Tales of Two Drivers

Posted by Iannucci | 8/31/2006 | 2 comments »
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There isn’t much to report from the IRL, but there is an interesting pair of stories from Champ Car.

One the one hand there is more encouraging news about Cristano da Matta from (who else?) Curt Cavin. Nearly a month after colliding with a deer on the Road America course, da Matta is starting to walk and “is now conversational in both English and Portuguese”.

Good for him. The poor guy gets a head injury, spends a few weeks in a coma and he’s STILL more conversational than me.

On the other hand is this newly circulating piece from The Austrailian about Katherine Legge, who is not only described as “attractive” but also gets The K Word dropped on her IN THE FIRST SENTENCE. How original.

However, there are some fun quotes from Legge.

On Nacho Libre, err, Paul Tracy: "You'd think (ultra-competitive Canadian) Paul Tracy would have a point to prove but he's been really sweet.”

On fellow Champ Car drivers: “They're my girlfriends."

On Grid Girls: "I need a grid boy because everyone gets grid girls, and it's only fair."

With material like that, I’ll turn it over to the peanut gallery.

5 Quick Questions: Curt Cavin

Posted by Iannucci | 8/31/2006 | 1 comments »
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At least once a week, I reference a story included in the Indianapolis (Indy) Star since no other daily publication even comes close to their coverage of the Indy Racing League. You’ve probably seen the name of their chief IRL correspondent “Curt Cavin” on this site almost as much as “Roger Penske” or “Bobby Rahal” because Cavin is no doubt the busiest reporter covering the league.

While other “motorsports journalists” are busy re-writing existing wire stories, Cavin is out finding new ones. One of the more memorable stories he reported involved the demystification of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway attendance figures. For years reporters would guess attendance at IMS anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 since the speedway doesn’t issue actual attendance figures. “Guessing” is not reporting, so Cavin went to the facts: he counted EVERY seat, all 257,325 of them.

Cavin has not only been reporting for the Indy Star for 19 years, he’s also been authoring books on auto racing. He is definitely a busy man and now it’s time to report on him. I feel badly that I keep citing Cavin's work without knowing much about him, so please give a warm “My Name Is IRL” welcome to Curt Cavin and the 5 Quick Questions.

1. Some of your predecessors at the Indianapolis Star have gone on to other forms of media, and you already have TV experience. Should we expect to see you regularly on ESPN or SpeedTV in the future, or do you want to stay a print reporter?

Actually, only one of my predecessors went to television, and that was Robin Miller, who seems to be doing well at Speed. As you noted, I have a broadcasting career of sorts with my work at WTHR-13, the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis. I have been the station's racing analyst since 2001, and I make about 60 appearances a year, including studio work through the season. I have done a fair amount of one-offs with ESPN, serving as a regular on Cold Pizza last year. If the network offered something, I'd seriously consider it. In fact, I'd welcome it because I think ESPN needs more people who are versed in the sport beyond NASCAR.

2. If you could switch jobs for one day with IRL President Brian Barnhart, what rules would you change?

I think the racing side of the IRL is fine. If I were him I'd spend more time with public relations, sales, marketing and sponsor relations. That's the side of the league that's not hitting its marks.

3. A few years ago you wrote a story about counting all 250,000+ seats at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. How long did this tally take and did you count them all by yourself?

That story appeared in 2004, and it took about six weeks over about five months to complete. The key was the help I received from a friend who challenged me to keep digging deeper and work harder. There's no question that without them it wouldn't have been the story it became.

My friend suggested a form that would ask the same questions of each grandstand. That was crucial to discovering the nuances of each as most were built in different eras. For example, I was able to see that there are no rows of the letter I or O, which could be confused with the numbers one or zero. Plus, by the time I filled out all the forms I had a mountain of information that became a very detailed chart, which made the story reader friendly. One IRL staff member had the nerve to say I couldn't have counted all the seats, the evidence was
overwhelming that I did.

I stand by my story: 257,325 seats as of May of 2004. I'll concede I might have been off 50 seats or so as there is still room for about 1,000 folding chairs low in the E Grandstand in the first turn.

4. Since most fans will never know, are the track accommodations afforded to reporters (such as the view, the food, etc.) worth noting or is there someplace else you would rather be on race day?

I watch most races from the press box or the spotter's stand atop the grandstand. The food and amenities are sufficient at most tracks. They're all pretty much the same.

But like fans, reporters have their favorite tracks. Indy is my favorite, of course, because it's the perfect mix of past and present, with so much history. Kansas Speedway is impeccable, too, and I've always loved NASCAR's night race at Bristol Motor Speedway (even though the beating and banging gets old).

Some tracks are better for different events. NASCAR is horrible at Michigan and Texas, for example, but the Indy cars at both tracks are sensational. Conversely, I'd rather watch NASCAR at Sonoma than Indy cars, and it's because the disparity in driving ability is more apparent watching a stock-car race. Guys like Gordon and Stewart can drive; most of those other guys can't. The Indy-car drivers are almost robotic because everyone has considerable road-racing experience.

Bottom line: I'm an oval-track guy. That's what growing up in Indy does to you.

5. You’ve been covering motorsports for almost 20 years at the Indy Star, you’re the main resource for information about open-wheel racing like the IRL and Formula One, and you’re a published author of several books…about NASCAR. Are there any good stories in open-wheel racing worth writing or is something else going on here?

Look, there are hundreds of great things to write about Indy-car racing, but none of it matters until the IRL and Champ Car mend their fences and create one series. Until then, it's just noise to most people outside of Indianapolis.

Well, can’t argue with that. One great thing about Cavin is if you don’t like the questions I asked him you can always participate in his IRL (and Formula One) Q&A updates on the Indy Star site. Thanks to Curt for the great responses, the superior reporting, and the accessibility his Q&A updates provide. ‘Nuff said.

Worst Case Scenario

Posted by Iannucci | 8/30/2006 | 2 comments »
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Sometimes the biggest stories start with just a few lines at the end of a column. For example, earlier this year there was a single sentence in a Michigan paper about Sarah Fisher testing an IndyCar, and a few weeks later we get the Battle in the Bluegrass media hype.

Well, here we go again with an oh-by-the-way item following a NASCAR roundup in The New York Times.

Roger Penske, who owns teams in the Indy Racing League and Nascar, said Saturday that he was working on a plan that would allow his I.R.L. driver Sam Hornish Jr. to race in some Nascar second-tier Busch Series and lower-level ARCA events next season. That would be in addition to a full I.R.L. schedule for Hornish, who won the Indianapolis 500 this year.

“Sam has talked about running some Busch or ARCA races, and we’re looking at a potential program,” Penske said before the Sharpie 500. “We haven’t put all the pieces together.”

Although Penske used an ARCA, Busch and Nextel Cup program to develop the driver Ryan Newman before promoting him to the Cup series full-time, Penske said it was too early to say if Hornish would move up to compete in the Cup series by 2008.

Of course it’s “too early to say”, but if Hornish shows some promise in those races in 2007 then you can bet he will be heading off to a fulltime job with the bumping behemoths faster than you can say “Tony Stewart”.

That'll Clear the Rust

Posted by Iannucci | 8/30/2006 | 1 comments »
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I'm not one to make fun of people who have been a in a car crash, but what they do AFTER a crash can be amusing.

Rusty Wallace is apparently fine after he and his wife were struck by a motorist who was yapping on the cell phone. Sure, he can be annoying as an IndyCar commentator but I wish no ill will upon him.

However, I'm not sure what's funnier: the fact that Old No 2 immediately began promoting his vehice manufacturer after the accident...

``You hear car companies talk about safety a lot,'' the former driver of the No. 2 Dodge said in a statement Tuesday, ``but I can tell you that (wife) Patti and I are both really thankful for the research and development that Dodge puts into the safety of their vehicles.''

...or the pressdog recap.

Double Your Pleasure

Posted by Iannucci | 8/29/2006 | 3 comments »
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Following up on yesterday's item about CCWS chief Kevin Kalkhoven's meeting in Sonoma with IRL Officials, Robin Miller of SpeedTV reports they were discussing...doubleheaders?

It seems Mario Andretti and Honda's Robert Clarke were urging the the two series to consider staging an event featuring both the IRL and ChampCar on the same track, but in separate races. Kalkhoven was not terribly moved by the idea.

"We discussed the possibility of running a couple events together but I'm not real optimistic at this point."

OK, I really don't understand this idea. This seems like nothing more than maximum defiance on both parts. Why would race fans of either series go to watch both sets of drivers NOT COMPETE against each other? If they can get so far as to have them all on one track, why not figure out how to have 30+ cars race against each other?

I'm gonna keep this clean and say that's just half-donkeyed.

I can understand they would split the cost of hosting an event, but really this just seems silly. The casual fan would come out and see two races wondering who were the better drivers, which would really seem pointless in the long term for either series.

