Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tony George Ousted at Indianapolis; USAC Sprinters Take On Winchester

This is my 150th post on my blog and what better way to celebrate than to talk about what an interesting week in racing it has been around here. I suppose no one was shocked with the changes announced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently as there had been rumors for awhile. As for me, I managed to squeeze in a trip to Winchester for the Rich Vogler Classic USAC sprint car race which had been postponed by rain from April. The family interests on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway board have relegated Tony George to a simple board member and made a number of other changes in its leadership structure. Apparently, he had the opportunity to stay on as head of the IRL but declined, opting to let the new leadership take this over, although he continues as a team owner for Vision Racing. Even that has strings since the family checkbook has been restricted to keep Vision as a one car team. Who knows what else is in store for the IRL now? With the road course race at the Glen this weekend, I'm sure this will be the subject of much discussion. I sure hope it is a more competitive event than the Richmond oval race last weekend. I was shocked to hear Dario admit afterwards that it was a lousy race and I am anxious to see what the opening of the rules will mean for the next oval race at Kentucky Speedway August 1st. That will also be my next IRL race so I am looking forward to that.

All of the focus seems to be on adding more downforce so there can be more side by side racing. I have to wonder whether the tires are too soft and whether a harder compound wouldn't help just as much as side pod extensions. Loosening the cars up by taking downforce away makes more sense to me, since the guy in the lead or a car in clean air now has a huge advantage, since the cars are so stuck to the track and you can't turn under anyone. The push to pass technology might help if Honda will bless it, but as it is now, there is no high line on most ovals since the marbles are so bad from tire debris. That's why giving them a harder tire compound makes more sense to me, but I'm not an engineer so it wouldn't be the first time that what I think is good common sense is all wrong from an engineering standpoint. It does seem a little odd that not much has been heard out of Firestone on this, so I hope Barnhart and the IRL tech people can land on something that brings back the close racing. More oval track processions is the last thing the IRL needs right now, and if Milwaukee is going off the schedule next year as has been reported, then there goes another opportunity to get it right with the cars and the fans. Indycars on short tracks have been racing fixtures since the days of Langhorne, and while I look forward to shooting the road course race at Mid Ohio in August, it's tough to see ovals dropping away when the IRL was formed as an all-oval series. Of course much has changed since the IRL was conceived and anyone involved now would have to say "mistakes were made" that have hurt the product and caused fans to lose interest and run to NASCAR. How the IRL moves forward under new leadership at the top is going to be critical for the survival of the series. If it were only about survival, then that might be OK for some, but personally, I want to see the series thrive and not just survive.

I couldn't get to Winchester in April when the USAC show was originally scheduled, so I was kind of glad it got postponed so I could go Thursday July 2nd. It's only about 90 minutes from home and it is another great little racetrack similar to Salem. The bad news with the postponement was the short field that towed in, especially since they had to move on to Toledo the next day for a doubleheader with the USAC midgets. There were only 15 sprinters that made it to Winchester, and the undercard of street stocks and front wheel drive compacts were similarly short handed. There was a good crowd though, and the promise of a post-race fireworks display no doubt had an influence on the number of families with kids who attended. Tracy Hines won the sprint feature after coming through the pack to pass Cole Whitt late in the race and there were several good battles throughout the field before Shane Hmiel's spin brought out a late yellow.

It was like old home week at the track for photographers as well, since there were quite a few guys there I hadn't seen since May at Indy. That's one of the best parts of being a racing photographer - these impromptu reunions happen at tracks all over the place and they are never planned. The most fun I had was talking to a young man from Spanaway, Washington with one of the best names in racing: Snake Livernash. He had never been to Winchester before and we struck up a conversation before the heat races started. Not that I know anything about driving one of those sprinters, but when he said he was starting behind Hines in his heat, I said "just follow him", knowing that he'd learn the fast way around from one of today's best. "Snake" had a nicely turned out car and seemed very nervous about running these fast high banks, but he stayed out of trouble and still had his equipment in one piece for the next day in Toledo. That's more than a lot of Winchester "rookies" can say, I am sure of that.

Until next time, here's a slide show from Winchester and don't forget to check out the American Motor Journal website from time to time. Order up a subscription while you're at it! See you at the race track!

No comments: