It Is Finished

and after receiving the tweet, DZ said, “it is finished”, 
bowed his head and gave up his spirit

Based on a brief interaction with long-time Indycar tweeter, and even longer-time Indycar fan @stevewittich, I was harshly snapped from my mid/late-season Indycar and ambivalent blogging funk to post my thoughts today.

Here’s that interaction…

Here’s what I thought immediately following.. 

The time has come for Hulman/IMS to divest 
itself totally from the business of running Indycar. 

I understand fully the Hulman Companies position and myopic desire to ‘hold’ the property of Indycar, especially through May 2016 (the 100th Race) but I honestly believe a strong and significant argument can be made that the previous 19 years of history shows a constant decline of, and inability in, tending to the business of the top level of American Open Wheel Racing.  

All the while, IMS as a facility and property has done just fine thank you very much, and to me, the stark contrast between the entities of IMS and Indycar over the last 19 years indicates that the management of those two entities under the current roof is not tenable in any form.  I’m thrilled as a native Hoosier and longtime fan of the hallowed grounds that IMS as a landmark racing facility has improved so steadily and mightily, but the product that is Indycar is not in the hands of the people who can make it grow.  The time is now for Hulman and Company to release Indycar into the hands of people with a vested interest, ability, and desire to make it grow, without the distraction of associated and conflicting interests.

This got me thinking about the fair bit I’ve been reading about Dan Andersen and his acquisition of the entire Mazda Road To Indy ladder series. Dear Dan, if you are listening, it’s me, DZ…

I’m sure his plate is overflowing with all the challenging goodness that F2000, Star Mazda, and now Indy Lights currently hold, but if there’s anyway you could see fit to be involved in obtaining Indycar from its current overseers, I think we’d really have something of major value, structure, form, and energy to begin a terrific new jumping-off point for the next chapter of Indycar. 

I’d like to write a ‘thank-you’ note something like this around my 50th birthday, approximately 4 years from today…

Dear Mr. Andersen,

It is with great happiness that I celebrate my 50th year of existence this week and also my 40th year as a fan of Indycar.  I think it goes without saying just what an immense job you have done with our great sport of American Open Wheel Racing and I speak for many who hold you in the highest regard.  

All the options created by the diversity and technology you’ve harnessed in the new chassis and motor rules have made Indycar not just interesting to the manufacturers, but vital to gaining the rabid interest of fans and sponsors, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the ’80s.

Now, to have completely obtained and reshaped the Indycar ladder and positioned it for tremendous growth as you have, I am ever-hopeful the sport we all love will continue to grow and prosper as it has under your guidance for future generations. 

Many thanks Dan! You’ve given this 50-year-old fan the best Indycar present he could ask for.

And now, my blog must rest again. 

To sleep, perchance to dream…

Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning’s End

(This post was written on the last day of April, 2013 and, after 2 days of reflection and consideration, was posted)

Tomorrow represents the figurative upswing of momentum and acceleration in Indycar toward the Memorial Day weekend classic and what I still believe is the single greatest of all auto races, The Indianapolis 500. 

Before the clock strikes midnight and May begins, however, I take this remaining time in April and mark my final day of unvarnished opinion of the current state of Indycar until further notice. There is precious little to say that hasn’t already been said by myself or others if one bothers to read and, as my blog is not monetized (requiring steady and popular content), I choose to not add unnecessary noise… after today.  I plan to post in the future with most everything being nostalgic bits from the past I find worth savoring and sharing.

Today will be a summation of my thoughts on various subjects regarding the current state of Indycar. If you disagree vehemently with my opinions today, be assured you won’t see them rehashed in the future, and likewise, if you agree with some or all of what I’ve said, bookmark it for future reference, but I won’t continue to preach to the choir.

Preamble – Noting that I have no personal, first-hand experience on the inner workings of Indycar, Indycar teams, racecraft, race engineering, or race event promotion, except for what I’ve experienced from the end customer’s (fan’s) perspective since my early exposures as a kid in the mid-1970s, my writing is based in observations that attempt at best to be even-handed from my volume of experience as a fan, as information to used for the betterment of the sport, if possible.

Past – I doubt anyone will argue with the thought that the essence of Indycar (as also with many other autosports) has changed immensely over the last 50 years. Since 1911, as a standalone event, and later with a related racing series growing up around it (Midget/Sprint/Championship Cars), the Indy 500 and the Speedway has always garnered the most attention in the world of open-wheel racing. 

