Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

February 26, 2014

IndyCar’s Latest Bit of Tawdry Soap Opera

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 12:54 pm

JBAs the IndyCar season draws near we are not without controversy. The latest twist is a civil lawsuit filed by Panther Racing owner John Barnes against the entity acting on behalf of the advertising agency serving the National Guard account, Indy Car and Rahal Letterman Racing, among others. Predictably, Internet legal experts are quick to point out what a waste of human skin John Barnes is and how they also believe he is bitter, a blowhard, a cheat and all sorts of potentially slanderous epithets. As a racing fan the timing of the legal wrangling is unfortunate. National Guard sponsorship rode with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to victory at Daytona on Sunday.

What does it all really mean? For starters there is a very real possibility that a legacy team that began competing in IndyCar in 1998 could vanish. The DNA of that team is rich with pieces of a lot of other notable teams, including Team Menard and Dryer & Reinbold Racing. They made Sam Hornish, Jr. a champion in IndyCar and the list of drivers who have piloted their machines and the folks who who have worked on them is impressive. They have come painfully close to winning Indy a lot, including four straight second place finishes. Obviously they did a lot of things right.

The merit of Barnes’ claims is obviously fodder for a wider discussion, and the Internet gossip mill cannot help whispering scandalous claims about people not getting paid, subversion of Randy Bernard and all sorts of other tawdry innuendo. I am of the opinion that there are multiple sides to any such story. I am not ready to condemn Barnes. I remind myself (and you should too) that Bobby Rahal is involved, and would not any objective observer be able to cherry pick illustrious moments from his past as shining examples of sleaze? Barnes has been the victim of talent and sponsor poaching as much as anyone else. Eating the offspring of one another seems to be a hallmark of PantherIndyCar, particularly among legacy ownership rescued/bailed out in the early 2000s.

We all know the Panther bid was higher than the Rahal bid, but how much do we know about the bidding process? Why is Panther not a part of the IndyCar leader program this year? What is the back story? Who knows what will be revealed? I doubt any casual racing fan will ever know. The only thing IndyCar generally ever releases publicly, particularly when something controversial is involved, is subterfuge, misdirection and happy talk.

As a racing fan abhorrent to the often seedy politics that once again pollute IndyCar regularly my concern is much more pure. I just really like what that team has accomplished over the years, and in many of them I rooted for them hard. Whether or not Barnes and company are able to continue remains to be seen (he says they will), but he has my admiration for making IndyCar compelling to watch through the years. Perhaps someday he will see his team win the 500, and that would be a great story.

February 25, 2014

Suggested Title Sponsor for IndyCar: AARP

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:39 pm

AUTO - GRAND PRIX OF AUSTRALIA 2013This morning we were breathlessly assaulted with news from left field that 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve is returning to the big race this May with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. As a pure racing fan there is a lot about which to be excited. He is another 500 winner joining the fray, a former Formula 1 world champion, and someone with a large fan base. He helps the participant count and potentially sponsorship, and sparks interest among a fringe group who claim not to have paid attention since 1995.

As an optimist this must be seen as at least an interesting move. As a forward thinker the move remains open to question. Villeneuve is potentially the least favorite Indy 500 winner of the modern era. After his win (which many feel went to the wrong Canadian despite Villeneuve actually driving 505 miles to the checkered flag) he departed for Formula 1 where he peaked in 1997. He never won another Formula 1 event after his title in the years that followed. His off-and-on career in various NASCAR divisions, where he treated the roofed contraptions and competitors like carnival bumper cars, also did not make him a large number of friends. What a number of IndyCar fans who have remained IndyCar fans for decades (no hissy fits, boycotts or walking away, etc.) find troubling are a number of negative comments about the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing in general over the years. His public persona has been one of little to no appreciation for IMS and the 500. He has publicly personified the sheer arrogance that led directly to the events of the following few years. That makes his return at this late point in his dwindling racing career seem hypocritical. On the other hand that has been rather normal since the mid-2000s.

