Getting The Facts Straight

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For the entire time I have had this site, I’ve always maintained that I am not a journalist. There’s a reason for that. I’m not. I am a blogger, in probably the truest sense of the word. My definition of a blogger is someone who feels like they have a lot to say about a particular subject; so they go out and start their own website and post regularly about the subject for little or no money (for me, it’s the latter). That’s what I do – nothing more.

Over time, I’ve seen many of my fellow IndyCar bloggers completely disappear; while others have moved forward from regular bloggers like me, to blurring the lines between bloggers and actual journalists with what have become very sophisticated sites that rival traditional mainstream news sources. Our good friends over at More Front Wing have created a very good example of what I’m talking about. They do an excellent job, and if you haven’t checked them out – do so.

I have a great deal of respect for many of today’s motorsports journalists; such as Curt Cavin, Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett. They do an excellent job and probably don’t get enough credit for the job that they do. But this past weekend, I took exception to some of the mainstream reporting done by TV and print journalists; when Jeff Gordon tied Formula One driver Michael Schumacher with five wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by winning Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

Many reported this weekend that Gordon and Schumacher were the all-time leaders in wins at IMS with five wins apiece. That would come as a surprise to the real all-time leader in wins – Johnny Aitken.

Does the name not ring a bell? It should. Altogether, Johnny Aitken won fifteen races at IMS between 1909 and 1916. In that time, he earned one pole position; started in two Indianapolis 500’s and drove relief for two drivers in another. He also has the distinction of leading the first lap of the very first Indianapolis 500.

It will come as a surprise to some that Aitken’s forty-one starts at IMS is also a record. AJ Foyt is second with thirty-six; thirty-five consecutive starts in the Indianapolis 500 and one in the Inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. I can assure you – Johnny Aitken deserves to be named among the greats at IMS. Gordon and Schumacher’s five wins don’t even rank second in all-time IMS wins. That honor goes to Ray Harroun, who had eight wins – including the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

Keep in mind, there were many races held at 16th and Georgetown in 1909 and 1910, before there ever was an Indianapolis 500. There was also a series of fall races at IMS in 1916. I’ve read where some claim that those wins shouldn’t count because those races were shorter in distance or were not considered major races. My question is – where do you draw the line?

The Formula One races held from 2000 to 2007 weren’t even 200 miles. One of Johnny Rutherford’s Indianapolis 500 victories was only 255 miles. All of those races seem to count in the eyes of many.

In the past three months, how many different winners have been crowned at IMS? Does anyone really know? Let’s see, Simon Pagenaud won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but how many ladder series ran that weekend. Quite honestly, I don’t know – but there were several drivers that weekend that became winners at Indianapolis. Then you had the Freedom 100 along with the Indianapolis 500. That was just in May alone.

In June, there was the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational. How many winners were crowned that weekend? Your guess is as good as mine. This past weekend, there were many different classes of sports cars running on Friday. They each had winners crowned, along with the winner of the Nationwide race as well as Gordon’s win on Sunday. That’s all before Moto GP shows up in less than a couple of weeks.

I can’t even begin to count how many winners that is – and that’s for this year only. Are you going to tell Ty Dillon that his IMS win last Saturday doesn’t count, simply because it was too short or wasn’t a top series? Probably not. Try telling Simon Pagenaud his victory in early May didn’t matter.

This rant does not originate from a disgruntled IndyCar fan that hates to see the hallowed ground of IMS desecrated by taxi-cabs from NASCAR. This is all about being fair to the history of IMS and simply getting the facts right. It makes for good hype to say that Jeff Gordon and Michael Schumacher are the all-time leaders – mainly because everyone knows who they are and their wins all came in our generation. It’s not sexy to say that Gordon is now only ten wins behind someone who won his races a century ago and most have not heard of. It may not be sexy, but it’s true – and factual.

Nor am I upset that AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears are being overlooked by winning only four Indianapolis 500’s each. Each event should stand alone. That’s why I was also perturbed by the hype-seeking statement by those that claimed that Kevin Harvick set a track-record on Saturday when he qualified at 188.470 mph. I’m sorry, but unless he topped 238 mph – Harvick did not set a track-record; he set an event record.

Is any of this stuff important? Most will say no, or that it’s just another angry IndyCar fan claiming that the pro-NASCAR media is trying to re-write history. To me, neither is correct.

I just want facts presented correctly, whether it be from a lowly IndyCar blogger in Nashville, Tennessee or a major worldwide news outlet – they need to get it right. Unless you are talking about the Brickyard 400 specifically, this was not a record-setting weekend. Kevin Harvick set a NASCAR record at Indianapolis, as did Jeff Gordon. But neither set or tied IMS records.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “Getting The Facts Straight”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Excellent points all George… It is indeed as you say media hype, and only convenient for “in the moment” reportage for what really only amount to casual fans of the IMS. Also, reporting records set at a geographical location, across racing disiplines is obviously not even close to an apples to apples comparison anyway, what a crock…

  2. Very interesting stuff.

    I guess I have never taken Schumacher’s “record” seriously since its not on the oval. Kind of irritated me that Gordon’s accomplishment was reported as tying Schumacher.

