Random Thoughts On Milwaukee
Despite the downpour that delayed the start of the Milwaukee IndyFest by an hour and a half, you’ve got to believe that everyone involved with the IZOD IndyCar Series came away with a much better feeling for this year’s race than this time last year. Apparently, race promoter Michael Andretti did, since he has already announced that he will continue promoting this race in 2013 – more on that in a bit.
As for that race itself, it was a good one. The pole winner was a familiar name – Dario Franchitti. He led a good portion of the race, running out front for the first sixty-three laps, but after he pitted – he never led again. After the pit stops cycled through, EJ Viso led up until Lap Ninety-Six when Justin Wilson’s engine let go in spectacular fashion. Then it was Helio Castroneves at the point, up until Lap 144, when Ryan Hunter-Reay passed him for the lead, which Hunter-Reay never relinquished. Hunter-Reay was visibly spent when he finally pulled his tired frame from the cockpit. – but he looked very happy with his win, nonetheless. He had earned this win – well, almost. His car and the car of Scott Dixon were obviously the class of the field, but Dixon was mysteriously penalized for jumping the start on a re-start. As it turns out, the mystery turned out to be a mistake of massive proportions. Oops! – more on that in a bit.
This race had it all. There was anticipation wondering if Michael Andretti and Company could actually pull this off with only a few months to prepare, as well as a delay in the start caused by weather. Fans got to see drivers from the top two teams in the series, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, lead a significant number of laps. There was a driving clinic exhibited by Scott Dixon who charged through the field from the twenty-first starting position. Then there was the controversial penalty that took Dixon out of contention for the win. Finally, for the second week in a row – fans got to witness a driver not driving for the aforementioned top two teams come away with the win.
TV Coverage: In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I missed almost all of the rain delay. Most of you know that I am in the middle of moving out of the house I’ve lived in for the past ten and a half years. I must be out by the end of this month, so I spent most of my Saturday moving furniture. I was about to make another run to the storage space late Saturday morning, when it dawned on me that I might miss the start of the race – so I set the DVR just in case. As we were driving our load of furniture, Susan (@chiapet58) noticed on Twitter that the race was being delayed due to rain. Knowing that, we took our time and got some other things done and got back home just before the start of the race. Therefore, I did not see any of the two-hour filler time and cannot comment on it.
What I can comment on is that although it wasn’t ideal that the race was moved over to ESPN News from ABC, I certainly understand it. There were contractual obligations in place to run the NASCAR Nationwide Series on ABC. While I saw some griping on my Twitter feed (@Oilpressureblog) about the race being moved, I’m grateful for two things. First of all, be glad that ESPN waited to make the switch just as the Nationwide race was about to go green. At least the powers-that-be consider an IndyCar race to be more important than the Nationwide pre-race show. Secondly, be glad that ABC/ESPN have enough outlets to shift things to. Had this been on NBC Sports Network and they were bumping up against something they deemed to be more vital than the IndyCar race – where would the IndyCar race go? Off the air? I don’t know if that would be the case or not, but I don’t even want to think about the complaints that would generate.
The Penalty: In the history of the NFL, there are certain moments that are so crucial – they are referred to in the simplest of terms. The Catch is the term used to refer to Dwight Clark’s end zone catch from Joe Montana to lift the San Francisco Forty-Niners over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship game. The Drive is used to symbolize John Elway’s masterful use of the clock to drive the Denver Broncos down the field to snatch away the Cleveland Browns dreams of going to their first Super Bowl following the 1986 season. The following year, the same Browns team suffered another disappointment in another AFC Championship game when Earnest Byner committed The Fumble. Anyway, you get the idea.
After Saturday’s race, Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi will always remember The Penalty. At the time, it appeared to be a phantom call. The only thing that even looked like Scott Dixon jumped a re-start, was a re-start that was waved off as if it never happened. As it turned out, there was a foul-up of massive proportions between a scoring computer and a video display that showed data that was one lap delayed (or something like that). I’m not sure exactly what happened and at this point it doesn’t matter.
