A. J. at 85

A. J. Foyt turns 85 today. That must mean I’m old. Reaching that age is an accomplishment for anyone, but quite amazing for someone who began racing in the ’50s and ’60s. I’m not going to list all his accomplishments. I like to keep these essays short. There are a few that standout, however.

Foyt is the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in both a front engine car and a rear engine car. In 1964 he won 10 of the 13 USAC Championship races, including the first seven races of the season. I saw him win a stock car race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds after starting last. He qualified higher, but was unhappy with his time and withdrew it. He won in almost every type of car he raced.

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I have had racing heroes since I was six or seven years old, but I never got the chance to see any of them race. Bill Vukovich was my first hero, and after his death at the 500, I followed Bob Sweikert, but alas, he too died the following year. A. J. was the first of my racing heroes that I actually saw drive. It didn’t hurt any that he had the number 14 on his car, Vukovich’s number.

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I loved the way he drove. Sure there were other outstanding drivers in that era- Andretti, Jones, the Unsers-and I appreciated all of them. Yet, there was something special about Foyt. I liked his unapologetic style and the way he seemed to always be in a position to win. He didn’t always get to Victory Lane, but more often than not, he had a chance.

It is my belief that the modern era of racing began with Foyt’s 1961 Indianapolis 500 victory. He beat the drivers of the 50s, some of whom had raced in the early post World War II years. His future rivals were yet to make an appearance at the Speedway. I think all fans owe him thanks for that.

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As I have written on several occasions, the stars of that era who miraculously survived a very dangerous period in the sport are all now in their 80s. I believe Paul Goldsmith is 90. As you watch the NTT Indycar Series races this season, take a moment or two to reflect on the sport’s heritage. No matter who your favorite driver of that era is, we all owe a debt of gratitude to A. J. If you see one of the legends at a track, please say hello and thank you to them.

 

 

Checkers for Hulman- George; Green for Penske- Some Thoughts

What has seemed surreal for the last 63 days is now real. The purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indycar, and IMS Productions is now complete. While my head has been spinning since November4, the rotations are much slower now. The sale is like losing that oldest relative you’ve known since birth. I have mixed feelings of optimism and trepidation about the Penske years ahead. There are things about both the Speedway and the series I would like to see done differently.

IMS

For the fans, better Wi-Fi, bigger and better video boards, and more and better concessions are my top priorities. I would love to get a clearer signal from my seat in G Stand and be able to view the video board without the sun causing a glare on it. I’m not a frequent purchaser of concessions at the track, partly for price, but also I don’t like the limited selection. A wider variety is needed, including some healthier choices.

I think it’s time for newer, more modern garages. The current garages are nearly 40 years old. They aren’t bad, but a touch up might be in order.

More suites are a possibility. They do enhance revenue. My concern is where to put them so that they don’t detract from the experience of the average fan. I don’t think it would be a good look for the track for it to be completely enclosed by suites and grandstands. There are some open areas between grandstands that are available.

What I don’t want to see is a ban on fans bringing coolers into the track. Roger Penske said he wanted to respect traditions of the place. This is one that would definitely hurt attendance.

Another concern I have is the track going to electronic tickets. I value my tickets from past races. I have one from every race I have attended and a few I did not attend. No, I do not have my 1911 ticket. Thanks for asking. These pieces of pasteboard are works of art. I would hate to see them discarded in favor of an image on a phone screen or a print at home generic looking paper with a bar code. Perhaps the Speedway could offer fans a choice.  I would opt for the traditional ticket. I would even pay a fee for it.

My biggest concern, though, is a possible reduction of on track time. I already think the schedule is too short. It’s barely the Fortnight of May anymore. Thank goodness for the grand prix. Without it, we have an extended weekend. Increasing the purse to make the teams’ time at IMS more worthwhile would help.

The Indycar Series

I like the new procedures that have come out in the last few days. I think they make sense. I hope Jay Frye continues to revise things to be as fair as possible to all competitors.

While the new rule about reordering the field should help shorten yellows, what would really help shorten a caution period is not giving everyone a chance to pit. Either pit or don’t. but be aware the race could go green at any time. Yellows almost seem staged at times.

I don’t want to see a guaranteed spot rule for the Indianapolis 500.  This is perhaps a topic to include in my qualifying discussion in May, but there are other ways to protect teams. First, get rid of double points. Missing the race will not be the huge points penalty it is now. Second, give full time teams that miss the race last place points minus 1 for every spot below 33rd that they qualified. Teams and drivers don’t walk away empty, even though they are not racing. Giving points for every place is another post.

Make it clear to fans at what point on the track the race begins. Many times it looks as if the drivers begin racing too soon. I think fans aren’t aware of the start zone. Just make sure there is good field alignment when the front row reaches that area.

