After sleeping on it and thinking about it driving home Monday afternoon; I feel like I’ve now had more time to digest the 100th Running of The Indianapolis 500. It has now sunken in that Alexander Rossi won the race and also how he won it. I’ve also read enough articles and comments to know that there is no shortage of opinions and a wide variance in them.
It seems that it is now politically correct to slam those that have a problem with Rossi’s victory. If you didn’t like it, you’re obviously a curmudgeon that has no right to an opinion in the first place, so your opinion shouldn’t matter. Well, first off – opinions are just that – opinions. Everybody has one and everyone is entitled to one. Just because it doesn’t measure up to yours doesn’t mean it’s flawed. It’s just…different.
This PC viewpoint seems to come from those that enjoy scoffing at those of us that hold the Indianapolis 500 as something sacred. They would like to believe that this weekend’s double-header in Detroit is just as important as the Indianapolis 500 and the Month of May. I’m sorry, it’s not. Neither is any other race on the schedule.
Does this mean I’m in the group that is accused of hating Rossi’s win because he’s a rookie or that he “lucked” into winning a fuel-mileage race? No. Luck plays a huge part in most IndyCar races and the Indianapolis 500 is no exception. Each of AJ Foyt’s four wins came partially due to luck – or bad luck befalling another driver. I say that, even though AJ Foyt is my favorite driver of all-time.
I do not hate the fact that Alexander Rossi won the 2016 Indianapolis 500, but I don’t love it either. I have mixed emotions on it. I think most people go into each race with a list of their favorites that they would like to see drinking milk at the end of the day. I’m no different. Then as the race wears on and it becomes obvious that less than a handful can win it – you start re-evaluating your favorites. Not since 2013, has one of my favorites (Tony Kanaan) ended up winning the race. In 2014, I had to watch Helio Castroneves lose by the narrowest of margins. Last year, I was disappointed that Will Power lost to Juan Montoya.
With about twenty laps to go, I looked at the scoring pylon. I told my brother that I would be very happy with any of the Top Three at that time – Tony Kanaan, Josef Newgarden or James Hinchcliffe. At that point, I figured it was a good bet that one of them would win. Sitting in the stands, you don’t always know what’s going on and I was not fully aware of where everyone stood with fuel. As it turned out, all three of those cars had to pit. When Rossi assumed the lead on Lap 197, I figured he would have to pit and Carlos Muñoz would win, since he pitted just a few laps earlier. Between the two of them, I found myself pulling for Rossi.
I never hid the fact that Alexander Rossi ticked me off with his Trackside interview back in the winter when he was first signed. He came across as aloof, cocky, arrogant and completely disinterested in running IndyCar. I got the impression if the worst seat in Formula One suddenly opened, he would bolt from Bryan Herta and Michael Andretti in a second. You knew that the only reason he was here in the first place was because his ride in F1 was bought out from under him at the last minute.
Even though I didn’t care for what I saw from his personality, there was no denying that the guy could drive. Considering he had never driven on an oval in his life when he raced at Phoenix a couple of months ago, he did well to finish fourteenth. Indianapolis was his second oval. He was never spectacular in practice, but solid. He learned his way around quickly all week and barely missed out on the Fast Nine and started eleventh – the fastest of all of the five rookies.
I did remark to Susan about halfway through Sunday’s race that I was impressed with Rossi, as he seemed to be holding his own. But I would be lying if I said I had it in the back of my mind that he might win. It never entered my mind that Rossi would win the biggest race in the world as a twenty-four year-old rookie.
Am I angered by this win? No. Am I ecstatic with it? No to that question, also.
In all honesty, I can’t think of any Indianapolis 500 where I went away mad, except for when Joe Leonard’s turbine flamed out in 1968. I wasn’t mad that Bobby Unser had won, I was just mad that the coolest looking car I had ever seen, had lost. Then again, I was only nine years old at the time. I’d like to think I’ve evolved some since then, but that could be up for debate.
Originally, I was concerned with Rossi winning. I wasn’t sure that he fully understood what he had just done. In the past few months, I had read and seen interviews with him and his attitude seemed very nonchalant towards IndyCar in general and the Indianapolis 500 in particular. He said the right things, but they sounded very disingenuous.
Unlike some, it didn’t bother me that he was reserved in Victory Lane. None of the three four-time winning legends were very animated while celebrating any of those twelve wins, yet we know how much they meant to each of them.
I just hope that one day, Alexander Rossi will look back and appreciate the magnitude of what he accomplished on Sunday. I think he will.
History is full of drivers that didn’t fully appreciate the Indianapolis 500 at first, until they had been hurt – either physically or emotionally by the track. It is well documented that Dario Franchitti didn’t “get it” when he first ran at Indianapolis in 2002. It wasn’t until a broken back from a motorcycle accident prevented him from running in the 2003 race, that he suddenly realized what he was missing. Jimmy Vasser once asked “who needs milk?” only to find out how much he needed it as a driver, when he earned it as a car owner in 2013.
Even though his father won the Indianapolis 500 in 1986, the Champ Car culture that Graham Rahal came from tended to downplay the importance of the race. The first couple of years he ran, it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal to the younger Rahal. As it does with most drivers, that changed after a few years and you can tell just how important it is to Graham. Even Rick Mears admits that when he won his first “500” in 1979, it was just another race to him at the time. It wasn’t until Gordon Johncock denied him his second win in 1982, that Mears appreciated just how tough of a race it is to actually win.
