Random Thoughts Of Indy

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After a good night’s sleep Sunday night, we drove back to Nashville. The first thing I did was flick on the DVR and watch the race. Now that I’ve experienced the televised version as well as being there live, I’ve come up with a few thoughts that probably appear to be a little random. Actually they ARE random, but these are my observations of the 2009 Indianapolis 500.

First, on the negative side…Sunday night after the race, I said that the first half was boring. After watching the replay, I’ll amend that to say that the first two-thirds were boring. Yes there were some hard crashes in the first hundred laps to satisfy the crash-hungry fans, but the passing at the front of the field was limited to whoever was in second getting the leader on a restart.

This is a rant that I’ve covered before and will in more detail later this week; but with the cars being the same, the only “X” factor is now the performance of the pit crews. The lack of passing near the front is so apparent, the Indianapolis 500 now resembles a Formula One race where your best chance to pass somebody is in the pits. Witness Danica Patrick – whose pit crew gained her four spots in the first two stops only to be given back when she slid through her pit box later. At least her pit score was dead even.

The Target team wasn’t so lucky. Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti both had the field covered for the first half of the race. They both suffered miscues in the pits that doomed the chances of either of them becoming two-time winners. Gone is the day when a driver can depend on their right foot and skill to recover from a mistake. With the parity that is the IRL these days, one misstep in the pits and you’re through. The fate that Sam Hornish suffered in the pits in 2006 would have relegated him out of the top ten in Sunday’s race. Just like the latter stages in Kansas back in April, the last twenty laps had no passing at all. The cars were so equal; the running order remained completely static — therefore totally boring.

Another negative was the failed attempt by IRL officials to prevent Helio from climbing the fence. What were they thinking? Is this the NFL, where celebrating is frowned upon? Here the IRL has a chance to create a photo-op to be re-run on Sport Center and be printed in every Monday paper across the country, and the IRL tries to thwart it. Whoever came up with the idea to try and steer Helio straight into Victory Lane should be sentenced to spending next year’s race in the infield of turn three, where I parked my car (which will be another subject for later this week).

Had any other winner tried to do some fence climbing, the IRL should have tackled them. Can anyone really imagine E.J. Viso creating a fan base by imitating Helio? But given the fact that Helio had already done it twice before, plus the nightmare he had emerged from just last month…Castroneves had earned that right. And a little heads-up for the future—should Helio go on to become the fourth four-time Indy winner, he’s probably going to try it again. My advice to the Speedway is to let him.

This is a picky complaint, but I realize there will never be another Tom Carnegie on the PA. Since Carnegie’s retirement, Dave Calabro has done a nice job — probably because he is understated and seems to know he is not Tom Carnegie. This year, Ralph Sheheen was introduced on the PA. He spelled Calabro for a great portion of the race and it wasn’t pretty. Sheheen has always been decent on various radio broadcasts, but this wasn’t radio. He was way over the top in his long narratives of everything going on. His voice went up a couple of octaves if anyone looked like they might attempt a pass. If the Speedway uses him in future years, he needs to tone it down.

There were also many positives about the weekend. First of all,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         we went to the track on Saturday and made the obligatory trip to the museum – always an annual must. As we were walking out I spotted one of my idols, Donald Davidson. He was understandably very busy, but he took the time to chat with me and allowed me to have my picture taken with him. He is as cordial in person as he is with callers on the radio. Over the years, I’ve met most of the big name drivers and have gotten sort of immune to seeing them up close. I’ll have to admit…with Donald, I was a little star-struck.

Another positive for the race was the performance of the Delphi Safety Crew. On a far too busy day, this crew did a superb job. They were upon Kanaan’s car before the car had come to a halt. The safety crew and the medical team in this series are the absolute best. NASCAR should be green with envy. Whenever they get around to having a crew like this they’ll of course, claim that they invented it.

Unlike some, I was pleased with the selection of Alex Tagliani for Rookie of the Year. Granted, he didn’t qualify for the race but that doesn’t disqualify him from consideration. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t qualify, rather it was a boneheaded non-move by his car owner, Eric Bachelart, that prevented him from qualifying. I thought Bruno should have stayed in the car, but this wasn’t Tag’s fault. Moving from thirty-third to finish eleventh more than proved his worthiness.

The yellow-shirts seemed a little more intent on keeping the crowd under control. If I were eighteen, I would probably put this in the negative column but at my advanced age…it’s a plus. For the first time ever, I saw some rowdy loons being hauled off in handcuffs. I like to have as much fun as anyone, but if you’ve ever been to Indy, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Another plus was the Speedway’s emphasis on what Memorial Day is truly about. They’ve always done a nice job with this but they seemed to step it up this year. The fired volleys before the playing of taps was a nice touch. I’ll also give credit to the fans. They all removed their hats and stood in silent reverence, showing respect – of course, it was early before too much alcohol had been consumed.

But to me, the biggest plus was seeing Helio Castroneves finish off the perfect month in fine fashion. Aside for the troll that sat near me who kept calling Helio a criminal – this was a very popular win at the Speedway. Helio is sincere and likeable – plus he can sure drive a racecar. His run reminded me of Rick Mears. He led. He fell back. He stayed within striking distance while working with the car. Then when it was time, he made his move. Classic Mears and classic Penske.

When Al Unser won his fourth, I wasn’t thrilled to see anyone join AJ Foyt as a four-time winner. When Mears did it, I was OK with it. Not only am I ready to see Helio join that elite club; I hope to see him become the first five-time winner. While the Indianapolis 500 struggles to regain its identity, it needs Castroneves just as much as Helio needs Indy. They are both very good for each other.

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “Random Thoughts Of Indy”

  1. Vic Lovisa Says:

    Great post George!

  2. Jack Phillips Says:

    As usual, a good thought-provoking column, George.

    The parity of the IRL was painfully apparent as ABC repeatedly went to the onboard camera in Danica’s car. She drove a good, steady race (other than over-running her pit) but when she was trying to pass Ed Carpenter she had to try several times, before she could get around him.

    As you have mentioned before, the engines are so reliable now that engine failure is nearly unheard of. As I recall, only Oriol Servia went out with an engine problem (fuel pump). The only other mechanical related failure was Tony Kanaan, and I never did understand exactly what broke, but it was obvious that something gave way in his right rear suspension or drive train to throw him into the wall like that.

  3. Solid recap, and I totally agree with you about the ridiculousness of trying to prevent Helio from climbing the fence. He’s one of two drivers known outside of the core fan base, and the other one hasn’t won the Indy 500.

    If/when he wins a FOURTH Indy 500, I don’t care if he wants to climb the Pagoda, they gotta let him go. It’s not just a photo op, it’s what the fans expect to see.

  4. Mike Davis Says:

    Good job, George. I attended the 500 for quite a few consecutive years, and can relate to your comment on the removal of a few rowdy fans. Once saw a naked drunk pour some beer on the windshield of a new El Dorado being driven into the parking area by a well-dressed man and his wife. When the big guy got out of the car, I realized how lucky the drunk was to have escaped. He might have gotten away with even less than his clothes, if the guy had caught him.

    Excellent job on your article and comments. You should be writing for one of the major newspapers.

    Mike Davis

  5. Great post, George. I, too, was quite happy about Helio’s victory and was pretty dismayed by the attempt to keep him from doing his celebration. Good thing he was able to do it.

    As far as the cars, I cringed when I heard that the IRL would likely keep with the current package through 2011. Given that, what do you think should be done in the meantime? Should the focus be on the cars or on the tracks?

  6. Judy in Texas Says:

    George,

    My only thought after reading your recap was “Why wasn’t I there to see it in person?” Oh well, maybe next year!!!!!

    I hope someone finally admits to issuing the order to keep Helio in the car and off the fence. And at that point, their employment should be terminated — for lack of judgement or just plain stupidity. With the IRL needing every bit of positive publicity it can get, they nearly botched a bonanza. I’m not sure how many photos and videos I’ve seen of Helio scaling the fence but there have been hundreds.

    Thanks again for such a great article. To a relatively new IRL fan, your posts are quickly becoming my required history lesson!

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