Friday, December 18, 2009

An Introduction's In Order

World, meet Senna Renee Miller, the newest of the Speedgeek Clan.

Born December 18, 2009 at 4:47 AM, 7 lbs. 9 ounces, 20 inches long. Coming soon to a racetrack spotter's stand near you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Indy's New Schedule - Nice Try, Better Luck Next Year

Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced yesterday a raft of changes to the Month of May. You can read about the particulars elsewhere, but here’s a quick summary of what they announced:

Opening Day – Saturday May 15 (includes Rookie Orientation somehow, it’s unclear how at this time)

Practice – Sunday May 16 through Friday May 21

Pole Day – Saturday May 22

Bump Day – Sunday May 23

Carb Day – Friday May 28

Race Day – Sunday May 30

First, I’ll give them props for moving Opening Day from a Tuesday to the weekend. That was a no-brainer, in my opinion, and something that should have been taken care of this year.

I’m going to keep the criticism very short and sweet, due to some severe time limitations on my part that’ll keep me out of the loop for several days here. In my opinion, this is not the most thought out schedule that IMS could have come up with. What we got is seven days of practice and two days of qualifying, way more practice than what’s needed for two days of qualifying. To boot, any team that would have been prone to doing a “second week” program for additional car or cars after putting a primary car or cars into the race on the first weekend will no longer have that option. With the new schedule, they will be trying to get their primary cars into the race early on Saturday, and then they’ll have a matter of mere hours to put together additional efforts, where before they had several days.

Here’s the schedule I would have gone with, as I wrote in to Trackside’s website back in May of this year:

Rookie Orientation Program – Thursday May 13

Opening Day – Friday May 14 (perfect for folks looking to play hooky)

Practice – Saturday May 15

Pole Day (first 21 grid slots) – Sunday May 16

Track Closed – Monday May 17 through Wednesday May 19

Practice – Thursday May 20 and Friday May 21

Day 2 Qualifying (positions 22 through 33) – Saturday May 22

Bump Day – Sunday May 23

Carb Day – Friday May 28

Race Day – Sunday May 30

You want days on track cut back, so that teams aren’t spending as much money on track time? My pre-race schedule has seven total days of pre-Carb Day track time, eight if you’re doing ROP. The actual new schedule has nine. Mine’s one better. When are the fans most likely to come out to the track? In my opinion, that’s for qualifying, since not too many people are liable to come out for just practice. My schedule has three days of qualifying, as opposed to the actual schedule’s two. Again, one better. Less practice, more qualifying. With my schedule, there can be “second week” deals aplenty, as the teams that qualify on the first week have plenty of time to work out terms and then try to get up to speed. The actual schedule gives you less than 24 hours, from “ink drying on the contracts” to “in the qualifying chute”. My schedule is short of pre-Pole Day practice, but really, any team that’s trying to get into the first seven rows won’t need seven days of practice to tune and tune and tune (as the actual schedule has). Both schedules have days built in for weather delays, though I prefer where mine fit (Pole Day can be Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and still leave time for second week deals).

Again, props to IMS for trying something to save the teams (and themselves) some cash, but this could have been better executed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Drivers

Two stat lines:

81 career starts; 1 win; 3 poles; 5 podiums; 13 races led; best season points finish of 5th

84 career starts; 1 win; 2 poles; 6 podiums; 13 races led; best season points finish of 6th (twice)

Startlingly similar lines there, huh? Who can tell me who those lines represent? The first one might be familiar to anybody who’s been paying attention to IndyCar news, and all of the IndyCar blogs with their chatter about this week’s JR Motorsports announcement. That’s right, the first line is the summary of Danica Patrick’s career IndyCar stats, from her debut in 2005 through now in 2009. Her level of success to date and her potential for future success have been hot topics ever since…well, right about the time she strapped into one of Bobby Rahal’s Panoz-Hondas. And now, she’s going to be tackling NASCAR in a limited format next year, with a debut in February’s ARCA race at Daytona, and then a slate of races in Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Nationwide car, whenever it doesn’t intrude on her IndyCar duties with Andretti Autosport.

Danica’s place in IndyCar and motorsports history is far from determined. People struggle on a seemingly daily basis to figure out where she stands in today’s driver hierarchy, and therefore what her projected success rate might be in NASCAR. Most people would agree that she has not been as successful as Dario Franchitti has been in IndyCar. Dario had a horrible time in his brief NASCAR career in 2008, but most people can also agree that he was not in very good equipment, nor on a particularly competitive team. The same can be said all the way around for Sam Hornish Jr. Danica is likely to be given moderately better equipment, relatively speaking, than Dario or Sam, given that JR Motorsports is basically an offshoot of the dominant Hendrick Motorsports. But, what is she going to do with that equipment?

It’ll be a tough row to hoe for her, as her complete prior experience in race cars in excess of 2200 pounds is limited to one start in an ALMS-spec Ferrari 550 Maranello in 2003 and two starts in the 24 Hours of Daytona in a Daytona Prototype in 2006 and 2009. That’s a pretty limited roster of experience in relatively low-downforce, heavy cars. It’s not going to be an overnight transition for her to get up to speed in any kind of stock car, ARCA, Nationwide, or otherwise. Nobody should expect any wins from her in a stock car in 2010, or probably even in 2011, given that she’s only making a dozen or so starts this year.

To complicate matters, she is also planning on maintaining her “day job” in the IndyCar series, which means that she’ll be doing a fair amount of jumping back and forth between a high-downforce 1600 pound car and a low-downforce 3400 pound car. Is that going to help her case in IndyCar? I’m…more than a little dubious on that.

Let me get this out there now: I am not a Danica hater. I’ve actually been a fan since her Barber Dodge days, though I’ve sure wished that she’d won more races (of any type) by now. This piece is not meant to be a demolition job on her career thus far, nor should it be taken to mean that I’m either guaranteeing or rooting against her success in NASCAR. It’d be nice if she could win some races over there, and show that an above average IndyCar driver can be competitive, given top-line equipment. However, I remain unconvinced that Danica Patrick is going to be a breakthrough star, transcending gender and sporting lines, and draw more fans into NASCAR or even into IndyCar (though she remains one of IndyCar’s marquee names).

Why is that? Well, let me get back to those two original stat lines. I’ll admit, I cheated just a little bit when I came up with the second line. That’s not representative of that driver’s complete career, though it does only omit two top-5 finishes that came in that driver’s last five years in CART. The years that those stats call out are 1981 through 1987, and the driver’s career that they represent is Kevin Cogan’s. That’s right, THE Kevin Cogan, who is largely known as something of a punchline nowadays, and who Robin Miller regularly refers to as “that damn Coooogin,” as A.J. Foyt allegedly called him at Indy in 1982.

Let’s have a closer look. Cogan burst onto the IndyCar scene with a spate of good finishes in 1981 and 1982, including a 4th at Indy in 1982 in his first full year in an IndyCar. Danica burst onto the IndyCar scene in 2005 with a couple of good finishes, led some laps at Indy, the first ever by a female, and finished 4th at Indy. Cogan made an early signing to a top team, Penske, for 1982. Danica signed on to a top team relatively early in her career, Andretti-Green, for 2007. Cogan made a high-profile, possible “rookie mistake” crash at Indy in 1982 that took out several drivers, including Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt. Danica made a high-profile, possible “rookie mistake” at Indy in 2005, taking out several drivers, including Tomas Scheckter. Cogan nearly won the Indy 500 in 1986, but was passed by Bobby Rahal with less than ten laps to go. Danica nearly won the Indy 500 in 2005, but was passed by Dan Wheldon with less than 10 laps to go. Cogan followed up a long debut period of no wins by winning his 54th IndyCar start in his 6th season. Danica followed up a long debut period of no wins by winning her 50th IndyCar start in her 4th season.

Where did Cogan go from his strongest season in 1986? That season, he won the first race of the season at Phoenix, nearly won Indy, and finished 6th in the points. From there, Cogan never finished in the top-10 in IndyCar points again, though he was still driving for Pat Patrick’s team in 1987, as he had in 1986. Thereafter, he drove for smaller, less competitive teams, and never really had much of a shot at the top of the sport again. He had a solid career, all in all, even if his early promise never really panned out.

Danica’s career is far from over at this point, but her results have not really backed up the amount of attention that she’s received. The question is: how can she avoid becoming this generation’s Kevin Cogan, a driver who possibly commanded more attention than his results really warranted? A good start for Danica would be to ensure that she stays in a ride that’s capable of winning races. As long as she’s at Andretti, that will be the case, but if she starts to seriously sniff around at running NASCAR more than a dozen times per year, no front-line IndyCar team will want to put her in their car. Top (read that: championship- and race-winning) IndyCar teams are generally only interested in drivers who can compete for championships. If Danica starts to run NASCAR races during the IndyCar season, her chances of winning an IndyCar championship will be over, even if she might be able to score an occasional fluke-y win for a smaller team. Nobody has been able to successfully switch between an IndyCar and a stock car on a regular basis since Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney did it in the 1960’s, and Danica’s far from the level of those legends of the sport.

