Random Thoughts On The 2011 Indianapolis 500
We’re now three days removed from the one-hundredth anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 and the whole day keeps replaying in my mind – the entire month, actually. Now, of course, comes the annual post-race letdown. I took Tuesday off work, just to recuperate physically. This old body doesn’t bounce back as quickly as it used to. Now, if I can only recover mentally…
As I said yesterday, there was so much hype leading up to this race – I was afraid that the race might either be a dud, get rained out or be marred by a tragic accident. Instead; we got a safe race, near-perfect weather and a race for the ages. This one will be talked about for years, and even generations, to come.
The race has been pretty well dissected and documented in every corner, by now. But I wanted to take a look at some of the other aspects that defined the race and the Month of May.
TV coverage: Most of the Month of May TV coverage was handled by Versus. The calendar month actually started on another continent, as the IndyCar Series suffered a one-day rain delay in Brazil. As Versus signed off on Sunday, we were told the race would run at 1:00 on Monday. While most set their DVR accordingly, a few of us saw on Twitter that the race would actually be run at 8:00 Monday morning. Consequently, many came home from work Monday afternoon to watch back-to-back episodes of Sports Soup and fishing. Not good.
But two days later, Versus redeemed themselves with the debut of INDYCAR Open Wheel Weekly. This was (emphasis on “was”) a great show that was funny, informative, had outstanding guests and a great chemistry between the trio hosting the show – Lindy Thackston, Kevin Lee and the unpredictable Robin Miller. We learned this past Monday night that after only four well-done episodes, the show has been put on hiatus due to lack of sponsorship. Their Tuesday at 4:00pm time slot was horrible. I always remembered to set the DVR, but I know several hard-core IndyCar fans that didn’t. If they could get a prime-time slot on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings, that would be ideal. Lindy Thackston actually moved back to Indianapolis from her home in Orlando, in order to do the weekly show – which was originally scheduled to run through the end of the season. This puts a huge damper on what had been a strong Month of May for Versus.
I say that because I thought their efforts in covering qualifying weekend were outstanding. I wasn’t crazy about having part of Pole Day dumped in favor of a Preakness Pre-Race show, but I thought they did an excellent job overall. The addition of Wally Dallenbach in the booth has worked much better than I had originally thought, and I think Kevin Lee has been the consummate professional in the pits with Lindy Thackston. I finally finished watching my DVR coverage of qualifying weekend just right before I returned to Indianapolis for race weekend and I give them an A-grade for their efforts, especially during the rain delays.
I watched the ESPN coverage of the race in its entirety on Monday night when I returned. I had heard a lot of negative comments about too many commercials, missing a re-start and how clueless the guys in the booth were. Although I didn’t think their efforts matched what Versus had done the previous week, I thought they did a pretty decent job. The opening was good. I realize I live under a rock, but I have no idea who “veteran actor William Fichtner” was. I understand that he is on Entourage” but since I’ve never seen that show, his significance was lost on me. Still, I thought he did a good job delivering his lines as he walked at a very fast pace on the track as graphically produced images of iconic cars raced by.
I am still at a loss as to why Brent Musburger is on the telecast. The role of host is a little awkward and I don’t understand why it is necessary. It adds a nice touch to hear Musburger’s voice giving his signature “You are looking live…” but after that, it’s clear the man knows nothing about racing. I question if he even watches any other races throughout the year. His mispronunciations are inexcusable and his infatuation with Danica Patrick is laughable. When she was running as far back as nineteenth, Brent barely glossed over the leaders as he started frothing at the mouth at the mere sight of Danica’s Go Daddy car. When she actually led a few laps, one sensed he needed to excuse himself.
I thought ESPN did a nice job giving us different shots of the Speedway. Their cable-cam is irritating for fans in the seats, but gives unique angles for television. They also had some very impressive aerial shots.
The pit coverage was solid. Dr. Jerry Punch, Jamie Little and Rick DeBruhl do good work together. The only thing that bothered me was once when Jamie Little pointed out that someone was taking four tires. Uh, Jamie…it’s only in NASCAR when that is something of note.
As for the guys in the booth, I still consider Marty Reid to be the weak link. He comes across like he should be hosting Hollywood Squares, instead of the TV voice of the 500. I know many consider Scott Goodyear to be very boring; I just call him reserved – which isn’t always a bad thing. Eddie Cheever brought a little more candor this year, which is why they brought him on board. As for too many commercials – be glad someone is willing to buy airtime and they did give us the side-by-side that NASCAR and FOX are now claiming credit for. Overall, I didn’t hear any major gaffes that offended me as a fan and I’ll give ESPN a B-grade for Sunday’s coverage.
