Random Thoughts On The Indianapolis 500

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Now that I’ve had a few days to digest what we witnessed on Sunday, and we’ve returned home and watched the DVR replay – I felt compelled to sit down and jot down a few thoughts about the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Shortly after the race, I told a few people that at first glance, this may be my favorite Indianapolis 500 ever.

I’ve been going to the race, with a couple of interruptions, since 1965. Many races that I attended in person or watched on television stand out as some of my favorites. The 1968 race was one that I attended and has always stood out in my mind as a favorite – even though my driver and car (the No.60 Lotus turbine driven by Joe Leonard) didn’t win. I was not present for the 1991 race, but it has always been one to go back and watch during the offseason. Although I wasn’t a Villeneuve fan, I’ve always considered myself lucky to be present for the 1995 race. Ditto for 2006, when Sam Hornish passed Marco Andretti for the win, just a few hundred feet from the yard of bricks. Then of course, another favorite was the 2011 race when Dan Wheldon won in stunning fashion in a one-off effort for Bryan Herta Autosport.

But even after a few days to dwell on this past weekend, I still say that the 2013 Indianapolis 500 is now my all-time favorite. First and foremost, I was ecstatic with the winner. Tony Kanaan may be the most popular winner I’ve seen there in my lifetime. AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti have built popular legacies over the last several decades, but I was there in years when both of them won and I never saw a reaction to their wins like what we saw on Sunday. It could be that each of them split the fan base, while practically everyone was happy to see TK win on Sunday.

But aside from the eventual winner – everything about Sunday was perfect. From the moment we woke up, things went well. Everyone in my crew was ready and we left the hotel on time. I had fears of my route since we were staying in a new location for us and I didn’t know about unexpected barricades that might meet us. There were none and we sailed right in. It was almost spooky as we were driving at 50 mph within sight of the track, when we got to the gate off of Turn Four on Georgetown Road, there were only six cars in front of us. We got in easily, got probably the best parking place we’ve had all month and we were in the Media Center before 7:00.

The weather was perfect! Gone was the scorching heat from the past few years. Instead, it was mid-fifties before the race, but around sixty at the start. It was obvious the rain was staying away. It could not have been any better for the cars or the fans.

The race itself was very exciting, but extremely safe. There were very few drivers that suffered any contact and those that did, walked away with no injuries. There were many records that fell; including the most number of lead changes, sixty-eight doubling last year’s record of thirty-four; and the average speed of the race of 187.433 mph, which broke the old record of 185.981 mph set by Arie Luyendyk in 1990.

The one-hundred, thirty straight laps of green prevented fans (and drivers) from catching their breath. The non-stop passing for the lead was exciting and excruciating at the same time. Since no one could break away from the pack, you really didn’t want your driver leading going into the last lap. It never came to that as Dario Franchitti hit the wall on Lap 198, essentially ending the race at that point (more on that later).

Then, there was the winner. I don’t know if I can express enough how happy almost everyone in attendance was with this victory. Tony Kanaan has been a fan favorite since he showed up at Indianapolis driving for Mo Nunn in 2002. I remember watching Lloyd Ruby, Michael Andretti and Scott Goodyear come agonizingly close to winning, but always coming up short for whatever reason. Everyone had feared that Tony Kanaan would suffer the same fate. Now, he is forever an Indianapolis 500 champion.

TV Coverage: I’ve now seen the DVR coverage of the race. Some of what I had read on Twitter and here prepared me to be appalled at what ABC/ESPN had put out there. Maybe I believed what I read, because by the time I watched it, I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all – I thought their opening, with Wilford Brimley narrating, was clever. Every year, ESPN tries to top what they have done for an opening. You can only take it so many ways, but I liked their “…so America invented the Indy 500” theme. Their feature on Helio and TK turned out to be timely. They also scored big with their feature on Dario’s Go-Kart. Their other features were well-done as well. Overall, I give their opening and pre-race show an A.

