Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Franchitti Takes Indy Racing League Title with Chicago Win

But for a half gallon of ethanol, my last blog prediction would have been on the money. Too bad for Dixon that he didn't get just a tad better mileage...

So Dario wins Indy and the IRL title - one in the rain and the other on fumes. I had a feeling he was going to get there at Chicagoland about halfway through the race as he went longer than everyone else between pit stops every time and he just tooled around in the draft behind the Ganassi and Penske cars biding his time. It still seems odd to me that Dario and Dixon ended up as the only cars shown on the lead lap, but when I'm shooting at a race with the earplugs in, I can't hear the PA system and have to rely on experience and the scoring tower to keep track of the top 5. Most of the time that works pretty well but when the IRL waved essentially the whole field around the pace car for the penultimate restart, it seemed strange.

But then, what a long strange trip it has been this season. I finally got to an IRL oval race that was not effected by rain. I was fortunate to shoot six IRL races this year (counting Indy) which is the most I've ever done, and I saw a lot of great side-by-side racing and craziness. Dario flying two weeks in a row. Marco upside down at Mid Ohio. Dixon dominating at Nashville. Shooting from the outside at Kentucky. It's all good.

Now this weekend I go to Salem Speedway for ARCA madness on the high banks to see if my man Michael McDowell can put another dent in the series points lead of Frank Kimmel. I'll have another post coming soon on the ARCA season so stay tuned.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Chicagoland Spin Cycle - Best Indycar Paint Scheme for 2007

Hello from the media center at Chicagoland Speedway, where the ARCA stock cars and Indy Pro Series events have been run largely under yellow so far as a result of numerous crashes. Thus the spin cycle header.

But the best paint job for the season award goes to Marty Roth's team, where he has added former World of Outlaw star PJ Chesson for this weekend. The car is sponsored by a t-shirt company and has the wildest graphics of any in years. Well done Marty!

Today the Indycar championship will be decided and I hope everyone keeps all four wheels on the asphalt. Yesterday a car in the ARCA race got some air in a three-car wreck, and this morning Wade Cunningham flipped in the Pro Series race coming into Turn 3. After Dario's recent aerobatics, that's about enough. So I'l be back later, hopefully with pix of the race winner and Indycar champ.

Scott Dixon.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More Tales from the -ville: US Nationals NHRA

Hello again folks. Been away and haven't kept up with the updates because I've had to go back to my regular life away from the race track and do all the things that normal people do on the weekends but which traveling precluded. Until this past weekend...

And a glorious weekend it was to be a race fan in Indy. The Mac Tools NHRA US Nationals were in town and after the multiple rain delays at their last race, I'm sure the sanctioning people were more than overjoyed with the conditions. Drivers probably were not though, as the sun was unrelenting and the right lane seemed to take the brunt of it Monday as car after car spun tires and smoked themselves to the sidelines. Perfect late summer weather. Blue skies Saturday through Monday - never had to change my camera settings except for the Saturday night qualifying.

I had an experience like no other in my life as a racing photographer. I got there Saturday afternoon during the first nitro qualifying session and went out by the retaining wall and I'm thinking I'm ready for this - got my earplugs and my gun muffs, and I've been up close to race cars before, so what's the big deal, right? The first top fuel pass almost blew me off my feet and my thinking immediately changed. Surely the loudest racing I've ever been involved in but what took me by surprise was the shock wave as the cars blasted off the line past me. Looking through the camera, the air seemed to liquefy from the heat and vibration as the cars passed, and my insides felt like they were being pulverized. I felt beat up Sunday morning, but I was happy with the way I adapted and was extremely pleased with the work I did for American Motor Journal. I knew several of the photographers from Indy and other races already, and the new ones I met were quick to tease me about being an NHRA "virgin". So I've been duly violated and can see how people get hooked on that form of racing.

This weekend I'm back on the road to Chicagoland and the ARCA/IRL weekend so the roundy-rounders will have my attention as rookie and rising star Michael McDowell tries to chase down Frank Kimmel for the ARCA title and Dario tries to hang on to a slim lead for the IRL title. As the IRL gang has proven the last few weeks, anything can happen. Let's keep the shiny side up this weekend, however.

See you at the track!


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Kanaan Strong at Kentucky - Franchitti Flies (Again!!!)

I thought Michigan was wild and crazy but last night's Indy Racing League event at Kentucky may have topped it. Darion doesn't recognize the checkers are out and gets airborne again. Danica almost hits a safety truck after blowing a tire. Helio and Kanaan bang wheels and they both escape. My man Sam spins out and takes Wheldon with him. And AJ Foyt IV was leading the race on the last restart with 10 laps to go. I never would have believed it.

But there was Kanaan, fastest all night, overtaking Foyt relatively easily in the end, to put an exclamation point on a sweltering Kentucky evening and close in on the points leaders with just three races to go. I loved every minute of it, although it seems lately like I am at the wrong place at the wrong time when the real theatrics happen. I had just shot TK crossing the start-finish line under the checkered flags and turned to head to victory lane, when I heard the crowd gasp and that distinctive "WHUMP" sound these cars make when someone hits the wall. My first thought was "goodness - the race is over and people are still crashing" and I could then see Dario sliding along the wall in Turn 1. THEN I saw the video replay on the track's big screen and OMG! Is Dario the luckiest driver around or what? He needs to go out on a boat or something for a few days, stay off the asphalt and let someone else drive him wherever he needs to go.

These last 5 weeks have been unbelievable: Nashville IRL, Mid Ohio IRL, Brickyard 400, Michigan IRL and Kentucky. I've never had a run like this in all the years I've been doing racing photography, and despite late night drives home the last two weekends, I wouldn't trade it for just about anything.

Except maybe hitting the lotto. Then I could do this every weekend!

I'll be anxiously watching the next two IRL races (Sonoma and Belle Isle in Detroit) before I get the chance to go to Chicagoland for the finale, so let's home things calm down a bit before the real money is on the line for the season title. It looks like a three man race right now between Dario, Dixon and TK so it should make for an interesting end to a crazy IRL season.

C'ya at the track! BTW - US Nationals are next up for me, so I can't wait to see the straight-liners pound some asphalt at O'Reilly Raceway Park.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

It's A Beautiful Day at Kentucky Speedway for Racing

After last weekend's rain delay at Michigan, it sure is nice to have a good day to shoot a race. Especially an IndyCar race. Rain has seemed to follow me this year: Indy, Nashville, Michigan. Today we should be good to go on time. And I'm happy to be in the Kentucky Speedway media center right now to catch a little relief from the heat outside.

The Indy Pro Series finished their pre-race warmup session a little while ago and were running faster than the pole speed. The scheduling is a bit odd, with the Pro Series race following the Indycars, but that's obviously a TV mandate, so the IRL will run through the twilight and the Pro Series under the full lights with a 9 pm start time. It should make for an interesting photo challenge, adjusting to the changing lighting conditions.

But the main event promises to be fast and furious and I have to wonder if the events of last weekend have been forgotten by everyone. Have Helio and Vitor made up? The Indianapolis Star seemed to imply that this morning but I have to wonder. And will Dario race for the win or be conservative and try to pad his points lead? A DNF now and strong finishes by Dixon and others could really spell trouble for his championship hopes.

And my man Sam Hornish Jr. really needs to go for it tonight to close the gap to the season leaders. The next two races are not his strongsuits (road/street courses) so he needs a good finish tonight and to keep the car on the track the next two races to be in contention for the Chicagoland finale.

Should be a good show tonight. Stay tuned. Strap in.


Friday, August 10, 2007

IRL Kentucky Next - Championship Battle Intensifies

I didn't think I was going to be at Kentucky Speedway this weekend, but things changed quickly once Don Hamilton of American Motor Journal called me on Tuesday. This will be my second visit to the great Bluegrass State venue this year, as I was there Memorial Day weekend for the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Enduro event on assignment for Stock Car Racing magazine. The issue with my pix and Don's story should be on the newsstands this week. Now I get to go back and see the Indycars after a wild weekend at Michigan, my first race at Kentucky since 2000 when the Indy Racing League first went there.

