Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Checking Out My Local Track

I'll probably post some sort of wrap-up to the Barber race later this week, but in keeping things chronological, I'm instead going to post about a trip Kevin and I took to one of our local tracks this weekend.

Rockford Speedway, in Rockford, Ill. is .25-mile, paved high-bank track about an hour from Bartlett, and we decided to head out for the Opening Night of the track's 69th season Saturday night. The track has an incredible history, as drivers like Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Matt Kenseth and many others have raced there.

Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, got his start there crewing for his dad, John, and current Xfinity series driver Erik Jones raced there in 2011. This fall, the track will host its "National Short Track Championships" for the 51st consecutive year!

Saturday was actually my second trip there -- my dad took me a couple of times in 1976-77, but certainly a lot has changed around that area since then!

I don't remember much being around the track 40 years ago, but the city of Rockford has grown so much over the years that the track now sits right off a busy intersection, with a lot of newer houses close by.

Anyway, I digress. One of the best things about going to local tracks is you can't beat the only cost $21 for Kev and I to get in, and they really had a decent selection of food too!

We started the night sitting up near the top of the bleachers, but Kev wanted to sit closer so we moved all the way up to the front row right behind the flag stand. Since the track is so short (it's the same length, believe it or not, as a high school running track) and the sight lines so good those were actually better seats.

The racing looked great once it got dark, and even though the fields were a little on the small side there was a lot of really good racing.

One cool aspect about local tracks is there is such a mix of history and tradition. Many of the drivers racing Saturday night were second or even third generation drivers, with the oldest being 76-year-old Gene Marocco (here is the inside of his car, note all of the "feature winner" stickers!) and the youngest was 15-year-old Tyler Hromodka, who was running in the Late Model series.

The Late Model feature proved to be the most exciting race of the night. With several drivers waging a huge battle up front, the white flag flew and everyone started banging on each other and coming out of the fourth turn towards the checkered flag the top two cars collected each other and slid sideways across the finish line. It was some good stuff.

After the racing was finished the pits opened up so we went back there and checked out the cars and spoke to a couple of the drivers. It was certainly an interesting community, and one that looked a lot of fun to be a part of!

On our way back there I checked out some concrete pavers they had lining the track, and I found a couple of interesting ones. This one belongs to Stan Fox, who is a member of the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Stan also drove in the Indy 500 eight times, and while he is mostly remembered for his horrifying crash at the start of the 1995 race, he also posted two Top 10 finishes.

All-in-all it was a great night at the track, and we plan on going back more than a few times this year. There is also a half-mile track up in Madison, Wis. that has good racing, so we might head there too.

If you have access to a track in your area, go out and support the racing there a couple of times this year. It seems like Rockford is a place that is pretty well-supported, but many are not, and that is a real shame. It's really sad when a track has to shut its doors.

And if anything else, go just because it's fun! If you read this blog, chances are you take your racing seriously, and that's totally cool because I do too. I wouldn't be writing if I didn't. But at the same time, it's fun to just go out and watch racing that's fun and exciting and doesn't mean anything. It's just pure racing, and it shows us what we love about the sport.

Here are a few more photos. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Long Beach -- Upon Further Review

So, here we are, three races into the season and I haven't come through with either a blog or a podcast on any of them.

While part of that is due to a busy schedule, and our trip to Singapore, it's also been a little about motivation. Not for me, but for IndyCar. Frankly, I've found little to be inspired about this season as the races have been a bit mundane. It's like we are back in the 90s again...the top two teams, Penske and Ganassi, along with Chevy, have dominated, and the top five in the points -- and six of the top eight -- come from those two teams.

Let's call a spade a spade: the racing just isn't as good as it has been in the recent past. There, I said it. Hopefully something is done to rectify that, lest we lose the two positives to the season -- more fans in the stands and more watching on TV -- as fast as we've got them.

The problem with less-than-stellar racing is that storylines and people's attention go away from the race itself and focus on other things. In IndyCar's case, that would be the officiating from race control, and Sunday's decision to only give Simon Pagenaud a warning when he crossed a yellow blend line after his last pit stop, just added fuel to the fire.

Full disclosure, I got the idea for this post after reading Mark's excellent post at New Track Record, and finding myself in agreement with what he said.

I'm with Mark in that race control made the proper call. They have the protocol of issuing warnings in their pocket, and felt that Simon's move didn't give him any advantage over a fast-coming Scott Dixon as he exited the pits.

And it didn't...Pagenaud turned in what, 4-5 feet too early? He turned in and blended smoothly into traffic, it's not like he crossed the line 20 feet early and made a beeline to the racing line and chopped Dixie off or anything. If you think the result of his actions gave him an advantage, you are simply looking for something that isn't there.

Yes, he violated a rule, and the penalty from that can be a warning. Since his actions didn't affect the competition, it was the correct call.

You didn't like it, I get that. I didn't either. But 40 years of sports fandom, 15 years of sportswriting and 10 years of coaching has taught me this one simple, yet valuable philosophy.

Just because you don't like the call that was made doesn't mean it was a bad call.

It's the same as the situation at Phoenix where a piece of debris sat on the front straight for the final 10 laps. IndyCar has long been consistent with the idea that if debris isn't in the racing line they don't throw a caution. The caution that did eventually come out with two laps to go was totally unrelated to the debris.

I liked that call, because it is consistent with what they have done in the past. Let's face it, the only reason people wanted the caution to fly was to set up a NASCAR-type "Saturday night shootout". Sorry, altering the competition for the sake of fan thrills is wrong, and I have always been on that side of the argument.

As I said on Twitter that night, if you want that kind of stuff, then let's call it entertainment. Let's throw yellows whenever we feel like it if the racing gets stagnant, and crown whoever we want as champion, despite what the rules say. Wait, another series already does that, and most of us look down on that series.


The problem IndyCar has is that too much is left to interpretation. No one has a problem with rules that are cut and dried, like pit road speeding, for instance, but the rest of the rulebook is just way too gray. The blend line rule in place Sunday, as well as the avoidable contact penalty, are two that are just asking for controversy.

IndyCar needs to have specific penalties to all rules violations. You cross a blend line, here is the penalty, you run over an air hose, here's the penalty, and it goes on and on and on.

Do those kinds of penalties suck? Yes, as a matter of fact they do. Would it suck to see someone given a drive through penalty in the waning laps of the Indy 500 for glancing over an air hose on their way out of their pit box? Sure it would, but it would also get everyone on the same page and everyone has complete clarity of what is expected of them.

That's what other sports do. I played a lot of golf, and if I hooked a ball out of bounds, the penalty was stroke and distance. Meaning you added a stroke to your score and hit from the same spot where you hit that shot.

The circumstances as to how that happens doesn't matter. Someone talks in your backswing, your foot slips, your club breaks...none of it matters. Drop a ball on the ground, add a stroke and move on. That is the point of rules and enforcement of those rules.

IndyCar doesn't have's like when I was a senior in high school and had a midnight curfew. I'd normally roll in about 12:05 or 12:10 or so, and my dad would lecture me the next morning and that would be it. I fudged a rule because the penalty wasn't too severe. Now, if my dad would've said "if you miss curfew I take the car away", you bet I would've been home early!

To me, two things clean up the officiating: cut and dried rules with specific penalties, and better communication between series and teams. The former I've already covered, and the latter is something that is much needed in several areas anyway.

Many sports leagues send videos out to their teams prior to each season explaining rule changes and how they will be interpreted. If IndyCar doesn't do that, they should. Show the teams what is a block, or what constitutes avoidable contact. Show them what a pit violation is and how all of these rules and calls are made. If teams complain, there is evidence that the rule was completely explained to them before the season started, end of discussion.

The problem that exists right now is that the teams feel like they should have a say in the officiating. They shouldn't, but at the same time the rules they are given to compete under shouldn't be so ambiguous.

Let's hope they get it all figured out before this weekend's race. Even better, let's have exciting enough race than we have something better to talk about next week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Another Trip To The Singapore GP Circuit

Tuesday here in Singapore started out a little cloudy and rainy, but in the late morning the rain went away, although the humidity did stick around.

What am I saying? The humidity always sticks around here! As I type this at a little after 1 p.m., the temperature is 90 and the heat index is sitting at 106. Oy.

But because I'm crazy and wanted to see the Singapore GP course again, I hopped in a cab and went over there with the intention of running back to my hotel. Unlike Sunday, I brought water with me, but you know, it just doesn't matter.

