Sunday, May 25, 2014

Indianapolis in May, Part 2 (USSBC Report)

First, I wish to apologize for being somewhat tardy in producing part 2 of my analysis of this year's activities at Indianapolis. Earlier today, while working on my pool (or attempting to,) I tweaked my surgically repaired left wrist, leaving it very sore, and me unable to type. Now, with the aid of a bevy of muscle relaxers and a painkiller or two, I'm going to try and give you the "skinny" on who should prevail in today's Indianapolis 500.

After last year's 68 lead change, record speed race, this year's model looks pretty tough to handicap. Why? Simply because no one wants to lead, as leading makes you a sitting duck. As we've seen in practice and qualifications this field is CLOSE. Given the huge number of cars and drivers who are within less than a mile an hour of each other, there are probably 20 drivers who could realistically win, given the right set of circumstances.

So, I'm going to revert to consulting the odds to give me the "value plays" for this year's event. Team Penske has three entries in the top 10, with Will Power on the outside of the front row, Helio Castroneves on the inside of row 2, and Juan Pablo Montoya on the inside of row 4. This is where it starts to get really strange: Power, the strongest of the Penske trio is the only one of the three who is a reasonable value at 10-1. (Montoya is 7-1 and Castroneves is 5-1.) Given that, the only play I can recommend on Team Penske is Power, and if Helio or J.P. win it, well, that's why they call it gambling.

The second "super" team, team Ganassi, was strangely absent from the top of the speed charts for most of the month. That "most" ended abruptly on Pole Day as Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan found some speed that they'd been lacking all month. Still, neither car made the "Fast Nine," so Dixie starts from the middle of row 4, and defending champion Kanaan goes from the inside of row 6. Their improvement carried into Friday's Carb Day practice session, where Kanaan and Dixon topped the speed charts. (Ganassi's "B team" of Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe did not fare as well and they're buried back in rows 9 and 10 respectively.)

For the Target cars, this is eerily reminiscent of 2012, when both Dixon and his then-teammate Dario Franchitti struggled most of the month but woke up on Carb Day, with Franchitti grabbing the big cash on race day. With that thought in mind, and the two Target cars each at 10-1, I'm inclined to recommend either or both.

The other "super team," Andretti Autosport, leads with James Hinchcliffe (10-1) starting in the middle of row 1, Marco Andretti (6-1) on the outside of row 2, last year's rookie sensation Carlos Munoz (9-1) inside row 3, NASCAR regular Kurt Busch (20-1) outside row 4, and former series champ Ryan Hunter Reay (10-1) inside row 7. Of these, only Hinchcliffe and Busch interest me, and I'd probably take a run on Hinch.

The Pole sitter, Ed Carpenter is 8-1, but with soooo many potential winners, I'm limiting my selections to those who are 10-1 or higher.

If you want a little more of a "flyer," consider the following two: Josef Newgarden (25-1) or Townsend Bell at a stunning 100-1. Newgarden, in the middle of row 3 has been very happy with his car all month, and this young man just may be on the threshold of greatness. And for a purely "spec" play you can't  much miss. Bell has a habit of moving forward steadily and you can't ignore the potential payout for a veteran who always seems to squeeze the max out of his equipment.

All that being said, my two primary selections are Kanaan and Dixon. I can't say it would hurt my feelings if TK brought it home for a second year in a row, even though I've never been a huge fan of Chip Ganassi.

Weather for the race should be great, sunny and about 80 degrees.

Please take a moment aside from your holiday festivities to remember the reason we celebrate Memorial Day. My wife and I are planning a relaxing day by the pool listening to Paul Page on the radio broadcast of the race. (I'll take in the TV broadcast via DVR later.) Enjoy!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Indianapolis in May, Part 1.

And so, we have seen the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar turn to the merry month of May - make that, Indianapolis. Thanks to a move by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to add a road course race to begin the month, we have returned to the MONTH of May in Indianapolis. Like many long time followers of open wheel racing, I was very resistant to the idea of having TWO "spectacles" of racing within the confines of a single month.

Like many, I assumed that this would become subtraction by addition: By adding a second IMS race to the May schedule, it would subtract from the main event, The Indianapolis 500. And, also like many, the closer this heresy came to fruition, the more that attitude began to change. The Grand Prix drew somewhere north of 40,000, which made Mark Miles and most of the bean counters happy. Now, with the newly revised qualifications complete (and with a reasonably good TV number,) standing on the threshold of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, I look back and ask, "Why the Hell didn't we do this sooner?"

First, The GP of Indianapolis. When this idea was first hatched, I thought the BEST plan would be for a Fall race on the updated road course at IMS. It was quickly apparent, however, that "plan A" would be to kick off the month of May with this new event. All through the winter months, I got loads of Twitter pics of the progress on the update to the infield road course, courtesy of IMS President Doug Boles. I watched as this new "baby" got birthed through the worst of this awful winter and LATE spring. The more I looked, the more I liked, even though I would have preferred that they NOT add in the last three turns, which would have allowed them to basically run half of the oval in reverse. My reason for this was that I felt the more of the oval that was included, the more passing zones we would see.

Obviously, after watching not only the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but the ENTIRE ladder series racing on the road course, my concerns were unwarranted. When it came time to line up the Verizon IndyCars for a standing start, however, the wheels came off. Literally. Pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra's car failed to move on the start and chaos ensued. Several rows of drivers were able to avoid Saavedra's stationary machine, but Carlos Munoz clipped his rear corner and Mikhail Aleshin ploughed full on into the stalled Colombian, who was a sitting duck..

All of this leaves one to question whether these cars are suitable for standing starts. It seems like every other time they try one, it turns into a crash fest. In addition to the aforementioned three, Juan Pablo Montoya had difficulties getting his mount rolling,  though he was able to get his out of harm's way.

After the botched start, Jack Hawksworth made an outstanding pass going into turn 1, a right hander that lies just north of the pit lane. The  other passing zone seems to be at the end of Hulman Boulevard, as the cars snake their way out to the south end of the oval.

While there was not a great deal of passing, the fuel strategies contributed to a very exciting finish as no one knew whether eventual winner Simon Pagenaud had sufficient gas to get to the finish.

The day after the Grand Prix, .the cars, reconfigured for oval racing, were back to work going around the Speedway the right way. As is often the case in Indianapolis in May, weather was a major factor in practice, with rain severely curtailing practice for the 98th running of the 500. In fact, "Fast Friday" was reduced to "Fast 21 minutes."

All of which brings us to the other major change: qualifications. Like many older fans, I'm not always amenable to change. The tradition of qualifying at Indy, although shrunken from 2 weekends to one, has been the same throughout my lifetime, and I'm not exactly younger than springtime. That being said, in my younger days, it was not unusual to see more than 100,000 people gather at IMS for Pole Day. That was some time ago. And, with the recent "scrambles" to field 33 cars for the race, "Bump Day" hasn't had meaning for years as well.

All that considered, (and factoring in the network TV availability,) IMS opted to try and make something meaningful out of both days. On the whole, I think they succeeded. On Saturday, with qualifications running virtually all day, I found myself GLUED to my computer which carried all of the activity on ESPN 3. True, not as convenient as the former all day coverage on NBCSN, but you're trading up for better network coverage of  "happy hour" qualifying on Saturday and "Fast Nine" coverage on Sunday.

Apparently, the idea worked because the rating for Sunday's "Fast Nine" coverage pulled better than a 1.0, something we have NEVER seen from any RACE on NBCSN. And, in truth, with all the means of viewing online, ESPN 3 is not a bad trade, if you ignore the occasional glitch in the video stream. Moreover, the broadcast team of Allen Bestwick, Eddie Cheever, and Scott Goodyear seems to have upped their game over the previous crew with Marty Reid.

Where would I make changes? First, while I understand that the two hour window allows for some introduction of the participants, for me, it's overkill to have an hour plus of interviews and sidelights, followed by 45 minutes or so of "Fast Nine" qualifying. Let them run once through the order in reverse, but after that, give those who wish to do so a chance to withdraw their time and better their position, the deadline being the closure of the TV window. This would be a true risk/reward choice. Interviews and features can be covered during the periods when drivers are warming up for their attempts. Look, I understand that we're trying to get more appeal to folks who aren't paying attention to the race right now, but letting them feel the "do or die" excitement as the qualifying deadline approaches is the closest thing we're likely to see to "Bump Day" anytime soon.

On the whole, however, the changes seem to have been reasonably well received and, as I noted earlier, the "Fast Nine" showdown drew a TV rating that, while nothing spectacular, is certainly better than what we've seen for qualifications in recent years.

I'll be back on Saturday with my handicap and preview of the 98th running.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Television, Attendance, and $100 Million

The world of IndyCar racing has had a great first half of a season. There's been Tony Kanaan's emotionally charged win at Indy, Helio's chase for a championship, and lately, "The Scott Dixon Show." There's been the rebirth of Pocono, a track BUILT for IndyCars, and two "double headers."

What's happening off the track, however, has the potential to be a long term game changer.


NBC's purchase of the back half of the Sprint Cup season (and virtually all things NASCAR, meaning Nationwide, and assorted other odds and ends,) means that come 2015, NBC will become THE network for motorsports. It also means a considerable number of variables as this move relates to IndyCar. At  this point, any outcome of this move is going to be speculative at best, and more likely SWAG (Substantially a Wild Ass Guess.) Nonetheless, we do know a few things.

First of all, the TV ratings for IndyCar are awful. There are a lot of possible explanations for this, but not one of them has anything to do with the quality of the product that is airing on NBCSN or ABC. With the advent of the DW-12, we've seen a huge improvement in the competitive nature of the racing on road and street circuits. And really, how do you match 68 passes for the lead at Indy this year? Parity, at least in the first part of the year has been the rule rather than the exception, and until Dixie started his current rampage, the "Big Two" really had not done very much. At the very least, the "Big Two" has morphed into the "Big Three," but even with that, other teams have made huge strides with their programs.

On the NBCSN side, Leigh Diffey has been an adequate replacement for Bob Jenkins in the anchor chair, although Diffey's first "love" is F-1. With both F-1 and IndyCar on the docket at NBCSN, when there has been conflict, Diffey has called F-1, leaving (insert replacement here) to call the IndyCar races. I don't think I will upset too many IndyCar fans in suggesting that the NBC folks should be grooming Kevin Lee to take over that chair. Short term, he should be filling in when Diffey is doing F-1; long term, I think Kevin could be the TV "face" of IndyCar for years to come. I can't think of too many people who are more knowledgeable about IndyCar current, while respecting the long held traditions. Let's face it: Kevin Lee is "everyman." He's not a screamer, he's not into making the broadcast all about him, but he's consistently well prepared and he knows his stuff.

Maybe because they were the "new kid on the block," NBCSN has more than fulfilled its obligation as a partner to the IndyCar series,

As NBC steps boldly into NASCAR, however, you have to wonder where IndyCar will fall in the pecking order. In announcing their deal, NBC acknowledged that several Cup races will be on NBCSN, as well as most of the Nationwide series races and other ancillary races. That fills a LOT of prime air time. See ya' later, Bill Dance and have a nice day, Jimmy Houston; So much for the former "fishing channel." F-1, because most of it is multiple time zones away, isn't nearly as much of a factor, but, as things stand now, there will be at least two F-1 races in North America to consider.

And, it isn't just other racing entities that are on NBC's horizons. The NBC is also picking up the English Premier League in soccer. While F-1 is not so much to worry about because of their scheduling and the time difference, the Premier League dominates the weekend, much as the NFL does here. Between live and tape delay matches, they are going to have a rather large footprint on the broadcast schedule. Considering that soccer, "the beautiful game," is the most popular sport world wide, it is easy to see that finding a slot for ratings-challenged IndyCar in the schedule could well be a problem for the peacock family.

Then, there's the other 800 lb. gorilla in the room, the one wearing the Disney mouse ears. With Nationwide and Cup going the way of the peacock, ABC/ESPN is going to have to replace a large pile of programming. After Labor Day, this is no problem, since ABC/ESPN has a huge stake in college football and once "College Game Day" starts at 10 am, it's easy to see NCAA football running all the way up to and including the 11 pm hour. That does leave Sundays open, but who wants to go head to head with the NFL anyway. As a fan of both, I can tell you that once the NFL starts, my DVR usage for IndyCar increases dramatically. It's no wonder that Mark Miles has expressed a desire to start and end the IndyCar season earlier. I very much believe in the old baseball adage, "Hit 'em where they ain't," and honestly, the sports agenda is a whole lot less crowded in February and March than in September and October.

