Ground(ed) Effects

Indycar and general autosport opinion

The 2021 edition of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is still reverberating in my mind and soul two days later. The reverberations are amplified because I was one of the fortunate 140,000 people on-site to bear witness to one of the greatest race experiences of my life.

(c) Photo by Doug Mathews

I don’t make those claims lightly because in the immediate afterglow of as nearly perfect a race day, storybook finish, and celebration as one could imagine, it’s tempting to succumb to labeling it ‘one for the ages’ with no contemplation. My racing soul, coupled with (what I attempt to maintain as) a grounded mind, however, have both received, accepted, and confirmed the result that this was simply one of the greatest Indy 500s of all time or at the very least, of the post-WWII era which encompasses many amazing races certainly. As I previewed in the previous post (here), several things this May aligned to give us the potential for an historic race.

Many of us could be forgiven for patently not believing in such things as ‘racing gods’ and perhaps we’re a bit too cynical and jaded to accept an unseen, mystical realm beyond our own. The 105th Race, however, would do nothing to dispel the existence of those very racing gods to me that seem to show up at times of uncertainty with circumstances that create results of significance and restore our faith. No matter the proof available to our human senses Sunday, I had to consider that this race result was supposed to happen, and in many ways, help lay to rest all of the haunted and tortured racing souls that not only endured the pandemic, but also were left with little assistance to heal from the fractures inflicted from several key events like; the death of Tony Hulman in 1977, the loss of many central and integral persons in the 1978 USAC plane crash, the ‘White Paper’ and emergence of CART, the 1996 USAC/CART ‘split’, and subsequent years of aftershocks from those momentous off-track events going forward.

Following the first ‘Golden-era’ of Indycar racing from the late 1950s into the mid-1970s, the sport was suddenly left with a crisis of identity for nearly the next 20 years. It had taken over 20 more years to arrive where we were on Sunday, May 30, 2021. As a very young fan in the late-1970s and continuing to this day, I can say that I’ve felt the numerous ebbs and flows of this sport as much as any fan has, I feel that finally the time has come for me to lay aside any and all resentment and sense of loss that had existed in me for far too long. Safe to say I was very much unsure of what a Penske ownership might mean for the soul of the ‘World’s Greatest Racecourse’, but the resulting 2021 event, finally with fans present, has told me that faith in the ‘racing gods’ shall be rewarded.

Believe me, all this talk of mysticism, faith in the unseen, and Karmic balances seems to conflict with this writer’s ethos that somehow staying ‘grounded’ at all costs is important in this fan’s existence and to maintain ones own equilibrium.

I get that and I see that.

It’s also easy to be a cynic when things are difficult and all the evidence you see denies your hopes, pushing them furthest from view. Brushing off the positive forces at play when things go so very right, as mere happenstance, is equally jaded.

Let us endeavor to joyfully celebrate the recent magic of Indy. Celebrate the plucky perseverance of Meyer Shank Racing and our newest 4-time, infectiously-spirited, and deserving Indy 500 champion of the fans, the people, Helio Castroneves.

(c) Photo by Chris Owens

Let us embrace as one the goodness that exists today, appreciate the efforts of those who lead this sport, and finally lay to rest the ghosts of Indycar past.

Let us dare to again look-forward and not slump back lazily against past glories.

Let us dare to simply feel the goodness of this Indy 500, to accept this gift from the racing gods, and to look forward with optimism and embrace the joy of these greatest moments of racing.

It was a little after 6pm Sunday afternoon, soon after qualifying had ended for the 105th Indianapolis 500, at home sitting in my favorite chair, reflecting on how much I enjoyed what had transpired over the previous six hours of my Sunday. I am never on-site for 500 qualifying, so this was a qualifying Sunday I had genuinely enjoyed more than I had in a very long time. Then a strange realization hit me.

My enjoyment illuminated something I hadn’t felt for a very long time, perhaps even before 1995. Gone was the weight of the past. Gone was my annual angst over ’33’ and how it ‘should be’. Gone was ‘the split’. Gone was the millstone of ‘sacred racing traditions’ that had hung around my neck for far too long. A growing feeling that, through all that had transpired over the recent months, and all we as a collective group of humans had endured, a guarded new hope and optimism began to emerge. It was as if the weather fell upon that lovely track last Sunday was to remind us that everything is again as it should be, just in the new way.

The track temperature waxed and waned, and the wind appeared just enough to be recognized. The conditions were a flirtatious reminder that, despite our western-worldly inclinations as humans that it is our destiny to grasp ‘control’ of the many things in our purview, sometimes it’s down to the subtly fickle and unknown origin of a generic Indiana Sunday in mid-May that surpasses the engineers and crew and drivers, to settle it’s final favor upon the field, just as it had at times in decades before.

I’ve not said much about it in the last few years, but to me Indycar, and especially the 500, has felt notably starched and a bit too manufactured to be rendered joyful. Even the greatest build-up in all of sports was metered-for-TV-ad-space, essentially draining all excitement of what was literally my favorite 30 minutes of the year. It sadly has been quite a long time since I’ve been surprised with chills up my neck watching Indycar either on-screen or in-person.

Mostly I recall only the in-person chills I’ve been fortunate enough to experience that only the crescendo of a hundred thousand cheering on the main straight can give. Notably when Michael and Rick traded unbelievable Turn 1 passes in 1991, or the amazing finish of the most otherwordly race in 1992, or Danica’s pass for the lead on Lap 190 in 2005 or Sam Hornish making a front-straight pass for the win in 2006. As I try to recall the most recent time, I think it may have been the last time Jim Nabors sang the first seven syllables of that glorious song, prior to the start of the engines in 2014, knowing it would be his last.