My fear with Rossi winning is that he won’t be back to defend his title next year. He was asked in the Monday press conference whether he would be running in IndyCar or Formula One in 2017. His answer? He wouldn’t say. He just said he didn’t want to think of 2017 right now. He just wanted to focus on the last couple of days. I get that, but it still bothers me he wouldn’t take the opportunity to squelch those rumors. But his post-race interviews and his speech at last night’s Victory Dinner showed me a man that was deeply touched by what happened on Sunday. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume this does actually mean a lot to him.
So for now, I’ll be glad that a talented, good-looking American has won the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. He has the potential to be a great champion and become a fresh new face for IndyCar – if he wants to.
TV Coverage: I watched the race after we got home yesterday. Overall, I thought ABC did a very good job with their coverage. There were some hits and misses, but overall they did a good job with it.
But there were a few low points. We’ll start with the lowest being newcomer Marty Smith. It was bad enough that his being dressed like a clown served as a distraction from what he was saying. But when the camera came back to him, he was holding the script up to his face reading it. When he realized he was back on camera, he lowered it for a second but then brought it back up to his face. I think I bought my last pair of readers for $3 at Walmart. Perhaps he should spring for a pair.
I’m also not a huge fan of Lindsay Czarniak. Something just seems a little too over-the-top with her. I’d much prefer the more down-to-earth Sara Walsh, but that’s just me.
They did spend too much time focused on the leaders during the race, but with the lead changing so much – that may have been warranted.
On the plus side, I thought that this was one of Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear’s better races together. Cheever did predict early on in that last stint that if there was no yellow, that there would be a surprise winner. He was right.
Goodyear didn’t dumb down the broadcast like he usually does. He actually talked a little more technical to the point that I learned something new (although I can’t remember exactly what it was right now).
Their pre-race features were well done, especially Allen Bestwick’s interview with the three four-time winners.
Overall, I thought ABC/ESPN did a very solid job.
Pre-Race Ceremonies: Mercifully, Florence Henderson’s role in the pre-race ceremonies was reduced to Grand Marshall. As far as I can tell, that means you order the drivers to their cars before the race and get in the way in Victory Lane afterwards. Best of all, she no longer sings.
The addition of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir was a major plus. It sounded good at the track as well as on television. Their rendition of God Bless America was stirring and may have been my highlight of the pre-race. I also thought it was a nice touch to put the solo trumpeter for Taps in the starter’s stand.
Darius Rucker (Hootie) singing the National Anthem sort of left me cold. I talked to many who loved it, but I was underwhelmed.
My most pleasant surprise? Josh Kaufman singing (Back Home Again in) Indiana. As most know, I was prepared to hate it. When I pulled him up on You Tube, I just thought his wispy voice would never be able to pull it off. I was wrong. He played it straight and I even liked his repeating of the last line, with emphasis which showed off his vocal range. His voice worked well with the Indiana Children’s Choir and I liked what I heard. I saw an interview early Sunday morning on local TV and he seemed very humbled and honored to sing it. I never thought I would say this, but I really liked his performance.
The most awkward moment was AJ Foyt giving the command for the cars to roll, which meant nothing more than motioning the cars to move off the grid. I got the impression it had never even been discussed before, much less rehearsed. AJ didn’t seem like he knew what to do. Roger Penske in the pace car didn’t know what to do and neither did the drivers in the front row. I guess it sounded good in theory.
The Dreaded Tunnel: In 2014 and 2015, it took us forty-five minutes to make our way through the tunnel just south of the yard of bricks before the race, in order to get from the Pagoda Plaza to our seats in Stand A. Doug Boles said he had a plan in place to remedy the situation, and he did.
They stopped vehicle traffic on the wider side of the tunnel and had all four lanes open for foot traffic. This time it took only ten minutes to go from the Pagoda to Stand A. Well done, Mr. Boles.
All in All: The 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 was a rousing success. My fear was that all the hype and the sellout crowd would lead to a dud of a race. That was not the case. Newcomers or returnees after an extended hiatus, had to like what they saw and will hopefully renew their tickets.
Aside from Rossi’s win, I didn’t even discuss the actual race. There were fifty-four lead changes and there was a battle for the lead on every lap. There were some spectacular crashes and brilliant moves on the track. There was also plenty to talk about regarding Townsend Bell, but that’s another post for later. Overall, it was a very exciting event. If you went and didn’t have a good time, maybe racing just isn’t your thing.
But the star of this show was not Alexander Rossi. It was IMS President Doug Boles. He has proven what can be done with hard work. He has made the Indianapolis 500 cool again inside the I-465 loop. It’ll be interesting to see what rabbit he pulls out of his hat for 2017.
For me personally, it was a great race and a very magical Month of May. Now it’s time for the post-500 letdown to begin.
Please Note: I’m going to take a bit of a break. It’s been a long and enjoyable month, but I’m tired. There will be no post here until next Monday when I do my “Random Thoughts” on the Detroit GP at Belle Isle. I may post some pics from the race weekend in the next day or so, but don’t hold me to it. Thanks to everyone for following along all throughout the month. – GP