Dear Aerokits, Thanks for Everything. Sincerely, This Old Fan

As we draw to a close this latest of Indycar seasons, we also dedicate to posterity what may be labelled as the ‘Aerokit Era’.

I see it as the last remnant of the Randy Bernard era or the second half of the DW12 era (2012 through 2014) pushed on by Derrick Walker, and spanning from 2015 through 2017.

How it will be viewed is a matter for time to decide. Marshall Pruett has a fantastic article in Racer Magazine that reviews the Aerokit era from a more technical point of view including the feedback of several drivers during that era.

Some may judge it harshly for the on-track product, possibly labelled as a step back from to the previous and surprisingly-racy DW-12 spec chassis era. Expenses related to development, expenses related to repairs, extensive clean-ups times from in-race contact, ineffectiveness of abating contact via the rear bumper-pods, detrimental effects on trailing cars’ handling, and even serious questions of safety for both driver and race fan from flying debris and flying cars when not retained or pointed in the prescribed direction, were all unintended consequences and valid concerns which needed addressed only weeks into the practical application of the aerokits. Maybe those who judged them harshly were right. History will also show they weren’t a significant “needle-mover” with fans or TV ratings.

What I had hoped for and saw from this era, however, is something less practical and more widely symbolic – a significant turning point in American open-wheel racing.  The DW12/aerokit era represented a new way of thinking about many things, one of which was a perceived shift in sport-to-fan relations.

In an age of unprecedented access and information to the mass public, what remained of the dwindling legion of AOWR fans had multiple platforms to make their voices heard, often and loudly. Demands for progress in the sport on many fronts were frequent.  None perhaps more frequent or symbolic than the car itself. While the relative cost to own and race an eight-year-old spec chassis design may have been more owner-friendly, it also wasn’t providing the fans or sponsors with any confidence that the sport was moving in a positive direction.

Count me among those, so when the earthquake of leadership at Hulman and Company brought in a fan-focused and visible leader in Randy Bernard, there was finally reason for fans to embrace a bit of optimism for progress. Perhaps quite emblematic of his tenure, the Bernard era that begat the Aerokit was also not without a raft of unintended consequences.

On a larger scale though, I still deem it to be an overall success as the tumult from what became the Aerokit era, was also a seismic shift away from the stale and somewhat rudimentary past, providing Indycar fans, sponsors, and teams a fresh glimmer of hope for the future.

While only two manufacturers committed to the aerokit era, what was discovered through their competition and experience formed the foundation for what could be one of the most impressive overall eras for safety, performance, driving, racing, and watching Indycars we’ve ever seen.  So much so that teams, drivers, and sponsors in the staid and classist Formula 1 series, have cause to take a serious look at what is going on in Indycar.

Much of the credit goes to the Mark Miles era of leadership and more specifically to the appointed work of Jay Frye and Bill Pappas in taking the lessons of the aerokit era, amplifying the positives, reducing the negatives, and developing the new spec chassis for 2018 and beyond. Many great fan-produced liveries also attest to, and are emblematic of, the enthusiastic reception this new car has received.  Dare I say I cannot wait for February 2018 already?

When weighed against past eras, I am very optimistic that this era we approach, the IR18, with the all-around amount of technology, safety, performance, and aesthetic appeal, coupled with one of the greatest generations of drivers, Indycar should see a revival of sorts. All of this would not have been possible, however, without the engaging experiment that started with the Randy Bernard leadership and ended with the Aerokit era.

Never a fan of the concept of spec racing, I see the oncoming Indycar era as what might represent the pinnacle or ‘best possible solution’ of spec racing in its most overall sense. The next step (and final piece), in my opinion, should include more variety of power plant configurations (and manufacturers). If this proves to be true, the coming era of Indycar may very well be at the forefront of the best auto-racing on the planet.  

       

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

There is an axiom that floats about the business world, “people will tell you what they want, if you just listen to them”. The most successful salespersons and businesses shut up and listen, examine that information, and then figure out how to best provide it.

Today the Formula 1 drivers Association also took their concerns to F1 via an open letter to the ownership and directors of that sport, expressing a desire to see better stewardship of the sport with regard to long-term vision and plan. It all sounded so familiar. I even mentally inserted “Indycar” anywhere the words “F1” appeared with very little difference in consistency with issues known in Indycar for decades.

I thought to myself, ‘here’s yet another example of how Indycar has lead the world of autosport by 10 to 20 years’. We’ve been dealing with a sport whose organization can be characterized by the public as insular, short-sighted, lacking vision, and reactive since the late 1970s and especially so since the mid-1990s.

The good news for Indycar is, that is a bit farther up the road in dealing with a business ‘contraction’ than F1 or even NASCAR. The bad news is that the progress has come in fits and starts and is always much slower than the customer would like to see. It also comes at a time when it competes with ever-more diversions for the public, never less.

So how is it then, that a company can be perceived to be so aloof, especially when the lifeblood of its existence (sponsorship and broadcasting rights monies), is based on having eyeballs and ears on the product?

As we draw ever-nearer to the incredibly massive landmark 100th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, we again are reminded so vividly of a sport that has been extremely adept at holding up it’s super-speedway, golden era (early 1960s to mid-1970s) as the hallmark of it’s existence and implying a parallel with the modern day. Those who have lived long enough to have seen those days with our own eyes and ears, always bristle at the comparison and rightly so. The sport today resembles so little of that Golden Era. The fact that we STILL gush more about the innovation of 1961 Cooper Climax, or the 1967 Paxton STP turbine, a full 50 years later than we do about the one that won just 11 months ago, or even two weeks ago, I’ve always found to be quite telling.

F1 has also been good at holding itself up as the pinnacle for newest and most innovative technologies for decades. It some ways it actually has, but as for the management of the sport, it’s still shows a heritage with the Draconian-types of the industrial age. 

At one time, the production auto industry used autosport as a working laboratory for development of better machinery to be translated into the passenger vehicle. Now it appears a new day is dawning in the automotive industry where technology is rapidly changing the mobility vehicle and how we engage with it. Likewise, there is an opportunity to examine those changes and see how autosport can incorporate them into their future.   


I’m reminded of that famous phrase, uttered in front of a shiny, new ‘K-car’ c. 1981.

I’m not sure if he originated the phrase, but I recall quite clearly for well over 30 years now, Lee Iacocca, then President of Chrysler, making that quote famous via his television ads for the ‘new Chrysler Motor Company’ – “In this business, you lead, follow, or get out of the way.” 

At the time, the car company was attempting to emerge from a terrible recession and bring a new philosophy, optimism, and ambition to the fore. It was a successful campaign in many ways although it didn’t solve all of the ills that plagued the company or the industry as a whole.

Autosport is still a reflection of that industry in many ways, especially by being tied so closely to the worldwide auto industry for obvious reasons, but I think the future will hold that the sport who was able to show the ability to listen to all voices of interest (not merely a few select ones), establish a forward-thinking and relevant vision, a clear plan to achieve it, and provide the product that people will demand in the future, will be the most successful. 

Even at it’s relative nadir, Indycar can still be a player in that game. Once the celebrations, revelry, and nostalgia of the landmark 100th Indy 500 end, I believe strongly that a new era must begin. One that is bold, exciting, invigorating, and isn’t afraid to be something innovative.


“Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free” is the promotional tagline from one my favorite movies, “The Shawshank Redemption”, which was adapted from Stephen King’s Different Seasons group of novellas. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption represents the season of Spring and is also subtitled, “Hope Springs Eternal”.

The character of Ellis “Red” Redding in that story cautions the reader (through a dialogue with the optimistic protagonist Andy Dufresne) that “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane”. Later, however, in reply, the character of Andy Dufresne states, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”.


I still hold out hope that Indycar can be the pinnacle of modern autosport it was.

I hope I’ll be able to make it to that day.

I hope to be there and shake my Indycar friends’ hands. 

I hope that Indycar will be as incredible as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.




Not Good Enough


It doesn’t seem so very long ago when we were all left in stunned disbelief following the death of Dan Wheldon, October 16, 2011.


Maybe it’s because it hasn’t been that long really. 

Now resigned to the terrible result of another all too fateful moment on Sunday, I finally had to take a moment away from my work duties this morning to read what I wrote in the hours (of shock and disgust with the sport) and days (of ‘Indycar family’ and hope) following Wheldon’s death. 

Seeing the television footage of the helicopter rising from its mid-track perch at Pocono on Sunday was an all too familiar scene and one that left me suspended between disbelief, despair, and hope. 

I told my kids this morning about Justin dying before they left for school. Certainly far from ideal timing but I also I didn’t want them to not hear it from me. 

Nick, Justin, Ellie. Milwaukee 2012.
Photo: (c) Lynne Zehr
My daughter is a casual fan who could name several drivers and recognize a few by face. My son has a bit of deeper interest and knows most every car and driver visually. In the case of Justin Wilson, he represents a rare moment that they both shared with him in Milwaukee back in 2012. 

