Evel Knievel has died

Posted by Iannucci | 11/30/2007 | 4 comments »
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Associated Press
Nov. 30, 2007 02:20 PM

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Evel Knievel, the hard-living motorcycle daredevil whose exploits made him an international icon in the 1970s, died Friday. He was 69.

Knievel's death was confirmed by his granddaughter, Krysten Knievel. He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs.

You might think the living embodiment of the word “daredevil” had nothing to do with IndyCars, but consider that after failing in life as a ski jumper, pole vaulter, big game hunter, hockey player, arm wrestler and insurance salesman, Evel Knievel decided he would earn a living by emulating the stunts auto racer Joie Chitwood (who’s grandson is currently the COO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway) did on the “Joie Chitwood Thrill Show” television program in the 1960s.

Except of course Evel did them with motorcycles, leading to his massive fame, fortune and notable run-ins with the law. Knievel was so ubiquitous that none other than AJ Foyt made him a member of his pit crew at Indy one year. In fact, Knievel later presented Foyt with a "First 4-time Indy 500 winner" bracelet that Evel had made before the race in 1977.

So rest in peace, Evel, from a kid who’s most prize possession was once a doll with a helmet, a star-spangled cape, and chopper that jumped just about everything else in the house.

UPDATE: Thanks to mmack for directing us to a photo of a 1977 Indy 500 entry co-owned by Knievel and driven by Gary Bettenhausen.

Scott Sharp really wants to win

Posted by Iannucci | 11/30/2007 | 2 comments »
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We may not have Bobby Rahal to kick around much anymore. The intrepid Curt Cavin has uncovered what’s going on with these lawsuits: Scott Sharp wants to win and Bobby Rahal just wants to get paid.

Sharp believes Rahal Letterman is no longer committed to IndyCar racing because of the recent release of 10 crew members, including race engineers Jeff Britton and Ray Lehto, Sharp's attorney, Michael Josephs, said Thursday.

Sharp's complaint also alleges that Rahal doesn't want to field an Indy Racing League program, won't participate in the league-provided test sessions and is not investing in a research-and-development program.

"Scott didn't like what they've been doing (at RLR)," said (Sharp’s attorney Michael) Josephs, mentioning use of the Patron-supported budget to pay for repairs to the No. 17 car. "The contract requires them to give their best effort, and gutting the team and not doing anything in terms of testing or development isn't staying with the best teams. We're far behind giving the best effort."

Remember those questions Danica Patrick about loyalty issues when she left RLR? My memory grows fuzzy.

Anyhow, you understand how Scott and the good folks at Patron are probably more than a touch irked that their cash was going to pay for things not related to their No. 8 car. Here’s Sharp at the tail end of his career, he still wants to go for a while longer, so he parts ways with longtime sponsor Delphi and cultivates a longer-term deal with Patron – and the RLR team starts laying off people and pocketing the cash. Why shouldn't Sharp be upset? Why shouldn’t he want the most bang for all of those bucks?

And why shouldn't Ethanol, who's been an even more visible presence in the IRL the past few years, want a similar commitment towards testing and personnel spending? They're probably flattered The Bobby was spending someone else's money to please them, but they can't be too excited with the overall operation right now.

Perhaps the tipping point of the issue is this new MATRIX Payout plan, which brings $1.2M to the team that fields the car. If you were Sharp and you had a $5M or so commitment from Patron to go along with that guaranteed cash, would you not consider starting your own team instead of paying a middle-man like Rahal? Especially since Sharp has been mentioned as a possible owner in the future – why shouldn't he start now?

Well, there appear to be legal issues – that’s why. But at some point this will be resolved with money exchanging hands and IndyCars will be racing in 2008. Just don't bet on the Rahal Letterman Racing team fielding any of those cars.

Quote of the Day

Posted by Iannucci | 11/30/2007 | 0 comments »
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From Helio Castroneves in the IndyStar.

"I'm ready to get going again (with the IndyCar Series)," the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner said this week after his reality television victory in Los Angeles. "I don't think I'll be doing a TV show; I don't want to let go of my racing career. I'm still pursuing Indy, you know."

And the goal?

"Win three more times," he said, alluding to breaking the record of four wins shared by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. "I want to beat my heroes."
Did anyone see an N-word in there? No? OK then, Merry Christmas!

That article also mentions "The idea of having the driver's dance partner, Julianne Hough, sing the national anthem at the 500 has also been discussed" because in addition to being an accomplished dancer, a bubbly personality, and an all-around hottie she can also sing. Her Wikipedia page says she has already released a single called "Will You Dance With Me" - of course! - which went to #8 on some Country record chart.

Ladies, your men will now become insufferable.

Rahal sues Sharp because Sharp sues Rahal

Posted by Iannucci | 11/29/2007 | 3 comments »
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An update on the previous post, this time from USA Today:

Days after Rahal Letterman Racing was served with a breach-of-contract lawsuit by driver Scott Sharp, the Ohio-based team countered with a suit.

Sharp, 39, filed suit in Florida last week seeking his release from RLR, citing the team's inability to be competitive in his first season there.

He finished eighth in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar standings with a best finish of third place (twice) in 2007. Sharp is a nine-time winner in the IRL's top series, but hasn't won since August 2005.

"He's not going to be driving for Rahal next year," Sharp's lawyer Michael R. Josephs said Wednesday night.

You can sue for an "inability to be competitive"? Really? Man, the Arizona Cardinals are gonna have a serious class action lawsuit on their hands with this news.

Seriously though, this doesn't bode well for RLR. Losing Danica Patrick late last year was the tipping point for a team that within two seasons also lost Buddy Rice, and Vitor Meira (as well as Paul Dana under far more tragic circumstances). Halfway through this past season Jeff Simmons was also abruptly let go in what many saw as an attempt to keep the Ethanol sponsorship from going to a more successful team.

So if Sharp and his sponsor are gone that leaves one still driverless car at RLR sponsored by Ethanol, assuming the EPIC(Ethanol) folks don't decide to do the same thing as Sharp and go elsewhere - with or without Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Regardless, The Bobby's Christmas Card list gets even shorter.

UPDATE: From the braintrust at TrackSide Online.

From what we've learned, Patron pays Scott Sharp (or one of his companies), and Sharp then contracts with Rahal Letterman to provide the racing equipment and team (reportedly paying well in excess of $5million to the team per season). Because Sharp is bringing the money, fairly standard practice in this business would be that Sharp's contract would be full of specifics on what the team will provide from an equipment and people standpoint. In short, Sharp is renting a race team, and he gets considerable say in what it'll look like.

It's notable that Rahal Letterman let go of engineers Ray Leto and Jeff Britton early in the off-season - it would not be a surprise if this played a part in either Sharp or Rahal's case.

BTW, TSO checked with Panther Racing and they said that Sharp is not on his way to their operation.
So this is not unlike renting a car for two days, bringing it back after one day and saying you're going to rent from someone else instead. Just with more zeroes involved. And lawyers.

Rahal sues Sharp

Posted by Iannucci | 11/28/2007 | 3 comments »
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Silly season just got a little sillier after this press release was issued late Wednesday. Lawyers are now engaged.

Rahal Letterman Racing announces that it has filed a lawsuit in United States District Court Southern District of Florida Miami Division today against Scott Sharp Sports, LLC, Scott Sharp Inc., driver Scott Sharp (collectively "Sharp") and sponsor Patrón Spirits.

The suit alleges, among other things, a breach by Sharp of a multi-year contract with Rahal Letterman Racing. The terms of the contract call for Sharp and Patrón Spirits to participate in the IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Racing through 2008. Rahal Letterman Racing's suit seeks damages for, among other things, Sharp's breach of contract and Patrón's interference with contractual relations as well as injunctive relief. Additionally, RLR will file an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction against Scott Sharp forthwith.

"We find it deeply unfortunate that Scott Sharp Sports and Scott personally have taken this course of action, given that they are contractually committed with Rahal Letterman Racing through 2008," said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. "We have learned that Scott is interested in racing somewhere else. If that is his direction in the future, so be it, but not in violation of his 2008 commitments. Their attempted legal maneuver to break the contract early is totally without merit. As such, Rahal Letterman Racing will vigorously and aggressively pursue our claims against Sharp and Patrón and the remedies to which we are entitled, as well as defend our team against their unfounded allegations. We had hoped to avoid the ramifications of legal proceedings, but with the allegations against us becoming public record, it is important that we act quickly and decisively to obtain judicial intervention to protect our reputation and goodwill in the industry, as well as to prevent any interference with our relations with our sponsors and other business partners."

Sharp joined Rahal Letterman Racing in 2007 with Patrón, rejuvenating his career by finishing eighth in the IndyCar Series. He scored ten top-10 finishes, three top-fives and won his first pole since 2001 when he led qualifying in Texas. He also finished sixth in this year's Indianapolis 500, the best finish of his 13 career Indy 500 starts.

RLR expects to be successful in its suit and therefore is planning on moving ahead with its plans for the 2008 season, including taking part in December tests in both the IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series.
No idea what's going on here but if given three guesses:

1. Sharp is taking his Patrón sponsorship and starting his own ICS team. Hey if Sarah Fisher can be considering this then The Immortal one would be darn near likely to do it.

2. Sharp is taking his Patrón sponsorship to Panther Racing. They aren't in the Big Three, but as an organization Panther seems to be the most stable of the remainder of teams.

3. Sharp is taking his Patrón sponsorship to ALMS. Sharp has been openly discussing dual participation in some other series and ALMS had come up since RLR has a team. However, this is probably more of a lawsuit to be settled with money than with custody, if you know what I"m sayin'.

If anyone has any insight please feel free to share. It's possible this affects other drivers since Scott could be taking a place at another team or considering hiring one of the many free agents to be a teammate. Seriously, I'm pulling stuff outta my backside here so guess along with me.

Win a trophy, lose a fiancée

Posted by Iannucci | 11/28/2007 | 9 comments »
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I don't mean to be jumping to conclusions, but let's just say they don't call it "Sleeping with the Stars" for nothing. And leave it at that.

Dancing’s Helio Castroneves, Fiancée End Engagement

Newly-crowed Dancing with the Stars champ Helio Castroneves has split from his fiancée, Aliette Vazquez.

“I can confirm that Aliette Vazquez and I have called off our engagement and are no longer together,” Castroneves said in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE. “At this time I would prefer to keep my private life private.”

Earlier in the season, Castroneves pushed back his engagement, telling Entertainment Tonight “we postponed it for a little bit until next year.” “Everything is happening so quick. The (IndyCar Series) championship is over, the dancing started, and basically, I was like, ‘Ali, let’s take it easy. Otherwise, we will be divorced before we get married!’”

Castroneves isn’t the first DWTS contestant to have a wedding take a back seat to the ABC reality series. Last May, Castroneves’s partner on the show, Julianne Hough, also postponed her wedding to ex-fiancé, fellow dancer Zach Wilson, because she was so busy preparing for the current season.

(MORE from People)
Thanks to three readers who forwarded this in the last hour. Let the record show that Jennifer was first, perhaps jubilantly.

Off track qualifications

Posted by Iannucci | 11/28/2007 | 4 comments »
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Looks like someone who lives near me is very stupid. Yes friends, this freeway (the Loop 202) is about 10 minutes from my door, so if you happen to be around these parts and have a Lamborghini Murcielago then you too can make the choice to drive 219 MPH on a public highway. Also, if you have a buddy with a video camera you can post yourself driving 154 MPH over the speed limit so all those good folks in law enforcement can track you down.

Guess it’s a good thing Salt Walther didn’t have a fine Italian machine like this. Come on fellas – ever heard of a track?

Helio Wins!

Posted by Iannucci | 11/27/2007 | 9 comments »
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After two looooooong hours of filler which included not one but TWO performances by Celine Dion (can I have my man-card back now please?) as well as hauling back all of the "losers" to twitter about one last time, Helio Castroneves was declared the winner of the most prestigious accolade in celebrity dancing.

I know I had some hesitation about this, but who cares - he won!

Gotta say it was a bit bleak when Samantha whatever - I don't know her name, just that she's very proud that her milk has come in for her new baby - was interviewing the two finalists (after Grandma Osmond was quickly dismissed) and asked Old Spice how it would feel to win and then asked Helio how it would feel if he lost. Way to mess with my head, lady.

Congratulations to The Captain, Uncle Sam, Penske genius Tim Cindric and '03 Indy 500 Champ Gil de Ferran for all getting airtime. In keeping with the Indy theme it's worth noting that after being declared the victor Helio was handed a quart of milk. Helio didn't pop it open, but he did climb fellow competitor Cameron Mathis since he was the tallest object in his vicinity. It's true.

Anyhow, way to go Helio! You did us all proud by keeping your shirt on and helping to keep that sweet dance partner of yours on the broadcast every week. We are eternally grateful. And way to go to you fans for maxing out your redials - you should all get a tiny piece of his mirror ball trophy. Or at least some yellow thread from the banana suit.

(Seriously though, can I have my man-card back?)

Bobby, Al and Bill

Posted by Iannucci | 11/27/2007 | 0 comments »
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Ever wonder what are a couple of IndyCar legends are supposed to do during all of this unbearable non-season? Why, campaign for their homie in New Hampshire, that's what!

Manchester, NH – Legendary Indy car drivers Bobby Unser, Sr. and Al Unser, Sr. will stump the Granite State this week for Governor Bill Richardson. The famous brothers will highlight the Governor’s successful leadership of their home state of New Mexico, as well as his steadfast support for hunters and outdoorsmen.

“Bobby and I normally steer clear of presidential politics but we couldn’t sit this one out,” said Al Unser, Sr. “We’ve witnessed firsthand the difference that Bill Richardson’s leadership has made for the people of New Mexico and we know that he can be a real force for change in Washington, D.C.”

The “Richardson 500 Tour” will begin in New Hampshire’s Southern Tier and travel upwards into the North Country. There will be opportunities for photographs and autographs from the three-time and four-time Indianapolis 500 champions. Weather permitting, the events will also feature a sprint car similar to the type that Bobby drove to six consecutive victories at the Pikes Peak hillclimb. All events are free and open to the public.
Hey, it beats getting lost on a snowmobile around this time of year.

Jay Howard gets a job

Posted by Iannucci | 11/26/2007 | 0 comments »
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From the IndyStar.com.

Team owner/driver Marty Roth confirmed today the signing of driver Jay Howard, making Roth Racing a two-car operation for next year’s IndyCar Series.

Howard, the 2006 Indy Pro Series champion, and Roth, formerly a part-time competitor who will be 49 next month, will have their cars engineered by veteran David Cripps.

Howard, 26, is part of growing contingent of Pro Series drivers set to participate in the IndyCar Series next season. Hideki Mutoh (Andretti Green Racing) and this year’s IPS champion, Alex Lloyd (Ganassi Racing), are also signed.

Roth’s Indianapolis-based team recently moved to a 17,500-square-foot facility previously occupied by Tony Stewart Racing.
And in case you've never watched an Indy Pro race, Howard is the guy who looks like Rod Stewart. I mean the young "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Rod Stewart, not the old woman he's become lately.

Anyhow, with Hornish and Franchitti out it's clear the IRL is reloading with it's own developed talent, and that's a good thing. Pretty exciting, actually.

Call 1-800-868-3409

Posted by Iannucci | 11/26/2007 | 2 comments »
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Well, here it is - the day of the FINALE of Dances With Helio. Oddly there are still three and not two competitors left, but hey - it's television! Our beloved Happy Feet is going for the Magic Disco Ball trophy, so if you feel the vibe you can have yourself a redial fest tonight.

Helio thanks you in advance, courtesy of IndyCar.com.

Hello, IndyCar Series fans:

I wanted to take a moment to say "Thank You" to all of you for supporting Julianne and me during our "Dancing with the Stars" season. I truly have the greatest fans in the world and I know that it's because of you (and what Julianne has taught me of course!) that we have made it this far in the competition.

Can you believe we are in finals? Not bad for a race car driver!

As you all know, we will be performing next Monday night for the final time as we dance the Quickstep, the Live and a freestyle routine, so we need your votes. We are on the final stretch and the checkered flag is within sight, so please, please make sure you call, text and vote online. I know with your support, that Disco Ball Trophy will be ours!

