Controversy- a 500 Tradition

I used to officiate high school basketball. After a game, my partner and I would say, ” We must have had a good game because both sides were mad at us.” If we apply that standard to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they are doing a great job. At least two entities have issues with the track. Controversy is nothing new to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It even predates the 500 mile race at the track. There was the original, deadly surface which caused several fatal  accidents, followed by the somewhat controversial finish of the first race in 1911, qualifying controversies, and more arguments about the finishing order of certain races, notably 1981 and 2002. This is not new, but it is more about what happens off the track.

IU Health, the Speedway’s medical partner, issued a statement asking the track to hold the race with no fans. Their plea comes after IMS produced what I think is a thorough and comprehensive plane for fan safety which has the approval of the Marion County Health Department and state medical officials. The track responded with a strongly worded rebuttal.

IMS requested input from IU Health and received no response. I would think if you are investing sponsorship in a place that asks for input, you should give it, rather than wait until a plan comes out and then take issue with the contents.  IU Health actually seems more concerned with the activities outside the track- fans going to restaurants, staying in hotels, and shopping. The speedway has no control over what the fans do outside the track. Businesses have plans in place which I hope will mitigate any spread of the virus.

While I am not a fan of running the race at all this year, I understand why Roger Penske feels the need to have it. I get why he wants to have fans. Like everyone else, i made my choice about attending. I agree that IU Health has a point, but where were they when the plan was being put together? Their statement seems like a blindside attack. I wonder how this issue will affect their partnership with IMS in the future.

Fickle Fans

When the Speedway asked ticket holders to state their preferences about reassigned tickets or credits, some fans had a difficult decision. Some decided to skip this year’s race while others requested the maximum number of tickets allowed.

There was a period of tension while those that chose to keep their seats waited to see if they would receive their full allotment and if their new seats were close to their original places.

That phase soon was replaced by relief upon learning that their order had been fulfilled, many for the maximum number they requested. As fans began receiving tickets this week, the joy has turned to some grumbling. I saw one person on Facebook complain about the spacing and stating their intent to sit with their friends anyway. The fan practically dared the track to enforce the seat assignments. If they feel that way about their seats, are they feeling that way about the mask requirement too?

From what I have seen and heard of the seating plan, it is well done. There is plenty of space between groups of assigned seats. I don’t know why people are complaining about getting seats when tickets are limited to a small percentage of capacity.  If you are unhappy with your seats, stay home and watch the race on television. But first, turn in your tickets so that someone else who wants to go has a chance.

I’m not worried about IMS weathering this storm. It has gone through much worse. Remember 1964 and 1973?

I will wait until next year when with luck and hopefully a vaccine we can enjoy the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 on its proper date of May 30.

 

 

August Tickets, Test Drives, ECR’s New Engineer

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has sent out new tickets with modified seat assignments. The ticket for the scheduled August 23 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 is different from the original tickets for May 24. The new ticket has a shot of Simon Pagenaud standing on his car after winning last year’s race.  Sadly, Norman did not make the photo again. I was disappointed he wasn’t on the original release. I hoped a second chance wold allow him the opportunity. The photography is amazing.

Jimmie Johnson Test Drive

After two failed tries, seven time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson finally got his dream drive in an Indycar yesterday.  Johnson’s first scheduled test at barber was cancelled when Indycar shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. His second scheduled test day didn’t happen because Johnson had tested positive for COVID-19 just a few days ahead of the test.

Johnson turned about 120 laps in Felix Rosenqvist’s car and impressed five time Indycar champion Scott Dixon and Ganassi team manager Mike Hull. Both felt Johnson could fit right into Indycar and be competitive.

Johnson has said he has no interest in driving in the Indianapolis 500, but he seems to be changing his mind. the aeroscreen might be ther thing that persuades him. I look for Johnson to run more than one road course race in Indycar next year. The 500 may wait until 2022, but we’ll see.

I think it would be an amazing crossover if the master of one racing discipline gave Indycar more than a one-off attempt. We are starting to see more drivers try different disciplines as they did in the 50s and 60s. I would like to see different series coordinate their schedules more to accommodate more crossovers.