Initially, as a working laboratory for the automotive industry, IMS and the Indianapolis 500 evolved during the 1930s – 1950s from oddity to grandiose public sporting event with worldwide fame.  Many people paid money for the opportunity to see something they haven’t before. Most likely what they were paying to see (or actually saw) was a combination of competitive auto technology, amazing speeds, celebratory outings, sensory-overloading race action, and some even watching the perilous dance done by drivers with death. Out of this, the drivers who managed to survive and somehow even win races, became American folk legends. The drivers who won frequently became legends and icons of automotive sport. The general public swooned.

As traits from the past changed, gone are the days of competitive technologies, speeds that amaze, and, at Indy, the significant threat of horrific death. New traits emerged – tightly-regulated, limited-cost competition, a 20-year plateau in racing speeds, and the level of daring tempered with the likelihood of severe injury or death reduced significantly. Most of this evolution was absolutely necessary and needed on a permanent basis. Fairly sanitized, now people primarily come to the 500 out of tradition, to celebrate an annual memory, or to simply be at a world-class sporting event. 

Present – Today’s Indycar has an inherent dichotomy of appreciation between the popular and savage past and the evolved and refined present. The gap in these divergent viewpoints has only been widened over time, but I believe the best of both are needed to survive. Today’s reality is that lagging ticket sales and anemic TV ratings indicate a product that isn’t nearly as popular as it once was. Indycar as a business exists somewhere closer to Hunger Games than salad days. 

As recently evidenced, the associated sponsor exposure dollars that follow ratings, ticket sales, and client entertainment don’t stay around out of tradition for very long, therefore we have precious little time for reconciliation to produce a better future.

Future – Can there be a solution that satisfies all constituents? I believe so and in my view, clearly understanding and providing what people want or expect to see from your product is the key to it thriving.  The only question of importance then becomes, “what do people want or expect to see from Indycar”. In answering that question, the key to best securing a future will be found.  So often here the temptation is to look to the past, to the salad days, and replicate that today. Clearly if it were that simple, nothing need have changed before and the current problems would not exist so that argument is fallacious.  Also tempting is to copy the closest, most-currently successful model but will that also translate to the audience of Indycar?  Again likely not or there would have not already been a differentiation in product existing. 

It is my opinion, as a fan for nearly 40 years, the enduring essence of Indycar from inception, hallmarked throughout it’s most popular days, and recalled into the present can be summed in one word – innovation.

Innovation can be defined as ‘the introduction of something new’. It is a very broad term, but also one with much appeal in (and some might say it is synonymous with) this country. The very essence of this country is tied to innovation – from something as broad as bringing a new form of government into the world to the most minuscule of modern products for living. Improving things and methods is a rather optimistic view in my opinion in that people work and desire to see improvement for present and future generations.

Innovation in Indycar can be symbolized by the very vehicle itself. Autosport already exists in many forms with numerous sorts of rules and competition but by giving the public truly innovative and amazing vehicles and technology to witness and can’t find anywhere else, will you be able to capture the imagination of a nation of people for whom innovation is essential. 

How can Indycar use this national raison d’être for its own benefit seems rather easy. Of course the devil is always in the details, but without a more broad, unified vision and direction, the details become fiendish distractions that waste the time and energy of those engaged in the business. Only with a unified vision for the sport can an opportunity for its future be assured. 

I implore all those involved charged with the sport and business of Indycar to use that essence of what made this country to your own benefit.  With innovation as the escalator to greater altitudes, don’t be content to simply ride, but boldly climb with a purpose and direction.Remake this thing into the image of what made this country, the facility of IMS, and the Indianapolis 500, famous. Without the survival of the sport as a whole, no more can there be an Indianapolis 500, an Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Make it something with which people and businesses want to associate. Make it a sport that captures the imagination and interest of generations of people. 

I challenge you, overseers of the sport of Indycar, to boldly remake this endeavor into THE pre-eminent form of autosport in the world. 

I believe it can be done.

Be bold. You need to believe it can be done.

If you do not, the game is already over.

Jay Penske Redux and post-Election Diatribe

What was that?! Oh no… another post with “Redux” in the title.

A recapitulation of a previous post. Another lazy-assed post by a lazy-assed blogger.

