Meanwhile, I'm in Indianapolis for my 38th 500. Here's a little truth-telling from middle America: At least for now, and likely through the coming weekend, Indy is definitely feeling like Indy again. It's more than how many are in the grandstands. I sensed it in the airport. You see it on the streets (TRAFFIC!) I was close to stunned at how crowded the souvenir merchandise stores were Sunday. (I'll add this: Prices are up and I think quality has been down the last couple of years.) I'm no fan of the chosen 100th race logo (not friendly to the eye and the yellow doesn't POP out at you the way I would prefer) but you can't deny people want the stuff. Yes, I'm one of those aware of many suite-holders saying they won't be back because of the significant price increases, but that is a story to be explored another day.
But let's put the line in the sand right now: If this 100th doesn't lead to strong carryover progress next year -- not just for IMS but the whole series -- TV ratings, ticket sales, you name it, this will have been Opportunity Lost. I think there should have been much more of a connection to the 100th at the season's earlier races.
Let's also make something else clear: Despite what you may read or hear elsewhere, the fact that it's the 100th running of the "Greatest Spectacle" will not change a thing any driver, race strategist, engineer or team owner will do on Sunday. They are racing to win the Indy 500, be it the 99th or the 101st.
I'll close with a self-serving plug: Please check out Friday's Arizona Republic (AzCentral.com) for my story on the Arizona connections to the 100th race. Then, Sunday, Race Day, capital R and D as they use it in Indy, I will have what is planned to be the longest racing story in the Republic in at least a decade, approximately 2,000 words. After two decades since open-wheel racing's terrible civil war and all that flowed from that, where does Indy rank TODAY among America's great sporting traditions? And, are great drivers still made at Indy? Read what A.J. Foyt, Roger Penske, Rick Mears, Mark Miles, Donald Davidson and others have to say. Thank you.
POWER PLAYERS for the week of May 22:This week's 10 most influential
1. Roger Penske -- Why? It's Indy 500 week and the race's most successful team owner has four chances to get his 17th win.
5. James Hinchliffe -- The potential sports story of the year if the polesitter can win a year after near-fatal injuries at Indy.
6. Helio Castroneves -- Tries (again) to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as a four-time Indy 500 winner. Would Helio, now 41, announce retirement in victory lane like Sam Hanks did in 1957?
7. Tony Stewart -- No surprise, Smoke tells it like it is at confusing and meaningless NASCAR All-Star race.
8. Joey Logano -- Of all the Team Penske drivers at Indy and Charlotte, the All-Star race winner just might have the best chance to win.
[ this Friday here: Announcement of 2016 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR . . . ]