Sunday, August 17, 2008

Buckle up!

OK, get ready 'Geek fans, it's time for my second post in one month for the first time in 2008! Yes, it's a big day at Speedgeek HQ.

Anyway, as I mentioned last week, I did go to the ALMS race at Road America last weekend, and I feel like I need to extol the virtues of sports car racing, as the crowd was definitely less than what it was for the ALMS/ChampCar weekend at Road America last year. I would have to argue that the ALMS guys put on a better (read that: more spectator friendly) show than the ChampCars do at RA, or even what most series put on at most tracks in North America. There are several reasons for this:

1) The ChampCar races (and now, the combined IndyCar races) are guaranteed to be over in right around two hours, whereas the ALMS main event race is a four hour timed race. The extra two hours are exactly what the doctor ordered for being able to walk around the track, hit five or six different vantage points, and be able to have enough time to settle in and see how all of the different cars behave. I suppose that places like St. Pete or Mid-Ohio can get away with 2 1/2 hour races, being more compact venues, but the four hour event is absolutely necessary at Road America. My group was able to spend the first three laps at turn 1, then head back to the Hurry Downs for about 45 minutes, then spend a half an hour inside turn 6, then a half an hour on the hillside between turn 6 and turn 13, then a half an hour walking through the paddock looking at the merch trailers, then the last 45 minutes of the race in the woods just before turn 5. Perfect.

2) As I mentioned before, it's mandated by the series to have all of the drivers available for autographs for at least an hour per weekend. Kids love that stuff. OK, who am I kidding? I love that stuff. I decided to limit the amount of potential for "fawning fan-boy" talk (I get like Chris Farley on the Chris Farley show: "Hey, Randy Pobst, remember when you passed four guys on the start at Sebring this year? That was awesome."), and only hit a couple of the autograph tables, but I did get signatures of this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans GT2 winners, Jamie Melo and Mika Salo, and autographs of almost 50% of this year's Speed World Challenge drivers. I don't know if the all of the drivers' smiles and general friendly demeanor is also a series-mandated thing, but they all seem pretty psyched to be spending time with people who know who they are, and can appreciate that they drive in a series where you don't have to throw your HANS device at other drivers to get a round of applause from the crowd.

3) I don't care what people say. Multiple classes in one race is a good thing. When the Audis, or Acuras, or Penske Porsches or whoever check out at the front of the overall field, it's a nice thing to be able to watch the Corvettes trading the lead in GT1, or see who is is at the front of the very tight pack of GT2 cars. Yes, watching sports car racing requires the fans to use their brains to think about what's going on on the track. Heaven forbid. That would be awful. Of course, that does not stop a certain number of the fans from getting completely hammered and obnoxious, as I found out in turn 1, where a drunk guy was complaining loudly about two people who'd leaned their bikes against the first row of the grandstands. Where nobody was sitting anyway, because you couldn't see anything from there. I guess there's one dumb drunk guy in every crowd. Anyway, I digress.

4) Multiple fundamentally different cars on the track at once is a very good thing. Think about it. Just about every other type of racing showcases cars that are not terribly different from one another. NASCAR? Glorified spec series (where people complain about Toyota having a 14 horsepower advantage). IndyCar? Actual spec series, though if you have a bottomless pocketbook, you can find advantages in fan-intriguing areas like rear-view mirrors. Ooooh. F1? For now, until next year's introduction of KERS, more or less a spec series, with everybody's engines putting out within 20-30 horsepower of each other and copycat aerodynamic developmets. ALMS, on the other hand, have cars from nearly a dozen different manufacturers, and each of them are distinctly different from what each of the other manufacturers have. So the Acuras and Porsches are way better than the Audis through the twisties? Watch the Audis claw back the deficit down the straights.

5) This seems kind of dopey, but it's another reason: ticket prices. How much is it to get a grandstand seat at the average NASCAR race? $80? $90? How about IndyCar races? Just less than that? For the Saturday at Road America, tickets were $55, and that got you access to just about everything but the hot pits and the team transporters. Oh, and you also get to come down on to the grid before the race and mingle with the crews, and if you're so inclined, you can get onto the main straight after the race and take your picture next to any of the winning cars. Try that at Bristol or Darlington.

6) With races being 2 1/2+ hours, if your significant other, or the rest of the family isn't as much of a super fan as you are (hard to imagine, I know), they can go take a nap in the car or prop themselves up under a tree with a book for an hour or more. I don't get it either, but I'm just throwing that out there.

7) OK, maybe this is more of an endorsement for Road America itself, but can you beat this? You can fill out the illusion by putting a bratwurst in one hand and a New Glarus Spotted Cow Ale in the other as you look at it.

Now, doesn't that beat sitting shoulder to shoulder with sweaty race fans in some aluminum grandstand that could be at just about any track anywhere? Yeah, I thought so.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hello and Good Day!

The 'geek has returned. That was a fantastic 24 Hours of Daytona, huh? Next week's Daytona 500 ought to be a pretty good one as well, don't you think? What's that? You say that it's not early February anymore? Oops.

Several things have happened recently which have inspired me to dust off the ol' internet soapbox, and write a bit more. One: I've come across some quite talented bloggers who I read regularly, and I'd feel remiss if I didn't chip in my $0.02 as well. Namely, the fellows at and at Pressdog are quite good, and very well informed. In fact, I met Jeff from MyNameIsIRL at Indy this year, and I told him that reading his stuff had inspired me to get behind the keyboard again. Of course, now that it's been two and a half months since the 500, it's high time. Second: a fantastic trip to Road America this last weekend for the ALMS race got my fan-juices flowing anew and I once again think that racing is awesome. I guess I hadn't really forgotten that or anything, but there's nothing like standing in the woods and watching sports cars rip by at 150+ mph, and only 50 feet away, to bring things into pretty sharp focus. Racing rules, just about all of it. Though I do still believe that some forms rule more than others...

Which brings us to today's quick-hits! You can read that as "the 'geek hasn't written in 6+ months, so here are several underdeveloped thoughts to get back up to current events."

- Reunification has gone pretty well

I'm obviously thrilled that IndyCar has one and only one series again. Not everything has gone perfectly, but it's actually gone better than I thought it might. A couple of ex-ChampCar teams are in the top-15 in points, and haven't been completely at sea all season, and the racing on track has usually been pretty good. Every statement has its exceptions (ahem, Nashville) but overall, it's been a good season and bodes well for a great 2009.

- The 2009 IndyCar TV package is good

I'm not scared of Versus. People who are already fans of IndyCar will find it (believe me, I'm one of those people who tried to swear off back in the Fox Sports Net/Eliseo Salazar/Buzz Calkins days; it didn't take), and I actually think that a growing network that is willing to spend a bunch of programming time on developing the league's personalities might be just the thing that could foster new fans. Casual fans can see some of the races on ABC, and those who are open minded toward non-NASCAR racing will tune in to Versus, same as they could now for the races that are on ESPN/ESPN2.

- I'm thoroughly enjoying the Kyle Busch Era

Anybody who is willing to stand up in front of 80,000 boo-ing Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans and take a bow after he's won a race is OK in my book. Yes, he's a spoiled Busch kid, who may be prone to throwing tantrums when things don't go his way, but he's an entertaining spoiled Busch kid. And that counts for something.

- Big league sports car racing is the best thing going

I was able to stand in line for 5 minutes or less to get the autograph of just about anybody in the Road America paddock last weekend. Try that at any NASCAR race, or even an IndyCar race (unless you pony up an extra $25 for an IndyCar pit pass, which is more than you can say for NASCAR, where pit passes are as rare as dodos). You'll be stuck behind a chain link fence for hours and probably come away empty handed. I got to see several ex-F1 and IndyCar drivers (Salo, de Ferran, Pagenaud, Brabham, Sharp, Magnussen, Fernandez, Montagny) up close and tons of guys who've won races all over the globe (Luhr, Werner, Leitzinger, Smith, O'Connell, Beretta, Gavin, the Franchitti brother who isn't married to Ashley Judd), and you really get the impression that if you stopped any of them in the paddock to chat for a minute, they'd be happy to shoot the breeze for a second and take a picture with you. I couldn't recommend catching one of these races highly enough.

That's about it for the moment. Yes, I've said this about a dozen times before, but like Mr. Burns and his beloved teddy bear Bobo, "I'll never leave you behind again." Of course, I'm referring to you, my three faithful readers, and not a stuffed animal. Oh, and sorry about the silence again. That darn coma...