The Second Race I Attended

If you’re currently an Indycar fan or just a fan of the Indy 500, a vast majority of us would recall with great reverence, that first race we attended and became hooked on the entire sensory experience.

How many of us recall the second race in a similar manner, however?

My second race came in 1980, one year after my first. 1979, while a fantastic experience and cementing a lifelong love of the speedway (and also strengthening my bond with my father), left me wanting in the racing department because my favorite driver (Al Unser) in what was the best car on that day (the new ground-effect Chaparral), dominated only to drop out with a minor part failure (transmission seal).

The following year I was even further disappointed to learn that Johnny Rutherford would be piloting that formidable and glorious yellow machine for 1980. Al had moved to a new team with a rather squarish, white (Longhorn) car spectacularly unadorned with sponsors and terrifically average on the speed charts all month. This was not a good sign for “my man Al”, I thought.



It was the dawn of a new decade. The newly-inaugurated president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, seemed to symbolize the promise of unity and common good needed for much of a country that was hurting from the recession years of 1978-1980. In a reflection of the times (which I continue to note to this day), the uncertainty people felt in the economy was also felt in the racing community. 

Much uncertainty existed for the USAC, fledgling upstart series CART, the cobbled-together CRL (Championship Racing League), and IMS. Tony Hulman had been gone less than three years and the power vacuum was being filled by multiple, divergent sources. 

Teams raced on though. Some preferring the traditional USAC trail which was in decline with cancelled events later in the year, and some teams joining CART and attempting to grow their own series. This was the original “split” that fewer discuss when looking at the history of open-wheel racing in the US. Despite the uncertainty, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Sweepstakes was an unquestioned titan and, for the time being, remained steadfastly on the schedule of both sanctions. 

Race Day 1980 was quite beautiful, hot, and sunny making that Pennzoil Chaparral gleam even more brightly than the previous year. I knew better who this no-name Mears guy was who’d won the race in just his second try the year before. The cast of legends were all there and fairly competitive with a myriad of chassis and engines as the dawning of ground effects seemed to inject some optimism into experimenting.  

The new decade seemed to give hope that the future in general was brighter. Around 29 eligible drivers and over 40 cars missed the field for the 1980 race which seems incredible to imagine in this age.



The domination that we were expecting of the “Yellow Submarine” in 1979 bore fruit in 1980 as Rutherford had a nearly flawless day at the lead of the race for 118 of 200 laps. Tom Sneva, who wrecked his 14th-quickest and already qualified primary Phoenix chassis in practice after qualifying, used a backup McLaren to drive from 33rd to 2nd, even leading the race twice for a total of 16 laps.

It was a day that wasn’t particularly notable for the racing, aside from Sneva’s excellent run from the back of the pack to 2nd and Rutherford gaining his third 500 crown.

While we waited to leave the infield parking location, my two friends and I left the three fathers back in the vehicle to go stretch our legs (and alleviate some of the boredom of sitting in a hot car going nowhere). Wandering about provided an education of things heretofore unforeseen by these eyes.

This would be the year that I (quite innocently) had wandered too close to the infamous Snake Pit of yore where my first-person accounts of the adult female anatomy would be made much more complete than ever before. And displayed in incredible fashion. Live and in color, the details of which aren’t exactly suitable for public discussion. Perhaps someday, if we meet and you’re truly interested, I’ll provide the event’s details.

My 12-year-old self could scarcely believe what we were seeing and I am still quite incredulous to this day. I’m quite certain that if our fathers knew what we were witnessing, they’d have preferred to keep us in the vehicle.

Also, of particular note was my first live-action brawl between adults. Only in recent years did I see a picture of this incident captured by the Indianapolis Star and posted in their annual flashbacks.  Part of me wants to discount some details of the event I saw as boyhood embellishment, but I DO have certain elements reconciled in my brain as correct based on this photo, so while sparing some of the lengthy details, I can say that I witnessed this moment of Snake Pit lore from a range of approximately 30′ which seemed far too close once all hell broke loose:


Again, perhaps someday I may regale you in person with my memories of this alcohol-fueled contretemps but safe to say, my second Indy 500 was nearly as memorable as the first, just for vastly different, non-racing-related reasons.




The Last Of The Mohicans

In the second book of James Fenimore Cooper’s 5 novels comprising The Leatherstocking Tales, the character of Uncas is known as the last full-blooded member of the Mohican tribe of Native Americans who becomes allied within other tribes through marriage and also becomes a valued ally of the British forces in their skirmishes with the French over land in what is now known as Connecticut of the American colonies. Eventually as we know, the Mohicans as well as the other ancient tribes of America were killed off or assimilated into the new world.


With the recent news about the financial contractions of the CFH Racing team in this Racer.com article, it revealed to me that team owners Carpenter and Sarah Fisher remain the last active team/driver link to the Midgets and Sprint Car connection to Indycars. The last few of the once native and productive link from the small tracks of USAC to the top level Indycars.