If you remember my post from Sunday, much of the circuit was barricaded for the half marathon that was going on. Today those barriers had been taken down so the track was wide open. I was a little hesitant to go out there because I thought maybe there was some unspoken thing that you weren't supposed to. And, if you believe the urban legends, the smallest of violations in places like Singapore lead to hard labor or something like that.

Not true, well, for the most part. I don't intend on breaking any laws while I'm here, but so far Singapore seems like any other city -- the people are just like us, they work and play and go about their lives. In fact, I'm on day four here and I have only seen one police car, and that was at the scene of a traffic accident.

Anyway, a moment or two later, a couple of guys came running by and they went right down the main straightaway, so I knew I was good. It was still really cool to be there a second time, and so I took some more pictures, which you can find at the bottom of this post.

I ended up running the last mile of the circuit -- I ran the opposite way the cars go -- beginning at the starting line. The photos are pretty self-explanatory, but I wanted to point out two of them. Because I am seriously dorky, I walked up to the P1 box on the grid and sat down to see what it looks like from a driver's perspective.

This is what it looked like. I tried to imagine what it is like to be a driver sitting there waiting for the race to start. I can only imagine.

Kind of cool, isn't it? It's a bit hard to believe that this desolate-looking place becomes a place where they hold a Grand Prix race!

Here is a photo I grabbed that shows an overhead shot of the start of a past race. A little different looking, isn't it?

I'm still amazed how easily it is to access the track, but I'm glad they are OK with it, because it's certainly a cool experience!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Finding The Singapore F1 Course

Happy Monday! Well, for some of us at least. I am in Singapore this week, traveling with my wife, Darcy, as she attends a trade show here.

Let me tell you, the trip here is an absolute haul. Our flight left Chicago at noon on Thursday, and the first leg of the trip was a 13 1/2 hour flight to Tokyo. We were only there a couple of hours but it gave me the chance to try sushi for the first time, as well as sake.

Both were really good, especially the sake. But man, it certainly doesn't take much to hit you pretty hard!

Next was a 6 1/2 hour flight from Tokyo to Singapore, and we arrived at just after midnight, meaning we spent around 23 hours traveling and experienced a 13-hour time change.

I'm still adjusting to the jet lag, but it's getting better, I don't have the desire to sleep ALL the time, so I'm adjusting.

After spending Saturday getting accustomed to my surroundings, I was up at about 6:30 on Sunday morning and decided to go for a run.

Our hotel is just across the street from the Singapore River, which has a riverwalk that connects to the marina, a place with a ton of things to see and do, along with beautiful views of the skyline. That is also where much of the Formula 1 racecourse is located, so I decided to add finding as much as I could of the course.

Looking at it on Google maps before the trip, I thought it might be difficult to find, but it really wasn't. I actually stumbled across one section of it almost without even realizing it. Next to the marina is a large section of grandstands, which faces a floating soccer pitch, and it turns out the running path in front of it is part of the F1 course!

You can see the paint on the ground in front of the grandstands. All of the barricades that were up were for a half marathon that was going on that morning.

The course actually turns in and goes under the grandstand, then joins up with the street on the other side. At the intersection at the corner you can still see some of the paint from a DHL logo.

I hope that is the case throughout the course as tomorrow I may go out and try and walk the entire circuit.

I continued following the edge of the painted line of the edge of the pavement -- it was barricaded -- and on the other side of the Singapore Flyer, the large ferris wheel you can see
in the above photo were the garages. I made my way down behind them and was able to get around the barricades near pit out and the first couple of corners of the course.

In the background there are some luxury suites. After watching some highlights of the race, it's pretty amazing what it looks like on race weekend compared to what it looks like now.

Once on the other side of the barriers, I was able to move up for a closer look. It's pretty cool how each individual garage still has the driver's
names above them. I'll post all of those photos at the bottom.

Finding the start-finish line was pretty easy as it was the same starting line for the half marathon!

The finish line is a little further down, which I found a bit strange, but it is still there.

It's just an interesting setup, while the doors to the garage areas are locked, of course, there are no fenced-off areas or anything else that keeps people away. That and the course itself
is used for running, biking, etc all year round. Much like Monza, it's funny how accessible the circuit is to the public.

Below you'll find more photos from my adventures, as well as a few I took of the surroundings so you can see what the area looks like around the circuit.