    I have always been an Indycar fan first. I became a Nascar fan only after attending the first Brickyard 400. But even I got sick of some of what you mentioned. And you did not even mention the lovefest of the announcers over the “greatest race”, to them the Daytona 500. I’ll rank that as a distant #2 but no race is greater than the Indianapolis 500. And Indy is that 100+ year old oval.

    Unfortunately you see this in other sports. You hear about the ten greatest teams or the ten greatest ballplayers of all time. And eight or nine have played in the last 25 years. Don’t know if its ignorance as much as the press playing to their market. But disingenuous it is.

  3. Mike Silver Says:

    Remember, George, if it happened before ESPN went on the air, it didn’t happen

  4. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Unfortunately, when these outlets get called to the mat for sloppy declarations and faux expertise, they just shrug and everybody moves on down the 6-hour news cycle.

    I would suggest that, if accuracy is of paramount importance, a proper media guide would have clearly delineated records for all of the multiple events, in such case if the venue hosts multiple top level events each year (IMS). Then you could point to the schlocks and say, “perhaps you’d find the actual history found in this media guide to be helpful in properly reporting.” OK, snide, perhaps but also likely to send the message that accuracy is also of utmost importance when you come this venue. That being said, there’s little to stop anyone from saying most anything at any point regardless of accuracy. Tabloid journalism at it’s purest.

    If you don’t know, or prioritize your own history, don’t be surprised if it becomes lost over time.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Well said, George.

    “Where do you draw the line?” is an excellent question, and it certainly seems that one ought to be drawn. Nevertheless, even with a line drawn, the history on the other side should not be ignored (discounted perhaps) as it seems to have been on Sunday.
    Given that the list of all-time winners that was parroted about combined 3 very different series’ (on two very different track configurations), I would agree that a truly totally inclusive list should have been presented.
    You can bet had Juan Pablo Montoya won on Sunday, there would have been talk of him being a two-time winner at IMS, just as you can bet a there will be some discussion of a second IMS if/when one of the Nationwide winners tops the 400 in the future.

    For those that downplay Aitken and Harroun’s accomplishments in early non-500 races, it should be noted that they raced in cars considered top-level at the time and did so against many of the day’s best-regarded racers (Strang, Oldfield, Chevrolet, DePalma, etc.). If the line drawn is between the top national or international disciplines and “minor-league” racing, I do not see why Aitken and Harroun’s records should be ignored or even discounted.

    I do not, however, take issue with Kevin Harvick’s “track record”. While you are semantically correct, 188.4 MPH is not the fastest lap recorded at IMS, the use of “track record” to describe the fastest lap a certain series or formula has turned at a track is pretty much ubiquitous. As NASCAR has set “track records” at facilities where Indycars have run faster, Indycars have set “track records” at tracks where Formula 1 cars have run faster, and so on and so forth with sprint cars, sports cars, supermodifieds, pro stock drag racers, sidecar motorcycles, etc.

  6. As for the multi winners, if Ty Dillon were to pull off 6 Nationwide wins what would that mean? Nothing more than winning 6 Nationwide races at Indianapolis.

  7. Thanks for the shoutout, George! And I agree, each event should stand on its own. Just out of curiosity, I wonder what Indianapolis 500 has led the most races at the 400-mile mark.

  8. You make an excellent observation. The question is why do we keep records in the first place? For the most part all records, particularly over time, are each a matter of “apples and oranges”. It’s better to view each race as a unique free standing event.

  9. I listened to 1070’s post race on the drive home from the 400 and even Mr. Lee and Mr. Davidson seem to minimize Mr. Aitken’s win total and for good reason. Schumi and Gordon’s wins came in events that were held just one time a year, not a couple times a day. Technicalities be damned.

  10. Kevin_K Says:

    I agree with billytheskink on this one, George. Track records in my mind are specific to the series that is racing. So the claim that Harvick’s speed (which is pretty impressive for a stock car, btw) is a track record is totally legitimate. That is the NASCAR record for IMS. Luyendyk’s lap in 1996 is the Indycar record for IMS. Rubens Barrichello set the Formula 1 track record in 2004. Dani Pedrosa set the MotoGP record in 2012. And Scott Dixon set the sports car lap record in 2014.

  11. George, as a former professional journalist (sports writer and sports editor) I have to say that this post puts you perilously close to crossing the line to being a professional journalist, even if an unpaid one.

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