Another Link to the Past is Gone

Photo: Sonny Meyer in 1960. Photo from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

For the second time this week, the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Indycar racing has lost a legendary link in the chain of its past.

Sonny Meyer, 89, died Saturday. Meyer was the son of the 500’s first three time winner, Louis Meyer. He began working on engines as a teenager after his father purchased the Offenhauser engine business.  Meyer was directly in involved in at least 15 winning Indianapolis 500 engines. He worked with many of the greats, including Bill Vukovich, Tony Bettenhausen, Troy Ruttman,  Gordon Johncock, and A. J. Foyt.

The events earlier this week and now this news intensifies my resolve to continue writing about Indycar racing’s past. Beginning next month I plan to recognize  those links to the past that are still living, so fans can pay tribute to the people who have made this sport what it is.

As I have said before, should you encounter one of these heroes of yesteryear, please say hello and let them know how much they are appreciated. Time is speeding by quickly.

 

Update: End of an Era

It has been 366 days since Mari Hulman George died and it is just a few weeks short of when Tony Hulman purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Eddie Rickenbacker in 1945. I have a feeling Roger Penske will pay a little more than the $750,000 that Hulman paid.

This has been an emotional day for me. IMS has been in the Hulman/George family my entire life.

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From today’s Press Conference:

The key word was stewardship. Tony George said  “…we as a family all agreed we needed to have a conversation with Roger Penske. I approached him at the final race of the season, not wanting to distract from the task at hand, which was bringing home another championship, but I wanted to wish him well on the grid, and I just simply said, I’d like to meet with him and talk about stewardship.”

Roger Penske later added, “I’ve got a big commitment here to take over certainly as the steward of this great organization and what’s been done here in the past for so many decades. It’s my commitment to the Hulman family. The fact that you would select us is an opportunity to take on this investment, it’s amazing, and I just want to thank Tony and everyone else that’s been involved in this.”

I like that both George and Penske used this term. it was comforting that it didn’t sound like a huge corporate takeover.

As far as personnel at IMS, Penske said, “we have no intention of changing the management teams that are place today, and certainly we’ll have a board that we’ll announce at the time of the final closing ofthe transaction, and we hope to have a diverse group of people on there that know the business and can support the business, take us to the next step. That’s going to be part of our plan.And we also, just to put it in perspective, we’ve offered the Hulman family members if they’d like to have an interest in the company that we would look at that during between now and when we get to the end of the closing.”

I take some comfort that there may still be some family involvement in the Speedway.

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How My Day Started

I got a text from a friend as I was having breakfast with some friends.  “What’s up with the sale of the track to Penske? ” I read it twice. Then I looked it up. My first impression was shock. Not only the track, but the series and other properties were sold. Here are my initial thoughts. I will update this story after the 11 am press conference.

IMS

I have never in my lifetime known the Speedway to be owned by anyone except Tony Hulman or the Hulman -George family. It makes me to sad to think that the Hulman name will no longer be a part of the Speedway going forward.

I had a feeling when Mari Hulman George died  that her death started the track on an inevitable path to today’s announcement. According to Tony George, the family has been searching for a buyer for the last ten years.

There may not be many changes for 2020 because much is already locked in, but there could be some big differences in 2021.

I’m glad the Speedway was sold to someone who has respect for the track and the Indianapolis 500. Penske’s love of racing began at his first 500:

“I really have to wind back to 1951 when my dad
brought me here when I was 14 years old, and I guess
at that point the bug of motor racing got in my blood I’d
have to say, and to think about what it’s meant to our
company, the brand that we’ve been able to build — it’s
interesting, I talked to Mario Andretti today and AJ
Foyt, and we all agreed what the Indianapolis 500 has
meant to us as individuals and as a company, and
certainly our company.”

My concern is Penske’s history of track ownership.  I hope eventually the track isn’t sold to NASCAR.

I have many other concerns, such as track personnel, new spectator policies, and physical changes to the track. I’m not sure if any will be answered at the press conference.

Penske talked of stronger promotion for the Brickyard 400 and the possibility of a 24 hour race. I’m not sure the track or community is ready for a 24 hour event.  A shorter endurance race might work.

Indycar

More tracks could open up to Indycar races with Penske’s influence.

The double header with NASCAR could moire easily become a reality.

I have a concern about conflict of interest with a race team owned by the owner of the series. This concern also extends to the 500, but the Speedway ownership has fielded cars in the past.

Will Penske leadership help Indycar obtain a third OEM? With Honda looking at NASCAR, another OEM takes on  more urgency. A fourth one wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I can’t see Chevy  covering the entire grid by themselves.

If you had hopes of Detroit moving to a different date to get an oval the week after the 500, those dreams are gone. Also, the Belle Isle races will stay on NBC. I hope NBC adds a couple more races then.

