Prediction? Pain.


*edit* This post, begun on August 5th and not finished until today may appear to be a rough bit of ‘piling on’ or ‘givin’ Indycar the bizness‘, after all the hoopla surrounding Race Control’s call at the end of the MoveThatBlock.com 225 yesterday.  I assure you the negative tone of this rant was set following the announcement that the all-new 2009 chassis (which became the 2010 ICONIC competition) became the 2011 safety-cell chassis with aero kits, to be introduced in 2012, is now slated for 2013.  I will admit my tone is enhanced by Sunday’s double-birds and officiating hubris and ‘best justice available’…

Recently a blog commentor, anotherindycarblog, noted some of my off-season thoughts of November 2009, several of which almost resemble something akin to prophecy.  Emboldened by my newfound clairvoyance, I again put it ‘out there’ for the world to digest.


There’s a big ole bunch of Indycar badness headed our way. The size, strength, and threat of this badness reminds me of that fierce antagonist, Clubber Lang from Rocky III. Like Rocky Balboa, the current Indycar lives fairly comfortably on past success and we may or may not know the threat is even there, because our handlers (aka Indycar governors) will be coddling us, shielding us from harm, keeping us ‘safe’ from the very thing they fear, but what Rocky really wants… competition. 


So with no further delay, I give everyone the ‘Tale of the Tape’ for Indycar 2012 and beyond… (*hint* I pity the fools).

Rocky Balboa (Pro):
2012:

– The newest chassis debuts and elicits an overall positive response from fans.
– The new engines are well-received by fans and especially noticeable will be the turbo whine, maximized for the at-race fan’s enjoyment.
– Two historic ovals not on the 2011 race schedule come on board to fans’ delight.
– Two road/streets on the 2011 schedule DON’T come back to fans’ delight.
– The Indy 500 TV ratings are higher than they’ve been in 18 years, largely due to the added hype of the 2012 chassis, Danica’s return to Indycar for her one-off, and increased speeds at Indy which will approach the upper 230s during the month of May. The enthusiasm follows to the next several races as all of them enjoy double-digit increases in TV viewership and Ticket sales.

2013:

– by early 2013, we will have exactly three different manufacturers of aero kits for the 2012 chassis, which will be ballyhooed by what remains of Indycar’s PR machine.
– by late 2012, a third engine manufacturer will be testing adding a bit of momentum for the spring of 2013.

Clubber Lang (Con):
2012

– Danica leaves for NASCARland and things get seriously rainbows and kittens for her financial and retirement portfolio, in addition to finding that she actually prefers the slab-sided vehicles to the Indycar. Fans embrace her there and NASCAR’s popularity, judged by most common measures gets a double-digit uptick. NASCAR’s gain, Indycar’s loss once again.
– Nothing will change the presence of the ‘ride-buyer’, although part-time driving schedules will lead to even less success than in the ‘UberSpec’ 2003-2011 era.
– Barnhardt will remain in the Race Control supervising tech, but Indycar will shuffle in a new race steward who will fare little better as race referee, despite a much ballyhooed nomination to the post. More disillusionment with the leadership of Indycar ensues.
– The 78% of Indycar fans who aren’t on Twitter (and thereby don’t follow @pressdog or @oilpressureblog or @SBPopOffValve) will only now realize all the 2012 chassis are all EXACTLY THE SAME, question the absence of different chassis, and become disenfranchised (AGAIN) with Indycar’s governing ineptness. This group fractures into people who; begin watching WRC online, or foster their newfound interest in ALMS, largely due to the shockingly incredible performance at 24 Hours of LeMans by that Delta Wing thingy (Hey, why didn’t we get that thing for Indycar?).
– The 2012 motors, despite their well-received sound will all prove somewhat inconsistently-powered and somewhat unreliable. Fans of ‘three cars on the lead lap at midway’ or of ‘late-race motor-blowing which induces violent race standings shuffles’ will rejoice. Owners of said motors will not and publicly lament the loss of the yawn-inducing reliability of the Honda V8, (much to the dismay of Indycar PR).

2013:

– the two additional manufacturers of 2013 aero kits finally enter the Indycar stage but will all look so amazingly similar that it triggers a violent and palpable *ker-THUNK* as ICONIC’s decision for aero kits coupled with the Indycar owner-induced delay falls tremendously flat with nearly all Indycar fans. Many longtime fans will shake their heads and consider this the final-FINAL straw and leave for good.
– After numerous ‘lead balloon’ decisions and the Centennial Era a fading memory, Indycar is in a delicate state left with fewer fans than in 2011, a fractured TV coverage package, declining ratings, and a CEO teetering with his sport on the brink of total collapse…  Very hard decisions must be made… 


To continue to fight or retire? 



"…you come in here with a skull full of mush and, if you survive, will leave thinking like an Indycar fan."

So so SOOOO often I get asked by my friends (who aren’t yet Indycar fans) what are seemingly elementary questions about Indycars and the Indy 500. Things like, “Indycar… what exactly is that? Is that like NASCAR?” or, “Whaddya mean by open wheels?” or, “Isn’t the Indy 500 just a big party? You go every year right? (implying that I can’t pass on a big party which, while fairly accurate, in this case is missing the point). 


It forces me into a frame of reference that I haven’t been since roughly the turn of the decade – the 80s decade, that is, when I first began approaching Indycar as a fan.  

I also must resist rapidly morphing into some aghast, codger-like visage of Houseman’s Professor Kingsfield from “The Paper Chase” (a quote from which this post’s title is paraphrased) and try to see Indycar through fresh eyes. My sometimes inquisitive kids also aid in this.


One thing I’ve noted is that we Indycar stalwarts (are there any other kind?) can be perceived as a very insulated, exclusive, micro-focused bunch approaching racing nerddom.  So when I get that seemingly elementary question from an Indycar ‘Outsider’, I must remember that it’s all-new to someone and I will try hard to determine what depth of answer will lose them and develop an answer just short of that, because my goal has always been to maintain their interest in Indycar, no matter how shallow, and provide as informative an answer as possible. 


But also, after years of losing many people with amateur answers that regale the history and intricacies and dramas of Indycar, I have now determined one simple answer seems to to be about the only true and best advice I can give anyone who wants to know more about Indycar: 

“You just have to go see it.” 


It’s still my favorite way (by far) to experience it. TV rarely does the experience justice, the great crew with IMS Radio at the Indy 500 does a great job of communicating the excitement, but when I’m fortunate enough to be present when they fire up the engines, it’s still a goosebump moment… everytime. Anticipation, sights, sounds, smells, vibrations through the ground all culminate in one overwhelming experience and the closer you are, the more amazing it is. 


So do yourself a favor. Go see a race and don’t fail to take a friend who has never seen an Indycar race before. I’ve done it now for 8 years running to the Indy 500 and while, to an Indycar codger like me, it may seem their auto racing brain is full of mush, they also may just leave a fan.

Indy Car Parody Lyrics – Jay Penske’s Lament

DZ’s Indycar Parody Lyrics
Parody of ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’ by Warren Zevon
‘Jay Penske’s Lament’ by DZ (aka:@groundedeffects)

I went home on the team bus
The way I always do
How was I to know
It was Gil deFerran’s too?

I was gambling in Indiana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, cars and money
Daaad get me out of this, hyeah

I’m the innocent car owner
Somehow I got stuck
Between “Tô fora!” and a hard place   (“Tô fora” = “I’m out!”)
And I’m down on my luck
Well I’m down on my luck
There’s no cars in my truck

I’m hiding in California
and PT’s a desperate man
Send sponsors, cars and money
The shit has hit the fan

All right
Send lawyers, cars and money
Huh!
Uh…
Send sponsors, cars and money
Uhh!
Send lawyers, cars and money
Hyah!
Send sponsors, cars and money
Ooh!
Yeah!
Yeah
Yeah…
Uh!

Who do you trust?

Despite my very slight case of megalomania, I don’t envy Randy Bernard one bit.


All the “input” he’s been getting lately from such divergent sources as TV networks, team owners, sponsors, and the ‘almighty’ fans, all with legitimate views, he must feel a bit in need of some sorcery to fairly placate these people. The recent hoopla over the proposed changes to the restarts/pitting/lucky doggery, as suggested by the owners, raises the question of who does Bernard need to listen to the most?

Owners have ‘skin in the game’ and must always have their input, but that is to say not always will they, or should they, get what they want.  Sponsors want to have as much exposure for as little money as they can which is totally understandable, but their influence on the racing product should be minimal. 

TV networks appear to be the most flaky part of this equation with their heads half-buried in the traditional decades-old model of ‘we show it, when we want to show it, and you watch it and be thankful’. TV, while still the most traditional method, is far from the only avenue of content viewing and until they realize how much they’re missing out on by not including online access, extra features, and expanded content that a majority of the faithful viewers WOULD PAY EXTRA FOR, they will continue to underserve the very audience for which they are aiming. Traditional TV media appears quite able at head-in-the-sand thinking which stems from an acute misunderstanding of how the audience is getting their content these days (‘I want it, when I want it, on multiple devices I may use to attain it’). 

Lastly, the fans. Perhaps Mr. Bernard has set a precedent from which he may never recover.  He allowed direct contact from the fans. Wow. Big mistake. You want 17 different opinions about your product? Ask 17 different fans. Herding felines is a simpler task than understanding what the fanbase wants. I’m as guilty of taking advantage of this access as anyone and I think it’s time for the fans to take a step back, count to 10 or something, and get a grip. 

Yes, we are the reason for sponsorship dollars and ticket sales.  Yes, we buy merchandise and watch the (at times, meager) coverage. Yes, we are the end customer, but what we are NOT is racing experts. Why do we as fans feel the need to have our input so greatly valued, just because we have the ability?  I’ve never raced a day in my life so how valuable is my input on the mechanics of making a good racing product really? A significant portion of long-term fanbase (pre-split) is very knowledgeable in the ‘how it used to be and what worked 17 year ago’, but how valuable is that really in today’s game?  Not much, I say. 

What we DO have of value is a great enthusiasm and passion for our beloved sport, and for that reason alone, the league, owners, and TV coverage should be open to input from the end customer. We’re ultimately the reason everyone there has a job. We’re the people who spend money on this diversion and not one of myriad others. We deserve to be heard, but like the owners, and because of our herd-like mentality, shouldn’t always get our way with respect to racing product, because we may not actually know what the hell we’re talking about all the time.

What’s a solution? I think Mr. Bernard needs to seriously consider a competition committee which includes representatives of the league, owners, tracks, promoters, fans, media, and sponsors who all get in one room at the same time and hash out the final racing product.  Using the current ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks’ (or put it online and see what flames erupt) is a fairly poor way of developing a product that satisfies such divergent input. 

Unfortunately for 2011, it’s too late to accomplish this feat, but for 2012, I see it as essential to maintain a product that satisfies as many as possible and can therefore grow and prosper into the future.

The Singlemost Factor in Appreciating INDYCAR over NASCAR

NASCAR’s revision of its points system, and the reaction to it, has returned me, like the swallows to Capistrano, to my very core base of appreciation for INDYCAR. Screaming typographics aside, the debate of on-track action between INDYCAR and NASCAR for this writer has always boiled down to one very simple inherent element – open wheels.


In reaction to the points system changes in NASCAR, driver Clint Bowyer states, 
“…you’re out there giving it 100 percent, you’re out there to win the race 
each and every week anyway, but you’re not going to 
step underneath somebody if you’re loose 
and you know they’re going to make you even looser. 
You’re not going to try to make that pass for 
a fifth place and take a chance of finishing 35th.”



Recollecting the ‘mosh-pit’ nature of action often found in a stock car race, there are some who will see it as Bowyer does, encouraging more caution and conservatism to attain the precious points for your season, seemingly reducing the impetus to race. One wonders if this also allows for backmarkers and multiple-car teams to play a more significant role in the system. I certainly don’t have any immediate suspects, but one could see how a car suffering misfortune early and dropping back to 32nd place could roll around out there until the opportunity presents to, er.. ‘assist’ a teammate by impeding or (dare I say it?) ‘chrome horn’ an opposing car out of contention (that doesn’t really happen, does it?).  Tongue, meet cheek. 


The ability to ‘bump and grind’ and ‘loosen-up’ and ‘slide-job’ and ‘soldier on’ after repairs (and all those other wonderful stock car colloquialisms) certainly allows for this to happen. Perhaps that IS the very nature of that form of auto-racing which makes it popular with so many.  For others, this isn’t racing at all which brings me to my point (yes, finally).


INDYCAR (or Indycar as I like to call it), from it’s inception, has the simple and inherent beauty (and violent danger) of being an auto-racing form which has vehicles specifically featuring open-wheels. No fenders means no ‘grind-bump-draft-slide-job-loosen-sheet metal repairs’. 


‘Open wheels’ means a pass must be judged and made skillfully or the penalty for locking wheels often takes both drivers, and even others, out of the race (or sometimes on a tragic occasion even out of this life). To this writer, this is, and has always been, the singlemost reason why I appreciate the sport of Indycar more than any other form of racing. 


Formula 1, it can be argued, contains the highest level of technology in a similar open-wheel format, but due to their European origin on street and road courses, it’s oft-turned and rapidly-deccelrated wheels requires primary skill in braking and turning and never reaches the overt and thrilling speeds (or passing) found with Indycars on ovals. NASCAR had speeds sometimes approaching the relative ballpark of Indycars (albeit many years and restrictions ago) on matching ovals, but all too often relies on less-sporting driving skills and tactics, and certainly aren’t also made very well for going left AND right as Indycars will also do.


I am fully aware that success in NASCAR also requires a skillset, but in my view Indycar has always represented the apogee of where extreme speed meets sporting skillfulness. I also believe that once seen in this light, Indycar has no equal in what it provides to its audience. Only then does one begin to truly understand the heritage and legacy found in its 100 years of racing.


The latest chassis (and engine) rules for 2012 have embraced this heritage by allowing this primary element to remain, yet not allowed private technology budgets to attempt to dictate the competition. This is why INDYCAR is still my preferred form of auto racing and why so many, who’ve yet to cast an eye on it will appreciate it as we, the dedicated, do.


Nearly every year since my third Indy 500 back in 1988, I’ve brought a person who has never seen an Indycar race (or in some cases any auto-racing event) to their first Indycar race only to have them be amazed at the sounds, smells, sights, speed, and atmosphere of it all. I’m glad to have passed this along to my friends as my father and mother did for me back in 1979. I intend to do it again this year and challenge you to bring at least one ‘newbie’ to a race in 2011, as there is truly no substitute for the experience.

The Curious Case of Sam Hornish

Much ado will probably be made over the next several days and weeks regarding one Mr. Sam Hornish, Jr. and his future in racing.  Much more will likely be made again about a return to Indycars and specifically, the Indy 500.


I’m not going to pretend that just because we’re both from the humble, rural midwest that this writer has any particular insight into his current state of mind, BUT, honestly, it’s almost as if Sam needs the advice of a trusted friend who might suppose he just didn’t need a break from it all. 


Playing third-string on a team can be taxing, especially when you consider he’s been the first-string all-star on the upward trajectory for a vast majority of his career.  First-string until he stepped into a stock car that is. A new challenge is precisely what he got when he traded wings for fenders, but I’m guessing being support for, first one, then two, other drivers was not the dream job he was looking for. 


Understanding that ‘taking a year off’ in sports most often leads to the severe decline in career opportunities (and performance), the reluctance to step back from it for a second is without question. Yet in review of his career path, one has to wonder if a year of doing something different (ALMS, Grand-Am, Rally cars, Sprinters) or whatever, just for the fun of it, might not be a panacea for his driving malaise. 


Again, this is pure speculation by a rank amateur whose only credentials in driving are a current and valid Indiana drivers license and has driven the wonderful Indy Racing Experience car for 4 laps at the hallowed IMS.  Still, one wonders if this is less a racing issue and more an issue ‘between the ears’. Most true fans would certainly only hope he does what’s best for him and that it helps his journey in racing for the long-term.