News Update and The Greatest 33 Revisited – 2017

Firstly, I’ll address the post-Pole Day Monday news which is in various parts disturbing, sad, and hopeful. Following those notable items, I’ll forward the lesser, pithy bits I had already planned for this space today.


From the “Sad is the news from Italy” department, Kentucky native son and racer at IMS during the Moto GP days, succumbed to his injuries received after automobile collided with him in Italy as he was physically training on a bicycle. He was noted by racers of all types as a great racer and equally good person. My only witness to his skills was a demonstration lap at the Indy 500 in 2008 and I will never forget the sensation of seeing and hearing what moved and sounded much like an Indycar, but terrified to see it was only a diminutive man on a motorcycle absolutely flying by us in a colorful flash on the main straight. I’d never seen anything so fast and so exposed in my life. Here’s a video of that demonstration shot by a person nearly directly across from our seats. Thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time. 


In a hopeful bit of news, a reported successful surgery to repair multiple fractures of Seb Bourdais’ pelvis and a hip bone sustained in one of the most violent collisions with the Turn 2 wall ever seen at IMS, see the driver already beginning the long healing process which will keep him out of the rest of the Indycar and Sports Car seasons this year. Blessings to Seb, his family, and friends for the prognosis.


And finally from the “I guess we’ll say they’re fortunate but this is really disturbing” department, yesterday’s 101st Indy 500 Pole Winner Scott Dixon, his wife Emma Dixon, and pal Dario Franchitti were the victims of an armed robbery while attempting to secure some delicious trappings from the West 16th Street Taco Bell Sunday evening. Thankfully, they weren’t physically harmed and the suspected culprits are in custody.

And now, the post, that post was meant to be today…

(drum roll, regal trumpet fanfare)


The Greatest 33, Revisited – 2017 Pre-race Edition!

If you recall, back in 2011 IMS produced a Greatest 33 feature on their website , allowing fans to review over 100 drivers of the Indy 500 and create their very own Greatest 33. Eager to create my own, I spend many an hour developing a format and formulae for scoring and ranking drivers. Even made a blogpost or two or three about it for which you can still read today. I enjoy updating this list after qualifying and after the race each year to see how it changes.

One thing that is abundantly clear to me, and as I’ve noted before, is how we’re in a second golden age of Indycar driving talent. Not quite the immense shadow cast of the original Golden Generation of Indycar racing, but still, a very stout and talented bunch whose depth of skills encompass a variety not matched by any other driving series on the planet.  They are also those whose time before us in a car sadly grows shorter all the time.

Listed here is my spreadsheet which processes for me, my vision (a blend of longevity, skill, and consistent performance) of what my Greatest at Indy requires. Of course wins count heavily and their value is of greatest importance, however I reserve the last row (11) of my Greatest 33 for the three best drivers to never have won, at the expense of some 1-time winners but those lacking other major accomplishments in comparison.

Following the results of yesterday’s Pole Day qualifying, Here are the current rankings: 


Currently, 7 Indy 500 winners are actively in play for the 101st Indy 500, and 9 active drivers rank in the Top 80 here. Most notably perhaps are the greats of this era who have steadily risen in this ranking and have certainly made their mark on the Speedway in the last 20 years. Helio, 
Dario, Iceman, TK, and Montoya, Solidly in the Top 25 all-time for me and all of which spent (except the 1999 race of Montoya) their Indy 500 careers racing against each other. Should Hunter-Reay add a second 500 to his legacy, he would join the other 5 in the Top 25 at Indy. That’s a pretty strong representation of this era through the lens of statistics at Indy.

Not only are those greats closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, but there is an excellent crop of young talent ready to make their permanent mark as well.

Largely graduates from the assorted ladder series both domestic and foreign, the young guns enrich the overall talent, making the depth of fields quite impressive.
Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Newgarden, Hildebrand, Kimball, Munoz, Carpenter, Daly, and Marco Andretti, all came up through the modern ladder and their notable longevity is also a testament to the good work being done in developing talent for Indycar. Often drivers who arrive from another major series are looked at as outsiders, but I find they truly add nothing but spice to the simmering recipe of American Open-Wheel Racing and I’m grateful for their added flavor. Bourdais, Sato, Rossi, and now Alonso are excellent drivers and only add to the depth of greatness that we see today.

So while you sit back and take in the 101st Indy 500 this coming Sunday, don’t forget that no matter the outcome, no matter who becomes the latest to add their likeness to the Borg-Warner, be they young or old, you’re witnessing true racing titans of our era, comparable in many ways to the Golden Era of the 1960s and 70s. 

Appreciate it, because it sure doesn’t come around very often.

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.



End of Season Thoughts, Part 2


3. Indycar is a niche sport. We fans may not like the sound of that statement but it alas, is true and until the people who run it understand this, it will continue to flail about until exhaustion and ultimately drown. Indycar has always had a small (relative to the stick and ball sports) legion of devotees but the total size of the crowd (literally until TV coverage), was based on this legion plus whatever casual observers would be intrigued. Instead of trying to ‘grow’ the sport through sheer mass exposure and hoping some come along, I contend it needs to grow by providing a means to better experience the racing product and by giving the casual observer something to be interested in. The first must be done through better television production and viewing.  The second comes from thoughts which can be summed up by Peter DeLorenzo (an example of which can be found here) on making Indycar a viable product of interest to casual viewer. By involving them more directly through Indycar returning to represent a true ‘car of tomorrow’ and incubate new technolgies on the racetrack, the general public would be clamoring to see Indycars again and thereby what may lie ahead for their next purchase in the showrooms. 

4. Indycar has one of the best hardcore fan bases of any sport. You all know who you are.  You’d know a ’67 Lotus Turbine from a ’70 Lotus Turbine in with a scant glance at the two.  You know the venerable Offy had only 4 cylinders that produced the power of many contemporary V-8s.  You know the importance of the ’61 Cooper Climax and the ’73 Eagle and the ’79 Chaparral.  You’ve seen Johncock hold off Mears, Helio climb the fence and Sandi Andretti’s hat.  Indycar is about an overwhelming combined experience of sights, sounds, smells, and what’s felt which produces indelible marks on our brains. Dearest Keepers of Indycar, please don’t forego understanding what this sport means to us. We are the few and proud devotees who just wish for a return to a product that actually means something to people. Racing used to = an experience and progress, not the inverse of that formula.

More thoughts to come…