Categories
2015 Racing Season

Dale Earnhardt at Sears Point

I was making the rounds on FB yesterday and a friend who was a long time race driving instructor had this fantastic photo of a new student posted:

 

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Yes this is actually real!  Of course, this drew the interest of his racing instructor friends who made comments such as:

Most dumb moves at racing school are made by men. Women listen and follow directions … Except this one.

And:  There are gender-specific dumb moves. Waiting til the “1” marker to brake in t11 on an out-lap? That’s a dude. Stopping on the front straight to ask a question? That’s a lady.

But what really got me fired up and made me want to share this chain was this nugget about the day that Dale Earnhardt was a student at Sears Point:

Funny and sorta related racing school story. Back in 1989 when NASCAR first added the Point to their schedule, there was a sudden (and understandable) spike in the number of pro racers who signed up for the Bondurant school there. Ron Nelson had the pleasure of having Dale Earnhardt as his student. Typical class included the instructor at the wheel giving the student the pointers on where to begin braking, what gear, the line, etc. before the “student” took the wheel for a slow lap before doing a hot one. Naturally Dale hit the track at speed and hot into it. Coming out of 9 he says (somewhat casually in his distinctive Southern drawl) “I forget, is 10 flat?” to which Ron replies (somewhat alarmed) “NO! 10 is NOT flat!!!” And Dale replies “Nah. I think its flat.” and proceeds to enter 10 flat out and into a drift, sliding off the track, over the curb, across the dirt and just barely kissing the tire wall, all with his right foot still on the floorboard. Nelson nearly had a heart attack, and as Dale got it back onto the pavement he says (still very calmly) “Well Hell. Its ALMOST flat!”.

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Categories
2015 Racing Season

Indycar Recap

I’ll admit it, I’ve been suffering from a severe case of summer writer’s block.  I’ve got a backlog of post ideas floating around my head, ranging from a look back at the gorgeous Ferrari 643 to unveiling the Top 5 Studio Drummers of the 70’s, but I just haven’t been able to wrest the cold beer from my hands and turn the TV off long enough to get the creative juices flowing.  The primary reason is the lack of intrigue in the sporting and racing landscape of late, but I’m also placing the blame on the fact that my wife went to work for a ride sharing mobile app technology company, leaving me with morning and evening Mr Mom duties in addition to my day job. (Note: One of the perks of Mr. Mom duties is unlimited access of the Elmo song catalog.  Seriously, “Elmo’s Got the Moves” is getting more airplay in my head than The Beatles, Stones and Kinks combined.)  But witnessing the thrills, spills and heartbreak over the past fortnight in Indycar, I think it’s time for a few Indycar Random Thoughts.

Tragedy

Being a racing fan can be difficult at times.  Sadly, the emotions of losing a beloved racing driver are feelings that I’ve become accustomed to since I was a child.  I will never forget the moment in our family room when I found out that my first driving hero, Gilles Villeneuve, had perished in qualifying for the ‘82 Belgian GP in Zolder.  I had witnessed Gilles at the ‘81 & ‘82 Long Beach GP’s and had been mesmerized by his flair behind the wheel.  It was love at first sight and I quickly set about transforming my room into a mini shrine filled with posters on the walls, magazines and books in every corner, die-cast models, t-shirts, and I was eagerly counting down the days to the ‘83 LBGP.  And then I came home on a Saturday afternoon and was told by my emotional father that Gilles was gone.  “Gone?  He can’t really be gone?” I thought.  I had no experience in dealing with death of any kind other than burying a goldfish or two.  It was a surreal experience and I can remember crying a few times over my loss, but I was a resilient 11 year old and was quickly looking forward to hearing about the next race.

To this day, I still can’t stop thinking about the death of Ayrton Senna.  I’m at peace now with his passing but I could hardly function for a week after his death and from time to time I still have a good cry thinking about the man.  It’s like a part of my youth died with him and I had to grow up and become a calloused adult.  The F1 fantasy bubble that I had existed in with Ayrton, Nigel and Prost from the ages of 13-23 had burst and the sudden change was a shock to the system.  From that day on, I had to construct an emotional barrier to these drivers because I wasn’t equipped to experience sadness like I felt for Ayrton again.  The experience hardened me and made me come to view drivers as extraordinarily brave men following a passion and if they happened to perish in the car, then they went out doing what they loved and I was at peace with that.  To my young adult mind, it was a life well lived.  

A few months after Senna’s death, I used to have the following philosophical debate with fellow buzzards after a few too many cold ones:  If you could have Ayrton’s 34 great years on the planet, would you trade your life for it now, not knowing what your future is going to look like?  Of course the 23 year old me would always answer a resounding Yes!  

Even as a hardened racing fan,  I’ll never shake the images of watching Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Krosnoff, Greg Moore, Dan Wheldon, Marco Simoncelli and Justin Wilson perish on live TV.  It’s just hard to believe that a larger than life hero, someone who you feel like you know personally, can be entertaining us one second and in an instant, be lost forever.  

I was hiking solo a few days ago and was questioning how the other drivers continue on after losing one of their competitors and friends?  The scenario in my head was:  What would I do if I was riding with my mountain bike gang on Sunday and one of the guys had a large tree branch fall on his head and kill him instantly.  Would I want to go back out the next Friday with the gang and do it again?  These drivers with “The Right Stuff” certainly are a different breed.

