Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

May 28, 2010

Indianapolis 500: Track Time

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 10:48 am

OK, to hell with this blog for this weekend. I’m off to IMS for the rest of the weekend!  It is my sincere hope that you enjoy whatever racing you are into this weekend (even if it’s NASCAR) and hopefully it will be spent with family and friends. Also remember why they came up with Memorial Day in the first place and respect that.

I am looking forward to my 46th Indy 500. See you there!

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May 27, 2010

A Child of the 60s at the Indianapolis 500

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:53 am

The 1960s at Indy was a magical era for this then-young fan. What stands out the most during that decade was evolution from front to rear engine powerplants. A very long era came to an end. Many traditionalists were completely unwilling to accept that change. The howling of the locals over rear engine cars rivaled the hysterical shrieking to which real racing fans have been subjected for fifteen years by enthusiasts of the cart era about Tony George.

My personal highlight occurred prior to the 1965 race in May. My father worked with driver Ronnie Duman at his ‘real’ daytime job, and one evening I was snuck into the garage area during a time when not even women were allowed in there. Imagine the thrill of sitting in a real race car and having it all explained to me by an actual participant! He quickly became my favorite although he did not finish that particular 500 well and later lost his life doing what he loved.

Any discussion of rear engine race cars or turbines with oldtimers generally results in a good debate. What stands out for a fan that soaked it all in were broken speed barriers. The 1960s saw the 150, 160 and 170 mph marks set with Tom Carnegie enthusiastically delivering the news each time. Drivers from a wide variety of disciplines mixed it up. European formula drivers with stock and sprint specialists as well as those who were ‘championship’ Indy drivers competed with gusto.

During the late 1960s free love was taking hold along with student protesting and civil upheaval. I was still a little too young to care about much of that, but Indy had become my sport of choice, although the young ABA and the brand new Indiana Pacers were also fascinating at the end of that decade. The ABA was loaded with personalities just like Indy.

Andy Granatelli probably does not get enough credit for being an innovator (or bending the rule book). He endured his share of criticism. The turbine ‘whooshmobile’ Parnelli drove in ’67 stood out for me primarily because of its lack of noise as it went by. It did not ‘sound’ like a race car. In the race Parnelli checked out on the field. Until that $6 part let go late the stands were poised to congratulate Parnelli and Andy. AJ received louder cheers than he ordinarily would have because he won in a car with an actual motor, even if it was in the back. Wedge turbines that succeeded the bulbous model Parnelli drove were artistic beauties. The decade ended well for everyone with Mario in Victory Lane with Granatelli in a ‘real’ car and a big kiss.

As the 70’s began, so did an adolescence that included enthusiastic participation in the debauchery that was the snakepit. That, however, is a topic for another day.

May 26, 2010

It’s Community Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (And Other Racing Stuff)

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:59 pm

There was a splashy press announcement yesterday that Formula 1 is returning to the United States for 10 years beginning in 2012, and the location is a purpose-built track outside Austin, Texas. My initial observations are that a USGP is a good thing, and Austin is a great city with lots of potential track locations. In Texas, everything is big including egos.

Bernie Eccelstone

I have a tendency to deal in reality. The reality is that the track is not built. No land where a track might be built has been purchased. Given the vig demanded by that vacuous white-headed midget Eccelstone it is difficult to imagine funding for that kind of commitment, much less making it reality in less than two years.

Eccelstone and crew ought to price their product more reasonably and return to the one place they really ought to be in the States…the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They regularly drew more fans than any other, even after their tyre fiasco.

Don’t get me wrong…I would go to Austin to a sparkly new track in a heartbeat, but it would seem as antiseptic as it does at any of the other new F-1 venues. Call me old fashioned, but F-1 on a track like Spa is what it’s all about.

ESPN.com Racing Editorial Staff

That is one of two things that are not important during the week leading up to the Indianapolis 500. The second is the inexplicably gutless repackaging for the fifteenth straight year of ‘the split’ courtesy of the colossally out of touch espn.com ‘partners.’

Back in the realm of actual relevance, Penske and Ganassi look to have things covered as usual (perhaps Briscoe or Power could win…which would be a good story) but everyone likes dark horses. That feel good story would involve a win by Tagliani’s team. I would settle for a victory lane celebration by Panther or D & R though. It’s Community Day at IMS. See you there!