That was also the race where I first discovered Sam Hornish Jr, as he was racing for the tiny PDM team and had one of the fastest cars all day. He had a great wheel-to-wheel duel with Jacques Lazier for about 30 or 40 laps and I was immediately a Hornish fan. Not many guys could do what he did in that PDM ride, and he was clearly the star of the day. I shot video that day as a spectator and thoroughly enjoyed the race.

This time I get to go back with full media credentials to shoot digital 35mm for Don, hopefully from some of the photo holes on the outside wall, so that should be fun. It's a great racetrack with a very spectator- and competitor-friendly layout. Nice garage area, lots of room to work, the entire track visible from every seat, and an escalator system to the tunnel connecting the infield with the grandstands area.

Hopefully everyone will have settled down after last week's mayhem, but I kind of doubt it. Kentucky is another track where there's lots of room to race side by side, so it should be exciting. Dario needs to stay at the front to manage his points lead, and the other contenders will need to keep the wheels on their cars to keep pace for the driver's championship. I expect Helio to come out with fire in his belly after last week's contact with Vitor and the MIS frontstretch wall, so keep en eye on him. It will be the usual contenders - AGR (except for Marco), Ganassi and Penske, so shut up, go fast and turn left.

Talk soon!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Kanaan Escapes Wet & Wild Michigan with IRL Win

As someone once sang, "What a long strange trip it's been." When the team haulers were blitzing past me on I69 coming back to Indy last night, I couldn't help but think about all that has happened with open wheel racing at Michigan over the years. And just as I wrote the other day, anything can happen up there and often does. Sunday was no exception, as the scariest moment of the day involved Dario Franchitti in a blow-over style flip on the backstretch that decimated the IRL field, leaving mainly his AGR teammates to fight it out. Once Danica had to make an extra late pit stop to change her right rear tire, it was just down to TK and Marco to sort out. After hours and hours of rain and waiting, Tony was able to claim the trophy, but judging from his comments in the post-race media conference room, he was not a happy camper.

Winning at Michigan still means something, and there's a special chutzpah that IRL drivers have to have at that place. Tony made several comments after the race about lack of respect being shown for fellow drivers but from my viewpoint it was a typical Michigan day. Lots of two- and three-wide, sometimes four-wide racing. Slicing and dicing up and down the field. Too many close calls to count. Car carnage. Thank goodness the rain gods stayed away finally and that no one was hurt in Dario's mess. When he came back to the pits after the accident, he looked shaken to me, and there were hugs all around from teammates and AGR crew members.

Let's hope they come to their senses before Kentucky this weekend. I want to see a tight battle for the season championship, not cars going airborne and taking out a third of the pack in one fell swoop. They will say that it was just racing, and from my experience at Michigan, that is probably true, but yesterday was a perfect example of how open wheel, and especially Indycars, require nerve and skill unmatched by any other racing series.

But that's just my opinion, and I'm just a photographer. Blame it on too much time in the sun this summer. Michigan Indycars - we will miss ye.


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Michigan IRL - Rain Delay (Again)

I left Indy before 5 this morning and started seeing ligthning in the distance as I approached Fort Wayne. All hell broke loose as I got to Fort Wayne and the skies opened up. At a McDonald's there, the manager was kind enough to log me into their wifi setup so I didn't have to pay, and I checked weather radar on Intellicast.com and decided to go cross country the rest of the way. It made the trip a little longer, but I knew we were going to be delayed today so I could take a more leisurely pace.

I got to MIS at around 10 and it rained non-stop from the time I left Fort Wayne until just before 2 p.m. here. The jet dryers are on the track, the rains have stopped and crews are warming up the engines in the garage area. Anyone who was here last year knows the IRL will do whatever they can to get this race in today, since I heard in the photo meeting this morning that they have to be in Kentucky Thursday for Saturday night's race.
More later.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Franchitti Takes Michigan IRL Pole - Hornish 2nd

Well it looks like Dario may be in the catbird seat to extend his points lead over Scott Dixon tomorrow at Michigan International. But anything can happen at MIS - and often does.

Take last year for instance, when this picture was taken from high up in the main grandstands. My son and I went up with my brother and his son as spectators and after walking through the souvenir areas and killing time race morning, as we got to the stands a huge storm blew in so the race was delayed and they ran incident free until almost dark, with Helio taking the win. My first visit to Michigan was in 1981 and they never did get the race run that weekend due to rain. In 83, we got chased out of the stands by a tornado warning and then John Paul Jr. won on the last lap after Rick Mears had a rare crash. In 85, the tires were suspect and the race got postponed a week and then Danny Ongais barrel rolled down the backstretch. In 89, Scott Pruett and Al Unser Jr. dueled wheel to wheel in a fantastic finish for one of Pruett's few Indycar wins. I've camped at the track, taken a motor home, stayed in motels, done banzai one-day runs up and back (like I will this year), and gone as a spectator and as a photographer with credentials. All of this is from memory so the details might be a tad fuzzy, but the point is I have great memories of this awesome track where you get to see the Indycars run flat out, three and four wide, with pack racing and usually high drama at the end. It was even more incredible when the large fields were there before the split and they ran 500 miles instead of 400 like they will tomorrow.

So of course I'm saddened that MIS and the IRL could not agree on a date for next season, and I hope that is only temporary. I'm looking forward to adding to the memory banks this year and hope to bring back more great pix from one of open wheel's most storied race tracks.

More soon, hopefully from the media center at the track after the race.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Brickyard 400: Stewart Kisses Bricks at Indy Again

At the end of a wild day at Indianapolis, Tony Stewart got by Kevin Harvick and took his second win in the Brickyard 400. The native Hoosier managed to avoid the carnage throughout the race, as nearly half the field tried to knock down the walls. Thank goodness for the SAFER barriers. Harvick wasn't too happy about the way Tony made the winning pass and faded to 7th after taking the lead on the last restart with about 20 laps to go. My man Tony pulled out some short track magic with less than 10 laps to go with an under-over move that started in Turn 1 which Harvick couldn't match, and was finished in Turn 3 with a dandy chop down to the white line. They went past me at the beginning of the backstretch side by side, and for a moment I thought they might crash each other out and hand Montoya the win. It seemed like they were heading for a finish like Emmo and Al Jr. in the 500 in 1989, but I knew Tony wasn't going to go down without a fight and Harvick was a sitting duck as Tony clearly had the fastest car all day long.

JPM was extremely impressive too, but that's no surprise to me. He was awesome as a 500 rookie in 2000 and Juan displayed the same smooth car control in his first stock car run at Indy as he did in an Indycar. It was fun to see the crowd react to Tony's charge at the end, and Juan seemed to have a good following as well, becoming the first driver to run Indy in all three major auto races. Montoya will win on an oval sometime this year, I'm sure of it, and Tony is set to charge for another season title, having now won two in a row after being shut out the whole season prior to the last two weekends.

While the stock car brigade packed up their mangled equipment and headed off to Pocono after Indy, I'm going to Michigan for the Indycar race this weekend in what may be the last IRL race on the fast high banks for awhile. It hardly seems possible that 1981 was my first trip to MIS, and I've seen a lot of great races up there. Hopefully this weekend will follow that pattern as well.

In the meantime, go fast and turn left. Go Tony Go!


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dixon Escapes Mid Ohio with Indy Racing League Win - Marco's World Upside Down Again

Scott Dixon managed to snag his third Indy Racing League win in a row, missing Marco Andretti's first lap tumble and prevailing with crafty pit work over Dario Franchitti. Dixon continues to chip away at Dario's season points lead and one DNF by Dario coupled with a strong run at Michigan could vault Dixon into the series lead. It was obvious to me that Dario was running conservatively, but after seeing three of his teammates almost take each other out at the start, who wouldn't?

