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Sunday, July 20, 2014

PAST AND PRESENT

The weekend was one of those where it was impossible not to think about the past. And, in some cases, compare it with the present. One of those things was the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 first moon landing. That was a reminder of when America --and its citizens -- could do great things because it/we had the will to do great things.

Regarding IndyCar at Toronto on Saturday, the non-starter of a weekend doubleheader; yes, safety is paramount, so I don't want to hear any lectures about that. But I vividly remember how CART drivers raced in a steady and heavy rain -- in front of absolutely full grandstands -- at Toronto in 1990. I remember this because, as the storm intensified, race control asked teams to ask their drivers if the race should be ended. I was working with Newman/Haas at the time and quickly calculated that Michael Andretti would only lose a few points to Al Unser Jr. in the PPG Cup standings if it was red/checkered. Team manager Ed Nathman radioed that to Michael and he said, yes, stop. And it was, with Jr. winning and Michael second. The point here is there was a race and the fans filled Exhibition Place. Quite a contrast to Saturday, including the empty seats at a venue now with a reduced spectator capacity.

There probably will be some talk now about more two-races-on-one-day. I was with CART when we did that at Atlanta in 1981, with Rick Mears winning both ends. But if there are going to be twin bills I'm sure IndyCar and promoters will want to stay with the Saturday-Sunday format now in place. Better for publicity -- and ticket sales.

Here's something Formula One has right: The cars roll promptly after a 30-minute pre-race show. IndyCar's producers, apparently overly influenced by the ridiculously long NASCAR pre-race shows, need to follow F1's example. Currently the pre-race has too much wasted time with meaningless track drives and driver features that can be so stupid as to be painful to watch. Come on the air, report any breaking news or controversy, set the grid, interview the pole winner, review the race basics, let the experts talk like experts for a couple of minutes, and then get on with it. A half-hour is enough. Please don't tell me these dumb driver features are helping to make new fans. Where is the evidence of that? And when -- WHEN? -- will production executives insist that pit reporters actually ask meaningful questions? In some cases, any questions, rather than making a statement and then sticking the microphone into someone else's face.  

Speaking of trying to make new fans, the Saturday embarrassment surely did not turn any casual viewers into people who wanted to watch for long. Delays, Briscoe in the tires on the pace lap, Power spinning coming toward a (non) green flag, more delays, talk about if rules allowed teams to work on their cars or not, more delays, well, you get my point. Sunday came with disagreement on how the starting lineup should be set and a lap one caution. Sure as hell not impressive for a series that promotes its drivers' talents on diverse courses. I doubt many/any casual watchers came back to see the actual quality racing that went on later.

(By the way, as to branding and event identification, how much more out-of-touch can golf's Royal & Ancient be in insisting that the British Open be called "The Open Championship"? Where is "The Open Championship"? Can you imagine F1 allowing the British Grand Prix to be called "The Grand Prix"? No. Arrogant and dumb is this.)

Finally, there were memories that came with the sad news of the passings of James Garner and Gary Lee.

I met and interviewed Garner (we even did a little socializing) when he drove the Indy 500 pace car. That was a great promotion with the Hurst Olds orchestrated by the late Hurst PR VP Jack Duffy and, of course, Linda Vaughn was a big part of it. Garner will also always be respected by racers and race fans for his starring role in Grand Prix, the best-ever Hollywood motorsports-theme movie. 

Many fans remember Lee for his pit reporting on the ESPN "Thunder" shows. But I think of his work in the pits at CART, when ESPN began covering those races at Milwaukee in June 1981. I was CART's communications director at the time and had done the deal with ESPN. Bob Jenkins and Larry Nuber were the other members of the on-air team. CART had a series of pit fires then and Gary interviewed me when we had one at Milwaukee.


Regarding news here last week of honors earned in the 2013 International Automotive Media Awards: Due to a misunderstanding on my part, I didn't realize until a few days ago that my CompetitionPlus.com column also won a gold medal for commentary series. Thanks again to the readers and all involved.

[ more next week . . . ]