Life’s Too Short

“When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun, keep me in your heart for a while. There’s a train leaving nightly called, ‘when all is said and done’, keep me in your heart for a while.”

Warren Zevon

I was feeling a growing urge to post yesterday, while progressing through my day job, perhaps to counter some of the virulent takes about the Music City GP and remind people that it’s beyond time to remember that it is our duty to keep some semblance of fairmindedness with regard to most anything, and especially for a brand new event of our favorite sport, even as inauspicious as its debut may have seemed on the track. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

As my work day wound down, I scanned Twitter in anticipation of thinking of final thoughts for this post, and my countenance dropped.

The news of yesterday’s passing of longtime voice of the 500 (and so much more), Bob Jenkins was certainly unwelcome news, but in the moments following my reading of the news, it hit me harder than I might have anticipated.

Bob Jenkins, as has, and will be noted often in the coming days, was so well-regarded by so many associated with Indycar and the 500. His voice and visage were significant and instantly recognizable elements for racing fans in the U.S. who traversed the 1980s, ’90s, and beyond. More personally, what hit me was the realization that his passing also represents a significant connection to memories of my appreciation for this sport and of the hallowed grounds of Indy.

I can’t help but feel some dread in thinking about the growing frequency and volume of the people we’re losing who represent what many call the ‘Golden Age of Racing’ (I roughly place that as early-1960s to late-1980s), not only for Indycar, but for all the major racing series during that time. “Growing old sucks”, as my father used to say, “but it beats the alternative”. Alas.

There are many things to be said by people who knew him personally, and we’ll be reading them over the next several days. I never met the man, but his voice and face will forever remain some of the most key visceral memories of a time in my life and in a sport that I cherish. It means so much to me that he, as a fan first and later media-everpresent of the sport, got to witness the fourth 4-time winner at Indy this year. There are precious few races that are as significant as the one we just completed and it is fitting that he was able to appreciate that from the pagoda before he left us.

To me, it was always evident in his broadcasting style that he had to work to curtail the fanboy giddiness he must have had at being able to cover the sport he loved, such was his appreciation for Indycar and racing. It was perhaps the most endearing feature of his delivery as those of us here can certainly appreciate the depths of his enthusiasm and enjoyment.

In thinking about the race this past weekend and in thinking about Bob’s life around Indycar, I can’t imagine him saying much ill of the Music City Grand Prix and that’s not a ‘fanboy’ thing so much as it is a good thing.

Events come and go and certainly the on-track action may have been far from satisfying to some. Certainly it wasn’t easy for those in the stands who endured an extra 60 minutes of ‘not-racing’ in the midsummer Tennessee heat to maintain their initial enthusiasm, yet I felt the race overall was interesting, intriguing, and not short of drama, whether intentional or not.

(c) 2021, Chris Owens/Indycar

To the new fans and Nashvillians who attended their first race last Sunday – you could be forgiven for not entirely knowing what to make of an Indycar race. You definitely saw the better and lesser of what Indycar is. Certainly changes will be made to help reduce the on-track mayhem, but from a fan of 4 decades of this sport, it seems precious little else needs fixing, so I say your enthusiasm was and will be well-placed for this event.

The Music City Grand Prix looks to be a winner in many ways and I hope it becomes a mainstay on the schedule for many years. The city’s enthusiasm and response to this event has scarcely been equaled. I look forward to being able to join you all next year and celebrate in a city I’ve grown to know and love.

And that brings me to my final thought: As an ever-aging, and longer-time fan of Indycar, I want to express my ongoing concern of the fair-mindedness of (most everyone these days, but also) people who frequent social media. I’m proposing (as much for myself as anyone who read this) a few strategies to amplify enjoyment and reduce the ‘Legions of the Miserable’ by combatting the drive that seems to be solely to reduce other’s enjoyment of something.

  • Let’s aim to reduce the ‘hawt-taeks’ and virulent punditry that is all too prevalent these days. I know I have to work at it, and I consider myself pretty even-handed in thought. Holding off on posting may seem antithetical to the very use of social media, however, that ‘cooling-off’ time allows for one to consider positives and negatives more even-handedly (plus one gets the benefit of avoiding looking like a total spaz in thought and action).
  • Likewise, let’s aim to practice finding more things we like than things we don’t. So many of us have a very specific presence just for Indycar, why clutter up the space with negativity or corn-flake-pissing.
  • Be aware that you are in a public space. My father used to say that “your personal rights end at the tip of your nose” and I agree with that sentiment. Believe what you want, but realize that anything beyond your nose is shared space, and is not ‘yours’ (a practice scarcely seen in social media). Nothing like a worldwide airborne pandemic to underscore that point in so many ways.

Yesterday, another fan of Indycar, with whom a social media beef in this era could easily result as he is a fan of Liverpool FC, and I, betrothed to Everton, might on that basis alone scarcely treat each other with dignity. However, against all popular trends, we easily agree that to be polarized to the point of 100% all-or-nothingness is not only futile, but destructive and unnecessary.

I will 100% agree that to be all-or-nothing on anything and everything related to opinion, is a guarantee of being 100% miserable, wrong, and disliked 100% of the time.

I never expect to be agreed with, nor agree with anyone all of the time. Trying to seek that approval is an utter waste of time. So too is creating polarization (often used to drive traffic on social media).

Treat each other with respect. Be a fan. Support what you like.

Critical thought is always important, but the very nature of it requires an even-handed, open-minded, and equitable nature and approach. Analyze fairly, vote with your energy and your wallet, and forget the rest. Enjoy what you like to the fullest, realizing nothing ever has been nor will be perfect. Be like Bob Jenkins and cling gleefully to what brings you joy.

Of course we’re saddened that the train to the another realm has taken Bob Jenkins. What we haven’t lost is all he meant to IMS, Indycar, and racing in general, so let’s go back out there (everywhere) with a better appreciation of his endearing example and make a daily habit of bringing out the positives in others and the things we love.

I know each 500 raceday, in my seat at IMS in May, I take a moment to recall those who aren’t with us anymore, and now I’ll have one more to think about.

Keep things in your heart that matter most and say farewell to things that don’t.

When all is said and done, life’s too damned short to be any other way.

Catching Up with the Greatest 33 – 2021 Edition

Now with the glory of the 2021 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race firmly in the rear-view mirror, I’ve carved time to revisit my Greatest 33 and review the largest shake-up in the standings since the inception of this 10-years-old bit of bench-racing started back in 2011.

To briefly review, IMS took great pains to create a special interactive website for the 2011 100th Anniversary race, for which fans could log in and vote for their “Greatest 33” to race at Indy from the 100 or so nominees provided. The site survived for a few years, but has since been taken down. I had participated in the original, but in need of some rudimentary starting point, my desire was to devise a method to the madness, trying to maintain some framework of relative fairness. I devised a set of objective criteria based on a few statistics that I deemed important for a driver to be in the conversation of the Greatest 33. At least I’d have some basis to sift and sort through the many drivers who’ve participated in this great race. With some consternation and trial-and-error, I settled on the weighted scoring method you see here. As you may have correctly guessed, ‘just for fun’ I saved and updated a spreadsheet every year following the results of each subsequent Indy 500. In the words of John Bender from The Breakfast Club, “…so, it’s sorta social, demented and sad, but social.” Prior posts of mine on this subject can be found by searching this blog’s tags for “Greatest 33”.

Without further ado, here is the top portion of that updated spreadsheet in all of its astoundingly dispassionate and boring rows and columns.

Helio Joins Racing Royalty – With his momentous and thrilling 4th victory, Helio Castroneves graduates to the uppermost eschelon of this list, joining the three other 4-time winners atop my Greatest 33. As noted back in the 2018 recap, a significant change at the top occurs if HE-LI-O got his 4th. He vaults above the other 3-time winners, Wilbur Shaw and Bobby Unser to 4th place overall, behind Rick Mears, AJ Foyt, and Al Unser. Dare we even contemplate the possibility of the first 5-time winner? That’s too much to even consider this close to Helio’s 4th win. Even another 4-time winner is difficult to imagine in my lifetime. As unlikely as it would appear that Rutherford or Franchitti would come out of retirement to attempt to join the 4-timers club, it’s seems nearly as unlikely that we’ll see another 4-time winner from the currently active 2-time (Montoya, Sato), or 1-time winners (Dixon, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Power, and Pagenaud).