May 25, 2010

Indy 500: How I Got My Kicks in 1966

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 12:34 pm

In April, 1966 my parents told me they received primo seats high in turn 1 through my father’s employer. ‘GROOVY!’ is what I shouted (that was a popular word then), anxious to see my sixth 500 in a row. Then my dad told me there were only two tickets and mom was going with him. 12-year-old kids do not have many options when confronted with that sort of edict, so I had to get creative.

Creative in this case was becoming a paperboy on race day. The Indianapolis Star recruited its regular carriers to sell papers at the track. That was my ticket in. Most of the paperboys in Indianapolis would gather before sunrise at the Star’s headquarters downtown. We were packed like cattle onto a flatbed truck and then driven to the old main entrance on 16th Street. Once deposited onto the grounds, you were expected to purchase a minimum amount of newspapers (for I believe a dime apiece) from a building out by the main gate, then re-sell your allotment (for a quarter, I think). You were expected to check in every hour or so to replenish your supply. I actually did that for a couple of hours as fans streamed in, and made a little money.

About an hour before race time, I made the first business deal of my life with a genuine entrepreneur who operated an elaborate wooden stand right in the middle of the back of the grandstands in Turn 1. His method was volume. He would buy 25 papers from me for fifteen cents once an hour (and every other race fan carrier on the grounds). That meant I could still carry five in my canvas shoulder pack into the grandstand and watch the race for an hour. If anyone wanted a paper, I would sell them one. About once an hour, I would return to the distribution location, stock up, then immediately re-sell most of the papers at a deep discount. Then I would go watch the race some more.

That year stands out because I happened to be right down in the boxes that used to right along the inside wall when carnage occurred at the start. Tires, parts, fuel and debris were flying everywhere and fans were hitting the deck as if an air raid siren had gone off. A.J. Foyt was climbing over the fence ten feet from where I was laying. It was chaos.

As is the case at Indy, order was soon restored, and after a lengthy delay (good opportunity to restock the paper supply) the race resumed. After the first 75 laps or so I gave up my newspaper career to watch the rest of the action with a very nice couple up high in turn 1. At the end of the race I met my parents at a predetermined spot. My mother hugged me as if I was a returned kidnap victim. Dad told me she had been a nervous wreck the entire race because they knew I had to be in the vicinity of the big accident.

Hoosiers were nervous. First Jim Clark won, now Graham Hill. A foreign rookie! And both in rear engine cars! I thought it was all very groovy.

May 24, 2010

The Karma of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:56 am

It rewards those who respect it and punishes those who do not. Tony Kanaan survived more bad luck in two weeks than any human should endure, wrecking both his cars in successive days. He and his crew never gave up and kept reaching. In the last hour of bump day he was able to put a cobbled together replacement in solidly. Tracy and crew, meanwhile, withdrew themselves from the bubble then failed to bump themselves back in. This came after a week of reminding people several times that he believes he actually won the 2002 race. Karma. It is real.

Milka Duno also tried but failed. Jay Howard’s team also made an ill advised withdrawl and failed. That left Herta’s team with a wrecked car and a spot in Row 11.

A.J. Foyt had a verbal spat on pit road with his grandson over the setup of #41, and that tiff caused Anthony to tell grandpa where he could stick the car. The sticking did not include getting it into the show even though Jaques Lazier tried. These days it’s a little too much to expect a once-a-year driver to banzai his way into the show on the last day. I love A.J., but his role on the team should probably be ‘guy on the golf cart who signs autographs and presses flesh.’ Let Larry and some other great people run the show. They proved at Kansas they can do just fine.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an amazing place and part of its magic has always been the immaculate condition in which it has been kept along with the friendliness of its people. In the new Belskus-led era, the counting of beans is depressingly evident this May. The whole place is dirtier. Trash in the stands was largely not picked up from Friday to Sunday.  Plumbing in several restrooms was leaking badly. No visible annual renewal project was visible anywhere. The change from last year to this year is stunning.

There are still good yellow shirts, but my party encountered several rude, surly, unhelpful idiots in that role this weekend. If my job was supervising those people there would be many who would find their positions eliminated tomorrow. Behavior I observed at the track by many is just not acceptable. Concessions are reasonably priced, but slippage of the condition of the plant is way too obvious.

If I want to visit an unkept dirty track filled with ambivalent people who are rude, I will patronize an ISC facility. Never in my wildest dreams would I expect that nonsense at IMS. Tony George ‘got it’ and still receives too little credit.

