Monday, May 25, 2015


Remember a few days ago when I said that the IndyCar series was one race day away from redemption? Well, it's safe to say they got it Sunday. Once again, when it mattered, the series got its act together and put on an amazing show.

In year four of the DW12 era, and the first using the new aero kits, the drivers put on a performance for the ages. I don't know if I can put what happened today into words, but I'll try!

Let's roll through the Top 10 finishers, and I'll throw my thoughts on a couple of other topics as always.

Winner: Juan Pablo Montoya. I can't believe it! I finally correctly picked a winner! Actually, two of my predictions came true, as I said there would be more lead changes than last year, which there were by a count of 37-34.

Anyway, I felt like JPM came into the month with a lot of confidence, having already won a race and holding the lead in points. My faith was tested when he only mustered a 15th-place starting position in qualifying, then was only 12th-fastest on Carb Day. And to make matters worse, he dropped to 30th place when he needed a new rear wing after contact with Simona de Silvestro. Which, by the way, happened before the field had even completed one lap under green.

But in a drive that was eerily similar to that of Dario Franchitti's 28th-to-win run in 2012, JPM just started digging, making adjustments on every stop and driving completely angry. Unlike us mere mortals, where driving angry leads to bad things, when JPM is in that mode he makes magic happen. It wasn't easy, on a Twitter chat hosted by the AP's Jenna Fryer, I asked how many times he had to make wing adjustments and when he felt like the car had come to him.

Here was his reply: "Every stop except the last one. Car came to me 1 stop from the end."

As the race came down to the final stretches, when it mattered, he was the bravest driver on the track and finally took the lead for good when he passed Will Power with two laps to go. That's what he does.

One thing I noticed after the race was how this win is a big deal for him. I didn't feel that way when he won his first 500 in 2000. Back then, the race was just a stepping stone for him to Formula 1, just like it was for Jacques Villeneuve five years earlier. This time, he was genuinely excited to win. Getting older helps, but up until 2000, racing had come really, really easy for him. In the 15 years since, it hasn't, and he rolled into Victory Lane a very humble champion.

I think this win will change many people's opinion about him, and while he isn't going to be as beloved a champion as other drivers, he can now be considered an Indy 500 legend, and though he has run the race only three times, it fits. When you consider the fact he has won in IndyCars, F1, NASCAR and endurance racing, he might be one of the better all-around drivers of this era.

Runner-up: Will Power. Overall this was Will's best 500 of his career, as before Sunday his best finish was fifth and he has only been in the Top 10 three times in seven races. He drove a solid, mistake-free race, just got beat by a better car and driver. But if he keeps driving like this he will win Indy someday.

Third: Charlie Kimball. What a great run by Charlie. Though he pretty much got freight trained when he had the chance to run on the point, he was well into the mix at the end. If his car had been a little better he would've been set up to make a run for the win. Mid-race he was really moving, as he posted the race's top lap (226.712) at the race's halfway point.

Fourth: Scott Dixon. The class car and driver who was the dominant driver through the race's first 150 laps. But as longtime watchers of the 500 know, the driver who dominates a lot of the race doesn't always win. I didn't hear what Dixie had to say about the final 50 laps, but before that he could do almost anything he wanted with his car. Though he led a race-high 84 laps, just six came in the final 125 miles.

In all, the top four finished within 1.02 seconds. Think about that, after 500 miles and 185 minutes of racing, that's all that separated the top four finishers. Awesome.

Fifth: Graham Rahal. His impressive driving continues as he was first in class with the Hondas. I think he had resigned himself to the fact that they just didn't have the speed to contend for the win but came away with enough points to sit fifth in the standings, just seven points out of third.

Sixth: Marco Andretti. Like Rahal, it was kind of a ho-hum day for him. Though he was never out of the Top 10 once he broke into it, he never was able to push to the front, either. Still, it was his sixth Top-6 finish in 10 appearances at Indy. Let that sink in a bit, Sunday was Marco's tenth Indy 500! And he is still only 28! He still has plenty of time to win one, and I think he will. One more note, it was also the 70th start by an Andretti at Indy (Mario 29, Michael 16, John 12, Marco 10, Jeff 3).

Seventh: Helio Castroneves. The quest for win No. 4 continues. Helio is another guy who just didn't have it Sunday, he only led for two laps and seemed to disappear for long stretches of the race.

