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.

One More Year

Bleary-eyed, in the ever-earlier darkness of morning, after dutifully shutting off my phone alarm clock, I gathered myself for another day in the COVID-19 era, and scanned my personal email.

Surprisingly (and one email that really shouldn’t have), I saw my annual fees to WordPress.com were automatically paid. While there have been numerous opportunities to project my opinions outwardly here, it’s more generally been an anemic year for my blog as numerous things in my three-dimensional world conspire to retain my interest instead of my Indycar and racing musings to my tens of fans. Maximize the value of my annual expense, I did not.

In actuality, that number is likely to be in the single-digits by now. Pretty dismal showing after 10 years and 350 days of blogging.

Slacking on Indycar posting isn’t a new condition for this writer, but it has been amplified with the hodge-podge season of 2020 Indycar racing in combination with viral disease or other uncertainties. I certainly don’t envy being in either position of racing sanction or facility or team owner, for whom so often we armchair critics assail. At any rate, we all press on in hope of better times and safer futures around the corner.

As for the 2020 Indycar season, it could very well go down as one of the most underrated seasons in history. It’s perhaps forgivable to consider it a mere throwaway of a season, with the lack of fans in attendance, constantly-jumbled schedule, massive uncertainties of the crown jewel Indy 500, and general lack of any sort of rhythm and general purpose. Trying to maintain a balanced view toward things, we must resist to temptation to toss aside this season as wasted. 2020 will without doubt be notable for several reasons in the annals of Indycar history, with positives to be taken along with the glaring downside, but on balance I see it as a net positive.

What follows in this and three subsequent posts will be a summary review of the 2020 Indycar season.


January

  • Penske Corporation completes the acquisition of the Hulman-George family businesses including IMS and Indycar which had been run by the Hulman-George family since Anton Hulman’s purchase of the Speedway in November 1945.
  • John Andretti passes away from long cancer battle and is honored with a ceremonial lap around IMS in his funeral procession.
  • The successful Road To Indy ladder is set to celebrate it’s 10th season.

February

  • A spate of exciting new driver, new sponsor, and new venue announcements grows the anticipation for the 2020 season and the first of the Penske era.
  • The aeroscreen becomes the focus of new testing for all teams in preparation for the new season. Increased cockpit temperatures are noted to be the primary focus for improvement prior to the season start.

March

  • All momentum for the 2020 Indycar season slows dramatically as COVID-19 expands its reach, creating uncertainty for gatherings of people. Spring sporting events are a major concern for spread of the deadly virus, cancelling or postponing famed events such as the NCAA basketball tournament and The Masters.
  • On the eve of the St. Pete race, March 13th, the Indycar series and the Road To Indy ladder series officially cancels all races through April due to virus concerns. The planned 2020 schedule begins to unravel and uncertainty in the Indycar community spreads rapidly, including the Indy 500.
  • Indycar, in an attempt to provide fans, teams, sponsors, and a TV audience with some form of Indycar presence, shows welcome ingenuity by quickly establishing a mini-series of several Virtual Simulation races via iRacing, featuring actual Indycar and other top-flight drivers including fan-favorite and recovering-from-severe-spinal-injury Robert Wickens racing online. Sage Karam wins the inaugural event, run at the virtual Watkins Glen, the venue chosen through fan voting.
  • It becomes clear that the risk and effects of dealing with the COVID-19 era won’t be ending anytime soon. More ingenuity will be required to not lose this season.

April

  • More virtual racing and real-life schedule gymnastics dominate the calendar. A revised series schedule is released featuring double-headers at Iowa and Laguna-Seca, and a brand new event – The Harvest GP at IMS.
  • Indycar and its partners impress with their quick responses and fortitude in not abandoning the season altogether.
  • Virtual racing continues at Barber, Michigan, Motegi, Circuit of the Americas, and lastly at IMS kicking off the most unusual Month of May.

Coming in the next post, a very strange and surreal Month of May.


How A Mid-January Dinner recalls my first Indy 500

Lake-effect Winter Satellite Image (c) Wikipedia Commons

January and February in northern Indiana is sometimes referred to as “character-building” season.

Given the proximity to the Great Lakes, and Lake Michigan in particular, this time of year seems hopelessly lost in a cold, hazy-grey arctic embrace that recalls a seven-year-old’s unwanted holiday hug from an over-perfumed, slightly-frightening aunt that hasn’t seen you since you “were thiiiis tall”. You’re going to get that embrace regardless and to feign appreciation for the once-a-year relationship is to have nearly given up hope on better circumstances altogether.

So it goes with Indycar (or any other warm-seasoned activity) appreciation and winter in northern Indiana.

A generation ago, the phrase “he’s a real character” was a slightly derisory description, if not an outright warning, to others for someone who has a penchant for shenanigans. This is not the type of “character” that gets built during this season, however there may be a corollary with the term “cabin-fever” that I’ll not probe today.