As with IMS, 2020 is probably not changing, but after that, especially when current agreements expire, everything is wide open to change. I don’t see this change affecting the 2022 new car and engine  plans.

My head is still spinning.

 

 

 

The End of an Era

I got a text from a friend as I was leaving breakfast with some friends.  “What’s up with the sale of the track to Penske? ” I read it twice. Then I looked it up. My first impression was shock. Not only the track, but the series and other properties were sold. Here are my initial thoughts. I will update this story after the 11 am press conference.

IMS

I have never in my lifetime known the Speedway to be owned by anyone except Tony Hulman or the Hulman -George family. It makes me to sad to think that the Hulman name will no longer be a part of the Speedway going forward.

I had a feeling when Mari Hulman George died 366 days ago that her death started the track on an inevitable path to today’s announcement.

There may not be many changes for 2020 because much is already locked in, but there could be some big differences in 2021.

I’m glad the Speedway was sold to someone who has respect for the track and the Indianapolis 500.

My concern is Penske’s history of track ownership.  I hope eventually the track isn’t sold to NASCAR.

I have many other concerns, such as track personnel, new spectator policies, and physical changes to the track. I’m not sure if any will be answered at the press conference.

Indycar

More tracks could open up to Indycar races with Penske’s influence.

The double header with NASCAR could moire easily become a reality.

I have a concern about conflict of interest with a race team owned by the owner of the series. This concern also extends to the 500, but the Speedway ownership has fielded cars in the past.

Will this help Indycar obtain a third OEM?

As with IMS, 2020 is probably not changing, but after that, especially when current agreements expire, everything is wide open to change.

I will update this post after the press conference. My head is still spinning.

 

 

 

An Arrow Through the Heart

I just love it when I have an article in mind and have to do a 180 degree spin in the middle of a turn. As I began setting up my post on the current status of the 2020 NTT Indycar Series grid, the grid experienced a seismic change. James Hinchcliffe, one of the most popular drivers in the paddock, lost his seat at Arrow McLaren SP. The team will announce Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward as their drivers for next season. The news from Racer magazine’s Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller around 9:15 Monday night sent an earthquake of outrage through the Indycar fan community.

There have been whispers since Labor day that Hinchcliffe’s job was in jeopardy. The rumors persisted despite team owner Sam Schmidt saying at Portland that Hinch would be back with the team.  Everyone knew Marcus  Ericsson would not be back and that the team was interested in O’Ward. In the last month, Askew entered the picture.  My thought was they will pick one of the two rookies and keep Hinch for his experience.  Now, we have essentially a combined new team consisting of  McLaren, which didn’t qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 2019 and Arrow Schmidt Peterson, which barely squeaked in.

Hinchcliffe’s choices of a ride are very limited.  His Honda choices are cars that  currently don’t exist. Dale Coyne looks committed to Santino Ferrucci’s return in the 19. Coyne has said he will not run a third car and is not interested in an alliance. Ganassi has talked about a part time  fourth car. I’m not sure that interests Hinchcliffe. Rahal has third car in mind but is still looking for funding.  Hinchcliffe and Honda Canada probably don’t have enough money to pull that deal together. Will HPD help? Rahal seems like the best fit at this moment on the Honda side. Hinchcliffe needs to stay in a Honda car for a couple reasons I’ll discuss in a minute.

Chevy rides available are Carlin, Foyt, and the Ed Carpenter road course only car. None of these rides are great options for him other than keeping Hinchcliffe in the series.

The Honda Indy Toronto may take a bit of a hit without a Canadian driver on the grid. Hinchcliffe’s contract with Honda Canada and his Honda commercials in the United states are also on the line here. On a fan basis, Hinchcliffe is a good river who can races, he’s generous with is time, and ha a sense of humor the paddock and the fans enjoy. He has always taken time to talk to me and i appreciate his time.

Conor Daly may be squeezed out of the paddock again. He was looking to be the last driver left with a decent amount of experience.  Now there is a six time race winner on the market who has had a full time ride for several years.

I really like O’Ward and Askew. I hope they have  great seasons next year. . At the same time, I will  find it hard as a fan to root for Arrow McLaren SP as a team. McLaren has entered the team and from my view, they have been a PR disaster already. The new logo left me cold with its starkly corporate look and the exclusion of the SP from the official team name. While I understand the business side of choosing drivers, Hinchcliffe could have been told a month ago and had more time to put something together.

It is sad to see what looked to be a rising team that in 2018 seemed to have found its soul when Robert Wickens joined but  lost it in his’ horrific crash at Pocono that summer and never found it again.

