More Reflections On Indianapolis

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I’ve now watched the full recording of the ABC/ESPN telecast of Sunday’s race, and I’ve got to say that I’m disappointed – although I really shouldn’t be. I should have known what to expect. I really got no answers to a lot of questions I had when I left the track on Sunday. Some of the many questions I had were; how did Alex Tagliani drop from fourth to fourteenth around lap 75? How did Danica Patrick suddenly end up in sixth after languishing in the back half of the field most of the day? What actually put Sarah Fisher out of the race?

Although I got a great tour of the impressive ESPN production facility on Sunday morning, I have to say that the telecast was lacking. The camera shots were good and I can’t fault them for being away at a commercial when there were lead changes or accidents – there is no way of knowing when something is going to happen. I’m also a fan of all four pit reporters that ESPN brings to Indianapolis. Dr. Jerry Punch, Vince Welch, Jamie Little and newcomer Rick DeBruhl are top notch. What I continue to fault them for however, is the trio in the booth.

Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever have absolutely no chemistry together; and the entire broadcast suffers for it. I don’t want someone screaming at me as Todd Harris did the one year he hosted the broadcast – but Marty Reid sounds like he is more suited for the Home Shopping Network, describing a set of fake diamond earrings. Scott Goodyear drones on and on as a good cure for insomnia, while Eddie Cheever simply sounds like he doesn’t want to be there.

I really think Cheever is the biggest disappointment. I remember in 1997, Cheever was an early out in the night race at Texas and was invited to the booth. His commentary was hilarious and insightful. For years, I always thought he would be a natural to slide into the booth when his driving days were over. This was Cheever’s third year in the booth for the Indianapolis 500, and he’s given me no reason to think his chemistry with the other two will improve.

Perhaps if he were to do more races with Reid and Goodyear, he could loosen up – but he comes across as stiff and boring as Goodyear does. I don’t know if he has been told to back it down from when he was in the booth at Texas that night, or if he was just winging it in Texas and is now operating from a script. Whatever the case, Cheever does nothing to spice up the dreary teaming of Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear.

Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear have been together for more than twice as long as the Versus crew, but the trio from Versus acclimated themselves to each other quickly and come across as old friends. I’m still a big fan of Paul Page, but I don’t think we’ll ever see him on an Indianapolis 500 telecast again. But there are others out there who would probably kill to have that gig. Marty Reid comes across as if this is something to keep him busy until NASCAR starts up on ESPN in the second half of their season. What made Paul Page so great is that he loves the Indianapolis 500 and it showed. The same goes for Bob Jenkins at Versus. Marty Reid sounds like this is nothing more than a job to him. They need to get someone who loves the event and doesn’t treat being on the telecast as work.

One final note about the broadcast – one thing that ABC/ESPN has done an excellent job with, has been their openings for the Indianapolis 500. The last two years in particular, have been excellent. The opening for this year however, bordered on the bizarre. I just didn’t quite get the idea of a bunch of suits being the keepers of the Borg-Warner trophy. Hopefully they will do something better than this for next year’s centennial celebration.

As far as the race goes, I’m becoming more accepting of Dario’s victory. After hearing Tony Kanaan say that the best car won on Sunday – who am I to disagree?

The odd thing is, as I stood in the stands and watched Dario Franchitti dominate this race – I kept asking myself why I had a problem with it. Franchitti was always one of my favorite drivers – long before he married Ashley Judd and moved to Nashville. In fact, his spouse always tempered my enthusiasm for Dario. I always found Ashley Judd and her sister to be a little annoying, but Dario has always maintained a low profile here in town.

I followed Dario ever since he started driving for Carl Hogan in CART in 1997, before switching to Team Kool Green the following year. I was pulling for him to win the CART championship over Ganassi’s Juan Montoya in 1999. They tied in total points, but Montoya won the tiebreaker based on more wins. He was the main reason I was originally an Andretti-Green fan when the team moved over to IndyCar’s in 2003 – just before he broke his back in a motorcycle accident prior to Indianapolis.

I was thrilled when he won the IndyCar race at Nashville in 2005, and was ecstatic when he won at Indianapolis in the rain in 2007. I didn’t blame him for being miffed when Michael Andretti blamed him for Marco’s woes at Sonoma that season –when Marco almost cost Franchitti the championship. However, he lost some points in my book when he left the IndyCar Series to jump to NASCAR for the 2008 season – to join Chip Ganassi, of all people.

Although I’ve never mentioned it much here, I’m not a Chip Ganassi fan. Even if I weren’t a big Penske fan, I don’t’ think I would be a Ganassi fan. About the only time I can ever remember pulling for a Ganassi driver was when Jimmy Vasser drove for him. When Dario announced he was coming back to IndyCars for the 2009 season, I greeted the news with mixed emotions. I was glad to have one of my favorite drivers back in the series, but it was going to be hard for me to cheer for him driving the Target car. I know…it’s stupid, but that’s the way I felt.

