Archive for Opinion

Racing season has started in this part of the country. It is not yet in full swing but it will be in just a few short weeks. I’d like to post up a little public service announcement for all the drivers out there for the upcoming season.
Be good to your fans. It is important for many reasons.

As a driver, I never had fans. I never had anyone who came up to me after the races. In a way, that was a good thing. I don’t know if I would be able to follow the advice I am about to give to you along with some examples. What I do have experience with is being a fan who has been treated very well by some of my heros and very poorly by others. Many years later as a car owner I’ve also been there when many of my drivers did the right thing.

Let’s start with the good. My Dad, his friends, and I went to the Bristol, Tennessee NASCAR race back in the mid 1990’s. One late afternoon we were driving around the town of Bristol (bustling metropolis....) and ended up cutting through the back of a hotel parking lot. Who was there? NASCAR legends Harry Gant and Bobby Allison. They walked right up to Big Red (our truck) and struck up a conversation like we were old friends. These guys were most likely going back to the hotel after a long day at the track but took the time to bullsheet with a bunch of yahoos from New Jersey and sign some stuff for us. They could have waved and walked by but they did not. They were really nice guys. They made us like them even more just by taking a few minutes out of their day.

Then, onto the bad. As a kid growing up I was a fan of one of the local dirt track guys who, believe it or not, is still running to this day. I wrote him a letter when I was about 10 years old that included a picture I drew in art class of his car. My Mom and I included a stamped envelope for him to send it back. In my 10 year old handwriting, I told him how much of a fan I was and I politely asked him to sign the picture and send it back.
It never came. Weeks went by.

In a rare move we stuck around Bridgeport Speedway one night until the races were over to go into the pits to see if he got it. My Dad and I usually didn’t do this as we had an hour ride home. When I finally got to meet him, I clammed up. It may be hard to believe but I was actually a pretty shy kid. So, my Dad piped up and asked him if he had gotten the picture. His response?
“Yea”
That was it. No...hey that was nice, hey I forgot to send it back, nothing. Just a passing “yea” and then onto another conversation with someone else.
As a ten year old, I was crushed. I remember my Dad being pretty pissed off but didn’t make a scene of any kind.

Now...while you may be psychoanalyzing me wondering why I have held onto this memory for 30 years, relax. I don’t think about this every day. My future was not crushed because of that moment. I didn’t even cry back then and certainly don’t cry about it today.
Here’s the point: I went to the track damn near every Saturday night in 1985 to see how this driver would do. I bought his T-shirts (up until then) and his hats. And 25 years later I even considered putting this guy in my own racecar when the seat became available...but I didn’t.
That 10 year old kid might grow up to own a business when you are still behind the wheel and be willing to sponsor you. That 10 year old kid might own a racecar someday and be out of a driver looking for someone to fill the seat. That 10 year old kid might someday be your competition and rub you up the track the wrong way. That 10 year old kid’s Dad might be willing to sponsor you. All selfish reasons aside....it boils down to just being a good person. We are a very small circle of people and paths cross every day.
As a racecar driver you are a public figure. You need to treat everyone the best you can even after you’ve had a bad night. I know some nights it is tough...believe me. But I have been witness to some great acts by those who have driven cars for me. Every one of them was great with the fans. Here are some examples:

Jeff Geiges: Jeff was always great with the fans. He’s managed to become a fan favorite due to his crazy laugh and general great attitude towards life. Jeff had a special needs adult become a super fan of his in 2010, the year we won the TSRS championship. This woman was in the pits just about every night at New Egypt after the races were done. She was an adult who had a difficult time communicating. She would come down and patiently wait behind the car while the rowdy crew, aka “Those Guys” were most likely 3-4 beers deep by this point laughing and carrying on. Jeff always went out and talked to her for a few minutes. What they talked about...no idea. We left them alone. But the point was....he could have ignored her. He didn’t. It was the right thing to do.

Stef Palmai: Stef starting driving my car as a high school student. She had two major fan draws for her...she was young and a female. Therefore, all the kids loved coming up to her. She was always prepared to deal with them. She got down low and met them eye to eye to talk to them like they were equals. Stef also had to deal with some creepy dudes. There were a few guys who...well...acted very strange around her. She treated them with respect but managed to cut off the conversation when it needed to be. Even in the face of some creepers she never blew them off like she would have been justified in doing. She was mature beyond her years in dealing with the fans. She did the right thing every time.