May 21, 2010

SPECIAL EDITION Part III: ESPN’s Continuing Attempts to Eliminate the Indy Car Brand in May

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:16 pm

The problem with writers and editors who place ego before integrity is epitomized by the arrogant way in which re-hashed minutiae of ‘the split’ (that ended three years ago) is repackaged yet again for prominent display on the pages of ESPN.com. Blindly ignored is the fact that the same not just dead but decomposed to ash horse gets feverishly whipped again every single May as if that topic is relevant. Their primary excuse this year is that Tony George is out of power. Do we see any interviews by ESPN of Tony George or mom or the sisters? No. Only recycled split stories that have been told thousands of times before.

Even more pathetic is the way in which fan protest is misinterpreted as topic interest. Editors and writers delude themselves into belief a topic is worthwhile if enough people gripe about it; their simplistic thought being griping equals interest. That is how decisions to publish are usually rationalized. ESPN is openly proud of this particular editorial decision. Parts I and II coincide with Pole/Bump Weekend, while Parts III and IV coincide with Race Weekend. That is just egregious and proves my point.

I wish ESPN.com did not lack the courage, willingness or professionalism to be original. They employ some talented people, but when that talent is wasted on the exact same worn out non-topic every single year, many potentially great stories just get ignored. That shortchanges readers. Shortchanging Indy Car fans is something in which ESPN has specialized for over a decade.

Seriously ESPN. Fans deserve much better than this.

Youthful Indy 500’s: The Process of Becoming a Lifelong Fan and Doses of Reality

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:46 am

1963 was the final year I was treated like a prince on race day. The health of a great uncle who facilitated police escorts, primo seats in the Paddock Penthouse and the best catered fried chicken not seen since had deteriorated. Had I known I would be fending for myself in subsequent years I might have savored the experience a bit more.

Parnelli Jones was a fan favorite, and all the locals kept talking about ‘old Calhoun.’ J.C. Agajanian was also a very colorful character who lives on in the lore of the place. My fascination that year was not with established stars on the way out, but with the new blood. New heroes began to emerge. Dan Gurney and Jim Clark were two. I was on board with the rear engine revolution as well even though the majority of the Hoosier fan base remained firmly attached to the front engine status quo and was quite vocal about it.

Clark almost won the race with a charge at the end. ‘Ol Calhoun’ was leaking oil that year and the Lotus was catching up.  Neither Colin Chapman in the pits nor Eddie Sachs on the track were happy with Parnelli. Sachs said he crashed as a result of it and was not happy with Jones, which led to another colorful episode. Harlan Fengler was the chief steward, and his colorful persona was entertaining, especially when he would commandeer the PA system and start yelling at people. It was hard to understand at the time why people called him a ‘fairy’ and other such names I diod not understand at the time, but those answers arrived later.

In 1964, my father and I found ourselves inside Turn 2 on Race Day. There are only two really vivid memories that year. The first involved a black mushroom cloud that arose opposite the track at the start of the race. Dad had a cheap canvas covered camping stool that he tried to stand on to get a better look with binoculars. The fabric ripped and dad found himself on his rear end on the ground. I learned many new expletives at that moment.

As the fire got extinguished, bodies of heroes extracted and destroyed cars removed, the only thing that really stood out was the collective silence of hundreds of thousands of people broken only occasionally by Tom Carnegie with bad news. The race eventually resumed, but many had left and those who remained were not as enthusiastic. Dad and I easily found some empty grandstand seats. Normally vigilant track personnel did not really check grandstand tickets carefully. When A.J. won again there was happiness and a second great memory, but it was tempered.

1964 was the year I learned about the risk that goes with the reward.

May 20, 2010

SPECIAL EDITION Part II: ESPN Responds Regarding Their Indy Car Treatment in May

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:52 pm

While I hold and express very strong views about this topic based on 51 straight years of being a fan and 38 years in the field of broadcasting, I sincerely appreciate and value the words and responses of people affected by my words. One such person is K. Lee Davis, who is the Motorsports Editor at ESPN.com. This person has my thanks and gratitude for providing something other than my take.

“Ed and I discussed how to go about this series for well over a year. Ultimately we decided the best way to tell it was just to lay it out there. I, as Ed’s editor, felt that there has never been a full accounting of the past 20 years of American open-wheel racing and this was an opportunity — 14,000 words of opportunity as it turns out — to create an historical document to chronicle that time.”