Personally, I'd love to see some sort of IndyCar activity on the "off" weekend between the NFL Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. Maybe that's the time for a second race in Brazil, or even a return to Surfer's Paradise. Or, how about Phoenix? In so doing, you get out front of NASCAR. It's a totally "lost" weekend sports wise, aside from the (ahem) Pro Bowl. Even if you take a short sabbatical of 2-3 weeks after that,  you're getting in front of eyes when they are not under the influence of other sports. Put it on the "big" NBC (or ABC) and promote the living Hell out of it.

There are some who believe that IndyCar should go "all in" with ABC/ESPN after NASCAR moves on to NBC. One of the most telling quotes I've heard to this came in a tweet to "Trackside," which said, "I want IndyCar to be on a network, not a fishing channel." (I'm wondering if the source of that tweet still calls IndyCar "the IRL.") Trust me, once all this new programming kicks in, NBCSN will no longer be a "fishing channel." Initially, I thought this was an idea that deserved some consideration. The more I've thought about it, though, the less I like that alternative. First, I've had issues with ABC's presentation of IndyCar. Anyone who knows me knows that I am less-than-fond of Marty Reid and adding Scott Goodyear to the equation is like adding a handful of Nembutal to your normal nightly dosage of Ambien. Good night, sleep tight. Eddie Cheever, who initially showed a dry wit and humor, seems to have fallen into this trance as well.

Additionally, Disney has shown me very little in concern for the overall health of the series beyond their coverage of the Indianapolis 500. Sure, they have 4 other races on their docket now, but they have shown almost no proclivity to promote the series, in spite of their huge stake in the 500. Any future dealings with Disney should address that relationship, since any further dealings with the House of Mouse will probably involve the whole IndyCar season, rather than 5 or 6 races. Again, however, how much IndyCar can request/demand of a broadcast partner when the ratings are so bad is questionable.

Finally, there's one other consideration where TV relates to attendance, and it's something that I had not even thought about until Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee brought it up on "Trackside." That is, that NASCAR gives its tracks a piece of the TV pie, while IndyCar does not. Consequently, most of the tracks NASCAR visits are virtually guaranteed a profit by virtue of the TV money before they even open the gates. (I'll go into this a little deeper when I get into the "$100 Million" segment, but this difference also plays on the next segment about attendance, in that the Brickyard has live local TV which the 500 does not. This undoubtedly has an effect on the live gate when you consider that the Brickyard 400 drew a local TV rating of 13.7.)


I'm not giving away any state secrets when I say that attendance at IndyCar events, with the exception of Indianapolis, is a challenge. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not exclusive to IndyCar. Look at the crowd (or lack thereof,) at IMS last weekend for the Brickyard 400. Sure, 75-80,000 people is probably somewhere in the top 10 for American motorsports attendance, but in a facility with 240,000 (or thereabouts) permanent seats, it LOOKS empty. Daytona has the same problem, which is why they are reducing the number of seats for sale.(More on Daytona later.) In accordance with the upgrade of IMS to make the Speedway compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, some of that is going to happen.

Some of the mindless morons who have nothing better to do than denigrate everything IndyCar blame the whole attendance fiasco on Tony George. They speak in hushed and glowing terms of the pre-1995 CART series as the ultimate in open wheel racing. Two problems with this incessant bleating: IF it was all Tony George, then why does NASCAR have the same problem at their signature track? And, why does the Indianapolis 500 continue to draw in excess of 300,000 to 16th and Georgetown, while the Brickyard 400 draws MAYBE a third  of that over the whole Brickyard weekend?

And this goes way deeper than just motorsports. The NBA has attendance issues, as does the NHL. Maybe not to the extreme of IndyCar, but noteworthy nonetheless. Even the almighty NFL is working on ways to make a better experience of attending games, some stadiums even adding a Red Zone Channel feature to their message boards. Some teams routinely buy their remaining single game tix to keep their games on TV.

I've touched on these issues several times over the last few years.

Among (but not limited to) the changes between the "good old days" and now, consider the following. First, almost every home now has HDTV. Where it once was a struggle to read the numbers on the jersey, the viewer now gets a full frontal view of each individual blade of (mostly fake) grass. Along with the techno advances, there is no shortage of alternatives to watch. In the "golden" year of 1995, for example, I had cable TV and maybe 60 channels. The NFL was one or two 1 pm games, one game at 4 pm, and prime time on Monday Night Football. Now, I have DirecTv and more than 300 channels, and virtually EVERY NFL game, every Thursday, Sunday, and Monday. Point is, there are way more choices for entertainment. (And we didn't even talk about the internet and wireless, which will probably dominate over the NEXT 18 years.)

While the TV option has improved dramatically, live sports have done their level best to keep up. They build more, better, bigger, brighter, newer stadia, (often on the backs of the taxpayers, but that's a whole 'NOTHER story.)  The upshot of all this? Well, if you regularly attend live sports, you know. It. Costs. More. LOTS More. In this respect, a ticket to the 500 was a bargain, at least until the most recent price increase. Even at the former bargain price of a ticket, by the time you add in meals, hotels, spending cash, gas, souvenirs, and incidentals, you're pretty solidly into a $1000 weekend if you're going to Indy from somewhere other than central Indiana. With the economy the way it is, the number of people who have the disposable income to allow for this type of expenditure is dwindling.

I attended every 500 from 1971 until 1987 with two exceptions: 1972 when I was in college in Atlanta, and 1986 when work intervened. During those years, I lived in either Indiana or Ohio plus my parents had a home in Anderson, Indiana, about an hour and a half from IMS. I can say that there is NOTHING like being there, particularly during the pre-race ceremonies. Once I moved to South Carolina in 1990, it became prohibitive in terms of time, travel and job. After I experienced the race on live TV, it became hard to justify the expense in time, travel, and money to do a trip to see a race where, even from the best seat money could buy, you were only going to see half the track or less. (In fairness, I have never sat in the Penthouse seats on race day.)

Once you added in the convenience of an extended bar and food menu, a comfortable recliner, and a restroom that was a short distance from said recliner (and did not STINK,) it became a no brainer. And that was BEFORE I had HDTV.

