Random Thoughts On Belle Isle
The good news is that yesterday’s Race Two in the Dual at Detroit finally produced some suspense for the fans that sat through a wet weekend at Belle Isle and in front of their television sets. The bad news is that there were two races at Belle Isle in what should have been known as the Gruel at Detroit.
I’ve never hidden the fact that Belle Isle is my least favorite race. So imagine my disappointment a couple of years ago, when the Verizon IndyCar Series announced that Belle Isle would be among three double-header weekends – double the agony. This year, there is only one double-header on the IndyCar schedule. As luck would have it, it is at Belle Isle.
To increase the torment, both races were affected by rain this past weekend. I saw where a lot of fans were critical of IndyCar for scheduling a race during the rainy season in Michigan. There are a lot of things to criticize IndyCar for, but conflicting with rainy season is not one of them.
I’m more concerned with scheduling what I consider the most boring venue of the season, immediately after the Indianapolis 500. If there were any potential new fans that were intrigued by the great racing of the “500” that tuned into either Belle Isle race to see what IndyCar racing is all about – they were treated to rain-soaked parade on Saturday and a disjointed crash fest on Sunday. Thus endeth the momentum from Indianapolis. Instead, the Month of May closed with a flat thud and the potential new fans will be watching the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals next weekend.
If IndyCar were to ask my opinion on such things, I would follow the Indianapolis 500 with the oval at either Texas or Iowa. I would insert Belle Isle somewhere later in the summer. Two consecutive races on an oval might be enough to hook new fans, so that they could learn to put up with races like Belle Isle every once in a while. But fans thinking that Indianapolis is the exception and that Belle Isle is the norm, will turn fans away.
But congratulations to the two winners from this weekend. Carlos Muñoz earned his first career victory on Saturday; while Sébastien Bourdais scored his first win of the season on Sunday.
TV Coverage: This past week, I watched the DVR replay of the Indianapolis 500 and both Belle Isle races this weekend. I now feel that I am about to overdose on Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear.
First of all – I consider Allen Bestwick to be a pro. He is smooth, pleasant, humorous and knowledgeable. After two short seasons of ABC/ESPN telecasts, I’ve now trained my ear to not even think of Bestwick as a former NASCAR announcer. I have absolutely no problem with Bestwick behind the microphone of any Verizon IndyCar Series race.
In the past, I’ve defended Scott Goodyear. I used to blame his lackluster performance on Marty Reid. Last year, I thought Bestwick elevated Goodyear’s game. That’s no longer the case. Not only is Goodyear’s delivery sleep-inducing, but he goes way too far in dumbing down the broadcast for any possible new fans tuning in. It’s like picking up the Wall Street Journal and having it turn into Weekly Reader while it’s still in your hands.
Meanwhile, Eddie Cheever just seems to have checked out. He has completely redefined the term “wooden” and makes Ashley Wilkes seem closer to Rhett Butler (that’s a Gone With The Wind reference, for those under the age of thirty). The lack of chemistry between Cheever and Goodyear is monumental. Maybe they like each other in real life, maybe they don’t. But on-screen, they come across as total strangers.
Like them or not, IndyCar needs ABC/ESPN. They have a reach and a platform that MSNBC cannot come close to. But I do wish they would put more into their on-screen product whenever they do races away from the state of Indiana.
Is IndyCar listening? For the past few years, IndyCar fans have been complaining loudly regarding Michael Young’s gut-wrenching “Race fans – are you ready?” just before the command to start engines. Since Dave Calabro handles the introductory PA duties for all events at IMS, we haven’t heard the cheesy question since the race at Barber Motorsports Park in late April.
Yesterday, I noticed a new voice over the PA introducing the Grand Marshal to give the command. I don’t know if that was a one-time deal or if the higher-ups at IndyCar decided the fans were right. Michael Young is a good guy and does great work on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network. But his PA persona grates on one’s nerves.
The REAL Motor City: The taped intro to yesterday’s race essentially stated that without Detroit, there would be no Indianapolis 500, because they needed cars – and without Detroit, there would be no cars.
If my memory serves me correctly, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909, Indianapolis was where most of the car companies were located – not Detroit. Granted, that eventually changed – but to say Indianapolis owes Detroit some debt of gratitude is a little misleading. It’s a little thing, but one that I picked up on as soon a s I saw it.
Blocking penalties: Sage Karam made a very blatant blocking move on Takuma Sato that most everyone agreed was retaliation for Sato ending Karam’s day in Turn One of the first lap at Indianapolis. Karam was issued a drive-through penalty. Late in Sunday’s race, Graham Rahal had probably an even more egregious blocking penalty against Sato – yet Rahal was just told to let Sato go in front. Why the inconsistency?
As it turns out, the IndyCar rulebook says that blocking “may result in a penalty”, but the stewards are allowed some flexibility in what penalty to enforce. Some like that flexibility, but to me it opens up a whole lot of questions. In a series that is already rife with accusations of inconsistent officiating, it seems to me that they should come up with uniform penalties.
Short celebration: One of the cruelest results of a double-header weekend occurred this past weeekend. Carlos Muñoz earned his first career victory on Saturday. In most cases, a driver earning his or her first win would have at least a week to bask in the glow of finally beating everyone on-track – sometimes longer. Muñoz had less than twenty-four hours to celebrate. He had to strap in and race again on Sunday and went out on Lap Five with engine issues and finished last.
A win is a win: It’s understandable that Muñoz was subdued after scoring his first-ever IndyCar win. I’m sure that every driver envisions their first win with a dramatic pass at the line while taking the checkered flag. Muñoz had his first win come in very odd circumstances. His race went only eleven laps past the halfway point. He did not take the checkered flag. Instead, he was out of his car, which was under a tarp when he was declared the winner of a race that would not go back to green.
But this is only the second full-time season for Muñoz. Some drivers go an entire career without a race win and would gladly trade places with him. Once he gets a few more wins under his belt, I’m sure he will gladly count Saturday’s win as a full win. He should.
No Penske spine: Maybe ABC mentioned it and I missed it, but I noticed that all of the Hondas and all but the Penske Chevys had the center “spine” that was introduced at Indianapolis at the first of the month. The winning Chevy of Sébastien Bourdais had it as well as the Ganassi Chevys, but none of the four Penske cars were carrying it? Did anyone else notice that and does anyone know why the difference?
Stop overusing the red flag: I know I’m old-school, but I consider the red-flag as a safety precaution only. It is to be used when the track conditions are unsafe or unusable; such as weather or an accident is blocking the track. It is not meant to guarantee an exciting finish for race fans. Sometimes you get a stinker for a race, sometimes you get a great one. That’s just the way they play out. Fans at home or in the stands are not entitled to a great and exciting finish. Yesterday’s red-flag did nothing for a great finish other than push the time window into "timed race" territory and force Juan Montoya to run out of fuel on the last lap. Had he run a few more laps under yellow as the natural pace of the race would have dictated, he would have had a higher finish. Let the races play out normally.
Stop the double-headers: After three years of double-headers on the schedule, I think it’s time that the Verizon IndyCar Series brings an end to this experiment. I think the only people that really like them are the promoters that host them and the fans in the particular market. The teams despise them, as do the drivers. They put up with them for the fans. Well, this fan doesn’t care for them either.
I consider myself a very hard-core IndyCar fan. But I do have a life away from racing. Before this weekend, six of my last seven weekends were spent at an IndyCar racing venue. Quite honestly, there are other areas of my life that have been neglected.
I enjoy typical race weekends. Let me rephrase that – I love them. I’ll try to sneak a glimpse of Friday practice at work. On Saturday, I’ll generally DVR the MSNBC Qualifying show to watch on Saturday night, then I’ll plan my Sunday around watching the race. This next weekend brings a Saturday night race that will free up both weekend days.
But this weekend, it was tough to be a fan. I had to do a lot of chores that had been neglected over the past several weeks on Saturday. Saturday night, we had to go to an unofficial high-school reunion for Susan. I ended up watching Saturday’s DVR race early Sunday morning. Then it was back to my list of overdue chores before watching yesterday’s race. By the time it was over, so was my weekend for the most part.
I’m glad this is the only double-header for the season. It is my hope that we have just endured our last one ever.
All in all: Can you tell that I don’t like double-headers, red-flags and that I really don’t like racing at Belle Isle? Without getting too repetitive and too negative; what I saw on TV this weekend was grueling. Saturday’s race was torture and yesterday’s offered some suspense and some good passing, but there were far too many crashes and strategy mostly consisted of trying anything out of the ordinary and hoping for the best. Sunday was very disjointed and made me wish I had just passed on the whole weekend and extended my post-Indianapolis break.
But this is what I’ve come to expect from Belle Isle. I’ve been watching this race ever since CART moved from downtown Detroit to Belle Isle in 1992. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. Every now and then, there are good races to come from Belle Isle, but by and large – most of them are snoozers.
The best thing to say is that we’ve gotten Belle Isle out of the way for another year. From here on, the next few racing weekends look much better. I can’t wait until Saturday night at Texas. I promise that I won’t eat my grumpy flakes for breakfast before writing that post.