INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27: The field of drivers pose for a group photo on the yard of bricks prior to the start of the IZOD IndyCar Series 96th running of the Indianpolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
One of the most common complaints about the IZOD IndyCar Series driver corps from those existing outside of the hardcore fan bubble goes as follows: "I don't know who any of these people are."
It occurs to me that people don't really need the whole life story of every driver in the series to find a reason to get to know them better. Often it's enough to give a couple of juicy details or factoids about them to pique people's interests. It's the same concept behind speed dating - you spend a few seconds with a person to get a feel for whether you want to follow up, then move on to the next table.
So, in that vein, I've decided to forgo my usual midweek know-it-alling to present the following list of things you might want to know about the people who drive those IndyCars to the edge. Maybe what you read will make you come back for more.
(Note: Drivers are listed in order of INDYCAR standings as of 6/20/12)
- Will Power: Call him the Two-Finger Toowoomban for his double Angry Birds thrown to IndyCar Race Control last year. This Aussie's laid back drawl disguises one of the fiercest competitive streaks in the series. Arguably the best road racer there is in IndyCar.
- James Hinchcliffe: The personable Canadian and mayor of Hinchtown is winning hearts with his good-humored attempt to displace Danica Patrick on GoDaddy.com's homepage. Carried the late Greg Moore's red gloves next to his heart during Indy 500 qualifying this year.
- Scott Dixon: If his sense of humor gets any drier, it will turn into powder. His personal reserve disguises a brilliant tactical mind and a generous disposition. His mistakes are rarer than other drivers' victories.
- Ryan Hunter-Reay: Spent years as a journeyman before landing a ride with Andretti Autosport, and hasn't looked back since. Crusader against cancer, which would be plenty of motivation to cheer for him even if he wasn't so fast.
- Helio Castroneves: Once Helio turns on the charm, I dare you not to smile. You never wonder how the guy is feeling. Not a bad dancer either, but the real rarified air he inhabits floats over Indianapolis.
- Simon Pagenaud: A dead ringer for (and surprisingly adept impersonator of) Jean Girard from Talladega Nights, Frenchman Pagenaud will never hesitate to a) correct you on the pronunciation of his first name ("SIGH-mon, not See-MONE") or b) surprise you with the depth of his talent.
Dario Franchitti: Owner of the biggest mutton-chop sideburns in INDYCAR, as well as a marriage license with Ashley Judd's name on it. When he's not flying helicopters he's winning championships. A real bro with a brogue.
- Tony Kanaan: The human embodiment of determination. You might not believe that his heart could be bigger than his nose, but it is. Defies conventional wisdom by being one of INDYCAR's most popular drivers even without having an Indiana mailing address.
- Ryan Briscoe: The Smilin' Aussie. Has a ride with Penske and is married to Manske. Is capable of mounting hot streaks that justify his nickname "Briscoe Inferno."
- Oriol Servia: Trust me - ask Oriol to read you the phone book. You won't regret it. Will also talk your ear off about Salvador Dali if you'll let him, and when you hear how he rolls his Rs you will let him.
- Graham Rahal: After Dan Wheldon died, Graham organized an unprecedented auction featuring items from racers all over the world to raise money for Dan's family. Oh, and he also won the first IndyCar race he ever drove. Did I mention his family name?
- Justin Wilson: Tallest guy in IndyCar. That's obvious. Not so obvious - his battle with dyslexia. Has no problems reading directions to victory lane.
- JR Hildebrand: A product of the California car culture, he's a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan, a lover of muscle cars, and a devoted supporter of men and women in military uniforms.
- E.J. Viso: Nobody bears the label "loose cannon" with more aplomb. With a shave and accent training, could pass for Justin Wilson's Mini-Me. A good sport.
- Charlie Kimball: Charlie lives to set people straight when they say, "Diabetics can't/shouldn't do THAT."
- Rubens Barrichello: Honestly, if nobody ever told you that Rubens spent nearly two decades driving in Formula 1, you'd never guess it because he's so personable. Then he gets into the race car, and you say, "Oh yeeeeaaaaah."
- Takuma Sato: The one thing you will never, ever be able to say about Takuma is that he leaves anything whatsoever on the racetrack. His cultured, polite presence belies his voracious appetite for speed.
- Marco Andretti: Marco is INDYCAR royalty and plays the part well. But you bet he would answer if you challenged his competitive fire.
- Alex Tagliani: Alex has two jobs in the INDYCAR paddock - racing for the win for Team Barracuda - BHA, and cheerfully dissuading the hordes of lovestruck fans who pine after his wife.
- Ed Carpenter: One of the very few owner/drivers in INDYCAR, Ed takes success and failure with the same mild equanimity. Sometimes you don't even notice he's there until he beats you.
- Mike Conway: If there is anyone more diametrically opposed to The Incredible Hulk than Mike Conway, I'd like to meet them. And maybe check their pulse to see if they're breathing.
- James Jakes: The Brit spent years trying to climb the European formula ladder - then in 2010 he abruptly switched gears to INDYCAR. Calls Orlando, Florida home... and means it.
- Josef Newgarden: Check out his Incognito series on YouTube. Only a couple of years ago he was toiling away in karting - but the way he kept winning races and fans made it clear he's destined for much bigger things.
- Simona de Silvestro: Call her the Iron Maiden (h/t Nate Gruenholz), the Swiss Miss, or My Simona. She has plenty of nicknames, and even more admirers thanks to her skill and her persistence.
- Katherine Legge: She has the presence of a magazine model and the attitude of a honey badger. She's also a survivor - and not just of the normal struggles of a motorsports career.
There they are, folks. Take a look down the list - there's something there for everyone. These drivers are worth a followup call, don't you think?