A Night At The Banquet
First of all, I apologize for not having anything up here this morning as promised. I’ve already heard from a few people on Twitter that there was nothing there this morning. There’s a good excuse for that. When we finally got back to the room, I was simply too tired to post anything last night. It’s been an incredible weekend here in Los Angeles, but sadly it comes to an end today. The weather has been picture perfect here until today, appropriately enough. As I type, we are socked into a fog bank that shows no sign of lifting. Here are shots of the respective views we had from our hotel: daytime, at sunset and then this morning.
But the fog doesn’t damper looking back on last night’s festivities at the IndyCar Championship Banquet held at Universal Studious in Hollywood. The reception started at 4:00 local time.
I hate coming across as a Tennessee hillbilly, but there are two things I can’t get used to here – the speed of the traffic and constant traffic jams, no matter the time of day. I always considered myself to have a heavy foot until I drove in LA. These people are crazy! Sixty-five in a forty mph zone is considered the norm. Drive the speed limit and you’ll get run over. We did not see a single cop the whole time we’ve been here. There are also unexplained traffic jams at midnight on the freeways. We came across one of those unexpected tie-ups on Sunday afternoon around 3:30 on our way to the banquet.
Once we got through the downtown LA mayhem, we headed north to Hollywood. We caught glimpses of the famous Hollywood sign but Susan could never get a clear shot for a picture. When you’re doing eighty-five trying to keep up with traffic, it’s hard to get a good photo. But once we got off the freeway, we were immediately at Universal City.
Once there, we were treated like royalty. We were immediately directed to the valet parking garage that was completely covered by IndyCar. We hopped out of the car and headed up the elevator. Just a short walk from the elevator – there was the Globe Theater. They had the entire outside area blocked off for the IndyCar gathering. As we entered, there was the red carpet. We could have walked on it, but I thought that was a bit pretentious for a lowly IndyCar blogger, so we veered to the left behind the cameras. Susan did get a good shot later of some of the NBCSN crew and staff as they posed there.
It’s odd seeing the IndyCar community out of their element. One of the first persons I saw was Scott Dixon, yet I hardly recognized him in a coat and tie. There were plenty of adult beverages and a seemingly unlimited supply of servers offering up heavy hors d’oeuvres. The social hour was nice pleasant conversation. As I strolled through the crowd, I overheard no racing politics or anything of that sort – just relaxed banter in a very festive setting befitting of a Hollywood gala.
After a while, we were ushered into the theater where the actual program would take place. The stage was elaborate, but not quite as much as last year’s banquet in Indianapolis. There they had three actual DW12’s mounted sideways on the wall. Here they simply had Scott Dixon’s No.9 sitting proudly on stage, with the Astor Challenge trophy on display in front of the podium.
I usually try to avoid name-dropping (I really do), but I had the honor of sitting next to Mary Mendez, daughter of the legendary Chief Mechanic George Bignotti, who passed away last month. There are a handful of people I really get star-struck around, but the daughter of such a legend would be one of them. She was very gracious and let me ask a ton of questions about her fascinating father, before the program started.
Once the festivities began, they wasted no time. NBC’s Leigh Diffey was the master of ceremonies, and kept things light. The first award was the Most Popular Driver award. Last year’s winner, James Hinchcliffe, passed the trophy on to this year’s recipient Tony Kanaan. You can imagine the adlib that went on between these two. I apologize for the poor quality of the inside shots, but there’s just so much you can do with an iPhone camera.
There were several other awards given, including Tristan Vautier receiving the Rookie of the Year award. There wasn’t a whole lot of suspense with this one since he was the only full-time rookie in the field this season. Sage Karam was recognized for his Firestone Indy Lights championship. There were also several bittersweet references to Firestone going away as the title sponsor of that series after twenty-three seasons. John Anderson made some very poignant comments on the future of the Road to Indy program. He is a very impressive individual in person.
As things moved along, Simon Pagenaud was honored for his third-place finish in the 2013 point standings. Then Helio Castroneves was brought on stage and he made a very classy speech regarding his second-place efforts and offered heartfelt congratulations to Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi, Mike Hull and the entire Target Chip Ganassi Racing organization.
Then Chip Ganassi spoke and heaped well-deserved praise on Scott Dixon and what am unflappable driver he is. He also made mention again of losing his father over the summer and dedicated this championship to him. After Ganassi and the entire No.9 Target team left the stage, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles made a few remarks about the current state of IndyCar and what to expect going forward. Not to downplay his words, but there was nothing in his talk that we had not heard before from him.
Then it was time for the champion to speak. When he started Scott Dixon noted that for whatever reason, he was very emotional speaking this time – even though this was his third championship. He shared some laughs, praised Helio’s efforts and called him a class act. He also congratulated Will Power for winning the race and was glad to see him dominating again. He spoke of his family and the tough times his wife, Emma, had gone through this summer with the loss of her sister. This championship really seemed to mean a lot to him. He closed by saying that this was the best racing in the world and if people would just watch it, they would fall in love with it.
At that point, the evening came to a close. Last year, there was an “after party” in the top floor of the IMS Pagoda that we all went to. This year, everyone seemed to scatter to various locations. Not being in the Hollywood “in” crowd, Susan and I made the thirty-five mile drive back to our hotel and stopped at McDonald’s for a late night snack to take back to our room.
All in all, it was a very positive note to end the season. There was the praising of various competitors and the touting of this crop of drivers being the most competitive in history. There was also realistic acknowledgement that there is much work to be done in a relatively short period of time to get this series where it needs to be. But last night was a time for celebration and IndyCar celebrated its champion in an appropriate manner.