The Alternative

Posted by Iannucci | 8/28/2006 | 1 comments »
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This is an actual race car driver. Paul Tracy - who manages to bring out the inner combatant from otherwise docile dudes like Sebastian Bourdais and Alex Tagliani - seems bent on forming the ChampCar Auto Wrestling Federation (CAWF) out of what used to be a respectable racing series.

Hey, when your product involves more crashes than passes, you gotta do something to liven up the entertainment value, right?

Feel free to add your own comment as to what the proper subtitle of this picture of "Captain Quebec" should be.

The Blurbs

Posted by Iannucci | 8/28/2006 | 5 comments »
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Eunuchs of Unification, unite! PaddockTalk reports CCWS head honcho Kevin Kalkhoven was NOT in Montreal for yesterday’s Champ Car race, but was instead in (gasp) Sonoma! Perhaps he and IRL generalissimo Tony George were discussing ideas for the 2008 season, or perhaps they were simply debating their favorite Merlot. Either way, it should be noted that the Montreal race will probably be the last for Champ Car as now that neck of the woods has been claimed by NASCAR.

The Daytona Beach News has some more information on possible IndyCar testing at Daytona International Speedway. It seems that the testing IS intended to lead towards a possible IRL race, but the race would be on the Daytona road course. That probably makes more sense, as having IndyCars racing on the steep banks of the 2.5 mile oval would probably result in vertigo episodes like those CART (Champ Car) had at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001.

Lastly, a Silly Season update from Sports Illustrated on Andretti 3.0’s new best friend, Bryan Herta. It seems Mr. Judd let the cat out of the bag for the Invisible Man’s plans for 2008 yesterday.

"I think for sure all four of us will not be on the same team next year…I think Bryan has already chosen what he wants to do next year. It's kind of sad because we've built up such a good relationship."

This begs the question: who spins out late if Danica! is leading an race for AGR next season?

Better Late Than Never

Posted by Iannucci | 8/27/2006 | 0 comments »
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It's three months too late, but Marco Andretti has his first IndyCar win. I'm sure the 19-year-old and his father are celebrating at the Andretti winery tonight with a nice glass of grape juice.

I hope they saved a spot at the table for Bryan Herta, who spun out late in the race to bring a yellow flag. Andretti 3.0 was running low and fuel and whether or not it was intentional it proved to be the clincher.

Maybe they can also manage a few spots for the Ganassi pit team who were unable to properly change Scott Dixon's tire during a routine pit stop. Dixon had been leading by 10 seconds, but the long pit stop doomed his clearly superior car from contention.

Still, as any driver will tell you it's better to be lucky than good. Today Marco was both, so congratulations. Grape juice for everyone - salut!

Youthful Exuberance

Posted by Iannucci | 8/27/2006 | 0 comments »
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After finishing second to Scott Dixon in the Firestone Fast Six, Andretti 3.0 will still start in the front row for the first time in his IndyCar career. Marco has shown he can drive well on road courses, as he was moving up at Watkins Glen before Old Man Cheever took him out. Now, the IRL media sits cocked and loaded awaiting a possible maiden victory for the 19-year-old rookie.

"I'm definitely happy to have put the NYSE car on the front row and I guess there's still the chance that I can have the lead going into the first turn."
That quote shows the biggest challenge to Andretti will be his patience. As a rookie Andretti 3.0 has done an excellent job avoiding accidents with other drivers, but the temptation to grab the lead in the first turn could be disastrous. One of the hazards of road courses - exhibited regularly by Champ Car - is the possibility of having the front runners crash each other out of the race while gunning for an early lead. Oddly enough, this is probably Boulder Sam's best shot at winning today.

Marco, if The Kiwi has the faster start then let him go. There will be plenty of time to pass him, and the alternative would be a big mess for both you and any poor drivers caught up in your eagerness. You've been great all season, so no matter how much you might think you have position in the first turn, don't start being stupid today.

Falling In Love Too Fast

Posted by Iannucci | 8/26/2006 | 0 comments »
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Aside from Richard Petty, I'm pretty sure most race fans love to see women drivers. Auto racing is one of the few sports where there is no reason men and women are unable to compete equally. And while we are still in the infancy of any influx of women into racing, the popularity of current females like Danica! and The Fisher Queen leads one to think that there will be more/better "girl drivers" in the future.

Unless of course, things go all haywire like they have in NASCAR.

The New York Times has a story about a really nasty situation involving Erin Crocker, the only regularly employed woman in NASCAR. Crocker, 25, drives for Ray Evernham, 49, who after overseeing the early successes of Jeff Gordon went on to form a new racing team backed by Dodge. Evernham is the most prolific Dodge owner, and he has recently been involved in a legal dispute with driver Jeremy Mayfield after Evernham fired Mayfield.

So what does Crocker have to do with Mayfield getting fired? Although Crocker drives in the Craftsman truck series while Mayfield is a Nextel Cup Series stock car driver, Mayfield claims he was fired because he didn't have didn't have adequate support to be a competitive driver. He said that lack of support was because Evernham - owner of both cars - was too preoccupied with a "personal relationship" with a "female driver", and there's only one female driver in NASCAR.

Oh, snap.

Now, this is not just a NASCAR story and there are several reasons I bring up this whole sordid affair. First, it's widely known that Danica! cited Bobby Rahal's preoccupation with a decidedly different "personal relationship" (specifically, his son's driving career) as a reason for her exodus to Andretti Green. A team needs a leader, and if that leader is gone then people start using phrases like "inmates running the asylum" while conditions inevitably disintegrate.

More importantly, this is exactly the kind of thing we should be worried about with more women in racing. You've probably seen it in your own office, those situations where the attractive women starts hanging around a bit too much with the boss and suddenly she's getting a promotion or preferential treatment. Sometimes it's the other way around gender-wise, but the story is the same. There is no reason to think individuals in racing would be any different because - suprise! - they are people too.

So for all the additional sponsors and fans (and dollars) a women like Danica! can bring to a team, we now need to start thinking about the additional speculation and drama that could occur simply because of gender differences. I hope no one starts any rumors about her or The Fisher Queen, but I can't help but think at some point we will have to deal with this. One hug that is too tight or one smiling look that seems to last too long and the next thing you know people are talking, and talking is a distraction people don't need when dealing with machines traveling 220 miles per hour.

Since no one is denying the relationship, it has to be presumed that Evernham and Crocker are indeed closer than friends and I wish them well if they enjoy each other's company. I don't think the whole employee/employer relationship thing usually works out in the long term (just ask Monica Lewinski) but you never know. Regardless, from today forward they will forever be looked upon differently, especially Crocker who may have just shot down her budding career amid speculation she may have received preferential treatment for abilities other than driving. She may even have shot down other female NASCAR careers as well.

The consequence is that now, just as we are basking in the glow of two women driving in the IRL race in Kentucky, skepticism may now be levied against women in all forms of racing. I would like to think that these women got there based on their driving abilities, and I will continue to believe this until I am shown any proof to the contrary. Unfortunately, the current rumor-driven news environment means that it probably won't be long before we start hearing hints or allegations of driver impropriety, distracting teams and disheartening fans.

If that happens, then the fans' honeymoon with these drivers will be over before it had a chance to truly begin.

George Foreman Grills Andrettis

Posted by Iannucci | 8/25/2006 | 3 comments »
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SONOMA, Calif. – Few people stand taller than Mario Andretti in the eyes of George Foreman -- though the former world heavyweight champion towers over the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Foreman had an opportunity to meet Mario, Michael and Marco Andretti during a tour of the garage area at Infineon Raceway. His visit, however, wasn’t solely social.

Foreman is seriously interested in becoming involved in the IndyCar Series – first aligning with an existing team and eventually forming his own team. Foreman and his eldest son, George, toured the Infineon Raceway facility, getting a look at the cars and drivers in action from various vantage points around the 2.26-mile, 12-turn course. He lunched with Indy Racing League officials and Infineon Raceway president Steve Page, and met with a few IndyCar Series team owners “to pick their brains.” (MORE)

The Blurbs

Posted by Iannucci | 8/25/2006 | 0 comments »
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Good news for Panther - the one-car team has announced that Lincoln Tech was so thrilled with their one-race sponsorship in Kentucky they will serve as primary sponsor for The Mirror Man for the last two races in 2006. He's a lock for another 2nd place finish.

Bringing new meaning to the term “puff piece”, the Sacramento Bee reports Dan Wheldon likes to shop, owns several hundred pairs of shoes and loves San Francisco. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but is “European” a code word? Yikes.

In case you really wanted to know, Scott Sharp won the Grape Stomping contest. Kosuke Matsuura was second and The Rainman finished third in the continuation of his disappointing season. Looks like Andretti 3.0 showed up after the stomp, but forgive him since the poor kid isn’t even old enough to drink. Pics are here.