It pains me to see this ‘last Mohican team’, backs to the wall, with massive odds against them, fight to survive. Their brightest driving talent, Josef Newgarden, will also perhaps struggle with results from a team struggling to merely pay the wages.

Much has been made of that once direct pipeline to the biggest race in the world having been essentially severed with the competitive malfeasance of USAC and the advent of CART.  The glory days of running sprints, midgets, and Champ Cars (Indycars) is only a memory for those old enough to also recall a time when Indycars first sprouted wings or when Richard Milhouse Nixon occupied the office that many candidates currently seek. I’m loathe to admit that I am old enough to recall those things and yet I’m merely at the tail end of that generation.

Indycar, and the last vestige of it’s Golden era connection to the mighty USAC river of talent that rushed forth with names like Vukovich, Ward, Foyt, Bettenhausen, Rathmann, Jones, McCluskey, McElreath, Kinser, Kenyon, Leonard, Johncock, Rutherford, Unser, et. al., is on the verge of being just a tiny stream that finally dries up.

For me, I’m honestly sad to see it come to this, but on the day that USAC and CART finally and terminally agreed to disagree, I suppose this day had to come. Many have spoken about the fear of a significant drop in attention to this sport after this season. Perhaps fitting that the grand 100th Indianapolis 500 mile race may be the last that actually includes that long link to the past.
So when considering someone to cheer for this year, I challenge the fans not to change your support from your favorite as before, but let’s also keep a positive thought and cheer for ol’ number 67 – Josef Newgarden – and his team owner, the last of the Mohicans, Sarah Fisher.


Edit: and just hours after posting the above article, it was publicly announced that Sarah Fisher’s and Wink Hartman’s ownership in the CFH racing team has been absorbed into Ed Carpenter Racing effective immediately. Newgarden will drive the Number 21 and Carpenter the Number 20 for ECR for 2016. 

Fare thee well Sarah. We’ll miss you and the 67 in Indycar.

SuperMegaComebackPost: Sir Issac Newton, The Breakfast Club, The Crystal Ball, and Change

Newton’s First Law of Blogging: 
Blogs at rest stay at rest,
 Blogs in motion stay in constant motion,  
unless either is acted upon by another force.


My blogging inertia was acted upon by a recent reminder (active mention on video) of my visit to Nashville which gave me time to hang out with our good Indycar friend George Phillips of Oilpressure.com and @oilpressureblog fame. 


His gracious allowance of me as a guest on the recording of his “One Take Only” video segment, which appears on his blog, was a treat and a great and all-too-brief experience. Joining us was his original One Take Only counterpart, John McLallen and the three of us spent most of a gorgeous early-autumn Tennessee Saturday afternoon discussing all manner of things, but mostly the centering around Indycar.

After another “One Take Only” post, I reflected on my visit and noted how, despite our different points of view, we also need to remember and reinforce the commonalities shared as Indycar fans. Sequestered in relative solitude on George’s back patio, our various discussions, while not nearly as intense, did make me recall the John Hughes movie “The Breakfast Club” (which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary theatrical re-release) and how we fans may not be so dissimilar to the characters in that movie.


Perhaps writing a letter similar to Brian’s in the movie will also remind us of how we should not so easily let others or ourselves be defined by the various ‘entrenched encampments’ of Indycar fandom.

Mr. Indycar-Overlord, 

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice so many Saturdays and Sundays supporting Indycar, but we think you’re crazy to make us write a blog telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is

a superfan,
a newbie,
a whiner,
an acolyte,
and a hyper-critic.

Does that answer your question?


Sincerely yours,

The Indycarfan Club




And now, It’s time for the Intermission…




And now, back again for the 2015 Indycar pre-season,

it’s DZ’s House of Indycar Megalomania! 

(aka 2015 season predictions and strident drivel)



Oh, epochal and monolithic Indycar off-season. You are so coy. 

With your belabored and long, somnombulant winter, you keep us in the doldrums until suddenly, 

>BAM!< 


exploding forth a lush, verdant optimism for Indycar in the form of.. (dare I actually believe they’re here).. AEROKITS!  

Technically 3 years late (or approximately 5.333 Indycar seasons stacked end-to-end), but here nonetheless. With the first discernible chassis diversity since the end of the 2008 season, Indycar has finally delivered on the concept approved in 2010, backed up along with new chassis until 2011, then slated for 2012, delayed until 2013, 2014.. ehhhrm, we’ve all been through that so no need to rehash it.


Regardless, aerokits are here and despite my 2011 predictions otherwise, I am pleasantly surprised at the difference in shape the Road/Street/ShortOval kits. 

Dare I say it? 

I dare.