The day’s drama of the 2021 edition of last row qualifications was certainly tense and bittersweet but also gave way to the building tension of Fast 9 qualifying. As Tony Kanaan, Rinus VeeKay, then Ed Carpenter cracked the 232 miles-per-hour barrier with their first laps Sunday, the crowd noise through my TV was more than I’d heard in years and that magical feeling of chills long missing from my Indycar pleasure went up my neck once again. I can only imagine how great that must have felt in-person. With little left to write of the story of 2021 qualifying, the stage was set for the last two drivers and they also did not disappoint with two of the closest pole runs in history.

In spending much of my late-Sunday evening pouring over the field for this Sunday’s race, I can’t help but feel that this 500 will genuinely be special. For what reason, I cannot yet say. Let’s just say that it’s a feeling.

I find facets of this race intriguing already though:

  • The fastest average speed field in history.
  • One of the closest fields in speed in history.
  • Nine former winners.
  • A progressive team featuring a majority female ownership and crew.
  • 15 nations of origin represented in the field of 33.
  • The presence of the ‘Second Golden Era’ legends alongside the stunning emergence of ‘Generation Next’.
  • A new ownership and revamped facility awaiting what will once again be the largest single-day spectator sporting event in the world.
  • Generations of fans who appreciate the past, relish the present, and excite at the promise of the future of Indycar.

Much of what constitutes the essence of this race reminds me greatly of the race 30 years ago. A celebrated front row and field full of the First Golden Era legends, the current stars, barrier-breakers, and youth. During that race we saw things never-before seen, racecars still deemed aesthetically ‘perfect’ by many to this day, a competition of machine and driver and crew on the grandest scale, culminating in the crowning of the newest royalty at Indy.

Maybe the alignment is too perfect to be true, but I have to wonder if we won’t again crown 4-time royalty this Sunday in a legendary race for the ages. Perhaps it’s all too much to hope.

Regardless, I know I’ll need to go and find out first-hand. I hope to see you there too and we can share the experience of it all unfolding before our eyes.

“…we also pay homage to those men who have given their lives unselfishly and without fear to make racing the most spectacular spectator sport.”

– Jim Phillippe, IMS Public Address – Indianapolis 500 Raceday.

For decades, the words and actions that lead to the start of the Indianapolis 500 were crafted carefully, scripted to meet a specific event timeline, and ritualized for many years. Rightly so, and as a whole, the prelude to the race represents one of the most important traditions of race-day to generations of fans. The words quoted above are taken from the address given by IMS Public Address announcer, Mr. Jim Phillippe, prior to the start of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.

These words were also spoken many times in the years prior and since. Following the invocation, as a call to remain standing, Mr. Phillippe’s words were a solemn reminder of the significance of Memorial Day, but specifically he also pays homage to those who died in the service of auto racing. At least that’s how I interpret those words which are phrased similarly but separately from the acknowledgment of the many who died in wars and conflicts for which the Memorial Day holiday was established.

During a recent Beyond The Bricks show, Jake Query and Mike Thomsen discuss candidly, but also with the greatest respect, a few of the group of drivers who perished at the Speedway. I found it very refreshing and helpful as I too have long wanted to have a more open discussion and learn more about these drivers and their personalities, who all too often are remembered primarily for the fact that they died driving a racecar at IMS.

I have always wondered what the survivors’ families and fans in general would think of a quiet, solemn, on-site memorial for those who died, somewhat away from the regular main thoroughfares of pedestrian traffic. Is it time to have a dedicated place to gather and reflect on those lives lost at the Speedway?

I know that for me, having that place would also be one I would regularly visit to pay respect and contemplate those drivers’ and history more deeply. Maybe it would be reflected in a part of the Museum. Maybe one already exists and I’m not aware of it. Perhaps the whole of the Speedway grounds represents that. Could those chills when entering the gates when emerging on the business side of the oval be not only in awe of the amazing facility and events past, but also with deepest respect for those who perished at the Speedway?

For many years, Donald Davidson would gently eschew discussion on the topic of fatalities, certainly as was his right as host of his show, but having now been alive for over 50 years, and followed Indycar for well over 40, I’ve seen too many drivers lose their lives while racing to not appreciate some sort of deeper conversation about them, and especially those of several decades ago who I never got to see race at IMS. People who are more heavily or directly involved with the Speedway on a regular basis are certainly more sensitive to, and in some cases more personally related to these people and their histories than the average fan. I can see the reluctance in having to repeatedly recall someone fond in the past-tense, yet those are the drivers whose histories seem significantly occluded by their final demise at the Speedway. I’ve always respected, but also found curious, that there appears to be a strong resistance by the Speedway to publicly approach the subject. Certainly it should never be taken lightly and be treated with delicate respect.

In any case, I appreciate the opportunity provided by Query and Thomsen and agree with their method of providing a way to more completely consider the drivers who all too often are not seen beyond their final moments. I welcome that deeper understanding and also the ability to have a beautiful, solemn, dedicated place to visit on the grounds of the Speedway to more directly pay respects and to acknowledge the more complete history of the Speedway.

Please tell me your thoughts on this subject in the comments below.

The phrase, “unlike any other” is often used by promoters, public relations managers, and, yes, sometimes even journalists in the aggrandizement of something which seeks to establish a unique or perhaps elevated identity. The phrase has become a particularly wearisome trope when reading about most anything, but especially sporting events. Yes, the Superfantastico Sportsing Event Presented By MegaCorp(tm) of 2020 WAS in fact unlike any other, because time as we experience it is linear and EVERYTHING is a unique event along that timeline for which we’ve not yet been able to travel between.

But I digress.

In the cases of a select few famous sporting events whose histories span many generations and decades, the global pandemic of 2020 did manage to be a significant milepost that likely will stand out for many years to come. The Indianapolis 500 was one such event whose location on the calendar effectively marked significant and traditional times of the year for many people. In 2020, May in Indianapolis was eerily void of the near-daily raucous noise from 700 hp racing engines at 16th Street and Georgetown. Residents of Speedway, Indiana must have thought April was interminable as there was no automotive commotion to be found to mark the beginning of summer in central Indiana. For most fans, May took a very unassuming appearance compared with all prior iterations as the famous race was moved to August in hopes the fans could be present. For me however, it was anything but unassuming.


May

  • The First Responder 175 presented by GMR was Round 6 of a virtual racing series that featured Indycar and NBCSN providing a visually stunningly virtual race held online via iRacing and broadcast to TV viewers. As it was a virtual race, a number of Indycar regular drivers participated but also allowed drivers from other series and disciplines who could had made strides up the learning curve of online racing. Scott McLaughlin of Australian Supercars, Lando Norris of Formula 1, and Scott Speed of American Rally Cross took the top three qualifying positions for the digital race run at the simulated Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A total of 33 drivers qualified for the final event with a crash-filled closing two laps seeing the dominant Arrow McLaren cars of Lando Norris, Pato O’Ward, and Oliver Askew all lose places in virtual collisions with Simon Pagenaud, Marcus Ericcson, and Santino Ferrucci respectively.
  • The final actions of Ferrucci into Askew saw Scott McLaughlin finish first with Conor Daly avoiding the crashing, coming second. Pato O’Ward survived his brush with Ericsson to end up third. Until the final few laps, the race seemed to be treated fairly professionally by the drivers, however many viewers online found Ferrucci’s movement on the final straightaway to be an intentional wrecking of Askew who appeared to have the race all but won with a few hundred virtual feet to go before crossing the finish line.
  • What was something that the sport, the networks, sponsors, and fans could embrace as some semblance of replacement entertainment during the depth of the pandemic, was reduced to disgusting novelty and childish behavior. Santino’s disingenuous and pathetic attempt to explain away his actions as a racing miscalculation did little to assuage the many people who put in time and expense to give devoted race fans a morsel of something to enjoy. His immaturity was again a slap in the face to all who work hard to bring Indycar to the fore.
  • Most of the remainder of the Month of May was a daily scramble of schedule and event shuffling, and cobbling together a replacement event for the massive hole left by the postponement of the actual Indy 500 to August. Indycar did it’s best to keep fans engaged with many stories of Indy 500s past and highlighting existing teams work toward ‘May in August’, but the loss of daily speed reports, garage patrols, and general crescendo of racing excitement was palpable. The final recognition that nothing was going to be as it typically was became painfully apparent. A revised schedule on May 21 showed that Texas Motor Speedway would host the first actual race of the 2020 season on June 6th, with more racing to follow on July 4th weekend.


May of 2020 all seems hazy to me. Notably, I didn’t have the annual life-bringing rhythm of racing in May in Indiana to savor, and cruelly, quite the opposite rhythm actually.

By mid-May, my father laid ill in the hospital with the ongoing effects of congestive heart failure and the lack of any real procedure or medicine to stave off the inevitable remaining. The man whose annual devotion to the Indy 500, and whose introduction of me to this amazing event in-person in 1979, who last joined me in Indy in 2003, now would likely never see another Indy 500. The devotion I feel to this event is related to his desire to take me and likewise my desire to have had my son and daughter also see it in-person. My son shares my love of the race and continues to go with me annually, but the prospect of attempting to feel any sort of celebratory mood for the 500, had it been run in May 2020, would certainly have been lacking.

My father spent the last 9 days of his life in hospice, unable to have in-person contact with loved ones due to Covid-19 restrictions. We spoke every day by phone and saw each other through an exterior window to his room. In the early morning of June 19th, he died, aged 86. He was laid to rest on Monday, June 22, 2020, one day after Father’s Day.

The void left feels very much like a wound that, despite proper treatment, can do nothing but heal slowly, leaving only scar tissue behind. Being unable to see the Indy 500 in person in 2020, was certainly disappointing, but nothing will have risen to the level of sadness I had during those final few weeks of his life. Everything seemed amiss. The world seemed to show us daily an aggrieving lack of compassion and purpose and love. Joy seemed unattainable.

Certainly any enthusiasm for blogging about my favorite sport had evaporated in the middle quarter of 2020. In looking at my life after his passing, and in the days and weeks where actual Indycars would race on actual tracks again, I wondered if I would enjoy Indycar racing and the Indy 500 as much as I had before. Would the bitterness finally overtake the sweetness I had been blessed to experience for so long?

I suppose I’ll only know if and when I next set foot at the great speedway for the Indianapolis 500. As I grow ever-weary of waiting to experience it again, I can only hope to have my answer in May 2021.

Bleary-eyed, in the ever-earlier darkness of morning, after dutifully shutting off my phone alarm clock, I gathered myself for another day in the COVID-19 era, and scanned my personal email.

Surprisingly (and one email that really shouldn’t have), I saw my annual fees to WordPress.com were automatically paid. While there have been numerous opportunities to project my opinions outwardly here, it’s more generally been an anemic year for my blog as numerous things in my three-dimensional world conspire to retain my interest instead of my Indycar and racing musings to my tens of fans. Maximize the value of my annual expense, I did not.

In actuality, that number is likely to be in the single-digits by now. Pretty dismal showing after 10 years and 350 days of blogging.

Slacking on Indycar posting isn’t a new condition for this writer, but it has been amplified with the hodge-podge season of 2020 Indycar racing in combination with viral disease or other uncertainties. I certainly don’t envy being in either position of racing sanction or facility or team owner, for whom so often we armchair critics assail. At any rate, we all press on in hope of better times and safer futures around the corner.

As for the 2020 Indycar season, it could very well go down as one of the most underrated seasons in history. It’s perhaps forgivable to consider it a mere throwaway of a season, with the lack of fans in attendance, constantly-jumbled schedule, massive uncertainties of the crown jewel Indy 500, and general lack of any sort of rhythm and general purpose. Trying to maintain a balanced view toward things, we must resist to temptation to toss aside this season as wasted. 2020 will without doubt be notable for several reasons in the annals of Indycar history, with positives to be taken along with the glaring downside, but on balance I see it as a net positive.

What follows in this and three subsequent posts will be a summary review of the 2020 Indycar season.


January

  • Penske Corporation completes the acquisition of the Hulman-George family businesses including IMS and Indycar which had been run by the Hulman-George family since Anton Hulman’s purchase of the Speedway in November 1945.
  • John Andretti passes away from long cancer battle and is honored with a ceremonial lap around IMS in his funeral procession.
  • The successful Road To Indy ladder is set to celebrate it’s 10th season.

February

  • A spate of exciting new driver, new sponsor, and new venue announcements grows the anticipation for the 2020 season and the first of the Penske era.
  • The aeroscreen becomes the focus of new testing for all teams in preparation for the new season. Increased cockpit temperatures are noted to be the primary focus for improvement prior to the season start.

March

  • All momentum for the 2020 Indycar season slows dramatically as COVID-19 expands its reach, creating uncertainty for gatherings of people. Spring sporting events are a major concern for spread of the deadly virus, cancelling or postponing famed events such as the NCAA basketball tournament and The Masters.
  • On the eve of the St. Pete race, March 13th, the Indycar series and the Road To Indy ladder series officially cancels all races through April due to virus concerns. The planned 2020 schedule begins to unravel and uncertainty in the Indycar community spreads rapidly, including the Indy 500.
  • Indycar, in an attempt to provide fans, teams, sponsors, and a TV audience with some form of Indycar presence, shows welcome ingenuity by quickly establishing a mini-series of several Virtual Simulation races via iRacing, featuring actual Indycar and other top-flight drivers including fan-favorite and recovering-from-severe-spinal-injury Robert Wickens racing online. Sage Karam wins the inaugural event, run at the virtual Watkins Glen, the venue chosen through fan voting.
  • It becomes clear that the risk and effects of dealing with the COVID-19 era won’t be ending anytime soon. More ingenuity will be required to not lose this season.

April

  • More virtual racing and real-life schedule gymnastics dominate the calendar. A revised series schedule is released featuring double-headers at Iowa and Laguna-Seca, and a brand new event – The Harvest GP at IMS.
  • Indycar and its partners impress with their quick responses and fortitude in not abandoning the season altogether.
  • Virtual racing continues at Barber, Michigan, Motegi, Circuit of the Americas, and lastly at IMS kicking off the most unusual Month of May.

Coming in the next post, a very strange and surreal Month of May.


Lake-effect Winter Satellite Image (c) Wikipedia Commons

January and February in northern Indiana is sometimes referred to as “character-building” season.

Given the proximity to the Great Lakes, and Lake Michigan in particular, this time of year seems hopelessly lost in a cold, hazy-grey arctic embrace that recalls a seven-year-old’s unwanted holiday hug from an over-perfumed, slightly-frightening aunt that hasn’t seen you since you “were thiiiis tall”. You’re going to get that embrace regardless and to feign appreciation for the once-a-year relationship is to have nearly given up hope on better circumstances altogether.

So it goes with Indycar (or any other warm-seasoned activity) appreciation and winter in northern Indiana.

A generation ago, the phrase “he’s a real character” was a slightly derisory description, if not an outright warning, to others for someone who has a penchant for shenanigans. This is not the type of “character” that gets built during this season, however there may be a corollary with the term “cabin-fever” that I’ll not probe today.

During “character-building” season, with the exterior temps chilling our bodies, we often look to warm ourselves from the inside and a heaping bowl of chili amid the depths of a January evening is a rather suitable dinner. I did just that last night. My wife assembled the chili and cornbread which is now a staple food of our winters. Lower on bean count, higher on diced tomatoes, onions, and beef (sorry vegetarian/vegan/keto friends), it is a treasured little family mix that never fails to satisfy. When I saw the spent box of Jiffy cornbread mix on the counter, I was briefly whisked away to warmer days and my first Indy 500 in 1979.

The #46 Sherman Armstong entry for the 1979 Indianapolis 500 Mile Sweepstakes was a used Wildcat-Offy slated for 5-year veteran of Atlantics and Super-Vees, Howard “Howdy” Holmes. Howdy was a fairly accomplished young driver of the American open-wheel ladder whose liveries most often carried the family business brand – Jiffy Mixes of the Chelsea Milling Company, in Chelsea, Michigan. Although I’ve yet to confirm the fact, I’m fairly certain that Mr. Holmes has also shared the magic of chili and cornbread together in his locale of Michigan which would also be subject to lake-effect winters.

(c) IMS Archives

Just like Howdy, my first Indy 500 was in 1979 and the sensations of that day are still palpable to me as I’ve written about previously in this blog. Also easy for me to recollect was my pure and naïve disbelief in my father’s assertion that this car (the #46) was sponsored by a baking mixes company.

He assured me in his factual knowledge, and I was equally inclined to not believe him for all of racing is to be filled only with the stuff of rugged relation – automotive parts, petroleum companies, cigarettes, and beer. Even Janet Guthrie had a Texaco car. Surely my father was incorrect and a baking mixes company couldn’t adorn the front of one of the fastest 33 cars in the greatest race in the world. To whom could they possibly be advertising – these ne’er-do-wells populating the interior of the racetrack?

