J.W. von Goethe and the Ever-Esoteric Indycar

There have been several treatises written by many much more skilled than I dealing with the sturm und drang surrounding Indycar and it’s TV ratings (which is oft used by media and advertising folks to indicate its relative popularity in our culture, and, in some cases, to indicate relative worth in the commercial marketplace) so I shall not attempt to add to it.

Oh, wait. I already have. Back in 2012, here. Another one of quality by our long lost comrade in Indycar arms, Pressdog, can be read here. Read those in your free time later. For now, just understand that we’ve covered much of this ground before, and reference the continually, relatively small TV ratings outside the Indy 500 as a backdrop to this post.

Today’s Indycar Word of the Day is: Esoteric

esoteric adjective es·o·ter·ic \ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik, -ˈte-rik\

1 a : designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone (a body of esoteric legal doctrine — B. N. Cardozo)
   b : requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group (esoteric terminology); broadly, difficult to understand (esoteric subjects)
2 a : limited to a small circle (in esoteric pursuits)
   b : private, confidential (an esoteric purpose)
3 : of special, rare, or unusual interest (esoteric building materials)


For this writer, attempting to express ideas through words are typically a source fun and ‘esoteric’ is among the most enjoyable for me to throw out in conversation or print. Regardless, I find this word especially useful to frame what I saw as a very good race at Long Beach last weekend. 
For a sport that is already quite esoteric, to continually heap upon the negative comparisons to the glorious past of 50 (or even 25 years ago) serves no good.

You may think you’re doing the sport a great service, but you’re not. It is pure folly and unfairly shackles the sport to something it cannot possibly be. It reminds me of a younger sibling who becomes a freshman in high school, only to continually suffer the unfair comparisons by possibly more glorious elder siblings’ friends and teachers. To have these comparisons and judgements awaiting you, before you have a chance to develop your own identity, would be highly infuriating. Perhaps you were just such a sibling and can identify with this feeling, but I digress…

My point to all this can be summed up by a quote I came across yesterday attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – influential writer, statesman, and all-round free-thinker from late-1700s/early-1800s Germany. The english translation of his quote is,

“the hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes”

What is currently (and has been for a few years) in front of our eyes is the gilding of a new group of Indycar legends. 
Yet nobody seems to care.
Scott Dixon scored his 36th career win in Indycar at Long Beach last weekend, surpassing the golden-era legend Bobby Unser, and moving to 5th all-time, a full year quicker and in 17 less starts that ‘Uncle Bobby’.  
Let that sink in for a bit.
I’m not going to attempt arguments which bring in subjective comparisons based on the sport or vehicle history – only the hardest, most basic statistics. We can certainly view them all through the lens of their time but I find it increasingly hard to say one era is better than another based on conditions of the time. Liars figure and figures lie, correct?
We are in a time when new legends such as Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais recently retireds Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy, ALL are in the top 15 in career wins.
These drivers, some of whom are permanently gone from the cockpit, or likely soon to be, are legends in their own right, yet most often we only hear and celebrate the voices of those who continually lob mortars at the sport’s façade, quite unfairly damaging this current generation of legends. The worst thing, the absolute WORST we do as fans is depreciate their status.
(c) Jeff Gritchen – OC Register
I’m making an concerted effort to eliminate the unfair comparisons with the sport’s past. The drivers of today are legends in their own right, living in the shadows of the sport’s earlier legends, yet they’ve earned the right to be treated as such. 
The subdued congratulations from TK and Helio on Sunday, seemed akin to a knowing nod that despite the weight of golden-era legends and their esoteric, nostalgic fans before them, they do understand their place in the sport’s pantheon.
If only more Indycar fans did as well.



Grounded Effects – Not so brief synopsis, Part I

This blog’s title in no subtle way references the racing car feature known as ‘ground effects’, whose significant debut at Indy coincides with my first attended race (1979), but I must back up a notch or two to the beginning of my love affair with Indy.

My first appearance at the old Speedway was not at a race, but in the spring of 1977 on a school field trip to Indianapolis.  In addition to the Children’s Museum tour, we were taken into the old speedway and shuffled through Gasoline Alley (in the month of May, no less).

I had seen a few highlights of the Indy 500 on TV, listened to the race every May on the radio, and scanned with wide eyes my father’s race programs from a few races prior.  It did nothing but fuel this young boy’s desire to see the phenomenon in person.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to see those fabled race cars (with the exception of A. J. Foyt and maybe Bobby Unser, I wouldn’t have known any of the drivers’ faces from a hot dog vendor).  

I touched Lloyd Ruby’s tire as the car was being wheeled out for practice.  He later crashed in the race and subsequently announced his retirement.  I remember wondering if there was some force in the universe that connected my touch to his crash and subsequent retirement.  Sorry, Mr. Ruby, I never meant for this to happen.  

As the bus pulled out of the Speedway that day (much too soon for my liking), I couldn’t stop looking out the back for one last look at the cars. Seconds before pulling onto 16th Street, the brightest, fastest red flash I’d ever seen in person went by with a barely recognizable 20 on the nose… Gordon Johncock. I had immediately deemed it a sign that the first car I’d ever seen at race speed would be the driver I cheered for. Gordy.  

When watching the race replay on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, I thought The Fates had conspired to favor Gordy (and myself) as he lead much of the race with his bright red machine.  Nearing the end, Gordy’s crankshaft let go coming down the front straight and a bluish-white plume of smoke erupted from his car signaling the end of his race.  I was deflated.  Here was a car and driver whose victory was all but sealed, only to have circumstances intervene and history’s path set in a different direction.  The legend that was A. J. Foyt became the first driver to win his fourth Indy 500 that day.  Again, I wondered about the relationship between my choices and misfortune toward a racer.  I determined then that events transpire more organically than to be swayed by one insignificant kid’s hopes (the near-misses, however, would be a recurring theme for the teams and athletes I would later cast favor upon). 

(Part II of Grounded Effects to follow)