As far as race coverage goes, there were no surprises either way. Marty Reid was Marty Reid. Take that for what it’s worth. I am not a fan of his, so you know I’m not being complimentary when I say that. He misidentified several cars on the track. If I could identify his on-screen mistakes immediately, he should be able to as well – since he’s the one being paid. I don’t care that this is his first race of the season, he should be better prepared and know which cars are which. Did the car of Helio Castroneves look confusingly similar to that of Ryan Hunter-Reay? No.

Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever seemed to have some chemistry that had been lacking in previous telecasts. I would grade them both with a B+, while Marty Reid would get a C.

I read some criticism where ESPN missed certain things, but there is no way they are going to capture everything going on. The track is too big and there are so many moving pieces. I’ll give anyone a pass on on overlooking certain events throughout the race.

If there was a disappointment – it may have been with new host Lindsay Czarniak. I’m sure she was nervous, but you could tell it. I also find this new style of showing broadcasters from top-to-bottom a little awkward. From the waist up is just a little more viewer friendly. When shown as Lindsay was, it seemed to make her more nervous and consequently – it made the viewer feel just a little awkward. Unless the camera operator was instructed to make sure we could all see her spiked five-inch heels, there was no reason for the full-body shot. Knowing that Sunday was her first taste of the “500”, I found it a little disingenuous when she kept telling viewers that the place gets in your blood. She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t great either – but she was still a big improvement over Brent Musburger. I’ll give her a C+.

One of the biggest pleasant surprises was the post-race show. Quite honestly, it was crucified on Twitter and I don’t understand why. Viewers said it was almost non-existent. I’m not sure what people were expecting. They showed Tony Kanaan’s victory celebration. They interviewed his lovely wife, Lauren. They also talked with almost every driver that finished in the Top Six, along with Dario Franchitti – who crashed near the end. They showed Tony Kanaan’s trip around the track on the back of the pace car. They then closed out the show with a dramatic sounding voice-over that talked about how for eleven years, Tony Kanaan had left IMS winless – while video highlights of the race were shown. Quite honestly, I don’t know what else they could have done.

For what it’s worth – I give the overall telecast presentation a B+.

On-site pre-race ceremonies: Last year’s pre-race ceremonies were disjointed and did not come off well. This year’s were much improved.

I’m a traditionalist, but I’ve never been a fan of Florence Henderson’s rendition of God Bless America. She was not present this year due to illness. I wish her a full and speedy recovery, but it won’t break my heart if she never performs at the Indianapolis 500 again.

On the other hand, it was great to see and hear Jim Nabors return after a one-year absence to sing Back Home Again in Indiana. He looked good and sounded even better. At his age (he turns eighty-three next month), you wonder how long he can continue – but he gave a stirring version on Sunday. Likewise for Sandi Patty singing the National Anthem. She belted it out like I knew she would – and it was very well done.

The playing of Taps was moving as always, but the invocation needs to be much shorter. I always enjoyed Jim Philippi’s traditional word-for-word preamble regarding the sanctity of Memorial Day. After he passed away in 2004, they played a recording of it over the PA that year. Playing a recording year after year may not be appropriate, but they should choose someone to utter those same famous (and brief) words. Whoever that was that droned on and on about Memorial Day on Sunday, was ineffective and boring.

Rant Number One: The morning after the race, my brother and I were having breakfast downstairs at our hotel. Of course, we were discussing the race. Someone at a table next to us could tell we were probably more than just casual fans, so he interrupted us to propose a theory. He said that he was convinced that Dario Franchitti had crashed on purpose to insure that his buddy would win the “500”.

I’m afraid I was rude in my immediate rejection of his theory, but I said “No way!”. My brother and I both gave him strong, solid reasons why that shouldn’t even be considered. We offered up that Dario was running ninth at the time. There were points and prize money at stake. Plus, you don’t tear up a $385,000 car just to help someone else win. More importantly, even if you graze the wall, you have no idea what the car will do to you or to other drivers around you. Franchitti would not put anyone in harms way like that.

I could tell that we would have been just as effective trying to sell him aluminum siding. He wasn’t buying a word we said. He said “I don’t know…I still think he was trying to secure a win for his buddy”. How can people be so idiotic to think that way? I guess there’s just a segment of our population that thinks there is always some conspiracy out there and that nothing happens randomly. Not only is that frustrating, it’s downright scary.