Danica can do whatever she wants, clearly, but if she wants to be remembered as a racing driver who could do more than just win a race once in a blue moon, she’s going to have to concentrate on one thing. And if NASCAR doesn’t pan out, sooner rather than later, that thing that she’ll need to concentrate on should be IndyCar, the type of car that she’s been training to drive since she was a small girl. Otherwise, 20 years from now she’s liable to be largely remembered as a novelty racer who appeared in some commercials and couldn’t deliver the goods. A lot like Kevin Cogan.

Note: Huge thanks to Sean at for the fantastic one-stop racing statistics shop that he's built. I couldn't have written this without it. If you haven't seen his site, head over there now. Just make sure you've got a couple free hours to spend.

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Open Letter to Trackside

For last night’s Trackside show, Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee solicited ideas for increased visibility for the IndyCar series. What they asked for were quick, sound-bite-y ideas, but anybody who’s read even one of my posts knows that brevity is not my strong suit. Big thanks to Cavin and Kevin for reading the Cliffs Notes version of my ideas on the air, but for anybody who might be interested, the full text of my letter is below.

Many thanks to you and Curt for opening up the “what does IndyCar need to do?” debate for your show listeners. Hopefully, we’ll get some good ideas out there, and maybe some high-up folks will get something to carry forward. I’ve banged on about some of this on both my blog and others’ blogs (George Phillips’s Oilpressure blog, for instance), but I’ll try to do some show-friendly nutshell ideas here:

1) Possibly the most important: increased driver visibility. The most visible people associated with the League are the drivers, so let’s get them out there more. Autograph sessions and Tweet-ups at the tracks are a good start, but the people attending those are likely already fans, so that’s not necessarily enough to bring in new fans. What’s needed is getting the guys (and girls) out in front of some new eyes. There’s plenty you could do here, but I’ll confine my idea to just the following. As an example, the late Stan Fox came to my high school in Wisconsin back in the early ‘90s (’92 or ’93, I think) to speak about highway safety. I’ll not elaborate on the horrible, horrible irony involved there, but I know for certain that between his visit, the short IndyCar video that was played before his speech and the Menard’s show car they displayed outside the gym, there were some very interested (impressionable) minds turned toward the 500 and the IndyCar series the next season. What I’m suggesting is an IRL-sponsored highway safety campaign, done in cooperation with high schools who are either local to IRL races or just scattered around the Midwest, for ease of displaying a show car along with the driver’s speech and Q&A. If every driver could be required to do five of these per season, that’d be 100 or more events per year, times several hundred kids per event. I’m sure that somebody could work up some quick numbers for the break-even point of appearance costs versus additional ticket sales, but I’m thinking it wouldn’t be more than a couple thousand extra seats total for the whole year (and this doesn’t even include the potential increase in TV viewership, since that’s harder to nail down). As a residual effect, sponsors would also be displayed to new audiences, through footage on an associated video and through what the drivers wear to the event (be it race suit, polo shirt, Geico gecko or Ronald McDonald costume [ha!], or whatever), so there is value added for them as well.

2) Holding down costs in order to attract more teams and potentially increased competition. The next generation of cars needs to be made cost effective so that existing teams can afford to ante up for new equipment and so that new teams can be persuaded to come over from other forms of motorsport (Lights, Atlantics, GrandAm, ALMS, etc.). This can be done by standardizing the design of the carbon fiber tub among the chassis manufacturers, but also by limiting the amount of carbon fiber that’s used through the rest of the car. Aluminum and aluminum honeycomb are nearly as lightweight as the carbon equivalents, but less than half the cost. And, as carbon is used more and more in other areas (aeronautics, mainly), it’s not getting any cheaper. Limit the use of carbon fiber to the tub, the sidepod covers and the engine cover, aluminum for everything else (floor, wings, etc.). More teams in the series and the reset in chassis data for all teams (especially Penske and Ganassi) that comes with a new car means more teams that are potentially able to compete at the top of the leaderboard. That’s good for fan interest.

3) New manufacturers will bring more eyeballs to the series, through increased interest from domestic ALMS and F1 fans, and through the increase in advertising that the new manufacturers would likely bring (newspaper ads, TV spots, etc.). There does not need to be a huge escalation of cost with the addition of new manufacturers. First, and with the consultation of the potential new manufacturers, commission a standardized engine control unit with a limited scope of engine control. F1 has recently done this with McLaren Electronics and GrandAm recently accomplished this with Bosch. In both of those cases, the standard controller effectively outlawed traction control, so this would achieve the same for the IRL, along with a turbo boost limit, a limit on the number of engine maps (thereby ripping out the fuel knob, as Pressdog likes to say), etc.. With this in place, engine manufacturers can still attempt to show their technological superiority through means that are expanded from the current spec-engine format, but in a more limited manner than the wide-open late-‘90s. As a side note to this, I understand that a full-season engine lease deal for a Mazda 2-liter turbo engine for the ALMS is under $100,000, and that’s with them using their own ECU and only two cars in the series (i.e. basically no economies of scale). If that’s the case, then why can’t IndyCar set a target for a season lease for a similar engine with a standardized ECU from all of the new manufacturers at $500,000-600,000? That would be 50-60% of the current one, wouldn’t it? Between this limit and making the chassis more affordable (see item #2), you encourage new teams to enter the sport while addressing the financial concerns of all of the current teams by bringing down the price to play. Meanwhile, new manufacturers bring their advertising budgets to the table, along with their activation and increased fan interest.

There’s plenty more that can be done, I’m sure, but these three things are my pet ideas. Upon re-reading all of that, it looks a little long-winded. Please feel free to edit as necessary for brevity, or simply hang onto all of that for posting on The Fan website if you prefer.

There you have it. Any thoughts on any of this? Anybody?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

NASCAR = Nitwits Against Safety; Crashes Are Rad!

Is there a faction within NASCAR who have decided that safety is about the sixth or seventh priority for their drivers, crews and fans? That would be sixth or seventh behind profit, "entertainment" value, profit, column inches written, profit, and maybe t-shirt sales?

Five weeks ago at New Hampshire, A.J. Allmendinger spun out of turn four when coming to the white flag. NASCAR allowed the entire field to run nearly the entire lap before half-heartedly throwing a caution flag when the leaders were coming out of turn four. The "reason" given for doing what they did was that NASCAR wanted to give Allmendinger a chance to restart and get going again. This is absurd. The leaders were all separated by several carlengths, and Allmendinger getting restarted would likely have given very few drivers a chance to take a shot at the driver in front of them on that last lap. Meanwhile, Allmendinger barely got rolling again amid a huge cloud of tire smoke, the field packed up accordion-style coming out of turn four and NASCAR got away lucky with just a couple of cars with bent sheetmetal. Let me repeat that: NASCAR got lucky. Can you imagine what the result would have been if Allmendinger hadn't quite gotten going, then somebody had come down the front straight, unsighted by the cars in front of him, and plowed at full speed into Allmendinger's driver side door?

After the lessons "learned" at Loudon, I'd have thought that that scenario would not play out again for quite some time, if ever again, even if NASCAR seemed to fail to understand that they'd done something wrong when they made statements about the situation in the press. I was wrong. For the second time in the last six races, NASCAR failed to throw a caution flag on the last lap of a race while a car sat stationary on the front straight, boradside across the track. This week at Martinsville while coming to the white flag, John Andretti spun coming out of turn four with a little help from a couple of other cars. Yet again, NASCAR allowed the entire field to run the full lap, at a track where the leaders would be arriving on the scene in 10-15 seconds. This is not a time or a place to trust that a driver is going to get a hot race engine restarted in a time-effective fashion. The only difference this time is that NASCAR never did throw a yellow flag, though they yet again got lucky in that the only result was some bent sheetmetal by cars packing up while trying to avoid the stationary Andretti.

I am certain that the "reason" that will be given for both of these events is because NASCAR wants races to finish under green flag conditions. I understand that, though I've made it patently clear in this blog on several occasions in the past that the desire to finish the last lap, or last half of a lap, or last turn at the expense of drivers' safety is idiotic. I remain convinced that a Green-White-Checkered finish will kill a driver, or worse yet, a fan or several fans, at a restrictor plate race sometime in the near future. We have had huge accidents on the last laps of the last two restrictor plate races at Talladega and Daytona this year, one with a car getting up into the fence and injuring several fans and the other with a car coming dangerously close to doing the same.

What has been NASCAR's response to these accidents? Nothing. Not "no more black and white decisions about yellow line infractions" and not "no more blocking allowed". Nothing. NASCAR is simply crossing its fingers that the accidents that we've seen are the absolute worst case scenarios and that nothing bad will ever happen again.

There is no question that the first priority for racing sanctioning bodies should be the safety of the fans, followed by the safety of its drivers. Failure to ensure that your fans are safe from flying race cars is an invitation to be bankrupted by a litigous group of families who have had family members who have been killed at one of your events. No disclaimer that's printed on the back of a ticket stub will prevent a talented prosecutor and a sympathetic jury from relieving a sanctioning body of tens of millions of dollars. Or, prevent congress from instantly stopping all of your activities, should they find that there was something that could have been done to prevent the massive loss of life of patriotic taxpayers.

It's not 1950 anymore, NASCAR. It's not enough to put SAFER barriers on all of the walls of your tracks and come out with a car that's marginally safer than your last one and then call it a day. Unless you continue to take action to ensure the safety of all of your participants, you deserve any bad things which come your way in the future. Here's hoping that I'm wrong and that you're right in your inaction, but I doubt it.

Let's see what happens at Talladega next weekend...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why GrandAm Shouldn’t Race at IMS

GrandAm is testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today, and circulating rumors (including those mentioned by Curt & Kevin on Trackside this week) say that there could be a GrandAm endurance race at IMS in 2011. People will tell you things about how endurance racing won’t work there, because the track doesn’t want to release fans into the surrounding neighborhood late at night, and things like that, but let me add some more points to the list of why GrandAm should not be let onto the grounds to stage an actual race.

1) The cars are not viewed by ANYBODY as the most sophisticated in their field. IndyCars are the fastest single seater cars that run anywhere in the US. Formula 1 are the fastest cars that turn right and left anywhere in the world. MotoGP bikes are the motorcycle equivalent of F1. NASCAR Cup cars are the fastest “stock cars” anywhere, and the top-drawing form of motorsport in the US. These are the types of events that belong at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. GrandAm cars are not the fastest sports cars in the world, and are not even the fastest sports cars in this country. The Grand Am GT cars are basically at the same level of speed as the newly introduced GT-Challenge class in the American Le Mans Series. This GT-C class did not even run at Mosport last weekend, because the closing rate between it and the cars in the prototype cars was judged to be too great to be safe. That does not sound like the sort of car that should be on the track during a “feature” race.

Similarly, the GrandAm headlining Daytona Prototype cars are only marginally faster than the GrandAm GT cars, and in fact, sometimes struggle to get through slower GT traffic, due to insufficient straightaway advantage and microscopically better braking. If your headlining cars are only 1-2 seconds per lap faster around the track than the under-under-undercard Porsche Supercup cars that graced the Speedway back in the USGP years, then you probably ought to stay home.

2) There is no proven fan following of the GrandAm series, either in Indianapolis or anywhere else in the US. When NASCAR arrived at the Speedway in 1994, it was obvious that there would be a sell-out, as NASCAR’s popularity was clearly in the midst of a 20+ year upswing. When F1 arrived in 2000, there was no question that well over 100,000 tickets would be sold, since American F1 fans had gone without a US Grand Prix for eight seasons, and were starving for a chance to see F1 cars on home soil again. Add to that the factor that tickets would be far cheaper than tickets for any of the European rounds, so there would be many fans coming over the Atlantic for a relatively inexpensive racing weekend in Indy. On the other hand, can anybody tell me what the biggest crowd has been for GrandAm during the entire Daytona Prototype era (2003-now)? 25,000? 20,000? Possibly far less? Why should anybody expect that GrandAm at Indy would draw well in excess of double the largest previous crowd in series history? Even if they did draw 50,000 people to the Speedway somehow, how embarrassingly empty would the grounds look, at only 15-20% full? And would even 50,000 ticket sales be enough to justify all of the costs incurred simply by opening the gates (yellow shirts, security, EMTs, concession workers, clean-up crews, the electric and utility bills)? Unless your face values start at $200 a piece, then I’m thinking probably not.

3) When GrandAm shares a track with NASCAR for a weekend, it is always treated like a 4th class citizen. At Daytona this year, during 4th of July weekend, the GrandAm cars had to practice, qualify and race all in one day, with the two hour race itself starting SIX hours before that night’s Cup race. How many Cup fans do you think came out to the track six hours early watch a bunch of guys they’d never heard of driving cars that don’t appear to be going as fast as Cup cars? I’m thinking not too many. At Watkins Glen last month, the same sort of thing played out, with the GrandAm race starting two full hours after Cup qualifying had wrapped up. Given the choice between staying at the track for 2-4 extra hours to watch GrandAm and going into town to get dinner, how many NASCAR fans do you think chose the former? Just last weekend, when sharing the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with NASCAR’s #2 series, GrandAm was relegated to running its race on Saturday, so as to not impede on the “fantastic” “racing” of the Nationwide series (material for another blog post sometime, though you should check out Declan Brennan’s take on the weekend). Anyway, if NASCAR, whose parent company ISC also owns GrandAm, doesn’t see fit to bill the GrandAm series at least as highly as the Truck or Nationwide series, then why should such a clearly lower run series be allowed to be a clear #1 for a whole weekend at the Speedway?

4) GrandAm does not appear to be a series on the rise, but in fact seems to be a series that’s withering away. Let’s look at average car counts in the headlining Daytona Prototype class:

2006: 26.1 cars entered per race
2007: 19.9
2008: 18.9
2009 (so far): 16.9

The current rumor is for a GrandAm race to run at the Speedway in 2011, as part of the Centennial Era celebration. Are we so sure that the series is going to be around that long? If it actually makes it two more years but the trend continues, who is going to come out to watch 10-12 DPs and a dozen or so GTs run around for 6-12 hours? Won’t that look kind of silly?

Look, I love racing. The more, the better, as far as I’m concerned. However, there is something special about Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For 83 years, only the Indy 500 took place there. For the last 15 years, only top-level motorsport events have come to town. But, once you open the gate to clearly inferior forms of motorsport, then where do you draw the line as to who to let in and who gets shut out? If GrandAm gets to run, do you also kowtow to future overtures from NASCAR to run Nationwide and the Trucks there? Does the Speedway circle a date for Indiana Sprint Week? How about karts or quarter-midgets? They’d be cute to watch there, right? On the other hand, if they’re going to start running autocrosses on the front straight, complete with a Chicago Box on the yard of bricks, maybe I should shut up and start thinking about booking my hotel room for 2015…

Monday, July 06, 2009


From the Watkins Glen IndyCar lap chart and memory:

Lap 41: Justin Wilson and Mike Conway stop, pitting from first and second, respectively. New leaders are Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, all covered by roughly a second.

Lap 42: Helio stops. ABC cameras show the stop, then show Helio cruising down pitlane. The Turn 1 camera picks him up, pans back to allow Wilson into the frame, both cars are approaching Turn 1, but it’s not clear who’s going to win the race to Turn 2, or how far back Conway might be. Our screen cuts abruptly to Briscoe and Dixon back at about the outer loop, separated by roughly 4 car lengths.

Lap 43: Having followed Briscoe and Dixon around to the pits, and Marty Reid/Scott Goodyear having not even speculated on who might have won the race between Wilson and Helio to Turn 2/3 or the bus stop, Briscoe makes his stop. ABC cameras show the stop, then show Briscoe cruising down pitlane. The Turn 1 camera picks him up, pans back as if to show Wilson and/or Helio running parallel to Briscoe on the track. We never get there, because the screen cuts abruptly to Dixon negotiating the outer loop BY HIMSELF. The cameras follow Dixon all the way around to the pits, while Reid/Goodyear continue to crow about how this stop is the deciding factor of the race. Well, guys, there have already been four stops made that were just as decisive, and we got to see exactly zero pit exits. Oh, also we haven’t actually seen Justin Wilson on the screen for roughly three minutes now.

Lap 44: Dixon pits and exits, and we finally get to see where all of the cars are relative to each other, while Reid/Goodyear utter the name “Wilson” for the first time since probably Lap 42. We’ll have to wait another 5-6 laps to hear the name “Conway” again. Thanks, ABC. The most riveting four lap sequence of the entire season to date, and you got roughly 10% of it right (showing the pit stops themselves).

That, friends, is a master class on how to ignore everything that everybody has learned about how to cover road racing in the last 20+ years, and how to unnecessarily infuriate every single knowledgeable fan who has managed to find the race on your network. As mush as I and my blogger brethren have railed on the IRL about the need to fix the current generation of racecar (which they are already taking some baby steps toward doing), they absolutely MUST sit down with their long time broadcast partner and lay out what is expected of them. No more brain dead directing, and far less comatose commentary, at a minimum. If they can't deliver these things, it's time to start looking for escape clauses in their network TV contract.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Two Quick Post-Glen Thoughts

1) If a race has come down to the last round of pitstops (as it appeared to have done today), and how the cars come out of the pits relative to one another, it might be a good idea to see where the cars, you know, actually come out of the pits. Watching the cars exit their pitboxes, get almost down to the pit exit and (with the other direct competitors also on screen, just the other side of the pitwall), then cutting abruptly away to cars that are on the complete opposite side of the track and who are either not vying for position or running along by themselves...maybe not such a good idea. Doing this on consecutive laps, leaving us to wonder for a solid 3-4 minutes who is ahead of who among the cars who have pitted? That is very, very not cool...ABC Sports.

