30 April 2009

The Mini

I'll be running in my fourth straight (I think it's four, it could be just three) Mini-Marathon on Saturday. Overall, it's my sixth Mini, as I ran a couple when I was in grade school - I ran better times back then, too.

I didn't do any specific training program - I've just been working out since November in an effort to cut a few pounds, and running the Mini again seemed like a good idea. We'll find out on Saturday, though I'm not as optimistic as I've been in the past. However, I attribute this to knowing how a 13.1-mile race makes one's body feel. I ran a 5k last Saturday, and my legs were locked up most of Sunday (though not stretching probably didn't help).

The nice thing about the Mini in recent years is that actual IndyCar drivers are participating. Last year E.J. Viso ran the race, crossing the line in 1:36.16. That's ridiculous - he was 1,091st overall in a field of over 30,000 runners. The fun part was it was Viso's first-ever look at the track.

On Saturday, two more IndyCar drivers will look to tackle the Mini - Will Power and Mike Conway. I have a feeling they're in much better shape than me, and in a sea of 30,000 people, who knows if we'll see them (though Conway's red hair may help), but best of luck to them. For Conway's sake, I hope he's in better shape than I, since he'll have to go through Rookie Orientation at the Speedway on Wednesday. You don't want to do that with legs still sore from Saturday.

28 April 2009

Free Publicity

The 500 Festival committee has announced that Dick Vitale will serve as grand marshall for the 500 Festival Parade. Some hate the move - as someone who watches plenty of college basketball, I know that Vitale can be grating. However, I find this to be a shrewd move by the festival.

When on-air, Vitale has some pet causes. Honoring Robert Montgomery Knight at IU is one of them - Mr. Vitale brings it up every time he is in Bloomington for a game.

After he serves as the Grand Marshall for the parade, you can bet that every time Vitale is in Indiana for a game - whether it's at Notre Dame, IU or Purdue - this experience will come up. Vitale will be on air speaking about the tradition and spectacle of the Indianapolis 500 on ESPN for a nationwide audience and promoting the city of Indianapolis at the same. Heck, even when he is on during the NBA Draft, producers can cut some footage of him in Indianapolis during May when the Pacers pick comes up.

So while some would have you believe that he has zero name recognition (like Patricia Heaton did) and makes no sense serving as grand marshall, I think Vitale will be great. He'll provide energy and an outlet for promoting the Indianapolis 500 and the month of May in Indianapolis all during college basketball season, which is exactly when no one is talking about the IndyCar Series and the ICS could use some visability.

27 April 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Scott Dixon won yesterday's Road Runner Indy 300 at Kansas. Dixon and Ryan Briscoe had the best cars throughout the race, and once Dixon got out front, the race was all but over. However, behind the leader, the field was bunched pretty well, with movement throughout, even though high winds eliminated some opportunities to pass on the high line of the track.

Tony Kanaan continued to collect top 5 finishes, tallying his second straight podium and taking over the overall points lead, by a single point over Briscoe.

Young Graham Rahal, the pole sitter, ran well, but seems to have an issue with braking hard at inopportune times. Entering the pits, Rahal appeared to hit the brakes early, forcing Dario Franchitti high and into the outside wall. From the Indianapolis Star's recap:

"It caught me by surprise how early he braked," Franchitti said. "We were running in sixth gear and he was hard on the brakes."

Said Rahal, who finished seventh after starting from the pole: "With the speed he was carrying, he wasn't going to make it anyway, whether I was there or not."

Maybe, maybe not. However, Rahal also hit the brakes extremely hard at St. Pete, checking up the entire field behind him in the first turn. The 20-year old blamed Kanaan at the time for running into the back of him, but it was Rahal who created the chaos by not accelerating into the first turn even though he was on the pole.

So, Graham, it may be time to reexamine some of your braking just to make sure you aren't the reason the veterans are crashing. Just a thought, especially before you break out your "Super fast car" at Indy.

So, with three races behind us, we can move on to Indianapolis. One of the best times of the year for race fans is now upon us, the the city of Indianapolis will kick off their celebrations with the Mini-Marathon on Saturday (I'll be in the field - after all, you get to run about 2 miles on the track).

Official practice (or the first full-field practice) lands on May 6, with Pole Day arriving on Saturday, May 9. So, let the excitement begin.

26 April 2009

The Grand Prix of Florida

I've been on vacation for the last 10 days, visiting Clearwater Beach, Fla., just a few miles from the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area. Spending days on the beach, I missed a lot - including announcements from Paul Tracy and Davey Hamilton that they would be in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, along with Helio Castroneves' acquital and the Will Power "drama" that has ensued.

However, the most thrilling part of driving in Florida was competing against every other driver in the state for the same space on the highway. The last time I was in the Sunshine State, it seemed like most people drove Cadillacs and set their cruise control to the minimum speed posted. No more - not only are their those folks still on the road, but an influx of young people has also brought in a complete disregard for things like looking in rearview mirrors, signaling to change lanes and staying within 10 mph of the maximum speed posted.

