Monday, February 9, 2009

It Don't Rain in Indianapolis...

Is it May yet?

I ask this question every year about this time, as winter weather wreaks havoc and the only racing to be found is in Daytona. First the Rolex series and NASCAR have broken the season in and I'm counting days to the Indy Racing League season: 55 days to St. Pete and 86 to opening day at Indianapolis. Let's hope the weather this May is drier than last year!

And that's not much time to put programs together in the current economic climate. The strangest news so far is Milka Duno signing to run a third car for Newman Haas Lanigan. Clearly that's all about the money. And how about Bobby Rahal? He must be looking to the skies for sponsor money to rain down since the Ethanol deal is gone and Rahal Letterman may not be available for the season. He missed the 500 in 93 as a driver and I'm sure he'll pull something together for Indy at least. But it's a sure sign that times are tough when two normally competitive teams are faced with these kinds of decisions going into the second year after unification. The timing couldn't be worse for the IRL which can't seem to catch a break. Poised for perhaps a breakout year with all the major open wheel teams together having had a full season to get acclimated, the bottom falls out of the corporate world and threatens to take casualties.

Economic troubles don't play favorites and it will be the top teams that survive and thrive. Tony George's money is still there for those that run the full season and there is good news to be found, but you have to dig for it, and you can't believe the whiners on the usenet who still decry the split in 1995 as the worst thing to ever hit american racing. That's ancient history now folks and most of today's fans don't even know there was a split. Only the diehards and oldtimers like me are still aware of the havoc it created. We understand it was the springboard that catapulted NASCAR to the top of the US racing scene but the 500 is still the 500, and there's no way that will ever be topped by the taxicab crowd. And after last year's Brickyard 400 debacle, even the stock car crowd is shrinking and race tickets are being heavily discounted, at Daytona of all places. Stop me when it begins to hurt, but the fans will still be at Indy and the IRL will still have the best and fastest racing on the planet again this year.

My season begins the same day as St. Pete in Salem, Indiana with ARCA but my DVD recorder will be working overtime that weekend when the new TV package on Versus hits the air. Their expanded coverage surely will benefit the IRL, just as Speed's wall-to-wall NASCAR coverage has boosted stock cars. When I watch NASCAR this year, I think I'll just turn the sound off so I don't have to listen to Larry Mac yell at me or hear DW's boogity bull shit. Give me the sound of an Indy Car any day, and with Bob Jenkins in the booth, a man who thoroughly knows Indycar racing, it is bound to be better for the average fan or the newcomer who doesn't need to be talked down to. We're smarter than that.

You will hear that the IRL has six (6) engine manufacturers interested in a 4 cylinder turbo format for 2011. You will know that Penske, Andretti and Ganassi are the stalwarts of the series and the teams to beat. You will understand that the 1.5 mile ovals generate the closest finishes in any form of motorsports time after time, so you better have a view of the start finish line. You will see more women racing in the IRL at one time than in any other series and giving the boys fits on a regular basis. You will hear "hold your line" and then see someone actually get black-flagged for blocking on occasion. You will see racing so close that smoke comes off the tires after contact but no one spins or hits the wall, or says rubbin' is racin' (because it isn't). Here's the names you can also expect to hear this season:

Ryan Briscoe and Will Power (Best wishes with the tax judge Helio!)
Andretti Green
Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Hidekui Mutoh
Target Chip Ganassi
Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti (Welcome back Dario!)
Newman Haas Lanigan
Graham Rahal, Robert Doornbos, Milka Duno
Rubicon/Pacific Coast
Buddy Rice
AJ Foyt Racing
Vitor Meira, AJ Foyt IV
Vision Racing
Ed Carpenter
Dreyer & Reinbold
Mike Conway
Panther Racing
Dan Wheldon
Mario Moraes
Luczo Dragon
Tomas Scheckter?
Dale Coyne - tbd
Conquest Racing
Alex Tagliani
Sarah Fisher Racing
Sarah Fisher (at Kansas, Indy, Kentucky, Chicagoland)

So 20 or more cars could be ready for St. Pete and Long Beach. Then it's on to Kansas and Indy. Don't forget guys like Justin Wilson (Detroit winner in 08), Ryan Hunter-Reay (watkins Glen 08 winner), Oriol Servia and Paul Tracy are out there ready to roll if the right package comes together. So while it was great seeing 28 car fields last season, that may be tough to match in 2009 but it's still possible. Running well at Indy can make or break a small team, so let's get ready, keep them off the fences on the street circuits, and come to 16th & Georgetown for the greatest show on wheels that begins May 6th with Rookie Orientation Program.

You probably won't hear my name though, unless you're in the Indy 500 Oldtimers room at the Speedway. I hope to be accepted this year, having worked 21 Indy 500's since 1984 and I hope I don't show my age. A lady friend calls me Mr. Photographer, but the truth is, I am just a Hoosier, like it says at the top of my blog, and I can't wait to get to the track. See you in the pits!

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