Rant Number Two: Most that know me will not be surprised by my stance on this. I addressed this on Sunday after the race, but the Green-White-Checker question keeps coming up. Why is this even a question? We racing fans scoffed when NASCAR introduced the Green-White-White checker finish to all of their races after the mid-point of the 2004 season. It was deemed as a contrived way to finish a race. At the time, even their fans claimed it manipulated the finish by forcing cars, drivers and teams to possibly run many laps past the scheduled distance.

Fortunately, IndyCar has been very reluctant to even consider the GWC rule for finishing a race. It was brought up briefly a couple of years ago, and fans overwhelmingly rejected it. For the most part, fans have come out against those who claim that a GWC rule would have made Sunday’s race more exciting.

The teams that devise their strategy in every race have their calculations down to the last mile in a race. Throw in a variable like adding several laps to the scheduled distance for an overtime situation and all those calculations are meaningless. Yes, a caution can change those calculations – but that’s to be expected.

Tony Kanaan’s car was the first to complete five-hundred miles on Sunday. Yellow-flag, Green-flag – it doesn’t matter. All three of Dario Franchitti’s Indianapolis 500 wins came under caution. Many great drivers won the race under caution. The only time a race should not run the scheduled distance is due to rain. Laugh at me for resisting change, but this standard has worked at Indianapolis for over a hundred years. Suddenly a new breed of fans want to be entertained with non-stop excitement or they feel they’ve been short-changed. There was an “X-Games” program scheduled immediately after Sunday’s telecast. Perhaps they should follow that form of contrived pre-packed sports instead of IndyCar racing. A true race fan discounts the GWC as nothing more than a ratings-grabbing gimmick. And by the way…for the argument that IndyCar already has gimmicks like “Push-to-Pass”; I agree with that argument. It’s a gimmick that I wish IndyCar didn’t have. But GWC would be one too many.

Pippa’s woes: Most readers of this site know that I am an unapologetic fan of Pippa Mann. Not only do I think she is the best ambassador that this sport has, I also think she is an excellent driver – despite the accusations of Sebastian Saavedra and Graham Rahal. Pippa came down on Saavedra and chopped him on Lap Thirty-Four, sending him spinning and ultimately into the wall, ending his day. She admitted that she never saw him stick the nose of his car underneath hers headed into the turn. She acknowledged that the incident was entirely her fault. She apologized to Saavedra and to Dragon Racing for her mistake.

On the ensuing re-start, there was confusion as to what drivers were to line up where. Somehow Graham Rahal ended up in front of her, though she understood from Race Control that he was to be behind her. When trying to re-pass Rahal – something she should not have had to do – she got caught in his dirty air and washed up into the Turn Four wall effectively ending her day.

Pippa Mann wrote another addition to her "diary" on Racer.com, where she explained her day in a very matter-of-fact manner. Apparently, the young Rahal took exception to what she said and sent out a barrage of sarcastic and nasty tweets and generally showed his true colors. I’m not sure why racers want to take their feuds public on Twitter. As usual, Pippa took the high road.

First off, I’m not a Pippa apologist. She made a wrong move on Saavedra. When I heard him blame her over the PA, I figured he was whining. It turns out he was justified. But she did well for herself in only her second "500". With minimal seat time all month and having never driven a DW12 until she qualified, I thought she did just fine. I watched her every time she went by. After she fell back on the start, she started picking cars off. From what I could see in Turn One, she made good clean passes. Although she ran as high as second on pit stop shuffles, she legitimately got up as high as twenty-third from her starting spot of thirtieth. Hopefully Dale Coyne will put her back in the car at some point this season, if the Ana Beatriz deal is done after Indianapolis, as was reported earlier

Kanaan Monday Press Conference: When Susan and I awoke Monday morning in Indianapolis, neither of us wanted the weekend to end. As we packed up and got ready to check out, I remembered that I had seen a Media Advisory late after the race that Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan (I like the sound of that), would be available for a press conference on Monday morning in the IMS Media Center at 11:00. Neither of us needed to have our arms twisted to return to the track one more time. So since our hotel this year was only 3.3 miles from the track – off we went.