He had just finished a TV report of his riding the Milwaukee Indyfest ferris wheel with a young fan and was heading back to the paddock. We just happened to be walking nearby and asked for a quick photo opportunity with him which he so graciously, and so ridiculously-commonly, obliged. 

That was over three years ago and while my kids have grown so much when compared to the picture, they both remember this moment quite vividly and fondly. Both were saddened to hear the news I had to share with them this morning. 

I was equally sad to have to deliver it.

Having just surpassed my recent “Gurney Eagle/Jerry Karl/Foyt’s third entry” birthday, each year seems to bring more energy into my brain for more existential pondering – “what, if any, is the purpose and meaning of life?”

You may have also read my recent post with the same question bent specifically toward the sport of Indycar. Having little remaining hope that Indycar will ever be any sort of genuine ‘innovative and working future-thought laboratory’ for auto manufacturers as I’d dream, I have finally come to grips that this sport is set-up primarily as an entertainment vehicle which sells thrills and tradition and nostalgia in direct support of the Indianapolis 500 and the benefit of those who own the event and property.

“Duh.” might be your response. 

Fair enough, but I bought in early and heavily into the ideals found in automotive innovation found in the golden years of auto-racing (c. early-1960s to mid-1980s). Giving up on that ideal has been difficult for sure as it represents, to me, all that is good about people – the unfailing human desire to achieve and progress – working together to improve the things in our lives and the world around us.

That flicker of optimism found in human nature as reflected in the form of automotive racing has finally been extinguished for me. So what is left is simply a sport as entertainment vehicle. 

What is left is simply not good enough. 

This sport, as we are all too-well aware, is horrifically brutal. There are moments of thrilling performance to be sure, but when things go wrong, it seems it is always in spectacular fashion. I’ve written before about the ‘the long dark thread’ woven into the fabric of autosport. Sunday was evidence that thread is long and continuous. 

And so here we are again.

Another death. 

Another widowed family. 

Another horrible event in a long list of horrible events. 

It seems that only numerous, and somewhat random factors, align to produce these darkest of events which often leave us with nothing else to ponder but “why?” Could every single death of every single racing driver and fan have been prevented somehow? Of course, but it’s always that strange alignment of wrong thing, wrong place, wrong time. 

In pursuit of something so uncommonly amazing, such as landing a human on the moon, the risks are significant and great and their achievement stands as incredible historical human events. People lined up to be selected for those ridiculously dangerous roles because their desire was so great to risk their very essence to be a part of that history.

For me, Indycars racing around tracks on a sunny, summer Sunday afternoon for the benefit of thousands watching in person or on broadcast are not of such gravitas. Likewise nor do I think the similar risk of life is worth the paltry sums of either glory or riches we have today in autosport, and Indycar specifically.

Therefore, I simply find no good, remaining excuse you can give me why the safety of the competitors (and crews and fans) isn’t paramount anymore. You may want to argue with me whether safety is or isn’t paramount, but following and understanding what has happened in this sport over the last 40 years, I’m of the informed opinion that cost-containment, not safety, is at the forefront. That isn’t to say that the current cars aren’t amazing in how they protect drivers and fans, but that safety needs to be at the forefront of autosport design now. 

The time for making only reactionary improvements in safety has long passed. These people aren’t sound-barrier or moonshot pilots, they’re highly skilled drivers of cars for entertainment purposes. I have no desire to see people on either side of the fence get maimed or killed for a paltry bit of entertainment. 

What we have is simply not good enough. 

Justin Wilson knew all too well the risks involved. By most all accounts he also was a very thoughtful and genuine person who spoke often of his concerns for the safety of fans and drivers alike. We know there are significant risks that have existed for several years and still need to be addressed as evidenced by the most recent injuries and fatalities from cockpit intrusion in autosport, and especially over the last seven years. I call for this issue to be addressed now via development of the full enclosure of the cockpit from all manner of intrusions. End of story. It will take nothing away from the sport and it’s enjoyment. 

Not just incrementally better but BEST driver protection should be the new hallmark.

No amount of tradition, nostalgia, or perception of danger is worth this. No excuse you can give me for not immediately pursuing, testing, and incorporating designs fully-enclosed cockpits in Indycar is acceptable. Anything short of this is not acceptable and I’ll go one further and propose that NO MORE Indycar racing should occur after Sonoma until this is properly done. 

What we have is simply not good enough.

