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.

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