During “character-building” season, with the exterior temps chilling our bodies, we often look to warm ourselves from the inside and a heaping bowl of chili amid the depths of a January evening is a rather suitable dinner. I did just that last night. My wife assembled the chili and cornbread which is now a staple food of our winters. Lower on bean count, higher on diced tomatoes, onions, and beef (sorry vegetarian/vegan/keto friends), it is a treasured little family mix that never fails to satisfy. When I saw the spent box of Jiffy cornbread mix on the counter, I was briefly whisked away to warmer days and my first Indy 500 in 1979.

The #46 Sherman Armstong entry for the 1979 Indianapolis 500 Mile Sweepstakes was a used Wildcat-Offy slated for 5-year veteran of Atlantics and Super-Vees, Howard “Howdy” Holmes. Howdy was a fairly accomplished young driver of the American open-wheel ladder whose liveries most often carried the family business brand – Jiffy Mixes of the Chelsea Milling Company, in Chelsea, Michigan. Although I’ve yet to confirm the fact, I’m fairly certain that Mr. Holmes has also shared the magic of chili and cornbread together in his locale of Michigan which would also be subject to lake-effect winters.

(c) IMS Archives

Just like Howdy, my first Indy 500 was in 1979 and the sensations of that day are still palpable to me as I’ve written about previously in this blog. Also easy for me to recollect was my pure and naïve disbelief in my father’s assertion that this car (the #46) was sponsored by a baking mixes company.

He assured me in his factual knowledge, and I was equally inclined to not believe him for all of racing is to be filled only with the stuff of rugged relation – automotive parts, petroleum companies, cigarettes, and beer. Even Janet Guthrie had a Texaco car. Surely my father was incorrect and a baking mixes company couldn’t adorn the front of one of the fastest 33 cars in the greatest race in the world. To whom could they possibly be advertising – these ne’er-do-wells populating the interior of the racetrack?

Certainly not.

Of course at some point, I had to take my father’s serious and insistent word and I found myself looking for that car all day long. It was also part of two-car stable entered by Sherm Armstrong so the liveries were fairly easily tracked – the #44 of Tom Bigelow and the #46 of Howdy Holmes were primarily black with larger white numbers and a smaller yellow and orange trim stripe. The broad nose of Howdy’s Wildcat was easy spot at a distance and so I was able to follow him all day.

Howdy’s career at Indy is notable. His performance in 1979 – 13th starting position (only rookie to qualify), and 7th place finish only bettered by the likes of Mears, Foyt, Mosley, Ongais, Bobby Unser, and Johncock, garnered him the Rookie of the Year honors. His performance allowed him to follow up a month later at Pocono for another 500-miler, starting and finishing a very notable 7th.

For 1980, he was brought on full-time for the team and was slated to help develop their new Orbiter ‘ground-effects’ type chassis. A detailed first-person article exists of that rather fascinating story here.

Howdy Holmes, Armstrong Orbiter Chassis, (c) unknown

Success came in waves for Howdy as he moved from team to team. He left the Armstrong Mould (AMI) racing team after 1980 and did not participate in Indycar racing altogether in 1981. For 1982, Howdy joined up with the brand new Doug Shierson Racing Team as the original driver of the now-famous #30 Domino’s Pizza livery through 1983.

Howdy had a very respectable and rather consistently-performing career in Indycars including a career best finish of 2nd at Phoenix and barely a month later, started middle of the front row at Indy in 1984 for Mayer Racing, back with the Jiffy Mix livery/sponsorship in a current March-Cosworth. He moved to Forsythe Racing with the Jiffy Mix brand in a 1985 Lola-Cosworth.

Passing on the 1986 and 1987 seasons, Howdy returned for one more season with Jiffy Mixes and Morales Racing in 1988, again racing a current March-Cosworth, finishing his career with the 26th and final career Top 10, finishing 8th at Tamiami Park.

1988 – Howdy Holmes March Cosworth, (c) IMS archives

According to ChampCarStats.com, Howdy’s career in the top-flight of open-wheel racing in America is rather notable for his considerable ability to finish higher than he started and on the variety of tracks presented by CART in the mid-1980s. Of his 82 career Indycar starts, he only lost places from his starting position 1 in 4 races. The record shows that most often, those drops were less than 5 positions. He finished in the top-10 in 26 of 82 starts.

After his retirement from racing, he returned to Chelsea Milling Company, authored a book on motorsports technology, formed a motorsports marketing and advertising firm, and eventually replaced his father as President and CEO of Cheslea Milling, where he still works today.

So, if you ever find yourself in the depth of winter, heading into the supermarket eyeing up the corn muffin mixes to match up with your chili or a cupcake mix for your next Indycar watch party, don’t forget about the endearing Indycar driver Howdy Holmes, and his family’s Jiffy mix.

Much Ado About Liveries

What is it about liveries that adds to the enjoyment of auto racing?

If you’re anything like me, when an off-season wanes and a new season approaches, I appreciate any and all visual coverage of pre-season activity. New images are the desperately-needed salve from the abrasively long off-season. While the sounds from video clips are often familiar and quite welcome, one thing changes more frequently than any other piece in our autosport appreciation – the livery.

During the recent IMSA Roar Before the 24, dutifully placed in the first week of the new calendar year, North American racing fans get their first glimpses of new sports car liveries in action. Often this time of year will include new pronouncements of sponsors and drivers and promotional plans for the upcoming season. Sports cars provide a generally larger substrate for design and history shows us how memorable and popular those can be.

When I say “Silk Cut Jaguar” or “Audi R10 TDi” or “Gulf Oil Porsche 917” or “Mazda 787”, immediately images of a famous and often race-winning livery pop into my head. It’s those things, shared with others around the globe that makes more communal and intimate the experience of autosport enjoyment. The more famous the event/circumstance, the more recalled the livery. Winning, or sometimes merely striving valiantly in incredible situations, often is the momentous situation that places an indelible visual representation of that moment and machine and humans in our brains.

In the second week of 2020, my focus shifts toward Indycar at Sebring for spring testing sessions. 2020 brings a fairly radical new look owing to the advent of aeroscreens. This welcome safety feature also becomes the moment in history that notably alters what we consider a modern Indycar. I imagine a time, even just month from now when a IR15 Dallara without the aeroscreen will seem oddly spartan and exposed.

Regardless, the new era of Indycar is upon us in several ways and as information trickles out of testing, including new entries, sponsors, and liveries, my appetite for the upcoming Indycar season only becomes more ravenous following the off-season hibernation we experience. How will the new aeroscreens add to the livery design? The blank canvas has a new shape.

(c) 2020 Ed Carpenter Racing (via Twitter)

While we often celebrate a renown livery on modern vehicles in tribute, so much that one sanction even takes to throwback livery races, I still feel the classics of tomorrow come from today. In 2019 I noted how well the liveries were done in Indycar from top to bottom of the field, and the artists of today are doing a great job on a difficult substrate, creating some legendary liveries I imagine we’ll regale in 2030.

Often, it’s the events that transpire that influence favor on our recollection of the liveries which will live far beyond their racing life. Even as recently as 2016, the modern and (expected to be) one-off NAPA livery for Alexander Rossi became so memorable from his Indy 500 win, and subsequent exposure, that it now sits among the most recognized, staple sponsors of the modern Indycar era.

As we await more official liveries and note changes to existing ones provided by the aeroscreens, what are some of the newer IMSA or Indycar liveries of 2019 and 2020 that most quickly come to the top of your mind? Like NAPA, which do you see as ‘instant classics’?

Let me know what pops into your mind’s eye first…

Hello from 2010.

“Days turn to minutes and minutes to memories,

Life sweeps away the dreams we have planned.

You are young and you are the future,

so suck it up and tough it out,

and be the best you can…”

J. Mellencamp, 1985

As this Indycar fans ages, it becomes evermore disturbing just how time seems to not only pass more quickly but at an accelerating rate. Some of you may already experience this, and some soon will, but it seems no one is immune to this sensation.

Johnny Cougar, who in his evolving artistic maturity became John Mellencamp, also noted this phenomenon in several songs during and after the apogee of his career (in terms of sales). The lyric quoted above is taken from the Scarecrow album song entitled, ‘Minutes To Memories’.

I first experienced that lyric and the songs of the Scarecrow album during a time in my life that I can scarcely recall anymore – my early adulthood, aged 18, and moving away from my home, to college in Indianapolis. Painfully familiar with how my friends’ parents always took a bittersweet tone when they sang along with a similar lyric from his notable ‘Jack and Diane’ song three years prior, I was already aware that one coping mechanism is to try to remain blissfully unaware of my own impending life changes, holding onto 16 as long as I can.

Much as we all perhaps seek to maintain grasp on that frightfully short (and often easiest) portion of our life, change comes at our behest or otherwise and more often than not, different than we imagined. I’m sure Anton George would likely attest.

So too it was with the world of Indycar, ten years ago in 2010.

“TEN YEARS, MAN! Ten. Ten YEARS?! Ten years. TEN… TEN.. YEAARRRRRSSS! Ten years!” One of my favorite scenes from the movie Grosse Point Blank comes to mind immediately whenever we near an anniversary or some numerical decade involving a base-10 reflection leads to the incredulity of how quickly that time has passed by us.

On January 1 of 2010, the landscape of Indycar was a fair bit different.