I’m telling everyone in the positions of power and rule over the sport of Indycar – I will not watch people die anymore for the sake of mere entertainment. 

No reason you can give me, or Susie Wheldon or Julia Wilson or whomever the next is to be widowed by this brutal sport, is good enough.


What we have today is simply not good enough.

 
Right now, this sport is simply not good enough to go on.






Perception Is Everything

“There are things known,

and things unknown, 
and in between 
are the doors of perception”
– Aldous Huxley

With a relatively late-in-the-day 4-hour drive home from the Milwaukee Mile Sunday night, and my fully-tired 11-year-old son asleep in the co-pilot’s seat, I had some extended solitude with which to consider my very enjoyable weekend in West Allis, Wisconsin. 

Typically, I’ll stay off Twitter while at a race because I am a big advocate of simply filling your senses with the many inputs received during a race.  This beautiful Sunday, however, tweeting while watching the racing as moments allowed, came much more easily than in other recent events (Indy 500). While doing so, following others’ comments via twitter confirmed for me my belief that the intake of the product in-person and for those not on-site is different and that those differences are quite marked.  I also noted that even at various locations in this relatively small venue, the experience is different. 

Reflecting during my drive I was left with many positives over those 36 hours, but also two crucial items that I believe strongly Indycar must concern themselves with: what the product is and how to best manage its perception (or reception). Since I’ve already written about the existential ennui of Indycar multiple times, I’m going to take aim at how it’s perceived.

During practice and qualifying, I took a seat near the end of the front straight in the front row, just 15 feet away from the cars at speed. 179 mph trap speeds at a range of 15 feet or less is close to mind-blowing, and especially so when watching them negotiate a seemingly-impossible 180-degree, flat-arc change of direction over the next five seconds. 

Much as you have, I’ve seen in-car camera views of them going upwards of 235 mph, but being in-person and so close, even at 180, is the best way to really sense how fast they’re going. For the race, my seats were near the same point of the straight but within 3 rows of the top. Huge difference in perception! 50′ above and approximately 75′ away from those cars (see pic – P = Practice, R = Race). The cars look fairly fast yet fairly benign from that location.



Imagine going from standing on a sidewalk proximity to a 7th floor window view across a four-lane street. Sure the overall view is better, it simply isn’t the same experience in any regard.  I’ve always been an advocate of sitting as closely as possible as it seems in direct correlation with how amazing the sensation of the cars speed is.  

Herein lies my point – Indycar MUST be able to give as many fans as possible this experience. Even if not everyone could sit in Row 1 and see them speeding by, to have this in practice gives a new perspective on just how fast these cars are, even at “just 180 mph”. 

The perception that the racing isn’t very thrilling unless masses of cars are heaped on top of each other goes away quite rapidly when you see just one of these cars ripping by you that closely at speed. You can quite easily see the difficulty of their proposition and to then consider a tightly bunched pack is, in fact, lunacy.

Getting more fans closer access needs to be a priority even in the age of moving fans farther away from the danger. It’s imperative that the fan see just how amazing these cars are and as closely as possible. Finding a way to also get that sensation communicated via a camera to a remote viewer is a challenge even-bigger although the in-car cameras begin to approach it. 


I’ve yet to see the TV coverage from this weekend but I’m sure I’ll be quite amazed at how poorly the sensation of speed comes across. Other forms of racing may be suited for the types of camera angles we’ve seen for decades, but Indycar would do itself much credit to develop an entirely new way of receiving the product for those not in attendance and also figuring out a way to emphasize how being in-person is the best way to see it.

I can’t even remember how many times I’ve said, “TV doesn’t do it justice”.  Perhaps no other sport I’ve attended reflects this sentiment quite as much.

Blow up the decades-old methods of visually presenting Indycars at speed from high above and a wide-angles.  

Give us a view and a sensation that is totally unique and amazing.


Editor’s Note: I’ll have some continuing thoughts on this subject as a guest blogger over at Oilpressure.com tomorrow for the Brainstorming Series.

"I have but one question" – Existential Ennui In The Summer Of Our Discontent


“Now is the summer of our discontent
Made glorious winter by this sun of Anton;
And all the clouds that lower’d upon IMS
In the deep bosom of racing buried.”



In paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Richard III, I am comparing the rise and fall of not only the oft-maligned leadership of Indycar by Anton Hulman George, but Indycar itself. 

It is interesting to me that nobody is more narcissistic or wants to believe just how fantastic Indycar is more than the sport itself, its fans, and its leadership. 

NO-body. 

Hubris, people… hubris.