Errors Corrected – Only the most eagle-eyed/unicorn follower of my blog might notice this, but not only did Helio move up in the first three rows, but so too did Mauri Rose, from Row 4. In working this original batch of statistics, I recall originally being some what thrown off by the fact that Mauri Rose was shown by the official Indianapolismotorspeedway.com statistical drivers pages as being a two-time winner, (plus historically also one time as a co-driver with Floyd Davis in 1941). Until now I ignored/forgotten about it but with the confirmation of established 500 history buff/authority, Mike Thomsen (@thomsen419), I took the time this year to correct that error in my sheet, giving both pairs of winning drivers (Rose/Davis, Boyer/Corum) the full points accorded winners, and transferring Rose up the standings into the outside of the 3rd Row. Overall it did nothing to change the drivers named in the 33, just shuffled the order to be more accurate with the base statistics.

What about 2020? – In looking back to the foggy, labored, and generally abysmal year that was 2020, I realized I hadn’t posted about the results of the previous Indy 500, a second win for Takuma Sato. Sato-san’s second, moved him from below the cut line into the Greatest 33. All drivers with more than one win are included in my Greatest 33 currently. As with the second Montoya win in 2015, Sato moved into the Greatest 33 and in doing so, they each displaced a driver previously on my list. Montoya bumped Bobby Rahal and Sato bumped Jimmy Murphy, both one-time winners.

Intangibles, Part One – Readers of the past will recall that there are a few differences between my staid statistical listing and the graphical listing shown here. These are the subjective movements in rank that I assign based on a few variable details not accounted for in my spreadsheet. Also, for those not familiar with my particular listing, this is basically a Top 30 plus a ‘Last Row Club’ (as a nod to the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation’s ‘Last Row Party’) comprised of the best 3 to never win. I intend to maintain this format unless sufficiently cajoled otherwise. If you want a very limited edition souvenir, follow the IPCF link above and get yourself one of the most fun-spirited Indy 500 shirts available.

Intangibles, Part Two – With the weight of a 4th pole position and statistically now ranked 10th, Scott Dixon is located in 12th place behind Gordy and Mario as I feel their legend status still holds just the slightest bit more weight than Dixon. In terms of points, the three are separated by 1%, effectively now ‘three wide’ across the 4th row, I fully expect Dixon will fully overhaul them before his days are over at Indy. By the narrowest of margins, Tony Kanaan charts just one point ahead of Bill Vukovich. Much as the reasoning above though, I’ll hold the two-time legend of Vuky ahead of Kanaan, until TK ‘clears’ Vuky and ‘makes the pass’ into 16th place. As in years past, Arie Luyendyk holds one place higher than scored due to his current one- and four-lap qualifying records which are always notable and celebrated in the annals of the 500. I also expect these records will fall in the not-too-distant future and I will return him to his place between Al Unser Jr., and Dan Wheldon.

Outside Chances – Who is close to breaking into the Top 30+3? Second wins for Hunter-Reay, Power, Pagenaud, or Rossi would see them jump to the strata populated largely with two-timers in Rows 7, 8 or 9 and bump Jim Clark out. Marco is approximately 2-3 non-winning races of overtaking Rex Mays and bookending the 11th row with his father. A win for the evergreen Ed Carpenter, coupled with his long career, 3 poles, nearly 150 laps lead, and 3 top 5 finishes would bring him into the low 800-point range, surpassing Bill Holland/Billy Arnold/Jim Rathmann/Jim Clark.

Other Bits – Interestingly, perhaps, Mark Donohue ranks 66th on my list and he won with Car #66. Gil deFerran is 67th and won with car #68. Perhaps somewhere down the line a driver that wins in car #67 will settle in that 9-point gap between Donohue and deFerran, making the lore of Indy 500 numerology that much deeper for me.

For me, I enjoy the time and thought required to update and review this every year. It always seems to force me to re-evaluate drivers of the past as well as consider the currently active drivers place in the pantheon of Indy 500’s Greatest. I’d love to hear from anyone else that did this back in 2011 (or beyond) and their experience in selecting their Greatest 33.

This 500 Will Be Special

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.

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.