Eighth: JR Hildebrand. If no other opportunities present themselves in racing for a while, though they should, Hildebrand can make a pretty good living just one-offing at Indy (he ran the Angie's List GP too). Once again, he drove well, and finished higher than teammates Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter.

Ninth: Josef Newgarden. Started ninth, finished ninth, ran around ninth place all day. On the good side, it was a career-best finish for Josef at Indy, on the bad side, his CFH Racing team destroyed three perfectly good race cars while finishing P8, P9 and P30 (Ed Carpenter) on the day. Time to just load up the hauler and head to Detroit.

Tenth: Simon Pagenaud. I thought for the first 480 miles or so that Simon ran a brilliant race. He took what the car gave him, ran up front (eight times for 35 laps) and looked to be ready to contend for the win, only to have equipment issues that forced a late pit stop. He remarked at the Victory Banquet that he'd like to drive for Team Penske until he is as old as both Montoya and Castroneves -- 40. If he does that he will win a 500 between now and then.

A couple of extras...

13th place: Ryan Briscoe. All things considered, Ryan ran the type of race that was expected of him when Sam Schmidt brought him in to drive James Hinchcliffe's car. After being clipped and spun out during the opening lap incident between Sage Karam and Takuma Sato, Briscoe got the car restarted, stayed on the lead lap and quietly started moving up, and in the end had improved 18 spots over his starting position. The sad fact of racing is that there are only so many seats for so many drivers, and oftentimes Briscoe loses the game of musical chairs, but more often than not, when you give him a car he does well in it.

26th place: Tony Kanaan. As usual, the loudest cheers of the day were for TK, and over a quarter millions hearts broke along with his when he crashed in Turn 3 with 50 laps to go. In the early going, TK was the one that had something for Dixon, and having only needed four turns at the front to lead 30 laps, he had a very hooked up car. If he had been in the mix in the closing laps, that would've taken the drama absolutely sky-high.

Chevy vs. Honda. Chevy, Sharpie. No doubt Chevy has held the upper hand all season, but it was to the extreme at Indy, with eight of the first 10 finishers driving under its banner. Of the two Hondas, one was driven by a driver absolutely on fire now (Rahal) and the other was by a guy who has the "going fast at Indy" in his DNA.

American drivers. Five of the top 10 and seven of the top 15 cars were piloted by American drivers. Not too shabby.

Youth not served. But speaking of YOUNG American drivers, it was a tough day for both Sage Karam and Conor Daly. Daly's day was over before it even started as he didn't even take the green flag after experiencing engine problems, while Karam's race lasted all of about 10 seconds after he was involved in a first turn incident with Sato. Not his fault at all, but the toughest lesson you can possibly learn is that it is possible to lose a 500-mile race on the first lap. Unfortunate for both of them, but they move on to drive another day.

I could go on forever about what I saw Sunday, but I must say, the thing that was the most fun for me was having Matt and Kevin along for the race. Matt started coming with me in 2011 -- what a great year to start, right? -- while Kevin attended the race for the first time. It was such an enjoyable day for me, and I'm already excited thinking about next year!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Day Before the 500 Recap

Earlier this week, I was having a hard time trying to decide whether to attend Legends Day at the Speedway or head out to Lucas Oil Raceway for the 70th annual Day (formerly Night) Before the 500 festivities. Since it is Kevin's first trip down for the race weekend, I left it up to him, and he decided he wanted to see some racing.

So after arriving at my sister's house in Elwood at about 2 a.m. -- Kevin had graduated from 8th grade on Friday night -- we were up at 9 to make drive down to LOR. It wasn't too bad of a trip, traffic was nothing compared to what it will be on Sunday, and we breezed down there in about an hour.

I ended up getting the pit pass tickets for both of us, which include admission to the grounds and a green wristband so that we could enter the pits. In the end, we were glad we got those, but more on that later.

Believe it or not, Saturday was my first trip ever to Lucas Oil Raceway. Back when I lived in Indy in the early 1990s, I'd watch the racing out there on ESPN, and while I kept saying over and over I should go out there, I never did.

Needless to say, I was really impressed with the facility. The grandstands are very nice and from pretty much everywhere you have a nice view all the way around the track. There is a grassy hill in Turn 1 that looks like it offers some pretty nice sight lines, but we didn't make it over there.