I did renew my acquaintance with IMS in 2011 and saw some of the changes that had taken place in more recent years. The details of most of that visit are documented in blog posts from 2011, but to give you the short version, IMS is not a particularly friendly place for older people. (And, I am sure that some of that will be helped by the ADA changes that are forthcoming.) There's a great deal of walking, stair climbing, standing, and jostling with other humans in varying states of sobriety. I took these things for granted in my twenties and thirties. Now, in my late 50's, not so much.

The point to all this personal input is this: If someone who is a much a fan of sports in general and IndyCar in particular as I am can stay away, how do venues offer enough to get the average fan? Or a NEW one? (And THAT, dear reader, is where the $100 Million comes in.)

$100 Million

Back in February, I wrote a piece entitled "A Sad Day for the Speedway." In it,  I lamented the fact that the Speedway folks had applied for $100 Million in state funds to upgrade the facility. Since that time, that process has come to fruition and I have changed my mind. Part of that is the fact that the city has been held hostage twice (once by the Pacers for the Fieldhouse and once by the Colts for Lucas Oil Stadium) and neither one of those franchises has as long a history or contributed anything like the economic impact of the Speedway.

So now, with an augmented checkbook available, how should the $100 million be spent.

As I noted earlier, IMS has to keep the folks who enforce the ADA happy, first and foremost. This should include making the facility more friendly to older fans as well as those with disabilities. If it's MY checkbook, that comes first. Next on my list would be some serious upgrades in terms of facilities and particularly restrooms. You can call me a snob if you wish, but if my wife doesn't have a reasonably clean restroom, she's not coming back, and (by extension) neither am I. True,  the Speedway has come a long way from the dirt floored troughs in the infield of the '70's, but still...

Considering that there are a lot of us who are not as young and spry as we used to be, could there be some way of developing a shuttle or tram system to get folks from the main entrance on 16th Street to their assigned seating areas? There are acres of busses that bring race fans to the main gate; Once they get there, however, they're unceremoniously dumped out and have to walk as much as a mile and a half, carrying coolers, purses, and whatever personal belongings they've brought to the race and then repeat the process afterward. Implementation of some sort of transit system could also help the huge backlog that security faced at this year's 500.

The video boards, once a bellwether of technology, need to be replaced, as does the PA system which probably dates back to the mid 1980's.

I don't know what the exact dimensions are for seats at IMS, but they sure seem smaller to me than in my younger days. Since you're not going to sell every seat in the place anymore, how about taking a couple of seats off of each row and make the remaining ones a little wider? Longer term, I think the Speedway should adopt a gradual replacement of bleacher style seating. Start with the higher priced areas and make these changes on a gradual, yearly basis. THIS is the type of thinking that made Tony Hulman (and to a lesser extend his grandson, Tony George) such an outstanding steward of the facility. During my years of attending the 500, it was pretty much standard that there would be some replacement or upgrade of some  type almost every year.

In order to protect the future income stream from the Brickyard 400, there needs to be some study of what can be done to get more folks excited about the summer weekend. IMS NEEDS NASCAR, probably more than NASCAR needs IMS. The income from the Brickyard 400 helps to fund IndyCar and pay for other improvements in the physical plant. My perception of the problems with the NASCAR race are several. First, when you have racing in July, Indy is likely to be hot and humid. Would it be preferable to have the race later in the year? Of course, but NASCAR is not likely to rearrange their "Chase" to include the Brickyard 400 in the season's final 10 races. (Nor am I real certain the Colts would like that very much, and to be completely honest, the NFL is the toughest kid on the block.)

I think it is safe to say that elimination of live local TV for the Brickyard might help. When you consider that the Brickyard 400 drew a 13.7 rating in Indy, it's not hard to imagine that at least some of those people would be attending if the race was not on live TV. NASCAR's TV deals, however, might be a problem. I can't imagine a lot of their sponsors being too thrilled with losing a top 15 market for their advertising dollars.

The weather that we saw this past weekend was probably the optimum for what you can get in July and still, attendance was not what anyone had hoped, particularly for the Nationwide race on Saturday and the sports car events on Friday. That made a lot of people wonder whether adding lights would help attendance very much. And, as it pertains to TV ratings, the numbers show that NASCAR races on Saturday night don't do as well as the Sunday daytime events.

Lights, as a percentage of the $100 million "pie" would eat up $20 million or 20% of those funds MINIMUM. So, before we write that check, we had better know two things: 1. How long will it take to defray that cost? and 2. Will it actually help attendance long term? If you can't answer "yes" to the second, you have almost no hope of achieving the first.

The plusses to adding lights to IMS are several. You can run the Brickyard 400 at night, ensuring that you're not broiling your fan base on sun-baked aluminum. You can add some hours to your sports car event, maybe making it a bigger "draw." You can extend hours for your signature event, the 500, if Indiana weather dictates (and we can all remember more than a few years when it has dictated.) You can use the IMS grounds for other events (such as concerts,) to provide additional income streams. For that matter, some have suggested that a second IndyCar oval race could be held at night, though that might risk stealing some of the thunder of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

On the other hand, the cost is HUGE. There are serious security concerns. Sure,  Speedway handles night time traffic outside the track the night before the 500, but I've often questioned what it would be like to let loose 80-100,000 race fans (or more) all leaving IMS at 11 pm or after, in widely varying states of sobriety. As far as the racing is concerned, Curt Cavin pointed out that because of the cooler temps, the tires would grip better. That in and of itself says that it may not help the racing become any more competitive.

My gut tells me that more competitive racing would likely put more butts in seats. Face it, the last few Brickyard races have been snooze fests. Kevin Lee said something on "Trackside" this week with which I absolutely agree: Bring back the apron (in some form or another.) You want to see new track records for IndyCar? Bring back the old apron, and you'll have them next year. You want more racing space for NASCAR so there's more passing? Same answer.

We have a reasonable expectation that lights for the Speedway would cost at least $20 million and it's not certain that the addition and expenditure is going to solve the bigger issue. (Nor is it certain that the investment of that size can be recouped in a timely manner.) I can think of an awful lot of "fixes" that can be accomplished by spending that $20 million on other projects. For that matter, you could reconfigure the bottom of the racing surface and add some sort of apron for probably 10% of that $20 million and now you've helped BOTH your significant events become more exciting.

