Greatness Before Our Eyes

On October 2nd, Dario Franchitti was crowned champion of the 2010 Izod IndyCar Series.  In the time since then, I’ve started to realize that we’re seeing something special- greatness is before our eyes.  The statistical rundown in and of itself displays greatness (you can look up the stats here).  However, accumulating a large number of wins is only a part of what makes a driver great.

The most applicable meaning of the word great is “of exceptional talents or achievements” (Dictionary.com).  Quite a few current Izod Indy Car Series drivers have exceptional achievements and talents, but none more so than Dario Franchitti.  Here is a list of drivers I have purposely left out and why:

1.  Helio Castroneves- He has won three Indy 500’s which is an exceptional achievement.  However, prior to his days racing with Penske, he had never won a race.   Also, to date, he has not won a championship.  His 24 victories are impressive; I won’t say otherwise.  However, winning half of your victories with one of the top teams in a spec series weakens the claim a bit.

2.  Scott Dixon- Two championships, one Indy 500 victory, and 24 career victories is a stout body of work.  Although a very good driver, Dixon has two strikes against him.  First, all but one of his victories has been with Ganassi, one of the top teams.  Also, he struggled mightily while using Toyota power in IRL.  While he had a few redeeming moments then, great drivers are able to create more of them with underpowered equipment.

3.  Tony Kanaan- With one championship, 15 victores, and the tenacity that most drivers wish they had, TK displays his quality.  The most glaring element of a successful career that keeps TK from being listed among the great drivers is an Indy 500 victory.

4.  Dan Wheldon- One championship, one Indy 500 victory… but virtually silent since 2008.  He has no wins when driving for lower tier teams.  He’s fast, but it seems he only finds this speed on ovals which severely limits what he can do in the series.

Franchitti, on the other hand, has raced well from the outset of his career dating back to his CART years.  In his favor, he nearly one the 1999 CART championship (tied Montoya but lost tiebreaker), won one IRL championship, and has won two consecutive championships since unification.  Even more incredible, he shows no signs of slowing down as he ages.  In fact, the maturity he has gained over the course of his career makes him one of the smartest drivers in the Izod Indy Car series.

Only time will tell if Franchitti will be able to match the greatness of a bygone era.  As long as he has the fire to race, he will be winning.  If that fire takes him another ten years into the future, you can bet that he will be winning races, and placing himself next to the great drivers of American open wheel racing.

 

Drivers’ Association

The story has been out for awhile now and I’ve had time to think.  After the blogosphere was tipped off that something being afoot among the drivers by Steph (@99forever) at Planet-IRL.com, I was curious.  When I saw what the news was, I was definitely pleased.  A drivers’ association?  Yes!

While the details about what exactly they hope to do or accomplish are important, that was not what stood out to me.  This line is: “Franchitti, Kanaan and Justin Wilson will be the de facto spokesmen.”

Awhile back I wrote about the subject of driver controversy and both Kanaan and Franchitti came up often- as part of my argument for why driver controversies won’t really “stick.”  And with this story, we see them emerge as leaders again.  I couldn’t be happier.  These are two drivers that carry themselves with dignity, have a passion for the sport, and have been around long enough that they command the respect of their colleagues.  Not only that, but they seem to be in the thick of bringing drivers together again as they were in the late 90’s.  This time though, it’s not for social reasons, but to present a unified front.  Knowing what we know about these guys, I look for the drivers to begin to make small tweaks and for their voice to be heard behind those two.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I’ve forgotten Wilson.  Well, I haven’t.  I purposely left him out of my discussion until now because he’s a young gun compared to those guys; he wasn’t around in the late 90’s, etc.  What I do see in him, though, is the same kind of respect for the sport and fellow drivers.  With a few more years and the kind of camaraderie that seems to form in the IICS, I would say that he has the potential to be as respected among his colleagues as TK or Franchitti are now.

So, is this a great thing for Indycar?  I say yes.  The drivers are the ones in the cars; they are the ones who know what needs to happen on the track.  I await the positive effect they can have on the series.

Movies + Indycar = My Slightly Demented World

I’m trying something different here.  Movie clips from youtube + Indycar?  I say yes!