Hard to argue, but after reading the details of the Jay Penske civil suit against Lotus by Marshall Pruett, I couldn’t help but have this ‘haven’t we heard this before?’ feeling.  

As my tens of readers will attest, I sometimes deal with emotional situations by making a parody song fit into the world of Indycar.  Pippa Mann was the most recent recipient back in March of this year.

I also had made a song about Jay Penske in April of 2011. When it seems all this guy wants to do is field an Indycar team, circumstances conspire to make it as difficult as possible for him.  In the words of Mister Calhoun Tubbs, “Wrote a song ’bout it. Liketohearit?hereitgo..”

Now that you’ve re-elected me to Indycar blogger of North-central Indiana region, I wish to address some issues related to our fair sport…  
*guzzles double-shot of whiskey… deep breath*…  Okay.

– The Cars: 
NO the cars aren’t the beasts they used to be in the 70s and 80s, and NO they most likely never will be again. Get over it already. There are two good reasons that these days are gone forever… money (the lack thereof) and liability (the abundance of it). 

The question of “How fast do you want to go?” will always be answered with the question, “How much money do you have to spend?” Even the supposed highest heights of worldwide automotive excellence (F1) have to set some restrictions and you now have a modified form of restricted racing. The days of ‘unlimited budgets’ are gone. Unlimited racing doesn’t exist. What’s left is the perceived level of performance relative to the technology of the day. For the record, NASCAR, while quite popular, I still consider a form of racer-tainment, not racing. It’s more about the drama of the various characters and interactions (off- and on-track). Often compared to Professional Wrestling with good reason, Pro Rasslin’ and NASCAR have for many years not been about the technical aspects as much as the character drama presented.

When the sport of open-wheel racing was at it’s peak, people often got killed in racing cars. They still do, albeit much less frequently, and racers have always signed up for a occupation which is dangerous in the extreme, but when fans get injured, maimed, and even killed, that’s when the ‘shit gets real’. To add ever-increasing power and speed and danger to vehicles and place them in relative close proximity to thousands of fans is not asking the question of “if?” but “when?”.  One way of mitigating this is to beg plead and promise the insurance companies and leagues that as venues, they’re doing all they reasonably can to protect the spectators. Making the cars more dangerous and faster is doing the exact opposite and endangering the lives of drivers, crews, and fans alike. Quite honestly, you can print all the warnings and disclaimers on ticket stubs you like, the venue, league, teams, drivers, and hot dog vendors will be named in the litigation. Let’s face it, without venues, we have no racing.

– The Venues:
I’m going to say that last bit again. Without venues, we have no racing. Venues must make money to survive. Racing venues trade danger and speed and perceived competition for your money and the right to see it at their place. They also have massive liability and the job of pleasing thousands of people at each event. I honestly think you must a fair bit nuts to want to own and run any sports venue let alone one made specifically for racing. When people pay money to an event, they want to see something they can’t see anywhere else and can’t on TV. With TV in this age, there is precious little the viewer doesn’t see or isn’t made aware of via graphics and statistics. 

For racing, I believe the ‘Event’ is the event and there must be more than the action on the track, especially when the action is diluted for the perceived safety of all. The Indy 500 is an example of that. It is one tremendous event, and the perception of a world-class event makes it a world-class event.

– The Product:
You may note I’ve used the word ‘perception’ several times. ‘Perception’ is roughly defined as ‘what we believe we engage’. When we believe something is great, we vote with our $$ to support it. Likewise in reverse. Perception of ‘greatness’ and ‘amazing’ and ‘forward’ usually is rewarded by the eager onlookers of the public (and then sponsors eager to gain attention of the onlookers) with showers of money. Indycar as a series has lacked a perception of greatness for somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 years. Perhaps there was really nowhere else for it to go but down from the heights achieved in the 70s and 80s. I contend that it was as much a function of the loss of the greatest names from the greatest era of Indycar, in a span of 24 months as all other factors combined. Yes, the split was a huge factor as well, yet the without this loss of these great names so rapidly, I believe the split doesn’t go down as it did.

I see one way the fans will perceive Indycar racing as great again (not merely ‘good’ or ‘good enough’, but great) and make them pour out money to see it. By giving the people something they cannot see anywhere else AND giving them something they haven’t seen before, Indycar has a great opportunity to leap back into relevance. What that is, is for the Owners of Indycar to discern through major market study and analysis. What I believe the public is ready for is what I like to call.. brace yourselves… Ultimate Efficiency.  