Certainly not.

Of course at some point, I had to take my father’s serious and insistent word and I found myself looking for that car all day long. It was also part of two-car stable entered by Sherm Armstrong so the liveries were fairly easily tracked – the #44 of Tom Bigelow and the #46 of Howdy Holmes were primarily black with larger white numbers and a smaller yellow and orange trim stripe. The broad nose of Howdy’s Wildcat was easy spot at a distance and so I was able to follow him all day.

Howdy’s career at Indy is notable. His performance in 1979 – 13th starting position (only rookie to qualify), and 7th place finish only bettered by the likes of Mears, Foyt, Mosley, Ongais, Bobby Unser, and Johncock, garnered him the Rookie of the Year honors. His performance allowed him to follow up a month later at Pocono for another 500-miler, starting and finishing a very notable 7th.

For 1980, he was brought on full-time for the team and was slated to help develop their new Orbiter ‘ground-effects’ type chassis. A detailed first-person article exists of that rather fascinating story here.

Howdy Holmes, Armstrong Orbiter Chassis, (c) unknown

Success came in waves for Howdy as he moved from team to team. He left the Armstrong Mould (AMI) racing team after 1980 and did not participate in Indycar racing altogether in 1981. For 1982, Howdy joined up with the brand new Doug Shierson Racing Team as the original driver of the now-famous #30 Domino’s Pizza livery through 1983.

Howdy had a very respectable and rather consistently-performing career in Indycars including a career best finish of 2nd at Phoenix and barely a month later, started middle of the front row at Indy in 1984 for Mayer Racing, back with the Jiffy Mix livery/sponsorship in a current March-Cosworth. He moved to Forsythe Racing with the Jiffy Mix brand in a 1985 Lola-Cosworth.

Passing on the 1986 and 1987 seasons, Howdy returned for one more season with Jiffy Mixes and Morales Racing in 1988, again racing a current March-Cosworth, finishing his career with the 26th and final career Top 10, finishing 8th at Tamiami Park.

1988 – Howdy Holmes March Cosworth, (c) IMS archives

According to ChampCarStats.com, Howdy’s career in the top-flight of open-wheel racing in America is rather notable for his considerable ability to finish higher than he started and on the variety of tracks presented by CART in the mid-1980s. Of his 82 career Indycar starts, he only lost places from his starting position 1 in 4 races. The record shows that most often, those drops were less than 5 positions. He finished in the top-10 in 26 of 82 starts.

After his retirement from racing, he returned to Chelsea Milling Company, authored a book on motorsports technology, formed a motorsports marketing and advertising firm, and eventually replaced his father as President and CEO of Cheslea Milling, where he still works today.

So, if you ever find yourself in the depth of winter, heading into the supermarket eyeing up the corn muffin mixes to match up with your chili or a cupcake mix for your next Indycar watch party, don’t forget about the endearing Indycar driver Howdy Holmes, and his family’s Jiffy mix.

What is it about liveries that adds to the enjoyment of auto racing?

If you’re anything like me, when an off-season wanes and a new season approaches, I appreciate any and all visual coverage of pre-season activity. New images are the desperately-needed salve from the abrasively long off-season. While the sounds from video clips are often familiar and quite welcome, one thing changes more frequently than any other piece in our autosport appreciation – the livery.

During the recent IMSA Roar Before the 24, dutifully placed in the first week of the new calendar year, North American racing fans get their first glimpses of new sports car liveries in action. Often this time of year will include new pronouncements of sponsors and drivers and promotional plans for the upcoming season. Sports cars provide a generally larger substrate for design and history shows us how memorable and popular those can be.

When I say “Silk Cut Jaguar” or “Audi R10 TDi” or “Gulf Oil Porsche 917” or “Mazda 787”, immediately images of a famous and often race-winning livery pop into my head. It’s those things, shared with others around the globe that makes more communal and intimate the experience of autosport enjoyment. The more famous the event/circumstance, the more recalled the livery. Winning, or sometimes merely striving valiantly in incredible situations, often is the momentous situation that places an indelible visual representation of that moment and machine and humans in our brains.

In the second week of 2020, my focus shifts toward Indycar at Sebring for spring testing sessions. 2020 brings a fairly radical new look owing to the advent of aeroscreens. This welcome safety feature also becomes the moment in history that notably alters what we consider a modern Indycar. I imagine a time, even just month from now when a IR15 Dallara without the aeroscreen will seem oddly spartan and exposed.

Regardless, the new era of Indycar is upon us in several ways and as information trickles out of testing, including new entries, sponsors, and liveries, my appetite for the upcoming Indycar season only becomes more ravenous following the off-season hibernation we experience. How will the new aeroscreens add to the livery design? The blank canvas has a new shape.

(c) 2020 Ed Carpenter Racing (via Twitter)

While we often celebrate a renown livery on modern vehicles in tribute, so much that one sanction even takes to throwback livery races, I still feel the classics of tomorrow come from today. In 2019 I noted how well the liveries were done in Indycar from top to bottom of the field, and the artists of today are doing a great job on a difficult substrate, creating some legendary liveries I imagine we’ll regale in 2030.

Often, it’s the events that transpire that influence favor on our recollection of the liveries which will live far beyond their racing life. Even as recently as 2016, the modern and (expected to be) one-off NAPA livery for Alexander Rossi became so memorable from his Indy 500 win, and subsequent exposure, that it now sits among the most recognized, staple sponsors of the modern Indycar era.

As we await more official liveries and note changes to existing ones provided by the aeroscreens, what are some of the newer IMSA or Indycar liveries of 2019 and 2020 that most quickly come to the top of your mind? Like NAPA, which do you see as ‘instant classics’?