Pearn to Engineer Daly’s Car for 500

Cole Pearn will be the engineer on Conor Daly’s number 47 entry in the Indianapolis 500. Pearn had stepped away from racing in 2019 after helping Martin Truex and Furniture Row Racing win the 2017 NASCAR championship. I have heard a lot of praise for his skills.

I don’t know much about him, but he worked with Pete Craik, the engineer for Ed Carpenter’s number 20 car at Furniture Row. Their former relationship should help Daly. I still think this is a huge leap for his first Indycar venture. On the plus side, the Carpenter are usually strong at Indianapolis.

A Dark September

After the double header at World Wide Technology Raceway, Indycar has the entire month of September off. How does the series stay relevant for 32 days between races?

In  my weekly call with Roger (kidding!) I will offer a few suggestions:

  1. Announce the elusive third OEM
  2. Lay out the final configuration for the new 2.4  engine, including whether a hybrid component is included.
  3. Unveil the new chassis.
  4. Present the 2021  Indycar schedule.
  5. Announce the 2021 schedule of events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  6. Purchase Iowa Speedway.

You’re welcome, Roger and Mark.

 

 

Laguna Seca Drops Off Schedule;Double Headers Added to Compensate

Laguna Seca dropped off the Indycar schedule today, meaning no west coast races for the NTT Indycar Series in 2020. the follow is from Indycar with the latest revised schedule. I think we are the oint in the season where any further races that are cancelled will not be made up.

INDYCAR Announces 2020 Series
Schedule Update

14-Race Calendar Highlighted by Additional Doubleheaders

INDIANAPOLIS (July 27, 2020) – The NTT INDYCAR SERIES released an updated 2020 race calendar today featuring several modifications.

Three events already scheduled on the series calendar will now become doubleheader weekends, including INDYCAR’s upcoming race weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Prior to the originally scheduled Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Sunday, Aug. 9, the stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will square off in another championship-points paying event Saturday, Aug. 8.

In addition, the race weekends at World Wide Technology Raceway in August and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in October will become doubleheader weekends. WWTR will feature races Saturday, Aug. 29 and Sunday, Aug. 30. IMS will add a road course race Friday, Oct. 2 before the already scheduled event Saturday, Oct. 3.

“Our race fans have loved the exciting doubleheader action of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this year at Road America and Iowa Speedway,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President & CEO Mark Miles said. “We look forward to giving them even more world-class entertainment this season at three of the most exciting racetracks on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar.”

INDYCAR’s race at Portland International Raceway and doubleheader weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellation of both event weekends was a mutual decision between the series and promoters following close consultation and monitoring of the local situation. The series looks forward to returning to both venues in 2021.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES remains on track to run 14 races in the 2020 season. The full, updated schedule can be found at INDYCAR.com/Schedule.

Indianapolis 500 Schedule-Some New Times, More Than 7 Hours on NBC

First, my condolences to the family of Maurice Petty, who died Saturday at age 81. The master engine builder and brother of Richard Petty was a cornerstone of racing in the 60s. It has been a tough few days in the auto racing world with the loss of Chuck Hulse and Ralph Liguori as well.

The time schedule for every day of Indianapolis 500 activity is out. NBC will more than seven hours of track time including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.  NBC will qualifying on Saturday, August 15, from 3-5 pm ET, and the network returns Sunday for the last row shootout beginning at 1 pm. The Fast Nine follows on NBC from 1:45-2:30. The rest of qualifying can be seen on either NBC Gold or NBCSN.

Opening Day Tuesday August 11, is a short day. Veterans practice from 11-1, and Rookie Orientation runs from 1-4. Wednesday through Friday practice times have changed from the traditional times. Practice runs from 12:30-5:30 each day.

The track is open to the public every day, but only at 25% capacity. The only day I see this as a possible issue is Carb Day. Many fans who have chosen not to attend the race may be coming out on the Friday before the race as their only  chance to see the field of 33 on track.

Tuesday Aug. 11

11-1 pm – Veterans Practice NBC Gold

1-4 pm – Rookie Orientation/Veterans Refresher Programs NBC Gold

Wednesday Aug. 12 – Friday Aug. 14

12:30-5:30 pm – Practice NBC Gold

Saturday Aug. 15

8:30-9:30 am – Practice NBC Gold

11-6 pm – Quals (NBC Gold coverage 11-3, NBC 3-5, NBCSN 5-6

Sunday Aug. 16

10-10:30 am – Last chance practice NBC Gold

10:30-11 am – Fast Nine practice NBC Gold

12:30-1:45 pm – Last Row Shootout (NBC at 1 pm)

1:45-2:30 pm – Fast Nine Shootout NBC

4:15-6 pm – Practice NBCSN

Friday Aug. 21 (Carb Day)

11-1 pm – Final practice NBCSN

Sunday Aug. 23 (Race Day)

2:30 pm – 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 NBC

Qualifying Still Needs to be Fixed

The series and the Speedway are sending mixed messages with the qualifying format. Last year the 25 guaranteed spots argument was laid to rest, but what about the fastest 33? It is difficult if not impossible to get the Fastest 33 if drivers are going to be locked in on Saturday. In 2019, Fernando Alonso didn’t make the race, but his time was faster than the 30th qualifier, who was deemed safe. I don’t necessarily have an issue with a last chance qualifying on Sunday, but the cars involved should be able to defend after they are bumped. The slowest car in the entire field Saturday should be in jeopardy and have a chance to defend itself Sunday as well. This is the only way to have the Fastest 33 in the current climate.

Time for the extra runs can be made available by eliminating the Fast Nine. Like inter-league play in baseball and the slam dunk contest at the NBA All-Star Game, this is a concept that has outlived its usefulness. There can be plenty of drama in a pole fight late Saturday afternoon. I thought Conor Daly winning the pole at Iowa last Friday was pretty dramatic.

Let’s Play Two!

We could see two more double headers added to the season schedule. There likely will be no racing on the west coast this year. Mid Ohio news trickled out yesterday, and Gateway may announce today. The Harvest Classic at IMS may also end being pluralized.

I remain skeptical of St. Pete running. The season finale may be at IMS.

 

Portland Cancelled: Double Header at Mid Ohio

Per Motorsport.com this afternoon, the Indycar race scheduled for September 13 at Portland international Raceway has been cancelled.  The race will be replaced by a second race at Mid Ohio August 8, the day before the already scheduled Honda Indy 200.

Qualifying will follow the two group format traditionally used at Detroit and used at Road America this year.  Cars will be impounded after qualifying.

I don’t think we are done with double headers yet.  I still expect the races at Laguna Seca to be cancelled as well. Those events will be replaced by a double header at Gateway and another one at the harvest Classic at IMS in October.

The October races at IMS could end up being the season finale, as I remain skeptical about the St. Pete race at the end of October going forward.

IMS also released the schedule for practice and qualifying this afternoon. I will post that tomorrow, along with some thoughts about qualifying and the double headers.

Mid Ohio to Allow Limited Number of Fans

In an email to current ticket holders last night Mid Ohio Sports Car Course said that the Honda Indy 200 on the weekend of August 8 and 9 will allow a limited number of fans to attend the race.

The email:wp-15956891953895091576756771854120.png

As of this morning tickets are still on sale. I ordered tickets for Sunday only but it appeared all categories of tickets- weekend, Saturday, and Sunday- are all available on the website.

The track did not say what the cutoff number is. Like Road America, there is room at Mid Ohio to spread out the crowd. The Honda Indy 200 is the last race before the I 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.

 

IMS 500 Plans, Double Header Rumors Top Busy Week for Indycar

Cars haven’t been on track since last Saturday, but Indycar continues to make news- some facts, some rumors, and also bit of sadness. The pandemic has made uncertainty the only certain thing. Other sports are taking the first steps toward resuming while Indycar is at the halfway point of its season which is still scheduled to run into October.

The 88 page plan revealed by IMS on Wednesday for the 500 is very thorough and precise. If you are one of the 87,00 or so still planning to attend the race, it would worth your while to read through it. It is what you would expect from Penske- every situation is covered, every entrance and exit planned down to the tiniest detail in both text and diagram.

More Double Headers?

I’m hearing that Mid Ohio, Gateway, and the Harvest Classic at IMS will become double header weekends to compensate for the apparent losses of Portland and Laguna Seca. Neither track has officially cancelled yet, but Portland is under a crowd limit of 250 or fewer people order, and Laguna Seca does not have the volunteer staff to run the event. The Coronavirus in California also presents an obstacle.

Assuming St. Pete still goes forward, which I am skeptical about, the series would run 14 races with the new double headers. Two races at gateway the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 sounds like a lot for the crews, but it’s really no different than running Detroit the weekend after the traditional 500 date. In addition, the entire month of September would be open. I don’t like the idea of no races for an entire month and then having the series return for its final two or three events. It would be difficult to add a new track in September.

Ralph Liguori

Ralph_Liguori

On Wednesday, Ralph Liguori, itinerant racer, died at age 93. Liguori started more than 130 races between NASCAR and Indycar. His best finish was  second in the 1970 Hoosier Hundred. he passed A. J. Foyt for the spot. Liguori tried to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 six times between 1959 and 1968. He was bumped with 20 minutes left on Bump Day in 1963. Liguori raced into his 70s and won a race in 1973.

Setback for Zanardi

After some good news earlier in the week, Alex Zanardi’s condition has worsened. On Monday the former CART champion was moved to a rehabilitation facility. This morning he returned to ICU as his condition became unstable.

Zanardi suffered facial and neurological injuries in a hand bike accident on June 19.

Trouble for COTA

The FIA announced this morning that Formula will not have any races in the Americas. The cancellations include Canada,Mexico, Brazil, and the United States. this is particularly bad news for the Circuit of the Americas, which had already lost this year’s Indycar race among other events. It is sad to see such a great track in jeopardy.

Whether Indycar or F1 returns there next year remains to be seen. Roger Penske has talked about possibly having F1 return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While the road course has improved since the last time the U. S. Grand Prix was here, I still don’t think it’s a great F1 track.  The course needs some significant elevation changes to be a good track for F1.

Iowa for Sale?

This is strictly a rumor, but it seems Iowa Speedway may be for sale and Roger Penske may consider buying it to keep it on the Indycar schedule. This could be one of the first side benefits of Penske buying the series.

Iowa is a great track for Indycar. I love going there. I have always thought that Indycar should own some tracks, especially ovals, to keep a solid schedule. I think it would make economic sense in the long run.

 

 

 

The Roots of Indycar- The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame

The roots of Indycar can be found on the tiny dirt tracks that once dotted the country in the 20s, 30s, and up through the 50s. Midgets and sprint cars, also known then as big cars, put on shows several times a week to sellout crowds. I knew there was a deep connection with Indycar. At the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, I found out the depth of the connection.  With an entire day free before Iowa Race 2, I traveled just a few miles south from Newton to Knoxville to the famed Knoxville Raceway, home of the Knoxville Nationals sprint car meeting. The Hall of Fame, which opened January 4, 1992,  sits in a building adjacent to the track.

The display area is small, on the fist floor of the building. Sprint cars from virtually every era are on display. The hall also has an outstanding collection of photographs and artwork filling nearly every inch of wall space. Drivers helmets and driving suits are jammed into the smaller nooks and crannies. In spite of the small space, I didn’t feel cramped for space. Visitors could keep a comfortable distance.

On the second floor picture windows look out on the race track and the Hall of Fame is housed there as well. The hall is 24 four sided pillars filled with photos of the inductees. A video screen allows visitors to find the name of a driver, his location in the hall, and a brief career summary. The names of the hall numbers read like a collection of old Indianapolis 500 programs. I found several Indianapolis 500 winners, car makers, engine builders, and other great drivers from the 500.

There is  a small theater about the same size as the theater in the IMS Museum  upstairs. At the time I visited a film of a sprint car season I’m guessing from the early 60s was running. Jud Larson beat Bobby Unser int he race I watched. The hall also has a research library.  Here are some photos, many of Hall of Fame inductees. If you go to the Indycar race at Iowa next year, I recommend a trip here during the day. It’s only about 30 minutes from Iowa Speedway.

wp-15953369619624045726713353343465.jpgA 1949 Kurtis Kraft driven by three 500 winners- Rodger Ward, Bill Vukovich, and Troy Ruttman Vukovich’s brother Ely also drove this car.

wp-15953369299031450529819415793772.jpg

This guy turned out to be a pretty good Indycar driver.

