Sunday, November 25, 2018

An IndyCar Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Since it's still the weekend that's appropriate, isn't it? If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you had the greatest of times with friends, family, football...and shopping. If not, I hope you had a great weekend.

Another weekend down, another step closer to St. Pete!

Of course, part of Thanksgiving is taking time to think about your blessings and things that make you feel thankful. I'm thankful for lots of things: a great wife and my blended family of four sons, my home, my health and the good health of my family, and my new dog, Boomer.

He is a rescue that we adopted three weeks ago. I've always been a cat person, but my brother has two dogs and I have become more and more attached to them every time I have gone to Atlanta for a visit.

I'd been thinking about getting a dog for a while but my wife and I had reservations. But, we finally took the plunge.

Worth it!

Boom is the first dog I've had since a family pet in high school, so we've had some challenges so far, but I am thankful he is part of our family.

Oh yeah, I know that it goes without saying, I am extremely thankful for racing!

I love racing, and I have for 40 years. Like any relationship, it's had ebbs and flows, but like baseball, it's just something in my blood.

So what are a few racing things I'm thankful for? Let me count the ways.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway/Indianapolis 500. For me, IMS is where it all began back in 1979, and I can honestly say there are very few days in my life since that I haven't thought about IMS or the 500. I lived in Indy from 1989-94 -- including a year just down the street from the track -- and I'll always have a few regrets about that. When Steve McQueen talked about racing being life and the rest was spent waiting, he was talking about how I feel about the Month of May. Waiting. Like many of you, Race Day is my Christmas, there isn't a better day of the year for me, especially every few years when the race falls on my birthday. My experience working with John Cummiskey Racing and Lazier Racing Partners the last couple of years showed me an IMS I hadn't experienced before, and allowed me to take a picture that makes me smile every time I see it. I hope to have the chance to take another one someday!

This year was my 20th 500, and has become a family tradition with my kids too. I look forward to someday adding grandkids to that too -- but not too soon! Family is what the 500 is all about, isn't it?

People who care. If you go back to the beginnings of this blog, you'd find several posts that were critical of IndyCar, team owners, and even sometimes IMS management too. I think if you look at the last 25 years of the sport, lots of that criticism has been valid. "How did we get here?" is definitely a question people who have followed the sport since the days when it featured full houses, massive sponsorship dollars and the stars of racing.

I'm thankful for the fact that right now the sport of IndyCar is in great hands. The arrival of people like Mark Miles and Jay Frye have been a huge boost to the sport. Finally we have people in charge who have a true vision of how this sport should grow, and they have assembled a core group of track owners who want their races to succeed.

Then on the IMS side, of course, is Doug Boles. In the five years Mr. Boles has been in charge he has played a huge part in once again turning the Indy 500 into the biggest motor race in the world. The secret of his success is that he loves the 500 as much -- if not more -- than the fans do, and he is a great steward for both the track and the race.

Racing friends. One of the hard parts about growing up in Central Illinois in the 1980s is that I didn't know anyone else like me. Most of my friends made fun of my love of racing, one of them came around about 15 years later, but the only person I knew who even had a passing interest in racing was my friend Tonya, who I should've girlfriended up as fast as possible based on that alone. I did take her to the prom -- shoulda tried harder.

Tangent over! Ever since I launched this blog in late 2010 and became active on social media, I've connected with people all over the world and have been able to talk about and share my fandom for IndyCar racing. Then in 2012 I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the Social Media Garage during qualifying weekend. It was so cool to finally meet people in person and talk racing.

I could go on and on listing the names of people I've met in the name of racing, but you know who you are, and I'm thankful for you.

I'll also give a special thanks to my best racing friend, my wife Darcy. While she doesn't know a lot about racing and isn't much more than a casual fan, she has gone to races with me, knows what it's all about, and most of all gets why I love it so much. One of Darcy's gifts is that she gets me in a lot of areas in my life, and she is totally supportive of my quest to somehow work in racing. I hope that it all comes together someday so I can repay her faith in me.

The IndyCar drivers. I think everyone who reads this has had several positive experiences with an IndyCar driver or two. That's one of the greatest things about this sport, we are allowed to get up close with the teams and drivers.

The beauty? All you need is a ticket. You buy a ticket, you get to meet a driver if you want to -- it's that simple! Indy is a different animal, but at any other stop on the series, if you want a photo or a chance to chat with an IndyCar driver, you can get one if you want to.

I don't throw a lot of shade at NASCAR, because honestly I spend very little time thinking about them. But when you see a picture at the track of people with drivers, don't forget that chances are they bought a ticket and paid extra for the access, or had a friend of a friend that got them that close to their favorite driver.

IndyCar drivers are available at the track, they are always out and about in Indianapolis, almost all of them are accommodating with the media, bloggers, and podcasters, and will do anything in their power to grow the sport. We can't ask for anything better.

