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Random thoughts on an IndyCar off-weekend

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Boy, folks, it's been an interesting week for yours truly. Without going into a long personal harangue about it, let me simply mention this for your edification:

  1. As a parent, it sucks when your kids break bones.
  2. As a homeowner, it sucks when your walls get water damage.

Anyway, right now it's an off-weekend for the IZOD IndyCar Series, and while we gear up for St. Petersburg in the midst of NASCAR running circles at Bristol Colisseu-- er, Motor Speedway and ALMS does its half-day stint at Sebring, I thought I'd impart a few unconnected musings for you to mull over.

Standing Starts

I think it's a no-brainer that the IndyCars need to adopt standing starts at street and road courses. Most road-racing series in the world do it that way. While doing something for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses is not in itself a great idea, there is sober and sane justification for it in this case.

First of all, they would help to eliminate - or at least diminish - those violent first-turn pileup wrecks. That's not to say that they would be gone from the sport completely... especially if Paul Tracy ever gets another full-season ride. But think about the race in Sao Paulo and tell me that it would not have been better to have some of those cars entering the first chicane with about 60mph less velocity. There's risk, and then there's needless risk - just ask Marco "I've Got A Dallara For A Hat" Andretti.

Second, standing starts are some of the most dramatic moments in road/street racing. Hell, I know people who only tune in for 30 seconds' worth of F1 racing per weekend - the moment when the field revs up their engines, the red lights go out and everyone peels out in a mad dash for the first turn. Drivers with good reaction times can better their positions significantly, while even the best drivers can end up flat-footed and struggling to catch up.

I think there is plenty of rationale to take (another) page from Champ Car and adopt standing starts on the roadies and streets. But here is where I might blow your minds a bit. Why? Because I think IndyCar might want to adopt standing starts... at Indianapolis.

Hear me out here. I know that most of you are fans of the three-wide pace laps and the run down to the bricks on the first lap. So am I. But what if the IndyCar folks had the cars go out for a couple of three-abreast recon laps to warm the tires and show off to the fans, and then parked in eleven rows of three at the bricks for a standing start?

What do you think? Have it out in the comments below and convince me why it would or wouldn't work.

What's Wrong With Prototypes?

I recall Ben Bowlby expressing that his initial designs for the DeltaWing car made the thing look too much like a Le Mans Prototype. Since that time, the sentiment has been repeated in several fan forums that IndyCars turning into prototypes would be a terrible, awful, no-good, very bad thing.

My question is... why?



This is the Creation LMP-1. Take a look at that race car. What about that car is ugly? What about that car screams, "Man, am I ever slow and ungainly!"?

Or how about this:



That's Roger Penske's Porsche RS Spyder LMP-2 prototype. That car even has an open cockpit, which seems to be so important to so many IndyCar fans.

"But it's not an open-wheeled racecar!" shout the faithful. Okay, fair point. But here's the big question: why does it have to be open-wheeled?

Seriously, folks, in my mind the only requirement for what constitutes an IndyCar is that it races in the Indianapolis 500. That's it. All of the hand-wringing about open cockpits and open wheels and so forth - put bluntly - is the angst of sentimentality and tradition. You run a real risk, though, of letting sentimentality make the series stagnant if you carry it too far. Remember, people, Indianapolis is a track where a turbine-powered car once raced.

For what it's worth, Swift Engineering's latest rendering - the Swift 50 - seems to be headed in the direction of LMP design:

2-3-irl-concept-v5-2 it seems that I'm not alone in my thinking. But what do you think? Let us know in the comment section.

Don't Undervalue the Blogosphere

You would think that it would be common sense that if your sport does not attract a lot of mainstream media attention, the next best thing would be the interest of the blogosphere.

Back when I first started blogging (back then, it was called "self-publishing"), a lot of racing series, race teams, drivers and PR companies looked at the Internet and those who published therein with an extremely skeptical eye. Getting credentialed was a major nightmare for me - I was forever pulling out my Rolodex (remember those?) and hitting up my pals in the industry to help me convince the powers-that-be that I was not just some whacko with a laptop and an autograph pen at the ready.

Times have changed - a lot. Now, there are people who could be termed "bloggers" who are hard-carded for various racing series. Tech-savvy teams and drivers are rushing to get themselves out into social media like Facebook, Twitter and so forth. And - perhaps most importantly - the blogosphere is starting to get some belated but welcome recognition and credibility.

Keep in mind that there is still plenty of noise versus legitimate signal when it comes to Internet publishers. But whereas ten years ago there might be one or two "legit" bloggers to every 30 or 40 "spleen-venters," today that ratio has gotten significantly better. Plus, some of the better journalists in the mainstream media are now considered bloggers because of the changing landscape and, sadly, the reduction in the MSM workforce of late.

I'm telling you all of this because there still seems to be a prejudice out there in certain PR circles against bloggers that has led to some seriously... shall we say, impolite behavior. Although I'm not going to go into specifics, I will say that several bloggers have run into the same roadblock - some folks in the IndyCar community have started "big-leaguing" them when they've asked for access. Suddenly, people who were previously willing to engage when they were eager for attention are now too busy to accommodate now that they have a sniff of the spotlight.

This isn't an issue of blogger self-importance. We know that folks in the racing business are busy people. That's why we don't demand time or require a press conference to be held to get our questions answered. Most bloggers make it painfully easy on racing folks - quick 5-minute phone calls, e-mailed question lists, and so forth. Which is why it really rubs us the wrong way when we're told that so-and-so is too busy to oblige... and then later that week a raft of interviews and features come out with the very same people in "more legitimate" outlets.

I'll put it as forthrightly as I possibly can, people. The IndyCar series is not healthy enough to turn its nose up to free publicity, even if it comes from the hand of someone who may not have attended journalism classes in college like I did. Those of us in the 'sphere know that at the very tip of the IICS pyramid there are "The Untouchables" - teams whose status as the cream of the crop put them forever out of reach of those of us lower on the media totem pole. But apart from those "blessed" outfits, it mystifies me that any IndyCar personality would believe themselves above handing out a few crumbs to folks whose lack of diplomas or meal stubs from media centers does not obscure their talent for writing or insight into the sport.

The Last Word

Yes, IndyCar fans, the tanned-leather hide and bristly goatee of one Jack Arute are now on Twitter. Robin Miller, however, is not. Apparently his racing tastes aren't the only traits of Robin's that are stuck back in the 1960s. So don't follow @RobinMillerIndy unless you like being fished-in.

Have a great weekend... and we'll see you at St. Pete!