2) Yeah! Big, huge ups to Justin Wilson and the entire Dale Coyne Racing team! As a guy who thought very strongly about buying into Justin's career when he was in F1 (and which I would have done, had I not been flat broke at the time), this was probably the best thing I could imagine happening in today's IndyCar scene. As you can imagine, I'm biased there, but I defy you to find me anybody who's ever said anything bad about the guy, or anybody who was pulling against Coyne, 558 races deep into his IndyCar career without a single win. Just awesome, and I hope that all of the warm fuzzies generated this weekend can last us for several weeks. Hey, we'll probably all be bickering about the downforce levels of the cars again come Kentucky, but a guy can dream, can't he?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What to do?

OK, I’ve been sitting on this post for quite a while now, probably too long, since the uproar after the non-race at Texas has been somewhat forgotten and died down by now. But, I wanted to get some thoughts out there before this weekend’s race at Iowa Speedway and before tonight’s Trackside with Cavin and Kevin show, when they’re going to be tackling this same subject with Larry Curry of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

To briefly reiterate the point that I’ve read and heard all over TV and the blogosphere since the Texas IndyCar race: IndyCar’s current oval racing largely sucks. There is very little side-by-side racing, no pack racing, and basically no passing is possible unless you have a huge performance advantage over the car in front of you. Two of those things, the first two, I don’t necessarily think we need to have in the sport. If we wind up with side-by-side or racing in packs, that’s fine, but the thing that I think is potentially lethal to the series as a whole is the inability of cars to pass each other.

It’s been well documented that Ryan Briscoe led roughly 518 laps at Texas and at one point held a 96 second lead, however, once he was passed by Helio Castroneves in the pits, he was unable to find a way back by. Fishy, no? Seems like somebody who is able to pull away from the entire field while supposedly still conserving fuel should be able to complete one pass (even if it’s one on his teammate for the lead) in the final 30 laps of the race, especially if it’s on a track that has long been renowned for its spectacular competition. It was the same sort of thing that we saw at Kansas, and most of the day at Indy: you make a pass in the first lap or two after a restart, or in the pits, or you’re cruising around holding your position, unable to make much of an impression on anybody in front of you. There were a few exceptions to this rule (Oriol Servia and Townsend Bell at Indy, Marco Andretti at Texas), but nothing like the ability to pass that we’ve seen at any other point in the history of the series.

What do we do? First off, let me say that something absolutely must be done. The next generation of cars are not due to appear until 2012, or maybe even 2013. That is a long, long time from now. Judging by the discontent in the blogosphere, among people who are long time hardcore proponents of the sport, people are going to start walking away or turning the channel. (Personally, I'm going to skip Iowa this weekend, even though the fact that it's a short track means that the racing might be better. If it turns out to be another woofer, I don't feel like going to my third sub-par oval race this season.) If TV ratings do not increase past where they are now (and if the racing continues not to inspire fans, they won’t), there will likely not be a 2013 for the League. Sponsors will evaporate, teams will close their doors, and then we’ll wind up with four red and white cars driving around with 5-6 guys following them around, laps behind.

For starts, I’d like the League to acknowledge that we have a problem. It’s pretty clear that nobody, not myself, not Robin Miller, not Jack Arute, not Andy Granatelli, knows of a silver bullet that will fix the racing overnight. An overnight fix is probably not even possible. But, I’d sure hope that Tony George, Brian Barnhart, Tony Cotman, Terry Angstadt, and whoever else at the IRL is ordering food in every night, locking themselves in a conference room on 16th Street, sleeping under their desks, calling every technically minded person they know and burning the midnight oil, until they can hatch a plan to make next year markedly better than this year.

Let me get them started: aerodynamically-induced understeer is keeping drivers from getting close enough to the car in front to attempt a pass. OK, where does most of the problematic turbulence come from? The wings. Get Dallara started on making smaller, less effective wings, right now. Hey, Dallara, you got an exclusive contract to build the next generation cars, right? You wanna see that next generation actually come to light? Then help fix the one we’ve got now. Cut the wing-produced downforce by 10-20%, and work on instituting ground effect tunnel blockers to cut another 10-15%. You need some help on that? OK, here you go. I found that on The Google in 0.25 seconds. Search “cart+tunnel+blocker” for more info there, or ask Adrian Reynard. There, it’s a front wing, a rear wing and some underbody parts. You’ve got about four months to do the design work, and then a further 5-6 months to crank out enough parts for all of the teams.

What is all of that going to fix? Drivers will be able to follow closer than they can now, and the good ones will be able to set up and complete passes like they could before the days when the cars were pinned to the track by over a ton of aerodynamic assistance. It’s true that it’ll probably be even harder for people to go side-by-side than it is now, but I think all we’re really asking for is passing. Side-by-side for lap after lap after lap isn’t actually all that fun, really. Watch NASCAR at Talladega this fall. Is it thrilling? Sure, but only because you’re waiting for somebody to do something dumb and spark a 30 car pileup. We’re looking to avoid that in the IndyCar series, since a multi-multi-car pileup would likely result either in a car getting in the grandstands, or a team going out of business due to a huge repair bill.

Next, most folks think that the current cars don’t have enough power. Well, Honda has a perfectly good 4.0 liter V-8 engine that they’re using in another series right now, but rumor has it will be on a shelf collecting dust next year. Some minor tweaks will make that compatible with oval racing, given that it’s a development of the 3.4 liter LMP2 engine, which was in turn a development of the Honda IndyCar engine. Some sources say that the 4.0 liter is good for “620+ HP” breathing through restrictors, so taking the restrictors off should be good for at least 700. 50+ extra horsepower over what we’ve got now is a good start. Plus, that engine is designed to run for 12+ hours, so reliability shouldn’t be a problem. Swap the 4.0 liter in for the current 3.5 liter, and let’s see which drivers can handle the extra power. Also, with all of that reduced downforce from above, we’ll be looking at straightaway speeds of at least 5-10 MPH more than what we’re currently getting, plus visible acceleration out of corners. Fast is good, right?

OK, next, get Firestone on the line, and tell them to make the tires softer, and maybe even a little wider. Reliability problems, you say? Well, three paragraphs ago, I took 20-35% of the downforce off of the cars. That’s a lot less vertical force on the sidewall, and subsequently, a lot less horizontal strain on the tread in the corners. Soften up the tires and we might get some side-by-side back, plus it’ll force drivers to be careful about abusing their rubber. Beat on your tires too much, and you’ll be vulnerable to the smooth guys (and girls) before your next pitstop, just like with the current option tires on the road courses. I’ll hear no talk about “marbles” here. They’re already a problem that is getting no better, even with Firestone making harder tires every year, so you might as well go the other way and see if you can improve the show.

There you go, the entire Dallara-Honda-Firestone package re-imagined in under a dozen paragraphs. It’s possible that this formula would produce racing that’s no better than the 2009 product. But, can we really afford to knowingly accept two more seasons of what we’re currently getting?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quickie 500 Predictions

After some troubles with Blogger yesterday (i.e. trying to reload it for 45 minues, while it simply refused to work), I've only got time for a couple of quick race morning Indy 500 predictions.

Obvious Pick: A red and white car. OK, you want more specific than that? Well, Penske had three of the top five cars on Carb Day. That said, I don't think that Will Power is quite as quick (or experienced at avoiding trouble) as the other two guys, so he's out. That leaves Helio and Ryan Briscoe. Helio's having a dream month: stayed out of jail, won the pole, fastest on Carb Day, won the pit stop competition. Seems like a good time for a clean sweep? I say no. The fairy tale ends here, though he's likely to still finish top-5. I'm taking Briscoe. Nobody's been better since mid-season last year, and he's ready to take home the big one.

Dark Horse Pick: This one, I always wait on until race day. This year's pick isn't maybe quite as dark as my usual dark horses, but I'm taking the kid that's starting 4th. I clocked Graham Rahal with my stopwatch doing mid-221 mph laps for four consecutive laps on Carb Day, even in light traffic. The kid is ready to win another race, and I think he's just fast enough to win the 500.

Any way you slice it, it ought to be a good day and a great race, even if the odds are that one of the guys below will wind up being the one ultimately smiling...

Enjoy the race, everybody!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Good Call / Bad Call

Good day, everybody, and I mean that in the most literal sense. Cars (IndyCars, thanks very much) ran today for the first time in the Month of May 2009. That means that it's time for me to hum "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" over and over in my head for three and a half straight weeks. And it doesn't get old, either.

I've decided to introduce a new periodic entry here on my corner of the Interwebs. It's a little something that I'd like to call "Good Call / Bad Call". Bear with me and I think you'll get the hang of it.

Good Call: The FIA hands down a "suspended penalty" on McLaren for Liegate.