Billy Pauch Jr: Billy is a big draw for many reasons. He is great with the fans, even when they get numerous. Because of this (and his on track performance) he has a great business in T-shirts and apparel that helps fund his racing operation. This is a benefit of being well spoken, respected, and an all around good guy. Billy also has to deal with the fans that want to talk about his Dad, who is one of the best ever. Why in the world anyone would approach Jr. at the end of the night after he just won and want to talk about his Dad winning the Shammy Shine 100 at Flemington in 1988 is beyond me (I’ve seen it...it happened). There were many times I wanted to reach across and grab these people by the throat. I mean..if you want to talk about Billy Sr...go talk to Billy Sr...he’s 4 trailers down. BUT....Billy does not blow them off. He politely chats for a minute or so and moves on.
So, as the season starts, remember this: You never know who that fan is. They might help you in the future. They might buy your T-shirts. They might defend your family in the stands when you take someone out on the track. They might sponsor you. Or, they just may be a nice person looking to talk to their hero.

The fan base of circle track racing is shrinking.
It costs nothing to be a decent human being to help who is left stay around.

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Apr
26

TODAY’S RACING NEWS LINKS

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Walmart Brings Affordability, Accessibility to Michigan NASCAR Fans

Big-name NASCAR drivers need to pick up speed in Sprint Cup Series

Going green in NASCAR means fewer cautions, crashes

Debate:2012 Richmond: Toyota NASCAR Sprint Cup Race Tidbits

Debate:Should NASCAR juice races by throwing more cautions?

Can Nascar Help Sell Ford’s Electric Focus?

What's Up With Kyle Busch In 2012?

Will Richmond end the latest caution debate in NASCAR?

IndyCar: Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe Is Ready to Take the Next Step

Team Penske seeks to continue IndyCar dominance in Brazil

JR Motorsports (Cole Whitt / Danica Patrick) Richmond International Raceway Preview

INDYCAR: Team Chevy Racing ready for debut on the streets of Sao Paulo

The chase is on for teen driver Elliott

'The best short track we have'

Travis Pastrana ready to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Richmond

CUP: Goodyear Tire Test At Pocono Q&A

CUP: Winning Becoming More Critical

Dodge City Raceway Park Set for USAC Midget Double

In NASCAR, cautions are bad, except when they are good

Who Will Win the Richmond 400 in NASCAR Sprint Cup? Here’s a Fan’s Top Seven

NASCAR 101: Keeping cool

NASCAR drivers give double thumbs up to Pocono Raceway resurfacing

Donny Schatz wins at Farmer City Raceway

Hines Chases Border Wars Title

Tony Stewart's # 14 Sprint Cup car at Motorsports 2012

NEWS FROM:
MOTORSPORTS 2012 PRESENTED BY VP’S SEF SMALL ENGINE FUELS
RACE CAR AND TRADE SHOW
Promoter: Len Sammons @ 609.888.3618
MEDIA CONTACT: Ernie Saxton Communications, Inc.
Ernie Saxton @ 215.752.7797
Fax: 215.752.1518
Cell: 267.934.7286
Email: Esaxton144@aol.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE PLEASE WITH OUR THANKS
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
BIG CROWDS MAKE MOTORSPORTS 2012 A SUCCESS STORY FOR 27TH YEAR

OAKS, PA January 23, 2011 . . . Large crowds jammed the aisles and exhibitors did brisk business at the Motorsports 2012 Presented by SEF Small Engine Fuels Race Car and Trade Show. Racers, fans and promoters filled the three day show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center to see just about everything imaginable in motorsports. Attendance was up considerably over past years for Friday and on the closing day, Sunday. A big crowd filled the Expo on Saturday despite the first winter storm to hit the area this season.
NASCAR Sprint Cup star Matt Kenseth, four time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday, drag racing legend Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, five time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion crew chief Chad Knaus, former NASCAR star now SPEED TV personality Jimmy Spencer and a host of other well known figures in the sport were on hand to visit with fans and sign autographs.
“Our sales were good this year and every year. We know the market, the people know we are going to be here and give them good prices,” said Jeff Behrent of Behrent’s Performance Warehouse (Florida, NY).
Other vendors, filling more than 600 exhibit areas, shared the same enthusiasm about the show with several already making plans to return with the show takes place again in January, 2013.
No less than 250 race vehicles representing a wide variety of motorsports were won display and enjoyed by the fans.
Attendees also had the opportunity to visit various speedway displays collecting information on the 2012 season that will help them make plans for the events they want to attend.
“We do this show to meet the racing public, get exposure, and give something back to the sport, “ said VP Racing Fuels’ Fred Turza. “The Motorsports show has been excellent for what we are trying to achieve.”
One of the many highlights of the show was the annual BPG Racing Ms Motorsports Pageant won this year by Ms. Samantha Legas. The 20-year-old resident of Savannah, NY picked up $1,500 as the new Ms. Motorsports and will now represent the show through a number of personal appearances at motorsports events throughout 2012.
“I never expected to win Ms. Motorsports since I never had entered a pageant before,” said Legas. “I enjoy modeling, I enjoy racing and this is an opportunity to do both. I’m really looking forward to it.”
First Runner-up was 21-year-old Kasey Missimer of Bechtelsville, PA representing NASCAR sanctioned Grandview Speedway. Kasey also has the opportunity to be Miss AARN. Should Legas not be able to fulfill her obligations as Ms. Motorsports Kasey would step in.
Second Runner-up honors went to Mindy English of Addison, NY. The Dangerous Wines Swimsuit Winner was Kimmie Trout of Reading, PA.
The MetalFab sponsored Sunday activities included the Little Miss Motorsports Pageant with eight year old Carlee Strunk, daughter of 358 Modified racer Glenn Strunk, of Bechtelsville, PA earning the title. First Runner-up was Brianna Carter of New Egypt, NJ with Second Runner-up honors going to Kylie Murray of Pottstown, PA.
In the Tiny Miss Motorsports Pageant seven year old Samantha Idele of Southampton, NJ walked off with the top prize while First Runner-up honors went to Raclyn Eisenhard who calls Reading, PA home. Second Runner-up was Samantha Grice of Newark, Delaware.
Also on Sunday Joshua Fisher lead Jacob Reinfendifer and Cody West across the finish line in the 7-9 bracket of the Big Wheel racing action. Shane Rothman was tops in the 5-6 year old class with Bryce Smith and Gunnar Zeiner (son of late model racer Zane Zeiner) following. Mia Hirschman, granddaughter of asphalt modified racer Tony Hirschman Sr., won the 3-4 year old feature with Mackenzie Adams and Lainden Hinds finishing second and third.
Best Booth Awards were earned by:
Best In Show: Four Star Lettering
Best Commercial Booth: DMI
Best Quarter Midget Booth: Doylestown Quarter Midgets (Honeybrook)
Best Vintage Club: Garden State Vintage Stock Car Club
Best Speedway Booth: NASCAR sanctioned Grandview Speedway
Best Car Award went to:
Best Stock Car: Matt Jester (BD Media Booth)
Best Open Cockpit Car: Nick Schlauch, Sr. (Lincoln Speedway Booth)
Best Drag Car: Mike Clayboss 1970 Buick (VP Booth)
Best Vintage Stock Car: Frankie Schneider Sedan (Nazareth Reunion)
Best Vintage Open Cockpit Car: “White Phantom” (Flemington Historical)
Plans for the 2013 edition the Motorsports show will be announced shortly. Companies wishing to get on the mailing list to receive 2013 exhibitor information, which will be available in less than a month, can do so by writing to motorsports@aarn.com. Fans can also join the mailing list by writing to the same address.
“We would love to hear from show attendees/fans/racers with their opinions about the show,” said show producer Len Sammons. “We are always looking for suggestions regarding the show. We think we had a great show this time around but we always feel there is room for improvement.”

MEDIA NOTE: Our thanks to all of you for making this another successful event. Ernie Saxton on behalf of Len Sammons Productions.

ERNIE SAXTON COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
Motorsports Marketing - Sponsorship Consultant
Columnist- Broadcaster
215.752.7797 - PA. Office
386-677-5152 - Florida until March 16
267.934.7286 - cell/text
Esaxton144@aol.com
www.saxtonsponsormarket.com

JJ Grasso

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE---THANK YOU
CONTACT: BOB MILLER 443 513 4456
THE JERSEY RUSH AT NEW EGYPT

410 Sprints & Modified Double-header. . . . . .
JJ GRASSO TO MAKE 410 SPRINT DEBUT AT NEW EGYPT ON TUESDAY NIGHT, AUGUST 30 IN THE "JERSEY RUSH"

JJ Grasso, know in the 360 sprint ranks as the "Jersey Jet", will make his 410 sprint debut in the "JERSEY RUSH" 410 sprints and modified double-header at the New Egypt Speedway on Tuesday night, August 30.

Grasso is known for his flat out driving style and he always shows his best at the New Egypt Speedway, a track that he has dominated for several years. Grasso, will strap into the 410 sprint car owned by John Pinter and sponsored by The Audi Shop. CnB Mushrooms Chubby Ciarrocchi was instrumental in pulling together all the players to make this Pinter/Grasso merger happen. Pinter, a successful former modified driver himself, will also field his primary 410 sprint car that is driven weekly by Central Pennsylvania "hot shoe" Kevin Nouse.

Grasso was the 2009 URC Champion and is URC's current point leader with three wins this season and nineteen career URC triumphs. It's a great opportunity for Grasso to compete at his favorite track and there is no doubt that he'll be racing against some of the best drivers in the business of 410 sprint car racing. As for this big opportunity, Grasso is excited, Pinter is confident and Chubby just can't wait for August 30 and the "JERSEY RUSH".

Competition will be keen with nationally known drivers like Fast Freddie Rahmer of Salfordsville, PA, Tyler Walker of Los Angeles, CA a former 410 sprint car feature winner at New Egypt, Justin Henderson of Sioux Falls, SD, Greg Hodnett of Memphis, TN, Daryn Pittman of Owasso, OK, Lance Dewease of Fayetteville, PA, Davey Sammons of Bordentown, NJ, Mark Smith, Chad Layton, Frank Cozze, Kevin Nouse, Dave Ely and URC's seven time champion Curt Michael are just a few of the early pre-entries.

The 410 sprints are without a doubt the fastest race cars on dirt, with 900 horsepower and a weight of just 1,400 pounds, these cars will fly around the always exciting 7/16 mile "D" shaped speedway at speeds topping 120mph. Just imagine, twenty-four 410 sprint cars starting two abreast and taking the green flag as they race into that first turn! You'll first hear the roar, then feel the rumble when this race begins.

The sprints will compete in time trials, heat race events and a "B" Main (consolation) all leading up to the JERSEY RUSH, a 30 lap feature paying $5,000 to the winner.

There is still more to this show.

Also on the program will be the Big Block Modifieds, the traditional weekly star-filled division at New Egypt Speedway. Billy Pauch, Rick Laubach, Willie Osmun, Jimmy Horton, David VanHorn, Richie Pratt, Wade Hendrickson and a host of other modified stars will be on hand to chase the $3,000 first place prize to win the 30 lap modified feature. Heats and a consolation will determine the twenty-four car starting field. Between the 410 Sprints and Big Block Modifieds, one can expect "Double Trouble" in the twin 30 lap feature events.
A Driver & Crew Meet and Greet is being planned by race organizers for fans to get an up close look at the drivers and cars. The Meet & Greet will take place from 5-6 PM. The gate from Victory Lane (behind the turn four seating) to the pit area will open to allow spectators to go pit side for one hour prior to the start of this blockbuster event. Come out early and enjoy a great night of racing.
General admission is $30 for adults, $10 for children 6-11 and kids under the age of six will be admitted for Free. The pit fee is $35 and a license is not required.
The event is a co-promotion between Lenny Sammons, his sons and special events organizer Bob Miller.
New Egypt Speedway Track Facts:
Event: THE JERSEY RUSH 410 Sprints & Big Block Modifieds
Race Date: Tuesday, August 30 7:30 PM Gates Open at 5 PM
Rain Date: Wednesday, August 31 7:30 PM
Location: New Egypt Speedway 720 Pinehurst Road New Egypt, NJ 08533 (On Route 539)
Track Phone: 609-758-1900
Website: www.newegyptspeedway.net
Admission: Adults $30, Children 6-11 $10 Pit Fee $35
For Additional information: Call Bob Miller 443 513 4456

Past 410 Sprint Winners at New Egypt:
2007 Steve Kinser
2003 Donny Schatz
2002 PJ Chesson
2001 Donny Schatz
2000 Tyler Walker
1999 Billy Pauch
__________________________________________________________________
*Amenities: The entire New Egypt Speedway facility features a daylight-quality lighting system and excellent sightlines from any seat in the house. The track is fully wheelchair-accessible with wide, clear, and well-groomed walkways. There are clean, heated restrooms, and a monitored playground area for the littlest fans. Whistle-clean concession facilities serve up everything from sausage sandwiches to ice cream treats at family-style prices. Our dynamic-duo of track announcers keep fans informed and involved with a state-of-the-art sound system.
*The Track: The racy, 7/16-mile D-shaped clay oval, plays host to some of the tightest, all-out wheel-to-wheel competition you'll ever witness.

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USAC MOPAR NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 8, 2011 – Gas City, Indiana – Gas City I-69 Speedway – “Indiana Midget Week”

QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Bryan Clauson, 39, Tucker/BCI/Curb-Agajanian-12.737; 2. Hunter Schuerenberg, 35, Rock Steady-12.796; 3. Bobby East, 4, Klatt-12.865; 4. Tracy Hines, 24, Parker-12.865; 5. Zach Daum, 5, Daum-12.867; 6. Darren Hagen, 3, RFMS-12.882; 7. Shane Cottle, 1st, Saucier-12.963; 8. Chris Windom, 11, Wilke-Pak-12.989; 9. Levi Jones, 20, Stewart-13.006; 10. Caleb Armstrong, 71, Kunz-13.020; 11. Jerry Coons Jr., 3nz, JCJ-13.042; 12. Kyle Larson, 67, Kunz-13.059; 13. Billy Pauch Jr., 54, Burke-13.111; 14. Jimmy Simpson, 21, Simpson-13.133; 15. Thomas Meseraull, 16, Sandy-13.134; 16. Trevor Kobylarz, 49, Two Dogs Racing-13.137; 17. Brad Kuhn, 17B, RW-13.193; 18. Levi Roberts, 2D, Roberts-13.214; 19. Michael Pickens, 29, Berry-13.230; 20. Alex Bright, 77B, Hemler-13.252; 21. Kellen Conover, 76, Conover-13.253; 22. Chase Barber, 91, Barber-13.255; 23. Davey Ray, 2R, Ray-13.258; 24. Nick Wean, 78, Wean-13.271; 25. Matt Westfall, 14w, Bordner-13.274; 26. Steve Buckwalter, 25,
Buckwalter-13.274; 27. Tanner Swanson, 19, Team 6R/TK-13.280; 28. Jimmy Glenn, 07, Glenn-13.404; 29. Ryan Smith, 33, Steward-13.416; 30. Mario Clouser, 06, MCM-13.423; 31. Matt Smith, 13, Smith-13.450; 32. Michael Koontz, 17k, Koontz-13.577; 33. Justin Grosz, 99, Grosz-13.655; 34. Jacob Wilson, 10, Moore-13.714; 35. Dalton Armstrong, 71k, Kunz-13.876; 36. Danny Stratton, 77, Hampton-NT; 37. Dillon Welch, 51, DMS-NT.

FIRST HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Kuhn, 2. Clauson, 3. Daum, 4. Jones, 5. Pauch, 6. R.Smith, 7. Westfall, 8. Grosz, 9. Conover. NT

SECOND HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Schuerenberg, 2. Hagen, 3. C.Armstrong, 4. Clouser, 5. Barber, 6. Simpson, 7. Roberts, 8. Wilson, 9. Buckwalter. 1:43.14

THIRD HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Pickens, 2. D.Ray, 3. Coons, 4. East, 5. Cottle, 6. T.Swanson, 7. Meseraull, 8. D.Armstrong, 9. M.Smith. 1:43.61

FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Bright, 2. Windom, 3. Hines, 4. Larson, 5. Kobylarz, 6. Wean, 7. Glenn, 8. Koontz, 9. Welch. 1:43.19

SEMI: (12 laps) 1. Cottle, 2. Meseraull, 3. Pauch, 4. Kobylarz, 5. T.Swanson, 6. R.Smith, 7. M.Smith, 8. Stratton, 9. Buckwalter, 10. Roberts, 11. D.Armstrong, 12. Welch, 13. Koontz, 14. Westfall, 15. Wean, 16. Barber, 17. Simpson, 18. Wilson, 19. Glenn, 20. Grosz. NT

FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Darren Hagen, 2. Zach Daum, 3. Tracy Hines, 4. Bobby East, 5. Hunter Schuerenberg, 6. Bryan Clauson, 7. Kyle Larson, 8. Chris Windom, 9. Shane Cottle, 10. Levi Jones, 11. Thomas Meseraull, 12. Brad Kuhn, 13. Caleb Armstrong, 14. Ryan Smith, 15. Trevor Kobylarz, 16. Tanner Swanson, 17. Alex Bright, 18. Davey Ray, 19. Mario Clouser, 20. Dalton Armstrong, 21. Jerry Coons Jr., 22. Michael Pickens, 23. Billy Pauch Jr., 24. Levi Roberts. NT
---------------------------------------------------
**Glenn flipped at the start of the semi.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-12 Daum, Laps 13-30 Hagen.

NEW USAC MOPAR NATIONAL MIDGET SERIES POINTS: 1-Hagen-303; 2-East-292; 3-Clauson-267; 4-Daum-239; 5-Hines-236; 6-Larson-205; 7-Kuhn-183; 8-Coons-180; 9-Roberts-176; 10-C.Armstrong-164.

NEXT USAC MOPAR NATIONAL MIDGET RACE: June 9 – Putnamville, IN – Lincoln Park Speedway – “Indiana Midget Week”

Categories : Opinion, Uncategorized
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Jun
08

Should IndyCar Have a Fuel Rule?

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In the wake of Mike Conway's scary crash on the final lap of the Indy 500, Arie Luyendyk is questioning whether the IndyCar Series should require competitors to meet a minimum fuel level through the end of the race.  Luyendyk, himself a two-time winner of the 500, believes it's too dangerous for drivers to implement fuel-saving strategies on ovals.

The remains of Mike Conway's car after getting into the fence at Indianapolis. (Mr. 0 photo, flickr.com / CC 2.0)

The remains of Mike Conway's car after getting into the fence at Indianapolis. (Mr. 0 photo, flickr.com / CC 2.0)

Conway's car got airborne after clipping the left side of Ryan Hunter-Reay, who suddenly slowed after running out of fuel in turn three on the final lap of the race.

Would this be a good rule to have on the books, or is this just a knee-jerk reaction to an ugly crash?

Imagine for a moment that there was a rule requiring finishers to have at least 1.5 gallons of fuel in the tank after finishing the race, which is apparently similar to what Formula One requires.  What if a driver just won the Indy 500 and in post-race inspection the officials were only able to siphon out 1.45 gallons of fuel?  What would they say? "Sorry boys... we have to take that trophy away!"  Or perhaps the team would just be fined -- which amounts to no deterrence at all.  In practice I believe it would be a very unpopular rule.

While I hate that the crash happened and that Conway was injured, we have to admit that it's just something that happens in this sport.  Ordinarily the circumstances involved are not a problem:  if drivers are too slow they are black-flagged or at least relegated to running on the track apron.  Indy is a bit more complicated since the speeds are so fast and there is essentially only one racing lane.  Making matters worse, they removed the track apron in 1993 (preferring warmup lanes), taking away a large portion of track that could be used by drivers to avoid an incident or to pull down and out of the way if a problem occurred with the car.  Maybe a better question to ask is whether or not Indy cars really need to go a zillion mph in the first place.  Does it really put on a better show?

Let's be thankful we got through another oval race without a large portion of a car flying up into the grandstands and keep it at that.

And that reminds me...

What was with all the black-flagging for "blocking" during the Indy 500?  Didn't it get a bit excessive?  I saw instances where a car was down low and a driver attempted a pass where it was nowhere near humanly possible and still the leading car got a black flag for what amounted to moving over a couple of inches.  What happened to finding a way to set the guy ahead of you up for a pass?  Or maybe trying to pass on the outside of a straightaway?

If I were a new fan watching that race I would have concluded that if a driver wanted to pass on the inside, it was the lead driver's obligation to move over and let him pass.  And we're to believe that the future of Indy car racing is in better hands now that Tony George is gone?

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Apr
21

Can Bernard Turn Around Indy Racing?

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I think many, myself included, were a little surprised when the IndyCar Series decided to look outside of the racing world to select its new CEO, Randy Bernard.  In fact, Bernard had not even seen an IndyCar race before taking the reins of the series back in March.  The move has certainly raised the hopes of many in the racing community that have longed for a new direction for years now.  The IndyCar Series was formerly run by Tony George since its founding in 1994.  Last year, George retired / was fired by his own mother / up and told the world to pound sand (circle your preferred answer), opening the CEO position up to a fresh face.

Randy Bernard, CEO of the IndyCar Series. (pbr.com)

Randy Bernard, CEO of the IndyCar Series. (pbr.com)

Now, to be sure, Bernard brings some mighty fine credentials to the table.  He helped build the Professional Bull Riders from nothing to its current level of popularity, which bodes well for Indy racing.  But Bernard may be in for one of the biggest professional challenges of his life.  For if George -- who had full access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway cookie jar -- couldn't keep this thing afloat, how will Bernard -- a complete outsider to motorsports -- have the resources and insight to turn it around?

With only two months in, it's obviously impossible to draw any firm conclusions about Bernard's impact on the sport.  All we have to go on are the things he's said and done so far.  From what I've gathered, this has primarily amounted to 1) A desire to re-connect with grassroots racing while fielding the "best drivers in the world"; 2) Learning and absorbing from Indy car insiders (read: the team owners); and 3) An open mind to try new and different things.

Let's look at each of these things individually, starting in reverse.  I pray that trying new things isn't a veiled reference to "The Gimmick".  The Gimmick has been employed hastily over the past couple of years, much to the chagrin of anybody with a sense of dignity and uprightness (think red and black tires, power-boost buttons... ohh I don't know... "Danica Mania!").  These silly superficial things only serve to harm the integrity of the sport (though they do generate a hearty laugh, let's give it up for that).  Please please please no more gimmicks.

The second point is an easy one.  If Bernard is learning the Indy ropes from the team owners, we're doomed.  Remember, these are the very people that drove this sport into the ground over the past three decades.  To them Indy racing is a hobby you do between jet-setting and eating fine caviar.  They are so detached from motorsports reality that the closest they should be to the engineer is in the caboose -- if they should be allowed on the train at all.  (Okay except A.J. Foyt, who can be kept on as Sergeant at Arms.)

And that all brings us to the crux of the matter:  grassroots racing.  And since I feel my blood pressure rising with each sentence I type I'm going to cut to the chase.  The problem with Indy racing is NO FANS.  That's it.  And it amazes me how few people up at the top of the ladder out there in Indiana understand that this is the root problem.  No fans.  (Okay, "few fans" since I feel generous today.)  There are so few fans because there is so little interest in the racing and the drivers have so few fans.  NASCAR drivers have more fans on Facebook than IndyCar drivers have fans in the stands.

Imagine if the New York Yankees had no fans.  What would that look like?  Well the stadium would be empty and the merchandise wouldn't sell and the team would fold up quicker than a cheap camera.  But in Indy racing, the team owners think that as long as they have money they can still go out and race and so what's the big deal?

So why has the Indy racing fan base shriveled up?  Simply because the racing is so far disconnected from American grassroots racing that Americans just don't care anymore.  After years and years of ride-buying and revolving-door drivers the fans have lost interest.  So when Bernard talks about having the "best drivers in the world", I sure hope he's talking about the Jeff Gordons and Tony Stewarts rather than the Milka Dunos or he's going to find himself bucked from his seat quicker than Betty White from Bodacious.

In America, grassroots racing is about oval racing.  Sprints, late models -- all that good stuff.  Dirt, asphalt.  Give us a driver that says, "just one of them racin' deals", and we're all good.  Drivers we don't know and can't relate to riding around a one-lane temporary street course in downtown Baltimore doesn't float our boat.  (Note: Karting does not count as a popular form of grassroots racing.  I'm sure it's a great place for drivers to start their careers, but all across the country fans go to see oval racing week in and week out.)

So why don't American grassroots drivers make it into Indy car racing?  First is they don't have the money or a sponsor.  The second is that their skill -- race cars on ovals -- does not translate well to Indy cars -- which are formula cars on road courses.  And because of that they have so few opportunities.  So instead they're picked up by the NASCAR teams who can easily secure a sponsorship for them since they can both drive the wheels off their cars and easily relate to fans.

I hear the Indy car is getting a major makeover for the future.  Now is the perfect opportunity to develop something that is not designed for road courses.  Something that young drivers who cut their teeth on American short tracks can hop into and excel with.  Without that connection Indy racing will always be detached from American racing fans and be forced to settle for late-day coverage on the Versus network.  And oh yeah... the last time I checked the Indianapolis 500 was an oval race.  Let's showcase the best oval drivers in the world.

Best of luck Randy!

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