Sam Schmidt has been great at finding relatively obscure young racers, most with an ability to assist with funding, and finding golden nuggets along the way. Recycling of way-past-their-prime champions seems out of character but definitely interesting. Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi seem to feel it will work. My thoughts lament the sheer number of talented on-the-cusp young racers just standing there with their helmets and no discernable possibility for a ride. On the other hand inclusion of past champions from ‘glory days’ fifteen or twenty years past Dont run over itretains a certain appeal. What might really move the interest needle is even a possibility they could be bumped. That hardly seems likely given micromanagement of the field by IMS and the manufacturers.

As long as we are going down this road why not put Buddy Lazier in a competitive ride for once? A field that contains Montoya, Lazier, Villeneuve and Kurt Busch would attract a large and diverse cross section of racing fans.

Despite a strong urge to hold my nose, shrug and perhaps yawn about the Villeneuve news my big picture concern lies only with IMS and Indianapolis 500. A propensity to drop anchor in a previous century that impedes forward movement notwithstanding, on balance and as racing fans we should cheer optimistically for tangible things that attract more eyeballs. For better or worse this is a textbook case. Welcome back, Jacques. Please go talk to Mr. Foyt or members of the Unser family about what Indy means before you strap back in. It will be most interesting to see how the grand dame treats you.

February 24, 2014

2014 Racing Season Arrives in a Soggy Way

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 4:00 pm

delljoonyerTo many auto racing aficionados the racing season begins each year with the Daytona 24 hours deal, which is fine. To most casual fans the Daytona 500 is the unofficial start of actual racing for the new year. It was a chore to watch this year because after the first 38 laps it took 6 ½ hours to run the final 162. The ‘Junior Nation’ is happy, however. It was easy to feel sorry for the fans in attendance dodging rain and severe weather. Even with the attendance challenges that face NASCAR and most all sporting events there were still a lot of folks there. Not 250,000, as some new outlets suggested when discussing the evacuation for tornado warnings.

Duck and coverMy hair splitting annoyances, as usual, involved members of the Waltrip family on live microphones with their usual hyperbolic fiction; e.g., Daytona is the birthplace of speed, drivers come from all over the world to compete there, etc. Evisceration of the English language is also a popular drinking game, although our group ran out of liquor even before the first ‘boogity’ was uttered, and had we had enough to last until the end of the race chances are the living room might have resembled Guyana in 1979 by the stroke of midnight.

With regard to racing, the restrictor plate packing led to a few big ones which undoubtedly drives the purists nuts. My main concern was not really that, but the idea of racing itself. At the start of the event most drivers who talked strategy were counting on not racing, but driving for the first 2/3 of the race and were counting on fellow drivers to do the same. So why is it called a race, much less the great American one? If they are not going to race for the first 2/3 of the event why not just run 67 laps since that is the number in which racing will occur? The first 132 are probably why I nod off.

Still, most are comforted by the fact that racing season is underway. It is a shame we have to wait a few more weeks for IndyCar.

February 19, 2014

The IndyCar Split That Won’t Die (For Some)

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 9:07 pm

cart fansThe comment section of my previous blog entry quickly became polluted by squawking cart-centric flat earthers still stuck in the previous decade. Despite what I thought was a realistic forward-looking future schedule that included new venues in new markets, consistency with existing offerings and rationale for all, a handful of ‘sky is falling’ nutjobs offered no alternatives or meaningful counterpoint. That is not what I had anticipated.

cart yelping

Yelping Comment Dropper 1

Instead we got the same tired and dated howls of Tony George as the root cause of all the problems in open wheel, 25/8, aggressive attempts to position the sport as a sponsor-less, ratings-less, attendance-less waste of time. If that is the case why is the same handful of impaired individuals devoting so much time to preaching their gospel of doom-filled nonsense?  What purpose does it serve? If they were not hypocrites would they not have found another way to enjoy themselves at some point over the eighteen years we are from their quaint little D-Day?

