Monday, July 27, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Hometown Heroes

The Brickyard 400 happened. The Hungarian Grand Prix happened. The Spa 24 Hours happened. The Trucks ran on dirt. The scenic Lime Rock Park hosted another race. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Hometown Heroes
This actually came to my mind when IndyCar raced at Iowa last week. IndyCar has raced nine times at Iowa and all the races have been somewhere between mid-June and mid-July. The race is pretty well attended and since joining the schedule in 2007, Iowa has arguably produced some of the best on-track action in IndyCar. The track out in the cornfield has really proven that a great event can happen anywhere despite preconceived notions.

However, when was the last time an Iowan started an IndyCar race?

It has been more recent than you are probably thinking. Twenty-four Iowa-born drivers have made an IndyCar start, the most recent being Alex Figge at Long Beach April 20, 2008. Before Figge was Paul Durant at Phoenix on March 22, 1998.

Why do Alex Figge and Paul Durant matter? I think Figge and Durant illustrate one of IndyCar's problems and that is a lack of hometown heroes. IndyCar runs 16 races on 15 different circuits in 14 different cities. The IndyCar grid will never be 100% Americans again and that's great because the series gets a mix of domestic and international talent but I have felt that Americans should be as close to 50% of the grid as possible. Currently, there are seven Americans who run regularly in IndyCar and they are all decent drivers with ties to different parts of the country.

Graham Rahal is from Ohio, is a huge Ohio State fan and has a race in his backyard at Mid-Ohio. Marco Andretti and Sage Karam are both from Nazareth, Pa and have a race in their backyard at Pocono Raceway. Josef Newgarden hails from Tennessee. Ryan Hunter-Reay was born in Dallas, Texas but for the most part has called Florida home. Charlie Kimball was born in the United Kingdom while his father Gordon worked in Formula One but he was raised in Southern California. And Ed Carpenter was born in Illinois but became a Hoosier at a young age.

Of the seven Americans, only Newgarden doesn't have a race in their state of birth or state in which they grew up. You can say Barber is Newgarden's home race but just because it's the closest to where he is from doesn't mean it's home. That's like saying Sonoma is a home race for a driver from Alaska. And to be fair, Toronto, the lone Canadian round on the IndyCar schedule does have a local son in James Hinchcliffe but as we all know he missed this year's race due to injury. So a fair amount of the IndyCar schedule has at least one driver with local ties to the events.

I am not saying IndyCar has to go where the drivers are from but if IndyCar was truly making an impact on the communities they visit, you would think at least one driver from Iowa would have been inspired to become an IndyCar driver and either be on the Road to Indy or in IndyCar after nearly a decade of IndyCar visiting The Hawkeye State. One way to make new fans is give the people someone to cheer for and if there was an Iowan on the IndyCar grid, it would give someone the locals to cheer for and go to the track to support. It's not like Iowa isn't producing racecar drivers. They are. In the eight years since the first IndyCar race at Iowa, Iowans Landon Cassill, Michael Annett, Joey Gase and Brett Moffitt have all made NASCAR Cup Series debuts.

IndyCar sent James Jakes to Iowa to promote the race this year. No offense to James Jakes but what does he have in common with the people of Iowa? This isn't a Dan Wheldon/St. Petersburg-situation where Wheldon resided in St. Petersburg. The only times Jakes has probably been to Iowa is either for the race, a test sessions or to promote the race. What does he truly know about Iowa and what do the people of Iowa have in common with him that made him the dignitary to visit?

As much as we talk about how IndyCar should return to Phoenix, Michigan, Road America and so on, my question is which driver or drivers are you sending to those markets to promote the race? Who is the Arizonan? It's not Buddy Rice anymore. The 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner has been reduced to a spotter for Ed Carpenter. IndyCar already goes to Michigan and Wisconsin and don't have a local from those states. I am not saying hometown drivers for each IndyCar race is the answer to all of IndyCar's problems but it would help the series.

International drivers can become drivers that the American fan base connect with but it is just going to take longer than a true-blue local driver. Think about baseball and hockey. There are players from all around the globe in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League and there are international players in both leagues who have become faces of the league. David Ortiz is beloved in Boston and he is from the Dominican Republic. Miguel Cabrera has been one of the best players for the last decade and he is from Venezuela. While Ichiro is nearing the end of his career, he took MLB by storm when he came over from Japan. As for hockey, Russian Alexander Ovechkin is one of the most known players in the NHL. Notable Swedes include Henrik Lundqvist, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Daniel Alfredsson, a recently retired Swede, is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Ottawa Senators, albeit its short history. And we haven't even touched on Zdeno Chara, Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsuyk.

The one difference as to why international players can go to the MLB or NHL and become local heroes is these players live in these cities and are playing for the people. If they succeed and bring home a title they are adopted as one of the cities' own. IndyCar doesn't have that. The teams aren't spread out around the country and aren't crucial in the communities they are in. Sure, Penske is located in North Carolina, Coyne is in Illinois and Rahal Letterman Lanigan is in Ohio but the rest are in the Indianapolis-area. The drivers don't go and live in Iowa or Detroit or Milwaukee. It is rare to have a Dan Wheldon/St. Petersburg-situation.

There is no quick and easy way for IndyCar to get more hometown heroes. USAC drivers are overlooked. IndyCar could start taking the top two or three drivers from karting from each state and put them in an extensive development academy but that would be an expensive adventure and IndyCar is cheap and doesn't have any interest in developing drivers.

The quickest and easiest way for IndyCar to have hometown drivers at races is to run one or two wild card entries at each round. For example, when IndyCar goes to Iowa, try to get one of the four Iowans mentioned above or get someone who is known in Iowa, such as eight-time Knoxville Nationals winner Donny Schatz. Who would be against Donny Schatz in an IndyCar and who knows? Maybe a couple thousand people who wouldn't have gone to the IndyCar race otherwise would go if Schatz was in the field. I would also like to see what Bryan Clauson could do at a short track and he would be another option for wild card entry at Iowa and Milwaukee. IndyCar already has drivers from the Sonoma-area in J.R. Hildebrand and Townsend Bell, so that would be an easy race for wild cards. Wild cards could also be used to give Indy Lights drivers a taste of IndyCar. It would give the likes of Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones and Max Chilton a chance to audition for future suitors.

Once again, IndyCar is cheap and has no interest in developing drivers but IndyCar could have a team that isn't full-time in IndyCar such as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing or Juncos Racing run the wild card programs.

What has made the Indianapolis 500 a great event is the local community getting behind the race. How many other IndyCar races get a fraction of that type of support? IndyCar fans want races at Milwaukee, Road America, Phoenix, Michigan, Richmond and so on but those races can only exist for an extended period of time once the local communities get embrace them. If these races can get strong local support then the series and track promoters do not have to rely on IndyCar fans becoming Deadheads with 10,000 people following the series to every race.

They're Just Bricks
Kyle Busch did burn outs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and people went nuts. Listen. They are just bricks. They aren't holy bricks; they aren't hunger-ending bricks. They are just bricks. No different than the bricks that make up my front porch or are used in buildings across the United States. They are just bricks and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just a racetrack. Realize that worst things have been done at Indianapolis Motor Speedway than burn outs across the start/finish line. Have you seen pictures of the snake pit?

To be honest, Kyle Busch's celebration, whether it be from Saturday or Sunday, isn't even close to the most disrespectful that happened at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year. This is:
Or maybe this is most disrespectful:
Bricks are inanimate objects. They have no feelings. They can't be offended. What if a driver has an engine failure on the front straightaway and they get oil on the bricks? Did the driver with an engine failure do something offensive? You realize people run across the bricks during the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon at the start of the month of May and there is a chance someone could hurl giving it there all in the event. Maybe we should stop having the Speedway be apart of the Mini-Marathon course in case someone loses their breakfast on the bricks. The Speedway hosts a dog walk in the spring. Who knows what a dog will do on the brick. And you know what, those bricks are exposed to nature 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day and perhaps a bird has a bowel movement and it lands on the bricks. Oh the humanity! We can't let that happen. Perhaps the bricks should be covered in tarp everyday the track isn't being used by racecars.

They are bricks people. No harm, no foul.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kyle Busch and Sebastian Vettel but did you know...

The #46 Marc VDS BMW Z4 GT3 of Markus Palttala, Lucas Luhr and Nick Catsburg won the Spa 24 Hours. The #47 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Gianmaria Bruni, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Stephane Lemeret and Pasin Lathouras won the Pro-Am Class. The #24 Team Parker Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Benny Simonsen, Callum MacLeod, Julian Westwood and Ian Loggie won in the AM Cup class.

Pol Espargaró, Bradley Smith and Katsuyuki Nakasuga won the Suzuka 8 Hours.

Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith won the IMSA race at Lime Rock Park. Michael Marsal and Dane Cameron won in GTD.

Alex Lynn and Nobuharu Matsushita won in GP2 at the Hungaroring. In GP3, Luca Ghiotto and Kevin Ceccon were victorious.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Indianapolis.

Christopher Bell scored his first career NASCAR Truck Series victory at Eldora.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar begins Astor Cup August at Mid-Ohio.
All three Road to Indy Series and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at Mid-Ohio.
NASCAR heads back to Pocono.
DTM will be in Austria.
V8 Supercars goes to Queensland Raceway.
World Rally treks up to Finland.
World Superbike heads to Malaysia.