Jim’s Back Home Again

This is one of four blogs I dreaded needing to write.  Jim Nabors, the iconic, legendary singer of “Indiana” at the Indianapolis 500, died today at 87.  He had been in ill health for quite some time and had not been back to the Speedway for a few years.

Like hearing Tom Carnegie on the PA,, Nabors’ singing proclaimed, ” Race time is near.” When he finished, the command to start engines was the next order of business. The pre race ceremonies, starting with “Taps” and ending with the command, still gives me goose bumps.

Nabors first sang at the 500 in 1972 when Tony Hulman asked him if he wanted to sing 30 minutes before the race began. He assumed he would be singing the National Anthem, but when he discovered it was (Back Home Again in) “Indiana”, he wrote the words on his hands.  A couple years later, he became the annual singer for that revered part of the pre race ceremony.

Jim last sung at the 2014 race. An idea was floated to have him return for the 100th running, but he was too ill to travel.

So another Speedway legend has left us.  I was fortunate to be at the race for each of his performances. No matter who has sung at the race the last few years, and Jim Cornelison was excellent last year, I still hear Jim Nabors’ voice singing.  Rest in Peace, Jim.

 

 

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Some Notes and News

The best way to get news to break is to publish your blog. News is sure to come 10 minutes later.   Race Director Brian Barnhart is leaving Indycar to become president of Harding Racing.  Barnhart was a controversial figure, especially in the early IRl days and in the years just after the merger. I thought he did a better job after returning to the position after Beaux Barfield left.  It woiuld be great if Barfield came back. Indycar has not announced a replacement.  More in a few days.

Just a few notes and news on this post-Thanksgiving  day without a shopping name:

My take on Danica Patrick returning to the Indy 500- I have no feelings one way or the other. It’s great that there will be more attention on the race, but I don’t see it helping the series as a whole.  I wish her well in the race. It will be interesting to see how she adapts to a car she’s never driven.  The new aero configuration will be an adjustment for all the drivers. The regular series drivers will have had five races, including an oval, to see how the car handles. That is where Danica’s disadvantage may be.  She does have an outstanding record at IMS with top 10 finishes in 6 of her 7 500’s. Let’s  see if that continues.

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Speaking of women in racing, yesterday’s announcement of a new all women racing series leaves me cold. Racing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on the same field equally.  The champion gets an F1 test driver contract. There are lots of F1 test, or reserve drivers, who never get a shot at F1.  The only woman to start an F1 race was Lella Lombardi in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix. This series is a bad idea and somewhat dismissive of female drivers.

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Adrian Fernandez reiterated what many have said about the proposed Indycar race in Mexico City: Without a full time Mexican driver in the series, the race will not succeed. Esteban Gutierrez would be the likely candidate, but there not many seats left. Many of the projected seats are speculation at this point. There is a definite opening at Coyne, a possible second car at Harding, and the road course slot at Carpenter.  The Carpenter seat is not an option. The driver needs to be full time. Juncos and Shank are not running full season programs, so they can’t be considered. My suggestion is to shelve this race until 2019 and work on getting a full time driver from Mexico in the series then.

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Aerokit delivery has begun.  Teams began receiving the kits last week.  I believe these are the two free kits for the full time teams.  I cannot wait to see these new configurations race.  The first turn at St. Pete is going to be very interesting

 

 

 

 

 

 

1954- The Year Before the Storm

The program was buried in a stack of old programs in a box at the IMS memorabilia show  the day before the 500 this past May.  I  was thinking of collecting Indy 500 programs for all the races beginning the year I was born. Hard for some of you to believe, but cars were invented before I was born.

My plan was to begin with the programs from 1953 to 1956, the programs covering the Bill Vukovich era.  The programs on top were pre World War II, and the prices were quite high. I dug through the stack and found this 1954 edition in a sheet protector. There was no price label attached. I asked the vendor how much it was. She looked it over and said, ” $20″, at least one third the price of the others I saw.  I paid quickly and walked away before she could change her mind.

1954 is  the appropriate year to begin my collection quest for several reasons. It was the first year I was fully aware of the race. 1953 was the first year I heard any of the race on the radio. I was six at the time. I wanted to learn more about it. Bill Vukovich won the race and became my first racing hero. The program recapped the 1953 race and previewed the upcoming event.

To put the 1954 race in perspective:

It was  the third year of the IMS Radio Network.

This would be the ninth race under Tony Hulman’s ownership.

The 1954 500 was the eighth race Tom Carnegie handled the PA full time.

AAA was the sanctioning body. USAC would not exist for two more years.

 

There was a nice bonus inside when I first opened the program. The starting lineup sheet for the race fell out. The original owner wrote some notes on it during the race.  Pole sitter Jack McGrath led the first lap with a speed of 132.004 mph.  The average speed of the race at 200 miles was 134.225.

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The pre-race schedule was shorter and simpler in 1954. The race started at 10.  The schedule lists just the National Anthem, a salute to soldiers who died in battle, and “Back Home Again in Indiana” sung by James Melton. This all completed by 9:35. Then the cars are gridded. Following a series of aerial bombs, the Dodge pace car leads the field on the ONE pace lap before the start.  The command to start engines was not listed as part of the schedule.

Guaranteed first place money was $20,000. Drivers also received money from the equipment companies for using their products. Lap leaders got $150 for each lap lead. n 1953, Vukovich collected more than $89,000 for winning.  Guaranteed money for 10th place? $1,750. I can’t imagine what last place got.

The ads in the program feature many companies and products that no longer exist such as Eastern Airlines, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Belond Exhaust Systems, Pure gasoline, and RCA.

Bill Vukovich won the race for the second straight year. Jimmy Bryan was second, Jack McGrath came home third, and Duane Carter finished fourth. Vukovich started 19th; the others in the top 4 started in the top 8, McGrath and Bryan on the front row. The winner led 90 laps, the fewest he had led in the  last three races.

The following year was the year auto racing nearly ended.  In practice for the 500, popular driver Manny Ayulo was killed. In the race, Vukovich died in accident while leading after a great duel with McGrath early in the race. McGrath would die in a sprint car wreck at the end of the year.  These deaths, coupled with the 83 spectator deaths at LeMans in June, nearly led to a worldwide ban on the sport.

AAA decided they were done sanctioning racing after 1955. Tony Hulman formed the Untied States Auto Club to sanction races and keep the sport going.

I wish both my readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be back next week with thoughts on the news that broke last Friday and other Silly Season ramblings.

 

 

 

 

Is Randomness a Bad Thing?

Jay Frye, Indycar President of Competition, said last week via a David Malsher story on Motorsport.com that the series was reviewing race procedures ahead of the 2018 season. He said Indycar was trying to eliminate some of the randomness in races caused by closing the pits when a caution occurs. The reasoning is to ensure that the fastest cars are rewarded by keeping the position they’ve earned.

There were several races in the last few years when the quickest car was caught out by a yellow happening just as they were going to pit. The race usually went to a surprise winner from a smaller team. Usually the winning team pitted early and cycled to the lead during the yellow when everyone else pitted.

Sebastien Bourdais at St. Pete, James Hinchcliffe at Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud at Phoenix (yes, an oval), and Josef Newgarden at Toronto all benefited from the pit closing rule and a timely caution.

My opinion?   If a team plays the strategy according to the rules and it works, great. Perhaps the teams that got hurt could anticipate the eventuality of the yellow and pit earlier. I’ve heard some team owners complain about throwing yellows just when we needed to pit.  Their need to pit does not supersede the need for a yellow.

If the race should be won by the fastest car all the time, why have the race? Does the team with the most regular season wins always win the Super Bowl or the World Series? Random things happen in all sports. It’s part of the drama. Let the teams play the game and see who wins. I agree preparation and speed goes a long way toward winning, but there has to be some strategy and breaks during the race.

I think what needs to be employed more on road courses is local yellows instead of the full course cautions for every incident, no matter how small. This will keep the pits open for a longer time during the race. It will have the same effect as keeping the pits open during a full course yellow.

Another procedure Indycar is reviewing is qualifying order on ovals other than Indianapolis. Currently the order is determined by a blind draw. It seemed as though a certain driver was always going last, which is a great advantage with the rubber laid down on the track and potential track cooling as the session progresses. I prefer the order be set by the inverse order of final practice times.  The fans will be able to know the order quicker, and we should see a different order at each track.

This is my last column before migrating to winter headquarters. I’ll be back in about a month. Changes will be coming to this space, including a possible new name.

Goodbye, Glen; Hello Portland; Hola, Mexico?

Indycar’s schedule release produced the expected dropping of Watkins Glen and introduction of Portland as its replacement.Mexico City is still a possibility for August 5.  TV networks and times were not announced today.

