Was Last Year Really That Bad?
Santa has come and gone, all of the bowl games have been played (except for the National Championship game between Clemson and Alabama) and the ball has dropped in Times Square. That means it’s time to put away the Christmas decorations and turn our attention back to our favorite topic – IndyCar racing. Before we tackle the upcoming year, let’s take one more look at 2016.
It seems that it was quite popular to bash 2016 as it was on its way out last week. While some cited the results of the presidential election, others exclaimed that 2016 claimed more than its share of celebrities – especially rock musicians.
While I won’t comment on the election, I’m not sure that 2016 was any more cruel to TV and movie stars than usual – although the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, the very next day are still very fresh and shocking. I will concede that it seemed as if more rock stars than usual, met their demise in an untimely fashion. The one that bothered me the most was one of the first ones of last year – Glenn Frey of The Eagles, who passed away last January 18 at the age of sixty-seven.
Many more rock and pop icons left us in 2016, but I was not really much of a fan of any of them. Not that they were necessarily bad people mind you, I just didn’t care for their music. Unlike a lot of people, I never really got too wrapped up in the personal lives of musicians. They were judged purely on whether or not I liked their music. So whether they were benevolent and good, or really rotten people – I just paid attention to the music. Perhaps I’m showing how shallow I truly am, but I’ve never drawn inspiration from a musician or poet. If I liked their music, I bought it. But I never felt compelled to have my life steered by a musician that may have been just a little removed from my reality.
Having said that, I’m still sure I’ll be crucified by announcing that I did not care that much for David Bowie, who died just a week before Frey; nor was I much of a fan of George Michael, who passed away on Christmas Day. Prince didn’t do too much for me either, although I did like some of his stuff.
For those who mourned the death of every rock/pop star in 2016, I’ve got news for you – I don’t think 2017 or many years to come will be much better. They’re mostly baby-boomers and some of them have reached the normal age to die. We grew up listening to these voices. For many of us, that means this was forty or fifty years ago – or more. While we were teenagers at the time, they were more than likely in their twenties or early thirties while they were cranking out songs that would become classics. That means that many are now in their sixties and seventies.
Ringo Starr of The Beatles is now seventy-six. Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones is seventy-three. Roger Daltrey of The Who is seventy-two. They are all approaching the age where things can go south quickly. And here’s a news flash – a lot of the rockers and pop idols of not only the sixties and seventies; but also the eighties and nineties – lived very hard lives. Hard living can take its toll on a body. It may not be evident as they ease into middle age, but their bodies may be prone to giving out at an earlier age than usual.
This is not a musical site, so why am I droning on about overage rockers? Just to prove a point that we should be prepared for more of the same regarding our music icons from our teen years and early adulthood, and that this may be the new norm for the next several years and that 2016 may not have been as bad as some claim.
Personally and professionally, I’ve had a satisfying year. Susan and I both seem very secure in our jobs (knock on wood). Susan lost her brother in 2016, but other than that – we both had a lot of good things happen to us last year. As we approach our fifth wedding anniversary this May, we are still very happy in our marriage and still enjoy doing things with each other. Best of all, we are both (seemingly) in excellent health without really trying.
When it comes to sports, 2016 was a mixed bag for me. I was glad to see the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series. In football; my college team (Tennessee Vols) underachieved, while my pro team (Tennessee Titans) overachieved.
But when it comes to the Verizon IndyCar Series – I thought 2016 was a very good year.
The TV ratings were up in a time when practically all sports TV ratings were falling. Now we’re not talking Super Bowl numbers or anything like that, but an increase is an increase. A few more years with the type of ratings growth the series experienced in 2016, and it won’t be long until the series is where it needs to be.
The series welcomed three old friends to the schedule with Phoenix, Road America and Watkins Glen returning to US open-wheel for the first time in years. While Phoenix had a nice start, it still has some work to do to grow its attendance to where it needs to be. Road America, on the other hand, was a rousing success from the get-go. Susan and I went and immediately fell in love with the place, so much so that we plan on returning this year. If you can only attend one race this coming season and it can’t be the Indianapolis 500 – make it Road America.
Watkins Glen was thrown together quickly as a substitute for the failed Boston Grand Prix. While the Boston fiasco will certainly not go down as one of IndyCar’s shining moments for 2016, it may have been a blessing in disguise. It opened the door for Jay Frye to leverage some of his relationships and get IndyCar back at Watkins Glen. While it came together at the last minute, the results were encouraging. The race was relatively well-attended, all things considered – and it appears to have better momentum there than it ever had during the last decade.
Another plus for IndyCar was when the 2017 schedule was announced. It was sooner than later for once, and featured all of the tracks featured in the 2016 schedule, pretty much in their same spot on the calendar. Best of all, there will be a new old friend joining the schedule in 2017 – Gateway, just across the bridge from St. Louis.
On the track, there was a new champion in Simon Pagenaud. He brought Roger Penske only his third series championship since Team Penske came over from CART fulltime in 2002. There were eight different winners over the sixteen races. Simon Pagenaud fittingly won the most races (five), as his nearest challenger won three after missing the first race with inner-ear problems.
There were nail-biters (Indianapolis and Texas), while there were also runaways (Iowa and Watkins Glen). Youth was served with Josef Newgarden winning going away at Iowa and landing a ride with Team Penske for 2017 and Alexander Rossi winning at Indianapolis. The old guard also performed well with no fewer than eight races being won by drivers over the age of thirty-five.
Another reason to celebrate the 2016 season is that no IndyCar races produced any racing fatalities, unlike 2015 when we lost Justin Wilson. However, Indianapolis 500 driver Bryan Clauson lost his life in a midget race in Belleville, Kansas in August.
Based on the 2016 season, I think the future looks bright for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The leadership that is in place, Jay Frye in particular, bodes well for the series ability to grow in terms of more races and ultimately more teams. As it stands, there are only eight owners in the Verizon IndyCar Series. That needs to increase. Jay Frye is the most competent person I’ve seen in decades who is capable of taking the appropriate steps necessary to increase car count.
So while 2016 has seem tragic in some aspects, it’s been a very good year in others. Here’s hoping 2017 is even better on the IndyCar front and that we all experience a whole lot of happiness in the next twelve months.