A fantastic and wildly unpredictable race on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana Cali-forn-aye-ay, and subsequent social and traditional media storm in the following 48 hours was as exemplary a modern Indycar event that you’ll ever see. 


If it were possible to quantify this statement, I’d proclaim the 2015 MAVTV500:
 
the single-best, highest-quality, overall Indycar race ever, that was seen and appreciated by the fewest people in modern (post-1979) history.

Talk about exclusive. For better and worse. 

That’s Indycar ‘in a nutshell’. 
It’s in my nature to be inquisitive. Perhaps to a fault. Maybe I should have gone to journalism school and become an investigative reporter, like this guy who brought down the massive FIFA scandal. Journalism bad-assery of the sports variety at its best, but I digress.
I’d like to suggest that the most important thing we might do to help is to challenge ourselves to take a huge step back and look inward at the sport from the outside. I’m talking big, big wide-angle view of Indycar here.

Imagine you are NOT one of the approximate 500,000 (or 00.0083%) humans on this planet who follow Indycar. If you’re reading this, it’s quite likely you are a fan already, but please try. 
~ IF we are to take the leap and assume my posit about the quality of this race relative to the total audience worldwide is fairly accurate, my question is, “WHY?”
~ IF Indycar has such great racing (even applauded publicly by much more famous drivers from other disciplines – via Twitter et. al.), why is it not wildly successful and more popular?

~ Why does Indycar struggle to gain any TV ratings of significance (which, as we know, serve primarily to bolster media ad buys, increase exposure and sponsorship for teams and the league, leading to better financial stability and security)?

~ Why does Indycar struggle with ticket sales in such low demand to the degree that venues have little desire or financial incentive to host a race?

Which, therefore, leads me to wonder – does it matter that Indycar exists at all? 
“Why does Indycar exist and for what purpose?”  

Here’s where I ask for your thoughts. In the comments please try to step waaaaay back from the sport and clearly, concisely, and honestly illuminate your answer for me in one or two sentences/less than 50 words.

I have a thought in mind already, but I want to see what you say.  No snark, no bile, no humor, just honestly and succinctly answer the question.

If the Indycar ownership could also do that for me, we’d be well on our way to solving some things.




The Future is Now


February 25, 2017 – Austin, TX

Good morning everyone from sunny Austin, Texas and welcome to the first on-track open test of the inaugural season of the 2018 RedBull Hypercar Series.

Ever since the purchase of the nearly-defunct Indycar series by RedBull in late 2016 and the subsequent debut of the RedBull X1 chassis as the spec chassis for the new RBHS, fans have flocked to to the internet, track, and television to get their first impressions and follow the development of this amazing “hypercar” powered by a very unique, hybrid propulsion system. 


Fascinated by cutting-edge auto-racing, yet also unhappy with the fractious divides, polarization, and lack of transparency in the governance of F1, RedBull founder Dietrich Mateschitz vacated his teams and money from Formula 1 and devised his own series, and made an audacious offer for the failing Indycar Series that the Hulman and Company board could not refuse.  

The concept for the new series, born out of the twilight of the Indycar Series following the 100th Indy 500, was to open a new outlet for forward-visioning, single-seat, monocoque, single-spec chassis, incorporating a hybrid propulsion of various internal-combustion motors and electrical motor systems. 

Multiple settings will exist for the motors and even can be altered during the race based on strategy and in-race conditions. Teams will be allowed to devise their own fuel of choice prior to the race (from traditional ethanol, methanol, compressed natural gas, or biodiesel) and also their own downforce configurations from the bodywork options as well. 

Paid winnings will also be coupled with a points system including a graduated bonus system for minimal energy input usage.  A baseline for energy units (combustible fuels or electrical storage in the battery configuration) will be established for each race. Teams exceeding the baseline will receive a graduated-scale of reduced winnings while teams staying below the baseline will receive an increasing scale of bonus winnings and points in addition to their placement payout.


The new Redbull Hypercar Series will incorporate sprint and endurance racing, and span two divisions (one each in the South and North American continents) culminating in the Inaugural Championship of the Americas to be held at Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas in October 26-28, 2018. Each division of the Series will contest their own race series. Based on the results of those ‘seasons’, each division will produce 8 contestants for the final Championship race with a purse of US$20 million going to the winners.

Several existing racing teams from the former Indycar series have shown up for this weekend’s testing fielding multiple cars piloted with an illustrious list of drivers for the new series.