I appreciate fellow racing fans whose sphere of consciousness pre-dates 1979, whether from direct experience or intelligent study of the history of the sport. Sadly, many actual fans are leery of walking into such a minefield, whether it is my blog or any number of other blogs or forums designed with such chatter in mind.

cart yelping 2

Yelping Comment Dropper 2

Here is a suggestion for the obsessed: We have clearly understood for nearly eighteen years that you believe the sport is dead, dying or whatever, and that you hold Tony George primarily responsible. Instead of recycling your repetitive banter over and over why not take a different approach? A refreshing change might be to offer suggestions for righting the ‘sunken’ (LOL) ship.

It’s easy to be pessimistic. The current crop of mostly foreign road racers and their like-minded competition director seem hell bent on continuing to Euro-ize the series into a predominately non-oval adventure complete with an increasing number of standing starts and the like. History shows that approach fails 100% of the time in this country. That is my big worry. Back to basics is what is needed.

Think you have the courage to contribute something that looks forward and not backward? Forward is the only thing any of us can really affect now.

February 13, 2014

One Man’s Idea of the Perfect IndyCar Schedule – Revisited

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:55 pm

Assumptions:

-Must schedule around the NFL

-Can’t generally run on NASCAR tracks that have two Cup dates with some exceptions

-Should try to beat all other series to the bell

-Successful scheduling and marketing by IndyCar will need to consist of more than ‘. . . fork over 1.5 million dollars and we will appear.’

-IndyCar must work hard to improve the venue balance. Non-oval predominance is getting ridiculous, and is a historically proven path toward failure.

With that in mind, here is a proposed schedule and rationale:

  1. IndyCarSecond to last weekend of January: Walt Disney World Speedway (after SAFER installed). Why? It is a week before the Daytona 24 hours. It is the only time of the year Disney would actually like a race there. You would attract a lot of snowbirds in the throes of winter. OVAL.
  2. Last weekend of January: Run at Daytona just before the 24 hours. Great publicity at minimal cost. NON-OVAL.
  3. Mid February: The Houston street race. Weather would be better than in mid-summer. Far enough away from Eddie’s race. NON-OVAL-STREET.
  4. End of February: Try Homestead again because Cup only has one date at the end and perhaps both entities could finally learn how to market a great product. OVAL.
  5. Mid-March: Circuit of the Americas. It is time. Weather is usually 65-70 and it is far enough away from F-1. Far enough away from Eddie’s race. NON-OVAL.
  6. End of March: Andy Hillenberg’s Rockingham. Great short oval with SAFER; all classes can run, and it opens up a brand new Iowa-style market. Creative presentation required. OVAL.
  7. Early April: Barber. Traditional slotting and great partner. NON-OVAL.
  8. Mid-April: Long Beach. Maintains its normal position. NON-OVAL-STREET.
  9. End of April: Phoenix. Perfect spacing between Cup events and nice pre-Indy oval. OVAL.
  10. First of Mary: Memphis Motorsports Park. Opens up a brand new market, is not owned by ISC or SMI, is geographically desirable, has SAFER and is a great short oval on which all classes can run. OVAL.
  11. Mid-May: IMS road course deal. NON-OVAL
  12. End of May: Indy 500. OVAL
  13. First of June: Give Eddie back his first race after Indy status. He deserves it. OVAL
  14. Mid-June: Belle Isle. Personally I think Detroit is a hopeless cause and these cars actually deserve MIS more, but as long as Roger Penske is alive and Chevy is a partner we will probably have to live with it. NON-OVAL
  15. First of July: Pocono. What a great addition last year and if the slot stays consistent could be a long term winner. OVAL
  16. Mid-July: Iowa. Enjoy that great small oval while it lasts. OVAL.
  17. Late July: Toronto. NON-OVAL-STREET.
  18. Early August: Mid-Ohio. Great fan attendance. NON-OVAL.
  19. Mid-August: Milwaukee. Hopefully they continue building this event. Track is as historic as Indy. OVAL.
  20. Late August: Sonoma. Good money. Great location. NON-OVAL.
  21. Season climax: Fontana. OVAL.

11 ovals, 7 road courses, 3 streets. Perfect balance.

Other out of the box ideas: Make a deal with ISC that basically states ISC will take their heads out of their asses with regard to Pikes Peak, and IndyCar will stop running there as soon as they get their track built in Denver. That was a great little market for IndyCar, and the area has blossomed both in terms of population and economy since. Weather is nice most of time too.