We arrived just in time for USAC Silver Crown qualifying. That race was going to be wedged in between two Mazda Road to Indy races, the USF2000 Freedom 75 and the Pro Mazda Freedom 90. Though I love the noise of open wheel cars, there is just something about that throaty roar that comes from a Silver Crown, or even a stock car. There is just so much power behind it.

We sat in the grandstands for the USF2000 race, which was won by Jake Eidson, who turns 20 years old on Sunday. There wasn't much racing up front as Eidson won flag to flag (in fact, all three races had that same result), but there was some good racing going on in the pack, and Eidson was fun to watch because he was so smooth working his way through traffic.

Nico Jamin finished second and kept that all important points lead, while Aaron Telitz was third to put two Americans on the podium.

Then it was on to the Silver Crown race, where Tanner Swanson was without peer, winning the pole and leading every lap to win by 16 seconds over his brother Kody. Both Swansons were on top of their game as they were the only two drivers on the lead lap at the end.

Also in the field was Jarrett Andretti (here's his car), who was there with his dad, IndyCar and NASCAR veteran John, in his pit, as well as his grandpa, Aldo. No sign of Mario or Michael...darn it. The third-generation driver finished 11th.

What was really fun about that race is that Kevin and I watched it from the pit wall. When we first went into the pits we saw some other people with green wristbands standing behind a yellow line, so we parked there too. But as the race was starting I saw some other people walking towards the pit wall, so we headed there too. Ask for forgiveness instead of permission, right? Nobody seemed to mind too much, which means a green wristband is a little like flying first class, they pretty much let you do whatever you want.

(Yes, that's a Wedding Singer reference, in case you were wondering)

We ended up standing next to Eddie Sachs, Jr., whose No. 25 car driven by Davey Ray dropped out early with engine problems. I didn't know that he owned a team, so that was kind of interesting.

Once the race got going I got a good laugh out of this picture of Kevin. He has "the pose" of a car owner or a crew chief going, doesn't he? All he needs is a headset and a stopwatch. That is where his interests maybe someday! Actually, with this pose he kind of reminds me of Roger Penske!

After the Silver Crown race ended, the day started to drag a bit. With the USF2000 race going green the entire way, and the Silver Crown race having just a quick caution early on, we were way ahead of time, and it was going to be about an hour before the Pro Mazda race began.

Kev was getting a little bored and wanted to go home, but I gave him a nudge to stick it out, and he said at the end of the day the Pro Mazda race was his favorite. Good thing!

In that race, Weiron Tan jumped out to an early lead and never looked back to pick up his third win in the series. Will Owen was second while Neil Alberico was third. With Tan doing work up front, most of the good racing was back in the field as several drivers had some great battles, and there was even some three-wide racing in places. Good stuff!

We watched that race from the stands, but they opened the gate near the start/finish line and fans started moving onto the track, so we just followed the crowd and got a front-row view for the post-race celebration. 

All-in-all it was a really fun day. We got to see some racing and get some up-close action, and it definitely whetted our appetites for the big race!

No doubt that it will more than likely be on our schedule next year as well. It should be on yours too!

Below are the starts and first laps of each race!


Silver Crown

Pro Mazda

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Five Fearless Indy 500 Predictions

Is it almost here? Is it really almost here? Can you tell I'm getting excited?

My weekend starts to get busy soon, so I guess that means I am the first one out of the gate with a few Indy 500 predictions. Here we go!

*Like the last three years, the race will be wide open. Which means, there are probably a dozen drivers who can win. Actually, it might be closer to half the field. Don't believe me? Look at the current IndyCar points standings, there is a lot of talent there with a lot of great past performances at the Speedway.

That said, I'm picking Juan Pablo Montoya to win the 2015 Indianapolis 500. As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, I typically don't like to go with the obvious choice, which in this case is Scott Dixon, because I can't recall the last time a "favorite" going into the race actually won. While the guys who have won the last few races could hardly be called darkhorses, I'd say if you look at the last four winners (Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay), you'd find reasons why on race morning they were a little off the radar.