I know a lot of people who would love to see the sport just explode into the mainstream. I don't. While I'm happy with the slow, steady growth we have seen the last few years, I don't ever want to see the days where drivers are secluded and unavailable to the fans. As long as IndyCar is profitable and healthy, I'm happy, just don't grow too big that the fans just become people who buy tickets. The fans and the close relationships they have with their favorite driver is the fabric of the sport.

Robert Wickens. I'm breaking Robbie out of the previous point because over the course of the last few months he has proven to everyone that he is just one special freaking person.

I saw Wickens' accident at Pocono live on television, and I'm OK with the idea of never seeing it again. While I appreciated all of the transparency that he provided us over the last few weeks, it really wasn't until he posted the word "paraplegic" in one of his Instagram videos that it hit home how badly he was injured.

But despite all he has been through, Robbie has shown nothing but a positive attitude and a determination that is no doubt inspiring to many. What I love about his videos is that he's always smiling and showing a positive attitude, no matter the situation.

Robbie is a helluva race car driver, and he more than proved that this season. He's also an incredible man who looks like he will dig as deep as possible to make the most of his situation. I hope he walks again, and in fact, I think he will. When I broke my humerus three years ago I dealt with nerve damage that left me with a drop wrist. I couldn't lift my left hand for seven months, and then I woke up one day and I could. The improvement was about a centimeter at a time, and it was almost a year before my wrist and hand started working like it used to.

This kind of stuff just takes time, and there are certain people in this world who can will themselves to almost anything.

I truly believe that Robbie Wickens is one of those people. I can't say if he will ever drive a race car again, but he will find a way to get 100 percent out of what he's given. I try to think about him a lot, as his story inspires me in my daily life.

So Robert, thanks for making a difference in my life, and that of lots of other people.

I could keep going on all of the things are thankful for, but what are a few of yours? I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Off-Season Sunday Musings

Don't be sad that there wasn't any IndyCar racing this weekend, just be happy that we are yet another weekend closer to the start of the 2019 season.

I was actually going to have this posted earlier this week with a plethora of topics, but lost my Internet at home for two days, and in that time frame many of those topics were already covered. But, thankfully, McLaren and Fernando Alonso bailed my butt out yesterday, and they will be one of the handful of things I'll talk about below.

Let's get started with that one:

Is #FredWatch officially over?

Maybe, maybe not, as McLaren and Alonso have not committed to their full 2019 plans yet, but they put a big piece into the puzzle Saturday when they announced an entry into the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Color me a little surprised, as recently McLaren announced they would not be competing in the IndyCar series next year, which seemed to have closed the door to a 500 run. What is even more surprising is that they are coming in as their own standalone team, as opposed to working directly with Andretti Autosport in 2017.

Andretti will still be on board for some technical help, but McLaren principal Zak Brown said that said McLaren shareholders wanted to race under the McLaren banner. He also remarked that personnel won't come from the Formula 1 team, but through "relationships" they have built in the past.

No doubt that means #FredWatch is still alive! I don't believe McLaren would be investing this kind of capital into IndyCar unless they were hoping to expand the team to a full-time effort at some point. And if that happens, will Fred be behind the wheel?

That remains to be seen, but let's keep our fingers crossed that maybe a couple of other races in 2019 may be on the horizon.

As for Fernando Alonso, I'm thrilled he will be coming back to Indy. Like many, I thoroughly enjoyed 2017, it was a lot of fun to have him run the 500. Having spent the week in Gasoline Alley with Lazier Racing, there was most definitely a buzz around the garage area and up and down the pits when he was around.

And of course, he brought it on race day, leading 27 laps and still in contention before his Honda cut loose with about 50 miles to go. I'm a fan of racing -- and of course, of racers -- so I thought it was super cool having him in the field, and it will be super cool next May as well.

Since its inception, the Indy 500 has always been an all-comers race. Three of the first six winners of the 500 were from Europe, and where would the "Golden Age" of the 1960s be without the European rear-engine revolution, Grand Prix drivers Graham Hill and Jim Clark, NASCAR's Wood Brothers changing pit stops forever, and the participation of NASCAR drivers during that era as well?

I welcome any and all racers to the 500, because that's what the race is about. Having Alonso in the field again just continues that legacy.

Many would say that having him here doesn't "move the needle". Welp, given the fact that I'm not responsible for moving needles -- at least not yet -- I honestly don't care about it. Racing to me is about competition, and if you add the best racers in the world to make the race more competitive, all the better. Anyone who is a competitor would say they not only want to beat you, they want to beat you when you are at the top of your game. No excuses.

Many current IndyCar drivers expressed that they were happy to have Alonso back, and while some of it stems from the fact he's a good dude that seemed to get along with everyone, they want to compete against him as well. If you don't, you shouldn't be racing!

