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 ethanol...it 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.