 

This is an exciting time for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT Indycar Series, and the Indianapolis 500. I wish Roger Penske the best as he begins stewardship of these entities. Fans will like some changes and not like others. Like anything new, we must wait and see what develops.

Red Flag Revision; Helio Back in May

The NTT Indycar Series will change its rule concerning work done on a car during a red flag period. The new rule calls for exclusion from the race if the crew attempts to make repairs while the race is stopped. The previous rule provided for a minimum two lap penalty for unapproved work while the race is under a red flag.

The revision is likely in response to Pocono last year. After the five car accident in turn 1 of the opening lap, the cars of Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and James Hinchcliffe were repaired while the race was stopped. All three were assessed a 10 lap penalty when they rejoined the race. Rossi was in a battle for the season championship and needed every point he could get. The accident and his 18th place finish still dealt a huge blow to his title chances.

I like this rule. It takes away any possible advantage a car could gain under a red flag. Part of the need to get a car back on track is the current points system. I’ve never liked the idea of every position earning points. If a team knows they are not going to get points for a race, there is not a need to work on the car under a red flag.

Castroneves Back for May

Three time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves will again drive for Team Penske in the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500. It will be his 20th time in the race. Castroneves will also drive in the GMR Grand Prix on the Speedway’s road course on May 9.

Castroneves has been driving full time in IMSA for Penske’s Acura DPi team since 2018. It is believed he had a three year agreement with Penske to drive at Indianapolis. 2020 is the third year of this agreement

The 44 year old Brazilian has finished 11th or better 15 times in his 19 previous races. He finished 27th in 2018 and 18th last year. He has a great career at IMS. In addition to his three wins, Castroneves has finished second twice and has a third place and a fourth place finish.

I’ll be back later today with a preview of the Roar Before the 24.

Indycar’s Top Stories of 2019

Photo: Indycar

From the NTT Indycar Series:

Top INDYCAR Stories of 2019

INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 18, 2019) — While INDYCAR enjoyed several intriguing stories during this year’s NTT IndyCar Series season, the blockbuster came after the season when Roger Penske announced that Penske Corporation would be acquiring Indianapolis Motor Speedway, INDYCAR and additional Hulman & Company holdings.

The November announcement was no doubt the most captivating story of 2019 for INDYCAR, but it also ranked among the top stories in all of motorsports with its worldwide interest.

Tony Hulman purchased the Speedway in dilapidated condition in November 1945 and turned it into one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues. Over the past 75 years, Hulman and his family have reshaped the facility and hosted Indy cars, NASCAR, Formula One, MotoGP, major golf tournaments and concerts, among other events.

The official sale is scheduled for early January and most expect the impact Penske will have on the sport and the famed track in the future could be even greater than his record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.

With the Penske acquisition news leading the way, here’s a look at INDYCAR’s top stories of the year:

