Ground(ed) Effects

Indycar and general autosport opinion

I play sports as a way to get some exercise, but more as a way to challenge myself and assess my skills. I love to compete – fairly, cleanly, honestly. I play many sports for the competitive aspects or for the enjoyment of learning a sport new to me, but one sport I play simply for the fun of it is tennis. 

Currently my Monday nights are filled with a group of mixed doubles players that originated over 20 years ago. Only one of the original couples from that bunch still plays. They went from being the youngest couple at inception of this group to being the most senior couple currently playing. I’ve been playing with this bunch for about 9 years and am now in the upper half of ages now.

I find myself most excited about chasing down impossible ‘gets’ and returning them, to the dismay of my most-often younger opponents. It’s a part of my DNA apparently, or perhaps I was a Golden Retriever in a previous life and chasing tennis balls is a purely joyful exercise.

Last night was no exception. As my partner and I attacked the net, I anticipated their lob over her and began to track back behind her. Their crisply-struck baby-lob just cleared my partner’s racquet, dropped gently in the back of our court, and was headed away from me. I gave chase and managed at full-tilt to just flick a shot back over my shoulder feeling like it was just solid enough to return to the opponent’s side of the court.

Now is where being the elder and trying a bit too hard became a liability.

My momentum from the all-out sprint, carried me well-beyond the back of the court, and in trying to extend myself fully to get a racquet to the ball, and losing balance, stumbled slightly which did not allow me to slow myself properly before hitting the chainlink fence behind the court. I still have a picture in my head of what I saw right before impact. 

There was a millisecond of silence after the ball left the strings and… >BANG<

I managed to collide with the fence right at a vertical post. With my face. My arms all splayed about trying to complete the list of things, perhaps in the wrong order (flicking the racquet into position for a shot, keeping my balance, protecting my face from the impending impact, etc.). Nevertheless, I quickly recovered to see that the ball was still in play, on the opposite side of the court, being easily volleyed away and we lost the point. 

It hurt.

I still have cuts and abrasions on my forehead and nose… and knee… and elbow… and cheek from the things I saw right before impact. The greatest pain found however, was my bruised ego.

Illuminated for me in an instant was a much more important point that wasn’t tallied in this contest – sometimes trying too hard is not in fact beneficial to the overall result.

It reminded me that what happens in an Indycar isn’t terribly dissimilar, only on a much more severe magnitude.  When I realized that it is, in fact, within my nature to chase things from a nearly-impossible position. I knew that this is a trait which is the precise opposite of what is required to drive an Indycar successfully. 

No driver I’ve ever seen in Indycar has said that they got more out of the car that it gave them. Drivers are instructed quickly very bad things happen when you try that.

Not that I could ever, but I think as Indycar fans, we all harbor the slightest illusion or fantasy of driving and Indycar at race speeds around IMS. Guess what? If you’re reading this, it’s likely in the extreme that you can’t. In fact, pretty close to none of us can do it. Maybe a late-comer to feeling like I have enough evidence to believe this, but far too many people (an many newcomers to Indycar who comment on the live practice feeds) don’t understand the difficulty of racing an Indycar at IMS around such a ‘boring’ oval.

I’ve even been fortunate enough to have done the two-seater ride and the single-seater ride at IMS. According to what I was told, my gear-limited top speed driving myself was approximately 149 mph. On the straights it was thrilling.  In the corners it was really quite overwhelming to the senses. And this was only approximately at 60% of what the current drivers experience, NOWHERE near the limits of adhesion that they deal with every corner of every high-speed lap. It was a bit of a eye-opener for me, realizing that there is something I could never physically or mentally do.

Not without smashing into a fence at some point anyway.

So, while watching these drivers on TV, try to realize that what appears quite like a simple Sunday drive around a simple four-turn course, isn’t, and is something you most likely will never be able to. Appreciate the subtleties of high-speed oval racing.

Even if you can’t see them, understand they’re there and that because they make it look easy, should indicate just how great these drivers are.

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