Of course, someone also asked if McLaren would be fielding a second car, about which they declined comment, but if they do, can I make a suggestion?

A.J. Allmendinger. If he's still available. Even though he has run close to 400 races in the various NASCAR series, he's an open wheel driver, and someone needs to bring him home.

Just saying. If I had a one-off car, he'd be my guy.

Godspeed Mari Hulman George

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway lost a monumental member of its family last week when Mari Hulman George passed away at age 83. Mrs. George had been involved with IMS since her father, Tony Hulman, purchased the track in 1945, and from 1988-2016 served as its Chairman of the Board.

Mrs. George certainly led an interesting life. During the 1950s and 60s she owned cars that raced in the AAA and USAC series, and later even entered cars in the 500 itself. She later played a role in helping Willy T. Ribbs become the first African-American to race in the 500 in 1991.

As a woman in racing, she was certainly a trailblazer for many reasons, but her contributions to the sport may have paled in comparison to her desire for philanthropy. Among her many endeavors, Mrs. George was involved with the Special Olympics, and especially had a very soft spot in her heart for animals.

I think her passing is as good a time as any to commend the Hulman-George family for their contributions to auto racing, and their role as stewards of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's from their efforts that the IMS is a cherished place to hundreds of thousands of people and that the 500 is the greatest race in the world.

Through the years, IMS has also been a leader in the advancements of safety, and drivers who hit a wall with a SAFER barrier protecting it owe them a debt of gratitude.

Imagine spending seven decades of your life tending to something that so many people love, and that you love even more than they do. That's the huge legacy that Mrs. George leaves to racing and its fans. My thoughts to out to the entire Hulman-George family.

Pitfall of the Week

Ok, with the blessing of Host Mike Joachim I'm going to steal a segment from the awesome IndyCar podcast Pit Lane Parley. If you don't listen to PLP, why? It's a great podcast done by folks who have a huge passion for racing, and that flows through on their pod.

Pitfall focuses on, well, let's just call it, a "DOH" moment from someone in the world of racing. So I'm going into the NASCAR world and giving mine to Stewart-Haas Racing and it's incredible dive into the world of stupid regarding its post-race penalties in the aftermath of last week's race at Texas.

While the car passed all inspections at the track, further inspection at the R&D center showed the car had a rear spoiler that was offset between .2-.3 inches to the right. The result of that creates more downforce to the right-rear of the car, of course thereby helping it turn better.

As a result, Kevin Harvick's race win was declared "encumbered", which meant he lost his automatic spot in next week's championship Final Four, 40 of the 60 points he earned in the race, and his crew chief and car chief for the rest of the season.

Given SHR didn't appeal the penalty, they knew they went into a very charcoal gray area of the rulebook. And, in the end, it didn't cost them a run at the championship, as Harvick's fifth-place finish at Phoenix today locked him into the chance to race for the championship anyway. Still, the penalty made it a lot more difficult than it should've been, as the point-counting in the pits went on almost until the final few laps.

As a very competitive person, I get the fact that teams look for every edge they can get, even if it means going into those gray areas. That's just part of sports, I did the same thing as both a competitor and a coach. If I discovered an edge that was at the far end of the rules, I took it.

That happens, but this was beyond that, it was just blatant cheating. How in the world did they even think they wouldn't get caught? What takes this to an insane level of stupid is the fact that Harvick has been one of the most dominant drivers in the series this year with eight wins.

Harvick spent all year doing what he had to do: he won races and stages, and during the playoffs was piling up enough points that he was going to probably get in, barring something unforeseen happening. So why take the chance and do something like that to put it all in jeopardy? It makes absolutely no sense, unless, of course, they had been doing it all along.

It's just a really bad look for everyone involved, and in the risk versus reward argument, was about the dumbest thing they could do.

Veterans Day

Finally, 15 Days In May would like to take this opportunity recognize our veterans for all that they have done in service to our country, and to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to make our country, and our world, safe.

Family members who have traced our genealogy can confirm that a member of our family has served since at least World War I, where a great-uncle of mine was killed in battle in Europe. My dad, Dan, served in the Air Force during Korea (spending his 18th birthday at the top of a mountain as part of a radio crew there), and I have had many other family members serve, including my niece, Cindy, who has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the military police, and has one more deployment to Kuwait coming up as she wraps up her military career.

It certainly takes a special kind of person to do what they do, and I salute all of them. Our world isn't perfect, but it's run by human beings, who weren't wired that way. Still, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have fought in the name of peace and freedom.

I've been very fortunate to have traveled to several places around the world, including France, Monaco, Italy and Singapore, and just last week returned from my third trip to Dubai. All of those places are awesome in their own ways, and all the people I've met along the way have inspired me and changed my outlook on life and the world.

That said, this is my home, and no matter what, I believe in our country and the people that live here. The sacrifices made by those who look after us is a big reason why I feel this way.