Separated At Birth

Posted by Iannucci | 8/24/2006 | 1 comments »
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Anyone else notice Ethanol driver Jeff Not Gene Simmons bears more than a passing resemblance to Rockstar: Supernova contestant Ryan Star?

I mean, it’s not like anyone has ever seen them in the same room together.

For all we know Jeff could be the growling voice on the “I Am Mindy” song.

Just a thought.

Panoz Knows Road Courses

Posted by Iannucci | 8/24/2006 | 0 comments »
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Remember the much maligned Panoz chassis?
The one that slowed the Rahal Letterman team?
The chassis no driver has raced in weeks?

OK, maybe they aren’t totally worthless.

Crash.net is reporting that Well Done and The Kiwi will be driving Panoz chassis this weekend at Infineon. Evidently it has a “road course prowess” since Dixon has driven a Panoz to 2nd and 1st at St. Petersburg and Watkins Glen respectively. Hey if it ain’t broke, right?

Also note that Danica! drove one to 6th at St. Pete while The Rainman Paonz’d his way to 4th at The Glen. No word yet on if the RLR team will be bringing back the Panoz for Infineon. I guess we’ll know soon.

UPDATE: It appears from their most recent Press Release that RLR will also be using the Panoz this weekend.

UPDATE 2: According to the EADS Graphics Spotter's Guide (PDF) Scott Sharp will be in a Panoz as well.

Gentlemen, Start Your Profiles

Posted by Iannucci | 8/24/2006 | 0 comments »
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Perhaps because they figure no one on the West Coast follows the Indy Racing League until the week of the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, there is a veritable tidal wave of driver profiles on the news wires. Pick your favorite.

Andretti 3.0 - San Jose Mercury News

Spiderman - Sacramento Bee (referred to as “Spiderman”)*

Invisible Man - LA Daily News

Boulder Sam - Inside Bay Area

Mirror Man - IRL-Live

Danica! - Marin Independent Journal

The Rainman - Vallejo Times Herald

Well Done - Milton Keynes Today

*I don’t mean to infer that I created the nickname, because clearly I did not. I just get excited whenever I see any driver referred to by some identifier other than his/her name. Those other identifiers are the reason fans know Spiderman and Danica!, but they wouldn’t know Jeff Simmons from Jeff Bucknum. As I’ve said before: IndyCar fans cheer for people, not paint.

Personal Ad

Posted by Iannucci | 8/23/2006 | 1 comments »
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Single Asian Male seeks girlfriend who loves life in the fast lane. I am physically fit and very friendly. I work in entertainment and advertising, but consider myself an athelete. You enjoy Italian food, travel and LOTS of golf. Speaking Japanese a plus.

Send info and/or pics to loveline@kosukematsuura.com.

I Love You Thi$ Much

Posted by Iannucci | 8/23/2006 | 0 comments »
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Gonna be at Infineon Raceway on Sunday? IndyCar.com has a fantastic idea for you to spend your hard earned cash.

Ticket holders can bid on the chance to take a pre-race lap around the circuit with stars of the IndyCar Series on Aug. 27.

The auction will be held in the Wine Country Winner's Circle at 11:30 a.m. on race day. Drivers who will be up for grabs are:
Marco Andretti
Helio Castroneves
Scott Dixon
Dario Franchitti
Bryan Herta
Sam Hornish Jr.
Tony Kanaan
Danica Patrick
Buddy Rice
Dan Wheldon

The top bidder for each driver will watch a portion of pre-event ceremonies on the start/finish line, and take a parade lap around with their driver. All proceeds will benefit youth groups in Sonoma County through Speedway Children's Charities, the charitable arm of Infineon Raceway.

A few signed items will be auctioned, too.

I'm sure the ride with Danica! will take the top bid, but I wonder if Ashley Franchitti will be in the car with Mr. Judd. Hmmm.

Mario Needs Some Help

Posted by Iannucci | 8/22/2006 | 3 comments »
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I love Mario Andretti. Period.
My favorite driver of all-time. Exclamation point.

OK, that being said it drives me nuts how for years he has served as a big CART/Champ Car pimp. Even with his family so invested in the IRL, he still thinks more of CCWS drivers.

Further proof is in this puff piece in the Cambridge (Ontario) Times.

Now, to no one’s surprise Andretti 1.0 says his favorite driver is his grandson. Duh. But other than family members, here’s what he had to say.

"If I didn't have anybody in the family, there's this kid A.J. Allmendinger. He always looks like a potential winner and has found the perfect situation (when he changed teams from RuSport to Forsythe Championship Racing ), where he's shown that he's not just a flash in the pan by winning his first race since he switched. Now he's continuing and driving his teammate Paul Tracy crazy."
Allmendinger is having a fantstic Champ Car season, but...what? Allow me to serve as an impromptu writer for Andretti Green Racing and offer a slightly different version. This is what Mario should have said.

"If I didn't have anybody in the family, there's this kid Danica Patrick. She always looks like a potential winner and has found the perfect situation (when she changed teams from Rahal Letterman to Andretti Green), and she's shown that she's not just a flash in the pan by staying in the IRL. Now she's continuing and driving her teammate Jeff Simmons crazy."
Hopefully Mario can print that, cut it out, and save it in his wallet – just in case he has any further interview requests.

You’re welcome, Mario. It’s the least I could do for my favorite driver.

You Have Just As Many Wins

Posted by Iannucci | 8/22/2006 | 0 comments »
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Do you ever think you could outdrive some of today's IndyCar drivers? This is your chance.

Ryan Briscoe and Jeff Bucknum will be racing against listeners of KUFX-FM (don’t mix up THOSE letters) on the 3/4–mile karting track at Infineon this Thursday. Well, not ALL the listeners, just the ones who manage to win a contest they are having. Go ahead and enter the contest here.

Especially if your name is Buddy Lazier, PJ Chesson or Felipe Giaffone.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Posted by Iannucci | 8/22/2006 | 0 comments »
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The IndyCar.com site is featuring an article that provides a statistical breakdown of the leading drivers in the Indycar Series points standings and how they have fared historically on road/street courses.

Nice piece with snappy graphs and driver quotes, but...didn't I write this article last week?

Yes, I'm flattered. No, I'm not credited.


Posted by Iannucci | 8/21/2006 | 4 comments »
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I’ve been asked more than once why I started “My Name Is IRL” and the primary reason can be seen in the very first post. The entry relates to some know-it-all columnist and his conclusion – based on nothing other than the events of March 27th – that the IRL should not have raced at Homestead in lieu of Paul Dana’s death. I have no allegiance to Dana and knew very little of him before his death, but I was stunned at both the lack of any real reporting of the facts of his death and the deluge of baseless opinion after his tragic accident. I figured if others were going to provide such poor coverage of the league then I might as well give it a shot.

Now, this isn’t my ONLY reason for the site, but it is a large one. So whenever I see some “motorsports columnist” going off about something that makes no sense, I feel the need to show the poor soul the path to righteousness.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Roger Diez. I don’t know anything about Roger other than the fact that he clogged up the newswires recently with an abysmal piece in the Nevada Appeal entitled “IRL and Champ Clueless”. Take a look and determine who the “clueless” one is here.

I just don't understand it. Last Sunday, the Indy Racing League televised its race at Kentucky at the exact same time as Champ Car aired its Denver race.

Is that a compelling opening pair of sentences or what? Remember, he writes for a living.

With TV ratings for both series in the toilet, you would think that they might consider not going head to head and dividing up what viewers they have.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I read about this myth. Though not mutually exclusive, it’s foolish to presume Indy Racing League fans and Champ Car fans are all the same people. You would think a “motorsports columnist” would notice that the IRL races predominantly on ovals while CCWS features road courses. One has lots of speed and passing while the other has lots of turning and shifting.

I mean, Tony George spent a ton of money before the season started, hiring a media consulting group headed by Gene Simmons (formerly of KISS) to advise him. Well, other than the "We Are Indy" song, the firm hasn't done much in the way of promotion, if the sparsely-populated grandstands at Kentucky are any indication.

First off, the song is “I Am Indy” (well, “Mindy”). It’s truly awful, but I think Gene meant to use “Indy” as a slang for “Independent”, which would preclude any mentioning of “we”. Again, you cover these things for a living, right?

And if the “sparsely-populated grandstands at Kentucky are any indication” then the league is doomed. Only 30,000 or so fans showed up, but fortunately this is the lowest attendance of the season for any race. 250,000 fans in Indianapolis, 100,000 fans in Texas…Roger, feel free to do a quick internet search on actual attendance instead of looking at one race.

With only 19 cars starting the IRL race and 16 in the Champ Car field, it's no wonder that fans are tuning out in droves. Given the normal race attrition in open-wheel competition, a finishing field in the double digits is problematic.