Surprisingly, there were very few media types in attendance. Altogether, there were about fifteen people in the room. Aside from our friend Meesh Beer from Toronto; the only people I recognized were Curt Cavin, from The Indianapolis Star, Nate Ryan with USA Today and Jenna Fryer from Associated Press. I guess the two of us were the only true representatives from the blogosphere and we both knew enough to keep our mouths shut and just listen.

TK1
TK2

Tony Kanaan was very relaxed and candid. He shared a story of his friend Rubens Barrichello leaving him a voice mail from an airport near Monaco. He was trying to keep his voice quiet in the airport but was blubbering like a baby in Portuguese. Kanaan said he couldn’t understand a word because of the sobbing. After the official press conference was over, he came over and played the VM for a few of us still gathered around. We couldn’t understand a word, but you could hear the emotion coming through. Then TK playfully called him a politically incorrect term of endearment as everyone laughed. It was a nice way to postpone our PIDD (Post-Indy Depression Disorder).

Extending the Race Weekend: After the press conference, we went back to the gift shop inside the museum for one last time. Then, I just stood in the parking lot staring at the track for one last time – knowing it may be next May before I return. But we still couldn’t make ourselves leave town just yet. We made another trip to Long’s Bakery and then another trip to the Mug-N-Bun for lunch before we hopped on I-465 for the depressing ride home. I should peel my parking sticker off of my windshield, but right now – I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’ll keep it on there for a little while just to remind myself of what a wonderful Month of May it was.

All in all: And it was a wonderful month. It wasn’t perfect, but it was great. Perfect would have been to have several more cars entered so we could have real bumping on Bump Day. Perfect would have also meant that there would have been no rain on Pole Day. But we can’t have everything. This Month of May will go down as my favorite…until another one tops it. I should be so lucky.

Although Susan will have a post up here either Thursday or Friday, I am going to take a short, but well-deserved break from here for the rest of the month. I will forego the usual “Belle Isle Preview” on Friday, but will return here on Monday June 3 with a wrap-up of the double-header coming up from Belle Isle in Detroit. Thanks to all that followed along here this month. It was fun.

George Phillips

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14 Responses to “Random Thoughts On The Indianapolis 500”

  1. Glad to hear I’m not the only one with an IMS parking sticker in my car window this morning.

    I chalk up the G-W-C debate, and the “Dario conspiracy” to the fact that some people will never be happy. I actually heard someone behind me complain that there was TOO MUCH passing during the race. It’s best to remember that these folks are in the minority. One look at the massive crowd still watching from the stands during the victory lap will remind you of that.

    Now time for my rant: The “Foreign Driver” complaint. Can anyone still cling to that belief after Sunday? I mean TK is far and away the most popular driver with the fan base. Do we care that he was born in Brazil? NO! And the reason why is because he reaches out and connects with the fans. He’s emotional and honest in his interviews. He appreciates and respects the traditions of the race. He’s no robot behind Dark sunglasses running from trailer to trailer to avoid the fans. In my book TK is more “American” than a lot of U.S. born drivers.

    • THANK YOU!!! That whole “needs more American drivers” thing cheeses me off to no end. Does anyone complain that Hollywood needs more American actors when the Brits and Aussies end up taking nearly half the Oscars?

      It’s a *contrived* complaint. It’s one generated by those who look at NASCAR and think that Indycar’s path to success is to become NASCAR without fenders. No one complained about McIlroy winning the **US Open**, blasted near every hockey fan will call Gretzky the greatest player ever, feel free to tell me when Nash or Ginobli are cited as being reasons the NBA doesn’t get more fans… it’s annoying. And it’s false. I’ve yet to actually hear from a real-world sports fans that the reason they don’t watch Indycar is “too many foreigners”.