I. Am. Satisfied.

And now for the grisly prediction bits.
(unofficially brought to you by the effects of Founder’s All-Day IPA)

2015
Biggest Storyline – Penske’s Chevys will dominate – to the point of becoming so oppressive, that they will become reviled.  Robin Miller often says, ‘hate is good’ when referring to the fans’ predilection for seeking out a hero or villain in any contest. Whether he means to or not, Penske will become the Indycar version of the New England Patriots – the most disliked team outside of “PenskeNation”. Even ol’ Chippy will let his ego slide and actually play up his underdog status to ride the wave of anti-Penskeness. Roger and Tim maintain their ZFG (Zero F***s Given) ‘tude and happily cash the giant cardboard winner’s checks for 8 of the 16 races this season.
– Championship – Simon Pagenaud.
– Top 6 in points will be made up of 4 Penske drivers and 2 Ganassi.
– The Galactic Empire is strong and will keep the Rebel scum on the run.


It’s not as if Honda won’t be competitive, they will. They will just be lacking that tiny, tiny margin that takes one from finishing 8th to 1st. Honda wins just three races of the season, BUT one of them will be the Indy 500.

Rookie Of The Year – Stefano Coletti. Don’t ask me why, just know it came to me in a dream (All-Day IPA haze).

Biggest Darkhorse – TIE: James Jakes and Gabby Chaves. Don’t be surprised if you’re surprised when one of these drivers scores a podium this year.

Best Livery – If that Schmidt-Peterson Motorsport Spyder car becomes reality on the track, you can forget all you ever thought about the glory of retro liveries. That mo-chine looks simply badass.

Biggest Comeback – Simona de Silvestro. Of course she’s a fan favorite on a massively talented and well-funded team. She’ll struggle to see more than half of the races this season, but will not disappoint the faith placed in her by Andretti Autosport.  Less than half the races and finishing 14th in points will be hard to reconcile.  Just maybe AA finds a way to keep her in a seat all season long. If so, watch out.

Biggest Disappointment – The fans who align with the Legions of the Miserable. A season of dominance by one team will certainly lead to the chorus of boo-birds who will choose to again aim their venom at the overlords of Indycar for the disparity in racing. Their myopic views conveniently forget to accurately recall during the most heady days of CART in the 1980s, for example, despite a Gordy and Rick Ravon Mears most amazing Indy 500 finish in modern history, that 7th place Jim Hickman was a full 11 laps down at the finish. 7th place out of 33 racers – 11 laps down. Typically in those days, beyond the top 5 or so finishers there was the rabble of twenty or so others who had no chance of sniffing the podium. A singularly great finish but great overall quality, the events were generally not. Far too many fans, including one R. Miller, will further mire themselves in nostalgia for a time that was really less entertaining racing that what we’ll see in 2015. That is simply sad and I think the current sport deserves better.

With 10 of the 16 races non-ovals, and all of the major conflagrations occurring outside the ghostly hallows of influence that ovals once held, the high-water point for the new speedway kits be at their unveiling in Indy, May 3rd. Once May is over, the Speedway Oval kits get precious little use, in deference to the mighty cheese-graters of R/S/SO kits.
I really don’t expect much difference at all in the High Speed Oval kits and honestly (leads me to my Biggest Revelation), “it just doesn’t matter.

Why do I say this?


Because, my friends, I’ve returned to this blog an enlightened man.

In my many winters of malcontent, discontent, and general dissatisfaction in the direction of Indycar in relation to its glorious past, I’ve given up hope. Sounds bleak perhaps, but I assure that it is not and I’ll tell you why.

For some unknown reason, my epiphanies have been many with regard to several sports since the last checkered flag flew for Indycar in 2014, one of which is giving up hope that Indycar will ever become anything closely resembling the past or having some gloriously innovative and wide-open future. Maybe I’m a late-comer to this method of thinking, especially compared to the 20-somethings/new guard who’ve never experienced first-hand a field of Offys and Drakes, Chevys and Cosworths, in glorious song and never will.

For better or worse, nothing can change the fact that the past shall always remain there and I’ve come to believe the nostalgia, no matter how well-meaning or beloved, is ultimately harmful to the sport of today. The ‘earth’ moved by the seismic rift that began with the formation of CART in 1979, and major aftershock of the formation of IRL in 1994, can never be repaired. The ground has irreparably been shifted. So to history it all shall be laid anyway. Indycar must promote the here and now, and forget trading on past glory which always lends to irritating old wounds.

It’s a time to heal.
I’ve changed.

I’ve reconciled (finally) with Indycar never being the hallmark of innovation and brutal speed that it once was.

I’ve accepted that the glories past can never be recreated, and that they shouldn’t be.

I see many things on the horizon for Indycar that will give me much entertainment and satisfaction, when I don’t look at it from the immensely-removed perspective that includes anything prior to the last 10 years of Indycar.

I’ve embraced the belabored arrival of the aerokits.

I’ve finally made my peace with saying goodbye to the old Indycar.

I’ve become a happier race fan for it.

I predict I’m going to love watching Indycar unfold this season, and I know that’s one prediction I won’t miss.