Monday, May 4, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: You Missed the Starting Gun

Cars took to the track in preparation for the Indianapolis 500. Supercross ended their season. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won at Talladega for the first time in over a decade. A Spaniard won in MotoGP. Two manufactures picked up their first victories of 2015 in V8 Supercars and the FIA World Endurance Championship mind as well change the series name to the FIA World Sprint Championship. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Jeff Gordon: Pace Car Driver
Jeff Gordon is going to be the ceremonial pace car driver for this year's Indianapolis 500. When I first heard it I thought, "Ok but I want him to race in the Indianapolis 500, not pace it." I am already resigned to the fact Gordon will never run the Indianapolis 500. He's not going to do. He's not. But he can. And he should.

Gordon has more money than God and was blessed with a talent that many of would die to have. Why wouldn't he attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 2016? Why wouldn't he want that on his résumé? He has nothing to lose. Even if he is in the middle of the pack all month at Indianapolis, that isn't a blemish on his four NASCAR championships or three Daytona 500 victories or any of his 92 Cup victories. He made an attempt. That is much more honorable than saying how you'd like to do it and never take a step toward doing so.

And it's not just Jeff Gordon. Plenty of drivers say they want to attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 or want to run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans or run the Bathurst 1000 and then never do it. Why not just fucking do it? (More on those four words a little later). You aren't going to live forever and you can't let the potential danger stop you. All forms of motorsport are dangerous. If a driver cites danger as the reason why they don't attempt another endeavor in another motorsports discipline then why are they out there to begin with? As we saw earlier this year at Daytona with Kyle Busch and this weekend at Talladega with Brad Smith in the ARCA race, you aren't invisible in a stock car.

Deep down, I would love to see Jeff Gordon attempt to make the 100th Indianapolis 500 but it's not going to happen. He should have attempted it a decade ago but just like Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao you can only wonder why they waited so long.

The good news is Jeff Gordon is now eligible for the Pace/Safety Car driver race I proposed.

I Got A Lot of Reading Done This Week
Ok, it was really over the last ten days but nonetheless I started and finished both "Black Noon: The Year The Stopped The Indy 500" by Art Garner and "Beast: The Top Secret Illmor-Penske Engine That Shocked The Racing World At The Indy 500" by Jade Gurss.

A few things, first about "Black Noon": The title is misleading. My sister saw me reading it and asked, "What do you mean they stopped the Indy 500?" knowing that the race still exists and she can never recall a year when I wasn't giddy during the month of May. I had to explain to her that it was red flagged for the accident that took the lives of Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs and the race was eventually restarted.

If Hollywood is going to make a movie about the Indianapolis 500, make it about the 1964 race, not the 1911 race. 1964 is much more interesting. You have everything. You have a diverse cast of characters from Sachs to MacDonald, A.J. Foyt to Jim Clark, Colin Chapman to Mickey Thompson, Humpy Wheeler to Donald Davidson. You have innovation at it's peak and the struggles that innovation entails. You have drivers trying to manage supporting their families with a lethal career.

Then there is the accident, the climax of the story. The inevitable. If there is any accident that sums up the danger of motorsports in the 1960s, it's this accident.

Having re-watched the accident and the minutes following the accident, it's the only time in my life I have watched a live sporting event and felt the silence. Has a group of people that large ever been so silent? The only other time I have felt silence like that from a sporting event was Liverpool vs. Manchester City on April 13, 2014, when there was a minute of silence pre-match in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

Sid Collins' impromptu eulogy is the most underrated calls in all of sports. The simply ones get the glory. "Havlicek stole the ball." "The Giants win the pennant!" "Down goes Frazier." "And we'll see you tomorrow night." They are easy to repeat. This one is great because no one can ever repeat it.

Some men try to conquer life in a number of ways. These days of outer space attempts, some men try to conquer life and death and they calculate their risks. In our talking to them over the years, I think we know their inner thoughts in regard to racing. They take it as part of living. No one is moving on the racetrack. They are standing silently.

A race driver, who leaves this earth mentally when he straps himself into the cockpit, to try for what to him is the biggest conquest he can make, is aware of the odds, and Eddie Sachs played the odds. He was serious and frivolous. He was fun. He was a wonderful gentleman. He took much needling and gave much needling, just as the astronauts do, perhaps. These boys on the racetrack ask no quarter and they give none. If they succeed, they're a hero and if they fail, they tried.

And it was Eddie's desire, I'm sure, and his will to try with everything he had which he always did. So the only healthy way, perhaps, we can approach the tragedy of loss of a friend like Eddie Sachs is to know that he would have wanted us to face it as he did, as it has happened, not as we wish it would have happened.

It was God's will, I am sure, and we must accept. We are all speeding toward it at a rate of sixty minutes every hour. The only difference is that we do not know how to speed and Eddie Sachs did. Since death has a thousand more doors, Eddie Sachs exits this earth in a race car. Knowing Eddie, I assume that is the way he would have wanted it.

Byron said, 'Who the Gods love, die young.' Eddie was thirty-seven. To his widow, Nance, we extend our extreme sympathy and regret. This boy won pole here in 1960 and 1961. He was a proud race driver."

 Three hundred and thirty words. Find a better compilation of 330 words. I dare you.

As for "Beast": If you ever wanted to do anything and have been told it's not possible, this is the book for you. Sure, Roger Penske and Illmor had the funds to make the 1994 Penske PC-23 with the Mercedes-Benz 500I succeed but funds can only go so far. The project came down to more than money. It came down to every single member working on that project to bust their ass to get it accomplished.

Pure passion to built the best engine imaginable is what made the 500I be the success it was. I don't want to think it is the last great Indianapolis 500 project but nothing has surpassed it since and it could be a while before we will see something of that caliber at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indianapolis 500.

Notable Passages
There were a few passages from each book that I would like to share. We will start with "Black Noon."

Pg. 14: "In the end the officials decided to do what they normally did––nothing."
In response to the teams wanting a ban on rear-engined cars. If only today's officials were more hands off.

Pg. 66: "Safety was one of the Edsel's major selling point, one of its features was a speedometer that glowed red when speeds passed a predetermined setting. Only no one was buying" and "Many in Dearborn saw racing as a way to rebuild that reputation."
This was in reference to the Ford Edsel and I mention it because during the Long Beach weekend I mentioned that I think IndyCar promotes safety too much. Safety is great but it doesn't attract people. People want to see drivers cheat death. When a driver walks away from an accident, the car's safety should not be mentioned on the TV or radio broadcast. It should be said that the driver looked death in the eye and made death blink. That sounds much better than going on about safety features. And as for the second quote, if only Ford expanded to motorsports efforts to more than just NASCAR and IMSA. The door is always open at Indianapolis for a return and we all want to see the Ford GT competing in GTE in the FIA WEC.

Pg. 135: "Graham Hill went to Victory Lane, pocketing $2,000 for winning the biggest F1 race of the year. The last-place finisher in the 500 was guaranteed more than that."
My how things have changed. 

Pg. 152-153: "He (Jim Clark) knew a handful of American drivers, but many of the Indy regulars were cold and unfriendly, and Clark found the atmosphere in the Gasoline Alley patronizing, even hostile. "
That's disappointing to hear. Clark was a world-class driver and people didn't like him just because he was British? How ridiculous. The unfortunate part of that is that hint of xenophobia still lingers around IndyCar and it one of the issue I wish the series took a stand on and attempt to root out. It's one thing to support American drivers, it's another to just hate them because they were born in another country. 

Pg. 156: "He (Jim Clark) was cheered at Milwaukee and Trenton and later by adoring road race fans at Watkins Glen, Riverside and Laguna Seca. The man quoted as saying, 'The only thing wrong with America is the Americans' suddenly reached sports idol status. Clark's quote was actually aimed at the American media, not fans, and his attitude toward reporters hadn't changed changed... 'Indianapolis really opened my eyes to the power of the press,' he said. 'Everything takes second place to the press, or so it seems, and after the Indianapolis 500, I remember coming back to Scotland and thinking I could live happily ever more without seeing another American journalist.' "
I wonder how many current drivers feel that way? Also, we can now replace "Everything takes second place to the press" to "Everything takes second place to television." Or so it seems. 

Pg. 198: "Play in the $70,000 500 Festival Open had barely gotten under way, and already there was one unhappy golfer. Jack Nicklaus, the leading money winner on the PGA Tour, said he wouldn't play the tournament again. 'It's degrading to golf to place second to the race,' Nicklaus said."
Now no one should take this personally and use this to start hating Jack Nicklaus. He had a point. In hindsight, trying to hold a PGA tournament at Brickyard Crossing Indianapolis 500 weekend is absurd. It's like if the NFL decided to host the Super Bowl in Vancouver in 2010, just a week before Vancouver were set to host the Winter Olympics. How is that fair to anyone? I do wish Hulman & Co. would try to attract either the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship to Brickyard Crossing. I am sure the course would need some upgrading but I think it would be a great moneymaker for the company and we know IMS can hold big events so there is enough room for all the spectators of a major golf tournament. By the way, I would invite Nicklaus to the 100th Indianapolis 500. An olive branch of sorts. 

Pg. 253: "After climbing form the car, he (Jim Clark) sat on the track, his back resting against the left front tire. He seemed oddly disconnected. 'Don't look so worried,' Clark finally said to a crewman. 'It's only a sport.' "
I learned more about Jim Clark the person from this book than every other thing I have read about him prior in my lifetime. I knew about the world championships and the race victories but in this book, I finally felt I could imagine what Clark sounded like and how he acted. All these years I heard people describe Jim Clark as a Greek god above all. Art Garner describes Jim Clark as a common man who walked amongst us. I think Art Garner deserves a round of applause for that alone.

Pg. 290: "American Motors picked the day to run a full-page ad in newspapers across the country: Why Don't We Enter High-Performance Rambler V8s in Racing? Because The Only Race Rambler Cars Care About Is The Human Race"
I got to admit, that sounds like a dick move by American Motors. Need I remind everyone that within a decade, AMC would win the Trans-Am championship with Mark Donohue driving a Javelin and the Matador was competing in NASCAR, both programs being run Roger Penske.

From "Beast":

Pg. 19-20: "The stopwatch is the most exacting measure of absolute time, as it measures increments of thousandths of a second or less. You cannot bullshit the stopwatch. It has neither emotion nor a political agenda. It plays no favorites. You cannot fool the stopwatch. Style and sentiment have no effect. It is the ultimate judge. It tells absolute truth."
This quote should be sent to Dale Coyne, Francesco Dracone and Rodolfo González. 

Pg. 38: " One thing that most upset (Tony) George was the influence held by the engine manufactures."
Sounds an awful like 2015. Over 20 years later and we are right back where we started.

Pg. 44: " 'I had a rubber stamp made up that just had 'JFDI' on it,' said Robin Page, who worked in the design office and was Illmor's at-track engineer for the pushrod project. 'That was for 'Just Fucking Do It!' Let's not talk about it, let's just fucking do it.' "
You can see why I used this in the first section of this post. 

Pg. 128-129: " 'Emerson wasn't a big tester in the offseason. He liked to go to Brazil and you couldn't get him to come out of there unless it was a really important test. It was hard to get Emerson to test anywhere that wasn't eighty degrees and sunny!' "
Said by Paul Tracy. It's hard to imagine a more talent trio of teammates than Fittipaldi, Tracy and Al Unser, Jr. Sure, Penske currently has defending IndyCar champion Will Power; IndyCar champion, Indianapolis 500 winner and seven-time Formula One Grand Prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya; three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castroneves and yet to win anything massive but very talented Simon Pagenaud but those four don't top those three. 

Pg. 136: "He (Tony George) told the media 'the time for talk is over' and that he was never taken seriously by CART. George explained how he disliked the current 'foreign flavor' of the sport and that a purely American oval serve would be more exciting and cost effective."
I have said it before and I will say it again, I think Tony George was a little misguided in his vision. He should have invested heavily in young Americans, whether they be from USAC or Atlantics or Indy Lights, to get them into CART, not started his own series. The next page talks about Jeff Gordon and how Pat Patrick was afraid he could adapt to road racing. Anyone can adapt to road racing, they just need to be given time and patience. And the "foreign flavor" line just shows that IndyCar's xenophobia problem isn't just with the fans, it can spread to powerful places. 

Pg. 171: "After the day was done, (Ayrton) Senna reflected on the joy he felt. 'It reminded me of the old days of Formula 1 where the man––the human side––was the most important thing,' said Senna. 'What I saw driving the Indy car was that man's input has tremendous value. It was really exciting.' "
This was after Senna's test with Penske at Firebird International Raceway in the winter of 1992. I just wonder if Ayrton Senna could have saved the IndyCar from the split? It seems like a long shot and we will never know but could someone who loved racing as much as he did and his presence in the IndyCar paddock been enough to perhaps get Tony George to hold off on starting the IRL? I'd like to believe so.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jamie Green, Jorge Lorenzo and Mattias Ekström but did you know....

The #7 Audi of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer won their second consecutive FIA WEC race as they won at Spa. The #28 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Gustavo Yacamán, Ricardo González and Pipo Derani won in LMP2. Aston Martin swept the GTE class. The #99 of Alex MacDowell, Richie Stanaway and Fernando Rees won in the Pro class while the #98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won the GTE-Am class for the second consecutive race.

Mark Winterbottom swept the V8 Supercars race on Saturday from Barbagallo Raceway near Perth, Australia. Winter bottom's victories were the first for Ford in 2015. Will Davison won the race on Sunday. Davison's victory was Mercedes' first V8SC victory of 2015.

Richard Westbrook and Micahel Valiante won the IMSA race at Laguna Seca. Bruno Junqueira and Chris Cumming won in PC. John Edwards and Lucas Luhr won in GTLM. Spencer Pumpelly and Patrick Lindsey won in GTD.

Defending Super GT Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won the second round of the 2015 season at Fuji in the #1 Nissan GT-R. It was a clean sweep for Nissan as the #10 Gainer Nissan GT-R GT3 of André Couto, Katsumasa Chiyo and Ryuichiro Tomita won in GT300.

José María López won race one of the WTCC weekend at Hungary with Norbert Michelisz taking a popular victory in race two in front of his home crowd at the Hungaroring,

Jonas Folger won the Moto2 race from Jerez. Danny Kent won his third consecutive race in Moto3.

Ryan Dungey won the final round of the 2015 AMA Supercross season. Dungey had already clinched the title.

Joey Logano won NASCAR's second division race at Talladega.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar runs the second Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon.
All three Road to Indy series join IndyCar on the IMS road course.
Formula One runs their first European round at Barcelona.
Formula E returns to action as they run their first European round... on the streets of Monaco.
NASCAR runs another night race to the dismay of Kevin Harvick at Kansas.
World Superbike heads to Imola.
Blancpain Sprint Series runs their second round of the season at Brands Hatch.