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 fixed...fast! 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.

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