      /rant over

  2. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    I’m happy to report that I had changed strategy this year and did NOT pick TK to win for the first time in 8 years. I picked Helio to steal his 4th win, which, therefore, insured TK would win. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure it out.

    1. It was a great Indy 500 weekend.
    2. It was also great to meet more social media types I was hoping to.. (you and Susan of course were high on the list.
    3. Agree that I’ve not heard a more popular winner. Only Al Jr’s. win in ’92 do I recall so many people going crazy after the checkers, and that was still fewer than the 99.9% of people standing and waving for TK.
    4. People who claim (insert rotational complaint here – pick one of foreign driver/GWC/conspiracy/ugly cars) is the problem with Indycar don’t follow Indycar. Fine then, go away, we don’t want you around. Simple as that.
    5. In all my years of following Indycar, nothing, and I mean without any discussion, NOTHING is a replacement for being at the track on race day, wherever it may be. NO place is electric like Indy, but every track, every race I’ve seen live has been many times more enjoyable than on TV. If you want the true feeling of an Indycar race, GO!

    Thanks again George and Susan for your thoughts and devotion to our beloved sport. Until we meet again..

  3. Steve K Says:

    Ratings…they were not good. The track used to be covered in bricks didn’t it?

  4. I can’t think of a better weekend at IMS than this past one. My seats were awesome and I plan on placing my order soon.

  5. By now we’ve all heard the tv ratings were down, but I’ve also read articles that said attendance was down. You were there three weekends, George–what’s your take on attendance this year?

    Dario conspiracy? Gimme a break.

    Originally I wasn’t as offended by the suggestion of a G-W-C finish. I like races that finish under green. I’m no more bothered by going another 5 or 7 miles that I would be an NFL game going past the traditional “4 quarters” into overtime. I thought maybe the best idea would be to allow all lead-lap cars to pit for gas only, then finish the race like Nascar. Then I read an opinion where someone mentioned the danger for these cars (and drivers) in a one-lap shootout. Unlike N-car, where wrecks seem almost harmless, a one-lap shoot-out at Indy, with the way these cars slice and dice, and considering the prize, could lead to wrecks that aren’t quite so harmless. It sorta changed my mind a little.

    Seems weird that the Detroit race is following so quickly. Should be an interesting weekend there.

    Good job from the track George.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I certainly agree on Green-White-Checkered. No one likes to see races end under yellow, but the solutions (GWC, not counting yellow laps, red flag) are all cumbersome at best and manipulative at worst. I would not say that “contrived” is a fair description of the X-Games, though.

    Graham Rahal is pretty much a poster child for not using twitter and his comments were out of line, but I’m not sure Pippa airing her grievances in her Racer column before discussing the matter with him (as Rahal claims) was a very good idea.

    As far as Dario crashing on purpose… I’m not sure that’s a conspiracy theory that dignifies a response. Assuming Dario was even willing to risk his car, his health, and his career (after what happened to Piquet Jr.) to manipulate the race, how would he have even known TK took the lead? It happened the same lap as his wreck. Chip told him? His spotter told him? It does not add up, and it never will.

    • Totally agree with having no G-W-C. I’m not even sure that I dislike GWC for NASCAR, but that’s a much different type of racing. There are so many under-appreciated problems with GWC, especially how it throws off fuel strategy in a totally unpredictable way, and how arbitrary the decision to go yellow or not go yellow on the last lap seems to be.

      My comments about Dario were meant to be slightly tongue in cheek. I don’t actually believe he crashed on purpose or have any evidence to support that. What sparked that discussion, however, was his strange post-race comment that he realized he was in the marbles so he wasn’t even going to try and steer away from the wall. The replay shows him glide into the wall with little or no effort to avoid it, and he hit about as softly as you can hit the wall. Couple that with the fact that Dario would much rather TK win than any of the Andretti cars, and you have a little smoke, but no actual substance. Just wanted to make clear that while I don’t believe it was on purpose, I also came to those same suspicions on my own viewing.