I won’t say anything about CCWS, but the IRL hasn’t had less than 10 cars finish a race all year (and that was with 4 of the 20 qualifiers not starting in Homestead). Double-digits are not problematic. In fact, the last race in Kentucky had 18 of the 19 entrants finish the race. Maybe Roger should say “if the nearly full field at the end of the Kentucky race is any indication…” Oh, nevermind.

And although rumors of reconciliation between the two rival series surface periodically, there has never been a real, concerted effort on both sides to make it work, despite the best efforts of racing legends like Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney.

“Rumors”? How about “reports”? Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven have met several times this year, and I don’t think they’re talking about sharing a Fantasy Football team. If repeated meetings do not comprise a “real, concerted effort” then I’d like that vague phrase defined. Perhaps Mr. Diez is expecting everyone to hold a townhall meeting and have fans (or better yet, “motorsports columnists”) phone in their suggestions.

But if the two organizations were to join up, just think: no more conflicting races; fields of 30-35 cars; Newman-Haas and Forsythe teams mixing it up with Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti Green; actual drama on Bump Day at Indy. Why, it would be almost like . . . 1995!

Way to end with a bang. The ignorant suggestion here is to just have everyone run on the same track, which would be madness since the CCWS cars are turbocharged for more power. On the one side you have a series run by a track owner (George) and on the other side you have a series run by engine manufacturers (Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe of Cosworth). If you can’t see the possible conflicts that can arise here then you shouldn’t be a “motorsports columnist”.

The kicker is that Diez cites 1995 as some kind of open-wheel nirvana. Perhaps he doesn’t remember, but that was the lone year Roger Penske failed to qualify a car at Indianapolis on “Bump Day”. The defending champion did not appear in the race (Al Jr, a Penske driver), Stan Fox suffered neurological damage as a result of a horrific crash, the finish was in question as Scott Goodyear passed the pace car late and was black flagged, and the winner (Jacque Villeneuve) moved to Formula One at the conclusion of the season. Oh yeah, THIS is what we should seek from a series unification.

I’m not a “motorsports columnist”. I’m a fan of open-wheel racing, and as such I don’t think it’s too much to ask for those who cover racing to have at least a modicum of sense about the sport. If Mr. Diez is bent on spouting nonsensical garbage such as this, then perhaps he should seek a career in politics where that kind of thing is encouraged.

From Flapjacks To Air Jacks

Posted by Iannucci | 8/20/2006 | 0 comments »
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If you long for the "good 'ol days" of racing, then enjoy this bit buried deep in the Indy Star.

Race car driver Marty Roth needed some help during the IRL race in Kentucky last weekend, so two fish out of water stepped up to help. Morton's Steak House General Manager Jeff Powell and Aaron Troxell, the general manager at 14 West, found themselves drafted to the pits to help the real crew with tire changes.
So if you are in the restaurant business, you too can be a tire changer! Go right now to the Roth Racing website and email your resume.

And here I thought the way to get that kind of job was via the Lincoln Tech curriculum. Who knew.

Shiitake Mushrooms

Posted by Iannucci | 8/19/2006 | 0 comments »
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In the Q&A with Wade Cunningham a few days ago, I sidestepped any discussion specific to Wade’s 2006 season. A quick look shows he is tied for 5th in the Indy Pro points championship, which sounds like he has fallen to mediocrity. But if you examine some of the unfortunate circumstances he has encountered this year then you will quickly realize Wade is still outperforming the competition. Consider:

• In St. Petersburg, Wade was sidelined with appendicitis and missed both races (he finished 2nd there in 2005).

• In Milwaukee, Wade led 98 of 100 laps, surrendering a lead after a late yellow allowed Jamie Camara to close the gap and pass Wade on the restart.

• In that nail-biter in Kentucky last weekend, Wade probably would have won were it not for the fact that he suffered a cut tire as a result of a harsh bump from eventual winner Jay Howard. The league penalized Howard, but he got to keep the win.

So now Wade describes 2006 thusly: “It’s been a pretty s..t season”.

I can see now he might be upset at not being able to repeat as the Indy Pro series champion, but I beg to differ on his view of the season.
7 Races
6 Top 10s
5 Top 5s
4 Podiums
3 Poles
…but only one win.

I know everyone looks at wins, but Wade has led 245 of the 401 laps he has driven. Good gracious, he's led more laps in those seven races than all other drivers combined. That’s domination at any level of motorsports.

Wade, keep your chin up. If you continue leading laps then the wins will come, and they will be plentiful. You may think you’re having a “s..t season”, but as MoneyCJ would say, “You ARE the s..t!” (That’s a high complement here in the states, by the way).

Wheldon Answers the Call

Posted by Iannucci | 8/18/2006 | 0 comments »
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You called, they answered. Both the Sacramento Bee and Napa Valley Register had coverage of yesterday's ticket sales by Well Done and the Kiwi.

"Scott Dixon's dating service" and "Danica Patrick's love line" were a couple of the witty responses given by Well Done to callers seeking tickets for the race next week at Infineon. Consider this exchange with a female caller.

"Who's your favorite driver?...Well, after me…You've got a secret crush on Helio? Ohmigawd! You're making me sick. You can't see through that act?...If you say Hornish next, I'll hang up... OK, how about buying 10 tickets? Bring some friends."

Well Done, indeed.

5 Quick Questions: Sarah Fisher

Posted by Iannucci | 8/18/2006 | 4 comments »
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As you can tell from the frenzy of media excitement last week, Sarah Fisher’s return to the Indy Racing League generated a buzz unlike any other this year. To the unwitting observer, there would seem to be little reason for all the fuss. She’s never won a race, she was hardly competitive when she left the IRL, and she doesn’t have any racy magazine spreads to flaunt.

Well here’s the deal: Fisher is likeable – it’s that simple. She’s not a flashy rock star, not a conceited jerk, and not a soulless robot. She comes across as a person, and one who is not only approachable but also enjoys racing. She drives Sprint Cars, Stock Cars, Go-Karts, IndyCars, and I bet she’d race Shopping Carts if there was a league for that. The reason she was annually voted the league’s most popular driver is because she reminds fans more of who they are than who they aren’t, and “down to earth” Midwesterners is largely who they are.

So since her return – hopefully for more than just two races – Fisher has been besieged with attention from fans and media alike. Judging from the hundreds of signatures on her helmet this past weekend her popularity remains intact, so all that remains on her agenda now is to secure sponsorship and a ride for next year.

Oh, and she also has to prepare for that season finale in Chicago. But while she readies her Dreyer and Reinbold #5 for improvement upon last week’s 12th place finish, Sarah was able to take a few moments for us. And so, it is with great pride that we welcome Sarah Fisher to the My Name Is IRL arena of Five Quick Questions.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

1. Was your move away from the IRL because you didn't have a ride for the upcoming season or did you feel you wanted to drive NASCAR more than IndyCars?
The story is that Richard Childress invited me down to drive a stock car and see what it was like. I love Indy Cars as well and before the 04 Indy 500, Richard and I already had plans laid out. Obviously if Tom Kelley wouldn't have closed up my team after the 500 and ran the remainder of the season, I would have stayed and moved stock car plans to the winter time. Either way, it would happen. I love driving everything I get in. All cars present different challenges and the more techniques you learn, the better of a driver you become. Those cars presented a challenge that I wanted to learn and appreciate.

2. When you first came into the league, you and Sam Hornish Jr were promoted widely as the future of the league. Did you feel any additional pressure, or did you welcome all the attention?
The attention was great for our sponsors and for Dennis Reinbold. I wish I could have done an even better job promoting, etc. Raybestos and Tag Heuer did a lot to help promote my brand through commercials, billboards etc. and I greatly appreciated it. If there is a return, I would like to see even more of it from the corporate side. It would grow the league and myself as a driver.

3. What current or former drivers are you do you still count among your friends?
Its hard to say. I will always be friends with Al Unser, Johnny (Rutherford), and Al (Unser) Jr., Vitor Meira too. But, at the end of the day, we are all competitors and friendships run a lot stronger in bowling leagues! :)

4. Your fiancée is the son of a current owner. Would there be a conflict of interest if you were driving for a competing team?
Correction - he is the son of the Team Manager at D&R. There would be no conflicts because we would make it right ahead of time.
(Oops! If I may quote Rick in “Casablanca” in explaining that he moved there for waters, “I was misinformed”.)

5. Lyn St. James and Ford have noted you were a once a participant in their Woman Driver Development program. Was this program helpful to you and if so how was it most helpful?
Lyn is a great person who means nothing more then to help everyone. I was a participant in ‘95, but I was only 15 and running Sprint Cars. It was good to have an indication as to what expectations would lie ahead from marketing and PR angles. Other then that, I forget really.