Scott Dixon was understandably livid and rightfully so. Personally, I think Dixon had a better car than Ryan Hunter-Reay and had he been allowed to continue his surge to the front, I think he would have gotten around RHR, but we’ll never know.
What does matter is that Director of Race Control, Beaux Barfield, acknowledged the foul-up and took full responsibility for it. Now an apology to Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi doesn’t put any points back in Dixon’s column and probably means very little to them today, but it means a lot to the fans of this sport. The fact that Barfield essentially said “I goofed” and immediately owned up to it, carries a lot of weight with me. I’m not sure I ever heard his predecessor come out and say that, unless prodded by upper-management. That type of behavior is not limited to previous IndyCar regimes. NASCAR is famous for phantom calls and they never even bother to explain. They essentially tell the media and the fans that it is simply none of their business (a nod to our friend Pressdog). Formula One carries the same type of arrogance when it comes to explaining decisions.
Although Scott Dixon got royally screwed on the call, at least Beaux Barfield had the guts to admit fault. That buys him some leeway with the fans for now, but a repeated pattern of such blown calls will have fans clamoring for his head the same way they did for Brian Barnhart’s. Such is the thankless and no-win job of the Chief Steward.
Praise for Michael Andretti: Although the Andretti name has been intertwined throughout this sport for almost a half-century, not everyone speaks the name with fondness and reverence. Regardless of what you think of the Andretti’s however, Michael Andretti deserves high praise for what he has done for this sport over the last decade. After his very successful driving career was done, he has easily stepped into the role of team owner and race promoter. This has never been more evident than what he pulled off at The Milwaukee Mile this past weekend.
After the dismal showing by fans at this track last year, the chances of the IZOD IndyCar Series ever returning to this historic venue looked hopeless. It was not on the original schedule released last fall and the future of Indy cars running there ever again appeared bleak, at best.
Then, in mid-February – Michael Andretti announced that he and his marketing company would assume promotional responsibilities and try to bring Milwaukee back from the dead, just one last time. Given the extremely short amount of time he had, few gave him much hope of any success. On top of running a race successful race team, Michael Andretti was trying to cram an entire year’s worth of work into four months.
He wasn’t just trying to keep things status quo, either. That formula had already been proven to fail. In that time frame, Andretti made wholesale changes to the event and created a buzz around Milwaukee and throughout the IndyCar fan base. Although the stands weren’t close to being full, they certainly looked a lot better than last year. If Michael Andretti could pull off what he did in four months, imagine how much he can build on this for next year. After what I saw and read about Saturday, I feel better about the long-term future of this event than I have in years.
Michael Andretti stuck his neck, reputation and financial image on the line in order to save the track where he had so much success as a driver. He has also stepped up to promote the one-year old Baltimore Grand Prix. This was a successful event last fall, but behind the scenes – it has been a political and financial disaster. Recognizing the potential for this to be a long-term great event, Andretti has stepped up to provide some stability and leadership.
It is my opinion that the series and its fans owe a great deal of gratitude to Michael Andretti for stepping up and going out of his way to help the sport he loves.
All in all: I thought this was a great race and for only four months of planning – a great event. A Saturday race at noon, was not ideal but it was probably better for the fans to not have it on Father’s Day as it was last year. Hopefully, Michael Andretti and the series can get together and find a more suitable date on the schedule for next season.
Please note: As mentioned earlier, I am in the midst of a move. The movers come this weekend and I still have a million things to do. There will be no post this Wednesday June 20. I will have a post on Friday June 22 prior to the Iowa race and then a post next Monday June 25 following the race (that is, if I can find my computer after the move). I cannot guarantee that this Wednesday will be the only day I miss, but after the Fourth of July holiday, I should be settled in and finally living with my new bride.
I apologize in advance for a couple of absences, but if you’ve ever moved after ten years and two kids in one place – you know what I’m dealing with. Thanks for your patience.