A Taste Of May In February
IndyCar Media Day started quietly enough. After a quick trip to Charlie Brown’s, where I ran into a few old friends – I made my way to IMS. It was a little surreal as I was making my way toward what is usually a vacation destination for me, in the middle of Indianapolis rush hour as everyone else was headed for their daily routines and jobs.
I was early arriving at IMS. I could see the construction for Project 100 – the refurbishing of the upper grandstands along the front straightaway, as well as what used to be Georgetown Road behind it – from the roundabout. I pulled into the quiet and empty entrance off of 16th Street. Talk about surreal – to pull into a completely empty and silent IMS is eerie. But I followed the signs around and parked directly behind the Media Center, just beside The Pagoda. Believe it or not, they had Yellow Shirts directing what little traffic there was, except at this time of year I guess they’re called Yellow Coats.
I got settled into what has been my usual seat since 2010, on what used to be known as Blogger Row. With the dearth of IndyCar bloggers these days, there are just a few seats left for bloggers. Surprisingly, when bloggers were more numerous, they put us all on Row Four of almost fifty rows of desks – in what I consider prime seating. On a side note – yesterday, I also had the privilege of sitting directly behind Paul Page.
The day started with the rookies. Conor Daly (who showed up in a driving suit by mistake), Spencer Pigot and Max Chilton shared the stage with returnee Mikhail Aleshin. The only really noteworthy comment came from Daly. He found out after the season that he was held out of races by Dale Coyne late in the season in order to protect his rookie status for this year. He says although there are a couple of interpretations of the term rookie, he is under the impression he’ll be able to run for Rookie of the Year. Apparently, he was the last to know of this strategy and said he would’ve felt a little better about his status for a 2016 ride had he known of this strategy.
Next up were the Young Guns of IndyCar, featuring Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe. The joke was how long can three of the four actually be called “young guns”, since Marco is headed into his eleventh IndyCar season, Rahal his ninth and Hinch will be thirty on his next birthday.
Then Mark Miles and Honda’s Art St. Cyr were next on the docket to announce that Honda had signed a two-year agreement with an option on three years (whatever that means). I found it curious that the initial announcement offered no details of the length of the agreement. It wasn’t until someone asked during the press-conference that they announced the timeframe. Regardless, this is a big deal for IndyCar and I’m glad it’s settled – for now.
Following that, was IMS President Doug Boles to give an update on Project 100 and all of the improvements going on just outside and across the track from the Media Center. What struck me most in his comments was his commitment to maintain the look and feel of the historic venue. He offered a great example that if Wrigley Field was to remove the ivy and put in artificial turf that there would be a justified outcry. The same goes for longtime attendees of the Indianapolis 500. He mentioned that it was suggested that the new stadium seating areas might use the confetti style seating they used in the renovation at Daytona. Boles decided that it would be best to maintain the standard green seating that had been used for decades. It was his goal to maintain the look and feel of the place while upgrading the structure. It looks like he is succeeding.
After a semi-delicious box lunch, we were taken to the Green Room beneath The Pagoda where Scott Dixon helped to unveil the “new” livery for his No.9 Target car. Longtime fans will recognize it as a throwback to the Target livery that Ganassi ran between 1996-2000. Ironically, as long as Dixon has driven for Ganassi – he never ran with the lightning-bolt scheme.
Then we were taken out onto the track where a special presentation was to take place on the yard of bricks. I was able to take the obligatory on-track pictures including heading into Turn One and the yard of bricks. It’s a sight I never grow tired of nor take for granted whenever I see it.
While we waited, a very cold downpour came. As big a fan as I am, I’m not an idiot. We all ran for cover and decided to forget the presentation – whatever it was.
Fortunately, the presentation was moved to under The Pagoda. I’m glad I stuck around and didn’t head for a warmer area. What it turned out to be was a presentation to Helio Castroneves from Doug Boles, presenting him with a section of the fence that Helio had climbed following one of his three Indianapolis 500 victories. The old fence had been replaced in the fall and Boles was thoughtful enough to remember to save a section to give to Helio, who seemed genuinely surprised and touched by the gesture.
Back to the warmth of the Media Center, there was an interesting exchange as Juan Montoya and Will Power re-lived the final laps of last year’s Indianapolis 500.
After that, Mark Miles had a podium moved out just for him to make some remarks regarding some promotional strategy changes and factors involved for television coverage. He also made remarks about the return to Phoenix and Road America this season, as well as the new race in Boston – which he thought would certainly take place. He also mentioned some new safety features such as tethered car pieces and flaps similar to NASCAR’s roof flaps to help keep cars from going airborne.
When asked of where he thinks IndyCar is today, he uttered the phrase ”…fan metrics are improving”. Is that a phrase that someone uses if they are really in touch with fans and listen to them directly? That, to me, sounds like the verbiage used by someone that reads reports in an office and has no direct or personal interaction with fans.
That is my top complaint about Mark Miles. I just don’t get a sense that he really knows what fans want. I also found it a little condescending that he was the only speaker of the day to speak from behind a podium. I thought that spoke volumes. I also thought that the absence of new IndyCar President Jay Frye was a little curious. A few said they saw him in the crowd earlier, but I would’ve thought this would be a good time to trot him out in his new role…but that’s just me.
With that, the official festivities concluded a little before 3:00 local time. Miles hung around and took a few more questions. Many drivers including Carlos Muñoz, Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay came in and made themselves available for one-on-one time until about 5:00.
The weather radar was starting to really look nasty – especially towards Nashville. I posted this post and headed to the gift shop (which had closed an hour earlier) and then to Dawson’s on my way out of town. My plan to stop at Mug-n-Bun was thwarted. When I drove by it yesterday morning on my way to the track from my hotel, they had a sign announcing their winter schedule and Tuesday was not on it. Bummer. I’ll have more on my activities, as well as more pictures as well as videos on Friday.
I was afraid that I would drive all the way up for a lot of nothing. That was not the case. Instead, I had an absolute blast! It was so good to remove myself from the dreariness of winter and the pressures of work for one day. It was as if I transplanted myself from early February to the middle of May. I was able to see many old acquaintances that I usually see once or twice a year. It was also good to see the drivers in a much more relaxed state of mind. It was very therapeutic to get a taste of May in February.