Since the ouster of Tony George from the IMS hierarchy, there has been a sense that the "bean counters" were now in charge. As a result, some of the things that fans maybe took for granted have been allowed to slide. The funding is now in place to make IMS the "Grand Cathedral of Speed" that the hundred plus year old facility should be. Those funds should be spent wisely with an eye toward making the experience of EVERY fan that comes through the gates an unforgettable experience.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Indianapolis 500 Preview: Part 2 - The Handicap

I apologize to anyone who might have expected this blog a little earler, but after the fantastic finish in today's Freedom 100 for the Firestone Indy Lights cars, I needed to decompress (and damn near get defibrillated!) Before I get into Sunday's 500, let me ask, no, BEG you to go to You Tube and find the video of the finish of the Lights race. I promise you will not be disappointed. In all my years of watching races at the Speedway, I have NEVER seen anything like this. On the last lap of the race, to see not two, not three, but FOUR wide racing down the straightaway to the checkers is enough to set anyone's heart racing. First and fourth separated by less than 3/4 of a car length.

It's truly a shame that there isn't more interest in the Lights series: They have turned out some pretty fine drivers lately. Those folks who went to Carb Day today certainly got their money's worth.

The Pit Stop competition came down to Ganassi v Penske (Franchitti v Castroneves) with Helio winning for the 6th time.

Now, let's get down to the BIG show.

If you read my piece from Tuesday, you know that the field is heavily front loaded with Chevy engines. I think today's time chart shows us that this dominance was due to the additional boost offered for Fast Friday and Time Trials. The Chevy powerplant clearly had an advantage with the bonus power, but today, when that power was no longer in play, everything turned out pretty even.

Quick lap came from a Honda, in fact, Simon Pagenaud. And just to confuse Hell out of everybody, there are several people at the top of the chart that have been, well, underwhelming all month speed-wise. After Pagenaud, you have two of the Andretti cars, E. J. Viso and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Next were Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, and Dario Franchitti. Rounding out the top 10 were James Jakes (?) Katherine Legge (?) Marco Andretti and Alex Tagliani.

So, apparently the rumors of the death of the Honda powerplant were greatly exagerrated. And that just makes the job of handicapping this race that much more fun.

Let's start first with the guys Vegas thinks are the favorites. At this moment, the co-favorites are Marco Andretti and Scott Dixon at 7-1. Do now forget that while Andretti Autosport has been doing a lot of "team" driving this month, the guys in the Target cars proved they could handle that task last year. While I think you have to get a little something on Dixon, I couldn't bet on Mario, Aldo, Michael, Jeff, John, OR Marco Andretti. This poor family just finds ways to LOSE this race. Until they break that trend, I'll pass.

Checking in next at 8-1 are Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves. Both are three time winners and while Franchitti was top 10 quick, he was also runner up in the Pit Stop Competition. Castroneves won the Pit Stop but was only 28th on the speed chart. I've picked at least one Penske car each of the last three years to no avail. And, I just can't help but feel that Chipster tricked them all again. Give me something on Franchitti.

At 9-1, we have Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe. Hinch has won twice already this season, and Ed has won the most recent 500. Carpenter said something interesting tonight while being interviewed for "Trackside," something to the effect that he knew the minute he won the pole that the haters would be wanting to go through his ride with a fine tooth comb thinking he'd cheated. In a nice way, the boy showed me a little 'tude that I didn't think he had. If he was somewhere in the 10-1 to 15-1 range, I might have to ride with him. At  9-1, I'm not sure he's enough value for the bet. Even though his two wins have been on twisties, I'll take some of Hinch. Besides, he's got the easiest car in the field to see.

Ryan Hunter-Reay goes off at 10-1. He may be the defending champ, but my gut tells me he isn't ready for this stage yet. Pass.

In at 12-1 are the other two Penske rides, A. J. Allmendinger and Will Power. I don't like to bet on rookies in this race and I definitely don't like betting into a losing streak. Considering the dominance he's had the last couple of years on the early part of the season, Will Power's sudden lack of a win in over a year is almost shocking. Pass and pass.

Tony Kanaan goes at 15-1. Check that box. I know, it's a "heart bet," something I very seldom do, but how many times can this guy rocket into the lead in this race and have it go away. In previous years he's come from way in the back. Well, this year, he's NOT way in the back. If nobody does anything stupid (see Tuesday's part 1,) you KNOW he'll move up about 3 spots on the first lap. If he happens to win, they might have to rebuild the Speedway.

From here on, we get into "dark horses" and I've got two great chances for a really NICE payback.
First, there's Oriol Servia at 25-1. If he can pick up where he left off last year, he might run away and hide from the field because the last 20 laps last year he was one of if not the fastest guy on the track. He himself has said that those 20 laps were the best of his life. His team probably goes Tango Uniform if he doesn't win, so there's no lack of incentive here. I'll take one on the guy that has to win to keep employed.

Now, can someone please tell me why the points leader for this year is 30-1? He wins at Long Beach, places second at Sao Paolo, sits right there in row 6 with Dixon and Franchitti, but Takuma Sato is 30-1??? Look, I know, A. J. Foyt Racing doesn't have all the cred it once did, but they have come a LONG way this year and we all remember Sato's banzai move on Franchitti on the penultimate lap last year. This line I do not  understand, but I want some. And if he wins, I might just break out the rising sun flag, turn to the east and in a loud (although uninebriated) voice yell, "SAATTTOOOOO!!!

If you really want to get breathless, Alex Tagliani, the fastest qualified Honda is 50-1. I'm not quite that brave, but he has led and has won the pole here before.

So let's review my action:
1. Scott Dixon (7-1)
2. Dario Franchitti (8-1)
3. James Hinchcliffe (9-1)
4. Tony Kanaan (15-1)* "Heart Bet," NOT for the squeamish!
5. Oriol Servia (25-1)
6. Takuma Sato (30-1)

The strategy works like this: Worst case scenario, (at $10 a way) I lose $60. If I had gone to the race, I'd have spent twice that for the ticket. If any of the short odds guys wins, (1-3) I win $20, $30, or $40 respectively. But if one of the longer odds guys brings home the cake, well there'll be a party goin' on right here in Myrtle Beach.

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend. Please remember those whose sacrifices keep us free and fly those colors proudly! Good Luck!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Indianapolis 500 Preview, Part I

In normal years, I only post one pre-race blog. For those of you looking for my handicap of the 500, that post will be along either Friday night or Saturday morning, after I've had time to review the goings-on at Carb Day, as well as the latest odds from Vegas.

This piece will cover some of my interesting observations and thoughts about this year's field. Since I retired this year, I've had a lot more time to observe practice and qualifying than in previous years.