Let me know what pops into your mind’s eye first…

The Penske era of IMS and Indycar has officially begun. How RP still manages so many irons in the fire is truly notable and commendable. I can barely manage when to have lunch during any given day and this octogenarian is quite admirably slaying racing dragons at 6:45am.

I was able to find RP’s google calendar and it shouldn’t surprise anyone it looks like this:

(not in fact RP’s google calendar)

With the advent of the Roar before the 24 kicking off last week, I felt it was time to review and make some plans for enjoying the 2020 racing season. The ‘why?’ is a rhetorical question, but the ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘where?’, and ‘when?’ were still up for grabs aside from my annual pilgrimage to Indy in May.

“2020 WILL BE DIFFERENT!” I declared at the end of the 2019 racing season, having failed to plan, my race attendance and watching plan rightfully failed. Of course there were several expected life events I knew would belay my ability to plan for much of anything during the summer of 2019, outside of May. Nevertheless, we march on into 2020 and I need the various calendars of the racing sanctions I follow all in one place. Certainly this will be a rather easy task to complete…

Finding all of the major racing sanctions event calendars is not at all an easy task for the layperson. After some consultation with several racing friends about the internet, I found almost right under my aging proboscis what may be the best fit for my purposes. A good friend of the site and on twitter as well, Pat from @toomuchracing has just what you need HERE! If you also prefer to organize your calendars and keep them via Google, iCal, and the like, this should be your first stop (and may likely be your only).

I’ve subscribed to just as many (or as few) as I need, but the temptation is to basically overwhelm my senses and visual calendar with different sanctions and events despite knowing I’ll never have time to watch them all.

Pat eagerly puts in a considerable bit of time and effort to this endeavour and it shows. I gladly clicked his PayPal donation link on the upper right of his blogsite and I suggest you do as well if you take advantage of the massive amounts of time and effort he will save you.

There are a few other sites that I found, and if you are interested in being able to tell your friend in Sydney, Australia on what channel and time the Dakar Rally is being shown on SBS, or finding the time and location of the stream of qualifying for the F3 Asian Championships at the Autodrome in Dubai, THIS GOOGLE DOC may be your best bet.

Best to all on your racing season planning and I hope to see you at the track in 2020!

PS: Also, I’d like to spare a moment to extend my deepest sorrow and sympathies for the tragic fires that are consuming Australia now. We pray to the universe for a swift end to, and restoration from, the vast destruction they’re experiencing.

“Days turn to minutes and minutes to memories,

Life sweeps away the dreams we have planned.

You are young and you are the future,

so suck it up and tough it out,

and be the best you can…”

J. Mellencamp, 1985

As this Indycar fans ages, it becomes evermore disturbing just how time seems to not only pass more quickly but at an accelerating rate. Some of you may already experience this, and some soon will, but it seems no one is immune to this sensation.

Johnny Cougar, who in his evolving artistic maturity became John Mellencamp, also noted this phenomenon in several songs during and after the apogee of his career (in terms of sales). The lyric quoted above is taken from the Scarecrow album song entitled, ‘Minutes To Memories’.

I first experienced that lyric and the songs of the Scarecrow album during a time in my life that I can scarcely recall anymore – my early adulthood, aged 18, and moving away from my home, to college in Indianapolis. Painfully familiar with how my friends’ parents always took a bittersweet tone when they sang along with a similar lyric from his notable ‘Jack and Diane’ song three years prior, I was already aware that one coping mechanism is to try to remain blissfully unaware of my own impending life changes, holding onto 16 as long as I can.

Much as we all perhaps seek to maintain grasp on that frightfully short (and often easiest) portion of our life, change comes at our behest or otherwise and more often than not, different than we imagined. I’m sure Anton George would likely attest.

So too it was with the world of Indycar, ten years ago in 2010.

“TEN YEARS, MAN! Ten. Ten YEARS?! Ten years. TEN… TEN.. YEAARRRRRSSS! Ten years!” One of my favorite scenes from the movie Grosse Point Blank comes to mind immediately whenever we near an anniversary or some numerical decade involving a base-10 reflection leads to the incredulity of how quickly that time has passed by us.

On January 1 of 2010, the landscape of Indycar was a fair bit different.

  • IZOD had recently agreed to become the first title sponsor of Indycar since Northern Lights ended after 2001.
  • Tony George would resign in mid-January of 2010 from the Board of Directors of IMS, following a very long, protracted, and expensive battle with CART/ChampCar, that resulted in the absorption of that sanction and teams into the new IZOD IndyCar Series.
  • February 2nd saw the hiring of Randy Bernard as the new CEO of the Indy Racing League, the single-most prominent division of the IndyCar Series and open-wheel racing in the US.
  • Names familiar to us now populated the drivers and ownership rosters. Names like Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, Foyt, and Coyne, all owned at least one full-time entry.
  • Kanaan, Marco, RHR, Dixon, Grahamie, Sato-san, Easy Ed Carpenter, Power, and Helio all raced along the other famous names who no longer ply their trade such as; Meira, Danica, Franchitti, Bad-Ass Wilson, Wheldon, Fisher, and Briscoe inferno, and many others.
  • The schedule included 17 events with currently-familiar Indycar homes such as; St. Pete, Barber, Long Beach, Indy, Texas, Iowa, Toronto-eh, and Mid-Ohio. The venues of 2010 not on the 2020 schedule may jog some memories; Sao Paulo, Kansas, The Glen, Edmonton, Infiniyawn, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Motegi, and Homestead.
  • Honda , set to exit Indycar after 2009 was sufficiently cajoled into staying through 2011.
  • Early into an interminable 10-year and fractured TV deal, ABC/ESPN and Versus split the schedule.
  • An oval (Foyt) trophy and road/street (Andretti) trophy was awarded at the end of 2010 along with THIS newly-minted (thankfully short-lived) and spuriously-conceived ‘Flying Cocksman’ IZOD-commissioned Series Championship trophy:
The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Championship Trophy

How no one has grabbed a modern OneWheel board and dressed like this trophy, no matter how ironically, to the 500, or the final race of the Indycar Championship is beyond me.

Set in motion in 2010, however, were several things which we now find more enjoyable about Indycar to this day (many of which couldn’t arrive too soon for fans):

  • New chassis development with updates and more attractive features.
  • A severe dislike of the aforementioned split TV schedule (e-NOUGH of the splits already!) which lead to a single-network-supplier TV package in 2019 (So sorey-eh to my Canadian friends though!)
  • Dedicated work toward multiple engine manufacturers and MORE POWAH!
  • A newfound enthusiasm for the sport stemming from an executive who openly-engaged the fans (somewhat to his own peril). He and the league worked to incorporate their desires into the product (much-easier it is now for fans to be heard for the TV supplier, venues, and the league than ever before). Not all data is important, but the mere act of accepting and sifting through modern consumer-input allowed a growth into a more fan-centric product as ever before, I believe.
  • Shift away from the purely traditional schedule and dates, and more toward keeping more financially-successful events on the schedule, developing continuity from there. As much as we all loved Milwaukee or Chicagoland or Kansas or The Glen, the pure fact remains that not enough paying race fans came through the doors, regardless of marketing or myriad other excuses.

In looking back at the world of Indycar in 2010, there are many familiar things, yet the sport has changed quite a bit in what doesn’t seem 10 years.

I started this blog in late-2009 and, likewise, it doesn’t seem to be that terribly long ago, yet in many ways, at 52 years old, I feel too old to be a voice of the modern Indycar fan.

In taking most of 2019 off from blogging here, I reflected on Indycar bloggers and podcasters past and present. Is there a place for me to keep some moderate/centrist/devil’s advocate/grounded thoughts and ideas ‘out there’ for Indycar and autosport fans? Is it of any value and effort in an increasingly binary society? Is examining alternative ideas and keeping a modicum of basic critical thought toward this sport something enjoyable? Is anyone already doing this and much better than I? I’ve decided to find out.

In doing so, I also relocated to my blog to this new site, which may undergo changes as I become more familiar with formatting and the like. I do not undervalue how an aesthetically pleasing site is more enjoyable, so bear with me as things become less utilitarian and more eye-friendly. I’ve also brought forward the posts from my previous site for my reference as much as anyone else’s. Some posts seem cringeworthy today, but I suppose it’s no different than looking back in an old yearbook at pictures that captured the moment with an accuracy we may now wish it hadn’t.

I’m not young, nor the future, but I’m going to suck it up, tough it out, and be the best I can.

I welcome your feedback here in the comments, via twitter @groundedeffects, or via my email groundedeffects@gmail.com, and look forward to interacting with you here or maybe even at an Indycar track in 2020. Happy New Year!

Greetings everybody!

I hope everyone has fared well in our open-wheel, semi-hibernative state since our last INDYCAR race back in September of 2018 (some 25 weeks ago).

Where I live in Northern Indiana, the winter has been egregiously long and cold. Starting in earnest in mid-November, the wintry weather tends to make one draggy to the point of forgetting what day/week/month it is until that first glorious spring day appears, or INDYCAR starts in earnest on the Albert Whitted Airport circuit, whichever comes first. This year, it’s INDYCAR that has awakened me from the winter rather abruptly.

It’s not lost on me how ridiculous it seems that something nearly 6 months in the making can ‘sneak up’ on someone, but alas, here we are. I intend to hit the ground running however and this inaugural post of 2019 will review one important visual aspect of the sport before the green flies in St. Pete – the liveries.

Something like this cannot typically be done until the week before the first race anyway, as deals and sponsors get tied-up, and the reveals often happen just before the season starts, so I forgive myself for not posting on this sooner.

A nice pictorial summary of some of the 2019 liveries can be found at this link to the openwheel33 blog who got some great shots from the pre-season testing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. I’ll give my 1 (lowest) to 4 (highest) star rating on my opinion of the newest liveries for St. Pete from the spotter’s guide, seen below. Please feel free to disagree with me here 😀.

Car number – Driver Abbreviation – Primary Sponsor: Rating, comments.

2 – NEW – Hitachi – ✪✪✪✩: 3.5 for a very solid, classic Penske-type livery that rarely inspires but is always easily recognized and on-brand. 

4 – LEI – ABC Supply,
14 – KAN – ABC Supply – ✪✪✪: 3.0 for another very recognizable, stable, albeit dated design that actually has looked better on the new chassis than on the previous one. It still smacks of a swoopy-early-2000s design and I think it could be updated and improved with only a few tweaks.  I still struggle with who’s who between LEI and KAN at speed even with the color flipped. Maybe that’s more a sign of a feeble brain than design.

5 – HIN – Arrow,
7 – ERI – Arrow – ✪✪✪✪: 4 for a design that is not only easily-recognized, but also has the benefit of looking extra sleek (fast) by day or night, thanks to the colors as well as the drivers. To be seen whether I struggle recognizing which car is which with the subtle color variation. Both look great however and neither looks the lesser of the other.

9 – DIX – PNC Bank – ✪✪✪✩ 3.5 for a design that initially didn’t impress me (how could it following one of the greatest liveries of all-time – Target), but is growing on me.  I like the colors and again this is unlike any other livery out there which makes it easily identifiable in-person or on TV.  I get the slick color gradients employ the logo graphic, but it seems to wash out the natural appeal of the chassis silhouette.