That's where Montoya resides as well, thanks to his awful qualifying effort Sunday that put him 14th on the grid. But don't forget, Hunter-Reay won from the 19th starting position last year, while Franchitti started 16th in 2012 and fell to as low as 28th early in the race. But Montoya had a good shot at winning last year, and has his open wheel chops back, as evidenced by the fact he already has a win and is leading the points this season. Plus, his swagger and confidence is there too, and when he has that going for him he is tough to beat.

*If you are looking for darkhorses, here are two of them. Justin Wilson and JR Hildebrand. Wilson, who has three top-7 finishes in the last five years, has the best car of us career under him. Prior to qualifying sixth on Sunday, he had never before started the race in the first three rows. Hildebrand came one turn from winning in 2011 and had a big redemption moment last year when he ran well and eventually finished 10th.

*Graham Rahal will finish on the podium. He's on the list of my favorites to win, but given his last victory in the series came six years ago, he's not high on that list. It's not the back-to-back, runner-up finished the last two races that have impressed me, it's the way he's gone about them, working his way up the field and then driving at the utmost level of his abilities at the end of both of them. He could change a lot of opinions about him on Sunday, including mine.

*Starting 23rd, Sage Karam will be the race's biggest mover. He showed what he is capable of last year when he dashed from 31st starting position into the Top 5 before coming home ninth, and his qualifying effort aside, he's had a good month where he has finished near the top of the speed charts. While road courses are still a challenge for him, he's shown all the way up the Road to Indy ladder that he loves ovals. In fact, his finish at Indy last year marks the only time in his open wheel career that he didn't finish on the podium. Scary good, isn't he?

*Final prediction(s): 40 lead changes, a race average above 180 mph. OK, so six fearless predictions. Like the last three years, no doubt the lead will switch hands a lot, with most of those changes coming on track. While we won't approach the record of 68 from two years ago, there will be more than the 34 from last year. One trend on ovals over the last few years in the IndyCar series is that there are a lot of long green runs, and we've had green runs of over 130 laps in 2013 and last year's race went clean and green for the first 149 circuits. It should be crazy.

So there you have it. Over the last couple of years I've been about 50/50 with my predictions, but I know I nailed them this time! It should be a good race, and hopefully the finish of the 500 fortnight goes better than the beginning. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@15daysinmay) for race day updates. Just a warning, I have an iPhone 6 now and am not afraid to use it!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Perspective

Daily crashes, cars getting airborne and flipping over, drivers suffering traumatic injuries, safety being called into question, people pointing fingers...did I wake up and it was the (supposedly epic) 1990s again?

In all seriousness, I've been struggling to come up with a post these last few days. Part if it is because, in full disclosure, I spent most of the weekend in downtown Chicago helping Darcy with a big trade show and missed all of qualifying. And part of it is because I have so many mixed feelings abut the events of the last few days that I wasn't sure where to begin...or end.

Part of me wants to show my usual objectivity -- or my attempt at it -- part of me wants to go off on an anger-filled rant, though I'm not sure where to direct it, while the rest of me just wants to say "eff it", go off the grid, circle the wagons and focus on enjoying the race.

It's a conundrum, which became even worse when my favorite driver, James Hinchcliffe, was critically injured in a crash that, as details emerged, had put his life in grave danger. Thankfully, the Holmatro Safety team is the best in the world in what they do, and Hinch woke up this morning and will be able to race again someday.

That was just the topper to a stretch that saw three other drivers get upside down, which along with the weather threw qualifying into a tizzy while bringing along the expected bad PR, both in the regular and social media circles. It's just been a bad month, and that makes me angry because I hate like hell seeing the sport -- and especially the race -- that I love so much being dragged through the mud. And what raises my ire even more is that instead of coming together in defense of our sport and our race, people, as usual, are turning against it and joining the masses in criticism.

Look, I'm not going to gloss over what has happened over the last few days, or try and minimize it. The problem with the Chevy aero kit is a big one and needs to be! But the fact of the matter is...this is racing! It's a constant battle against physics, and sometimes physics pushes back. You can try to figure out every scenario, but you will never figure them all out.

Despite the rantings of armchair engineers, physicists and rocket scientists that reside on the internet, there is no easy answer. Want proof? Read this Facebook post from a racing engineer that explains the challenges engineers face designing suspension pieces like the ones that injured Hinch.

Eventually, they figure it out. Remember back in 2012-13 where the DW12 was coming off the ground when it made contact with the wall? Remember this crash?