With all due respect, under what rock have you and Ed been cloistered for twenty years? The popular press has focused with laser precision on split-related nonsense EVERY SINGLE MAY since 1996. The exact same recycled material gets trotted out with virtually the same script each and every year right down to dated observations that scalpers do not get to rape ticket buyers to the same degree they did in 1994. I am all for creation of some historical document to chronicle an important evolutionary phase. I even applaud Ed Hinton’s attempts at balance in this latest repackaging. But why the middle of May? How in your wildest imaginations can either of you figure that same old story remains compelling or untold in any meaningful way after having had it force fed by the same writers annually each May for fifteen straight years, particularly when so many genuinely compelling but mostly ignored storylines exist every year? Why this one again? When was the last time either you or Ed set foot inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

Will ESPN.com do a four-part series on how a strike that cancelled an NHL season years ago inflicted catastrophic damage to that league during their upcoming Stanley Cup Finals? When the NBA Finals are played will there be a four-part series on general thuggery in the NBA and how the league has not been the same since Magic/Larry or Michael Jordan retired? Will we be subject to an in-depth analysis on steroid use in baseball over the past couple of decades or how Pete Rose bet on games during coverage of this year’s World Series? Perhaps we will get treated to a four-part series on 1987 NFL replacement games during Super Bowl week. Oddly, I have never seen a four-part series about sagging attendance and ratings, much less moonshine running or Bill France enforcing early mostly subjective NASCAR rules with a loaded firearm during the weeks leading up to the Daytona 500 in February.

I believe you and Ed should have more in depth discussion about prospective topics. Here are a few I can offer off the top of my head:

-Five women trying to make the race

-New chassis possibilities

-The bootstrap manner in which Sarah Fisher is successfully operating a team

-Randy Bernard

-Why Foyt’s ABC team is improving

-Helio’s realistic quest for four or more

-Davey Hamilton

-More of 100 years of history than just sixteen years of occupancy by a failed owner group and their unhappiness with the man who changed their course.

As I walk past each garage this May, compelling stories about what is inside each one easily emerge. If you want to invent muck to rake, why not come up with something like how the new gimmicky, non-traditional qualifying format could easily get someone seriously injured or killed?

What is the point of ANYTHING related to ‘the split’ AGAIN this year? Even the IMS bailout of the remnants of the boycotters by Tony George is a few years in the past. Passing off anything split-related as relevant, no matter how well written, is unoriginal, irresponsible, sleazy and lazy.

“As for Ed or myself or anyone else associated with motorsports coverage at ESPN.com, we don’t dislike George, the IndyCar Series or American open-wheel racing. In fact we all grew up watching it (at least on tape delay) and are supporters of the sport. Ed as a “NASCAR” writer? Educate yourself, please. He’s a motorsports journalist, and many believe the best there’s ever been. Was in Ed in Charlotte in 1999? No he was not, as you will find out later in the series, so get your facts straight there, too. We have an obligation to report on Indy racing honestly and fairly and I think we have done that time after time.”

My opinion based on the red headed bastard stepchild status of Indy Car over the past dozen years is that ESPN continues to actively try and kill the Indy Car brand as it openly fawns over NASCAR. It has been marginalized in coverage over the air and on the web site (one look at the home page is all it takes–I even proved a few years ago that Indy Car was not featured equally in racing web pages), presentation of the product on the air and on the Web by ESPN on ABC is atrocious, and a four part series on something as dated and irrelevant as the split AGAIN this May validates my point. ESPN’s coverage and treatment of Indy Car since the late 1990s is as far from ‘honest’ and ‘fair’ as any media organization can possibly get. Most of the stories I have read by Ed Hinton are focused on NASCAR, past or present. I have never written anything about whether Ed Hinton was in Charlotte or not in 1999. I thought his treatment of the Indy Car accident there in Sports Illustrated was slimy, as did many others.

“As for the timing of this series, it is the Month of May and the Indianapolis 500 is still an important event on the sports calendar. There’s no better time to tell this story — in the middle of the Centennial Era — than right now, the first 500 without Tony George at the helm in two decades. Next year we will have the 100th annivaersary of the first 500-Mile race to celebrate and that will hopefully be a better time for the series and sport.”