  1. Penske acquires IMS, INDYCAR: Tony George, Hulman & Company’s Chairman of the Board, said he first approached Roger Penske about buying the company’s assets on the final day of the NTT IndyCar Series season, which was Sept. 22 in Monterey, Calif., at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Private, highly confidential meetings were held over the next six weeks, with only a handful of executives included in the negotiations. Penske seemed genuinely pleased that one of the biggest secrets in motorsports history held until the deal was formally announced Monday, Nov. 4, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  2. NBC airs its first Indianapolis 500, becomes exclusive home of the NTT IndyCar Series: The 500 had been on ABC since 1965, so that alone made the switch to NBC newsworthy. But NBC also significantly increased exposure for the NTT IndyCar Series through its first of a multiyear deal. Eight races were shown live on network television, three more than in 2018, and fans enjoyed action of all on-track activity via NBC Sports Gold, a leading direct-to-consumer product. Another positive was the inclusion of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in NBC’s “Championship Season” marketing campaign.
  3. NTT joins as the series’ title sponsor: The signing of a multiyear agreement with the global information technology and communications leader was executed in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The agreement affords INDYCAR the opportunity to benefit from NTT’s digital innovations, including the evolution of the INDYCAR Mobile App and integration of NTT’s proprietary Smart Platform.
  4. INDYCAR introduces Aeroscreen, hybrid technology: INDYCAR announced a partnership with Red Bull Advanced Technologies during the Indy 500 race weekend for the development and implementation of an Aeroscreen for enhanced driver cockpit protection. The safety innovation, which will make its competition debut at the outset of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, consists of a ballistic Aeroscreen anchored by titanium framework that encompasses the cockpit. The Aeroscreen had its first on-track test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power, who both considered the initial outing a success. Other tests followed at Barber Motorsports Park, Richmond Raceway and Sebring International Raceway. The Aeroscreen has been described by INDYCAR President Jay Frye as “a game-changer.” For 2022, INDYCAR, in partnership with Chevrolet and Honda, will implement a single-source hybrid system in its race cars. In keeping with INDYCAR’s history of integrating innovation into the sport, the hybrid powertrain will mark the first time that vehicles will depart from the traditional, manual hand-held electric starters to a hybrid component that can be activated by the driver from the cockpit. Additionally, engines are targeted to exceed 900 horsepower.
  5. Pagenaud has a history-making Month of May in Indianapolis: For the first time, the same driver won all three major Indianapolis Motor Speedway events in May: the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 pole and the 500 itself. In the 500, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud led 116 of the 200 laps and outdueled Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport in the final laps to become the first Frenchman to win the race since Rene Thomas in 1914. Pagenaud also became the first pole winner to win the 500 since Helio Castroneves in 2009.
  6. Juncos/Kaiser bump McLaren/Alonso from Indianapolis 500 field: Who imagined Fernando Alonso, a two-time Formula One World Champion who ran so well in the 500 in 2017, failing to earn a spot in his return? Or revered McLaren, which came to Indy with its own program for the first time in this era of the sport, also going home early with Alonso? But the orange No. 66 Chevrolet was in a precarious position in the final minutes of qualifying, and Kyle Kaiser, driving for the small, part-time Juncos Racing team, ran four laps fast enough to make the show in a thrilling David-vs.-Goliath matchup.
  7. Newgarden wins four races, captures second series championship: Josef Newgarden won a season-high four races en route to his second series crown in three years with Team Penske. He also joined Sam Hornish Jr. as the only Americans to win multiple series crowns since Al Unser Jr. in 1994. Newgarden jumped to the top spot in the standings by winning the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and relinquished the position only once – after Simon Pagenaud won the 500 – to effectively go wire-to-wire against a strong field.
  8. History-setting Herta leads stout rookie class: Colton Herta of Harding Steinbrenner Racing made the first emphatic statement by winning the season’s second race, the inaugural INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas, to become the youngest race winner in INDYCAR history at 18 years, 11 months, 25 days. Herta added another victory in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing won the season’s Rookie-of-the-Year Award on the strength of two top-three and six top-five finishes while the Indianapolis 500’s top-finishing rookie, Santino Ferrucci of Dale Coyne Racing, produced three fourth-place finishes in addition to a seventh at Indy. Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports finished second in the second Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix race while Carlin’s Pato O’Ward put on a show at COTA in finishing eighth. Ben Hanley of DragonSpeed, a part-time team making only its third INDYCAR start, delivered a strong effort at the 500, qualifying 27th.
  9. McLaren, SPM merge, hire O’Ward and Askew: McLaren, with its Formula One pedigree and rich history, announced in August its full-time return to Indy car competition in a partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The team was rebranded Arrow McLaren Racing SP and also announced a partnership with Chevrolet. More change followed with the 2019 driving tandem of James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson being replaced by Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, the two most recent series champions of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. At 23 and 20 years, respectively, Askew, the 2019 champion, and O’Ward, the ’18 champ, form the youngest pairing in the series.
  10. Rossi re-signs with Andretti Autosport: The 28-year-old Alexander Rossi could have become a highly sought-after free agent with a number of enticing options, but he decided to re-sign with Andretti Autosport in July. In addition to announcing a multi-year deal with Rossi, Andretti Autosport also announced a renewal with Honda. The Rossi-Honda tandem was strong in 2019, with the Californian finishing third in the NTT IndyCar Series championship, which was the top finish for the engine manufacturer. He also delivered dominating wins at Long Beach and Road America, leading an impressive 134 of the combined 140 laps, and a runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Thoughts

I have no argument that these afre the top stories. I would have put the Herta story 5th and moved the Pagenaud story to 7th. The others I think are appropriately ranked. Let’s face it. The top story should have been 1, 2,and 3.

GMR Sponsors IMS Road Race

GMR, the parent company of AMR, sponsor of the NTT Indycar Series Safety Team, hjas entered a multi year agreement with Indianapolis Motor Speedway to sponsor the May Indycar road race at IMS. The race is the opening event at the track leading up to the Indianapolis 500. This great for several reasons.

It adds another sponsored race to the schedule. They will use the race to honor first responders. It helps identify the race better.

The race has been without a sponsor for the last couple years after the Angie’s List sponsorship ended. Calling it the Indycar Grand Prix was vague and it seemed the track had to work to make fans aware this race was at IMS. This gives the event a more solid standing, and it will be easier for the sponsor to connect fans to its location.

The  full story from IMS can be found at this link:

https://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/news-multimedia/news/2019/12/10/medical-services-leader-gmr-to-sponsor-annual-ntt-indycar-series-road-race-at-ims-2019

The GMR Grand Prix will run May 9, 2020.

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.