One other reason for Fisher’s popularity: she says quote-worthy things like “friendships run a lot stronger in bowling leagues”.

Now, if I were looking for gossip I would note her mention of Vitor Meira, he of the Panther Racing team. With Penske, Ganassi and AGR probably done accepting applications for the 2007 season, the Panther team may be the best bet for any “free agent” driver next year. But gossip isn’t my thing so I won’t read anything into that. Besides, everyone loves Vitor.

Thanks again to the EXTREMELY busy Sarah Fisher and the equally busy D&R Team Publicist Klint Briney. Best of luck to the team with Ryan Briscoe making the right-turns next week and with Sarah’s trip to Chicago next month. You might want to bring along a clean helmet though, because I’m sure there are plenty more fans in Illinois ready and willing to give you their autographs.

The Blurbs

Posted by Iannucci | 8/17/2006 | 0 comments »
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In news that is not new but had slipped through the cracks, the inaugural race at Iowa Speedway next year has been named the “Iowa Corn 250 Presented By Ethanol”. The track is 7/8-mile in length and I haven’t seen if that’s 250 laps, miles or kilometers. If you know, please feel free to Comment. Considering how much work he put into getting Ethanol involved in the league, I’m thinking the powers that be should consider working Paul Dana’s name into the title.

Speaking of Rahal Letterman Racing, So Damn Indy found a story from the Columbus Dispatch (Bobby Rahal is from Ohio) announcing RLR’s intent to not pick up the option on The Rainman’s contract.

"All I’ve been told is I can go talk to other people, so we’re talking to people everywhere in several series," Rice said. "It’s a wide-open deal, and there’s also people calling and looking at possibilities, so we’ll see where this goes."

The “several series” comment isn’t surprising when you consider there will be more drivers than cars next year. Also, Rahal let everyone know he’s got an open mind for his stable next season.

"The big thing is getting the best possible drivers, and we’re in no real rush, as far as I’m concerned," Rahal said. "We may even want to test a few drivers. We’ll see."

Quick Wade, grab your helmet and a firesuit!

Lastly, IndyStar reports Formula One and Indianapolis Motor Speedway have agreed to a one-year agreement to again host the U.S. Grand Prix. Despite the 2005 Michelin fiasco resulting in a spartan six-car race, the race still drew around 100,000 fans in 2006 – mostly from visitors who happily pumped over $100M into the local economy. The one-year contract is probably just a provision for now, since the ruling FIA agreement (a.k.a. the Concorde Agreement) expires after next season. For the most part both IMS and FIA seem to be happy with the current arrangement, so barring a mass exodus of teams from Formula One expect a longer-term contract next year after a new Concorde is reached.

Bottom line – Mo’ money for Tony, Mo’ racing for fans.

5 Quick Questions: Wade Cunningham

Posted by Iannucci | 8/15/2006 | 0 comments »
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Heads up, Brazil! Your claim as the #1 Exporter of quality IndyCar drivers may soon be in jeopardy. That tiny island of just over four million called New Zealand is has sent two Indy Racing champions our way, and if the pedigree of those drivers is any indication there may be more to come.

You know about 2003 series winner Scott Dixon, but you may not have noticed his fellow Kiwi, 2005 Indy Pro Series champion Wade Cunningham. While Dixon went though several series en route to his IndyCar career, Cunningham has taken a faster track with an even more impressive resume.

Cunningham began racing in his youth against his brothers at a go-kart track in Auckland, the same one previously frequented by Dixon. By 14 he had his first junior championship in karting, was national champion 3 years later, and in 2003 he won the CIK-FIA World (World!) Karting Championship in Italy. After a year in Formula Ford (where he won the Rising Star Award) he moved to the Indy Pro series in 2005, becoming the Series Champion in his first year.

To date his Indy Pro record includes 2 wins and 18 top 5s in 21 races. Money in the Bank! These races have fields of 15-20 cars, so Cunningham is proving unparalleled dependability on the track.

With a resume like that, Cunningham may be the guy first guy in line for a team looking to catch the next big thing in IndyCar racing. In the course of tracking him down we learned he’s actually a pretty technical guy, handling all the development of his own web site. Maybe he can hack into the Penske software and figure out what’s making them go so fast. Until then, it is with great pride that we welcome Wade Cunningham to the My Name Is IRL arena of Five Quick Questions.

To paraphrase Old No 2, “Wade, can ya hear me?”

1. Your bio says you and your family are pretty good at kick boxing. Is that accurate, and has this ever benefited you on a race track?

My older brother was big into his martial arts, he is a personal trainer and is always looking to try something new. I can’t really say it has helped on the track but he sure comes in handy off it.

2. How was the testing experience at Iowa last month? Did you offer to trade cars with countryman Scott Dixon?

It was very unique because I had never been on a track that short before, and neither had a Pro Series car, so there was a lot of anticipation on how the car would react. We were on a limited schedule there and the day was over pretty quick so I definitely offered to drive the IndyCar.

3. On the Indycar site there's a picture of you with a "good luck" monkey on your car. What's the story there?

I have no idea!
(Either Wade is hiding something or he must have been REALLY focused on race day to not have noticed that Rally Monkey right in front of him.)

4. You were World Karting Champion in 2003 and Indy Pro champion in 2005, so it would seem you are ready for the IndyCar series. Where should race fans expect to see you in 2007?

I am working hard to be in an IndyCar for next year, it is for sure the goal but only time will tell.

5. You've got a pretty unique hairstyle. Did you come up with this or do you have a friend in the hair-cutting business?

It is really just something I did for fun taken way too far. And now I like the attention that it gets. I think I will stick this for a while yet.

Keep the hair, man. Thanks to Wade for taking the time out of his schedule, and also to Ross at Fast Company for helping us reach him. We love to see rivalries, be they between Teammates, Brazilians, Women or even Kiwis. Rahal, Fernandez, and Ganassi had better take a hard look at this guy, because I’m sure they’d rather be driving with him than against him on Sundays in the near future. Hopefully we will see Wade in the IndyCar series next year, but if it doesn’t happen we’d love to put money on him in a scrap with Champ Car instigator Paul Tracy.

When the Foot Meets the Grape

Posted by Iannucci | 8/15/2006 | 0 comments »
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As mentioned before, the IndyCar series now turns its attention to Sonoma, California, home of the Infineon Raceway for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. Now when you think of Sonoma, you probably think of wine, right? Of course you do, especially if you’re an Andretti. So the marketing wizards at the IRL have found yet another way to combine high-speed racing with alcohol consumption.

Not to be outdone by Jeff Simmons and his IndyCar Brew, drivers Buddy Rice, Scott Sharp and Kosuke Matsuura will be in San Francisco on August 23rd stomping grapes. No joke. No word on when or where you’ll be able to drink whatever (if anything) results from this, but a good time will no doubt be had by all.

And if you can’t make it to San Francisco with flowers in your hair, you can always call Well Done or The Kiwi for a good time…and tickets as well.

Why Is This Man So Happy?

Posted by Iannucci | 8/15/2006 | 0 comments »
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As the guy in the picture can confirm, Boulder Sam is no longer celebrating. Oh, I’m sure Sam was thrilled to have won the fantastic race in Kentucky (musta been the Sammy Shammys), but he knows he is still far from clinching the Series Championship. Even though he’s currently leading, I dare say Sam isn’t the favorite.

Sam is the arguably the best oval driver in the IRL – maybe it’s not even an argument – but with two races remaining he has to confront his road course demons at Infineon, where real disappointment is awaiting the series leader.

Now, Sam’s deficiency (comparatively speaking) isn’t necessarily his own fault. He’s been driving in the IRL since 2000, which raced exclusively on ovals until last season. He’s only had five road course adventures in six seasons in an IndyCar, and none of them were noteworthy.

St. Petersburg '05 – Qualified 6th, Finished 15th (Accident)
Infineon '05 – Qualified 5th, Finished 17th (Running)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 11th, Finished 7th (Running – led 3 laps)
St. Petersburg '06 – Qualified 4th, Finished 8th (Running – led 2 laps)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 6th, Finished 12th (Running)
Average Finish: 12th Place (18 points)

You could describe this as “sustained mediocrity”. Yuck. Now, let’s compare this with Spiderman, his Penske teammate.

St. Petersburg '05 – Qualified 2nd, Finished 20th (Accident)
Infineon '05 – Qualified 2nd, Finished 20th (Accident)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 1st, Finished 12th (Accident – led 23 laps)
St. Petersburg '06 – Qualified 5th, Finished 1st (Running – led 40 laps) [“I drove it like I stole it!”]
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 1st, Finished 7th (Running – led 7 laps)
Average Finish: 12th Place (18 points)

This is a very different 12th place. This is a “Helio, watch out for the other cars and you’ll get to the lead” 12th place, but still not a dominating average. Well Done is next in the points standings.

St. Petersburg '05 – Qualified 9th, Finished 1st (Running – led 10 laps)
Infineon '05 – Qualified 7th, Finished 18th (Mechanical)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 9th, Finished 5th (Running – led 6 laps)
St. Petersburg '06 – Qualified 13th, Finished 16th (Accident) [Sam signaled/didn’t signal incident]
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 5th, Finished 15th (Mechanical – led 13 laps)
Average Finish: 11th Place (19 points)

Dan can get to the lead, but can’t always keep the car on the course. Then there is his teammate, the Killer Kiwi (at least on tracks with right turns).

St. Petersburg '05 – Qualified 11th, Finished 6th (Running)
Infineon '05 – Qualified 9th, Finished 7th (Running)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 4th, Finished 1st (Running – led 25 laps)
St. Petersburg '06 – Qualified 2nd, Finished 2nd (Running – led 36 laps)
Watkins Glen '06 – Qualified 1st, Finished 1st (Running – led 8 laps)
Average Finish: 3rd Place (35 points)

You can’t get much better than that. Two wins, including a first and second this year. Talk about driving it like you stole it!

What all this means is that barring some unforeseen epiphany, Hornish is more likely to surrender the points lead this weekend than clinch the championship. Considering they have comprised all the wins this year except Milwaukee, it’s highly likely one of these drivers will win at Infineon. And with a 30 point difference in awards between 1st and 10th, Sam is likely to fall behind someone. Being only 7 points back means Castroneves doesn’t need the win as much as Dixon (-33) and Wheldon (-24) do, but all three should content while they’re on the track.

Also, don’t forget the road record of defending Infineon champ, El Nariz: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 11th. He’s too far out of the points, but if he wins again it means one of the four guys above failed to make a move. That’s probably the best Hornish can hope for this weekend, and an even tighter series race is something fans in Chicago can hope for as well.

One last item: check out the top 5 from last year at Infineon, filled with the ghosts of Cheever racing.
1. Tony Kanaan
2. Buddy Rice
3. Alex Barron
4. Patrick Carpentier
5. Tomas Enge

I think I set a record for "numbers used in a post". My sincerest apologies.

Not As Fast, Just As Furious

Posted by Iannucci | 8/14/2006 | 0 comments »
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In case you missed it, the Kentucky 100 before Sunday's Danica! 300 was quite a contest. As you can see from the picture below, at the end of the race the first five cars were all within 0.2948 seconds! England's Jay Howard - who now leads the series point standings - was the victor by 0.0190 seconds over 19-year-old Jonathan Klein, who though winless is second in the points. In third was defending series champ Wade Cunningham, with Travis Gregg and Sean Guthrie close behind.

If these name don't sound familiar yet, they will. Howard, Klein and Cunningham might well be driving in the IndyCar series soon, following in the footsteps of RLR's rookie and IndyPro veteran Jeff Simmons. The IndyPro series has served for several years as the minor leagues for IndyCar, but after false starts like Arie Luyendyk Jr and AJ Foyt IV (not to mention Jason Priestly) we might finally be seeing the dividends of the IndyPro investment.

And when the league manages to broadcast them, we're seeing some great races as well.

Caution In the Parking Lot

Posted by Iannucci | 8/14/2006 | 4 comments »
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For whatever reason, the Indy Racing League is choosing to announce dates for races next season individually. So far, we have Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Iowa confirmed with other dates very likely but not etched in stone.

With one of three additional tracks confirmed (Iowa), the anticipation remains on the other two (Detroit and Los Angeles). The Labor Day weekend is still open and probably going to Detroit, but we shall see. The remaining curiosity is a possible season opening street-style circuit constructed in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium. The Indy Star has a one sentence update.

IRL president Brian Barnhart said a proposed temporary road course race around Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles "remains 50-50" for next season.

The addition of that course might end up being the lesser of two evils for the IRL. Teams have grumbled that sponsors (potential and otherwise) are unhappy the league lacks representation in the Southwest, virtually abandoning fans in the major media markets of L.A., San Diego, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. (As a resident of the Valley of the Sun I can tell you the 12-hour trek to either Texas or Infineon is a major deterrent to seeing a race.)

So at first glance a race in Southern California would provide not just good regional exposure, but also server as a shot across the bow at Champ Car who also open the season with their biggest even in Long Beach. Sounds good, right? Yes, except for the part about having the race in a parking lot.

The IRL has built its marketing around precision racing from both men and women, an unbelievable 220-MPH frenzy of side-by-side competition. Starting the season off with a stop-and-turn road course in SoCal sets the wrong tone for the league since there are only three other road/street courses on the schedule (four if Detroit is added). What's more, Champ Car probably has a lot more of the kinks worked out with their Long Beach course, which would actually make the IRL look bad comparatively. If sponsors want publicity so bad, are they willing to take BAD publicity?

A return to the 2-mile oval in Fontana would seem more competent, but evidently it suffered from small crowd syndrome. That of course was BD (Before Danica), but if internal polling numbers indicated a likely rise in attendance we would have heard about Fontana a bit more.

As it stands, Dodger Stadium seems to be the all-or-nothing proposition for the Southwest in 2007. All we have is a 50-50 shot at a parking lot, and I'm just not sure which "50" I'm supposed to hope is the winner.

Gentlemen's Rules Applied to Non-Gentlemen

Posted by Iannucci | 8/14/2006 | 0 comments »
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While the Fearsome Foursome of the Red and White Brigade was battling it out Sunday (at least until Well Done got claustrophobic in the pit box), a bunch of also-rans were taking turns in a furious race for 5th place.

Amazingly, ECG(!) was in charge of that position for much of the day until he spun out out exiting the pits. El Nariz took over, and Danica! got steamed.

"I use the word inconsiderate. We're not supposed to be polite to each other out there," Patrick said. "But there are also like, quote-unquote, gentleman's rules. But people were looking in their mirrors and looking and turning in front of you where you're going and cutting you off."

Danica! also accused him of looking in the mirrors and blocking accordingly. Maybe he was just returning the favor she did for Mr. Judd a few weeks ago, which I believe she described as "protecting" her position.

Read the whole account at NJ.com.

Better yet, read the Pressdog recap.

Quote of the Day

Posted by Iannucci | 8/13/2006 | 0 comments »
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From The Fisher Queen, regarding starting next to Danica! today in Kentucky:

"At first I was like, 'Oh, no,' " Fisher said of sharing the sixth row with Patrick. "But I guess we can kiss and give each other a big, old hug right there on the starting grid."

Now THAT'S Funny! Quote is courtesy of the intrepid Curt Cavin in the Indy Star - nice work, Curt.

On a personal note, let me emphasize I am NOT writing speeches for The Fisher Queen. However, take a moment to compare two things.

In 2007 Fisher may find herself yet again bearing the burden of undue expecations, but let’s hope a newer level of maturity, a better appreciation for her fan base, or even a healthy dose of luck will help her finally meet the promise she showed just a few years ago. - Yours truly, August 4th

Now being 25 years old, I've got a lot more maturity and more experience. I just appreciate everyone so much more now. - The Fisher Queen, August 12th

If it's a coincidence, then I'm intrigued.
If she's responding to what I said, then I'm honored.

My Name Is Hurl

Posted by Iannucci | 8/13/2006 | 5 comments »
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It's the day of the Danica! 300 featuring The Fisher Queen (literally, to her right in Row 6), so what else can be said? Exactly. In lieu of this revelation, it's time to crank up the entertainment value a few notches.

Here's the deal: after reading months of alcohol-fueled reports from our pal MoneyCJ, it has become all to evident that he has a drinking problem. Now, it's not that he drinks too much - hey, he can still write - but rather he doesn't have the proper grasp of how and when to drink while watching the Wonderful World of Indy Racing on TV.

And as anyone knows, you can't have good TV without a corresponding drinking game.

So in an effort to help CJ and others like him, I offer to you the first draft of the Unofficial IRL Drinking Game, a.k.a. "My Name Is Hurl" or "I Am Tipsy" or "Drinking and Driving" or whatever. I didn't exactly come down from the mountain with this list, so please add your suggestions in the Comments section. Remember, this list is for CJ but it belongs to all of us.

Note you don't have to actually consume an alcoholic beverage, but there is one rule: no drinking for accidents - this isn't the NASCAR game.

1 Drink
Drink term: Any military word (i.e. "War", "Battle" or "Gunning")
Name Drop: Tony George
Mirror Man's winless streak is mentioned
Another driver is asked about Danica! or Fisher Queen
Arute mentions something someone told him before the race
Old No 2 mentions "how we do it in a stock car"
Mario Andretti is shown*

2 Drinks
Drink term: "Marbles"
Name Drop: Brian Barnhart
Well Done flips someone off
Mr Judd complains about blocking
On-Air Expletive
Vision Racing co-owner Patrick Dempsey is mentioned
Arute uses the cutaway car
AJ Foyt is shown*

3 Drinks
Drink term: "Halfshaft"
Name Drop: Tony Stewart
Any Andretti other than Mario smiles
Someone refuses to be interviewed by Big Jamie Little
Scott Goodyear makes a joke
Arute is seen with Big Jamie Little or Dr. Punch
Dr Punch discusses an injury or medical condition
Rick Mears is shown*

Finish the Bottle
Drink term: "Catfight"
Name Drop: PJ Chesson
Roger Penske smiles
Invisible Man is interviewed
Danica! mentions "Argent"
Any Unser is shown* (if only because they would drink for you)
Actual debris is visible during a "debris" Yellow Flag**

Empty the Bar
Drink term: "Mindy"
Name drop: Willy T Ribbs
Marty Roth finishes on the lead lap
Any IRL Blog is mentioned on air
Anyone gets their first career IndyCar win

*Double the quantity if they are wearing a visibly obvious lanyard with a Pit Pass. Could someone please explain WHY these legends need ID at a race track? I mean, come on!

**In college, the drinking game with my roommate was anytime then-commentator Bobby Unser said "debris" - Bobby never let us down.

The K Word

Posted by Iannucci | 8/12/2006 | 3 comments »
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As someone who watches the newswires for IRL stories, I admit there are many days I have to filter out the word “Danica” just to make it through all the headlines. The media frenzy over her never ends, but I accept this since it mean more publicity for the races. As I said before, coverage of Danica! leads to coverage of the sport, and that’s a good thing.

Since May there has been a growing chorus of writers who for whatever reason feel the need to pile on Mrs. Hospenthal as nothing more than open-wheel racing’s version of Anna Kournikova. You might recall Kournikova as the Russian model/tennis player who retired without ever winning a tournament, and you might even feel the need to make the comparison to Mrs. Hospenthal yourself.

Don’t. It only makes you look like an idiot.

If only because I am growing weary of sorting through this nonsense from “columnists” who wouldn’t know a wicker bill from a wing nut, I’m offering a handy list of reasons to any potential know-it-all as to why this comparison is utterly ridiculous. A recent Google search revealed nearly 30 of these stories, so someone needs to say something about this madness.

1. Auto Racing is Team Sport – Only the naïve observer thinks that racing success is entirely in the hands of the driver. In her race in Michigan the telemetry was toast in Danica!’s car, and a miscalculation left her without enough fuel to finish. Not her fault, but her loss just the same. If Kournikova was out of fuel it was because she didn’t eat enough beforehand.

2. Equipment – No offense to Boulder Sam and Spiderman, but if you had put any driver from the IRL Top 10 – including Danica! – in one of those Penske machines at the beginning of this year then they would have at least one win. Guaranteed. The Penske cars have clearly superior engineering, and having perhaps the best two drivers in the league only increases their dominance. I dare say Kournikova never lost a tournament because she had an inferior racquet.

3. Number of Races – Danica has only started in 26 races in her career, so she’s 0 for 26. Kournikova was 0 for 130 in her pro singles career. If we’re going to be accurate then we need about five to seven more years of sad Danica! to reach the comparison.

4. Age – At age 24, Danica! is the second youngest IndyCar Series regular, older than only 19-year-old Marco Andretti. Not coincidentally, everyone ahead of her in the standings except Andretti 3.0 has more career starts. She’s got a lot of racing ahead of her, while Kournikova retired at 22.

5. Male Competition – What is most striking is how few people mention she is competing against men. Sure, the car doesn’t know if a man or a woman is driving, but if you know anything about Danica!’s background you know her career almost stalled in England because no one took her seriously as a girl driver. As a result, points #1 and #2 came into play before she ever set her lead foot in the IRL. Kournikova lost all 130 matches against women.

Aside: I know there isn’t a Women’s Racing League, but if there was a gender division like there is in Tennis then don’t you think the little brunette would have a few wins by now? Maybe not more than The Fisher Queen, but I mean, come on – this wouldn’t even be a discussion.

6. Teammate Comparison – Danica! and her teammates spent much of the season racing using the clearly inferior Panoz chassis. How are her buddies doing? Former Indy 500 champ Buddy Lazier is in 14th place and Rookie teammate Jeff Simmons is in 16th. Looks like she’s outracing somebody.

7. Passing Stats – Only four races in 2006 have been won by non-Penske cars, so there is no shame in not winning. As I have noted before, it would appear Danica! is doing more with less because her positional advancement against the competition is off the chart.

8. Points Standings – To even bring these up this year is a joke. For every time I’ve read about how far down the standings she is, no one EVER mentions Danica! did not start the race in Homestead in lieu of the death of her teammate, Paul Dana. (throw out everyone’s points for that race and she’s in 8th place) or as I mentioned before she spent half the season driving with the inferior Panoz chassis. Not that 8th is something to get all excited about, but statistics mean nothing outside of context.

Now before you start accusing me of being a flack for Danica!, I will reiterate I too am annoyed by the excessive press coverage. I realize I am contributing to the problem, but unfortunately half the wire stories are written about her. No one is writing about the Invisible Man signing autographs at Meijer (no offense, Bryan) because no one knows who he is.

I also find the Peak Antifreeze commercials laughably bad, and if you have a problem with them, then by all means speak up. Those are obvious transgressions she brings upon herself, and if you really feel the need to say something less than encouraging then have at it.

I will also agree that next season most of the excuses go out the window. Andretti Green will have all the ability in the world to put her in a winning car every week, as previous to this year every full season AGR driver had at least two career wins. She will still be only 25, but if she fails to find her way to Victory Lane then she’ll have some serious ‘splaining to do.

However, those peripheral points should not affect your current view of her as a driver. She isn’t my favorite driver, but she is indeed good (although not great) and she seems better than she was last year. How good she will end up being is anyone’s guess, but her career is still at full strength with potential intact.

Before typing another "K" word understand that tennis players and auto racers are apples and oranges. Making this comparison says more about the writer's simple-minded observations than about the two women. So to all these "columnists", please, stop this insanity and think a little more before you write again.

Jeff Simmons Speaks

Posted by Iannucci | 8/11/2006 | 2 comments »
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Jeff Not Gene Simmons took some time for a little Q and A with So Damn Indy, and let's just say it's a MUST READ.

I've talked to Danica a lot of times, but after some things I heard she was saying on the radio in Michigan, I'll be less likely to engage in casual conversation with her. She's definitely burning all her bridges with the team.

Congrats to Jeff for showing even the slightest bit of candor. Perhaps he's taking issue with Danica! to show Rahal Letterman Racing that he wants to be their guy in 2007, but there's nothing wrong with that. Better to stand up for his team than to slam them when they're down.

Boogity Boogity Boogity

Posted by Iannucci | 8/11/2006 | 0 comments »
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For those of you who were disgusted by the annual appearance of the Bumping Behemoths on the hallowed lanes of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I invite you to chew on this.

The IndyCar Series and Daytona International Speedway are in discussions regarding a compatibility test at Daytona International Speedway in September.

Now, testing is just that and it doesn't mean the series will ever appear in a race in NASCAR's sacred high-banked speedway. But if nothing else, it shows the league is serious in it's continued intention to grow and if they were able to host a race in Daytona we would probably need Dr. Punch to revive Old No 2 again.

Deja Vu

Posted by Iannucci | 8/11/2006 | 0 comments »
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This isn’t necessarily IndyCar news, but it’s worth mentioning if only because it's so darn creepy. Seventeen-time NCRA 360-cubic-inch sprint car feature winner Steve King, 33, was killed Thursday when a mechanical failure in his sprint car sent him hurtling into the fence at the Knoxville Nationals.

King’s sponsor for his #88: Ethanol.

"I was in Homestead this year when (IRL driver) Paul Dana was killed in the ethanol car, and last night, (King) was driving an ethanol car, wasn't he?" said PJ Chesson. "I feel really bad for his family, I feel really bad for everyone at ethanol.”

I’m not really hip to superstition, but even I can see this is one heck of a coincidence. When Jeff Simmons was struggling earlier this season, I jokingly suggested his car might be cursed. (Note I have since recanted my criticism of Simmons.) At no time did I actually believe in this curse anymore than I believe in an Andretti/Indy curse - despite the years of coincidental evidence.

The real issue though is the effect this could have on the presence of Ethanol in racing. Considering the entire Indy Racing League will be running on Ethanol next year, let's hope this is the end of not only the race-related fatalities but also the bad news for the alternative fuel sponsor.

Yo Dan, Wassup?

Posted by Iannucci | 8/10/2006 | 2 comments »
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Ever see those pledge drives on TV where local celebrities are “manning the phones” in breathless anticipation of YOUR donation? Well, now the Indy Racing League has it’s own version.