February 3, 2014

Threatening the Existence of Motor Sports

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:16 pm

Put Undies on EmAs the general population of the country continues growing vaginas at a startling pace, ‘manly’ testosterone fueled sports are under assault. It is actually rather frightening. The NFL, for example, is threatened by fear of serious long term injury, particularly head injuries. One look at a 70 year old legend from Super Bowl weekend, Joe Namath, provides compelling circumstantial evidence. The guy has problems expressing coherent sentences, and he screwed up the coin toss. Combine that with the increase of soccer as the population tans and as child rearing couples increasingly forbid their kids from playing tackle football, and the NFL should be worried.

Today ratings and revenue are not a problem for the NFL, but the chick-ization of society has definitely affected all of auto racing. NASCAR’s ‘chase’ has not worked out as they had hoped so not they have added reality-like eliminations in an attempt to increase eyeballs. Ratings are flat and seats are being removed from tracks at a fast clip. Formula One experienced a 10% decrease in ratings, purportedly because fans became tired of seeing Vettel win most of the time.

Uh OhIndyCar has been under assault for over a decade. The most ignorant of the screechers continue stupidly blaming Tony George and 1996, but a combination of horrible, revolving management bent on self-destruction has plagued the genre more than anything else over the years. The critics are very fond of pointing out ratings challenges for IndyCar.

As a subscriber to the Hemingway definition of sports (bullfighting, motor racing and mountain climbing, presumably because all three can lead to literal sudden death) the wussification of society is troubling because meddlesome people who believe they have a right to tell others what they can or can’t watch have gained a foothold, and sports that can kill participants greatly trouble such folks.

Hopefully I am wrong. My tendency to be, as my critics point out, full of crap may be indicative of some irrational fear. But look at the numbers and look at the trends, then try to look forward fifteen years. Pretty scary.

January 30, 2014

IndyCar Fans Awaiting Blooms on Trees and Gentlemen Starting Engines

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 3:31 pm

Many racing fans have grown weary of sub-freezing temperatures over a winter that has gone on far too long. Panic has set in. One of the Indy obsessed Mensa-level contributors from squeakforum, off kilter, wagon yankers or one of those other delinquent hate sites is fully blown, as depicted in the video:

The cure? IndyCars on the track.

God damnPredictably, there are hurdles. For a few weeks the eyes of racing fans have been assaulted by the release of mostly hideous function over form Formula 1 machines. The elitist crowd that fervently supports that discipline might be well advised to stop running their arrogant yaps once and for all about how ugly they believe the DW12 is because anyone who does that now will look more foolish Ugly 3that they do already. The Antares is sleek compared to the mostly ghastly new machines. The word ‘fugly’ does not go nearly far enough.

Once racing season gets here the road racers currently running the show at IMS have made extra sure, by God, not to have ANY ovals until Indy, and just for good measure they have installed a F1 Ugly 1road race at Indy in May just to add certainty. Don’t worry. There are five more ovals scattered around the schedule after May.

Oh, and by the way, your bronze badges will not get you into the road race. And it costs 25% more this year. Meantime, the IMS physical plant continues, literally, falling apart in many places. But hey, the 13 year old road course is completely refurbished. The rest of the 105 year old track will just have to wait I guess.

Normally we might see events being promoted or marketed, especially since Mr. Miles whooped it up before the first of the year about the Ford and NASCAR pedigreed VPs they hired to lead such things. But no. The only news out of the joint recently are those of people who have been there a long time but are now leaving.  Perhaps the new VPs, now months into their gigs, are trying a new approach. I am not convinced, however, that total silence is the way to go.

But enough of the negativity borne of cabin fever. Let’s get some IndyCars on the track. The ‘unified’ sports car shindig at Daytona did not do it for me.

January 22, 2014

The Indianapolis Motor Mobile Home Estates

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:34 pm

Showtime airs a series called ‘House of Lies.’ It involves youngish, brash consultants who work with a very Boston Consulting Group-like entity. For the main characters it is all about scoring big bucks from the rubes they talk into hiring them. Perhaps BCG did not lead IMS far enough down the path of least common sense while draining even more of the Hulman family fortune.

