• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, May 25, 2009

SEEN and HEARD at INDY

33 AT INDY: On the front straightaway last weekend for my 33d Indy 500. (Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo courtesy of Ron McQueeney.)

Random observations from my 33d Indianapolis 500:

* One of the first things I noticed was the Bombardier logo was off the Pagoda. (See above photo.)

* Race-day attendance was better than I expected. To my eye, as good as last year, maybe some more in the grandstands.

* Indy continued a mystifying trend we've seen throughout racing this season: Pit stop problems. Why?

* The 500 rated low on the entertainment meter. Only six lead changes (tying 2000), the fewest for a full-distance event since 1965.

* When was the last time the green wasn't waved third time by? It didn't look to me the field was any more strung-out than in recent years. The days of 11 rows of three coming to the start exist only in museums and history books.

* What was needed didn't happen -- a boffo start -- to keep the TV audience. Maybe three lead changes in the first 10 laps, Danica charging so Marty Reid could be yelling, maybe some fireworks from Paul Tracy.

* The current aero configuration makes it very difficult to pass when everyone is running full fuel settings. Witness the lack of progress Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were able to make with fast cars after bad pit stops. The IRL needs to get on this problem pronto.

* The overwhelming majority of Indy media continues to cheerlead for the Speedway and League. As I drove onto the grounds Friday at 7:30 a.m., a local radio reporter said, "Traffic is starting to back up for Carb Day." I passed maybe two cars! At least Gordon Kirby told me a local TV anchor admitted he considers the lack of technical diversity a negative.

* Well-known journalists weren't happy that reps from fan websites were issued media credentials.

* Two long-time major-team sponsorships are in jeopardy. One maybe as early as the end of this season, the other, after 2010.

* Since when is it appropriate for a network TV announcer to put a sponsor's cap on a driver? That's what Jack Arute did, placing the Firestone hat on Helio Castroneves in the winner's circle, and helping to thrust the traditional bottle of milk into his hand. Explanation, please, from ABC management on the journalistic standards in effect here.

* I also want to know if the buffoon IRL tech inspector who tried to physically restrain Castroneves from getting out of his car so he could climb the fence was acting on his own tin-ear-to-public-opinion mindset, or from instruction from Brian Barnhart or someone else in race control. This was the most stupid thing I've seen since Andrew Craig talked of fining Alex Zanardi for "dangerous driving" when he spun donuts to celebrate a 1997 victory in Cleveland. Explanation, please, IRL PR department. The public -- whose support you desperately need -- wants to know. If the tech guy was acting on his own, this self-important jerk should go. If a higher-up ordered the action, he should be held to account.
********************************************************************
Two answers of note from my interview with Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL's commercial division:

On the Versus ratings: "This is the honest truth: They are right where we forecast them to be. They are not a surprise. We knew that was going to be the challenge in making this move. It will take us time; that is why we did a 10-year deal. Our confidence is in their Comcast ownership and management team. We are convinced, over time, we will be exceeding the historical ratings."

On the perception (at least by me) that Tony George is disengaged from IRL decision-making after reunification: "That’s one (question) I haven’t had, so that’s always good. My best response is I think Tony, you’re right, for a couple of good, identifiable reasons, and I’m not trying to pat my management team on the back, but I know Tony has expressed his confidence in the direction we’re going. Like any good CEO, what he did was he gave us, the management team, the platform, the opportunity, with unification, where he had to be absolutely embroiled in that, the opportunity now to work with a (unified) property. I think he has a confidence level, and I check in with him on a very regular basis, to make sure we are setting the right course and executing as he wants us to, but, that doesn’t require him to look over our shoulder every day. And I mean that in a good way. I know he loves running Vision Racing, so he’s not only got CEO of the League, CEO of the Speedway, CEO of Clabber Girl Baking Powder and all the initiatives they have, a couple of bank Boards, I mean, this is a busy guy. I think he feels, 'I’ve got my check-ins and check-outs, but I don’t need to be doing that every day of my life.'"
********************************************************************
Here's a link to my Indy preview in last Sunday's Arizona Republic: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2009/05/23/20090523spt-indy.html
********************************************************************
For the second consecutive year, this offering won first place in the blog category in the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's annual journalism contest. The results were announced at the AARWBA breakfast, co-hosted by Firestone and Honda, last Saturday. We also got a second place in the online column category. The contest is sponsored by IMS and the IRL.
********************************************************************
FAST LINES: Again this year, no USA Today special section devoted to racing's biggest weekend, something that was standard for many years. The section was an opportunity for drivers-teams-sponsors to get into the paper who otherwise wouldn't make it all season . . . Chris Economaki missed just his third Indy 500 since 1938 . . . Photographer Jim Haines won AARWBA's Straight Shooter Award, in memory of Art Flores and Ron Hussey, and the $500 prize provided by Lowe's Fernandez Racing . . . The late Shav Glick, of the Los Angeles Times, was named recipient of the Bob Russo Founders Award.
********************************************************************
John Force will be the Newsmaker of the Week guest on the June 3 debut of The Race Reporters, my new Internet radio show on VoiceAmerica.com's PowerUpChannel.com. ESPN2 drag racing anchor Paul Page and CompetitionPlus.com's Jon Asher will be the media panelists. Listen live at 7 p.m. EDT or download into your iPod or click the show icon afterwards to hear it on-demand.
********************************************************************
If you haven't
yet done so, please scroll down to my special posting of last Saturday morning, as the sport's and industry's greatest names paid tribute to Mike Harris. By the way, Mike's 30-year tenure in motorsports is the longest time on one beat in AP history. The Speedway announced creation of a scholarship in Mike's name. It will be available to college students attending the Indiana University School of Journalism's new National Sports Journalism Center, location of the Associated Press Sports Editors headquarters, and the winner of the annual scholarship will also have the option to serve as an intern with IMS or IRL. "The scholarship is certainly one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me," said Harris. He was presented with a helmet signed by all 33 Indy 500 drivers. Contributions to the Mike Harris Scholarship can be made to:

Indiana University Foundation Mike Harris Scholarship, c/o Fred Nation, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 4790 W. 16th St., Indianapolis, IN 46222.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]