  • IZOD had recently agreed to become the first title sponsor of Indycar since Northern Lights ended after 2001.
  • Tony George would resign in mid-January of 2010 from the Board of Directors of IMS, following a very long, protracted, and expensive battle with CART/ChampCar, that resulted in the absorption of that sanction and teams into the new IZOD IndyCar Series.
  • February 2nd saw the hiring of Randy Bernard as the new CEO of the Indy Racing League, the single-most prominent division of the IndyCar Series and open-wheel racing in the US.
  • Names familiar to us now populated the drivers and ownership rosters. Names like Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, Foyt, and Coyne, all owned at least one full-time entry.
  • Kanaan, Marco, RHR, Dixon, Grahamie, Sato-san, Easy Ed Carpenter, Power, and Helio all raced along the other famous names who no longer ply their trade such as; Meira, Danica, Franchitti, Bad-Ass Wilson, Wheldon, Fisher, and Briscoe inferno, and many others.
  • The schedule included 17 events with currently-familiar Indycar homes such as; St. Pete, Barber, Long Beach, Indy, Texas, Iowa, Toronto-eh, and Mid-Ohio. The venues of 2010 not on the 2020 schedule may jog some memories; Sao Paulo, Kansas, The Glen, Edmonton, Infiniyawn, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Motegi, and Homestead.
  • Honda , set to exit Indycar after 2009 was sufficiently cajoled into staying through 2011.
  • Early into an interminable 10-year and fractured TV deal, ABC/ESPN and Versus split the schedule.
  • An oval (Foyt) trophy and road/street (Andretti) trophy was awarded at the end of 2010 along with THIS newly-minted (thankfully short-lived) and spuriously-conceived ‘Flying Cocksman’ IZOD-commissioned Series Championship trophy:
The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Championship Trophy

How no one has grabbed a modern OneWheel board and dressed like this trophy, no matter how ironically, to the 500, or the final race of the Indycar Championship is beyond me.

Set in motion in 2010, however, were several things which we now find more enjoyable about Indycar to this day (many of which couldn’t arrive too soon for fans):

  • New chassis development with updates and more attractive features.
  • A severe dislike of the aforementioned split TV schedule (e-NOUGH of the splits already!) which lead to a single-network-supplier TV package in 2019 (So sorey-eh to my Canadian friends though!)
  • Dedicated work toward multiple engine manufacturers and MORE POWAH!
  • A newfound enthusiasm for the sport stemming from an executive who openly-engaged the fans (somewhat to his own peril). He and the league worked to incorporate their desires into the product (much-easier it is now for fans to be heard for the TV supplier, venues, and the league than ever before). Not all data is important, but the mere act of accepting and sifting through modern consumer-input allowed a growth into a more fan-centric product as ever before, I believe.
  • Shift away from the purely traditional schedule and dates, and more toward keeping more financially-successful events on the schedule, developing continuity from there. As much as we all loved Milwaukee or Chicagoland or Kansas or The Glen, the pure fact remains that not enough paying race fans came through the doors, regardless of marketing or myriad other excuses.

In looking back at the world of Indycar in 2010, there are many familiar things, yet the sport has changed quite a bit in what doesn’t seem 10 years.

I started this blog in late-2009 and, likewise, it doesn’t seem to be that terribly long ago, yet in many ways, at 52 years old, I feel too old to be a voice of the modern Indycar fan.

In taking most of 2019 off from blogging here, I reflected on Indycar bloggers and podcasters past and present. Is there a place for me to keep some moderate/centrist/devil’s advocate/grounded thoughts and ideas ‘out there’ for Indycar and autosport fans? Is it of any value and effort in an increasingly binary society? Is examining alternative ideas and keeping a modicum of basic critical thought toward this sport something enjoyable? Is anyone already doing this and much better than I? I’ve decided to find out.

In doing so, I also relocated to my blog to this new site, which may undergo changes as I become more familiar with formatting and the like. I do not undervalue how an aesthetically pleasing site is more enjoyable, so bear with me as things become less utilitarian and more eye-friendly. I’ve also brought forward the posts from my previous site for my reference as much as anyone else’s. Some posts seem cringeworthy today, but I suppose it’s no different than looking back in an old yearbook at pictures that captured the moment with an accuracy we may now wish it hadn’t.

I’m not young, nor the future, but I’m going to suck it up, tough it out, and be the best I can.

I welcome your feedback here in the comments, via twitter @groundedeffects, or via my email groundedeffects@gmail.com, and look forward to interacting with you here or maybe even at an Indycar track in 2020. Happy New Year!

Pocono – The Other 500

(c) 2017 LAT Photographic – Abbott

While other tracks have cheekily claimed 500 or 550 or 600 in their event titles, Pocono remains the only other true, old-school, 500-miler on the schedule. With the news that Pocono is considering signing for Indycar events beyond 2018, fans of this unique and legendary palace of speed will certainly be relieved if and when it happens.

What is it about ‘500’ that adds a certain cachet in automobile racing? As a number, it was rather basically developed over a hundred years ago to provide an “all-day” event in Indianapolis each May. Ever since, the 500-mile distance still remains a race that tests team and machine and driver more than most any other race, and most typically at storied venues like Pocono. Of course the 24-hour sports car races are much longer, but also utilize multiple drivers and crew members during their events. Those races, however, have also become more like a 24-hour sprints, rather than paced endurance races.

