The Thrill Of February
Despite all of the craziness and negativity currently swirling around the Izod IndyCar Series – aside from the Month of May, February was always one of my favorite times of the racing year. It was sort of like spring training in baseball or the start of training camp in the NFL. Everyone is theoretically starting out on an even plane with their competitors and optimism abounds. To me what made it even more special was when we got our first glimpse at an updated chassis along with several new liveries that would be carried throughout each upcoming season.
I used to subscribe to Indy Car Racing magazine (ICR) back in the nineties. It was not the magazine that was the official publication of the IRL that just ceased production recently. Instead, this was an independent publication that was dedicated to CART and Indy Lights. The publisher was Ned Wicker and it always seemed more folksy than most publications. The layout was simple, yet professional; but the writing seemed a little more homespun than others. At times, I got the idea that Ned Wicker published ICR out of the garage of his home in Milwaukee…and I mean that as a compliment. This was in the days just before Racer magazine came on the scene and WAY before I had ever jumped onto the internet.
In the early nineties, my only connection to the open-wheel world from the south was ICR and AutoWeek. Plus, I would subscribe to The Indianapolis Star during the Month of May. The issues of ICR that showed up in January and February were the most anticipated issues of the year. That January issue would be my first glimpse at the new Lola that most teams would be running. Back then, when teams went testing their new cars, they often ran them in the plain blackened look they bore as they arrived from the factory. Many times, the cars didn’t sport their new liveries until shortly before their first race.
Then by the issue that arrived in February, the cars were painted up – showing off either an updated paint scheme or completely new colors of a new sponsor. Some were slick improvements while others would be debatable. I always liked the Valvoline paint scheme when Al Unser, Jr. drove for Galles. Once he moved on to Penske and Valvoline moved over to Derrick Walker, the livery lost some of its class. By the time Valvoline left open-wheel racing after the 1999 season, the Valvoline cars were hideous as they used the splattered-paint effect which was not a good look at all.
Sometimes it was interesting to see how a familiar scheme would be applied to a new chassis, such as the Target/Scotch livery on the 1994 Reynard. The Reynard had different looking sidepods that had a diagonal slant towards the rear. It was curious to see how that black sidepod would suddenly become red towards the rear of the car.
Other times, there would be a new sponsor whose scheme just looked terrible – such as the Duracell cars of Raul Boesel in 1993 and 1994. Although I know they were trying to convey their traditional “copper-top” color – it came across more as something you might find inside of a used diaper.
A lot of teams would make small changes to their schemes from year to year. Newman-Haas almost always had subtle changes to their cars, even though their predominant colors were simply black & white. Others like Penske made almost no changes to their schemes for years. There has always been something comforting over the past twenty years about seeing the traditional Marlboro chevron running on the track. They are rumored to be making changes this year, but I hope it doesn’t happen. That paint scheme is one of the few links to a more glorious time that we have left.
Once the split took place, ICR followed both the Indy Racing League and CART. They did their best to stay neutral in their coverage and op-ed pieces written by Ned. In the late nineties, they changed their name to Indy Car & Championship Racing magazine to demonstrate their neutral stance. It was the beginning of the end of the magazine and I believe it disappeared for good around 2000. The split and the explosion of racing coverage on the internet made the quaint little magazine obsolete. I never met Ned Wicker but I always felt like I knew him. I always thought that the blog forum would be a good place for him to re-surface. Instead, he has taken up serving as a chaplain for people with drug-addiction and alcoholism.
The fact that there have been no new chassis for several seasons to try and get a glimpse of has dimmed that aspect of the offseason. Plus, the instantaneous effect of the internet allows us to see new livery designs almost as soon as the teams see them. How long has it been since we first saw Danica Patrick’s Go-Daddy livery design? So some of the anticipation of February has been taken away. We’ve already seen just about every new scheme out there for 2010, so there will be no surprises when the cars hit the grid in Brazil. But with all of the craziness that has been going on for the last few weeks, I’m still pumped to think that in less than three weeks, we’ll be watching IndyCar racing again. With everything that is going wrong right now in the series, there will be something that seems very right when the green flag drops three weeks from yesterday. After all these years, the anticipation is still there and that seems very right to me.