Speaking of vaulting... Poor Marco. On his head for the second time this season, and neither time was his fault. I heard him say in the post-wreck interview that Danica had bounced Kanaan into him but my photos show TK's left front wing under Danica's right rear tire, lifting her off the ground and sending her into the grass in the esses. I stayed on Kanaan as he started to get sideways and Marco dove to Kanaan's right and got launched into a wild ride. Dixon and everyone else skated by and Tony stormed back through the field from there, passing more cars than anyone else to take 4th. Helio was fast early and took third while Danica recovered from her off for 5th. Darren Manning showed he was in his element and really benefited from the first lap mess for 6th and Ryan Hunter Reay had a really nice drive to 7th in his first race since replacing Jeff Simmons, even considering his trip through the sand trap in the morning warmup.

It was a beautiful weekend at Mid Ohio with perfect weather conditions and huge crowds both Saturday and Sunday. Corner workers were saying it was the biggest crowd Mid Ohio had seen in quite some time and it was clear that the combo of the American LeMans Series and Indycar brought the road race fans out in droves. I'm sure Honda buying 15,000 tickets for employees and their families (as the rumor at the track went) helped also. Who cares? Saturday the Acura banners were everywhere. Sunday they all said Honda. If more manufacturers supported racing like that, we'd all be the better for it. I've been going to Mid Ohio for years and the crowd reminded me of the old days before the split, as the motor homes were plentiful, the camping area by the keyhole was full, and families were on every hillside. And what a gorgeous track it is. Having gone through the Acura high performance driving school there last summer, I especially like shooting there now since I can remember the feelings I had going through the corners (albeit much slower) as I frame each shot through my Canons. I can't wait to go back.

This weekend I'm tied up at the Brickyard 400 at Indy and then go to Michigan for the Indy Racing League 400-miler next weekend. Michigan is another track I love as it shows the true form of the Indycars where two- and three-wide racing is common and the speeds are high. I'm an oval fan at heart, but from a photographer's perspective, road courses are lots of fun as the vantage points are numerous and you can really see the drivers working the steering wheel. So this season has been great for shooting a wide variety of cars, tracks and series. I'm thankful that American Motor Journal has been giving me the opportunity - you all should subscribe!

I'll be back with comments and pix from the ALMS race soon so check back. See you at the races!


Thursday, July 19, 2007

More Tales From the Ville - Simmons Out at Rahal Letterman

On the road back from Nashville last weekend, I had lots of time to think about where this whole blog thing started: towns ending in -ville in Indiana. And I was struck that Hoosiers aren't the only ones so inclined in naming their towns. Along I-65 in Kentucky of course there's Louisville, but there's also Munfordville, Bonnieville (must be a pretty place), and Shepherdsville for starters. But the most interesting town name I encountered on the trip was "Halfway", Kentucky on US 231. Halfway to where is anyone's guess but it must have meant something to someone once upon a time.

Now as I prepare to go to Mid Ohio again for this weekend's IRL road race, the silly season news is kicking off with the firing of Jeff Simmons who is to be replaced at Rahal Letterman by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Too bad for Jeff but he just wrecked too often, and could have been seriously hurt at Nashville after overshooting the warmup lane and sliding up into Kosuke. This picture of Jeff was taken prior to the race Sunday and Jeff seems to have his hands full with silly putty or something stringy as introductions were about to start. I think he already knew this was going to be his last race and he was just trying to hard for a good finish. Maybe he can latch on with another series and find his way back to Indy someday.
Hopefully I'll be able to post from the media center again this weekend, or at least from the hotel Saturday night after the American LeMans Series Race so come on back. I would have to say that Scott Dixon is the man to beat again this weekend, and I look forward to seeing the open wheelers run at Mid Ohio again for the first time under the IRL banner, and my first time since before the IRL-CART split. So it will be good to be back. See you in the esses!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dixon Takes Nashville by Storm

Despite a late race caution that threatened to make the final re-start interesting, Scott Dixon had the field covered today at Nashville Superspeedway. The track was hot and slick and in the post-race interview room, Dixon said the track got worse as the day went on but the team had put more downforce in the car after the rainout Saturday night. The race itself was not one of the better IRL races I have been to, but it was interesting and an adventure for me, as I had no place lined up to stay last night but found a room in nearby Lebanon, Tennessee. When I get back to Indy, look for more here and pix on my flickr page at www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42.

Y'all come back now, ya hear?


Nashville Indy Racing League Washout - Racing Sunday

Writing this morning from the Nashville Superspeedway media center after a very soggy Saturday evening. The IRL pre-race preliminaries were all done and the drivers were ready to climb in their cars when the heavens opened up. An hour or so later, the track was almost dry but the skies opened up for good and forced everyone to wait until today for the big show.

The Indy Pro Series race was won by rookie Robbie Pecorari after six contenders were taken out in two separate multi-car wrecks. Race leader at the time (and season points leader) Alex Lloyd ran over debris from the second accident and needed a new nose cone to repair the damage, or he would have probably won again to continue his dominance for the season.

I am disappointed not to get to shoot the Indycars under the lights this year, but it should be a good, fast race today and I am excited to be here. Of course, I am pulling for Sam Hornish again, but I think the Andretti Green guys are going to be tough to beat. Danica could come through for her first win, although she isn't starting up front. I think it will come down to Franchitti and Kanaan at the end, as this track is tough to pass on and marbles may be a factor as the backmarkers have to move up high to let the faster cars through on the preferred bottom groove. I'll be busy from start to finish so I'll be back again soon.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Formula One Says Goodbye to Indy - Indy Racing League at Nashville

Well Old Bernie has finally done it. He completed his self fulfilling prophecy by pricing the USGP out of the reach of Tony George and simultaneously slapping US F1 fans in the face. Better make your reservations for Montreal next year folks.

Better yet, come to the MotoGP race and show Mr. E that he got it all wrong. Now I don't often agree with Indianapolis Star writer Bob Kravitz, and I even wrote here awhile back that the USGP belongs at Indy more than anyplace else, but right now I find it hard to disagree with Bob's column in today's Star.
Meanwhile, I am packed and ready to roll south on I65 to Nashville for the Indy Racing League event and apparently Target Chip Ganassi is still on a roll too, since Scotty D was fastest in practice today according the the IRL website. Qualifying is this evening so that could change of course, but last year's event was highly competitive, with Dan Wheldon and Vitor Meira waging a lengthy battle after Hornish crashed out early in the race. The concrete usually seems to have a lot of grip and the stands are always packed at Nashville, so I'm anxious to see how they handle themselves tomorrow night. You can bet the TV coverage will focus on the Hornish-Kanaan dust-up at the Glen last week, but there's no room for contact on Nashville's banks. Sparks will fly with the cars on full tanks and I expect a good show before they switch back to road course gear and head to Mid Ohio next week. I'll be there too, for my second visit in the last month, but for the first time to watch open wheelers since before the IRL began. It should be a great 8 days of racing, especially since the American LeMans Series is running next Saturday on the IRL undercard.

See ya soon. Don't forget to go to www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42 for action pix from these events.

Woo-o-o-o racin!


Monday, July 9, 2007

IRL Tussle at The Glen - Nashville Concrete Next

While this picture was taken at Indy in 2006, I can imagine the Captain has had a similar huddle with his star driver Sam Hornish, Jr., after all the fuss at the Glen this weekend. Too bad for Helio that he couldn't have been more patient and tried to work on the car some more but he never made it to his last two stops and mirror-driving led him into the tire wall. Of Course Scotty D was the beneficiary and with Sam driving with gusto barging past TK with a bump & run move suitable for the fendered series, my man had his best ever IRL road course finish. Now if they can just keep Sam Senior out of harm's way, everyone might not be happy but at least we won't have any wrestling matches breaking out at a perfectly good race!

Naturally there are some who might say that any publicity is good publicity, so I wonder how the shoving match played out nationally. In Indy it was big news as one might expect, and after the Danica-Wheldon "discussion" at Milwaukee earlier this year, it's clear that tempers are short with so much at stake. I'd like to know who the AGR guy was who cold cocked Sam Sr. from behind though; I'm sure Mr. Barnhart knows and will deal with it appropriately before Nashville this Saturday night. While I could not get to the Glen, I will be in Nashville this weekend and hope that cooler heads prevail on the quick concrete there. Nashville Superspeedway is a great little race track and I am looking forward to getting back there this year. Pick up a copy of American Motor Journal at your local race track and look for my race photos there. I'll be posting others here and on my photo page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42as well.

BTW - is it just me, or are there more marbles on the race tracks than ever before? It could help explain some of the one-groove racing we've seen at IRL events this year, and why the only people I can remember spinning were rookies at Indy (Giebler and Duno) and vets on cold tires at Iowa (Wheldon and Kanaan). Every other oval track wallbanger I can recall has been where someone got high in the toolies and pushed up into the fence. If Firestone can overcome this marbling and we can get back to more of the side-by-side battles the IRL is known for, this fan and photographer will be one happy camper. Either that or they need to take some of the downforce out of the cars so the tracks aren't acting like cheese graters and chewing up the tires so much. But what do I know? I'm just a hoosier.

See ya'll at Nashville.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Franchitti Dominating Indy Racing League

Now that the 2007 IRL season is past the halfway point, it's becoming make or break time for the Penske and Target Ganassi teams, as the Andretti Green Racing bunch, lead by Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, is on a serious role. He thoroughly dominated Richmond last night (who needs qualifying anyway, right?) and has won three of four starting with Indy. Kanaan and Patrick were also strong last night, while Dixon and Wheldon fought over second for Ganassi. Penske was nowhere to be found, beginning with Hornish's spin coming to the initial green flag and penalties on Helio later for passing violations. True to racer's form, Penske's guys didn't think Helio's "issues" were their fault and Dixon whined about Hornish holding him up late in the SunTrust Indy event at Richmond. Boo hoo.

So Watkins Glen is next, where Scott Dixon is two-time defending race winner. Marco won't have Cheever to contend with this year, and TK and Wheldon should be very strong. I've had the weekend off and can't get to the Glen, but I'll be at Nashville, Mid Ohio and Michigan for the next three races after that, so stay tuned for words and pix from those events. The season is in the balance over the next month and by the time the IRL has finished the Michigan 400, the championship may be all but decided unless Penske and Ganassi can mount a charge. Franchitti has had all the racer's luck lately and if that streak continues, he will be hard to beat. My guess is these next races will be hard fought affairs, although I don't expect a crash-fest like at Iowa. Most impressive to me the last couple of races have been Buddy Rice and Scott Sharp: maybe the Dreyer & Reinbold gang is getting it together and it looks like Sharp's tequila money has started to pay dividends for the Rahal Letterman team.
Come back soon boys & girls. See you at the track.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Indy 500 Glory Days

Is it May yet?

In a moment of weakness today, I began to feel nostalgic for the 70's and 80's at the Indy 500, especially since a friend of mine has been sending me links to great pix from that time. I attended my first 500 in 1970 and my second in 1973, but my consecutive 500 string truly began in 1976 and I haven't missed one since. Barring injury or illness, I hope to keep going indefinitely. I came for the partying and stayed for the racing as the infield craziness quickly got old and I had to find a better way to go racing. That's when I dusted off my camera and started contacting wire services and anyone else I could think of to get on the inside of the spectator fence. I've been there off and on since 1984 and love every second I'm at the races.

Hopefully you will recognize the late Tim Richmond who came to Indy out of nowhere and then took NASCAR by storm later. This was a promo shot that was handed out by the team in 1981 and I believe my mom actually got the autograph for me. As time goes on, I hope to get more and more of my own old pix on this blog but in the meantime, these links may whet your appetite for more oldies but goodies.

See you by the fence!


Monday, June 25, 2007

Rolex Grand Am Mid Ohio: Gainsco Team Runaway

This was the view all the other Rolex Series teams got of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty as they dominated yesterday's race at the scenic Mid Ohio Sports Car Course:

See ya! Wouldn't want to be ya!

Hasta la bye-bye.

These guys made it look awfully easy, although the teams behind them scrapped hard for leftovers, especially in the late stages of the race where the Red Bull Brumos Porsche, the Telmex Lexus Riley, Krohn Racing and the SunTrust 10 car fought over 2nd place lap after lap as though they were tied together on a string. The Red Bull team needed a splash of gas late, so that took any remaining mystery out of the finishing order. In a race without a caution flag for the entire 2 hour - 45 minute duration, the Gainsco team has now won two straight and three for the season, so Alex Gurney (son of F1 and Indy legendary driver and engineer Dan Gurney) and co-driver Jon Fogarty are well positioned to run for the season title.

After a stirring come from behind win over 6 hours at Watkins Glen in the last Rolex event, I guess they just wanted to show everyone they could also put the cruise control on and lull the competition to sleep as well. Well done gentleman.

Mid Ohio is one of my favorite racetracks and I will be fortunate to return next month for the Indy Car and American LeMans Series weekend. Hopefully, those feature races will not follow the pattern set by the Gainsco bunch this weekend. Gainsco's dominance in a clean race was especially surprising given how wild the Grand Sports race was which preceded the prototype event. That's racing I guess.

See you soon.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

US Grand Prix at Indianapolis - Lewis Hamilton wins for McLaren

Rising British superstar Lewis Hamilton made history again today at Indianapolis and continued his sensational season by winning the 8th US Grand Prix at Indy after a race-long challenge from McLaren teammate Ferninand Alonso. Hamilton jumped into the lead from pole position at the start and was never headed on the race track, beating Alonso into Turn 1 after his second pit stop to maintain his advantage. Alonso fought hard to catch the young Brit but Hamilton kept an advantage of 1 to 2 seconds throughout the final third of the race.

Another hot day at the Speedway saw lots of rubber laid down, another first turn shemozzle, and a delightful scrap between Ferrari teammates Massa and Raikonnen for 3rd & 4th. It was a very interesting race and even American Scott Speed did well to finish, albeit out of the points as the Toro Rosso never had the grunt to propel it down Indy's long main straightaway to be truly competitive. At least Speed finished, which is more than can be said for Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher, who were both caught up in the first turn melee which had the back half of the field scrambling and also took out Honda's Barichello.

Hamilton was incredibly impressive and has yet to finish lower than he started in the first 7 races of his Formula 1 career. This kid looks like LeBron James on wheels, a savante at the paddle shifters, a prodigy of unmatched talent not seen in years - maybe not ever. We may have seen the true coming of the next Senna and if he keeps up this pace, he will quickly make everyone forget about the tifosi and Michael Schumacher. And if this turns out to be the last USGP at Indy, it is one I will not soon forget as I can say I saw the coronation of the new F1 king, a black man winning at Indianapolis for the first time, and the re-emergence of McLaren as the dominant Grand Prix manufacturer. Mercedes and all of England must be very proud today.

Well done lad. You all should have been here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

US Grand Prix at Indianapolis - McLarens Top Friday Timesheet

It was another beautiful day for racing in Indianapolis, and despite what F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying in the Indianapolis Star June 15th, Formula One DOES need to be in America. More specifically, it needs to stay in Indianapolis. Where else is someone going to spend upwards of $100 million to make a facility suitable for F1 which has the recognition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Nowhere. Maybe Bernie has forgotten what racing in Dallas, Phoenix and Vegas were like. Then again, he probably made money so maybe he doesn't care about the rest.