I've had a great run this fall and the experience has been one of the best things I've ever had the opportunity to do. But, while it's been a blast showing off my skills on the dance floor, I can't wait until next spring to kick off the 2008 IndyCar Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. I'm looking forward to a great season in 2008!

A big "Thank You" to all of you that have been voting and I look forward to seeing you at the races soon!

Prep yourself with this interview with Helio from SpeedFreaks.

Playing Ketchup

Posted by Iannucci | 11/26/2007 | 2 comments »
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If it seems as if your humble correspondent has been letting you down during this most uninformative month of November, then it must be true. I have indeed sucked. There have been some computer problems here at MNII World Headquarters, but these have finally been resolved so the sucking will now subside.

And while missives here has been sporadic, the intrepid Curt Cavin has been posting up a storm. None of this stuff is confirmed, but his speculation/rumor/inside word revealed in the last week has included many tasty nuggets of information (to which yours truly has added some commentary).

It’s a given that Vitor Meria is back at Panther Racing, but a second car is expected to be driven by either AJ Foyt IV, PJ Chesson or possibly a "farmed out" Alex Lloyd. Quattro seemed to be clicking on the ovals in late '07, and since 11 of 16 races are left-turn only this would be a nice move.

At Foyt Racing Darren Manning will probably be back all by his lonesome. Danger Mouse may already be signed, but if he isn't maybe Panther should send him a postcard. I mean, if they’re looking. If a second car is in the works, Jeff Simmons seems like the kind of guy who could work with Super Tex.

Marty Roth is expected to field a two car team including himself and perhaps Chesson or 2006 Indy Pro champ Jay Howard. No offense to Howard, but unless he has more sponsorship how does he get a shot over Wade Cunningham? Or did I just answer my own question.

Sarah Fisher "already has people on her payroll" to form her own team. You go, girl!

No word on Dreyer and Reinbold or RLR, although there hasn't been a single name printed for the #17 Ethanol car that isn't Ryan Hunter-Reay. And as for The Big Three, well, those eight cars are already set.

Big in Japan

Posted by Iannucci | 11/20/2007 | 1 comments »
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When you have the talent you can race anything, and Tony Kanaan has the talent. We don't know if he can dance, but we do know he can drive the wheels off pretty much any open-wheel vehicle he gets his hands on. Case in point, this past weekend's Formula Nippon race at Suzuka, Japan.

The 2004 IndyCar Series champion advanced 12 positions to finish sixth in the Japan Formula Nippon finale at Suzuka Circuit last weekend. Kanaan had never driven at the track -- or driven the Formula Nippon car – before the first of two practice sessions.

"I was pleased at the end of the day, after all I gained 12 positions in the race," said Kanaan, who won the IndyCar Series race at Twin Ring Motegi in April. "The (standing) start especially was difficult, since I hadn't done one in 12 years."

(MORE from IndyCar.com)
Just for giggles, note that Kanaan's sixth place matches the best finish by new teammate Hideki Mutoh in his three races at Suzuka in the 2006 Formula Nippon series. There's nothing more to say there.

The Battle of Nashville

Posted by Iannucci | 11/20/2007 | 7 comments »
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The CCWS is firing a shot across the bow of the IRL.

In an attempt to show they can put on a show with even LESS passing than the IRL's snoozefest at the nearby single-groove oval, Champ Car has determined they should host a street race in Nashville.

Champ Car World Series, an open-wheel racing organization, has sent a letter of interest to Nashville racing officials indicating its desire to bring a road-course race to the city starting in 2009.

Norm Partin, the general manager of the Music City Motorplex, confirmed the city's receipt of the letter. The proposed race would start and finish near LP Field and cover a route that includes crossing the Gateway Bridge before looping back toward the stadium.

Partin said the city would be required to pay a sanctioning fee of about $2 million to Champ, but in turn the race would generate a direct impact of an estimated $30 million for the city. He also said the race would be an annual event and likely held in May as a week-long festival to also include golf tournaments, concerts and perhaps a celebrity race.

(MORE fromt he Tennessean)
$30 Meeeelion? Pffft. They actually have to HAVE the race first. I mean, why not say $100 Meeellion? It's just words.

Nevertheless I'm gonna drop a quarter in the jukebox and fire up one of my favorite songs ever to come out of Nashville. This little ditty from David Frizzell makes me think of what Kevin Kalkhoven and his buddies would need to do to host their "race".

I came crawling home last night, like many nights before:
I finally made it to my feet as she opened up the door.
And she said, "You're not gonna do this anymore."

She said: "I'm gonna' hire a wino to decorate our home,
"So you'll feel more at ease here, and you won't have to roam.
"We'll take out the dining room table, and put a bar along that wall.
"And a neon sign, to point the way, to our bathroom down the hall."

She said: "Just bring your Friday paycheck, and I'll cash them all right here.
"And I'll keep on tap - for all your friends, their favorite kinds of beer.
"And for you, I'll always keep in stock, those soft aluminum cans.
"And when you're feeling macho, you can crush them like a man."

She said: "We'll rip out all the carpet, and put sawdust on the floor.
"Serve hard boiled eggs and pretzels, and I won't cook no more.
"There'll be Monday night football, on T.V. above the bar.
"And a pay phone in the hallway, when your friends can't find their car."

She said: "I'm gonna' hire a wino to decorate our home,
"So you'll feel more at ease here, and you won't have to roam.
"We'll take out the dining room table, and put a bar along that wall.
"And a neon sign, to point the way, to our bathroom down the hall."

She said: "You'll get friendly service, and for added atmosphere.
"I'll slip on something sexy, and I'll cut it clear to here.
"Then you can slap my bottom, every time you tell a joke.
"Just as long as you keep tipping, well, I'll laugh until you're broke."

She said: "Instead of family quarrels, we'll have a bar-room brawl,
"When the Ham's bear say's its closing time, you won't have far to crawl.
"And when you run out of money, you'll have me to thank.
"You can sleep it off next morning, when I'm putting it in the bank."

She said: "I'm gonna' hire a wino, to decorate our home,
"So you can feel more at ease here, and you won't have to roam.
"When you and your friends get off from work, and have a powerful thirst.
"There won't be any reason, why you can't stop off here first."

She said: "I'm gonna' hire a wino to decorate our home,
"So you'll feel more at ease here, and you won't have to roam.
"We'll take out the dining room table, and put a bar along that wall.
"And a neon sign, to point the way, to our bathroom down the hall."

I'm too sexy for my car

Posted by Iannucci | 11/16/2007 | 5 comments »
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Via a Press Release from Castroneves Racing:


Two-time Indianapolis 500 Winner Helio Castroneves is featured in People Magazine's Annual "Sexiest Man Alive" issue available at newsstands now. Joining the ranks of other celebrities including Matt Damon, Patrick Dempsey and Brad Pitt; Castroneves is touted as the "Sexiest Speed Demon" and is making his second appearance in this special issue.

"It's such an honor to be a part of the 'Sexiest Man Alive' issue," said Castroneves. "I can't tell you what a compliment it is to be thought of as sexy. I understand that my role on 'Dancing with the Stars' has gotten me noticed by an entirely new audience, but it's also nice to know that going 200 mph for a living is also considered a glamorous job. It's fun to be recognized not only for my career racing cars, but also my moves on the dance floor!"

The 32 year-old Brazilian is no stranger to gracing the pages of this illustrious issue. In 2001, he was named "Sexiest Racecar Driver" as he was featured among celebrities such as Pierce Brosnan, John Stamos and Ben Stiller in People Magazine's annual issue dedicated to men.
And now I will shamelessly link to Helio's profile in People Magazine, which Dan Wheldon has no doubt already read while seething with jealousy.

Speaking Heresy

Posted by Iannucci | 11/14/2007 | 6 comments »
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They’re down to the last four contestants on That Dancing Show, and Helio Castroneves is not only one of them he’s still considered a favorite to win the freaking thing. He’s received far more domestic air time from this single venture than his entire racing career combined, he’s showing the non-racing world his indomitable charm, and more than anything he’s holding his own against “ringers” like the Cheater Girl (who’s already gone) and Old Spice who have both previously spent time in their careers dancing on stage.

Helio is on the cusp of besting his competitors and all I can think of this: Should we really want him to WIN?