Once again, as last year, the 500 field is front-loaded with Chevrolet (Ilmor) engines. This year most of the "usual suspects" with Honda power are residing in rows 6-11, Alex Tagliani notwithstanding. In the case of last year, that advantage disappeared on Carb Day with the red Target rockets of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti taking down the top times in the final practice session.

The main difference between this year and last is that the Honda drivers last year didn't install their Mark 2 engines until before Carb Day, while this year, many "race" engines were installed right after qualifying. And, there is no "fix" which was the secret to the Mark 2 engine. Whether that will change what happens this year remains to be seen.

Another big difference this year over last is the dearth of experience in the first two rows of the starting field. Starting in the middle of row 1, you have Carlos Munoz, a rookie. He's been fast all month as have most of the Andretti Autosport entries, but HE'S STILL A ROOKIE. He's never faced the havoc of a three-wide flying start down a 50 foot wide stretch of asphalt. Does the name Kevin Cogan ring a bell?

And what do we have right behind him? Well, that would be A. J. Allmendinger. OK, he's been here before. In NASCAR. To be sure, he does have some open wheel experience back in the CART/CCWS days, but, again, not running three wide down  Indy's main straightaway at over 200 mph.

Then we move to the inside of row 2. E.J. Viso. Now, I know, Viso has been much better lately at not running into things like walls, other cars, and assorted other wildlife, but, lest we forget, this guy's nickname used to be "E. J. Crasho." Call me skeptical,  in spite of all the "team driving" that Andretti pilots have been doing this year.

Taking all that into account, it would not surprise me one bit if pole sitter Ed Carpenter (who, having won the last two season closing oval races, no longer deserves the title, "Special Ed,") and a suddenly more mature Marco Andretti decide that it might be best to check out of this Holiday Inn early, like halfway through turn 4 on the pace lap. The pace car driver (as yet unnamed) had better have his eyes on his mirrors or he (or she) might get passed by those two.

Assuming we manage to get through the first couple of laps without mayhem, our next decision is determining what course the race will take. If, as was the case last year, we have long stretches of green flag racing, I believe that will favor the Honda powered entries. They seemed to get better mileage over the longer runs, and every lap you can stretch your fuel early on is that much more you can short-pit toward the end of the race.

In re-watching last year's race last night, I noted the near panic in Marco Andretti's voice when he realized that the Target cars (Honda) were getting significantly better mileage than the Chevy powerplant.

That advantage, if it is still as it was last year, gets neutralized by a load of yellow flag laps. If that happens, as one poster put it, the Honda camp had better hope that most of the Chevy products blow up.

The weather, frequently a factor at Indianapolis, is forecast for a high of 69, (avoiding the severe heat from the last two years,) with possible isolated thunderstorms. If this holds true, it should help the engines make power fairly efficiently. Living in a tourist market as I do, however, I also know that sometimes the Chamber of Commerce can fudge a bit on the forecast, so we'll put a final check on that one in Saturday's Part Two. Until then....

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Indianapolis 1973: The Age of Aquarius meets the End of the Innocence.

It was 1973.

I was a sophomore at Butler University, rarely attending classes, and engaged to a girl who lived 600 miles away. We were doing the best we could to get together whenever we could, but the truth was, May was her exam month and she was pre-med, so chances we were getting together before her school was done were zero. I was two years removed from four years at Culver Military Academy. As much as I am thankful to Culver for my education, socially speaking, it was not the place to be in the middle of the Viet Nam War.

With these dim prospects on my immediate horizon, I had an epiphany of sorts: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was but a 20 minute drive (on practice days) from my dorm room at Butler. I had attended Pole Day in 1970 and the race in 1971, so I was not exactly a novice at the Speedway;  although those trips had been under the sanction of the Academy. I had never, however, considered going to practice. What a concept!

I had been addicted to the 500 since 1961. Our family tradition dictated that on the morning of the race, we drew a random pool, then gathered around the radio to cheer our picks and listen to Sid Collins. We'd be glued to the radio on Race Day, and, as we got a little older, qualification days as well.

I believe it was the first Monday of practice in 1973 and there were a few of us generally hanging around the lounge in the men's dorm at Butler, being bored when someone had the brilliant idea, "Hey, let's go to the track!" We all loaded into someone's car and within 20 minutes we were inside the Speedway.

These guys were die hards, so we parked and headed immediately to what was then Tower Terrace. By climbing to the top row we could watch the cars all the way through the south chute and onto the backstretch. We also stayed really close to the entry to Gasoline Alley so we could see who was getting ready to come out to practice. It took only a few moments and I was HOOKED.  From that day on for the rest of the month, if there was the possibility of a wheel turning at the track, I was probably there or on the way there.

By the third time I went out to the track, I had equipped myself with a stopwatch and a camera. On one sunny day, I got some really awesome pictures of cars either in transit to the pits or parked there. I probably burned through two or three rolls of film which I dropped off to be processed on the way back from 16th and Georgetown. This was the "me" that went to the track by myself.

Then, there was the other me. This persona got together with friends to go to the first weekend          of practice. Coolers replaced cameras. Sobriety was left somewhere along the side of 16th St. We all got a buzz and REALLY cold. I think there was even a snow flurry or two that day. Still, a good time was had by all and there was some practice to watch, even if through a haze.

In the week of run-up to Pole Day, I was back in Tower Terrace, stopwatch and camera, MAYBE a beer with a hot dog during the breaks in the action. (Hot dogs were about ALL you could eat at the track back in those days, unless of course you brought your own.) Another roll of film or two.

On Pole Day, we were parked early in turn 1's infamous Snakepit. We'd picked out a spot close to the center of the south chute, laid out blankets, coolers, and even a pup tent. We were well into the cooler (and the Kentucky Fried Chicken) by the time practice got started. Almost as soon as the practice got started, we heard what sounded like a "chirp" and caught a glimpse of Art Pollard losing it. You could tell by the reaction of the crowd that it was serious. I grabbed the transistor radio and turned on WIBC to get their coverage. Even in my inebriated state, I felt the air go out of the Speedway.

Shortly thereafter, Tom Carnegie confirmed the worst, "Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with deepest regret...."