So now that I’m a couple of days removed from the race – I’m a lot happier for Dario. There is no question his car was the class of the field and that he is a classy driver. I was just disappointed that Kanaan’s effort fell a little short.

Five years from now, when I look back on the 2010 Indianapolis 500 – what will I think of? It will probably four different things in no particular order. The first that will come to mind is Tony Kanaan driving the race of his life, I’ll think of the stifling heat, I’ll recall Dario’s total domination and of course, the accident that sent Mike Conway flying into the catch fence on lap 199. Every race has a few mental images that define each one for me and those will be the ones for 2010.

In yet another shameless plug, I did another interview for Crimsoncast.com on Monday night, talking about the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500. He said it should be up later tonight (Tuesday), so check it out.

Tomorrow, I’ll have some pictures from the weekend posted up here. Thursday, I’ll focus on my tour of the ESPN production facility and Friday, we’ll look ahead to Texas.

George Phillips

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22 Responses to “More Reflections On Indianapolis”

  1. The sooner ABC is thrown to the curb, the better. Some people tell me that ABC is incompetent, but to me it’s almost TOO bad and it’s been going on too long to just be incompetence. They dumped Page, Posey, and Unser, they’ve put in producers and directors who don’t seem to understand how to broadcast auto racing, and they’ve dumped a few camera angles that I used to just love. Now, we have uneducated NASCAR shill Reid, and Goodyear (who you described so well). I think Cheever would be good next to some personality, but he might be half-asleep because of his booth-mates.

    The worst point was Conway’s crash: Goodyear spent the whole time monotone-ing about how it’s reminiscent of other wrecks and Cheever tried to make a statement about the angle of the crash. There was no concern over the health of the driver or anything like that…just a bunch of rubbish!

    NBC with Costas at the host desk and the VERSUS crew everywhere else for 2011…PLEASE!

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I second that motion!

    • I 3rd that motion (the NBC w/ Costas part).

      Although, I have business issues with Comcrap, one of the worst cable companies (in terms of customer service complaints) getting even more powerful with NBC

      but ABC was total dog $h*t coverage. Side by Side is a joke & ABC averaged 5-6 laps + 5-6 laps of SBS or traditional commercial breaks :shock: Impossible to tell a compelling story with hacked coverage like that :( :(

  2. I don’t know the answers to all of your questions, George, nor have I watched the race on TV yet, but I think I can address one or two things. Tags had a disastrous restart at one point, and I watched him get passed by 3-4 cars at the north end alone. I think I saw in his press release that he lost 10 cars on that restart, but I don’t think they included the reason why. Sarah seemed to be struggling mightily with her car, coasting into turn 3 much of the day (like Mutoh did basically the entire time he was out there, but Hideki seemed to be getting slower every time by). It seemed like her car had taken a little bit of a turn for the worse (or even worse, I should say), when she got swamped by lead lap traffic. I think that somebody kind of forced their way by her in turn 4, she got up in the marbles and got into the wall with her right rear. Game over. No idea about how Danica did her “appearing” act, though. I think maybe they were able to short fill her at their last stop or something, due to her possibly getting good mileage before that (this is entirely speculation on my part).

    I’m very disappointed to hear that the TV coverage was so bad. I thought the race was riveting in person, even for a lot of the time that Dario was pulling away at 0.4 seconds per lap because there was still some good battling going on back in the field. The last 10 laps had me bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet because I didn’t know how it was going to play out. The only other two races where I’ve done that were ’06 (obviously) and ’05 (because of the Danica factor, though Wheldon drove away down the stretch). If the uncertainty of the end of the race didn’t come through on TV, where we appeared to have a good chance of a non-red car winning, well, shame on ABC.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Thanks. That’s interesting to read. We who were at home didn’t know why Tagliani had faded. Many racers got no coverage unless they crashed. Once a talking head said that Sarah Fisher’s car was being pushed into the paddock … and we wondered WHY?! No explanation, no video, NONE OF OUR BUSINESS, as PressDog might write.

  3. agree about announcers. and that opening bit with the suits was not good.

  4. I was angry with Dario’s win and I know exactly why — its boring me to tears to watch the same two teams win every Indy 500 and every oval since mid 2008. If the same two teams played in the Super Bowl, would you still be interested after five years. I have no idea what to do about it, and it’s certainly nothing to do with Dario personally, but the Big Two winning everything is boring.

    • speedy dave Says:

      The super bowl analogy is a good one. It’s hard to maintain interest in the same 4-5 drivers being the only options. The worst part is that Penske and Ganassi haven’t turned their monopoly into a real, vicious rivalry. Some genuine disdain and even hatred might make it more fun to watch. I do appreciate good sportsmanship. But a little blood lust might make it more interesting.

      Hopefully the new chassis will even things out for a couple seasons before the big money teams reassert their dominance.

  5. Travis R Says:

    Speedgeek says it well when he described the race as “riveting in person”. My friends and I thought it was spectacular race while we were there. I watched it after I got home, and fell asleep. Then again, I guess I knew the ending…

    I like Dario. But, I admit that I found his move to NASCAR right after his Indy 500/IRL championship season kind of a kick in the teeth. In a way, his success before NASCAR, lack of success during NASCAR, and success after NASCAR just gives the “NASCAR drivers are way better than any other drivers” folks ammunition for their argument. Like Dixon, he’s a bit too polished to be exciting sometimes. I also must admit that I find Ashley Judd annoying as hell, and I was (not so) secretly hoping Dario wouldn’t win because I didn’t want them to shove a microphone in her face and let her blabber on about whatever it is she blabbers on about.

    Another angle is that there were so many other good stories that were developing throughout the day:

    1. Possibly seeing history made with Helio taking a fourth win, especially since he was on the pole.

    2. The crazy notion that Tony Kanaan could win it from the back (and for a few laps there, I was starting to think it could happen). Regardless of how he finished, that was one hell of a drive.

    3. Will Power coming back from his bad accident last year and having a car that could have won it, if it wasn’t for the pit road mishaps.

    4. Underdogs like Alex Tagliani and Raphael Matos starting well and moving up.

    5. Ed Carpenter running in the top 5 for much of the day in a one-off.

    6. Wheldon finishing 2nd after starting 18, or Alex Lloyd finishing 4th after starting 26th.

    7. The first time we got to see push-to-pass and the aero improvements from last year implemented for the 500.

    With all this drama shaping up behind him, Dario just kind of quietly took the win in dominating fashion. About the only time it seemed like he was facing any drama was when he had a couple of cars in front of him towards the end who were gambling on fuel, and Kanaan on his tail. Nonetheless, I’m happy for Dario and he definitely deserved this win – they had a great car and didn’t make mistakes. It turned out to be a great show.

    Oh, and one more thing – I am happy Dario drank the milk in a nice way and didn’t spray everybody with it…

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I agree with all that you wrote. I liked the potential for ‘dark horses’ to win or place, and Tony Kanaan racing toward P2 from the start (Made 8 places b4 the first-lap yellow flag!), Tagliani, Carpenter, Wheldon, et al (shame about Bruno).
      As you aid, Dario (and his crew) didn’t make mistakes, and he shepherded his fuel loads. Fastest-qualifying, mistake-free team won.
      I also had waited for Dario to shake his milk bottle, as Dixon had. I guess he has more reverence for tradition, following in Jim Clark’s tire tracks — and Chipster and Ashley might not have liked being sprayed.

  6. I was very disappointed with the ending of the race. First of all, it was a real shame that Tony had to splash-and-go while running second with five to go. Oh, for a timely yellow at some point. He may not have had quite enough for Dario, but last to second would have been the story of the year. Then, if Reinbold would have had his head in the game and warned Conway of the fuel problems/slowing cars ahead, we likely would have had an entirely different result. No “Big Two” car winning. It would most likely have been Wheldon and Marco one and two, Franchitti having to drop back or run out of fuel; and no sixth place for Danica, as she was also on fumes. Conway might have had a top five finish, and Tony would have likely picked up a few spots as well. And another thing, if it were based on their on-track performance, Lloyd and Patrick should not have been up where they were anyway …which segues into another gripe:

    I have all along been an ardent Danica supporter (at least until she decided to go on this NASCAR fools errand), but I am growing extremely annoyed with her and her team, race after race, relying on pit strategy, conservative driving, and attrition (read: lucky breaks) to give her good finishes. She is a decent driver and takes care of her equipment; but she apparently either doesn’t have the skills to really “race” at the IndyCar level, or is simply afraid to take the chances required to consistently run with the top drivers and compete for wins. If the setup of the car is not perfect for her, then she’s lost. Good drivers make the most out of whatever car they’re given; she does not seem to be able to do that. Time is running out for her. I am now on the Simona bandwagon. She looks like she can race.

  7. Gene V. Says:

    It is good to hear that I am not the only one that can’t stand ABC’s broadcast. I couldn’t agree more about the announcers–I’ve never thought Marty Reid seemed to care a whit about the race, nor open wheel racing period; and Goodyear has zero energy; Cheever is at least an upgrade over the previous NASCAR talking head they had. I still think Page-Posey-Unser were the best (got a kick out of Unser ticking off Posey with his “now Sam…”!!). I could count on Unser actually explaining driving maneuvers which for a novice like me, was helpful.

    I like the Versus crew–they actually are excited and having fun. It is very disappointing that ABC seems to have lost all passion for the race and the sport. It doesn’t help us grow the sport at all….

    • Brian McKay Says:

      You’re right; ABC/ESPN doesn’t care about ‘our’ sport. It just wants to cherry-pick the biggest event of the season for ratings. And we want the big event to be distributed on broadcast TV for any interested American to see on Memorial weekend…

  8. jhall14 Says:

    1st of all it was Hot,Hot,Hot, but dry. Congrats to Dario, he clearly was the fastest car, however the “what if” will never be answered.Could Wheldon have run Dario out of fuel? Some very good action down the backstretch, a couple blocks were caught by the officials, but nothing done for jumping the restarts..ie Alex Lloyd on 2 occasions, the last restart he passed 4 cars before the green flew. Overall, Indy is always great, just some years are greater than others. My 51st straight is now down and another year wait for # 52.

  9. I was bitter at first but that is because I was rooting for Marco. As impressive as TK’s race was, after passing the back 10 drivers he made the majority of his passes in the pit lane.

    Marco on the other hand had one heck of a stint where he put on a set of tires he liked in practice and passed RHR, Briscoe, Wilson and Helio on the track in a single green flag run. That was an impressive.

    Once I got home and made up my mind that Dario probably had enough fuel and Marco probably did not then I was content with the outcome.

    • TK “made the majority of his passes in the pit lane.” At home, watching on TV, I didn’t know that. Who would tell us? ABC? No… That’s a credit to the 7-11 team, and it’s a team sport. I knew that TK passed about eight on the first lap. And I thought that after green-flag running resumed that he passed one or two at a time, as he’s a wily veteran.

      I appreciate what you wrote about Marco’s blitz during one fuel stint. Now I realize that I should’ve been logged-onto IndyCar.com for live timing and scoring and additional cameras. I have a high-speed Internet connection and a very capable computer. But I’d heard complaints about it, and I assumed that if thousands of fans who’re in the blackout zone (and elsewhere that ABC or ESPN/Star Sports isn’t available) were logged in, it’d be too slow & problematic. So I didn’t even bother. NEXT YEAR I will try to glean info from IndyCar.com, especially during commercial breaks, because ABC doesn’t want to help us.
      And one year I will go to the 500. I wonder if race-goers can use Kangaroo TVs to see ABC’s feed (from right there, on-site) or if blackout is effective at the venue also.

      • Ooh, that’s a good call about the Kangaroo TVs, but unfortunately, they’re not available. I don’t know why that would be, though, since I distinctly remember them being available at CART races as far back as ’03 and ’04. I wonder if they’re just sitting around in a warehouse somewhere, and if they could be brought back out…

    • Kangaroo was available in Saint Petersburg and Alabama. I didn’t rent because I was roaming, roaming, roaming to see racing from various vantages and to make photos.

  10. The American Mutt Says:

    Best car on Sunday: Dario. Best driver on Sunday: tie between Marco and TK. That’s why you’re disappointed George. Once again, the best engineer won the race, not the driver.

  11. The broadcasting by ESPN Latin America with Andrés Agulla and Alex Pombo was brilliant as usual. They love open-wheel racing, they narrate thrillingly or calmly depending on the action, they actually go to the tracks and talk to the drivers, they know about the stuff. Last year we got a partial television schedule, now they are for the full season. How could I ever complain? The only thing is that football sometimes pushes race broadcasts to strange times, like Sunday-to-Monday midnight for Barber.

    George, when Michael Schumacher retired in late 2006, I was left without my driver. After the amazing first races of Lewis Hamilton in McLaren, I decided to root for him. But I couldn’t get over my strong dislike for McLaren, Schumi’s title contenders since 1998. Now my heart is broken between Brazilian Ferrari’s man Felipe Massa and Schumi in his lees than top Mercedes.

  12. Fastest mistake-free drive won. Dario seemed to be able to build up 5+ second leads at will, and he doesn’t make mistakes. I would love to see another team or driver win as much as anyone, but I was happy to see a favorite driver of mine win in such a dramatic fashion.

    The black mark on the day was the Conway wreck. Specifically, the lack of any news on his condition over the PA. I wanted to jump up and down and cheer for Dario, but my concern for Conway’s safety after that wreck put a damper on things. I ended up calling my dad to get the news from the radio broadcast.

    Verdict: A fantastic race live, easily the best I’ve attended. It sounds like television managed to neuter yet another barn burner…

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