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: IndyCar.com, 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.

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