The rest of that Pole Day is a blur. I suspect we left shortly thereafter, but frankly I do not recall. I had dealt with death at the Speedway first in the Eddie Sachs/Dave MacDonald tragedy in 1964. That was on the radio and Sid Collins so eloquently explained to my 10 year old mind that sometimes bad things happen. Experiencing death before your very eyes, however, was quite different, somehow more personal.

Ironically, when I got my film back from processing, the last day I'd taken pictures, I had several really good pictures of Pollard's car.  That should have been enough warning. But I was just getting started.

The week between Pole Day and the second weekend of qualifications, I went out there a couple of times, the highlight being one gorgeous afternoon  when I had the tent out and was getting some rays and killing brain cells in turn 1. I was sitting in the doorway to the tent, cold beer (probably a Stroh's ) in my hand, when this guy and girl come strolling by. He had a serious camera and she was definitely NOT dressed for the Snakepit. He snaps off a couple of pictures of me and she steps up and starts asking questions. "Hi. I'm with the Indianapolis  News. What's your name?" I told her. She asked what I was doing that afternoon, and I told her I was playing hooky from Butler. Then she asked if I was having a good time. I took a swig of beer and said of course. Then she asked, "How old are you?" I looked at her. She looked at me. We both looked at the beer in my hand as I said, "19."

Right after the second weekend of qualifying, I got a call from a buddy from Atlanta: He and three of his pals were going to come to the Race. I had a group already that included my brother, one of his friends, a couple of my Indy friends, probably 6 or 7 of us in all, loaded into a station wagon. Add to that two LARGE coolers, tent, blankets, radio, enough beer to float a small battleship, and at least two buckets of KFC.

By the time our group hit the Speedway, a steady mist was falling. We set up shop not far from the end of the pits in the entry to turn 1. I quickly discovered that Race Day in the Snakepit was wayyyy different from practice or time trials. When we set our first "camp" we put ourselves close to a trash can, thinking it would be easy to dump our empties as we went. What we didn't realize was that the horde of miscreants behind us would develop a habit of yelling, "Fore," and pitching their empties in the general direction of the can. Obviously, once this "shelling" began in earnest, we opted to move
a few feet further away from the barrel. Having corrected our initial error, the full party was on.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. While it never really poured, the track never got completely dry. Finally, the mist ceased long enough for them to get the cars out on the track and attempt to start the race.  Mr. Hulman intoned those famous words and we were off...

Of course, we all know what happened when they came down to take the green. All of a sudden, the number 77 car of Salt Walther became a methanol spewing pinwheel down the main straightaway as cars went everywhere. Our little group got our first indication of the carnage when a tire rolled up to the fence near where we were sitting. I shouted, "Fellas, all Hell's broken loose. We better turn on Sid Collins," and grabbed the radio. Almost as soon as the race was stopped, the mist returned.

We didn't know it then, but that was the last racing we would see that year. Yes, they got the cars lined up one more time that day, only to have the rains return. After that, it was merely waiting for everything to become final.

Our little group began to wander about, looking for amusement in the Snakepit. Some clown who was more intoxicated than we were climbed the fence and began running toward turn one naked. (It was called "streaking" back then, and it was one of the amusements that could be found in the infield, along with topeless blanket toss and other such games.)

Meantime, one of our number decided that this would be an appropriate time to sneak into the pup tent  with the one girl that was part of our group and well, you get the idea. Unfortunately for them, about the time that they really got going, some drunk kicked the tent poles of the pup tent which promptly collapsed, leaving no doubt whatsoever what was going on inside.

Wild cheering ensued.

When the powers that be at the Speedway finally gave up for the day,  we began loading up our gear and planning for the next day. The group from Atlanta had decided that they were going to wait until the morning to decide whether to return to the Speedway or head back to "big A." They had found some "no tell motel" south of town and would call in the morning. The rest of us began the process of getting everyone back where they sort of belonged. By the time we cleared all the Speedway traffic, we had at least a couple of people who were capable of driving.

We ended up on the north side of Indy, dropping off the young lady who had joined our congregation. Her folks were not at home, so we decided we'd have one quick beer before heading out to our final destination. Bad idea.

We did get to see the video of the first lap calamity. We were all amazed that Salt Walther had survived the accident and we all felt for the people on the front rows of seating who had been sprayed with invisible flaming methanol. While we were watching the replays, our personal situation got pretty hot as well. The parents had returned. It was only then that we discovered that the father of our distaff member had forbade her from going to the track. She was summarily grounded for life. We were threatened with immediate arrest and prosecution if we did not get clear the Hell away from their house and never come back. Suffice it to say, we beat a speedy retreat.

I was awakened the next morning at 7 am. My head was pounding from the actvities the day (and night) before.The guys from Atlanta had apparently had all the fun they could handle at the 500 and by  vote of 3-1 had decided to get out of town and head south. I wished them well and then went to check the forecast. Same thing as the day before, showers off and on all day. I called a few of the people who had joined us the day before and by 7:30 we were heading back to the Speedway, all three of us. Because there were less folks there, we were able to snag a parking space in the (then) shopping center lot across from the main gate.

Thinking that it was likely to be another washout, we were milling about the lot when we came upon some poor souls who had southeast vista seats left over, but no beer. We arranged a simple barter transaction. They got beer, we got seats. They got the better end of that deal. Although they actually got the cars lined up, about the time Mr. Hulman told the gentlemen to start their engines, the rains came again. No racing today.

As we returned to our car, we came across another group of people that had had their fill of Indy for 1973. As they were wandering toward their car in the lot, they offered their tickets up to anyone who wanted them. Free. They's simply had enough. Figuring it couldn't rain forever, I asked for two. Then I looked at the tickets. Penthouse Paddock. Best seats in the house. I was stunned. If only it would quit raining.

Soaked, disgusted and in need of a good meal, I headed for my parent's home in Anderson. I asked my mother if she would wake me at 7 am, and told her that I had great seats for the 500. For the third day, it dawned overcast and rainy. From all I was hearing on WIBC, there was almost no chance that the track would get dry anytime soon. My father, on his way off to work, asked if I would mow the grass.

Understand, my parent's  home sat on almost 4 acres. "Mowing the grass" there meant about a four hour ride on the back of a Cub Cadet. Although it had quit raining in Anderson, the wet stuff was still falling at the Speedway, so I started off on the tractor. I'd been going along, about halfway done with the mowing when I saw my mother waving her arms at me from up by the house.