The ‘story’ you feel compelled to tell is recycled, pointless horse shit. Nothing more. No new ground is being broken. This historical record you seem to believe is so urgent can be written and recorded at any time. No one except a small group of cheesy writers and a handful of disenfranchised fans who carry grudges even care. Move forward. Leave the TMZ-style coverage to less reputable entities. You should confine your work to reporting about the sport, not continuing to destroy it.

It is May in Indianapolis. The sooner you get on board with what that is really all about the more professional your efforts to cover it will become.

May 19, 2010

SPECIAL EDITION – Ed Hinton and ESPN: The WORST of Their Breed. Indy Car: WAKE UP!

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:11 pm

This is a ‘special edition’ version of the Defender blog. Now that it is May, Indy Car ‘partner’ ESPN has decided to feature the meanderings of NASCAR-centric writer Ed Hinton, who again sticks his nose into and offers another annual banal recycling of dated open wheel ‘split’ politics. It is my opinion that damage inflicted on the sport by the actions of cart employees and apologists in the middle 1990s will never heal as long as ESPN and Ed Hinton continue peeling back scabs and hocking loogies into wounds they reopen every May. This four part series is proof ESPN is actively attempting to KILL the Indy Car brand.

Please do not misunderstand. There is nothing really wrong with the four part series. It is light reading. It does not include anything new, nor does it appear any actual new research has been completed. It does not break any new ground. I do believe it is easy reading. It even says it’s ‘archived’ which screams ‘recycled.’ Again. For the umpteenth time. But why May? Why take such an asshole approach? What purpose does it serve? Why be assholes simply for the sake of being assholes? Is it not enough that the object of the scorn and ridicule of mostly immature loudmouths is almost completely out of the picture and no longer has any control over the series or its direction? Is it not enough that almost all vestiges of the Indy Racing League, including its very name, have been or are being purged? What, exactly, is the motivation for this type of watery turd in the Indy Car punchbowl for the fifteenth straight May? Is the collective ego of Ed and ESPN that far out of control?

Why would ESPN care about publishing the dated ruminations of a NASCAR beat writer about open wheel, particularly when attendance and ratings for the series that is his bread and butter are dropping precipitously? Even Robin Miller has apparently ended his IRL witch hunt, regularly becoming a dining companion with Randy Bernard. Why does ESPN feel compelled to enable Ed Hinton to interject himself into each May at Indy? Does he want a free dinner with the CEO too?

What ESPN and Hinton are doing is classless, unprofessional, cheesy and gratuitous. It serves no useful purpose. The sooner the ESPNs and Ed Hintons of the world shelve their egos and decide to publish something that matters today, or choose to cover a broader expanse of what is a very rich history, the easier it will be for Indy Car to navigate its own evolution. If writing about Indy Car in May perhaps research about what is going on in 2010 is advised. The history of sport is carried on the back of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it is celebrating a centennial era. Laser focus with OCD-like obsession on one recent, short, sordid period of that history does a huge disservice to the entire sport and everyone who ever competed in or has ever been a fan of racing.

Grow up, ESPN and Ed Hinton. Stop trying to kill the brand. That is not your job. And here is a suggestion for Randy Bernard: Fly to New York and/or Bristol and plant a boot into some very deserving rear ends. This nonsense must CEASE.

Sophomore Indy 500: It’s A Neeewwww Traaackkk Record!

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:13 am

It is personally hard to believe that is the seventh decade in which my body has been inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. First time in 1959, and at least once every year since. The 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and now 2010. Fun with math. Growing old is fun! That means I have seen all significant speed records broken from 230 all the way back to 150. I thought we might see 240 or 250 fall and still may. The one that stands out the most, however, was 1962. That is when Parnelli conquered 150 in that roadster. It was also the first time I heard Tom Carnegie utter one of his most famous phrases.

The other thing I thought was cool might seem odd, but I was still only eight. Pat Vidan was the coolest flagman ever. The way he dressed up and waved that flag was artistic. Eight was still young enough to use clothespins to attach playing cards to bicycle spokes and ride those Huffys around the block (counterclockwise) as fast as we could. Every kid not on the bikes wanted to be Pat Vidan, so there would always be a kid with a checkered flag waving us home. If I couldn’t be a race car driver, I wanted to be Pat Vidan.

I was happy that Rodger Ward won the race for a second time but the family was sad Eddie Sachs fell short again.

It was good to see Rodger again in the Flag Room prior to a 500 before he died a few years back. Parnelli still looks good and we heard him on the radio the just other night. That driver generation will remain in my fond memories for as long as I stick around.

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