Speaking of Memorials

“…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.

A May Unlike Any Other

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.

One More Year

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.


2020 To-do List #1 – Update Racing Calendar

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.