Mark your calendars for August 17th, because from 11:30 am to noon Target Ganassi drivers Well Done and The Kiwi will be standing by and taking ticket orders at Infineon Raceway in beautiful Sonoma, California.

Race fans will get the rare opportunity to chat with Wheldon and Dixon, and at the same time, purchase tickets for the upcoming Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend. Race fans can call directly into the raceway at 800-870-RACE.

Not sure if you can specifically request “Hey Scott, can I speak with Daniel?” but I get the feeling this person may try. These folks, too.

Encouraging Update For da Matta

Posted by Iannucci | 8/10/2006 | 0 comments »
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PaddockTalk reports Champ Car driver Cristiano da Matta is making gradual improvements while recovering from emergency neurosurgery at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah, Wisconsin. You might recall Da Matta suffered a serious head injury after colliding with a wandering deer while test driving at Road America last Thursday.

"Cristiano's recovery from his head injury continues on a positive trend while still in the intensive care unit at Theda Clark Medical Center. Most of his sedation has been removed and he now is moving all of his extremities spontaneously as well as in response to physical stimulation. We are pleased with Cristiano's progress so far and are hopeful he will continue daily improvement."

While the update sounds vague, “moving all of his extremities spontaneously” is likely the best that can be expected at this point.

She Wants YOUR Autograph

Posted by Iannucci | 8/09/2006 | 0 comments »
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(Indianapolis, IN) Sarah Fisher Racing announced today that they would allow fans to autograph Sarah Fisher’s driver helmet during the IndyCar Series driver autograph session on Saturday, August 12th, 2006 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

“I’m allowing my fans to sign my helmet that I will wear in the race on Sunday because I want to carry them with me the whole way,” said Fisher...(MORE)

Girls, Phones, and Lots of Benjamins

Posted by Iannucci | 8/09/2006 | 1 comments »
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You may have seen it, this commercial for a mobile phone company that has a girl cheerleader talking really fast about every little dramatic thing in her life. A bunch of lab guys are standing around as time lapses in an effort to demonstrate how many minutes you get under the phone plan. The point is girls love their mobile phones.

If you asked most women today what things are indispensable to them, you would probably find “mobile phone” at or near the top of the list. Certainly higher than “men”, but that’s a different story.

So suppose you head a company that makes mobile phones and you want to convey a superior image to your potential customers. You have lots of young women who want to be cool, popular, and talking very, very fast with their friends. You want them to think that having YOUR phone will make them sexy and get them noticed.

Let’s see here: Young, Cool, Noticed, Fast, Popular, Sexy…sound like any IRL driver you know? Perhaps a girl herself?

And so now it is revealed by SpeedTV that Andretti Green by way of their longtime sponsorship with Motorola have become the winners in the Danica! sweepstakes. How much does it cost to get Mrs. Hospenthal to “rock what she got” for your phone company?

$21 million over three years. Wow. Just wow.

Now, it's not known how much of that she actually gets since a good portion will go to help pay for her car, crew and replacement helmets, but suffice it to say she will surpass the Penske boys as the highest paid of all IRL drivers. One can presume for that amount she will be appearing in print/radio/TV ads as well for Motorola and that she’ll be holding a nice pink MotoRazr all the while.

Before you start slapping your forehead in disgust and saying “but she’s never won a race”, take a breath and understand this is about marketing. This is about her ability to sell a product, and one company’s belief that her marketing of their product will translate into lots of dollars for them. All things considered, this is FANTASTIC news for the league, because if you can make millions a year in the IRL – and that isn’t including her other sponsorships – then perhaps some of those young talents who end up going to another racing series might stay focused on a career in open-wheel racing.

This is a huge bonus not just for Danica! and AGR but for the whole league. You need not look so far back as to see the effect Tiger Woods had in golf. Before he had ever won a tournament, he signed huge deals with companies like Nike and American Express because they knew that win or lose more people would be watching when he competed. More people watching means more TV and ticket revenue, meaning more money for ALL of the competitors.

Again, sound like any IRL driver you know?

Whether or not she wins a race only affects the longevity of her impact, since despite here winless ways she sustains unparalleled popularity. People may tune in to see her, but they also get a look at such personalities as Spiderman, Well Done and El Nariz. Those guys can sell product ("I'm Helio Castroneves and I love Whoppers!"), and it seems with a little luck The Fisher Queen may return to lofty popularity as well. Certainly they will have higher Q score than anyone in Champ Car, not to mention more cash in hand.

So there you have it, Danica! the rainmaker. You go girl.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Posted by Iannucci | 8/09/2006 | 0 comments »
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Current or Former (depending on your point of view) IndyCar driver PJ Chesson will be racing this week, but it won’t be in Kentucky. Accoring to IRL-Live, PJ will be driving a sprint car at the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa.

"I'm not going to Knoxville to look for a ride," he said. "I think I've found a home in Indy Cars.”
No offense to PJ, but I wouldn’t be so sure he’s “found a home” in the IRL. PJ has just four IndyCar starts and he failed to finish any of them. In fact, in his last appearance he crashed with Helmegarn teammate Jeff Bucknum on the first lap of the Indy 500, effectively ending the 2006 season for the team.

PJ seems like a fun guy who could help promote the league and he had success in the IndyPro series in 2004, but unless he knows something I don’t I think it would be wise for him to keep his options open. It would be a good idea to stay away from Gene Simmons as well.

Heads Up, Cincinnati

Posted by Iannucci | 8/08/2006 | 1 comments »
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Sure the race this week is in Kentucky, but there is good news for folks who live a hop, skip and a jump across the Ohio River in beautiful Cincinnati. Three of the IRL's most popular drivers will be promoting their high speed extravaganza near your hometown in the coming weeks.

Danica! will greet 250 lucky fans during an autograph session to be held from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., at the Meijer store located at 4990 Houston Rd. in Florence, Kentucky on August 11th. Priority wristbands will be distributed at the store beginning at 4:00 p.m and attendees will be limited to one autograph. How about signing a box of twinkies?

Boulder Sam will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday, August 10th at 12:35 p.m. Expect his pitch to be significantly less than 220 miles per hour. (I know, yuck yuck yuck.) No word on if he will be signing autographs while hanging at Great American Ball Park.

The Fisher Queen will visit Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center patients in two activity centers on behalf of the Racing For Kids charity August 11th beginning at 10:00 a.m. Please don’t pretend to be a sick child to get her autograph (I’m talking to you, Pressdog!)

In related news, we still have not heard if Ed Carpenter George will appear anywhere or if he’s still working on his housing repairs.

Speed of Lightning, Roar of Thunder

Posted by Iannucci | 8/08/2006 | 2 comments »
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As we wind towards the Danica! 300 – now the Danica! 300 featuring The Fisher Queen – I can’t help but notice the rising value of the IRL underdogs. While the league is marketing the points battle (is there anything more confusing?) among the Penske and Ganassi drivers, it stands to reason the best stories this week are from the drivers elsewhere in the standings.

Obviously I love the racing of the Indy Racing League, but one of the things that frustrates me is their inability to market the drivers. I don’t care how many times we see the “I Am Mindy” video, it does no good because it fails to say anything about the character of the drivers. Fans cheer for people, not paint or drumtracks.

So as the week wears on I hope the league can do a fine job of adding dimension to some already solid storylines about people. In an ironic twist, the three most interesting stories – not just to me, but to other race fans – involve three underdogs who have never won an IRL race.

• The Mirror Man is fifth in the points race on the basis of finishing in the top 3 (a.k.a. “a podium”) in five of the last seven races. Don’t underestimate this accomplishment as no other driver can make that claim over the same stretch. And though he remains winless, he is becoming a fan favorite because of his struggle for a victory. Check out the shirts on these guys.

• It’s not an argument Danica! is the most popular driver or that she gets press attention like no other, but if there was a week to play up her story this is the week to do it. For perhaps the first time in her IRL career she faces an expectation, and that is she had better at least be better than that other lady driver out there. With no free pass this week, her response will speak volumes to her fans and future teammates at AGR.

• How about the Fisher Queen, the Mother of all IRL Stories this week and the biggest underdog of all? No one estimated she would have so many fans remaining in the league, and now she returns to a struggling team with little recent experience near 200 MPH. She may be battling Marty Roth and Jeff Bucknum all day Sunday, but if she can stay out of trouble she might be able to squeak into the Top 10. Seven cars failed to finish at Kentucky last year, so anything is possible.

While we’re speaking of Sarah, I’d like to personally thank Media Master Klint Briney, Dreyer & Reinbold, and whoever it was who linked my entry entitled “Gone Fishing” on SarahFisher.com. All the traffic from Fisher Fans made yesterday the most visited day ever for “My Name Is IRL”, and I as much as anyone can attest to the power of the Fisher Queen.