    • I confess, I Tweeted out that conspiracy theory **as a joke** soon after it happened. But I sure as hell never believed it; I totally made clear it was a joke. It was a play on the friendship Dario and TK have, nothing more, and as a joke, it’s a fine tribute to the fact that they’re both thorough professionals yet good friends. But it’s irritating to observe some people actually believing it. As noted below, it’s not surprising, but dammit, it’s still stupid.

      As a joke, fine. As a claim about reality: Hogwash.

  7. I’m glad that so many people loved the race, and I’m very glad that TK won the Indy 500. There were other great performances, including Munoz’s 2nd place finish and surprising poise throughout. But if people really feel like this is one of the “best 500’s ever”, then they’re going to think that every year because it HAS to be this way with the DW12 on large ovals.

    Do people think that the incessant number of lead changes is due to “driver skill”? Given that we saw pretty much the same thing last year, the reality is that there is basically no chance for a car to dominate or even hold the lead for any appreciable period of time. If Dario doesn’t conveniently glide into the wall to deny an Andretti Autosport car a shot at the lead, I guarantee you TK gets passed on those final laps. The lead car has the aerodynamics of a snow plow, and the cars are matched to almost IROC levels of similarity in horsepower.

    People assume that passing means great racing, but the primary reason for lots of passing is heavy clustering of cars and aerodynamic advantages to the cars that aren’t in the lead. After Las Vegas, I suppose I wasn’t hoping for MORE cautions because crashes on a track with speeds like this are extremely dangerous. But with virtually no contact between cars all race and constant passing that didn’t feel like “real” passing, most of the race fell flat with me. The close finish was preordained by the nature of the cars, but that didn’t make it a great race, in my opinion. Still happy for Tony.

  8. Carburetor Says:

    I thought this was a great race and very entertaining. I enjoyed all of the lead changes but would profess some concern about the inability or indistinguishability of the lead car to extricate themselves from the pack. To me, that is a blatant reminder of the downside of spec racing, and thus prompts me to want more than ever, the differing aero kits in hopes that some ingenuity can provide some separation. I was ecstatic though, that Tony won–and quite surprised his team provided him a flawless support performance.

    I gave the TV broadcast a ‘B’ although I thought the new lead-in announcer that replaced Musberger was really flat and not believable. She could learn a lot from Lindy Thaxton.

    There were some really good performances that didn’t get too much notice–I mean where did Justin Wilson come from to finish 5th?!? In a Honda no less…. And frankly, a good ride by Charlie Kimball after having electrical problems early in the race to come back and finish in the top 10. And I had expressed concern about Munoz being on the front row, but honestly think he would have won the race if all had stayed green to the end.

    Can hardly wait until next year! Honda has some work to do….

  9. Hi George. Couple of things:

    1. I’ve made a hobby out of studying conspiracy theories, and I can tell you that 99.9% of the time, it’s useless to worry about it. As the saying goes, you can’t reason a man out of something he never reasoned his way into in the first place.

    There are *always* conspiracy theories about the dumbest things. That guy you talked too probably just made what few connections he could about what little he knew about Indycar and threw it out there to sound like he knew what he was talking about. And that’s a common thread among all conspiracy “peddlers”: They want to look like they’re more informed than the average person. That holds true for everything from the outlandish and stupid (JFK, 9/11 trutherism, Apollo hoaxing, “Constitutional Tax Freedom aka “Freedmen on the Land”) through the “Say What” ones (“Chemtrails”, “TimeCube”, “Alien Lizards Rule Earth”) to the just funny (sporting and entertainment awards). They’re actually *ignorant* of the topic they’re talking about, but suggesting an underlying conspiracy is one way to *fake* looking knowledgeable. That holds true for pretty much every “CT” I’ve looked at.

    Seriously, the best response is a snort and then studiously ignoring the conspiracy peddler.

    • 2. Different topic: The coolest thing for me was all the teams on Pit Row line up while TK drove by. They were all rendering honors to him on his way to Victory Lane. I got choked up just watching it. When has anyone ever seen that happen? Only person that answered that question mentioned one of Earnhardt’s wins (Daytona?).

      Anyway, that was a beautiful, spontaneous, and honest tribute. It was all that is good about Indycar.

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