As I covered here earlier, McLaren had done several things to atone for the "sin" of lying about something that happened during the Australian GP.

1) Given up the six points Lewis Hamilton had theoretically scored for third place in Melbourne.
2) Fired Team Manager Davey Ryan.
3 (unofficially) ) Declared the effective resignation of Ron Dennis from the F1 team.

That's plenty. No need for a three race ban, or a 30 point constructor's championship penalty. McLaren's already in rough shape this season, and plenty of teams have gotten away with taking liberties with the truth in the past (like when Felipe Massa lied to the stewards at Monza in 2006 about getting held up by Fernando Alonso in qualifying, and Fernando got penalized grid positions in the race). Let's get on with the racing.

Bad Call: The opening two days of practice at Indianapolis are on a Tuesday and a Wednesday.

Huh? I realize that they're trying to condense the schedule for the month of May, thereby limiting the amount of mileage (and expense) that the teams pile up, but...wouldn't it make more sense to have opening day be on a weekend (Sunday, let's say), then you have a couple of days off, then a couple of days of practice, then Pole Weekend? How many spectators were at the track today? 30? 40? How many are going to be there tomorrow? About the same? Meanwhile, how many people were forced to watch the proceedings through live timing and scoring and Twitter while at work, when they'd have gladly shown up in person if that whole nasty "job" thing didn't get in the way? I'm guessing the answer to that is "more than 40".

Good Call: The triumphant return of Johnny and The Duke on the Live Fast Racing Podcast.

I Twittered about this a couple of weeks ago, but it bears repeating: go download their latest show from April 9th, right now. They pull no punches, put up with no BS, and tell the truth, always. Let me say it again: go download their latest show. Now.

Bad Call: Widely respected and revered (by me, as well) PR Supremo / Motorsports Writer / Blogger Michael Knight going "full coot" about Twitter.

Dude, there may be a lot of imposters on Twitter, but...what's the harm in that, really? Nobody's selling illegal merch or asking for credit card numbers on there, or really sullying anybody's name for real. Besides, most of the dumb ones are pretty easy to sniff out in a few posts. On the other hand, getting live, real time Tweets from race teams from trackside, and being able to chat with all of your online "racing buddies" during races...that's really cool. Besides, the Real Max Papis is, like, always on there.

Good Call: Some amount of variation in the car paint schemes at the Speedway.

Yes, some of them look like they're advertising for Pepto, and some may look like they're going to be REALLY trying to sneak up on people on race day, but at least we haven't had announcements for 15 new red-white-blue or red-white or all-black cars in the last week. Danica's at least staying distinctive, with her splashes of orange, even if I still stand by my statement that her teammate Marco Andretti is going to look pretty anonymous in an almost all-black car. A few more cars are yet to be announced, but there are quite a few folks who are tracking the paint schemes. Keep an eye there for the new stuff.

Bad Call:, for not turning over all website decisions and content editing to the good folks at The Silent Pagoda.

The Silent Pagoda crew are the only people out there who are willing to print the real behind-the-scenes stuff that we all want to read. Like the conversation that would have happened between EJ Viso and Ryan Hunter-Reay, when they were slated to share a car at the barber Motorsports Park test.

Awful Call: "We are constantly evaluating safety initiatives."

This was the line from NASCAR VP of Communications Jim Hunter put out there after Carl Edwards almost wound up in the laps of 200 of his closest friends at Talladega a couple of weeks ago. The basic reaction that I've read from NASCAR and a lot of NASCAR-focused media is that "a car knocking another car up into the fence is basically the worst-case scenario, the sport is dangerous, people come because it's more dangerous than baseball, and there'll never be a way to make the sport perfectly safe". Some of those things are true, but I would say that one car getting into the fence is not even close to the worst-case scenario. It's not 1955 anymore. If a car were to get into the stands nowadays, on national TV, and in our litigious society, there wouldn't be much in the way of talk right now about Darlington or Indy. There would be talk about who within NASCAR is slated to be appearing in front of Congress this week. This is not worth tempting fate over. Something must be done, even if that something isn't exactly clear, but motions must be made to at least look into what could be done to improve the situation. A couple of other people have tackled this topic as well (and much better than I have or will), but the fact that we haven't seen NASCAR make promises that they are locking people inside their multi-million dollar tech center to try to figure out how to make the sport safer says an awful lot about where the actual priorities lie with that sanctioning body.

What could they do? Let me get them started:

1) Cut 500-600 pounds off of the minimun weight of the cars. Race cars do not need to weigh 3400 pounds, and material science has proceeded past the days when chrome moly steel was "high tech". 3400 pounds worth of steel carries a lot of energy, and therefore can deliver a lot more damage than a 2800 pound car can. Cut the weight of the cars and then work on dialing back the speed so that lap times are roughly what they are today.

2) BAN BLOCKING. NOW. The culprit of the Edwards Talladega accident is not a product of the yellow line rule, or even restrictor plate racing. It's a product of the attitude that NASCAR has fostered for the last 10-15 years that it's OK for a driver to do anything to protect his position, even if it's weaving down every straightaway, cutting up or down in the middle of turns, or trying to stuff other drivers into the infield on the last lap. That must end. Write a rule that says: if you make more than one move per straightaway to change your line, you will get an immediate drive through penalty. Do it on the last lap of the race, and we're docking you three laps in the scoring. Do it three times in a season, and you're sitting out a race. The racing will improve because people will be able to complete passes, and safety will improve because people won't be actively trying to stuff other people into the wall every chance they get. In fact, if NASCAR were to introduce such a rule, I think that many other sanctioning bodies worldwide would follow suit, and the racing world would be better off for it. Blocking rant over.

Great Call: It's the month of May. Go see a race. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wrappin' Up Kansas

I hope that everybody enjoyed their weekend, and that the Versus coverage of the Kansas IndyCar race was as good as it has been for the first two rounds of the season at St. Pete and Long Beach. From what I read, it sounds like it probably was, though I haven't had the chance to go through the DVR and see for myself. For now, I'll trust what I've read and heard.

As for me, I had a fantastic weekend, getting to my first in-person race of the season. Mrs. Speedgeek and I headed southward on Saturday at about noon. The plan for us all along was for just Sunday at the track, as the Mrs. is OK with one day at the track, but not so much with two days. Fair enough. In the meantime, we figured we'd go hang around The Plaza, do some serious posing with the glamorous types down there, and get some fantastic barbecue in the bargain.

About that last part, if you haven't tried Kansas City barbecue, or if you have and think that the "original" dive-y places are the only spots where you can get some serious quality meat 'n' sauce...I must heartily disagree. For my money, Fiorella's Jackstack is where it's at. Their meat is incredible (I love the pork burnt ends), the sides are out of this world (especially the Hickory Pit Beans), and the atmosphere is upscale-ish, but not snooty (jeans and such are welcome; there were a dozen guys there on Saturday night in Chiefs jerseys, celebrating NFL Draft Night). All of that and more, and for around about Famous Dave's prices. It can't be beat.

With that plug out of the way (thanks for the free rack of ribs! I wish...), the Mrs. and I had to head down to try out the new Fiorella's branch down on the Plaza. As we were walking in the door, I saw a group of three people coming up behind us, and one of them looked vaguely familiar, as far as I could tell out of the corner of my eye. We put our names in at the hostess's stand, and started to get out of the way for the folks behind us, so that they could do the same. This time, I heard the guy behind me say, "Table of three please. Name? Dan." in a nice, thick British accent. Uh, I think that guy might be famous.

Yes, 2005 Indy 500 champion Dan Freaking Wheldon representing, and here to enjoy some of the world's finest barbecue! I wish I could say that I played it cool, said a quick hello and good luck, but after 10 minutes of sitting across the bar and listening to Mrs. Speedgeek telling me to just go over there, I couldn't resist. As a guy who grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, where the biggest local celebrity is the Pure Water Days Festival Princess, I have a tendency to turn into Chris Farley on "The Chris Farley Show" around actual celebrities. This day would be no different. I don't think I sounded like too much of an idiot, and I think I limited my stammered pleasantries to 15-20 seconds worth, so I suppose the encounter was a success. Oh, also he signed my race ticket.

I have to say, Dan is very pleasant, has a very firm (dare I say, Danica-esque) handshake, and his teeth are slightly less dazzling than they appear on TV, but still made me want to go buy a case of whitening strips. No, I did not notice his shoes. Sorry.

OK, barbecue and pleasantries out of the way, on to Sunday morning. We were enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning, chillin' at the breakfast buffet at the Hampton Inn, lounging around our room, etc., when I took a second to see if the Pressdog had posted any updates from the track yet that day. He had. Off to the track we go, honey!

We arrived to the Speedway around about 10 minutes after the Indy Lights were to take the green, but things seemed eerily quiet. As I'd find out later, the race had been stopped in order to clean up a particurlarly nasty wreck early on in the race. As a result, I cruised into the track just in time for a restart on around about lap 20. Not bad. Meanwhile, Mrs. Speedgeek was happy to let me run ahead (which I did, and I'm probably still a little winded for it), and she'd catch up with me later. As it turned out, she'd get turned away at the gate a little later for trying to bring in a couple of mini-umbrellas, and so she went back to the car to nap and read for a bit. Don't worry about her, though. She was OK with that.

Anyway, the Lights race wasn't a whole lot to write home about. The wind seemed to really play havoc with a lot of the cars. There were a couple of pretty big hits in turn 3 and 4, as the wind was pushing the cars up the track there. Ana Beatriz made a great save while attempting to make a pass for the lead with 10 or so laps to go, and only lost two positions, though she ran out of time (and handling and/or confidence in the car, it looked like) to make either of the places up. Sean Guthrie got parked for coming out of the pits on cold tires, catching up to the pack in turn 3, where there was a clean up effort in progress for Pablo Donoso's accident, locking up his brakes and barely (like, I mean, by a matter of inches) missing a safety truck. He complained loudly about "another dumb IRL decision" on the PA, and is currently doing the same on his team's website. Sorry, Sean, but cold tires or not, that was dumb. Nice win for Sebastian Saavedra, though.

IndyCar practice started shortly thereafter, and it was fantastic to get a good look (and listen, and smell) at the cars for the first time in 2009. The cars, I think, maybe don't look quite as zoomy as the Panoz DP01 did, but I'm really not complaining. Time has been fairly kind to the Dallaras, though I certainly wish we were getting new cars before 2012. The new mufflers are great. The cars are noticeably quieter, and the sound is a little higher pitched than it used to be. Not exactly like what a lot of us grew up with in the '70s and '80s, but not too far off. I'll take it. And the smell of the new sugar-based gets me going, and I think it's a little more pleasant than last year's corn-based stuff was. We'll leave it at that.

Oh, also I took pictures.

Welcome back, Sarah. Here's hoping we see a lot more of you from here on out.

Marco's new paintjob. I'm sorry, but that's some weak sauce, bro. Another black car? It's going to be rough at Indy telling his car apart from Will Power's and Danica's.

On to the race. About an hour and a half before race time, as the Mrs. and I sat in the car (there was a three hour break between the end of practice and the start of pre-race festivities; there aren't nearly enough merch trailers to fill three hours), I noticed that the wind had changed from a southwest-to-northeast direction to a south-to-north direction. This gave me hope that we'd at least get some laps in, if not the whole race, as most of the storms in Kansas were to the southwest. As it turned out, we got the whole thing in. Hooray for changeable midwestern weather. I don't think any of us expected that on Sunday morning. I'm sure that this is what held down the crowd, and I hope that that doesn't get held against the place in the future. I'd have put the place at about 20-25% full, with sections near start-finish pretty full, and sections by us near pit-in about 5% occupied. With the weather being what it was, including nearby tornados on Saturday, I don't think we could have expected any better.

This recap is stretching to novel-length, so maybe I'll just hit some high points from here on out. The first half of the race stayed pretty interesting, with Dixon making his way forward, a couple of teams doing a minor variation on pit strategy (if you can call going five laps off sequence a variation), Dario and Helio making their way forward, and Graham Rahal looking reeeeeealllly racy, given his very limited background on ovals. That kid is good, and he's going to be around for a long time. I like it. Someone who I have decided I do not like (again) is...Milka. That woman was in the way all day, and did not seem to be able to keep to a single line. Big surprise there, I know, but I guess I was hoping she'd have learned something by now. I think that Dario was hoping for the same, since I saw him give her "the wave" as he lapped her once, after she'd held him up for a couple of laps. This same actually can't be said for the other "differently speeded" driver of the series right now, Stanton Barrett. I didn't see anybody struggle to get by him all day, and that's good. He can stay.

The second half of the race, though... Let me refer to last week's post: I'm not somebody who requires every race to be a "Chicagoland in 2007 or 2008" instant classic, but...that was pretty boring. I know that there were extenuating circumstances (20-40 mph wind gusts) and that everybody was just hoping to survive the day with an intact car, but there really wasn't a whole lot to watch in the last 40 or so laps. I even resorted to getting the stopwatch out to check gaps between cars (most gaps were getting bigger, constantly), and other than one or two passes, not much actually took place. Things got pretty passive-aggressive at times, like when Helio spent 5-6 laps trying to get around the outside of Tony Kanaan, only for Tony to ever so slightly edge up the track every time at the entrance to turn 1, thereby foiling Helio's moves. A couple of other folks did some similar things (Danica, Dixon, probably just about everybody else), nobody really doing much blatant blocking that I could see, but what did transpire didn't make for very compelling watching. I'm not complaining, mind you, I'm just hoping that this isn't a harbinger of what's to come later in the season on the other mile and a half tracks.

All in all, it was a good weekend. We did get 200 laps of racing in, when I woke up hoping to get maybe 40. I did get to hear Sean Guthrie taking the IRL to task for parking him when just about everybody else on the grounds agreed with the IRL folks (believe me, that was the consensus near me in the stands). I heard the phrase "Enjoy the race" from more track personnel (vendors, concession folks, ticket takers) at Kansas than I think I have at every other race that I've ever been to, combined, and as corny as that sounds, it actually made an impact on me. Everybody there wanted us to come back in the future, and to bring all of our friends. That's cool. I'll be back, and I hope to see a lot of familiar folks there in years to come. If you treat me nice, I'll even introduce you to Dan Wheldon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Goin' Way Down South Baltimore...Virginia...and with apologies to Wyclef Jean (and all of you who might not have gotten my 1998 reference joke, which would be...probably all of you), now also Kansas. That's right, as much as I've truly enjoyed watching Versus' excellent coverage of the IndyCar series so far this season, it's time to get off the couch and go to my friendly neighborhood super speedway and catch the big boys (and girls! plural!) doing their best high-speed work. More on that in a second.

First, the Versus coverage. As I mentioned in my last post, I thought the coverage from St. Pete was fantastic. Long Beach was more of the same, I thought, though since the wasn't quite as good (read that: less passing), the show didn't seem to have quite the same zip as at Round 1. Others have pointed out that the coverage thus far has been a tad "package heavy" with a lot of pre-prep "who are these people and what are they doing here" types of stories, but I think that that's sort of a necessity at this early stage in the Versus Era. If we are, as I think we're all hoping, getting people over from Versus' many, many other sports (hockey, bull riding, MMA, cycling, full-contact badminton), a lot of folks aren't going to know who most of the drivers are, outside of Danica, that Dancing With the Stars guy, the guy who's married to Ashley Judd, and maybe that quiet guy who won the Indy 500 last year. If packages are what it takes to draw people into the coverage and give them a vested interest in what's going on for the next three hours, I'm all for it. If you find them boring (and mind you, I kind of do), that's what pause buttons on DVRs and refrigerators containing chip dip and beer were invented for.

The booth guys and the rest of the on-air crew, as I also touched on in my last post, are all doing top notch work. I've read many people who say that Bob Jenkins's style is sleep inducing. I personally disagree, but the main job of the play-by-play person in the booth is not necessarily to have you jumping out of your seat ever 30 seconds (that's Jack Arute's job, whether it's on purpose or not). It's to make sure that the other guy (or guys) in the booth are getting all the way through their points, everybody stays on topic, and nothing major (cars stopped on track, EJ Viso threatening other drivers with a 20 foot snake) gets missed during the telecast. Bob's great at all of that stuff. Good. That's what they're paying him for. Robbie Buhl and Jon Beekhuis both bring their assorted backgrounds to the table, and both do a good job of interjecting their viewpoints into the flow of the telecasts. Buhl is a relatively recent driver, and now that we're getting into territory that he knows better (oval tracks), I think he'll be quite good at telling us what it's like out there. I believe someone also mentioned that he's a car owner or something, so maybe he'll talk about that down the road, maybe if his driver hits anything. Meanwhile, Jon is a student of the sport, in addition to his being an ex-driver as well, and does a nice job of keeping up with the technical and strategic developments, which are things that other people who have been in his chair in the past (naming no names, but there have been many) have been...lacking in grasp on. That's perfect. Three guys, three viewpoints, and all well spoken. Don't change a thing.

As for the pit reporters, other than the usual occasional non-sequitur by Jack Arute (like last week where he was talking about the "Late" Stirling Moss, when Stirling is very much alive and the anecdote was probably not about him in the first place), those three are doing a great job so far. Really, the pit reporters are kind of like referees in other sports: if you can't remember any major screw-ups, they probably did their job correctly. Through two races, other than a couple of word fumbles, I can think of no such problems with Lindy Thackston or Robbie Floyd.