The ‘quest for speed’ days are over. Been there. Been to the edge and back. Think of Indycar much like the Apollo program – there were failures and amazingly great successes in the Apollo program (at immense expense also) and we barely got out of Apollo 13 without suffering an incredible disaster with the whole world watching. Somehow, Indycar has survived the most dangerous, most reckless times relatively unscathed and now it’s time to find a better way. A new threshold that I believe can capture the imagination of the public however is the pursuit of Ultimate Efficiency. So many products in this day and age have gone from power- and size-based values to efficiency-based value. How efficient can our propulsion systems be? What is the most efficient form of propulsion? Who will have the next amazing idea that will spur on automotive technologies?  How far and how fast can we go 500 miles on limited amounts of energy input? 

Those answers, I believe, should be answered in the form of the new INDYCAR series. Yes, folks, the new INDYCAR. The series and sport as we currently see it (much as I like it) is a dead-end, we’re just waiting to hit the wall to be sure at this point. That wall may be 9, 10, or 11, 14, or 19 years away… no matter. If INDYCAR wants to be proactive and create something to supply the demand of an intrigued public (and future fans) for the next 50 years, I see the open world of multiple forms of propulsion and high-efficiency as the basis of what future fans of people will want to see.  I’m talking about combustible fuels of all sorts, electricity, hydrogen, solar, hot air, flux capacitors, whatever.  Establish a relative unit of energy for these various types of energy usage and set a limit for a given distance to be achieved through a vehicle with specified limits on dimension, weight, coeffcient of drag, and including a standard driver safety cell. Whoever can do it within the energy limit and do it the fastest, wins.

I happen to think that when you engage all the right people in the process of creating an inventive and engaging product (the world’s inventing and manufacturing companies of propulsion systems, and to a lesser degree aerodynamics, suspensions, wheels, tires, etc.), I see them pouring money into the sport and creating a product that engages the public immensely.  The demand for personal mobility vehicles will never go away, it just changes over time.  A glimpse of the future is what the public wants to see. When that future-looking public is engaged, the sponsors will be there, the media will be there, and the money will be there.

IS INDYCAR the platform? I would like it to be. I would like INDYCAR to honor the history and tradition of innovation that built the sport. That innovation is what drove the people’s imagination and desire. Innovation is what created the legendary vehicles (both great and not-so-great) and legendary pilots who drove them. 

Involving innovation (primarily through propulsion forms) is the ONLY way I see the sport of auto-racing surviving beyond the next 20 years.

Or do you think I’m waaaaay off-base? I’d love for you to read this diatribe, digest it a bit, and tell me what you honestly think.  I’m a big boy, I can take it.

Missed It By THAT Much…

As the cloud of excitement and ethanol and rubber and sunburn fades into memory, I can say without question that the 2011 Indy 500 was among the best 10% of races.  The last 35 laps were nothing short of classic sporting drama and, as Steph at More Front Wing so eloquently stated, without the information fed by a scanner or TV coverage, one never knew where all the players stood with regard to fuel, speed, and handling which made the closing laps all the more exciting to watch from the stands and every few laps of the closing 15 presented a new leader.

I must admit to feeling fairly clairvoyant with regard to the race winner predictions 6 days prior to the race. I then noted a predilection for the winner to be from a one-off team overcoming the day’s dominance of team Target (who would befall some late-race misfortune) and win his second Indy 500 ring…  Sound vaguely familiar?  Where the prediction misses the mark is which one-off driver would win. I had Buddy Rice but history would show Dan Wheldon to be that driver in Victory Circle.

My Top 10 was a bit off, but still the overall theme was nearly right on. As for the weekend and raceday enjoyment, it was nearly unparalleled in the 24 different races I’ve been (’79, ’80, ’88-’96, ’99-current).  Definitely in the Top 5 of races I’ve witnessed first-hand with 1992, 1979 (my first), 2006, and 1989.

Time will tell just how important this race was, but with the fantastic weather, pomp and circumstance on ’11’, complete stadium silence at Taps, our good friend Mister Jim Nabors, exciting racing with a finish to be long-remembered, it certainly has all the hallmarks of one of the greats.

We can also take a deep breath, and begin to look forward. 

Only 360 days to the Indy 500…