Maybe it’s the speeds attained and maintained during these races that add to their lore and attraction. In 2014 at Pocono, the top-10 drivers (all finishing on the lead lap) averaged over 202 miles per hour for the entire race distance. This currently stands as the fastest race by average speed for a 500-mile race in the history of Indycar.

It truly takes something special to win a 500-miler. Pocono also boasts a who’s who of Indycar legends as its winners. Among them you will find the legendary likes of Donohue, Leonard, Foyt, Rutherford, Sneva, Unser, Mears, Andretti, Rahal, Dixon, Montoya, and Power. 

In past, venues like Ontario Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, and California/Fontana Speedway all hosted 500 mile events for Indycar. Aside from Indianapolis, the only 500-mile race distance venue remaining on the schedule is legendary Pocono.

Pocono stands alone in many ways.

Currently, it can list the following titles among all Indycar ovals; the farthest east, the fastest, most unusually shaped, “tricky”, widest straightaway, longest straightaway, remote, camper-welcoming, and “green” (100% solar-powered, 75% event waste stream diverting). All of those features combine for a modern Indycar fan’s delight, deserving Indycar’s support whenever possible.

(c) unknown – aerial

While some bemoan the lack of support races found in it’s current format, it’s noteworthy to remember that this is the only other 500-mile event on your Indycar calendar. If you enjoy outright speed, history, legend, majesty, scenery, camping, or any combination thereof, you will find it difficult to match the allure of Pocono on the Indycar schedule.

Let’s hope Indycar and Pocono can secure this storied and worthy venue and the 500-mile race distance for years to come. 

Vive La Livery!

The visual sense and how we react to the stimulii is one of a human’s most basal conditions. Especially in this modern era of media, we are bombarded with images appealing, repulsive, and everything in between.


McDonald’s, for example, is among the most prolific in their study of marketplace and more specifically telling perhaps is their devotion via millions of dollars in research over decades to the very topic of visual appeal to ensure the utmost in terms of attractiveness to their products and experience. They are often deemed highly successful in exploiting our own senses for their gain.

For the world of autosport, the fan experience is predicated largely on the sensual perceptions of sight, sound, smell, and, to a lesser degree, touch. I’m not aware that I’ve ever tasted Indycars in action, but I can’t say that I can rule it out either simply because I’ve never put my tongue on one, but several moments have left me with mouth agape.

Most fans who have experienced autosport in person will generally refer to the torrent of sensations related to it that drew them to the sport initially. I would concur. It is also such that it seems difficult to explain to someone who has never been.

Despite however great the IMS radio network has been at creating pictures in the mind’s eye of the action, nothing will replace the experience of being at the track. It’s what makes a day at the track so enjoyable for many – the incredible experience one has that engages most all senses to the maximum.

A very distant second to being at the track is perhaps radio for audible reception or TV coverage for whom the visual is primary. Visual input is perhaps the strongest factor in determining how most receive the experience of autosport.

Something as simple as the static design of the car, and colors and lettering upon it, generate much attention and appreciation by fans. It is the primary effective experience by which the fan can receive other information aside from the racing action itself. With the depth of sensory imprinting on the race fan, the livery is perhaps one of the most critical intersections of art and commerce.

Even in the earliest days of autosport, attention was paid to varying degrees about the visual aspect of the machine and how it relates to those who experience it in person. With the advent of color photographic film, the real beauty of the cars could be displayed to the masses who were not in attendance.

The word “livery” originates in French (“livree”) and was used in reference to a person or thing who was required or given something (a badge, for example) to visually symbolise a connection (or loyalty/ownership). It’s evolved into the automobile age through racing (car’s color and lettering scheme) and we still appreciate them today. It’s oft said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but I also like to more objectively rate the effectiveness of a livery by how quickly I can recall the sponsors associated. I have some major product recall due only to the liveries of cars decades ago. Pennzoil is one fine example of effective association of color and design to me.

Having spent some time watching Indycar practices for the 500, here are the first five sponsors from this year’s Indy 500 entries to date that I can quickly recall at this moment: Arrow, Napa, DHL, Pennzoil, USAF.

Now here are their liveries:




all pictures (c) 2018, LAT Images and their photographic artists
Ask me again tomorrow and the answer likely would swap a couple of others not shown here.

Livery design is a competition within the competition of auto racing I enjoy to watch as well, especially in the build-up to the racing action. Those who can capture the eye likely have a better chance of name retention. Granted, some of the above liveries are a result, as noted above, of many years of consistency and clarity in design, or simplicity of name, but that is also to their credit.

Which liveries appeal to you?

Which ones from this year’s field can you recall within seconds? 

Which ones from years ago do you still quickly recall today?

If you let your brain spit them out without much thought, you might be surprised at what comes first…


W(h)ither The Oval

(c) 2018, Leavitt, LAT

Upon reading this article by Robin Miller for RACER today, I’ve again returned to my thoughts and this blog in considering the existence of ovals on the Indycar schedule.