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Ted Horn had one of the best records of top finishes in the 500.

wp-15953367587253928562505425561846.jpg

Harry Miller, whose engines were successful in the 30s.

wp-15953366546655161637018883811597.jpg

Ralph DePalma.wp-15953366777308718255132130713405.jpg

Rex Mays, another great driver who never won the 500.

wp-15954678879322066337626104684658.jpg

August and Fred Duesenberg, early car builders.wp-15953367425972703471100560597893.jpg

Don’t be shocked. You knew this one was coming.

wp-15953369032514862825688223315640.jpg

The view  of the track.

wp-15953367994185676406775813276107.jpg

 

Wilbur Shaw.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a news roundup of another not so quiet off week.

Wear your masks, Indiana.

 

 

IMS Plans for the 500: Local TV, Mandatory Masks, Cancelled Events

As expected, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has done a thorough job preparing a plan to run this year’s Indianapolis 500 in the safest manner possible. An 88 page outline released this morning provides details of how different the 104th running will look. Some highlights:

The race will be broadcast live on local television. This year will be only the fourth time the race has been televised live locally. The last time was in 2016 for the 100th running. The local broadcast is consistent with the speedway’s rationale in 2016- all available tickets have been sold.

All fans will have their temperature taken at the entrances. if a fan has a temperature above 100.4 degrees, that individual will go to a secondary screening station to undergo further testing. The high temperature does not necessarily mean that fan will be excluded from the event. Fans with temperatures below the threshold will receive a colored wristband to wear for the day. Iowa Speedway also used this procedure.

Masks are mandatory. Fans will be given a mask and hand sanitizer as they enter the grounds. The masks are mandatory at all times while inside the venue except for when eating or drinking. Doug Boles said there will be progressive enforcement by guest services staff, starting with reminders. Boles said the Speedway is prepared ask a fan to leave for not complying with what they think is a reasonable request.

Concession stands will have mostly prepackaged foods. There will not be functioning water fountains or misting stations. For people who normally get food at the track, this is the year to begin bringing your own.

Events surrounding the race which won’t take place include Legends day, the 500 Festival Parade, and the  Last Row Party.  The  Victory Banquet will be closed to fans. I assume a credit will be issued to those fans who have tickets.

Bronze badge holders will still have access to Gasoline Alley on practice and qualifying days. Boles said the track sold a limited number this year so that crowding should not be an issue. I would have preferred that this access not be allowed. I would be fine if the Bronze badge were only good for grounds admission.

On Race Day the time fans can be on pit lane will be limited, and on track access is limited to team and race personnel.

Fans who have kept their tickets but change their mind after reviewing this plan can still get a credit for 2021.

Boles does not see a problem with crowd size on practice or qualifying days. Seating areas on those days will be marked for distancing. Some areas have been closed on practice and qualifying days in the past. it sounds as if just more sections or stands might be closed.

Mark Miles said the plan has been approved by Dr. Virginia Cain, Health Director for Marion County. He said that the plan may be adjusted if the health metrics change.  Indiana requires events which plan to have more than 250 attendees to submit a safety plan.

Dr. Ed Racht, Chief medical officer of Global Medical Services, explained the science behind the Speedway’s plan.  Since IMS is an outdoor venue, the virus is 19 times less likely to spread than at an indoor arena or concert hall.  He stated that there is more understanding of the virus and its transmission, and the application of strict criteria can help slow the spread of the disease. Racht emphasized the importance of face coverings.

The entire 88 page plan is available for download at indianapolismotorspeedway.com

IMS is doing everything possible to see that the 500 is run this year. A drastic change in cases in Marion County could still derail all of their planning.  I really don’t have any objection to anything I heard today. I like that the blackout was lifted and lifted early, I like that face mask wearing will be enforced, and I think their distancing plan is feasible. It appears they have taken some of the ideas from Iowa Speedway and built them to scale. I wonder if IMS will have chalk circles on the viewing mounds.

Whether to go or stay home is an individual choice. If you read this and have turned in your tickets, you can purchase a new ticket through this Friday.