Watch from 1:05- 2:16.  The pillow fight between the dwarves put me in mind of fighting for positions on a narrow track like Mid-Ohio.  The leader has a bit more room and in that way reminds me of Dopey and his one squeaky feather.

Cut to 2:49 and watch until 4:09.  The image of race fans all over attempting to resist the call of a Sunday afternoon nap brought this clip to mind.  It’s a bit of stretch, but I like it.

Now, imagine an old, pissed off Helio Castroneves.  Who lives in Minnesota.  Don’t call a block on Helio when he’s wheel-chair racing in a nursing home someday- he might just crash your ice shanty and threaten to stab you with a frozen fish.

You know, Mulan’s antics at the beginning of this song remind me of the KV cars on the track- they cause carnage and, often, damage to bystanders.  Eventually, though, she becomes a complete badass and keeps pace with the boys.  Shades of Simona?  I think so!

Check out 1:15-1:28.  Have we found an orc that is Foyt?  I think so.  There’s the spit and  never mind the stunned troll (or whatever the hell it is)…

Need I say anything other than, “Oh captain, my captain?”  No?  Good.  While you’re watching this scene, go watch the whole freaking movie… best movie I ever watched during school.

From Here On Out

I’ve missed a LOT while I’ve been gone at chamber music camp.  However, I did keep up with my blog reading and highlight watching.  After such a hiatus, I feel I’ve had time to let my emotions settle and sort out my thoughts.  However, I’ve decided that it’s better for me not to join the fray regarding the Edmonton controversy.  Instead, I’ll focus on the season thus far and my expectations for the rest of the season.

My first offering is a link to Oriol Servia’s midseason driver review.  As I read this, I found his comments to be insightful.  While I felt like I already knew most of what he had to say, his perspective as a disinterested third party was particularly appreciated when discussing various drivers who have made some highly questionable errors.  Also of note are some of his solutions to presented problems.  But really,  go read the article!  (That being typed as I read it- again.)

Predictions:

Overall Champion- Will Power. No ifs, ands, or buts, it’s Will Power.  He has a 50 point lead over Franchitti for second.  You do realize, I hope, that 50 points is the amount given to a race winner?  With 10 points being the minimum a driver can score in one weekend, a deficit of this magnitude would require Power to have at least two terrible races and for Franchitti to drive his heart out at the  same time.  Unfortunately for Franchitti, the likelihood of Power having two terrible races is very low.

Roads/Streets Champion- Will Power. Do I really need to spell this one out?  If you say yes, I may have to go cry into solo Bach or something (that’s violin music for those unfamiliar with classical music).  Math-wise, it’s not looking good.  For Power to lose, he would have to…  wait, he can’t lose it.  No really, I just did the math.  He’s guaranteed 20 points for the next two races which would increase his total to 338.  Dario is sitting at 222.  Even if he should manage to sweep both weekends and get maximum points, that would only take him to a total of 328.  Wow…  my mind has been blown.

Oval Champion- Scott Dixon. This battle is more difficult to call due to the schedule.  4 races are left and positions 1-5 are separated by 30 points.  I pick Dixon because he was often so strong on ovals toward the end of the season last year.  However, Briscoe is likely to come on strong at that point as well.  This will be the exciting battle to watch.

The top ten points standings will be interesting to call as well.  Okay, aside from 1st place.  The placement of some drivers definitely lends itself to some quality speculation.  I look for positions 1-3 to remain steady.  Beyond that, it will get interesting.  With the road course portion of the schedule coming to an end, look for Justin Wilson to fall to 10th in the standings.  He’ll maintain 10th, but any higher and we’d need to see significant improvement in his oval results.  Look for improvement from both Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan as well- their oval performances have typically outshone their road/street performances this season.

While I’m boldly making predictions, I also predict that Helio will finish outside of the top-5 in point standings.  It’s a hunch so don’t judge me for it.  Also, somehow, Danica will manage to work into the top-10 in points.  She sneaks into decent finishes, so why can’t she sneak into a decent position in the standings?  You tell me.  In addition to this, I’d be willing to bet that there may be a surprise race winner (maybe ever two!).  The best chance at a surprise winner would be a victory out of Justin Wilson, although he’s been tough on roads/streets all season so it’s not totally unexpected.  Another surprise could be Newman-Haas.  I’ll admit it, my bias is showing a bit here, but based on what I saw out of Rahal with that team, they’re picking up right where they left off at the end of last season.  Look for them to turn in consistently better finishes (and hope that Hideki can also have some success!).