On a nearly per-oval-event basis, most longtime and/or devoted Indycar fans offer thoughts on the waning existence and popularity of the “meat and potato” ovals for which there seems little opportunity for change to satisfy the cries for more on the schedule.  

(c) 2018, Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today

Indycar has billed itself as having the most versatile menu of drivers in motorsport. Marketing slogans are often a wry exercise in embellishment, but one would be hard pressed to find the top 20 drivers of any racing series more adept at racing not only multiple styles of tracks, but also multiple types of vehicles than found in the Indycar Series of this decade.

Great drivers can drive most anything it seems, but the current depth of talent found here is worthy of comparison to the legendary greats who raced in the golden era of Indycar (I place at approximately 1960-1979). In 2015 I noted how we seem to have a habit of missing just how truly excellent the current generation of Indycar driver is, but that is another matter. The recent venues of Indycar are of which we discuss today.

Phoenix is another example of an historic Indycar oval venue, rich in golden-era legend, that apparently lacks present-day popularity if judged by crowd size and ticket sales. The same can be said for the likes of Milwaukee, Trenton, Ontario, and Michigan.

Pocono is a golden-era exception whose efforts toward modern-day Indycar have been welcome and notable, but even this grandly unique and historic Indycar speedway doesn’t begin to fill its staggering capacity for seated or camping customers.

The ovals associated with the IRL era (1996-2008) such as 
Walt Disney World, Nazareth, Nashville, Kansas, Homestead, Richmond, Kentucky, Charlotte, Atlanta, Michigan, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Dover, and Chicagoland also failed multiple times to be an attraction to the ticket-buying public. Numerous factors have conspired at different times to cease those Indycar relationships, but often it seemed that in the waning years of an Indycar event at these venues, the dedicated promotion was reduced to nearly nothing instead of increased. 

(c) 2017 Gateway Motorsports Park

Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis is the most recent oval addition (from the IRL oval era) and they’ve impressed beyond most expectations with their commitment and execution for the return of Indycars in 2017. They have exhibited a motivated desire to see Indycar succeed by lavishing the local markets promoting their race which worked to astounding results.

I might contend, as I have for many years, that the need for an event to succeed at the ticket office, drives the effort by the track to promote the race accordingly. With few exceptions, the tracks noted above are either defunct for Indycar racing, demolished, or owned by International Speedway Corporation (a subsidiary of the NASCAR ownership), or Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (a company who hosts several of the major NASCAR events during their season). Despite Miller’s desire to see Indycar return to the few remaining legendary tracks of the golden era, often to the extent that he rarely finds fault with ISC/SMI Indycar race promotion efforts, but I think I see their efforts in a different light. 

While one could argue that none of those venues want to host a failed event, I’ve always felt that the ownership with such close ties to their primary client  (NASCAR), has little impetus to spend to the degree equal to a NASCAR event required to make it a success.

Fans who’ve joined this sport in the last 20 years, often have little knowledge of the significance or attraction of the golden-era or even IRL-era tracks for newer fans. When seen with an unbiased eye, the oval racing was in actuality almost always either boring processionals or horrifically dangerous pack-races, neither of which entertained in quite the manner that pleased fans of both sides and the larger audience.

In the modern era of versatility as a selling-point, it would seem preferable that the recipe of scheduling include no preponderance of any particular flavor, but a skilled blending of several. For this, I applaud the current Indycar management – especially Mark Miles and Jay Frye – for working tirelessly to continue to perfect the blend of available seasonings and present a well-balanced and flavorful schedule of events.

It also has long been a mystery to me why, when the opportunities arose, to possibly purchase a few venues along the way, none were nabbed. It makes perfect sense to seal a few locales into the schedule through ownership just as NASCAR has done in a more substantial way, but there’s little doubt the Hulman and Company coffers to do so were less flush with cash than ISC’s, but there remained a few that possibly could be available for the taking. 


Nashville, Pikes Peak International Raceway, Gateway, Rockingham, and Iowa among others have all traded hands at some point in the last 10 years and IMS/Indycar would’ve benefited from having at least a couple of those. 

Essentially, to lose Phoenix would be a shame as it holds an historic place as a unique track within the larger Indycar pantheon, but mainly only for those whose value as an Indycar fan is tied to the nostalgia of bygone oval-based eras. 
Losing Phoenix shouldn’t be viewed as a deal-breaker, nor ultimately is the loss of any venue whose bread is so heavily buttered with NASCAR dollars. 

With IMS forever the crown jewel of the series, Gateway quickly cementing their place in the schedule, Texas the oft-prickly stalwart, Pocono committed, and Iowa still hanging on, the mix of ovals for 2018 and beyond should be viewed as an appropriately well-balanced blend on the schedule, each of which to be celebrated in their own way, and as a group, properly testing all manner of driving ability. 

Certainly, this also represents a fair sample of the types of ovals Indycar has raced upon in the last 40 years and I will continue to rate higher the actions of serious commitment and dedication to Indycar than any lip-service toward fading historic value. 