Now, with all of the television stuff out of the way, it's time to talk racing. So far, the racing hasn't exactly been riveting, but it has been interesting. I'm one of those nut-jobs who actually think that street racing has its place in the sport, and not just from a sponsor entertainment standpoint. As a few people have written, minute car fine-tuning is not so important on street courses, and so a good driver can throw a mediocre car around and make it punch well above its weight. This is well worth something, as we've seen Justin Wilson, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Will Power on the podium, three guys who barely got a sniff of a podium on the ovals last year (though Ryan got close, and Will was driving for Penske last week). Also, I'm a firm believer that not every race has to feature tons and tons of passing, though race after race of no-passing-at-all will almost certainly kill a series (see F1, back around 2003 or 2004). The occasional race that turns into a high-speed chess game, where drivers are basically waiting for other drivers to make a mistake in order to make a pass? That's OK by me. Again, let me reiterate, I'm cool with 3-4 of these races a year (especially if the surrounding scenery is interesting to look at as well), but not much more than that. I'd say that IndyCar has struck about the right balance in the schedule right now.

Now, looking ahead to this weekend, we've got our first oval race of the year, and the only one that comes before the Indy 500. If last year is much of anything to go off of, we're looking at a Ganassi/Penske one through four formation, followed by a mixture of AGR cars, the Panther car, and a couple of other isolated guys in the top-12 or so. I think that this year will be around about the same, but now that the ex-ChampCar teams have had a full year to work on their setups, I think they'll be closer, and probably fully competetive for spots in the 7-10 range. Newman-Haas-Lanigan, with a rapidly maturing Graham Rahal and a lightning-quick-when-he-keeps-it-off-the-wall Robert Doornbos should be close-ish to the leading pace. Dan Wheldon, the best driver that Panther has employed since the days of that...Sam guy, should be right up there in the top-5 all weekend. Rafa Matos has been quick so far (when he hasn't been wrecking Danica), and I might be one of the few who thinks he can do the same on the ovals as well.

There are so many more questions. Will there be any repercussions from Dario for Justin Wilson implying that the Franchitti brothers are Britney Spears fans? How huge will Tony Kanaan's hair be, since it's grown out for a whole week? Will Will Power frame Helio Castroneves for some sort of crime, so that he can get his ride back? How will Our Girl Sarah fare this week, in her first outing of the year? How well will Nobody's Girl Milka stay out of the way, given that she's done basically no testing since last year, and hasn't sat in a Dreyer & Reinbold car since Chicagoland last year? We shall see.

And on that note, one other question: to anybody who's been to Kansas Speedway before, what should I be checking out there? We'll just be there on Sunday, in a nod to keeping Mrs. Speedgeek sane and racing-tolerant, but is there any must-see stuff that we ought to be fitting in between the Indy Lights race and the Big Car race? Drop me a comment if there is, or if you might be in the Big KS yourself this weekend.

Take it easy, everybody, and see you at the races!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Post-Tax Day Thoughts

For anybody who's read the headline and is looking for some solid, in-depth analysis of the Helio Castroneves tax evasion trial...sorry. I'm no lawyer, and I'm not even going to pretend to play one on the internets. For that stuff, go read Chris Estrada, James at 16th and Georgetown, or even Robin Miller.

Nope, tax stuff bores me to tears, even if it involves multiple time Indy 500 winners. All I mean is that it's been something like 15 months since I've posted, so it's time for another one of my patented mish-mash "six racing series in one post" posts.

Formula 1!

It's been a nutty, nutty season so far. I'm not going to be one of those folks who say "a team that didn't even exist two months ago won both of the opening races", because the Brawn team did, in fact, exist two months ago. They just weren't called Brawn until then, that's all. Not to belittle what they've done, though. That team was cover-your-eyes awful last year, and the turn around to two poles and two wins in two races is like nothing we've never seen before. I'm not sold on their ability to hold their advantage until the end of the season, but they could have a big enough lead by mid-season to remain in championship contention until the end of the season.

There are lots of other things to answer this season, though. Can Lewis Hamilton continue to haul the piece of junk McLaren into the top-5? When will Ferrari quit shooting themselves in the foot long enough to score a point? Can any of the other "diffuser" teams (or maybe Red Bull) make up the remaining difference to the Brawns? Will I be kicking myself at the end of the season for not trying hard enough last weekend to find a sports book in Vegas that has F1 on the board, so that I could plunk down $20 on Timo Glock for the title at probably 15-1 odds?

I will say one more thing about F1: the FIA has done the right thing by upholding the scrutineers' judgement that the three "diffuser" teams' cars are legal. That's good. Now, if only Max Mosley would come to his senses and let McLaren out of the April 29th FIA hearing on "Lie-gate". That is heinous. McLaren's already lost six points. That's plenty. Let's get on with the racing.


I think that St. Pete answered most peoples' wishes for a season opener. Some good storylines (Justin Wilson almost winning Dale Coyne's first race, Ryan Hunter-Reay almost winning less than two weeks after signing with Vision, a clearly medicated Danica Patrick taking a philosophical approach to getting crashed out of a race), some good on-track racing (including an actual pass for the lead with less than 20 laps to go), and some, great coverage from The League's new broadcast partner.

Let me expand on that last point. I'm going to throw in right here at the top that I was one of those crackpots who was in favor of going with Versus. More coverage is good for the sport, and if it happens to be competent-to-good coverage, all the better (I'm looking at you, Spike TV). Versus has basically nailed the first ingredient of any great racing coverage: the booth team. In Bob Jenkins, Robbie Buhl and Jon Beekhuis, we've got an old-pro who is one of the best traffic cops in the business (Jenkins, dating back to his days doing the same for "Buffet" Benny Parsons and Ned Jarret on ESPN), a current team owner who has a great grasp on how the sport works on a day-to-day basis (Buhl) and the previously best technical- and strategic-minded pit reporter in the business (Beekhuis). The fact that they spent the two hours of qualifying coverage and three hours of the race talking like old friends, busting on each other, catching 95% of what was going on on the track and in the pit boxes (and that'll get even better as the season goes on), that is exactly what I'm looking for. The pit reporters were solid, if not perfect, but they'll get better, too.

This is going to be a good season. There are lots of potential winners, even more drivers coming on board in the coming weeks before the 500, and the new broadcaster is off to a solid start. The ratings numbers were not good for the first race, but I'm not going to get excited about that for quite a bit longer. If we're still getting 0.3s come Watkins Glen or Motegi...well, then we'll talk.


There were only 17 cars on the grid in St. Pete. There are going to be 21 on the grid this weekend at Long Beach. GT1 is basically extinct in four days. There are only probably three cars on the grid that are quick enough to win overall on any given weekend, and all of them are made by the same manufacturer. Yuck. Let's move on.


When did they race last? August 2006? Wake me when the season gets going again.


I'll be honest. I haven't been watching much since the other series got going. On the other hand, I have been watching enough to know that Jeff Gordon is laying a Grade A beatdown on the field this season. No finishes outside of the top-6 since Daytona (where he finished 13th)? Yeah, that's a beatdown. Good work, Jeff.

World Rally Championship!

Sebastien Loeb still drives here. Championship's over, folks.

Bullrun on Speed!!!!!!!!

The season's about to wrap up! Who's going to take home the big prize? The dishy brunettes in the Lexus? The 'Bama Boys in the Avalanche? The weird-haired guys in the Corvette? We all want to know!

Just kidding on that last one. Sort of. Whatever it is you're watching and following nowadays, enjoy it. Racing season's in full swing. Life is good.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?

One of the original ideas behind this website when I started it back in 2006 was to yammer about more than just F1, IndyCar, NASCAR and whatever other major league motorsports that I might be thinking about. I actually sort of envisioned this as being a homeless man's Jalopnik, covering all sorts of minor-league motorsports (which guys like Junior Open Wheel Talent do better than I ever could, anyway) one day and high performance road car stuff another day and mundane-y thoughts on boring-ish road car stuff (like thoughts on the upcoming Ford Fiesta-in-America launch) another day. Well, my basic inability to post more than once every couple of weeks (at best) sort of submarined all of that, but...every day's a new day, right?

Motorsports and general fast car experiences are not exactly an every day occurrence in Eastern Nebraska. Sometimes, though, stuff comes up, and you've got to go ahead and do it, 'cause sometimes there's aren't second chances. Not to make what happened this weekend some sort of life-changing experience or epiphany or anything, but it did make for a far more interesting than normal Saturday afternoon.

A co-worker friend of mine approached me a few weeks ago, knowing that I'm a gearhead of sorts, and invited me along on an outing that his car club was doing. I'm not a big car club guy, I suppose because the cars I've owned ('88 Honda Accord, '99 Ford Contour, '05 Mazda6) are not really car club-worthy, but I thought this would be a good time to bend that general rule. These guys, being the area's preeminent Mopar club, were going to go check out the Woodhouse Viper Pit.

Some background: Bob Woodhouse has been a big-roller in Nebraska and national motorsports for the better part of the last 20 years. He's kind of a hitter in the car biz, as well, selling a few cars here and there. Anyway, he's possibly best known in motorsports circles as team owner of the Woodhouse SCCA World Challenge team, fielding Vipers in the GT class last year for the likes of Tommy Archer, Brian Simo, and Jeff Courtney.

Woodhouse Chrysler in Blair, Nebraska is the #1 Viper-selling Dodge dealer in the U.S. That sounds sort of crazy, but it's sort of obvious to see why...

Yeah, that's 25 Vipers under one roof, plus a few Shelby Cobras and some different stuff that people have recently traded in for Vipers. That, by my quick and rough math, is something on the order of 18,000 horsepower, all under one rather non-descript roof. They even had some full-blown Viper ACRs, which are possibly best known for making the all-time fastest lap by a street legal car at the Nurburgring.

Very, very cool. Alas, they wouldn't let me do any hot laps in the parking lot, but it was well worth the trip for the simple gawkability of the whole thing.

Huge, huge ups to Bill Pemberton and Mark Jorgensen at Woodhouse Chrysler, and thanks to my buddy Wade and the guys at High Impact Performance Mopar Auto Club for having me along. I survived my trip to the Viper Pit, but I've definitely been badly smitten/bitten.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Danica to F1! Yeah!.....or not

New rumor concerning the USF1 team that I wrote about last week: Danica Patrick is going to drive! Holy crap! She’ll be the first female F1 driver since the esteemed Giovanna Amati!

Let’s slow down for a minute, shall we?

While this breathless conjecture is sort of fun to think about, I can’t imagine that it’s anywhere near reality. First off, Danica has not won a road course race since…well…uh, the Toyota Pro-Am race at Long Beach in 2002. She’s not exactly the #1 American road racer these days. In fact, I don’t even think that her results in an IndyCar on road courses would place her in the top-10 on such a list. Second, I’m sure that she’s looking to get paid, and would not be willing to drive for such an effort for a reduced price. As other folks have pointed out, any retainer that you’d have to pay her to drive for you would be that much less money that you could spend on your new-from-scratch F1 car. Not a good idea right now.

I can’t believe that hardly anybody has floated my favorite “obvious” pick for an American driver for the USF1 team: Graham Rahal. I don’t know what the terms of his contract with N/H/L look like, but if he’s on a 3-year deal, then that’s done at the end of this year. Even if it’s not, I can’t imagine that his retainer is anywhere close to Danica’s, so he’d be far easier to buy out. He’s only a couple of years older than Connor Daly or Josef Newgarden (two other rumored USF1 drivers), has some pretty extensive experience in high HP/downforce cars (those other guys have none), and he has actually shown some interest in going to F1, which Danica has not and Scott Speed has said is long gone for him.

Other drivers don’t quite make sense for me, either. Bryan Herta, I think, is a tad too old to take on a completely different style of car and driving. Ryan Hunter-Reay, while quite competent on road courses, has not shown the sort of dominant form that one would expect of a serious F1 candidate, even back in his Atlantic days. He’s just fine in an IndyCar, but going up against Kimi and Lewis and Felipe and Fernando? I’m not seeing it.

As I mentioned in my last post, the other guy I’d go with would be Jonathon Summerton. Of all the people who have driven for the US in A1GP (Marco included), he’s had by far the best results, including a win in a feature race last year. Literally no other American has had any sort of international single-seater success in the last 10 years, except for maybe Patrick Long. However, Pat has probably been out of a single seater for too long now and picked up too many tin-top habits to truly be an F1 aspirant any more. Anyway, why roll the dice with any of these other folks, when Graham and Jonathon are basically ready to go right now?

This Danica thing absolutely has to be a publicity stunt to get people interested in the concept of an American F1 team. Either that, or they are hoping that some sponsor (or sponsors) will cough up $50 million on the condition that Danica is one of the drivers. In that case, an USF1 team with a sub-world class driver would be better than no USF1 team, but maybe not by much. Nice try, Ken Anderson, but I don’t think anybody’s buying it.

Monday, February 09, 2009


While enjoying the fantastic entertainment (read that: dozens of minutes of caution flag laps, and a "halftime" break that felt like it was 40 minutes long) during Saturday's NASCAR Sponsor Splatter (or, as my friend Rick calls it, the Tequiza Tangle), I had plenty of time to let my mind wander over the racing world's current events. I really managed to cover a lot of territory up there in the ol' brain bin. What's the car count going to look like in IndyCar this year? (20+, and that's fine, methinks.) Why does having the same size front tires as the rears make the new Acura LMP1 car look so weird and lumpy? (Dunno, they just do.) How could the FIA have screwed up the World Rally Championship so badly, when just a couple of years ago they had four or five manufacturers signed up long-term and a crop of drivers that includes possibly the greatest driver of all time? (Because screwing things up is what the FIA does best.) If a Porsche-engined car wins the next GrandAm race at VIR in April (three months off?!?), are we going to get to see a full-on kicking and screaming podium tantrum by Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett? (Yes.) Am I going to spend 2009 like I have the last three years and mainly write my blog posts in parentheticals? (...) (I hate me sometimes.)

But, the tastiest bit of racing-ish "news" that I kept coming back to during my NASCAR (and malted hops) induced slumber was the recent breathless conjecture over the supposedly forthcoming announcement of the new USF1-All-US-All-The-Time Formula 1 Team. Let me preface all of the following by saying that I'll be the first guy to hop aboard an All-American F1 effort. Believe me, I was one of those dudes going around racing message boards back around 1998 when BAR was just coming into the public consciousness (as a theoretical British-American concern), and debating who should be Jacques Villeneuve's teammate in '99. My pick was Jimmy Vasser, but if you've read me at all in the past, you get zero points for having guessed that. So, I'll be all about an American Formula 1 team, if it ever comes into being...

However. Wow. Where to start? The team's supposed principals are Peter Windsor (will he take along the unseen Jean-Michel, Pressdog?) and Ken Anderson. While I do not question either of those guys' credentials, are either of them really well versed enough in F1 circa-2009 to have a team up and running for 2010? Peter's been around F1 for, roughly, as long as Bernie Ecclestone's been interested in money, and Anderson's been around racing since before Rick Mears developed a limp, but recent F1 experience? Not so much. Windsor's been out of team management for the better part of the last decade, and while Anderson runs the Windshear wind tunnel, a fancy-shmancy wind tunnel does not an F1 team make (ask BAR/Honda; and besides, aren't wind tunnel hours being drastically cut by the FIA this year?). Also, has Anderson's recent history of projects been quite at a 100% hit rate of happening?

Sure, the arguments laid out by the always reliable Adam Cooper in that SpeedTV column I linked to above sound pretty decent. The FIA has slashed costs in F1 going forward. However, it's still going to take upwards of $50 million to start up and run a back marker F1 team. How many sponsors are floating around with that kind of cash right now? There are hundreds of recently laid-off NASCAR folks down in the Carolinas right now. Uh, those guys don't even use data acquisition during race weekends. Or fuel injection, ever, for that matter, let alone carbon fiber and titanium. All of the tube benders and sheet metal hangers in the world can't manifest an F1 car onto the grid in Melbourne in 14 months. A satellite base of operations can be had in Spain, with the Epsilon organization. OK, well, running a Renault World Series team and building a shoestring-ish LeMans prototype is still a world away from F1 (ask Prodrive or Dome about that). An off-the-shelf engine and transmission combo is supposed to be available for next year from Cosworth and Ricardo (big blue "R" represent!). OK, well, I'd feel a lot better about that being an option for 2010 if those pieces were running on dynos right now. Could 2012 or 2013 be a possibility for an all-new team? Sure. But 14 months from now? Hmmm. Maybe we all ought to take a deep breath and sit down before we all get too light headed about the whole thing.

Again, I really don't want to sound like the wet blanket here. I'm not one of those guys who think that the euros know better than we do, always, and that we could never catch up to them in an arena that they call their own personal playground. There are plenty of good people in the States who can wield a CAD digitizer or lay up carbon fiber with anybody in the world. I've worked with some of them. Unlike some of the greatly nuanced commenters on the SpeedTV article pages (have you read those guys? Yikes.), I also think that within a couple of years, the US could also have some top-line road racers who could be just about ready for F1. A kid named Rahal comes to mind. Another kid named Summerton has had some great results for a usually sub-par US A1GP team. If somebody were to come up with the $50 million to get a team off the ground in 3-4 years, I'm sure that that same somebody could probably front the necessary $3-4 million to get those two guys a season in GP2 or F2 to get them some European training.

I sort of hope I'm wrong on this. More details are supposedly due later in the week, or maybe they're even coming out right now, which would make this bit of word-hackery obsolete the moment I hit the "publish" button. Having a team on the grid in 2010 would be OK with me. On the other hand, I also think that US Formula 1 fans and fans of new F1 efforts the world over would be better served if the USF1 cake got a little more time to bake. That said, maybe an undercooked effort would turn out OK. After all, who knew that chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream would be so tasty?