 

 

1961: The Foyt Legend Begins on the Race’s Golden Anniversary

1960 was going to be a tough act to follow. The Indianapolis 500  had featured a record 23 lead changes as Rodger Ward and eventual winner Jim Rathmann swapped the lead back and forth for the last 50 laps. Ward slowed late in the race as tire  began to wear.  The USAC championship went down to the wire as defending champion Ward tried in vain to hold off A. J. Foyt. Foyt didn’t win a race until Labor Day, but won four races in the last two months of the season to take the series title.

The 1961 program cover was gold in honor of the 50th anniversary 500. From 1955 until 1960, the covers were white. Program covers returned to white in 1962 and continued that way through 1974. Unlike previous covers, this one did not have the race number on it. Instead it proclaimed the 50th anniversary 500. For the record, it was the 45th race.

For the first time in the program the Speedway had a story about a race 50 years ago, something that is standard in the program today. In place of the usual greeting page which showed the front stretch on race day and a photo of track president Tony Hulman, a two page spread of the grid for the first race replaced it. Photos of the Speedway founders and previous track presidents also appear.

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One full page ad that caught my attention was one for Meyer & Drake Engineering Corp.  Three time winner Louis Meyer and partner Dale Drake built the Offenhauser engines that supplied nearly the entire field.

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The records page shows the qualifying record Jim Hurtubise set the previous, at the time a mind boggling 149.601 single lap and an average of 149.056 for the four lap run. The Top Ten page depicting the 1960 finishers is one of the last ones featuring all front engine cars. Several pages are devoted to the 1911 race and the track’s first decade.

The pace car was a gold Ford Thunderbird. To me it is one of the most iconic pace cars in the race’s history.

The 1961 race featured the first rear engine car to make the race. Jack Brabham qualified 13th in a Cooper-Climax. The car looked tiny compared to the large roadsters. Brabham drove at a steady pace to a ninth place finish, completing all 200 laps.  When he first arrived, the car was considered a novelty. His result, however, saw more rear engine cars enter in the following years.

The starting grid had eight rookies, led by Parnelli Jones and Bobby Marshman, who would become co Rookies of the Year. Roger McCluskey also drove in his first 500.

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The race developed into a duel between A. J. Foyt and Eddie Sachs. From lap 95 until the end of the race, the two led all but seven laps. On what was to supposed to be Foyt’s last pit stop, a problem with the fuel hose didn’t allow him to get the full amount. He led until he had to stop for more fuel 0n lap 183.  Sachs took the lead, but made a surprise stop on lap 196 to replace a tire which wore down during his battle with Foyt. Foyt zoomed  past Sachs while he was in the pits and took the checkered flag.

The victory for Foyt was the first of his four 500 wins. It was Foyt’s fourth 500 mile race. he would go on to compete in 35. Parnelli Jones was the only future winner in the field that year. 1961 was when the stars of the golden first began to emerge. several more would come to the speedway over the next four years.

Foyt’s second win in 1964 would be the last time a front engine car saw Victory Lane. Brabham’s Cooper -Climax opened the door for the rear engine cars. The tiny crack in the door burst open five years later.

 

 

 

 

Power: Car with Aeroscreen Could Race This Weekend

In a mid afternoon press conference  NTT Indycar Series Jay Frye said today’s Aeroscreen test “exceeded our high expectations. We learned a lot; we have lot of work to do but the foundation is set.” Frye said the cars will visually be different when teams do their own things to blend the new device into their liveries.

If necessary, the AMR  Safety Team will be able to remove piece “within seconds,” Frye said. “They already have a piece they are practicing on,” he added.

The day long test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw drivers Will Power and Scott Dixon log 600 miles by 3 pm. Both drivers agreed that the test was seamless . Both drivers commented on how quiet it was in the cockpit. “I can hear my radio,” Dixon said.

Power was impressed with how quickly the project came together.  “When you’ve driven it for a day you’re going to feel naked without it, ” he said. Asked if this car could race this weekend, Power responded, “you could race this weekend; no problem, no issue.” Dixon agreed.

Power and Dixon still believe some adjustments need to be made with the tear-offs and air flow adjustments. They both think reflections need work as well.  Dixon sais there are some optional and driver’s personal preference items that need to be looked into as well.

Tire wear was not a concern today. Power said the car was more forgiving. The new weight distribution helped, he said. Dixon said on his long run the speed fall off was about the same as this year.

Following the press conference Power and Dixon returned to the track to do simulated “qualifying runs.”

I started the day skeptical of the aesthetics and how the Aeroscreen would work. I am ending the day impressed with the new safety piece. Safety is the first priority and this is a step in the right direction. As the piece blends in with the cars, it won’t be noticeable. It should be even less noticeable on the new chassis in 2022, when it is an integrated part of the car.