Adjectively Speaking

During ABC’s TV Broadcast of the Indycar race at St. Pete yesterday, Eddie Cheever made his beloved and dramatic ‘one-word’ prognostication for the day’s event – “chaos”. In hindsight, one cannot really argue much with that as the definition accounts for some of the action on track yesterday. 

I had several adjectives that described how I was feeling leading up to, during, and after the very racy 2018 Indycar season opener; hopeful, eager, surprised, anxious, giddy, amazed, empathetic, and hopeful.

Hopefulness sprang out of the months (and, in truth, years) of waiting for a new and exciting Indycar to hit the track. One that justly rewards driver skill and management and also manages to entice a viewer with classically attractive aesthetics.

Eagerness began in earnest with news of testing in January and February. Positive and even glowing reports on the new chassis “raciness” and the good initial function of the potential safety/windscreen flushed my racing cheeks with positivity heading into the new season.  Dare I dream to believe that Indycar once again could be the amazingly entertaining (and even sexy) racing product so many fans knew it could? Could spring signal a rebirth of positivity, excitement, and optimism for one of my favorite sports?

With the twist of fate brought about by moisture on the track during qualifying for the first race of the new season, nothing but surprise could describe most fans’ reactions to the qualifying results. The final six in the Firestone Fast Six shootout contained three rookies, three veterans, and for the first time that I could recall in many years, six different teams in the top six spots.  One of those rookies – Jordan King, driving for Ed Carpenter Racing – even set a new track record in the first round of qualifying.

Surprise gave way to the anxious feelings when the green flag is about to fall at St. Pete and especially when there are three rookies up front leading this burgeoning pack of hungry Indycar racers, all eager for those first true racing laps of the new season. Safe to say that I always fear turn one at St. Pete because the symbolism of the long-runway-straight reminds me of the stark off-season, long and slow to build in momentum until the green reminds us we’re full-throttle into a hard and opportunistic right-hand 90 degree turn, begging for the most aggressive of lines, before the tires are even warmed.  What happens in that first turn of the first race of the new season often signals what to expect. Especially after the abysmally long wait, to finally have an Indycar that this fan could proudly hold up as the exemplary essence of this type of racing, I still remained anxious for the possible carnage of turn one at the Alfred Whitted Airport race circuit.

With some tenuous and unsurprisingly eventful laps in the book, the race never failed to hold my attention.  I was able to eagerly concentrate on as much racing as the TV coverage would show, despite the expected drone of uninspired and anemic commentary. I would add the caveat that Allen Bestwick gets a pass from me for his work because his job as ringleader of the clownlike coverage is subject to so many things beyond his control, including the bland color commentary. Expecting as much, I tried to focus all of my attention on the visual information we were given and I was liking what I was seeing, especially with the new and revised camera views which added a great deal of excitement to the broadcast. This feeling that had come over me, I hadn’t felt in far too long a time. I was giddy with excitement that the racing had given us.


(nose-camera image via Indycar YouTube screen capture)

With the movements of drivers up and down the scoring due to mostly all racing-related variables, I was amazed at the skill of the driving and the passing we were seeing.  All except at the front, where rookie Robert Wickens had shown us why he was so highly rated by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.  He was building a lead over several veteran drivers. How could you not like the fortitude on display?  I was genuinely amazed at how this race was playing out and especially for this driver, so new to Indycars, scarcely putting a wheel wrong all day, deservedly leading in a manner that only exemplified his considerable skill and his team’s preparation. This guy, and this team deserved to win.

As we watched the late-race dramas unfold, a race fan of any seasoning would’ve known we were in for a seriously tense finish. It did not fail in that regard and unfortunately Mr. Wickens was the recipient of a ‘racing incident’ that in my view could’ve been avoided and not sent him spinning into the wall after completing, what was to that point, as near-perfect a race as one could have. I would consider myself a fan of Alexander Rossi, but I certainly empathized more with Wickens. He deserved to be on the top step of the podium without question but, as we know so well, racing doesn’t always reward the best on that day. So too could I empathize with Sebastien Bourdais’s victory as it emotionally and fully closed a circle of high and low events he experienced in the previous 365 days. From his race win here a year ago, to the horrific crash at Indy qualifying, to the rehabilitation of his mind and body, and now a return to victory circle at his adoptive hometown and site of his previous Indycar win, it was a result worthy of celebration. 

(c) 2018, Luis Santana, Tampa Bay Times

In all, yesterday’s race was one of the best races I can recall at St. Pete and I am beyond impatient to see the next race. I think that’s a sign of the hopefulness I am feeling about each practice session, each qualifying day, and each race this season.  







Catching Up with Portland International Raceway

The addition of Portland International Raceway to the 2018 Indycar calendar was one that came as some surprise to me and forces me to connect with the sport’s past in a new way during this off-season.

This track originally existed on the Indycar calendar at a time when I was often preoccupied with the matters of adolescence and young adulthood, and also during the time of year (June) when still satiated of racing from the Indy 500.

