Wake Up The Echoes

The line “wake up the echoes”, as almost everyone from the northern part of Indiana would recall, is a lyric from the Notre Dame Victory March. The line is set within a stanza implores one to recall and revive the glories past;

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame, 

Wake up the echoes cheering her name, 

Send a volley cheer on high, 
Shake down the thunder from the sky.

Growing up where I did, Notre Dame football and the Indianapolis 500 once held an unparalleled significance in both long-standing tradition and celebration on an annual basis. I still see similarities with this sentiment and the opening day at IMS.

Opening day of 500 practice reminds us of a few things that acknowledge time and place; another year has ticked by, we have indeed survived another winter (which for Northern Indiana tends to be a bleak and oppressive 4 months), the optimism of spring is well and truly beset around us, the greening of the landscape signals the onset of more comfortable climes, and the quickening of pace to all things Indiana, especially the cars at Indy. My recent visit to the Indycar Grand Prix followed by this opening day also has awoken my restful desire to write here again. 


After being at IMS this past weekend, I appreciate how I find something special each visit there. Whether recalling specific visits or events past, or how the physical grounds and surroundings change over the years, or a mixture of people, time, and place, each visit seems unique and never repetitive. This past weekend I was not only engrossed with the racing, but also noticing what’s new around the track and in the museum.

Of special note to me was the A.J. Foyt exhibit in the museum and the demolished Lola tub on display that had been saved from his horrific crash at Road America in 1990. It takes very little imagination to see what damage was done to his body in that crash.

While presented as a testament to his incredible toughness and desire to return to racing following that crash, I am also reminded of how incredibly dangerous this endeavor is, despite the ongoing improvements to safety. Maybe it’s my steadily advancing age, or the fact that I’ll be attending my 30th Indy 500 this year, or that I’ve been following the sport for around 40 of my 49 years, but the fragility of life in the profession of Indycar racing seems all the more apparent now. In light of the length of my Speedway history, Hinchcliffe’s crash still seems like yesterday to me.

There is that dark and rarely officially discussed thread of mayhem and death woven into the history of the Speedway and while there is no need to glorify it, I also feel it quite important and well overdue to more suitably, publicly, and solemnly honor, via a permanent museum place or exterior monument, all those (fans included) who have given their lives from the events within the confines of the Speedway.

There really needs to be no shame in doing so, I feel. The drivers all eagerly acknowledge this risk in trade for thrills, riches, and glory. To publicly exhibit some condolence to those who were far less fortunate seems a fitting and necessary counter-balance to the weight of glory.

Many acknowledge a ‘spirit of the Speedway’ that they experience when visiting. While difficult to substantiate in a logical way, I’ve felt it as well nearly every visit. I don’t think it a stretch to consider that something well beyond our understanding may be ‘touching’ our psyche in those moments and to me, it feels as if it is from those who are gone.

Hokey-sounding perhaps, but I can assure you something I’ve experienced, and not imagined. 

So before I succumb to the annual rites of celebration and ‘shaking down of the thunder’ that arrive with my annual trip to the Speedway for the Indy 500 weekend, I’m feeling the need to take a moment today, this opening day at IMS, in solemn reflection of those whose lives were forever altered or mortally concluded at the Speedway. 

If nothing else, I’ll take those moments when they come (much like today) to consider the lives lost at the speedway and extend into the sky/universe a solemn acknowledgement of their sacrifice.

 

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.