There you have it- my mostly unscientifically made predictions are on record.  We’ll see how they turn out.  (Hopefully, I’ll have some “I told you so!” moments.)  Feel free to provide any commentary or discuss whatever comes to mind.

Stirring the Pot

“You can’t stir the pot and then complain about the results however.”

When I read that sentence on the IndyCar Nation forum (even though it wasn’t about this particular subject), I took it as a sign that this post should be written.  I’ll warn y’all now: you may not like what I have to say.  In fact, I could catch quite a bit of heat for the content and my manner of expression.  I don’t care.  Many thanks to the forum poster who’s comment was nudge I needed to get this going and to Mike (@Weevil96) for making sure this made sense to someone not inside my head.

It’s been said in many different articles that IndyCar racing lacks story lines.  Even more so, it lacks compelling story lines.  I don’t actually buy that idea, but I’m not so sure my thoughts should count on that matter since I’d watch the races anyway.  However, in times where the fan base needs to grow and getting publicity is important, there is a need for more story lines.  One of the most suggested ideas is to create rivalries.  You know, the kind where the drivers really don’t like each other, are vocal about that, and the fans align themselves with the driver they feel is right.  A rivalry creates drama that might not otherwise exist and anytime there is more drama, there is more attention.

But honest to goodness, I hope we’ll never get to the point where we absolutely need that to thrive.  And yet, people are clamoring for rivalries.  In all honesty, they can be captivating.  However, I can’t understand the fans and media’s attitudes toward them.  If one wants rivalries, one better be happy when there is one, whether it’s manufactured or not.  I’ve seen it recently with the whole TK vs. Danica thing.  Here, at last, there is a rivalry between the series’ most popular driver and one of, if not the most, respected drivers in the series.  It’s popular vs. respected.  The seeds were sown for a lot of fans to notice and for the media to call attention to it.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the public reaction to this series of events that have created this “rivalry” (it’s in quotes because TK indicated in an interview with Planet-IRL that things are looking peachy again).  One look at the forums and you’ll see topics like:

  1. TONY GOING TO GET EVEN?!
  2. TK-Danica feud rumors gain momentum
  3. TK/DP feud not good for Indycar.

It’s interesting to note that the topics display a variety of reactions to the whole situation.  Apparently, the outcry for rivalries wasn’t to be taken seriously.  Many fans and have stated their dislike (peruse above threads if you can stand it) and at least one professional writer has denounced it.  These reactions irritate me.  Seriously, if people can’t take the heat they ask for, then they shouldn’t ask for it.  Plain and simple.  Complaining about the lack of rivalries and then complaining about one when it finally happens is senseless.  “You can’t stir the pot and then complain about the results however.”  All I can say is this: make up your mind what the hell you want and stick with it.

These reactions lead me to believe that the fan base isn’t ready for heated rivalries.  I’ve heard of many fans who don’t pull for a particular driver and are generally happy with whoever wins.  To me, that gives the impression that the fans couldn’t take sides in a rivalry unless someone was clearly wrong and all the world stood against him/her.

Sure, there may be things that happen during the race, but that’s called “racing.”  Last I checked, it’s also normal.  Regardless, the fan base doesn’t seem to be able to handle driver vs. driver controversy.  And really, it’s not necessary.  And honestly, as long as the respected drivers in the series don’t have issues with each other, there won’t be any lasting rivalries.  For one, they like each other too much.  TK’s comments on racing against his competitors (and friends!) at Iowa show how enjoyable it is to race against them and how they leave the competitiveness on the track (usually).  It seems that was ingrained in them.  I have a hunch where the, “we can be friends off the track, but on the track I’ll try even harder to kick your butt” mentality came from.  To find that, I had to dig up some articles I read last October.  You see, this mentality came from a time when the venerable TK and Dario were young crazy guys who spent time  together with other young drivers off the track.  (Translation:  the CART days of the late 90’s.)  Most commonly, the chief instigator of these shenanigans and assorted activities was the late Greg Moore.  In one of the many pieces written upon the tenth anniversary of his passing, John Oreovicz wrote the following:

But perhaps more important was the way Moore triumphed over his rivals — with a huge smile and a contagious spirit that created strong, lifelong friendships among his competitors.  “In Europe, there is that background of ‘You’ve got to hate everybody to race against them,'” said Dario Franchitti, who was Moore’s closest friend on the circuit. “Then I came over here, and Greg kind of gathered everybody around and got everybody together doing different things, whether it was playing soccer or organizing a party. There was a whole group of us — Max PapisTony KanaanJimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Bryan Herta and Adrian Fernandez … we all became very good friends.

“Greg showed us that we didn’t have to hate each other. Because when we got on the track, trust me, he was as hard as anybody.”

If you look at that list, Kanaan and Franchitti still represent that attitude and mirror it in their interactions with other drivers.  Now, ten years later, they are the old school drivers in the latest incarnation of American open wheel racing.  Because of this, they set the tone for how drivers interact with each other.  As long as drivers from that time cultivate the same mindset among newer or younger drivers, the rivalry concept simply won’t work.  Frankly, that doesn’t disappoint me in the least.

Author’s note:  Helio Castroneves, though noted for his friendship with Kanaan, has been omitted from this list because he played a much smaller role in the camaraderie of the late 90’s.

Race Day at Iowa Speedway

I’ve been waiting to write this post.  Before I read the accolades of fans and news media, I was still on a rush from being there.  However, after reading the accolades, I realized that I’m telling my version of one of the most compelling races in a long time.  Whoa.  Before I actually talk about the race, I’d like to mention that I caught sight of Monica (@the_race_gIRL), Paul (@fieldof33), Kristi (@IAIndyFan), and Bill Zahren (aka Pressdog).  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to say hi, but I was like, “OMG! OTHER CRAZY FANS!!!”  All inside my head, of course.  Also of note, the header picture was taken Saturday night during the FIL race and was tinkered with using iPhoto.

The weather was humid, the sun struggled to shine for awhile (and yet, I got sunburned… my face resembles that of a lobster), and the crowd waited.  I gave up counting how many times the PA announcer asked, “Hey race fans, are you ready for some racing?” because I was ready… the first time they asked.  The subsequent times that same question was asked just made me wish they could fast-forward through the ceremonies to the important thing like driver intros, the invocation, national anthem and other such things.  But alas.  Speaking of the national anthem, that rendition nearly made me cry.  Perhaps it was the fact that I’m a music major and don’t tolerate mediocrity in that area, but really, that was bad.  1)  He screwed up the words (I missed this because I was in a bad music coma), 2) it was too slow, and 3) it was much too dressed up.  But I’m sure you ceased to care about my thoughts on that two sentences ago.  Anyway…

A buzz was definitely in the air; I was going nuts.  And then, it began.  Not surprisingly, the first caution involved a KV car.  While not Moraes’ fault, he and his teammates are certainly making a bad habit of crashing their cars.  However, they have asserted that they have speed when still in the race as evidenced by E.J. Viso’s podium finish.  Hopefully he can stitch together another race like this soon- the same for both of his teammates, I’m sure the KV Racing coffers would appreciate that.

One of, if not the most, controversial aspects of the race was Milka Duno.  After months of hearing that she should be parked and seeing raw data, I finally witnessed the “Milka squeeze” and saw her be more in the way and more slow than any other lapped car.  I recognize that negotiating lapped traffic is a part of racing.  In fact, I think it can create many opportunities for challenging the leader if set up properly.  However, washing up the track in front of the second place car after being lapped (again) and causing said car to have to break to avoid hitting you is an unnecessary and preventable danger.  If anyone with any sort of clout ever reads this, please Please PLEASE find a non-racing role in the sport for Milka.  And fast. Not surprisingly, by lap 35, Milka was parked.  I suspected (hoped) she would be.  After that, the lap traffic wasn’t nearly as difficult, although Mutoh was agonizingly slow.