Pre-race traffic: I should have seen this coming. With ticket sales up this year, it was obvious that there would be more congestion on the roads on Sunday morning. It didn’t help that I missed my usual exit and had to find my way to the north end of the track, when I usually go into the 16thStreet tunnel on Race Day. But from the comments I heard from others, I’m not sure that would’ve made a difference. An overnight stabbing on Georgetown Road along with a pedestrian being struck and killed in the same area didn’t help, as Georgetown Road was closed off for hours before the bomb went off.
Speaking of the bomb, they might want to look at opening the track at 5:00 am. That’s what time they used to open it before they moved the start of the race back. They moved it to 6:00 to coincide with the move to Daylight Savings Time in Indiana. Now that they have lopped an hour off of the race morning, it might help relieve some of the congestion to open the gates at 5:00.
The construction on I-465 at the Crawfordsville Road exit surely played a part in everyone’s traffic nightmare. The traffic situation seemed to be a common thread among everyone I talked to on race morning. I am normally inside the track by 7:00 or no later than 7:30. Tthis year, it was almost 9:00. Whoever is in charge of such things, has some homework to do before next May.
PA sound problems: Another snafu had to do with the PA system at the track. While Dave Calabro sounded fine, there were problems with the other microphones. Miss America was so loud in her singing that it sounded like she was going to crack the speakers and had some feedback on her rendition of America The Beautiful. Then they had the opposite problem with Taps and Back Home Again In Indiana, two of my favorite moments. The sound was so low at the beginning of each, you could barely hear it.
On the plus side – Bob Jenkins did a nice job spelling Calabro from time to time on the PA.
Flags on the grid: Being the fuddy-duddy that I am, I usually don’t enjoy change. A vast improvement must be abundantly clear before I’ll accept any change – especially when it is in regards to the sacred pre-race ceremonies of the Indianapolis 500. But there was a new touch on Sunday that I rather enjoyed. There were banners by each car on the grid. As each driver was introduced on the yard of bricks, the banner by their car was raised for all to see on the main straightway. By the time all the drivers were introduced and all the flags were raised, the whole thing formed a giant American flag. Personally, I thought it was a nice touch.
Vintage cars & iconic drivers: I really enjoyed seeing the 1911 cars running down the main straightaway, along with the former winners riding on the back of the pace cars. I also enjoyed seeing these iconic drivers piloting the legendary winning cars from past decades. The only thing I would have changed would have been to do it before the starting field was placed on the grid on the main stretch. They sort of had to snake their way through the pits and those that had seats on the front stretch (like me) never really got a good look at those cars running.
Pre-race flyover: Normally, the pre-race flyover is directly over the front-straightaway where everyone can see it from their seats. This year, the stealth bomber flew over the direct center of the track, making it virtually impossible for those of us sitting behind the pits to see it. Bummer.
Weather: After such oppressive heat last year, the forecast looked like we were in for more of the same this year. Surprisingly, it was quite pleasant. There was a nice breeze from the south and I never got overly hot. For the first time all month, rain was never even a possibility on Sunday.
Crowd behavior: I’ve had the same seats since 2004. In that time, I’ve come across my share of unruly fans in our section. This year however, most everyone seemed to be there to watch the race instead of seeing how much alcohol they could consume before noon. Although there were a few exceptions, the post-race crowd afterwards seemed much more well-behaved also.
Official Program: Last year, I griped that the 2010 program was one of the worst programs that IMS had ever come up with. The cover was terrible, the pages were of a thin, cheap stock and there was very little content. Well, they redeemed themselves this year. The 2011 program was excellent. It had a lot of historical facts, as well as great photos of current and historic cars. But the best thing is that all ninety-five races are given a one-page summary, along with stats and a photo that is rarer than most. Although the program is up to fifteen dollars, it is well worth the money.
All in all: I came away from my two weekends at IMS, very impressed. The place is a well-oiled machine. They do what they do very well. Do they suffer the occasional glitch? Of course they do. Show me a facility that handles the amount of people they do in the Month of May, that doesn’t have a random problem.
From the concessions, to the ticket office, to the gift shops and all of the “yellow shirts” that keep things moving; they can pull off an event like this almost without a hitch. I would also like to thank Tim Sullivan in the IMS Media Center for treating us so well. Whether you are a lowly blogger or the top dog with ESPN, everyone is treated equally and made to feel welcome in the Media Center. For people like Susan and myself in the former category, we were certainly made to feel at home.
And then of course, there was that race. The more I think about it and the more time goes on, I’m thinking that the 2011 Indianapolis 500 may end up being one of my favorite races. It already is my favorite that I have attended in person, but it may become my all-time favorite. Whenever I think about it, which is still about 99.9% of my waking moments – I still feel myself just beaming. I am so fortunate to have witnessed it in person.
Susan and I will have a few more posts this week about the 500, then we’ll turn the page and focus on next weekend’s race at Texas. Hopefully, by then I’ll come out of my post-race letdown and actually be able to look forward. Probably not.