Thursday, December 16, 2010

Racing Recap 2010: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

It's all over but the shouting for the 2010 racing season and there have been many memorable moments to savor through the winter months. Soon enough, the Rolex series will be running at Daytona around the clock and the 2011 season will be underway. In the meantime, here's my take on The Good, The Bad & The Ugly from 2010. My slideshow at the end of this post chronicles many of those moments captured through my cameras this season, including my sequence of Mike Conway's horrific crash on the final lap of the Indy 500.
The Good
As a photographer and diehard Indycar fan, some of the best moments came from the IZOD Indycar season. Will Power's comeback from serious injuries in 2009 to battle Dario Franchitti for the series championship was among the best stories of the season. While Power came up short in his challenge for the series title in the final race, this storyline provided a fantastic backdrop for lots of other good news in the series. Tony Kanaan's victory at Iowa chased away his demons at that short track and provided Andretti Autosport with one of its few highlights for the year. Ryan Hunter-Reay was rewarded will full season support by IZOD after a strong early season showing when it appeared his ride was in doubt due to funding; his job at Andretti is now secure for the next two seasons as a result. One of the big surprises of the season was the strenght of Alex Tagliani's new FAZZT team which showed surprising speed and consistency throughout the year. The series also announced that its Road to Indy ladder system would be bolstered by Mazda going forward and a $300,000 reward would be given to the USAC Driver's Champion; this funding puts Bryan Clauson in a Firestone Indy Lights ride for six 2011 oval races. Rising stars like Conor Daly have benefited from the ladder system already, and his Star Mazda series domination resulted in a GP3 test in Europe following the season along with television interviews during the Indycar finale on Versus. Graham Rahal appears to be set for a full 2011 season with financial support from National Tire & Battery and JR Hildebrand, the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion, is jumping into the Panther Racing seat occupied for the last two seasons by Dan Wheldon. Lights driver Pippa Mann got her first win at Kentucky and the talent level in Indycar and its support series continues to be on the rise. Indycar's best news came during silly season when it was announced that Dallara would build it's new Indycar facility in Speedway, Indiana and Chevrolet, Lotus and Honda would all provide engines under a new technical formula for the 2012 season.
Chip Ganassi's success in multiple series, including winning the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Indycar and Rolex Series championships was a remarkable feat. Dario got his second Indy 500 win, Jamie MacMurray won Daytona and the Brickyard, while the duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas cleaned up in the Rolex Series despite rules changes during the season which were intended to handicap them. Congratulations to all the Ganassi teams for their awesome 2010 seasons! In NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson had to come from behind in the Chase to secure an unbelievable fifth straight series title. The ARCA series had a stellar year with young guns taking over for the veterans and continuing to brand itself as a proving ground for up and coming stock car racers in need of taxicab experience. Dakoda Armstrong's last lap charge at Talladega was a sight to behold and he grabbed a second win at the Salem Speedway high banks to mark himself as a driver to watch. I am personally excited that ARCA has announced a return to Winchester Speedway next year after a four year absence, and that it will team up with the USAC Silver Crown and Midget Series at O'Reilly Raceway Park in July as part of NASCAR Speedweeks leading up to the 2011 Brickyard 400. I could go on and on with the 2010 good news from the racing world as there was far more good than bad from my perspective, but "The Bad" and "The Ugly" often generated more headlines this season.
The Bad
For Indycar drivers Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon, "The Bad" included the loss of their rides for 2011. For TK, it was a simple matter of economics while Danny left an acrimonious situation where he had to sue the team over contractual issues and finds himself on the outside looking in despite two consecutive second place finishes in the Indy 500. While Will Power's season was a bright spot for Penske Racing, Helio Castroneves had one of his worst seasons in years with several DNF's and the memorable black flag at Edmonton after which he went ballistic on Indycar officials and created the season's most embarrassing moment. NASCAR found itself on the downslope in attendance and television ratings again in 2010. Several factors have negatively impacted NASCAR including the cookie-cutter "Car of Tomorrow", the locked in teams being guaranteed starting spots which has made qualifying largely irrelevant, the lack of exciting racing at most tracks, but mostly I believe the Chase format is to blame, since winning races no longer seems to be the primary objective in the series. Attendance at this year's Brickyard 400 was the worst ever with thousands of empty seats available. Danica Patrick's foray into NASCAR was essentially a "made for TV" sideshow and her race results left much to be desired as she is still learning how to drive a loose racecar. For me, part of "The Bad" was that I was unable to travel to shoot as many races as I would have liked in 2010, but I am hopeful that 2011 will be my breakout year as a motorsports photographer.
The Ugly
Ugliness in racing can take many forms, most often from on track altercations involving serious injuries or worse for drivers or crew members. One of the ugliest incidents this season involved Mike Conway in Indycars and USAC driver Shane Hmiel, albeit with different results. Conway's Turn 3 accident was by far the worst I have ever photographed and when it first happened, everyone feared the worst. Thankfully he is on the mend from leg and back injuries and could be back in an Indycar next season. For Shane, the recovery from a USAC Silver Crown flip at Terre Haute is much more daunting and he may never drive again. Shane's seems especially ironic considering the personal demons he has battled and the fact that he had back to back USAC sprint car wins at Salem and Winchester that I photographed less than a month before his accident. Shane's Facebook page is "The road to Recovery" and I would encourage any race fan to support him and his family in any way they can. The Firestone Indy Lights accident I photographed at Kentucky Speedway was ugly as well but no one was seriously injured in that one.
Post Script
For racing drama and excitement, nothing beats a good wheel to wheel battle in an open wheel car in my opinion. As a racing blogger and photographer, I have been very fortunate to be up close and personal with teams and drivers over the years and am grateful for the opportunity that American Motor Journal has provided me to cover some of the most dramatic races in recent history. I never want to see anyone get hurt and working as a photography often gets me in position where I could be in harm's way personally. So far, I have been lucky. As racers often say, "I'd rather be lucky than good". I'll take either. See you at the racetrack next season.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Indy Motorsports Show - Final Day