The best racing (according to my dad), occurred soon after.  Dario and Dixon raced each hard for the lead for lap after lap.  It truly was exciting stuff.  Meanwhile, TK was just sitting back in third, waiting.  Throughout this segment, much more racing occurred within the pack.  Sato and Hunter-Reay were strong and, curiously, the Penske cars fell off the radar.  While they would make a nice surge later (all three with top-5 finishes to be exact), this surprised me.  Meanwhile, the Target cars were strong… go figure.

Being a fan of Graham Rahal (hey, at least I’m honest and recognize that I might be a bit biased!), I was pleasantly surprised to see him stay out during the second caution of the day.  My first assumption was that it was a strategy move, but unbeknownst to fans, it was reported that staying out was a communication error.  That error almost worked.  Five more laps, and it would have worked.  As a fan, I was rather bummed.  But hey, it’s racing.

I could continue on with a play-by-play, but I’ll spare y’all the agony of reading a live-blog-esque thing nearly two days later.  You’re welcome.

Some noteworthy things:

  1. Dixon didn’t have squat after the first 50-ish laps.  Lame.  Dario’s transmission broke.  In the vein of Jane Austen, I say, “badly done” for it was.  The Ganassi teams revealed their humanity, but I doubt that was how they wanted to do that.  However, I don’t think the rest of the field minded; I certainly didn’t.
  2. Andretti Autosport is bipolar.  Here’s what I mean: they have some cars that are fast, some that are slow.  This changes from day to day.  It even changes during the race.  I couldn’t figure out how or why Marco faded as badly as he did, but when it went wrong, it went wrong badly.  He suddenly lost speed as was reduced to being a roadblock for the leaders.  Hunter-Reay was good, but after the last pit-stop didn’t seem to have the same level of speed.  Danica never really had much, but kept her nose clean enough to bring home a top-10 finish, one lap down.  As for TK?  After a disappointing qualifying run, he backed up the speed he showed in practice with a stellar race.  But really, all this variation?  If AA could find consistency, they’d be a formidable threat week in and week out.  Until then, they’re… not.
  3. After going down two laps for a green flag stop, I was impressed with Rahal’s run.  I honestly am not saying this just because I’m a fan.  It was a pity watching him pass cars after going down those laps because he was flying by them and it wasn’t for position.  The car seemed to get better and that allowed him to make up a lap and equal his season-best finish.  My exact memo in my  phone: “Rahal drives ass off to finish 9th.”  I was pleased.

Overall, this was a GREAT event.  I haven’t enjoyed a race that much at that speedway… ever?  Certainly not an IndyCar one.  To cap off a great race, TK’s win was VERY popular.  I was pulling for him and was glad to see it happen.  Even if Dario would have finished the race, I believe TK had the better car.  Regardless, the fans were thrilled about the victory.

I can’t wait for next year’s race.  I’ll be there, even if we don’t have season tickets.  I want to be there that badly.  Hopefully, more viewers (via TV or internet) will decide to make the trip next year.  It’s definitely worth it.

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Playlist for this post

  1. Ordinary (Rock Version)- Train
  2. Rape Me- Nirvana
  3. Lucy- Skillet
  4. Telephone- Lady GaGa
  5. Bad Romance- Lady GaGa
  6. Alone- Heart
  7. I Don’t Know- Stage
  8. Breathe- Ryan Star
  9. Hallelujah- Lee DeWyze
  10. Better Than Me- Hinder

A Saturday at Iowa Speedway

I’ve been looking forward to this time all day.  I’ve never shared my experiences at Iowa Speedway with people online before other than the casual, “it was so fun!” thing, so this is an adventure for me as well.  Being me, I took notes in the memo section of my cell phone so I would remember what I wanted to say.  And really, it’s only for order, because I know what I think and I know what I felt.

I felt a rush the moment I saw the cars go around the track.  A sense of awe filled me as I watched drivers whiz by that have just been names.  To see them again, live, makes them real.  That rush is still coursing through me and is probably what keeps me from saying, “screw this, I need sleep!”  But anyway, to see the speed these cars carry around such a little track astounded me.  The funny thing in this is that I’ve been there before.  I’ve seen it.  Yada yada yada.  But there I was, following the cars intently with a smile on my face.  Moments like that make these races special.