In the North American Series, 12 events in the US and Canada will be held on a variety of race circuits, and run from May to late-September. The Central and South American series will see 8 races hosted in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, with the season running from July to September.

The Top 8 teams from each division will contest the final 6-hour race at COTA with the Champions receiving the all-new traveling RedBull Hypercar Cup Trophy.


The inaugural 2018 season will launch in North America at Mazda Laguna-Seca Raceway on May 5th, with stops at Indianapolis on May 27, Road America on June 9. Night races also feature in the North American series including stops at Daytona International Speedway (road course) in late June, and again in Indianapolis for a 12-hour endurance race on the road course in late-August. 

Excitement and interest in an American racing series has not been seen like this for decades. Citing pre-sales of tickets already well-beyond 50% capacity at many of the venues, RedBull expects the inaugural season to be a success with likely expansion of new divisions to Asia and Europe following in 2019.




The Sex and Genetics of Indycar Fandom


People may be surprised to learn that my blog is written totally off-the-cuff and with no preconceived idea until I get behind the keyboard in earnest. I’ve always done this intentionally to produce something immediate and genuine. Some posts are half-baked, others fully. Today’s post is no different so only you will judge it’s bakededness.

I’m going to just come out and say it: I’ve been enjoying this season of Indycar more than I have in many seasons prior.

The conversations surrounding it, even between previously aligned die-hard fans have become increasingly less comfortable, mostly highlighting more of our very personal preferences and illuminating our differences. It’s beginning to remind me of the various levels of discomfort people have in talking about religion or politics or sex.


In professional sports I appreciate intrigue, variety, uncertainty, and urgency, but also a well-ordered game and consistency in fair play. Not easy to find but is why I have a few beloved favorite sports to the exclusion of many.


Aside from the near-panic that Indycar exhibited in Indy after the practice issues with the Chevy cars snap-oversteering at their limits, becoming airborne, pitching/rolling, and leading to a decision to modify both Honda and Chevy kits in the interest of pragmatic conservation of risk (and, in my opinion, unfairly penalizing Honda), I’ve enjoyed the original concept and subsequent drama and differentiation that has resulted from the aerokits. 

With little drama on the power front, the motors have been prescribed to produce very similar overall power, just slightly different power bands and torque points, but in relation to the differences in aerokits, essentially so similar to not be noticeable.


This season has also added drama off the track for fans (and owners), seemingly producing a significant divide in opinion on the worth of aerokits in relation to the on-track product that we haven’t seen in many years. In the case of some newer fans, they’ve never seen this type of racing atmosphere at all. Love them or hate them, the differences are quite pointed. 

It appears that for people with a marked interest in Indycar racing, you appreciate very specific things: the markers of the distant past – open specs and ingenuity; recent past – single-spec racing (one larger, tightly-bunched packs with minuscule differentiation in performance and aesthetics); or you like more of the current racing – varied-but-similar-spec (multiple, smaller packs with more differentiation in performance and aesthetics).

There is also a longstanding gulf between oval-only fans and those that appreciate some twisties. Sounds like we’ve got ourselves enough traits to make a Punnet Square (hurray for high school Biology lessons paying off again)! Let’s examine what kind of Indycar fan you are..


I’ll admit I’m squarely OI dominant with RI as a recessive trait.

Where do you fall in this? 

Are you and your racing mates compatible?  In some cases, I see how those with opposite results might seem suddenly so foreign to us.

If you have offspring, what will your kids most like?

Insert your tongue-in-cheek, take a little time to be totally honest with yourself, regardless of the environment of the sport today, and think about what you most like, what you moderately like, what you are averse to, and why. 

At risk of making some readers even more uncomfortable, I’ll walk out on a limb even further and suggest that what kind of Indycar fan you are based on this punnet square also correlates to the type of love-maker you are. Do you prefer more “strategy” and “set-up” or rather the lowest-cost, lowest-risk route to “victory lane”?  Is high-speed or accel/decel your game? Perhaps a stretch, but without question more research would be needed to examine that hypothesis further.

Regardless, the key to using this tool is understanding yourself, then employing your time to finding joy in what you like. Indycar fandom or otherwise.





Where Amazing Happens / Alternate Realties

One of the most enjoyable parts of the Indy 500 is not only the amazing and rich history of the event, but knowing that each year is an opportunity to see something amazing. 


Some of the richest lore comes from events that seemed destined for a certain end if not for the intervention of fate’s final twist and newest Indy legend born.

I think of some of those events that nine times out of ten would turn out differently, more predictably, yet didn’t, forever changing the future course of the race itself.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to offer some of the most influential twists of racing fate in Indy 500 history and offer some alternate histories:




1987 – Mario Is Slowing Down:
The 71st Running of the 500 should have been the most uninteresting of modern history. Dominating the entire month’s practice speeds through qualifying and even the Carb Day pit stop competition, Mario Andretti looked poised to finally shed the “Andretti Curse” and win his second Indy 500. Leading from the drop of the green flag, Mario led 170 of the first 177 laps of the race, losing the lead only briefly during pit cycles. On Lap 177, Mario was cruising to a seemingly easy victory when an electronic fueling malfunction occurred forcing Mario to the pits. His car never recovered and from there we know the rest, Roberto Guerrero assumes the lead after being over a full lap down to Mario, only to stall in the pits on the final stop allowing a further lap down Al Unser, Sr., to assume the lead.  ‘Big Al’ hangs on to win his fourth after being rideless just 13 days prior.

Now let’s engage some imaginative thought; just forget the history as it exists and travel down a new path…


Mario wins the 1987 Indy 500 in a runaway victory. He and Michael go on to finish 1st/2nd respectively in the points title for different teams. Newman/Haas, seeing the extreme value in having the two together, expands to include Michael for 1988, driving Lola/Chevrolets for 1988. Struggling initially, they hit their peak at the 1988 Indy 500 with Michael defeating Mario via a late-race restart and becoming the first (and only to date) Father-Son pair to finish 1-2 at Indy.

Kraco Racing (Michael’s previous team), starts the 1988 season with Al Unser behind the wheel and has predictably steady results due to the combination of the March chassis, Cosworth motor, and Big Al’s tempered hand on the wheel. Near the end of the 1988 season, Kraco Racing is absorbed by Rick Galles Racing forming yet another formidable father-son team combination with Al Jr. for 1989.  The Andretti-Unser “family feud” begins and runs through the 1992 season when Mario, Al Sr., AJ Foyt, and Rick Mears all retire.

These ‘Legends of the Brickyard’ leave a massive hole in the sport with their retirements – AJ with 4- 500 wins, Mario and Al Sr. each with 3, and Mears with 2.  Mario comes out of retirement for the 1993 Indy 500 and finishes second to Michael again.

Al Unser, Jr., never makes it to victory lane in 1992 and never utters those famous words, Emerson Fittipaldi never becomes reviled as he was for drinking orange juice in 1993. Andrettis go on to to place three different family faces on the Borg-Warner, totaling 6 wins, Mario 3, Michael 2, Marco 1.  

 


The Legacy of ‘The Greatest 33’

I am, perhaps, quite predictable. 

I can’t possibly know this, however, unless evidenced by others. 

For those that know me well, they register only faint surprise when I produce one of two sports-related anecdotes; one that employs use of comparative statistics, or one that reflects my nostalgic nature.

Today’s post is a little of both.

As a nostalgist, a willful tethering to the past is standard operating procedure for better or worse and when it comes to the subject of Indycars and the Indy 500, I am tethered thusly. So on a day like yesterday, that deep spring day when the cars begin their first ovoid circuits of The Track in May, I eagerly recall familiar places and things past from the greatest of all speedways. 

One such thing was a website that silently orbited the internet, maintaining its critical function for only a few years, until it was taken down, it’s original mission essentially complete. IMS produced an interesting site for the 100th Anniversary race in 2011 called The Greatest 33. While the site his since been taken down, it produced much fodder for Indy 500 fans and I also participated in assembling my own ‘Greatest 33’.

The process for doing the original was enjoyable and so I’ve been fairly diligent in maintaining a spreadsheet with the formula I used and data entered to make my selections (only active drivers with wins or with many years of experience need updating). Every year around the start of May, I open it again and review it for ‘accuracy’. In other words, I ponder whether I feel that the formula used is still fair and producing ‘accurate’ relative rankings. I’ve never been one to rely on totally subjective feelings and thoughts when considering something of this magnitude. Mine is perhaps quite the opposite. I rely first and foremost on the statistics of performance as this is my personal preference for assessing the Greatest 33.

One exception I made to the hardness of the numbers was a play on the “Last Row Party” made famous by the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation members for the rather dubious honor of starting in the last row.  My last row was to be made a specially designated place for the three best ever to have never won. Essentially, I have a Greatest 30, plus three with careers of significance, but lacking that final verse of the turn into victory lane.