My wife shook me awake last night after nightmares borne of this little-too-close-to-reality got a little out of control. Evidently my subconscious was considering some frightening what-ifs.

Indy Motor CourtThere is more opportunity for recurring revenue if the facility is converted immediately into the world’s largest and most famous trailer park. Lot fees, after all, are collected monthly and not just two or three times a year. The inside of a 2.5 mile rectangle can accommodate a high density of mobile homes, especially double-wides, particularly along the winding Mickey Mouse Way which has been recently completely resurfaced and won’t need pothole patching for many years.

Garages that dot the facility can be rented to affluent, high value tenants willing to pay even more per month. A grand scale mobile home park with garages would certainly be a first in that market sector.

Get Donald Davidson into a nursing home ASAP. Hire some slacker whose breadth of knowledge goes no earlier than 1990 who feels most facility history is fictional anyway. Instead of merely having a blowhard who relives history should we not employ someone who can invent it on the spot to fit any situation? That person can multi-task as well, perhaps bussing tables in the bowling alley the present museum will be converted into. Pete Dye is also a very old man not in the target demo. His handful of golf course holes inside the oval can be easily turned into at least eight distinct miniature golf courses, making them accessible to far more fans, and their dollars.

EquipmentThe inside of the old turn 1 would make a really nice flea market. Think of the bucks you could generate selling the jalopies from the future bowling alley to nostalgic old men. Since the inside of the old turn 4 already contains a lot of sand that makes a perfect place for lots of playground equipment. The mounds they built for spectators? They were really nice with good sightlines and a nice breeze. Two words for repurposing: Community clotheslines. Think out of the box. You could rent the space. These will be necessary because the old Hanna Medical Center, after being converted into a laundromat, probably still would not ever contain enough working dryers, and besides they still cost money.

The old turn two suites? Perfect for a motel, either by the hour or for when cousin Eddie and his family come to visit, and you can get to it out of the view of most of the trailers. Win-win.

The north 40 is still part of the property, but not really the scenic part. That would be the perfect place for the Sunnyvale junkyard. Instead of cars up on blocks outside trailers, why not outside the loop in an area that already has that ambiance anyway? Plus, it’s fenced.

Since there technically would be no more Speedway, move to change the name of the town and the facility to Sunnyvale. Make the pagoda the official government building for the town of Sunnyvale. Tear down all the stands in the turns but keep the main straightaway stands. Tractor pulls and monster truck events still sell a lot of tickets. In the turns bring back the following culinary and entertainment choices for the key demographics: White Castle. Steak N’ Shake. Liquor stores. Check cashing/tobacco establishments. Perhaps even a ‘nasty’ bar, but more out of the way where no one will notice; e.g., at the outside entrance to the old turn 3. After all, Sunnyvale should be a good Christian community.

In order to make that happen, the following organizational chart should be embraced:

IMS Org Chart

….and so as I was shaken awake and more coherent reasoning kicked in fright eventually crept back as the realization something like that could actually happen became apparent. After all, the dramatically deteriorated physical plant is on display for everyone to see. We should enjoy it while it lasts.

January 20, 2014

Maybe They Could Turn The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Into A Trailer Park

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 6:57 pm

IMS Dump 2IMS Dump 1One of the numerous malcontented blowhards on the Internet (present company excluded) seemed to lament the other day that gimmickry being attempted involving IMS and Indy 500 traditions is necessary to hook really young demographic targets going forward. Those of us who have spent money there for decades should consider ourselves expendable because we are next in the check-out line of life.

Agree or disagree . . . it is thought provoking. Actions speak louder than words. When the very first thing IMS does with $100 million of taxpayer loan money is re-build an already functional road course suspicions about future direction tend to lean cynical. This is especially true when considering the rest of the physical IMS grounds, which continue to deteriorate unabated and at a rapid pace. As a lifelong devotee of the place I really want to write something positive and pat some people on their backs. That is presently not possible.