Or this one? I saw it happen right in front of us.

Funny how just a little while after the second incident, Dallara had figured out the problem and fixed it. But it took time. You can criticize IndyCar, or Chevrolet, or whoever as much as you like for what has been happening, but races are never going to be 100 percent safe, cars are still going to flip over, parts, no matter how well built and engineered, are still going to break, and drivers are still going to get hurt. I could post videos all day that show the evolution of the safety designs in race cars. That's how this game works.

What we have to realize, and remember, is that IndyCar pushes the limit more than any other form of motorsports. Sunday's race will be the fastest race on the fastest racetrack in the world. Think about it: in no other race on the planet do cars race each other wheel to wheel at 225 mph, with concrete walls just a few yards away. Hands down, the Indy 500 is the most dangerous race there is. And when stuff goes wrong, it really goes wrong. There aren't sand traps to catch wayward cars, or runoff areas, and a "big one" would be tragic instead of the restrictor plate circuses where cars bounce off each other like pinballs and everyone gets out OK, and then people get into a made-for-TV fight with each other. In my opinion, this is as close to pure racing as you can get.

There is risk to this, people. Lots of it, and the men and women who bravely squad up and strap into those cars accept it. Why we all love the 500 is because it is a hard, hard race, because if it weren't it would just be another race on the circuit. The 500 is compelling because it's human beings taking themselves to the furthest limits of their abilities, it's scary and it's intense and is real-life drama played out on a 2 1/2-mile strip of asphalt. There is a reason that it's still the biggest race in the world, and it always will be.

I mean, to paraphrase Allen Iverson..."we're talking about crashes". Crashes where four of the five drivers involved have walked away from, and the other was a victim of a freak occurrence after a 125G impact.  The wrecks may have been spectacular, or "terrifying" as the media has been saying, but Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Pippa Mann and Ed Carpenter will all be racing on Sunday. Hinch may not be racing, but a generation ago he wouldn't even still be alive.

I'm not trying to downplay what has happened, because I can't. When I was 12 I was in the stands on Pole Day in 1982 when Tom Carnegie came on the PA and said "We regret to inform you of the death of Gordon Smiley". It was one of the worst feelings I've ever felt, and when they started qualifying a few hours later, it just felt so...empty. In hindsight they should've cancelled qualifying and had everyone come back the next day, but, like with so many other things that have changed over the years, things went on.

So every race day, heck any day I go to the Speedway, I say a prayer for everyone involved, and that none of us will ever have to experience something like that again. But I'm also a realist, and know that when you go to the edge of human existence, sometimes you go too far. As people, we aren't built for this, but somehow very intelligent people have designed things that make it possible, things that have saved the lives of every driver in the field at one point or another in their careers.

It's been a trying few days but I think IndyCar has done its best to make decisions based on the information they had in front of them, and they are trying to make decisions with everyone's best intentions in mind. Just because you don't agree with those decisions doesn't mean they were wrong. And for the people that are criticizing them at every turn, my question to you is this: if you had been in the hot seat, what would your decisions have been?

Another paraphrased quote, this time from former minor league All-Star center fielder Mike Massaro: "I thought I knew everything...then I got here and realized I didn't know shit". Only a fool would think that they do. They have the jobs they have for a reason, and no, none of us could do their jobs, despite what we might think.

So as the track is dark for a few days, let's sit back and take a deep breath. The world isn't going to end, everyone is still OK, and all of these problems will get figured out. Control what you can control.

Always remember, we are always one day away from redemption. Instead of looking back, let's look forward. Sunday is the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, a day that most of us live all year for. By all accounts, it is shaping up to once again be a wide-open race that anyone can win. So when we wake up on Sunday morning let's just hope for a fast, clean race where the best driver wins and everyone drives home safely.

And, oh yeah, no rain.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Angie's List GP of Indy Recap

Wow, what a race Saturday! I had a great son Matt finished eighth and won his age group, I set a new PR of 28:00 and Kevin, running his first race, was right behind me five seconds later.

Oh, wait! Wrong race! That was THE race on Saturday, the Apple Blossom 5K in Bartlett that I ran with my two boys, marking the first time we all ran the same race together. If you want to read that exciting recap, go here.