And the "rest" today was simply awesome. Alonso and his British superstar teammate Hamilton showed everyone else the fast way, and in Turn 7 you could see they were pushing really hard, as Hamilton had more than one lockup in the breaking zone. Three solid hours of track time today under bright warm skies had the local fanatics who called in "sick" today joining thousands of out-of-towners for a great speed show. It serves Ralphie right that he is faster than only the Toyota test driver Nakajima and the woeful Spyker team cars, having said F1 shouldn't be on an Indy-style track. This from someone who couldn't handle the Oval Turn 1 (twice) and might be a tad light footed getting around the old Brickyard. He's outta here anyway after this year, especially now that he doesn't have his big brother's coattails to hang onto. But enough of my rant already.

There's a sweet beauty to the sights & sounds of Grand Prix cars that is unmatched in racing. Perhaps only LeMans style sports car racing has greater variety of manufacturers and designs. And at Indy, some may lament the layout but I think it's a perfect blend of high speed oval and challenging infield road course. But then I'm biased since it IS Indianapolis after all.

I am blessed to live in Indy - truly the racing capitol of the world. My story today goes beyond the excitement on the race track. I have to thank the Speedway's Safety Patrol and fans in the Turn 10 mounds area. About a half hour after the afternoon practice session was over, we had left the mounds and walked over the Bridgestone bridge to the Museum parking lot when I realized that my cell phone was no longer clipped to my pants pocket. So I retraced may steps and went back to the now-vacated mound area and looked around where my brother, his son and I had sat down for awhile, and where I had been shooting against the spectator barricades. I was about to be disappointed in myself for having lost the phone when I asked a group of Yellow Shirts if anyone had turned in a phone. The oldest gentlemen in the bunch simply held it up and said they had been talking about how to try to find me. Thankfully, some fan found my phone and turned it in to them. That absolutely made myday and proved to me once again why race fans are some of the best people on the planet.

I owe you one.See you Sunday!


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

USGP at Indianapolis - 2007 Last Hurrah?

Once again the Formula One circus has arrived in Indianapolis, and after the wild weekend in Canada just past, who knows what to expect?

Last year was Michael Schumacher's last hurrah at Indy for Ferrari, and the contract with IMS is up after this race so it should be a very interesting race event. In 2006, Juan Pablo Montoya triggered a huge wreck at the start that sent Nick Heidfeld flipping through the Turn 1 sand trap. Crowds were down after the embarrassing debacle caused by Michelin the year before. But this year the race falls on Father's Day again and the racing sensation of 2007, Lewis Hamilton, is coming off his first win - in dominating fashion no less - and the McLaren boys seem to have it all together. So it will be interesting to see how fans react and I am hoping this will be the most competitive USGP yet.

Indy is where Formula One belongs in the United States as there's no better venue for the world's most sophisticated race machines. When you see these cars scream north on the front stretch and brake down to make the right hander into Turn 1, or watch them whip through the infield segment of the road course, it's impossible not to appreciate the equipment and the nerve of the F1 drivers. Hopefully no one tests the SAFER barrier in the oval track Turn 1, and it still seems odd to watch them run the "wrong way" on the front stretch. But it's Indy. It's a race. So I will be there with my Canons and ready for anything.

Bring sunscreen and earplugs folks. You will need both this weekend.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Sticker I'd Like to Have

Seen today on the back window of a minivan:

"I'm not speeding.
I'm qualifying."

I want one of those stickers for my Acura!


Monday, May 28, 2007

Indy 500: Dario Franchitti Wins Indy's Longest Day

On a day when Mother Nature wreaked havoc at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dario got Andretti Green Racing a 500 win, as the skies opened up for the second time after Marco Andretti walked away from a scary flip on the backstretch which brought out the final yellow. It was certainly the longest day I've ever spent at the Speedway and I was happy that the IRL did their best to get the whole race in. In the old days, the red and checkered flags likely would have come out the first time it rained at lap 113. For those that hung around, it was another 500 for the record books, as drivers tried to knock the walls down all around the track and the action got frantic each time the weather threatened.

Many of the expected contenders ran into problems (or someone else) as Kanaan and Weldon finished out of the top 10. My man Sam Hornish Jr. came back from a flat tire following contact with Scheckter to take 4th behind his teammate Helio who was exciting to watch all day. Scott Dixon took 2nd as he managed to keep his car clean and was in a position to challenge for the win before the final crash & rain sequence unfolded. And the Penske Junior team showed its stuff with my darkhorse pick Ryan Briscoe taking 5th. You can get the whole rundown at www.indy500.com and I'll be posting more pix from my Turn 2 vantage point later today at www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42.

Talk soon. What a day! There's no place like Indy...


Friday, May 25, 2007

Indy 500: Tony Kanaan Fastest on Carb Day; Andretti Green Top 3

The boys from Andretti Green Racing showed everyone the fast way around Indy in the final hour of practice this morning with TK, Dario and Michael Andretti topping the time sheets for Sunday's 500. Kanaan was the only driver over 225 while the rest followed at 223 or less. Helio was 4th for Penske but the biggest surprise of the day was Jaques Lazier in 5th in the oft-hated Panoz chassis - virtually all of the top runners are in the favored Dallara. Dan Wheldon was all the way back in 13th but he was either sandbagging or his car just didn't like the muggy conditions and turbulence kicked up by so many cars on the track. His teammate Scott Dixon was 6th followed by my man Sam Hornish Jr., Danica, Ryan Briscoe, Tomas Scheckter and Marco Andretti. This means all 5 Andretti Green cars were in the top 11 today so look out for them Sunday afternoon.

Not surprisingly Milka Duno was slowest at barely 211 so she better be driving with an eye on her mirrors come Sunday or she'll create problems. Hopefully, the IRL officials will keep the black flag handy if she can't keep up a good pace - watch for her to get lapped in the first 15 laps. It's been great PR for the 500 to have her in as the 3rd woman in the field, but it's time to go racing and she doesn't look ready to me.

It should be an awesome race so stay tuned. But what the heck do I know? This is only my 32nd straight 500 - I've seen every one since 1976. For this Hoosier, it doesn't get much better than this. See you in Turn 2!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Indy 500: Field is Full; Jimmy Kite Bumped Out in Final Qualifying

Let's go racing!

Bump Day at Indianapolis this year was anticlimactic after thousands of laps of running during two weeks of practice where less than four hours of green light time was lost to Mother Nature. Jimmy Kite was the only driver bumped out after taking a qualifying run Saturday of just more than 214, and the small PDM team had to take its beautiful car home after repairing it from a crash earlier in the week.

Phil Giebler got in the show after his Saturday crash, while Richie Hearn got the car that Jon Herb had originally crashed Tuesday of the first week of practice and was very impressive in qualifying after a minimal number of laps in his first time in a race car since the 2005 Indy 500. And wily veteran Roberto Moreno pulled a rabbit out of the hat, as the team withdrew their Saturday qualifying time and found 4 more mph to safely round out the field. I'm sure Marty Roth was happy as he ended up on the bubble with no serious challengers as Kite was stuck in the 214's and PJ Jones almost crashed twice in Turn 2 wrestling an evil handling car before calling it a month without ever presenting the car for qualifying.

So now we wait for Carb Day Friday and what many of us live for: the Greatest Spectacle in Racing this Sunday. 500 Miles at over 200 mph. 7 or 8 pit stops. Backmarkers by lap 15. Newcomers like Milka Duno who have little experience on ovals. And the juggernauts at the front: Target Ganassi, Penske and Andretti Green Racing. The winner is likely to come from one of these three teams, but again, keep an eye on Ryan Briscoe!

From the full tank runs I saw, watch for the cars bottoming out and shedding showers of sparks on full tanks and cold tires. To stay at the front, contenders will need to run consistently around 220, and there are some like Wheldon, Hornish and Kanaan who were able to rip off laps in the 224-225 range during race prep runs the last few days. So it should be another historic day Sunday. You should be here. Feel the breeze and smell the ethanol exhaust as they fly by on the opening lap. Trains of 10 cars or more rolling nose to tail. Noise like you've never heard or felt, all the way to your bones. You just can't get that on TV folks.

Of course, I'll be pulling for Sam Hornish Jr. to make it two in a row.

To see all the cars in this year's 500, go to www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42 and enjoy.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Indy 500: Jimmy Kite Slowest with One Spot Open; Rookie Giebler Tags Turn 2 Fence

I have to admit this was a strange but wonderful qualifying day. And I must revise my bump speed prediction dramatically downward. After today's events where rookie Phil Giebler pushed up out of the groove in Turn 2 and slapped the wall following a lap over 221 during a qualifying attempot around 5:30, veteran Jimmy Kite accepted a qualifying run of a little more than 214 for the 32nd and slowest spot in the field near closing time. So rather than squeaking in with 219's, that speed looks pretty safe right now.

With the weather forecast for Sunday including a high of around 80, teams will need to thrash to find speed. Giebler should get in easily if his care can be repaired, then Kite becomes the target for people like PJ Jones, Richie Hearn (for Hemelgarn) and maybe even Larry Foyt if AJ decides to wheel a thirf Foyt car out of the garage. So there should be some bumping this year after all just to get in the race, and you never know who's walking around Gasoline Alley with helmet in hand ready to give it a go.

While I expect the top teams to run in packs again Sunday as they did today to test race trim, now the fight is just to get in the race for the lesser teams whose year revolves around just putting a car in the show. Anyone worried about their speed will be practicing too, and with each car having three attempts tomorrow, expect it to go right down to the wire at 6:00 like so many years before.

It should be a beautiful day for motor car racing - unless the slight chance of rain becomes a reality and then all bets are off as the team managers will watch the weather radar. Then the race will be just to get through tech and make a qualifying attempt.

See you in Turn 2!


Friday, May 18, 2007

Indy 500: Another Andretti for the Race; Bump Day is Sunday

Welcome back John Andretti-

It's good to have you back again after a 13 year hiatus running everything but open wheel. Indy is the better for your return. It was sure good to see you get up to speed Thursday on a day which veterans love to hate at the Speedway: cool, overcast, low track temperatures and a gusty headwind on the backstretch. Of course you handled it just fine.

And so far it's been a typical month of May. Hot. Then cold and windy. Now it's going to get hot again for bump day Sunday. With no significant rain to wash the track green, the groove is very dark in Turn 2 so there's lots of rubber down. This could turn to grease if the temperatures get up near 80 Sunday as predicted.

It looks to me like anyone that can run 222 should be safely in the field and 221 might even get in, but I think the bump speed will end up around 221.3 so Buddy Lazier, who is currently slowest in the field, should be safe. Now that Stephane Gregoire is out with a back injury, most of the remaining drivers are struggling to get to 220, so there may be some bumping around that mark. But I would not be at all surprised to see someone squeak in at 219+ in the last few minutes Sunday. Needless to say, a couple of crashes will throw the whole mix into the blender, but that's what makes Indy so great. For teams trying to find speed, conditions Wednesday and Thursday could not have been any worse. Today was almost ideal but as the air temperature creeps up, the asphalt at IMS changes from grippy to gripless sometimes, especially when qualifying with four perfect laps demands pushing it right to the edge.

Godspeed everyone. Bring them home safely this weekend. For a full photo rundown of the 22 drivers already qualified, go to www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Indy 500: Another Penske Pole; IRL Wins with Three Tries Format

Indianapolis is the mother of all race tracks and today she showed just how fickle she could be. Helio Castroneves drove a dagger through the heart of the competition today and snatched pole position in the final 15 minutes of Pole Day qualifying under the Indy Racing League's "three tries per car per day" format. The IRL must be riding high this evening as the format got its first true test after two consecutive years where weather prevented its use.

On a cloudless warm day with a tailwind on the frontstretch, Roger Penske's machine stole the pole position from the dominant team for the week: Ganassi Racing. I am certain the Chipster is not a happy camper tonight. I thought all morning that Dixon and Wheldon were sandbagging as whatever speed they had during the week was seemingly lost overnight. The Indy oval was sun baked and after more than two days of solid running, there was lots of rubber on the track, and conditions were dramatically different than Friday May 11th. As usual the gamblers and the more experienced teams stepped to the forefront and adapted as Penske and Andretti Green Racing went toe-to-toe all day. Dario Franchitti waited all afternoon to see if anyone would knock him off the pole, and Michael Andretti sweated out the last hour and a half on the 11th position bubble.

Sam Hornish had two tries and was running a pole winning speed but bobbles in each run cost him. Then Helio took another swing and was his normal emotional self after taking his second Indy pole. Franchitti's teammate Tony Kanaan almost knocked Helio off the pole in the last 5 minutes but had to settle for the middle of the front row, pushing Dario to the outside.

It was an awesome day at IMS with multiple bumps for the 11th position, and a thrilling duel for the pole among several drivers.

And how about that Ryan Briscoe and the Penske "junior" team? Didn't I tell you?

The best pole day in years in my opinion, and the first one since 2001 not effected by Mother Nature. This will be hard to top. Tomorrow we do it again for the next 11 positions and then get to rest our feet for a couple of days. Let's hope the traditional bump day next Sunday is half as exciting as today has been. See you in Turn 2!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Indy 500: Scott Dixon Fastest May 10th; Wheldon Second; Ganassi Stays Hot

On an absolutely perfect chamber of commerce day in Indianapolis, Scotty-D upstaged his Target Ganassi Racing teammate during Happy Hour at IMS today and pushed the fast time for the month to 226.47. Danny Boy was close behind at 226.39. It looks like Andretti Green is getting their act together as Danica was third quick by an eyelash at 226.35. Scheckter continues to shine for the Vision team as the 4th driver on the day over 226.

And what did I tell you about Ryan Briscoe? He couldn't have been any closer to 226 and was 5th fastest at 225.99. Marco Andretti seems to have regained his 06 Indy form to run 6th after abysmal showings on IRL ovals so far this season; he was closely followed by Helio, Hornish, Vitor and Kosuke, as those clocking 6th through 10th were all over 225. And with another full day on Fast Friday May 11th ahead to tweak their cars, the pole and Top 11 position shootout should be awesome Saturday once everyone drops their Honda qualifying engines in.

From my vantage point inside Turn 2 today, it looks like JR and Unser Sr. need to do some more coaching with Ms. Duno, as she never seemed to run the same line two laps in a row. And I still think it's weird to see an Unser driving for Foyt, and a Foyt driving for Tony George. Ad next week, it looks like we may have another Andretti try to qualify: cousin John. Welcome back!

More to follow here on Friday's action and I hope to have shots up on my flickr pager (www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42) of every car that has been on the track so far this month.

Indy 500: Wheldon Rules for Ganassi Racing; Continues Indy Racing League Hot Streak

Since the veterans were only allowed on the track Tuesday May 8th for the first time - and then for only six hours - and with practice starting late yesterday due to a rain delay which provided barely two more hours of green light time, everyone has taken notice of the fast times put in by Ganassi's lead driver Dan Wheldon. Already with two wins out of four races this season, Danny-boy was the only driver over 225 Tuesday and the only one over 226 yesterday. The rest of the top 5 is rotating among Andretti Green, Penske, and even Vision Racing. It looks to me like Wheldon has them covered so far as he's gotten up to speed quickly and easily.

Of course his advantage could all go out the window Saturday if the IRL's Pole Day "three tries" rule gets its first true test. The weather forecast looks favorable, albeit a bit warm for early May, so it could be quite a shoot-out among the top teams.

Don't rule out Ryan Briscoe either. He's driving for Roger Penske's son Jay in a "separate" team, and I'm sure Ryan would love to show everyone his true mettle after his horrific Chicagoland crash a couple of years ago. I'm sure he's an excellent sports car driver, but c'mon - this is the Indy 500.

Naturally I'm pulling for Sam Hornish Jr. and the Captain to pull a rabbit out of the hat and take pole again. With Penske's resources, Rick Mears' coaching and Sam's famous smooth, hard charging style, I'd bet that a pole would go a long way to salve his Busch series wounds where results have not been to Sam's liking.

Go fast, turn left, boys. Bring it home Saturday then let's gear up for May 27th. I'll be there for the race again to keep my personal string alive since 1976, and if you've only seen Indy on TV, get off the couch and get to 16th & Georgetown. It's a whole different deal live and in person - television just does not do the race justice. Come smell the sweet ethanol in the breeze with us and someday you too can tell your grandkids that you were there when...

...another legend was made. Only at the Indy 500.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

NASCAR Race Attendance & TV Ratings: Downward Trend or Fed Up Fans?

Hello again from Indy race fans-

Every now and then someone writes in the MSM or TV's talking heads rattle on about the lack of butts in the seats at NASCAR races or a decline in TV ratings. I have my own theory and wonder whether it is even a real issue, or whether it falls into the Barnum category of any publicity is good publicity. My observation, from personal experience at the Brickyard and from watching races on TV, is that race tracks are not selling out like they used to and it may or may not be about the NASCAR product. The photo with this article is in Turn 1 at the 2006 Brickyard and there were actually more empty seats there this year than for the Indy 500 for the first time in my recollection.

The most obvious culprit is the economy. Corporate ticket buying undoubtedly has come down as mergers and acquisitions squeeze marketing budgets. A side effect is people are scared of losing their jobs; if they are not comfortable that their company is going to be there next week, or are afraid of getting downsized in a cost cutting spree, then people naturally are going to keep their money in the bank and stay home and couch race.

I don't believe that is the real issue however. What I believe is happening is a function of a personal decision whether or not to be a race fan. Race fans are a special breed of sports fan, braving ridiculous traffic in and out of tracks. Getting there early for a good parking space. Waiting hours and hours for the race to start. Drying out after rain delays and more waiting. Dealing with drunks and expensive concessions and souvenirs. Long lines at restrooms. Surviving extreme heat in aluminum bleachers in the summer. Dragging coolers, cameras, kids, and other gear miles to seats, only to wait some more. Hurry up and wait all day. Then the reverse pilgrimage back to the car when the race is over. More drunks. More ridiculous traffic. Tired, hot, short tempered, and dreading the next day's alarm clock to go back to the workday grind.

Who in their right mind would put up with that? True race fans, that's who. The ones that deal with all the above and can't wait to tell their friends. Or who call their friends while the cars are on the track just to be able to share the noise with someone who can't attend. The ones who have their year planned out around which races to attend.

That's the personal decision I'm talking about. And I think that lots of people become NASCAR fans from the marketing juggernaut that is Nextel Cup, and from watching the races on TV. So maybe they decide to go see a race. What happens? They can't stand the crowds, or the waiting, or decide that couch racing is infinitely easier, especially when they can TIVO the whole thing and watch at their leisure. It's just too damn much trouble for most normal people to put up with.

But then no one ever accused race fans of being normal. I know I certainly am not, and have not. Will I see you at the race track?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Helio Rules at St. Pete in Indy Racing League Round 2

Helio, Helio, wherefor art thou Helio?

In the lead on the temporary circuit in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Where else would he be? At least it seems that way with the way he has controlled these St. Pete events, and not even consistent pressure from Scott Dixon could force him off his line. Penske precision in the pits got Helio in and out unscathed every time and he never put a wheel wrong all day. The same could not be said for teammate Sam Hornish, Jr., however as he drifted wide in Turn 1 and lost three spots in one corner. It's tough to drive with one eye in the mirrors but Helio seems to have mastered it.

With the deadline for Indy entries coming up soon and two oval tracks up next on the schedule, could Helio just be practicing his fence climbing for 500 win #3? And how many pit stops will it take to finish Indy now with the smaller fuel cell? Nine or 10 minimum would be my guess, so now there's even less margin for error on pit road than ever before, and everyone knows the margin is razor thin on the race track at Indy anyway.

Is it May yet?


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dan Weldon Smokes Competition at Indy Racing League Opener

The IRL weekend at Homestead was a mixed bag of results for Ganassi Racing. They put a rocket ship under Dan Weldon who was untouchable the whole race and would have probably led every lap if the team hadn't had a miscue on pit lane. For a moment, I thought 2006 pit problems were going to bite Danny-boy again, but a fast car and Weldon's aggressiveness in traffic prevailed. Ninth to first in 11 laps was very impressive. The downside of the weekend was the severe leg injuries suffered by Ganassi's rookie Indy Pro Series driver, Argentinian Pablo Perez. Godspeed and get well soon.

I must say I was not very impressed by the IRL's new wing rule. If it was supposed to pack up the field for closer racing, it didn't appear to be working, until late in the race once everyone had a chance to make adjustments following the Jeff Simmons crash. I'd say it's debatable whether the wing had any effect at all. I don't think anyone wants to see the pack racing the way it was in Atlanta a few years ago, but there definitely needs to be more of the side by side action the IRL has become famous for on the mile-and-a-half tracks.

Now it's on to St. Pete. Don't expect Marco to have a bad handling car this weekend folks! And I doubt Weldon will run into anyone under yellow this year. Hopefully Sarah Fisher and AJ IV will be able to adapt and not effect the outcome. Welcome back Sarah BTW. It's good to see you on track again.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

IRL Indy Racing League - Real Racin'

Winter is finally over and the real racing season begins this weekend at Homestead when the Indy Racing League takes the fastest show on wheels to the banked oval in South Florida. Some folks say rubbin' is racin' but I say it ain't - especially in the IRL. Just ask Kenny Brack. You won't find any better, closer, wheel to wheel excitement than at an IRL event. Get out and see for yourself. Television does not do justice to the awesome speed and competitiveness of this series.

And since we're racing at Homestead, that means the opening of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn't far off. By the time the teams get to Indy, we should know pretty well who the title contenders are going to be, but you can bet Penske, Ganassi and Andretti-Green will be at the point of the field in every race. Now there are three women in the series as well so ladies grab your Danika gear and get to the racetrack. My personal favorite to win the season title is Sam Hornish Jr. of course but Marco Andretti will probably do it this year. He's fast and fearless and he needs a title before Honda will get him onto an F1 seat.

I was at the ethanol test at the Speedway last fall where this shot of Weldon in the south chute was taken and you will notice a distinctive sweet smell to the IRL exhaust this year as the series goes to 100% ethanol fuel. I used to say there's nothing better than the smell of methanol in the morning but now I will have to amend that.

As the commercial for Indiana Beach Amusement Park goes, "There's more than corn in Indiana." But nothing has ever smelled sweeter at the track.

Except maybe a stack of hot tires after a mid race pit stop. Go fast. Turn left. Bring it home safely.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

ROLEX Grand Am Series & IMSA History

The Gainsco team with Alex Gurney put together an awesome drive in Mexico City and somehow managed to force Mad Max Papis to make a mistake while leading late in the race. Gurney's charge was nothing short of spectacular, coming from more than 12 seconds behind to take the lead, then losing it in traffic, and then regrouping to pressure Papis into the weeds for the win. This photo is from the EMCO Gears Challenge at Mid Ohio in June 2006.

These Rolex cars are some of the most beautiful race machines in the world IMO. Full fields of prototypes, a variety of engine and chassis manufacturers, spectacular road course backdrops and a bevy of talented up & coming drivers challenge the established guard at every race. Back in the 80's after Can AM had died and IMSA was king of sports car racing in the U.S., I had the same feel for the series that I do now. It's really too bad that the American LeMans series and the Rolex guys can't get it together as it would be awesome to see the new Acura machines, the Penske Porsche's and the other class entrants all running together in one big show. Unfortunately, like the IRL-Champ Car split, my guess is that ne'er the twain shall meet and that is really a shame for fans of sports car road racing in America.


Monday, March 5, 2007

Heritage Christian Girls Repeat as Class 2A BAsketball Champs

With super sophomore Kelly Faris displaying her usual all-around brilliance, the Eagles claimed their second consecutive Class 2A basketball state title this past Saturday. With her leadership and the other young players on that team, it's conceivable they could win the next two also and make Indiana high school basketball history. I had the pleasure of seeing Heritage play a few times this season and it is clear that Kelly could score a lot more points than she does. In fact, I think she could score anytime she wants to. But her team is so disciplined and balanced that she knows she does not need to do that for them to win. It looks to me like the Indiana Miss Basketball race is shaping up between Kelly and fellow sophomore Skylar Diggins of South Bend Washington for 2009 and it will be fun to see how these ladies perform the next two seasons. Unfortunately, a dream matchup between their teams can't occur in the tourney under the multi-class format and that is really too

bad for girls basketball fans in the hoosier state.


Brebeuf Jesuit - Indiana 3A Girls Basketball Champs

Congratulations to Ta'Shia Phillips and her Brebeuf Braves' teammates for winning the Class 3A title in girls high school basketball this past weekend. Her performance carried the team until late in the game when others stepped up. She was just unstoppable with her size. She is not the typical tall girls basketball player either - tall and skinny; she has size and takes up space in the lane with strength to spare. She should be a dominant force in women's college basketball wherever she decides to play. There probably has never been a player like her in Indiana girls high school basketball and the Brebeuf game plan was well executed throughout. Good job ladies.

Ta'Shia gets my vote for Miss Basketball this year and should be the top player on the Indiana All Stars. She has the capability to dominate the game on both ends of the court and I doubt there's another high school girl in Indiana or Kentucky who can match her skills, size and strength. Looks like an Indiana sweep is in the offing for this June. Get the brooms out folks.


NASCAR & Juan Pablo Montoya

NASCAR & Juan Pablo Montoya
Originally uploaded by indyjay42.
Say it ain't so Juan!

I remember excitedly watching the Ganassi press conference last summer when it was announced that JPM was coming back to the USA to race stock cars. For all the hoo-ha about "steep learning curve" I hope the bump and run in Mexico City taught those taxicab folks a thing or two about JPM's car control and desire to win. He was simply awesome in 2000 winning the Indy 500 and I have never seen anyone stick a car in turn 3 the way he did to run away with the show - and I was pulling for Buddy Lazier that year! And Juan did it as a rookie. You know I've said it here before - anyone that runs Indy is going to get my support, and if Tony Stewart can't win, then I'm pulling for JPM to smoke them and win Rookie of the Year. I think he may win as many as 5 races this season in Nextel Cup.

I think perhaps the folks that have the steep learning curve is the team at Ganassi Racing as Juan cannot be a savior if the team doesn't put a good machine in his hands. Look at the last few years - what has Ganassi done? Not much. Juan can overcome a lot with his innate skills but the crew has to do their work too. Can't wait to see him at Bristol.

Can't say I'm surprised by Chip's reaction to the win either. He's got a major investment to recoup and I'll bet Havoline sold a lot of oil in Mexico today. Too bad for Scott Pruett though - he's been a favorite of mine too since he mortgaged everything he owned to race Indy Cars and out-dueled Al Unser Jr. in the '89 Michigan 500 with a high side pass on the last lap to win. I don't blame Scott for being pissed off, but he could have given Juan a little room too as he had the inside line for the next corner and might have been able to hold him off for another lap or so. But Juan was going to get him - no doubt about that. It doesn't do any good to whine once the checkers fly.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

Tony Stewart Fans Unite

Tony Stewart Fans Unite
Originally uploaded by indyjay42.
Tony Stewart still seems to be the one NASCAR star that fans either love or hate. Personally, I love him and have been a fan for years, simply because he drives the wheels off of anything he races and doesn't take second place lightly. After all, I heard him say once that "Second Place is the first loser." Go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42/ for some vintage Tony pix in dirt cars and at Indy.

My hope is that when Tony has had enough of WW-Nascar, he will come back to win the Indy 500. Other than perhaps LeMans, it's just about the only major race he hasn't won and I know Indy is still a sore spot for him. Too bad daylight savings time has robbed him of the opportunity to do the double with Charlotte. Do you remember the day he ran 1096 miles? I sure do. No one else could do that today, especially not most of the politically correct guys wheeling the taxicabs. Maybe Honda will follow Toyota into Nascar and then Tony can get a plum ride in the 500 and the 600 - no more sponsor conflicts like a couple of years ago when he showed up on Bump Day and toyed with the idea of jumping in one Of AJ Foyt's Toyota-powered cars. Great show that day for Tony Stewart fans like me.

Give 'em hell Tony. Say what you want about him, but he's a racer's racer and he's still the same guy who used to wax them at IRP, DuQuoin and the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Go Tony go!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

USAC Dirt Racing

USAC Dirt Racing
Originally uploaded by indyjay42.
Back in the 90's, I shot a lot of different kinds of racing and one of my goals for this blog is to scan and resurrect as many of those old film based images as possible to get them out for people to see. Many of my favorite drivers are guys from those days - at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, or Duquoin, or Indianapolis Raceway Park. The cars still look about the same, at least in the alternate series for older silver crown cars, and sprints and midgets haven't changed much either. This one is Jeff Swindell slideways at the Fairgrounds in Indy in 91 or 92 in a car whose sponsor has been on sprints for years with many famous drivers: Terre Haute 1st National Bank.

But there's something special about standing next to the guardrail with the cars close enough you could reach out and touch them, blasting your left eardrum, and using the camera to shield your face from dirt and rocks. Thankfully I was never injured but part of the thrill as a racing photographer is knowing something could happen at any time. The cardinal rule I learned early on was don't ever turn your back on the cars. Of course this limited view of a very small portion of a race track might not be interesting to some people since sitting in the stands and seeing the whole track is nice for that overview as a spectator. But the only way to get any closer to the action is to sit behind the wheel.

I'll take my spot on the guardrail, thank you very much. The best part now with digital photography is you don't have to wonder if you got the picture or not while waiting for the film to be souped. Thank goodness the technology is so advanced now. Anyone want some old Canon film cameras? They make good doorstops nowadays, and maybe someday they will be museum pieces.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Michael McDowell, Eddie Sharp Racing, ARCA Star

Here's a young driver to keep an eye on: Michael McDowell. He's running the full ARCA circuit in 2007 for Eddie Sharp Racing and has already had an impressive 10th place at the Daytona 200. My pix are from the Eddie Gilstrap Fall Classic at Salem (Indiana) Speedway in September 2006 where I first met him and had the pleasure of providing photos for his website, http://mmcdowell.com and other uses. He also ran the Rolex 24 Hours this year for Finlay Motorsports and helped the team to a 10th place finish in the top sports car prototype class. The team had all kinds of problems but had a strong driver lineup where Michael teamed up with Bobby Labonte, Michael Valiente and Rob Finlay. For a guy who came up through road racing to adapt to the ARCA stock cars on ovals as quickly as Michael has is very impressive and I would expect him to land a ride in Busch or Nextel Cup in the next year or so. He surely knows how to go fast, and he's proving he can turn left (as well as right).

Watch for him!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dilbert - More on Taming the Wild Photographer

Here's another panel from Scott Adams' sequence about photographers adapting to corporate life. It's probably my favorite, with the guy wearing a ubiquitous photographer's vest and the cattle roping analogy. Strapping the personnel manual on the poor guy's back is a touch of genius. As if the photog will absorb the info somehow by mere physical contact. There's another panel with a panda reference which is pretty funny too but I won't post it unless someone asks me too. It's all about cube life sapping one's will to live which, come to think of it, is a recurring theme in Dilbert.

It's not really that bad out there. Maybe you feel differently.