IMS has become the trashy, sleazeball neighbor who fails to maintain their property with any common sense or respect for anyone else in the neighborhood. They seem oblivious. If they tell you improvements are being IMS Dump 3IMS Dump 4made they are lying. Many post-1996 critics enjoy heaping blame for anything even remotely troublesome on the Hulman-George family. Reality today is that they have been shoved aside so that outsiders can run the operation. Business is business but the lack of basic respect for men who turned Indiana farmland into a shrine in decades past is simultaneously stunning and vulgar.

Their enthusiasm is appreciated but common sense would earn them more success long term. How much more can be outsourced? How much are they willing to let customer-facing landmarks fall apart before someone does anything?

When will anyone from there ever address the obvious and can the condescending lip service for just a few moments?

January 14, 2014

Evisceration of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 3:08 pm

Carpet Drape MismatchThe current occupants of the executive level suites at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway continue trying way too hard to increase the gate for a limited number of days track activity is allowed during the long gutted month of May. In some ways the efforts are noble and well intentioned. Lord knows the track has seen one hundred years of better days as part of pop culture and public consciousness. In most cases, however, planned drastic changes appear to be desperate straw grasps devoid of much intelligent coherency or even minimal signs of respect for the traditions that made the 500 the iconic event it became over the decades. Some recent actions demonstrate unparalleled hubris, even when measured with the yardstick of, say, imbecilic Tony George haters who have been in a state of woefully misguided jihad since 1996 and remain generally completely insane.

A couple of years ago Bloomberg published a great list of signs that arrogance is running a company. Here are a couple:

  1. Circus ClownsYour company rationalizes its mistakes instead of learning from them.
  2. Your company focuses almost exclusively on financial success with little regard for legacy and social impact.

Even we increasingly aging baby boomer ticket buyers who have attended for decades understand why one week of time trials is enough. When only 34 identical cars try for 33 spots what is the point? That lack of any meaningful number of entrants or any real manufacturer competition has led to potentially dangerous gimmickry that trashed the wrenching drama that used to be associated with one balls-out four lap attempt that in most years was the most dramatic portion of the long month for most competitors.

Pole day and bump day. Simple and neat. Problem is the only bumping lately has been meaningless, concocted nonsense. Wonder how these BCG-influenced PT Barnums are going to feel when some driver pulls a Gordon Smiley on their sixth attempt to improve one spot on the grid?

Miles and crew have decided to tempt fate even further this year by moving ‘pole day’ (can we even call it that anymore?) to late in the day Sunday. May weather in Speedway is unpredictable at best and the worst parts of any of the four seasons are always possible then. IMS has been lucky since the gimmickry began but how long can that kind of luck hold out? Fate was slapped in the face when one entire qualifying weekend was nixed. Fate will be pummeled as pole qualifying moves to late Sunday. Hopefully they have a backup plan that is respectful of the long distances many fans travel to see qualifying.

As always many decades-long fans espouse the embrace of common sense, a concept that remains distant for many decision makers. Pole day and bump day could be meaningful on their own without any circus shenanigans again if:

IMS Today-Costs of entry and competition were aligned with actual reality.

-At least fifty serious entrants were allowed to try for 33 positions.

-Meaningful manufacturer competition was allowed.

-Artificial controls on the availability of parts and engines vanished.

IMS can control its own destiny in far more pragmatic ways than those of recent years, consisting primarily of raising prices for everything and adding additional wallet grabbing opportunities involving parking and access.  Want to improve the fan experience and get more people to attend the race? Bring back the drama associated with the hour or so before the race. In recent years IMS has allowed themselves to be raped by ESPN on ABC to conform to snippets that can be squeezed in between commercial breaks while the hundreds of thousands in the seats have been subjected to a disjointed variation of ‘tradition’ with long pauses and no continuity. Take a look at the ’91 pre-race, for example:

No commercial breaks. Flow. Drama. Almost as if you were there. I was, and miss the pre-race greatly. Paul Page didn’t even say a word for many minutes.

IMS should learn from and embrace the important parts of the traditions it created. Seeing most of it get trashed is sickening.

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