(Nothing wrong with a little cross promotion, right?)

Anyway, another little race took place at 16th and Georgetown in Speedway, Ind., Saturday, so I'll talk about that one since that's probably why you came here. :--) Hard to believe this is my first recap of the year but I figured I'd better get going because the season is now 1/3 over.

As always, I'll go through the top five and a few other musings.

Winner -- Will Power. After the performance he put on in qualifying Saturday, there really wasn't a lot of doubt, or surprise, about this result, especially given how the race ran green beyond the Lap 1, Turn 1 incident. As I've stated before, if you let him get out front and let him start laying down qualifying-style laps, he's hard to beat. The win was the 25th of his career, tying him with Gordon Johncock for 15th all-time. Will that translate to success in the Indy 500? Hard to say...Power talks a lot about winning the race, but over the last five years he's led just 43 laps and never finished higher than eighth.

Runner-up -- Graham Rahal. Really, who is this guy? Two races in a row he has driven out of his mind and has back-to-back podiums to show for it. He has driven hard, smart and focused, has he perhaps figured some things out? Since he is one of the few drivers in the series I don't really care for (sorry, Robin Miller), I'm not going to gush superlatives about the guy for another few races.

Third place -- Juan Pablo Montoya. A win, three podiums and the lead in points, safe to say that JP is back! If I had to pick a winner of the 500 other than James Hinchcliffe (inside joke, see my posts from last May), I'd have to go with Montoya. I wasn't too warm to it in the beginning, but it's been a good thing to IndyCar, and looking back it's kind of sad to think of how much time he wasted in Cup. Still, he's got plenty left in the tank and seems to be getting more comfortable with the car as opposed to just driving on sheer talent.

Fourth place -- Sebastien Bourdais. Seb and Montoya had one of the more spirited battles of the race, too bad ABC didn't show much of it! (See below) I commented on Twitter that the road course at Indy seems to fit his eye pretty well and that he will win this race someday. With four Top 8 finishes so far, he is off to the best start to a season since coming back to the series in 2011.

Fifth place -- Charlie Kimball. Solid if not spectacular, which is kind of Charlie's MO most of the time, isn't it? He'd gotten off to a horrible start to the season, so this run was one that he needed badly. The great thing for anyone who drove well over the weekend is that jumping right into 500 prep means confidence and momentum comes with you as well. Kimball has two Top 10 finishes in his four 500 starts, so this might be the start of a good fortnight for him.

ABC coverage -- You know me, I don't rail on most of the minute details of the series, but, man, ABC's coverage is bad making a turn into worse. I think Allen Bestwick is a great racing announcer, but Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear both sound like they have reached the point they are mailing it in. Maybe we are all spoiled by the NBSCN crew, but this isn't the crew I want calling the biggest race of the season. Any way they could talk Dario Franchitti up there? I actually took the advice from someone on Twitter and started streaming the radio call, and outside of not being completely in synch with the TV feed, it was much, much better. Thankfully, I won't have to worry about hearing the broadcast since I'll be at the race, but I definitely feel sorry for the people that will be watching at home.

Chevy vs. Honda -- Chevy took eight of the top 10 spots over the weekend, and seven of 10 at Barber, but will the dominance continue when the cars run the oval kits? The open test last Sunday says otherwise, and you know Honda is putting a substantial investment in trying to catch up over the next couple of weeks.

Oval kits = Pole speed? One of the fun parts of practice beginning is guessing what the pole speed will be when qualifying commences next week. I think if the weather cooperates, we may see something in the 233-234 range. I hope I'm being a bit conservative, as even faster would be more fun!

Speaking of fun, it's here! While I love the entire IndyCar series, this is the two weeks of the year that matter the most to me. Just think, less than 14 days from right now we will crown another driver into immortality and putting another face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Here we go!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Let's Get This Thing Started!

So happy that it is May, and I had a great weekend in Indianapolis running the Indy Mini Marathon on Saturday and checking out the aero kit test at IMS on Sunday.

Of course, I'll mostly be writing on the latter in this space, and if you want to read my post about my Mini experience, you can check out my running blog Let's Run Forever. But, there is a connection given that the Speedway is incorporated into both events. The track is the turnaround point for the race before heading to the finish downtown, and includes a lap around the track, no doubt a big drawing point for a lot of people.

