Thursday, May 28, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend Racing Roundup

Some random thoughts from a great Memorial Day weekend of racing action...

- The Indianapolis 500 continues to be the most magical sporting event in the world in this writer's opinion. To see the emotion on the face of winner Helio Castroneves proves it. Sure, Helio would have been emotional no matter what race he won, but it was even more emotional to be at Indy.

-Others have reported that the crowd at Indy was way up, and it might have been, but there were still some patches of empty seats all around the track. I don't know what needs to be done to right the ship, but I am sure IMS management is doing all it can to ensure more and more people come to the 500. I still thing returning the magic to the rest of the month is a big start. Make Indy the bed of automotive innovation it once was and give fans the chance to hear "it's a new track record" from time to time and race fans and casual sports fans alike will return.

- I am a stock car guy to the core but I always get a kick out of attendance at Lowe's Motor Speedway for it's May events. I've had plenty of conversations with people who have relocated to the Charlotte area to be near the hub of the sport and they always tell you how everyone that lives there is totally into stock car racing. If that's the case, why so many empty seats? Now granted, it did rain and that always affects attendance, but if Charlotte truly is the world capital of motorsports wouldn't the die-hard fans there sit through any type of weather to see the sport they can't live without? The truth is these are the same fair-weather fans that couldn't be bothered to drive 90 minutes to either Rockingham or Darlington yet complained loudly when both venues lost their races.

- It's funny how first time winners come in groups. Brad Keselowski won at Talladega and now David Reutimann wins at Lowe's. Last year in the Truck Series there was a stretch of three first time winners in three races. I think it's likely we'll see another first time winner in Cup racing this year but I would be surprised to see it happen again so quickly. My pick for the next winner: Marcos Ambrose.

- There is nothing little about the "Little 500". For those of you unfamilair, it is a sprint car race held annually at Anderson Speedway in Indiana. It is a tight quarter mile bullring, and if you've heard the comment about Bristol being like "jet fighters in a gymnasium", well, Dick Trickle originally said that about driving at Anderson nearly 25 years ago. The race features 33 starters lined up in eleven rows of three, just like the Indy 500 does. There are live pit stops, and even under green there are push trucks out on the track as the cars race past at speed. Dave Steele won his second little 500 passing eight-time winner Eric Gordon with 32 laps to go. How tough is 500 laps around a quarter mile? There were just 11 drivers running at the finish, and most were eliminated in accidents. There were numerous different engine and chassis combinations, just like the Indy 500 used to have back in the day, and some of the cars were built at home by the driver. The coolest of them all was the creation Chet Fillip drove, but unfortunately he was eliminated very early on in a very hard crash in turn three.

- Like many others, I too think it was a very respectful gesture to stop the race at 3 P.M. on Monday in observance of the National Moment of Remembrance. Memorial Day is special for many reasons, especially if you have a loved one that perished fighting for our freedoms. NASCAR takes heat for a lot of the things they do, but this one was a home run even on a day when the weather was problematic.

- I know that in the world of today's technology and instantaneous access to information it makes those in the media work hard to be the first to break a story. I have faced that numerous times myself, trying to gather as much info as I can during the post-race scramble at Truck Series races. I would gather the info - and many times it was raw audio collected from nearly a dozen drivers, writing the stories (and sending in the audio to be edited), and then publish it to the web all within the 60 to 90 minutes following the checkered flag. I would say 99.9% of the time my reports were accurate. One time I can recall there being a discrepancy was at Kansas in 2006 when I reported injuiries suffered by Kelly Sutton in a hard crash that weren't exactly accurate. I hadn't spoken to Kelly or anyone with her team, but I reported what track officials had told the media. It turns out it wasn't right and we made a correction, but that didn't appease the editor who screamed at me over the phone about how important it was to get things right.

Now a slight error in an injury at a third-tier race was a big deal to those of us on that beat, in the grand scheme of the motorsports world it was barely a blip on the radar. Wednesday's "breaking news" that Tony George was ousted by the board of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the subsequent denial by the George family is much bigger. George controls what is arguably the biggest motorsports venue in the world. He hosts events from Indy Car, NASCAR, and MotoGP and he has constantly said he'd like to bring back Formula One. Robin Miller broke the story for SPEEDTV.com. I like Robin, he's in tune with the open wheel world like no other and is just irreverent enough to be a pain in the side to just about everyone. But the fact is Robin was dead wrong on this story. I wonder if my old editor, who is now the editor at SPEEDTV.com, had anything to say to Miller over the story being 100% wrong? Of course it's a lot easier to scream at someone who has been a trackside reporter for four years versus someone who has been writing for 35 years, isn't it?

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