, this is a great photo and story because Hinch grew up to become one of the elite racing drivers in the world, and that won't happen to everybody. But that doesn't mean a driver can't have an impact on someone's life. I don't subscribe to the "all athletes are role models" camp, but people do look up to them and if that helps someone aspire to greatness, in whatever they choose to do, that's good by me.

You don't have to be a famous person to have an impact on someone, all you have to do is give them some of your time. This picture is living proof of that.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wednesday, Wednesday

So here we are in the middle of the week again. You know, Wednesday is one of those bittersweet type of days for me. It's getting close to the weekend, yet it's still so far, far away.

When I think of Wednesday I think about the first time I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2000. Once you get to Chinatown you go south for a ways until you get to US Cellular Field (where the White Sox play), then you turn the corner on 35th Street and get your first look at the skyline in a long, long time.

I love the Chicago skyline, it's so beautiful, and a nice bonus to living here (I'll get to the downside in a minute), but the worst thing about seeing those awesome buildings while you are running the marathon is that it is a relief to see them again...until you realize you are 21 1/2 miles into the race and still more than 4 1/2 miles from the finish line!

But I digress. Thankfully we have a race weekend to look forward to, and Toronto at that, which is one of the cooler and more popular stops on the calendar. So let's get back into blogging mode, and since this is a holiday, it will be a bit lighter than usual.

*Happy Fourth! Yes, today this country celebrates its 236th birthday, and as an extra bonus falls in the middle of the week to make this Wednesday not so tough to get through. My family first came to this country sometime in the 1630s and settled in the Midwest almost 200 years ago (I'm mostly English and Irish). I'm not what I would consider a patriotic person, but I am proud of my heritage and proud to be an American.

So eat, drink and be merry today. Enjoy the fireworks and your family, and be thankful that we live in a country that while unfortunately gave the world country music and reality television made up for it by also giving it baseball and oval track racing.

*Chicago is out for 2013. This story in the Chicago Tribune flew under my radar a couple of days ago, but its final decision doesn't surprise me. The story talks about how a proposed IndyCar street race around Grant Park in downtown Chicago is probably not going to happen, now or anytime in the future.

Unfortunate, that's all I can say. As I mentioned in this post back in November, as the third-largest market in the country, IndyCar needs to be here, and if the series can't race at Chicagoland Speedway for whatever reason, an event downtown would be a great consolation. A street race downtown would be literally in the shadows of the skyline, and coupled with Lake Michigan would be an incredible backdrop for racing.

The city hosts several events in and around Grant Park, including the marathon, Lollapalooza, Taste of Chicago, and the Air and Water Show, not to mention dozens of conventions and millions of visitors every year. I'm not quite sure how an IndyCar race is different from any of those in terms of the impact on the city, but apparently others think differently and don't want it here.

Then again, this decision was made by people who think that they can bring a Super Bowl here despite building a stadium that is too small to host a game, and not putting a roof on it (which I would want open during Bears games by the way) so that people would stay warm there in February with a stiff wind blowing off the lake. Oh yeah, a roof means you could have a Final Four there, too. Midwestern common sense stops at the Cook County line, in case you were wondering.

It is just a shame because Chicago has a racing history that goes back 115 years, and in fact they raced in front of huge crowds in old Soldier Field for close to four decades. I hope that maybe someone puts together a plan that everyone can work with, but I won't hold my breath either.

*Lotus has an updated engine. So how much longer will we have them to kick around? We'll find out this weekend and they unveil their new powerplant this weekend and Toronto. Simona De Silvestro is feeling a bit more confident and believes they could be top-10 ready by the September race in Baltimore. Let's hope so...Simona has handled the debacle that has been her season with total grace and professionalism, and is due for a HUGE break.

It will be interesting to see how much of a difference the changes will make. I don't know if Lotus can make one change -- albeit a big one -- and close the gap all that much, but if this one change takes and they can continue to improve with each race weekend, that will take them to the off-season where they will be able to get more of an equal footing. When Simona tested at Mid-Ohio this week it was the FIRST test Lotus has attended this year. Sure they are slow as hell, but starting the season behind and never catching up has been a huge hurdle to overcome.

That said, I'm glad IndyCar has made them work for it. I've seen some who have suggested the series just give them more boost to level the playing field, but that's the same as giving everyone a trophy. It wouldn't have been even close to the fair way to handle the situation.

*Toronto! The series moves north of the border this weekend, which is kind of funny calling it "north" of anything since it still sits further south than much of the US. But Toronto is a great backdrop for racing and this year marks the 26th edition of the Honda Indy Toronto, which was first won by Bobby Rahal in 1986.

Dario Franchitti has won this race three times to lead active drivers, while Will Power has won twice. Still, neither touch Michael Andretti's record of seven. No doubt Toronto would be a great place for native son James Hinchcliffe to pick up his first career victory.

I'll be back this weekend with a race preview and wrap-up, as always.