The 2nd Annual International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS) winds up a highly successful run in Indianapolis today with an estimated 18,000 racing industry people attending during the week. With three days of open exhibits and an additional two days dedicated to technology and safety seminars, IMIS is carving out a unique niche in the racing world as the primary trade show where racers go without the general public being invited. Tom Wiesenbach of the Indiana Motorsports Association (IMA) has indicated that roughly 580 racing industry companies are involved in the show which is expected to have an economic impact in excess of $16 million dollars on the local economy.

As with any other business, networking within the motorsports industry has become vital for manufacturers, drivers, racing series and race teams. Walking through the exhibit hall, I have seen recently crowned USAC National Driver's Champion Bryan Clauson, ARCA's Frank Kimmel and NASCAR Nationwide driver Justin Allgaier among others. The ARCA series had a very nice display and the Must See Extreme Sprint Car Racing series was also represented. Beyond the exhibits, almost all of the manufacturer booths had quality peripherals, either as handouts, decals, promotional items or contest drawings. One of the best elements of the show was the ability to have one's name badge scanned into the company's contact system for additional followup. Often at trade shows, there is a lot of foot traffic but little "qualified" traffic. My sense after spending the last two days here is that the majority of attendees at this show would be considered qualified traffic and generate quality leads for companies that they could turn into future business.

With the show designed to create business for motorsports related companies, whether that goal has been achieved remains to be seen. The fact that all the booths sold out this year and exhibitors are already signing up for 2011 would seem to support the show's purpose. The promoters and businesses involved must be happy with those indicators. The most surprising element of the show to me, and one which probably needs to be pursued further, is the involvement of university programs where the future technological development for racing can find talented personnel to drive the industry forward. Indiana State University, where Bryan Clauson was playing a drag racing simulator, Northern Ohio University and other institutions for higher education, almost certainly have a role to play in the development of racing's future. With Dallara's new plant being built in Speedway, Indiana, and a host of racing businesses already located on Indy's west side and in Hendricks County west of Speedway, the young men and women in school today need to be invited to shows like IMIS to build their own networks and provide an outlet for them to serve internships, or find future employment in racing related firms. The sky is the limit and racing takes money and talent. These were all on display here at IMIS and I am glad I got the chance to attend this year. Now the real work begins.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Indy Motorsports Show Packs 'em In

The only thing missing at the International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS) today was the smell of racing exhaust fumes. If you couldn't find what you needed today for your race team, then you just weren't looking hard enough. I have been to lots of industry trade shows in my former profession and I would have to say this one ranks near the top in terms of the quality of displays and the professionalism of the exhibitor presentations. Due to my basketball coaching obligations, I wasn't able to stay as long as I would have liked today, but I will start bright and early tomorrow with a meeting before the exhibit opens with one of the exhibitors with whom I spoke - Rydin Decal. These guys appear to make every kind of decal or graphic one could want to stick on a race car.

Anyone who knows me knows that my mechanical ability is nil but I love to drive. What I wouldn't give to take a spin in some of the machinery that was on display! Too late to offer up my first born, but perhaps tomorrow I can swing another type of deal with someone! But seriously, I overheard lots of conversations between exhibitors and racers that indicated to me that business was being done today, and that is the point of any trade show after all. Many of these exhibitors will be packing up after the show ends tomorrow and heading for PRI to do it all over again, and Indianapolis should be grateful that Tony Stewart and his people have put this second annual show together as a fantastic Midwestern addition to the convention calendar. Next year's show is already scheduled for November 30 through December 2, 2011 and I already have it on my calendar. Seeing all this great racing gear has me salivating for the 2011 racing season already and I'll have more to add tomorrow. In the meantime, I have updated my slideshow from earlier today and will be adding links to video over the next few days as I finish my editing and production work. See you at the Convention Center!

Motorsports Show In Indy - First Slideshow

International Motorsports Industry Show Invades Indy

Motorsports companies from around the globe have converged on Indianapolis this week under the theme of "IMIS Means Business, Because Indy is Racing". If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the capital of auto racing, then this industry show is the capital annex as the sold out exhibit hall would indicate. I will be working the show and reporting from the media center today and tomorrow with news and photos of all that is going on. We are waiting right now for a press conference where news of the addition of ARCA stock cars to the O'Reilly Raceway Park schedule is to be announced. The ARCA series will be added to the ORP Kroger Speedfest race week leading up to the 2011 Brickyard 400 as part of the Thursday night activities that have historically involved the USAC Midget and Silver Crown Series. It will be the first time since 1985 that ARCA has raced at ORP and promises a great night of racing with this triple header.