From there, we watched practice.  The cars flew by, the times were jostled, and at one time Milka Duno was P12.  My exact memo was, “How the hell was Milka 12th?!?!”  I jokingly (but only partially so) remarked that she couldn’t have driven the car.  However, all was right with the world when she succumbed to the nearly infamous bump during her first qualifying lap.  Now, before I get people complaining about how mean-spirited my remark about her practice time was, I’d like to note that her driving skills make her the laughingstock of the Izod Indy Car Series.  Also note that I said her driving skills make her a laughing stock, not her personality.  I admire her for her intelligence and work in promoting education, but those areas cannot atone for her lack of driving skills. Speaking of qualifying, Will Power came out on top.  I had a feeling his time would stick in spite of the fact that he ran early.

My race picks are as follows:  Power (obvious), Kanaan (best shot-non big two), Meira (dark horse), and Wilson (long shot).  Don’t ask for an explanation, just go with the flow.

After qualifying, the pit pass debacle occurred.  Apparently, the IRL attempted to change the way Iowa Speedway handled their pit passes.  In short, we rode on the tractor two times more than necessary to figure that out.  And I bet we weren’t the only ones.  However, it was soon resolved and we made our way into the garage area.  I was thrilled and my dad was certainly in his element.  He has a knack for asking questions that I would never think of and always gets the answers!  He definitely makes being down there fun!  During this time, I had a few driver sightings.  This threw me for a loop because I froze.  It reminded me of when I was a star-struck kid at Road America in ’98 and stood probably three feet away from Greg Moore.  I’ve always regretted that I never at least said “hi,” and I remember feeling like I missed out on something even to this day.  Well, I’m apparently still that kid because every time I saw a driver (even if they were usually on a moving vehicle and I wasn’t) I fumbled around trying to get my camera out.  The solution to this problem is simple:  I should just go to more races so I get used to it.  Now, to implement this solution.

About the drivers, it was crazy for me; they’re real people!  I’ve seen them, talked to some (briefly!), almost been run over by them and even blinded by them- Dan Wheldon smiled.  I’m not kidding; I thought I saw a guy that looked like him and “flash” went his smile and I knew who it was.  Crazy!  I felt like a stalker taking pictures of everyone as the autograph session was about to commence.  Eventually I’ll get some pictures up that tell the story from my perspective. And then, to get autographs?  It occurred to me later that I had never gotten the autograph of my favorite driver in a high-level series before.  Think about that.  There I was, in line to get Young Rahal’s line and wearing my GR tank-top I asked for for Christmas last year.  I’ll cut myself off on this train of thought now before I turn into a tweeny-fan-girl.

Okay, one last thing on Rahal.   My dad had brought his copy of Bobby Rahal’s biography that is a favorite piece of bathroom literature in my household (Do not judge!  There is a reason that the bathroom is occasionally referred to as the “reading room.”)  In this book, there are a few pictures of Bobby’s kids and my dad got it in his head to have Graham sign a picture of him and his dad from his childhood.  Let me tell you, that was cool to see.  What made it even more great was to hear Justin Wilson, who was seated next to Graham, ask, “how old were you then?”  The picture was from ’98 and Graham was nine.  To compare, I was seven then.  Whoa.  Like I said, it was a cool moment.

So, I head back tomorrow (later today).  I’ll head back with a charged up camera battery and be clean (omg the parking lots!).  By the way, y’all failed at the praying for no rain thing.  Either that, or you just gave up and faced the inevitable (like me).  Well, you better be doing the no-rain dance and lots of praying tonight… I want to watch a race tomorrow!

Good night, all!  I’ll have more tomorrow night!

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Playlist for this Post

  1. Dear God- Avenged Sevenfold
  2. Breathe (2 AM)- Anna Nalick
  3. Daffodil Lament- The Cranberries
  4. Let Her Cry- Hootie and the Blowfish
  5. Here Without You- 3 Doors Down
  6. I’ll Be- Edwin McCain
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