10 – ROS – NTT Data – ✪✪✪ 3.0 for to the League Title sponsor’s livery. Regretfully, as this design forsakes flashy design for simple, recognizable appeal, it just leaves me wanting a bit more. I can’t help but wonder if incorporating the Swedish flag of pilot Rosenqvist somehow with the similar NTT Data blue wouldn’t add some welcome zip and appeal to a certain foreign TV demographic.

12 – POW – Verizon – ✪✪✪ 3.0 for yet another solid Penske team livery that at one time was more easily distinguished from the field, now suffers from sameness that could be improved with a different color styling. Tough to just change the reigning Indy 500 champion winner’s livery but with the right touches, it could also be improved.

15 – RAH – United Rentals – ✪✪✪ 3.0. This RLL car is fairly recognizable and doesn’t necessarily offend but there just seems to be a lot going on in terms of colors and designs with sponsors. As has been noted in years past, the blue and white schemes seem dated and overused. Can’t say that about how the 2019 field is appearing, but this scheme also seems to lack an overall team cohesion with it’s sister car.
30 – SAT – Seeman-Holtz – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5 for the sister to the 15. Again a lot going on visually from the sides, but I can’t not give this an extra half star rating for that nose design which makes me recall the gorgeous Player’s liveries of the late 90s.

18 – BOU – SealMaster – ✪✪✪ 3.0 for a car that is easily recognizable. I can’t decide if this looks more like some sort of high-speed emergency vehicle or and indicator that Wiz Khalifa is a new Indycar team owner. I appreciate the stones it took to be as aggressive with the color and striping as they did which is why they get a 3.0 and not a 2.5. Red lettering on black backgrounds always causes visual issues. The lettering needs a more pronounced white outline as a contrast to the black.

19 – FER – David Yurman – ✪✪✫ 2.5 for a flashy black-on-chrome design, albeit with little interest beyond that. The T-1000 Terminator would be proud. the dorsal fin contrast in black with the Honda lettering is a welcome bit of accent similar to other designs, yet more noticeable on this livery.

20 – JON – Autogeek,
21 – PGO – Autogeek – ✪✪ 2.0. Again with the dreaded red on black lettering combined with an overall scheme that appears as a refugee from the early IRL days. Sorry ECR, this ain’t cuttin’ it. After years of solid and easily recognizable liveries with Fuzzy’s, I can’t tell if the new sponsor is Autogeek or Autogreek or Autoweek. Unremarkable from most any angle, I hope they have something better in the works by the time Indy rolls around.

22 – PAG – Menards – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5 for that great 80s-90s nostalgic neon yellow look combined with the simplicity of the Penske team liveries. You’ll never not be able to remember this car and sponsor because it’s seared into your retinae. Looks like it’s moving even when standing still. 

23 – KIM – Tresiba – ✪✪✫ 2.5. To be honest, I’ve never liked the color scheme of this livery, but it does the job for standing apart and being memorable for the sponsor. Easily seen when on TV and in-person.

26 – VEA – Gainbridge – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5. I didn’t like or dislike it when I first saw it, but the more I see it, the more I like it. Easily visible are the sponsor’s name and graphical chevron branding. The blue accents work well and make this a more recognizable livery than it might be otherwise.
27 – ROS – NAPA – ✪✪✪✪ Four-Point-Oh for what I feel is the best livery in the paddock. Visually as near perfect as a livery can be on TV or in-person. Stands out and looks great at every angle. Maybe the car-parts-related sponsor is what tips this to the highest rating. The Andretti stable has a very good thing going with their team cohesion and design elements (just fore of the cockpit).
28 – RHR – DHL – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5 for a livery that looks great and instantly recognizable. Just a light bit of pizzaz away from being a 4. Maybe a third color wing accent like the Gainbridge car.
98 – AND – US Concrete – ✪✪✪✫ another 3.5 for a very good design. Sometimes a bit difficult to see on TV, it looks good in-person and the logo really pops. I may be just a bit weary of carbon-greys, other wise this could push for a higher rating.

59 – CHI – Gallagher – ✪✪✪ 3.0. More of the swoopy bits which usually make me cringe, but they’re done better on this car. Maybe it’s because the monochromatic blue scheme is attractive to my eyes and the swoops add interest where few other sponsors names/logos reside.

60 – HRV – Sirius XM – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5. As a sister car to the SPM Arrow cars, I like this livery very much and the hot purple metallic over black is a sweet look that is memorable and eye-catching. Great for sponsor exposure, however, the Sirius XM sponsor doesn’t utilize purple in their logo in anyway, so there’s a slight bit of dissonance with their use of blue. The white numbering on the purple is easier to see than on the hot pink of 2017. Nice design and great use of colors with energy and excitement.

81 – HAN – ? – No Rating. Apparently carrying over the livery from their sportscars to their Indycar, newbies DragonSpeed Racing may be using a scheme that some might associate with glory days of ABC’s Wide World of Sports when Evel Knievel used to jump rows of passenger buses wearing motorcycle leathers with a similar design. Fun! Until I see an actual picture of this livery in person or high-quality photo, I won’t rate it. There’s definitely some potential here though.

88 – HER – ? – ✪✪✫ So far not much to be seen on the livery front except that it’s apparently a change from last year. Again, a wait and see on this one. The spotter guide doesn’t offer much on their latest design so that’s what I’m looking at currently.

32 – ? – ? No rating yet for Juncos until they enter a car for a race. Apparently they’ll not be at St. Pete although judging by their previous liveries, I’ll probably like very much what the come up with.

In all, I’d have to give the overall grade for the entire field a ✪✪✪ for the variety and general good work done in designing liveries for the 2019 season of Indycar.

Feel free to add your thoughts below and thanks for reading!

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