The schedule is below:

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule

March 9-11               St. Petersburg, FL
April 6-7                    Phoenix Raceway, AZ
April 13-15                Long Beach, CA
April 20-22                Barber Motorsports Park, AL
May 11-12                 GP of Indianapolis, IN
May 15-27                 Indianapolis 500, IN
June 1-3                     Dual in Detroit, MI (2 races, Sat. & Sun)
June 8-9                     Texas Motor Speedway, TX
June 22-24                 Road America, WI
July 7-8                       Iowa Speedway, IA
July 13-15                  Toronto, ON, Canada
July 27-29                  Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course, OH
Aug. 18-19                 Pocono Raceway, PA
Aug. 24-25                 Gateway Motorsports Park, IL
Aug. 31-Sept. 2         Portland International Raceway, OR
Sept. 14-16                Sonoma Raceway, C

Before I discuss Watkins Glen, here are some thoughts about the schedule. The last three races are all west of the Mississippi. Having Portland and Sonoma as the last two races eliminates travel time for the teams and allows a great promotion period for Sonoma. This season the last four races had teams going back and forth from the east to the west, way back east again then all the way to California. This is the easiest schedule travel wise in a while.

The Indy 500 qualifying weekend is not listed on the schedule as it has been the last two years. Perhaps it will be added when the TV schedule is published.

Portland was a staple of CART and Champ Car but was a casualty in the merger. Indycars raced there from 1984.  until 2007. There were some fun races there, including the closest three car finish on a road course in 1997 when Mark Blundell beat Gil De Ferran by 0.027 seconds and third place Raul Boesel by 0.055 seconds. They were three wide at the line. In 1986, Michael Andretti ran out of fuel coming to the checkered flag and was passed by dad Mario, who won by 0.07 seconds. The race was on Father’s Day then. Michael said that was Mario’s present. The last winner at Portland was Sebastien Bourdais.

Watkins Glen rescued Indycar in 2016 when the Boston Grand Prix folded. I have enjoyed going to the race there. It’s a great track and a beautiful area. A race later in September when the leaves are turning would be amazing.  It was obvious Labor Day wasn’t working attendance wise, but the the track’s schedule and Indycar’s stubborn insistence on not competing with football doomed the attempt to find a mutually agreeable date.

To keep tracks like Watkins Glen a part of the schedule, Indycar needs to extend the schedule into October. The television numbers will not be that much different. If they were getting over a million viewers a race and had a 30% drop when football begins, I could understand their concern. The current ratings will not change that much.

Mark Miles did not say that there is an absolute deadline for a decision on Mexico City. A Mexican driver in the series would definitely help that race if it happens. I haven’t heard anything about Esteban Guttierez having a ride for this, year. Someone might get him a one off for that weekend.

Silly Season News

Sage Karam will drive in the 500 for Dreyer and Reinbold in 2018. DRR also indicated their intention to enter more races next year. Entering Karam at Pocono might boost attendance a bit there.

If you haven’t seen the visor cam from Spencer Pigot driving the 2018 configuration at Road America yet, make sure you do. This car acts very different than the cars in manufacturer trim. Drivers actually drive the cars. You can find the video at the Indycar twitter site and possibly on Indycar.com.

 

 

Indycar News and Thoughts – Change is in the Air

 

Sad news to begin with. Former Indy 500 Bill Puterbaugh (photo above), 81, died October 9. He ran in three 500s, finishing 7th and winning Rookie of the Year in 1975. His next best finish was 12th in his last 500 in 1977.  He ran mostly sprint cars and raced in 30 Indycar races with mixed results. Puterbaugh first came to the Speedway in 1968 and attempted to qualify seven straight years before getting in the race. His most famous qualifying run was the first one on Bump Day 1968, when he ran in near total darkness to complete a run which was too slow to make the field.

Schedule News- The schedule will be announced this morning. I  learned yesterday that Watkins Glen will not be on the schedule next year. The track wanted to move the race from Labor Day, but Indycar and track president Michael Printup couldn’t find a mutually agreeable time. Sounds like the Fontana situation all over again. I conced that labor Day weekend is not the ideal time for a race, but I really enjoyed going to the Glen the last two years. the area is beautiful, and the track is very fast and racy.  Odds are Portland will make its return to the schedule next Labor Day.

I put this solely on Indycar for not being flexible. There is a large enough gap in the schedule to fit Watkins Glen in. I can’t see saving a spot for Mexico. With no Mexican driver in the series currently, that race will not draw as well as some might think.

They didn’t ask me, but…If Portland is on the schedule, why not have it the weekend after Labor Day then everyone can drive down to Sonoma for the finale?

The one positive for the schedule as it looks like it will end up is that teams won’t go to Pocono, then St. Louis, then back to Watkins Glen.

IMSA Shocker- Wednesday Team Penske announced the completion of their DPi team competing in IMSA next year. Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron were previously set in one car and Helio Castroneves was confirmed for the other one. Castroneves’ teammate is Ricky Taylor, this year’s co-champion with his brother Jordan. There had been rumblings about this move, but I’m still surprised Ricky would leave the family team after the great season they just had. If it results in Taylor getting as Indy 500 ride next year, then it’s worth it.

The huge shock, however, was one of the extra drivers for the endurance races.  Simon Pagenaud was not a surprise, but the addition of Graham Rahal was. Rahal has done the best driving of his career the last two years in Indycar and I guess Penske finally took notice. Rahal drove for Michael Shank Racing in the Rolex24 this year.

Kanaan to Foyt- This is old news by now, but I think this is an interesting pairing. TK is the best driver Foyt has had for a while, and bringing engineer Eric Cowden with him might help the team. As lost as Foyt Racing was with the Chevy aerokit, I hope they can get a handle on the new universal kit quickly. No word on the driver of the 4 car yet, but both Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz are in the running for the seat.

Oval Qualifying Changes?  Some drivers have called for modifying the qualifying procedure for ovals.  Currently, order is determined by blind draw. It seemed that Will Power always went last, giving him the advantage of a fully rubbered in track. Early runners are dealing with the tire compounds of support series and sometimes the heat of a sun drenched track. Some suggestions have been qualifying in inverse order of final practice times, which I favor. Others have suggested a knockout format like the road/street courses use. I think knockout qualifying on an oval could be risky to equipment. I’m not sure anything will change, but we shall see when the rules come out for 2018.

I will post my comments on the schedule after it is announced tomorrow. I hope to put out another column or two before migrating to winter headquarters around the first of November.

 

Blue Cars, Red Flags, New Stars- Indycar Season Review

Intriguing. Weird. A look into the future.The 2017 Indycar season had all of that. The first half of the season was chaotic and amazing.  It looked like there would be a wide open fight for the championship. Yet the Penske armada was lurking, picking up poles and leading laps, but not winning a lot until later on. Then Josef Newgarden jumped into first place at Mid-Ohio and hung on to the end. His path became more difficult with his miscue leaving the pits at Watkins Glen, but winning the pole and finishing as runner-up in Sonoma clinched the crown for him.

The year began with seven different winners in the first seven races. Overall 10 drivers won races.  Penske drivers won 10 of the 17 races. Josef Newgarden won four times to lead the series. Graham Rahal was the only non-Penske driver to win more than once with his two wins at Detroit. Surprisingly, Scott Dixon won only once. Despite that he entered the final weekend at Sonoma only three points out of the lead.

Honda’s early engine failures changed the results of races through May. Honda teams used up their engine allotments early and saw their manufacturer lead evaporate since they couldn’t score points in the later races. Reliability improved the second half of the season, but Chevy/Penske was dominating by that time.

I don’t remember as many races in one year stopped by red flags for accidents. Phoenix, The 500, Detroit race 2, and Texas  had stoppages for cleanup. The flag at Detroit I thought was a bit questionable. Iowa was red flagged for rain although I thought it could have been stopped sooner.

What color should our car be this week? I know. Blue and white! In several races this season one third of the field was in blue/white liveries, many in the same pattern. This made it difficult to distinguish cars as they approached at the track and was challenging on television to tell them apart.

I thought this was a really fun year, and next year should be even better with the new look aerokits. The new bodywork looks sleek and fast. Josef Newgarden leads a growing field of rising stars including Alexander Rossi, Ed Jones, and Spencer Pigot. The newcomers will have strong competition from the established core of Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud. I cannot wait for St. Pete.

Highlights:

Best wins: Sebastien Bourdais at St. Pete, Newgarden at Gateway, Rossi at Watkins Glen, Takuma Sato at Indianapolis.

Most improved driver: Alexander Rossi

Best races: Pocono, Road America, Indianapolis 500, Watkins Glen

Worst races: Texas, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Phoenix.

Best pass: Newgarden over Pagenaud at Gateway.  AyrtonSenna would have been proud of that pass.

Worst decision: Fernando Alonso as sole winner of 500 rookie of the Year. Ed Jones deserved a share of the award.

Notes:

Honda and Chevy will be testing the new aerokits soon. The last test for Indycar was Tuesday at Sebring. Team testing begins in January.

Carlin seems to be on the verge of having an Indycar team next year.

The 2018 schedule should be out soon, likely with a TBA date. The earthquake in Mexico may push that event back a year. Other than that, the circuit should be similar to the last two years. This consistency is a great thing for all concerned.

2017 drivers without 2018 commitments as of today: Conor Daly, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, J. R. Hildebrand. Jones is likely to be back at Coyne and Hinchcliffe is  likely to be back at Schmidt.

I will be going to the SCCA Runoffs this weekend. This is essentially their national championship event. Past winners include Paul Newman and Willie T. Ribbs. I’ll report about it next week.

Thank you for reading this season.