So farewell to Justin “Badass” Wilson!  I’ve been a fan for many years, dating back to his days as the 2001 F3000 champion, and I’ve had the good fortune of witnessing him score his only World Championship Points for Jaguar in the 2003 Indy GP and podiums in Cart and Indycar at Long Beach and San Jose.  Being 6’5” myself, I immediately took a liking to a 6’4” driver who could contort his lanky frame into a chassis and still have the feel and touch in the ass, hands and feet to get it done at the highest level.  JWill joins a long list of drivers who never got a fair shake in F1, but I’ll always be confused why a few of these knucklehead Cart/Indy team owners didn’t snatch him up immediately when he crossed the pond in 2004.  Even in cars that should have been mid-pack at best, Wilson’s prodigious skills still shone through and for those of us hard-cores who truly get it, Wilson will be remembered as one of the greats of his era, right there with the Dario’s, Dixon’s and Kanaan’s of the world.  It breaks my heart that a quality man won’t get to grow old with his wife and two young daughters, but he died following his passion and we have to respect the choice that he made when he stepped into the car.  A life well lived indeed!

 

Randoms

-Moments before the Pocono race took a serious turn for the worse, I was loving PT in the booth referring to Sage Karam as “Dangerboy.”  Very appropriate for this youngster.  Cheers to NBCSN for the team that they assembled to broadcast the races.  Now if the series could just rid themselves of the ABC contract.

-I still can only watch an Indy race on the DVR.  For green flag racing, Indycar is tops in my book but the prolonged yellow is a lifesucker.  The instant I see that yellow bugger being waved I’m on the gas pedal until they are back to green.  On the road circuits, do they really need the local street sweeping crew to come out and perform a 15 minute demonstration on how to clean a racing line?  The reality is one green flag lap with Sato and Colletti in the field will bring back all the dirt and then some.  These guys are pros and can still put on a show with a little dirt to contend with.  I know that it’s difficult to concede that the brains running F1 are incredibly innovative, but Indycar needs to invest a little money into the virtual safety car idea so the races can continue to be races and not 4 heats with 3 long yellow parades.  Call me old fashioned but I think the fastest cars should win the race most of the time.  Right now it’s completely a roll of the dice.  

-Watching the three 500 mile races this year, I’m sort of amazed that there was only one fatality.  I know that sounds horrible, but these guys were racing each other inches apart for 1500 miles like the world was coming to an end.  Great viewing for us fans, but man that must be nerve wracking to compete in.  I still can’t stop thinking about the fact that during one of the restarts at Pocono, they were running 7 wide {7 WIDE} at over 200mph for turn 1.  Besides watching Isle of Man TT videos on YouTube, 7 WIDE is the craziest thing we’ll witness this or any motorsports season.  Seriously, if Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel were to just go 3 wide at Monza this weekend, books would be written about it 30 years from now celebrating the great 3 wide battle at Monza.  Come on with 7 wide already!  

-Scott Dixon is the perfect driver for Indycar’s Roll The Dice Racing.  He’s as safe as they come, can put the hammer down or coast with the best of them, and doesn’t get too rattled when he suddenly finds himself in P15 after dominating the first 20 laps due to getting caught out in a yellow.  4 titles and counting for the likable Kiwi.  I’ll be surprised if he’s not a 6 timer before hanging up the helmet.

-Mike Hull and the Target Box Crew are also the best in the business.  It’s sort of amazing how they continually pull one over on the Penske brain-trust.  The championship winning pit stop where Dixon jumped Power and Newgarden was a thing of beauty and their ability to get Kimball and TK into the top 4 to give Dixon the cover he needed was phenomenal teamwork.    Since Penske, Ganassi and Andretti all defected from CART to Indycar, Ganassi has produced 7 driving champions, Andretti 4 and Penske 2.

-Revelation of the Year:  Newgarden is a quick as anybody in the field and should be hired by a top team immediately.  Or, Gene Haas should snap him up for the new USF1 team and get him alongside Vergne or Buemi.

-Surprise of the Year:  Rahal and his team totally elevated their game and carried the fight for Honda against the Chevy armada.  Graham was a man possessed with some drives for the ages and seeing him whip the local Ohioans into a frenzy usually only witnessed for Euro megastars at Mid-O was exactly the sort of the development that Indycar needs to get back into the spotlight.  Maybe the fact that Graham’s fiance, Courtney Force, drives a 8,000 horsepower funny car for her day job spurred Graham on to greatness?  It must be amusing to listen to their Sunday evening debriefs.

-Disappointment of the Year:  Simon Pagenaud’s first year at Penske was shit.  I honestly thought the Frenchman was immediately going to be the Dixon-esque driver that Penske has been seeking and was going to be the perfect blend of speed, engineering smarts and poise.  I don’t know what just happened but here’s to hoping he gets a new engineer and crew manager for 2016.

-Worst Driver of the Year:  Stefano Coletti.  Indycars are heavy and difficult to drive and the Monaco native simply could not adapt.  He’s very fortunate to be going home with his brain and body still intact.

-Final thought:  It was great to see JPM get his game back and lead the title fight from St Pete’s until the final lap of the final race, but I feel like Juan went into point protect mode way too early this year and it ultimately cost him the title.  The man is a fighter and it was painful to watch him cruise around for points.  It was like the football prevent defense that always backfires. Penske needs to just let the Columbian charge and the points will take care of themselves.  

Here’s to hoping for a continuation of this mega battle next season and added races at Road America, Phoenix and Mexico City.

I am Indy!

 

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