Once I had parked the tractor, Mom came up to me and said, "They're getting ready to start the race!"
Sure enough, they were lined up and Mr. Hulman was once again telling the gentlemen to start their engines. and here I was, (at minimum) an hour and a half away, not counting for whatever traffic remained. Since the forecast did not seem to be improving,  I decided to stay where I was. As it turns out, my decision to just sit down and listen to the radio at my parent's house was the best decision I could have made. I too had had enough.

We all know what happened: Swede Savage whacked the inner retaining wall shortly after warning his pit crew that the handling on his car was going away. The car erupted in flames which would claim Savage's life some days later. In the ensuing melee, a crew member was struck and killed by an emergency vehicle traveling the wrong way up pit road. Mercifully the rains came and ended the disaster. Gordon Johncock, Savage's teammate, was the winner. Even he had had enough.

Over then next fourteen years, I would attend all but one 500. I would see two four time winners crowned and sit in almost every corner of the Speedway at one time or another. I would get rained on in 1975 and 1976, then be rewarded by watching A. J. Foyt win his fourth the next year. I would see Tom Sneva walk away from a crash that should have killed him. I would see the first woman qualify at Indianapolis and Rick Mears win a couple of times. I would see Danny Sullivan spin right in front of me and avoid wall contact to spirit away yet another win from Mario Andretti. Twenty four years yater, I would return to watch J. R. Hildebrand snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by crashing into the turn 4 wall with the checkers awaiting him, handing a second victory to the popular Dan Wheldon.

 I may even go back again someday, though most years I watch the 500 from the best seat in the house...(my house, that is.)

But, hopefuly, there will never be another 1973.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Sad Day for the Speedway

     Yesterday's announcement that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was seeking $100 million in aid from the State of Indiana could have wide sweeping ramifications for the future of racing at the famed oval.

      Make no mistake, there are some infrastructure upgrades that are necessary. Some of those changes would be to continue the upgrade of seating areas, as well as to improve the maintenance of the 100+ year old facility. The inadequecy of the Speedway in terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act is patently obvious. That won't be a cheap fix.

      Perhaps some of that would have been better served had Tony George been left in charge of the IMS physical plant; Say what you will about the controversial George, he definitely had his grandfather's penchant for continuing to improve the Speedway, something that the current folks in charge at Hulman and Company obviously do not have.

     More and better video boards are nice, as would be improved grandstand seating. But the real reason for the request is there in the fourth paragraph of yesterday's article in the Indianapolis Star. "Improved lighting" sounds innocuous enough, but what it means has the potential to be earth shattering, particularly if you happen to live in Speedway.

     Look, I get it that the Brickyard 400 has been a (relative) loser because roasting on aluminum seats in midsummer Indiana has become less than fashionable. But then, I've been broiled there on Memorial Day Weekend too. In fact, in 2011 when last I attended the 500, the high that day was in the mid 90's. I was very glad my seats were under cover. The misting system was getting a major workout.

     It hasn't helped that the economy is still stagnant. Nor has it helped that NASCAR has had issues with the tire situation. The diamond grind that helps Firestone's IndyCar tires hold on at 220+ has a negative effect on Goodyear's stock car tires at 190. And, to be truthful, in its current configuration, the track gets really narrow for the tintops.

     So, the powers that be in NASCAR want to run the Brickyard 400 in the evening and apparently IMS agrees.

     I don't know what the area just west of Georgetown Road is like now. It's been way too many years since I lived nearby and had all my "secret" places to park for the 500. It used to be nice working class middle America. I had several friends who lived in that area.Some folks have said that is no longer the case, and one of the bloggers I follow says that one no longer goes there after dark unarmed (at least not willingly.)

     Assuming those reports are true, imagine 150,000 NASCAR fans all leaving the Speedway at or after 11 pm, some of rather dubious sobriety.  Into what one person I know has called a "combat zone." Ya' think "recipe for disaster" might about cover it?

     It gets worse. If they run the Brickyard in prime time, how long do you think it will be before some network wise guy wants to run the Indianapolis 500 in prime time.Maybe I'm being cynical, but bring a big enough bag of cash and who knows? Now you take the 150,000 NASCAR fans and basically double it. Probably push the end time back to midnight or after. Not a pretty sight.

      I never would have even considered this possibility. Until now. Nor would I have ever considered that the Speedway would go hunting for state money.

      In all fairness, from a strictly business perspective, it's about time. When you consider the mega dollars that Indianapolis has put into the Colts and the Pacers, as well as the total economic impact by comparison that the Speedway brings to the table, IMS certainly has a claim to their piece of the pie. Even though the Speedway is pledging $2 million for every $5 million in tax money the state puts up,  I can't help feeling that Tony Hulman is spinning like a gas turbine.

     They can couch this in any sort of nice terms like "motor sports investment district," but when a government agency starts using the word "investment," you can be damned sure it's taxpayer money that will be invested one way or another.

     Now, assuming this is going to happen, let me suggest that there are other ways that money can be spent to improve the Speedway. Of course, first is to get into compliance with whatever arrangement has been worked out regarding the ADA issues. Second, completely replace the public address system. When I was there in 2011, it sometimes worked, sometimes didn't and was inadequate to keep me updated about things I could not see. It sounded like something right out of the 60's.

     Third, the recent years when money has NOT been spent on maintenance have caught up with the Speedway. Back up the asphalt and concrete trucks, then get some plumbers in to fix the damned restrooms.

      Continue the upgrades in the seating areas.

     Once things have been fixed that have to be fixed, get NASCAR on the horn and tell them that they can have a September weekend. I'm sure the NFL would work out some sort of arrangement where the Colts spend Brickyard weekend on the road. Atmospherically, it works almost like May. It adds significance to the race in that it's now part of their "Chase." And let's not kid ourselves: NASCAR needs IMS as badly or worse than IMS needs NASCAR.

     Now, if you really want to do something to improve the overall product in both series, take the money that was going to be spent on lights and get some engineers in to figure out how to safely bring the "apron" back. This gives immediate tangible benefit to both events. For the NASCAR folks, giving them a bit more track which, along with cooler fall temperatures, should improve the racing monumentally. For IndyCar, it brings the possibility of track records back into play, as well as allowing more passing.

      I get that I seem like a stodgy traditionalist, but in an age when the best lower deck paddock seats at the Speedway have less of a sightline than they did 30 years ago (and a slightly higher price), it could be time to start paying attention to the customer.