The number of times I questioned whether or not Florida actually administers driving tests was roughly 53. Needless to say, driving home from Florida was probably more exciting than watching the Grand Prix of Long Beach, which for the most part was single file. Not that I don't like street circuits (I find the strategy to be pretty interesting), Long Beach seems to have a few things on its side: history of competitve races in the CART era and everything in one area (its in Long Beach for crying out loud!).

Most everything at Long Beach went as well as it could; Dario Franchitti won the race going away, while Castroneves was back in his familiar No. 3 car, finishing a respectable seventh. Tony Kanaan (my pick to win the IndyCar Series Championship) placed third. Power drove the No. 12 Verizon machine to a second-place finish.

So, while I missed the race, I think by staying in Clearwater, I got some of the atmosphere as to why Long Beach (and for that matter St. Pete) are so popular. In fact, if I'm smarter next year, maybe I'll time up that trip to Clearwater with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

14 April 2009

This Will Be A Theme

Bruce Martin of SI.com (one my personal favorites when perusing the IndyCar writers), kicked it off with an article yesterday (here). I would expect this to continue to be a big story in the IndyCar Series throughout the year, especially as the summer rolls around.

Of what does Mr. Martin speak, you ask? Only about Danica Patrick's possible career moves as her contract at Andretti Green Racing expires.

Personally, I think Patrick will stay in IndyCar. While a move to NASCAR could potentially be more lucrative, she seems to truly be invested in winning the Indianapolis 500 and pushing the level of achievement for women in racing even higher than she has with her one victory.

While NASCAR is the biggest motor racing sport in America, IndyCar is slowly gaining ground, especially in this economic climate. While Motorola would more than likely follow her into the land of NASCAR, they may feel that they would receive better exposure if Danica continues to fair well in the ICS. Think about for a minute - would Mobil1 be better served by receiving coverage when Sam Hornish spins, or if he was in Victory Lane after another IndyCar win? I think I know where I'd rather spend my money.

Anyways, just keep an eye on this throughout the year - if Danica Patrick gets off to a slow start to this season, including a disappointing finish at Indianapolis, things could get downright silly.

13 April 2009

News & Notes

Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star had some big news today: looks like Paul Tracy will be back at the Indianapolis 500 this year, for the first time since 2002. (full story here). It would be good to see Tracy back at the Brickyard, and not just because Tracy was arguably CART's biggest name for most of the 1990's and into the 2000's. Per Cavin's post, it should be made official at a press conference prior to the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Bringing Tracy back into the fold brings another experienced, talented driver to Indianapolis, further bolstering the depth of the field. KV Racing proved themselves to be among the best newcomers at the Speedway last year, so adding Tracy will help. Also, Tracy's history at the track will be another strong storyline to follow.

Between Tracy and Scott Sharp (let's hope Sharp's Patron car, if that's what it is, is painted better), some recognizable names will once again be at the track in the month of May.

10 April 2009

The King and I

No, don't worry. This post won't be about Yul Brynner or musicals (though Yul probably would have been an intimidating presence in the era of the open cockpit cars).

In recent days, the announcement that Richard Petty would be entering a car in the upcoming Indianapolis 500 has gained national traction. Articles are coming down on both sides of the fence - from congratulating the King for entering America's foremost open-wheel race (here) to describing Petty's entry as nothing more than a publicity stunt for a fading team and race (here).

In fact, in his dissenting opinion, ESPN's Ed Hinton says the following:
The once-grand event has come to this: Ninety percent of its publicity rests on the diminutive shoulders of a woman who has never won it, Danica Patrick, and the rest on a bunch of imported personalities who stir interest in the race in Brazil and Australia and New Zealand, but not where it matters so crucially, the United States ...

They all need each other now. They have huddled together to try to create some interest.

It should be fun for them, and sell a few tickets. But it will not return the Indy 500 or the Petty dynasty or the hard-knocks branch of the Andretti family from twilight.

Well, I think Ed's opinion is pretty clear. I think it's also obvious that Ed has buried his head in the NASCAR sand over the years, and is relishing the opportunity to take some shots at the 500.

Now, I will concede Ed's point that the 500 isn't what it was in the 1970's, 80's and up to the split, in terms of its national appeal. True and valid. However, on its worst day, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway draws more fans to the 500 than the Daytona 500 (NASCAR's artificially produced "gem") can dream of. Read that again: on its worst day.

I would just about guarantee that the worst days of the IndyCar Series are gone, while NASCAR's darkest days may be approaching with the current economic woes and the high cost of funding a team.

To accuse IMS of grasping at strings (in this case Richard Petty) to gain publicity is incorrect. In fact, IMS and the IndyCar Series has generally been on the end of positive publicity since the CART-IRL merger 14 months ago. Travel to an IndyCar race - you'll see close to a full house at most tracks, if not sell outs.

The league has emerged to where it does not rely solely on Danica Patrick to sell tickets - a wide array of drivers (and what's wrong with having international celebrities in your series, anyway?) are becoming household names, and I'm sure as the year goes on, we'll see more names (hello Graham Rahal and paging Marco Andretti) begin to be more heavily promoted by ICS. You could go as far to call Graham the foremost up-and-coming American driver around; if he is able to win a race or two this season, watch out. And if (and right now, it seems like a bif "if") Marco Andretti rediscovers the talent that helped him win a race his rookie year, the IndyCar series will have those marketable names of "Rahal" and "Andretti" for years to come. And for all the hype of Kyle Busch, his name doesn't have the same cache, does it?

So, Ed, I would invite you to take in an IndyCar race (perhaps the Indianapolis 500 - you know - America's foremost racing event, regardless of the year). You'll notice that it actually puts out a better product than the NASCAR folks, without any gimmicks.

08 April 2009

On the TV

So, Versus released the ratings from the Honda St. Petersburg of Grand Prix, and they weren't pretty. Still, to finish with 233,000 viewers on Versus is a start. (full story, via Indycar.com)

Yes, it's not on the brand name ESPN, but I came away impressed with the overall coverage from Versus. I think most IndyCar Series fans would admit that the series was not much of a priority for ABC Sports on ESPN, leading to race coverage that was sparse and treated like a second-class member of the network.

Versus devoted three-plus hours to Sunday's race, extending their coverage past their time window (can't imagine ESPN doing that, can you?), while building story lines and following up upon them after the race. While Versus still has some kinks to work out (driver identification being one - after a couple wrecks, it took time to figure out who had crashed), if they continue to devote the time and effort to advertising the IndyCar Series, along with a concerted effort to improve the broadcast (I think Jenkins, Buhl and Beekus will continue to get better) and quality, the series will be in good hands and continue to see their viewer numbers increase.

You want to know just how much Versus values the IndyCar brand? They're devoting five full hours to Carb Day. In fact, Versus will be on air with IndyCar coverage on 11 of the 15 days running from Pole Day on May 9 to a post-race show on May 24.

Here is the full Versus/ABC schedule for the month of May.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Centennial

As I said in my welcome, I've been attending the Indianapolis 500 since I was 10. Which means I missed opportunities to witness Al Unser's fourth win at the track (1987), as well as Rick Mears' fourth win (1991), because my parents used our 500 tickets then. I guess at the ages of four and nine, I might not have been ready for the atmosphere at IMS (yes, that means I missed the Snake Pit, for the most part, but my dad has been kind enough to recount stories).

Despite a lack of attendance at the race back in my formative years, I still followed racing, as Danny Sullivan was one of my earliest heroes. Why Danny Sullivan? I don't know - probably because I saw highlights of the "Spin and Win" as I was growing up, and I thought it was one of the coolest things I'd seen. Danny Sullivan, at least in 1985, drove a red car - my favorite color was red. That 1985 Miller American car was probably one of the reasons I now drink Miller beer (ok, maybe not).

Anyways, this all leads us to the Centennial Era at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Because I was 1 (well, to be more juvenile about it, 1 and a half) in 1985, I didn't see the 500 that year. Maybe I did, but it would have been on TV and later at night, and I don't remember, to be honest.

However, I can still see the highlights of the race, as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has done a fantastic job gathering interviews and footage from the last 100 years or so at the track and created numerous highlight packages about the history at the track. And with the 500 just 46 days away, I would highly recommend going through some of the highlights and interviews - it'll get you ready for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The video player for the highlights is at the bottom of this post, and if you want to head over to IMS' Centennial page, click here.

Luxurious Lanes

I've noticed this over the last few weeks, but now that I have a forum, I thought I'd share my thoughts about it.

The City of Indianapolis has redesigned some one-way roads downtown, converting four-lane roads to three-lane roads with bicycle lanes. However, to the best of my knowledge, the city never told anyone about their decision. And neither did they do a very good job painting the lanes, as the lanes shift in the middle of intersections. Seriously, who decided it would be a good idea to shift lanes across traffic?

It's all very reminiscent of this Seinfeld episode, in which Kramer decides to convert his stretch of four-lane highway to a two-lane highway. While traffic hasn't been that terrible, I can just imagine someone in the mayor's office driving down Michigan St. (or New York St.) with a can of paint to block out the old lane lines.

07 April 2009

And So It Begins

I'll be the first to admit - I have no idea where this will go. I just had some thoughts in my head and thought I'd start getting them out there, like everybody else.

However, I will try and give anyone who reads this an idea of what I'll be talking about on here: primarily IndyCar racing, baseball and Boston College athletics.

Baseball (specifically the Chicago Cubs) is my favorite sport, as I played it since I could walk. I've been a die-hard Cubs fan since I can remember, and it was helped that WGN was streamed into my household and my mother could put on the game and I would watch while she slept or did housework (or whatever she did - I was watching baseball).

As for the IndyCar racing, I've spent nearly 22 years of my life in Indianapolis, home of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," the Indianapolis 500. I've been attending the race since 1993, only missing it once since (1997, when rain pushed the race back to a Tuesday and my parents wouldn't let me skip school - they still hear about it).

I attended Boston College, graduating in 2005. My four years in Boston helped shape who I am today, and I would be remiss if I didn't share my thoughts on some of the athletics teams on The Heights.

Anyways, welcome, and I'm sure I'll post on some random topics as well.