Here is my Greatest 33 following the 2014 Indy 500 results:


Rows 1 – 3:

Rows 4 – 7:

Rows 8 – 11:


And my criteria for helping select these drivers:

As you can see, emphasis is weighted heavily on winning the race, with additional consideration for Top 5 finishes, Poles won, Laps lead, and making the race. Michael Andretti, Ted Horn, and Rex Mays are the three highest rated non-winners at the expense of Buddy Lazier and Sam Hanks. 

For 2015, I am considering tinkering very slightly with the amounts of weight between these categories and also have given an intangible additional consideration for those who’ve also held track records or currently own a track record. 

I’m actually quite happy with this list although I think fair arguments could be made for other drivers in the one-win and no-win positions. This is how I choose to delineate my “Greatest” from the “merely great” or “very good”. 

What is of most importance and most exciting to me now is seeing what changes from year to year with the active drivers moving in the list. 

Will Helio, Dixon, or Kanaan, gain an additional win and move them each into the most rarefied of air in my Greatest 33? 

Can Carpenter, Marco, Hunter-Reay, Montoya, or even Lazier move into the discussion based on their results this year? 

What do you think of these cold, hard, numbers that marginalize the likes of Lloyd Ruby, Dan Gurney, Gary Bettenhausen, Jules Goux? 

These are things I enjoy pondering and makes following along consistently much more interesting. 

Let me know what you think about the legacy of The Greatest 33..




Gordon Moore’s Law and Indycar

It’s been over 50 years since those heady days of the 1960s science and technology boom in the US. Electronic (vacuum) tubes were soon to be replaced by an interesting, solid-state device, known as an integrated circuit board. (What was it about the 1960s that made it so damned amazing anyway?)

Gordon Moore was one of three scientists and partners who came to be known as the founders of the company Intel.  They developed their ideas, leading also to the development of solid-state memory devices (i.e RAM chips) and many other advances, which in turn, also begat the rapid advancement of not only computing machines, but also the manufacturing processes that were developed to create these amazing technological tools. April 19th, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of a paper released by Gordon Moore which later became more widely know at Moore’s Law.

Still not ringing any bells? 

Don’t worry, I didn’t hear any bells either until I read this Economist article today regarding the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law. Moore realized in 1965 that the microchip with all the capabilities of it’s solid-state integrated circuitry stated that the technology to produce microchip and to continually shrink the transistors would then allow for a doubling of transistors per unit of space in regular intervals (he settled on every 18 months or so), leading to an exponential increase in the ability of those circuit boards in addition to the decrease in cost to produce them. Largely his prediction held true, not for the 10 years as he foresaw, but nearly 50 years, longer than most ever agreed his “Law” would last.  

Eventually the increasing limitations of physical space lead to what is now being seen – a reversal of the decreasing per unit cost to produce to achieve that same or declining rate per area of microchip. (This is where the Indycar light bulb went on for me). 

In fall 2011, (maybe you were one of my tens of readers then) I wondered out-loud about the limitations and diminishing returns from increasing costs related to producing a leading-edge Indycar. Indycars (always in search of that next big idea to win the Indianapolis 500) were the working experiments in the laboratory of auto-racing which included design, manufacturing processes, and performance technology. From the early 1960s, steadily increased performance came with astounding regularity (and increasing budgets) until the early-1990s when it became no longer economically viable to build these amazing machines.  

The cost to produce a winner was becoming highly prohibitive to all but those who could be counted only on a bad-shop-teacher’s handful of fingers. Even the “unlimited” strata of F1 has hit a ceiling where costs and technology are outrunning those who would put resources to them.

So when considering how Indycars could be much better, don’t forget that at some point, power, speed, efficiency, technology, AND economic input per unit ALL reach a point that simply cannot be overcome. We found it in Indycars much sooner than with microchips. 

There was a time when the automobile was still new, out of the ordinary, looked upon with fascination and reverie. I grew up in the era when computers, for all their lack of personality, were also these amazing, cantankerous boxes that did increasingly amazing and streamlined tasks. 

So in better understanding that these are the times in which we reside, the current Indycar is quite serviceable for me, adequately and fairly delivering a racing product of enjoyment for those who partake. Short of blowing up the whole paradigm and having a totally unlimited format (including budgets), this is our Indycar, post-Boomer world.

Four generations since the automobile saw rapid development, and two since the computer did the same, the luxurious showroom shine is well and truly off the ‘Apple’ and we’ll likely see neither automobile nor computer with quite such fascination again. 

I can’t even imagine what the next big thing will be. 

Please just don’t let it be artificially intelligent android/robots. 

They’re simply WAY too creepy for me.