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Friday, May 27, 2011

INDY 500 FRIDAY

Thursday night I attended the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers dinner where my friend Jim McGee was inducted into the Indy Hall of Fame along with Jackie Stewart. Jim and I worked together at Newman/Haas Racing when Nigel Mansell won the 1993 PPG Cup. Jim praised his mentor, Clint Brawner, and expressed thanks not only for his four I500 wins and nine championships, but also for a truly amazing stat: Over 40 drivers were in Jim's cars, and in his career, none were seriously injured. Given the era in which he started, that's an incredible blessing. Congratulations to Jim.

Dan Gurney accepted for Stewart, busy in Monaco. In what might have been the most historic happening of the centennial I500, Robin Miller attended to sit with Gurney. For the first time in the four decades I've known Robin, he was wearing a sport coat and TIE. It was an old Gurney Eagle tie. I'm glad there were witnesses or I would not have believed my eyes.

Jim Nabors was honored with a lifetime Oldtimers membership. Jim told how he started singing "Back Home Again in Indiana." Jim was on-site to watch the 1972 race as a fan when he was introduced to Tony Hulman race morning. Tony asked Jim to come out of the stands to sing what Nabors thought was going to be the National Anthem. When he was told it was "Back Home," he wrote the words on the palm of his hand. Jim swears this is a true story.


Having lived on both sides of the competitor/media fence, I can tell you for a fact that what you hear said during formal news conferences isn't always what is said behind closed garage doors. It's a bit of both here in terms of how drivers feel about the double-wide restart rule, being used for the first time on an IndyCar series oval Sunday. Thursday afternoon, I was talking with a group of drivers in the motorcoach lot. A couple of them were well-established big time race winners and another has been one of most pleasant surprises coming out of qualifying. I won't name names or provide direct quotes, because this was an off-the-record conversation among friends. I can accurately report to you, though, that the level of concern about double-file restarts is VERY high. One of the biggest names in the field pointed out this would be like the NFL trying out a major new competition rule in the Super Bowl. I said that while baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is often criticized, I know he wouldn't toss out a big new rule for the World Series. Whatever happens, just know people who will be on the track are worried.


If you're really into Indy coverage, please take a look at my stories on CompetitionPlus.com. Did you know Roger Penske started as a drag racer? And Kenny Bernstein's emotional memories of being on the pole as a team owner are quite something. You can find the links at earlier posts.


A reminder of the 1,800-plus word history of Arizona racers at Indy piece that will be in Sunday's Arizona Republic. It is, by far, the longest auto racing story in the paper in many years. Mark Armijo and I put in a lot of effort on this. If you're not in Arizona to buy the paper, please look for this at http://azcentral.com/ .

[ more from Indy Saturday and Sunday . . . ]