This was the eighth time I had run the Mini, but the first where I had an iPhone. So what did I do? I kissed the bricks of course! Lot's of other people did too, and let me tell you, it was one of the coolest things ever.

OK, so on to Sunday. With the weekend having been as long as it was, Darcy and I planned on going to the track for the first hour or two of the afternoon session before heading home. The only problem was that the session started at 1 p.m. and we had to be out of our hotel by 11. We kind of wondered what we were going to do to fill the time, but decided to go to the track and wander around.

Good decision. No, make that, GREAT decision. When we arrived just after noon and made our way to the area behind the Pagoda, we looked up on the video screen and saw that they were letting folks out on pit road for a pit walk!

Thumbs up to the person who came up with that idea because it was a big deal for a lot of people. The pits remained open for the better part of an hour, and we were allowed to wander up and down pit road to our hearts' content. For opening day there was a pretty good crowd on hand and everyone who was on the grounds seemed to be out enjoying the experience.

Darcy and I took advantage of the opportunity to get our picture taken together at the end of the pit wall. It was pretty cool to be down there again after running past that same spot the day before. 

Pippa Mann's pit was especially popular as they left her car out there for people to look at up close and get some pictures. Her car was at the north end of the track and by the time we wandered down to the south end, Team Penske, yes, believe it or not, Team Penske, had pulled the cars of Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud to their pit stalls. I was pretty impressed with the fact Penske lent so much access to their cars and their operation. I think in years past they would've had some sort of velvet rope or burly bodyguards watching everyone and breaking the cameras of the people trying to take photos of the cars!

People were very respectful of the guys who were doing work, and they in turn let us get pretty much as close to the cars as we wanted. Here I am posing next to Pagenaud's car.

One great thing about getting so close to the cars was that I got a great look at the new oval aero kits. I'm not a total fan of the road course kids -- I think they look like a set of Venetian blinds -- but they race well...oh, hell, who am I kidding, they race like crazy, and as long as that happens I figure I will get used to them.

The oval kits are a different story. I like them, a lot. From the side the car looks like an absolute bullet, it seems like all of the lines of the car transition very well from the front to the back. But the most striking feature to the kits are the wings, they are just so small! The Honda kit's rear wing has a little more to it than the Chevy's (as you can see in the picture), but it's amazing up close how small and narrow they are.

When it was time to clear the pits as practice was about to begin, I matched the driver to his car as Simon was kind enough to pose for a picture with me. And later on, Josef Newgarden did the same as he was leaving the garage area. I have a goofy look on my face with Josef because I was congratulating him on his win at Barber last weekend!
Anyway, I'm going to editorialize for a minute. Last week I posted something to the effect that I don't concern myself with things like attendance and TV ratings and such. Yes, they are all important to the health and welfare of the series, but here's the thing...what I like about the series, right here and right now, is to be able to do what I did today.

When I talk about being careful for what you wish for, this is what I mean. If IndyCar ever became a behemoth like NASCAR, we wouldn't be able to do this stuff. We wouldn't be able to walk the pits for free and we sure as hell wouldn't be able to saunter up to a driver and get photos or autographs. I want to see the series become viable and successful financially, but not at the expense of what makes it such a great thing to the fans. Personally, I like the series being big enough to draw 250,000 fans to the Indy 500, but small enough that we can all feel a part of it and have a personal investment in it.

OK, done with that. Once practice started, Darcy and I headed up to the grandstands, where we stayed until about 2:30 before heading home. It was such a glorious day to be outside, and hopefully a precursor of things to come this month, especially on the 24th!

Overall I saw about 20 cars on the track, and it was pretty uneventful. Being that it was not only the first day of practice and the debut of the oval kits, no one tried to do anything heroic and the speeds seemed to reflect that. While Juan Pablo Montoya got a tow and posted a 226 mph lap to set the day's best speed, it looked like everyone was in the learning and development stages. You could tell as the cars came by that the rear wings were level and pretty neutral. In fact, it looked like a couple of cars even had a little bit of a positive slant to them. I bet that will change next week when practice starts for real!

Still, it was an awesome day to be at the Speedway and it was great to see the cars back out on the track again. Racing activity for the next three weeks at the Speedway...who's got it better than us?

Below is a bit of a gallery of other photos. Enjoy!