Early-summers for me meant being fully into my golfing practice schedule (for which I dedicated the most of my time, playing competitively in high school and college). Summer weekends of the 1980s through mid-1990s rarely found me in front of a TV in the mid-afternoon.


As a result, I cannot say that I ever watched the Grand Prix of Portland live on TV. Once the track stayed with the CART/ChampCar calendar in 1996-2007, I felt no significant reason to prioritize its viewing.  Now I find myself, decades later, researching the history of the race and wanting to become familiar with the track layout. In doing so, I found a very interesting history of the track’s emergence into being. For some more dedicated than myself to Indycar during those years, this will probably be old news, but for fans newer to the Portland International Raceway and the Grand Prix of Portland, these are the bits I found of most interest:


1. Portland International Raceway was built on the site of a former small city.
Vanport, Oregon was essentially washed from existence during the Memorial Day weekend of 1948, by the massive flooding of the Columbia River.  The existence of Vanport, built on a low-lying area between Portland, Oregon and neighboring Vancouver Washington to the north (hence the portmanteau of Vanport), began as a wartime public housing project conceived, designed, and completed in less than a year (1942) to house an influx of workers involved with the local shipbuilding industry.  At it’s peak, over 42,000 people inhabited the residential city, the second largest in the State of Oregon.

In late-spring 1948, after a heavy, late-season snowfall followed by torrential seasonal rains, the snowpack and rainfall across the Columbia River watershed (from as far away as Montana and British Columbia), coverged into the Columbia River, pushing the oncoming water to over the dike system developed to protect Vanport. The entire area was flooded by as much as 20 feet of flowing water, releasing the housing and structures from their meager foundations.  With much of Vanport’s population transient workers, the decision was made to not rebuild the public housing and the young residential city ceased to be.  


(l – Vanport City, r – current day PIR)

The City of Portland annexed the area in 1960 and began contemplating how to use what little remained – the city streets of Vanport. Alas, as racing was a burgeoning post-war sport and, when combined with the Portland Rose Festival, automobile and motorcycle racing became staples of those grounds.

As the danger of remaining building foundations and precious little protection for drivers and fans existed, fulfilling the requests by racing sanctions saw the reconstruction of the area into a fully-dedicated drag-racing and road course facility, now what we see as Portland International Raceway.  Trans-Am (SCCA sanction) racing in the mid-1970s brought attention to the track by those in charge of CART.  Some of the remaining visible Vanport city features have been highlighted in yellow in the photo above.


2. Longtime Sponsor – G. I. Joe’s was not related to the toy of the same name.
With the decision to bring Indycars to PIR for the 1984 season, Stroh’s Beer was the first title sponsor to come on board for two years. Following thereafter, local military surplus-turned-sporting goods chain – G. I. Joe’s – began it’s run of being primary or co-primary sponsor of the race for 20 of the next 21 years. G. I. Joe’s was originally a military surplus store which grew into a local chain and expanded offerings to include outdoor gear, automotive parts, and sporting goods as military surplus dwindled.

Joe’s, as it came to be known following an equity buyout, suffered in the mid-2000s, fell into bankruptcy proceedings in 2007, and was liquidated in 2009.  The event’s return this year is simply listed as ‘The Grand Prix of Portland’.

3. Justin Wilson holds the track record.
Set during qualifications, Justin Wilson set the current track time record of 57.597 for one lap of the current 1.964 mile layout, driving the RuSport entry in 2005. His time equates to an average speed of 122.756 mph. Previous layouts and measurements in the history of the event show a quicker time and the slightest of faster average speeds, but those layouts are not the current one in use today.


(Justin Wilson on a qualifying run at PIR, 2005)

4. Pole and Race Winners are a ‘Who’s Who’ of American Open-Wheel racing.
If the history of this Indycar race says anything, it’s that only a titan of the sport will win at Portland.  Multiple Pole Winners include; Danny Sullivan and Emerson Fittipaldi, 3 times, and Justin Wilson twice.  Currently active driver Sebastien Bourdais is the defending Champion (2007). Past Race winners listed following;
1984 – Al Unser, Jr.,
1985, 1986 – Mario Andretti,
1987 – Bobby Rahal,
1988 – Danny Sullivan,
1989 – Emerson Fittipaldi,
1990, 1991, 1992 – Michael Andretti,
1993 – E. Fittipaldi,
1994, 1995 – A. Unser Jr.,
1996 – Alex Zanardi,
1997 – Mark Blundell
1998 – A. Zanardi,
1999, 2000 – Gil De Ferran,
2001 – Max Papis,
2002 – Cristiano Da Matta,
2003 – Adrian Fernandez,
2004 – Sebastien Bourdais,
2005 – C. Da Matta,
2006 – A.J. Allmendinger,
2007 – S. Bourdais

I look forward to delving into more of this race’s history and watching older race footage if available online. At the very least, I’ll be watching what I expect to be another great race and for the first time in my history, live.