Now hear me out before you start flaming me. I’m not saying he NEEDS to lose or that you should stop texting a million votes to secure his victory. It just seems that while getting all of this exposure has been fantastic for him and maybe even IndyCar racing as a whole it may be counter-productive for him to actually be crowned as a “Dancing Champion”.

Case in point: Chris Daughtry. Regardless of what you think of his music here’s a guy who benefited from being on “American Idol”, but had he actually won the thing would have probably sold a lot less records. There’s always talk about “credibility” in forms of entertainment, and a person who tends to rock a tad more than Celine Dion might have trouble selling to a rock audience as an “American Idol” champion. Just ask Kelly Clarkson how that career transition to “serious rock” is going. As a result of going home with a few rounds to go, Daughtry has sold more albums than all of his competitors combined.

Put more plainly, winning may hurt Helio’s chances of appealing to race audiences in general. Forgive me for playing the man-card here, but as a guy are you going to don the Spiderman shirt at races next year and have your buddies rib you endlessly with Saturday Night Fever jokes? Does a dancing victory make you an instant Ryan Briscoe or Tony Kanaan fan instead?

Even more of a problem is that it could open him up to relentless harassment from competitors, and not just because of jealousy. After inadvertently running into Tomas Scheckter during the Detroit Grand Prix this past season, Sheckter declared Helio “should focus more on driving and less on dancing”. Imagine hearing some variation of that every time he has an accident – regardless of fault. Heck, that kind of proclamation could be echoed over and over by competitors and fans alike every year if Helio wins the game show but manages to never win an IndyCar series championship.

Look, we all know Castroneves is a quality driver – someone doesn’t win not one but TWO Indianapolis 500s being a hack. And I’d love to see him in the finals so as to maximize his exposure. And I don’t NOT want the guy to win something to which he’s obviously dedicated so much time and effort. And if you think I’m full of it then by all means keep voting for the guy.

It’s just that after thinking about this it isn’t certain that if he has more to gain by winning. His sponsorship is all tied up with Kodak, Mobil, and the unseen hand of Marlboro, and I don’t think Roger Penske has any plans to let him go get his own sponsors anytime soon. Consequently a dancing championship isn’t exactly going to net him or Penske Racing a huge Bruno Magli or Kenneth Cole sponsorship, nor is the IRL likely to be staging the Florsheim 400 any time soon.

So doesn’t he have more to lose by winning? (OK, go ahead and flame me.)


Posted by Iannucci | 11/13/2007 | 1 comments »
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As you know there is no IndyCar racing here in Phoenix, partly because people out here seem to favor slower cars. Or longer races. Or both.

For example, the pole for the N-word race this weekend was awarded to a guy averaging the blistering speed of 132.773 MPH. Now contrast that with the last time the ICS was in town, when Bryan Herta qualified with an average of speed of 176.612 MPH. Yeah, a bit of a difference there.

So with that variance in mind, I'd like to point out this work of genius entitled "NASCARGOT". Pure and unfettered GENIUS, I say. Enjoy.

New and Improved Aussie

Posted by Iannucci | 11/13/2007 | 5 comments »
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I’m not usually one to toot my own horn, but back in March I called it. Roger Penske – noticing Sam Hornish Jr is suddenly no longer available for IndyCar racing – realized that he needed to pick the best available driver for one of his two ICS entries, and in his nearly infinite wisdom he decided that driver is Ryan Briscoe.

Question for the studio audience: if you had an IndyCar team with the ability to hire any one available driver, is there anyone that would pick Ryan? No offense to the Briscoe Inferno, but most folks would probably go with Buddy Rice, Tomas Scheckter, or someone else who has finished more than 50% of their races in their ICS career. Nine out of 20 ain’t exactly inspiring confidence with the accounting department.

That said, there are rational reasons to defend The Captain on this choice.

First, there is no marquee name out there. Helio Castroneves is in the fold, Dan Wheldon isn’t available, and neither is Tony Kanaan, nor Scott Dixon. If your name isn’t on that list then either you have one win or less in the last two seasons of ICS racing or you are pursuing a career driving a cab. Briscoe may not be Rice or Scheckter, but he has just as many wins (that would be “zero”) in the same time frame.

Second, Briscoe is still relatively young. And while at 26 he’s no longer considered a phenom, with only 20 races under his belt he’s still got “upside” to go along with whatever talent he has. Upside sometimes translates into "upside-down", but that's for Penske to worry about.

Third, he’s done well on road courses. This is crucial because of course road and street tracks are the wave of the future in the ICS. (If you could only see me rolling my eyes as I write that sentence.) So far these three points make Ryan not so different than Wade Cunningham, but...

Lastly - and most importantly - Briscoe has done what Roger has asked of him. He’s raced for Penske in the ALMS this year, finishing tied for third in the P2 class. He also raced for Penske’s son at the Indy 500 this year, finishing 5th. And if you listen to the Captain himself he will say:

"He had the experience with a year at Ganassi, had been involved in a lot of road racing and was a Formula One test driver and we were really impressed with the job he did with Porsche," Penske said. "There were two key points and No. 1 was to run him at Indy. He did a great job and was right there if it hadn't rained. No. 2, we wanted to see what he did with the Porsche program and he did very well. We tested him (in an IndyCar Series car) at Milwaukee and Sebring and he fits our mold. He's young and he understands the sponsor and I think he has a long career with us."

(MORE from IndyCar.com)
Now note what Big Chip Ganassi said about this guy not three years ago.

"You know, the guy obviously has a lot of testing experience, a lot of racing experience, and most importantly what we think is experience with, you know, big horsepower open-wheel cars. That's what we're always looking for. He fits the bill. Not to mention the fact he's a nice guy and a student of the sport, if you will. Seems to me he has a real interest in the cars and how they work. I think that's a nice thing in today's world of motor racing. It's not just somebody that wants to get in and push the pedals.

"As you know, Ryan is a young guy. He's got a great career ahead of him. Wherever that career takes him, I'm sure that our team will be happy to get him to the front in terms of what we're racing. If he wants to go somewhere else and race, we're going to help him get to the front there, as well."

(Even More from IndyCar.com)
Déjà vu right there, and for some reason that last sentence made me think of the guy Ryan is replacing, although that’s another thought for another day. The lesson here to be learned is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, unless your name is Ryan Briscoe.

Dances with Helio

Posted by Iannucci | 11/12/2007 | 3 comments »
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Remember to Vote for Julio. And that is all I care to say about that.

UPDATE: Check out Helio planting a big, sloppy wet one on Julianne.

The First Battle of Bull Run

Posted by Iannucci | 11/12/2007 | 3 comments »
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Now that I have finally overcome the two-hour delay just to retreat from the parking lot at Phoenix International Raceway...On a day when three Indy 500 champions battled to see how they would fare against the finest taxi cab drivers in the free world, it can safely be said that when Sunday’s N-word race here ended the “Northern Aggressors” had pretty much had their collective tails kicked. Every one of them.

Yeah, it’s not usually a good idea to judge everyone by a single race, but this is PIR – a relatively flat track that has no two turns a like. It’s like a street course except shorter and with all of the turns are being left-only. Sorta. To the point, this is the kind of track where actual driving is required, so those in the open-wheel “mass exodus” should have had above-average odds to put together a good show.

(And off topic, if there are any writers out there I’d respectfully suggest using a term other than “mass exodus”? That’s just factually inaccurate, since it’s neither in “mass” nor is it a synchronized “exodus”. Montoya and Allmendinger left last year, Franchitti, Hornish, and Villenueve left this year, and Carpentier actually stopped racing open-wheel cars several years ago. And while it may be noteworthy to point out the last two Indy 500 champs are simultaneously leaving, it would be far more devastating to the IRL if Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves or even Marco Andretti were to go to the N-word. So seriously, crack open the thesaurus and find a new term.)

OK, here’s the view from my vantage point in the Section 3 grandstands.

Montoya – Pablo is wrapping up a relatively successful year, and most would agree he can certainly hold his own as a stock car driver. And I’m not just saying this because he spent the first half of the race trading paint with “Junior” Earnhardt. Shocking to see Montoya driving aggressively, I know. He finished 17th, and Ganassi starts running Chevys instead of Dodges that’s probably going to be as good as it gets for him.

Hornish – If you ever saw any episodes of “Driver X” last year then you will understand Sam’s problem: like many of the contestants on that show, Sam hasn’t figured out how a 3500-pound car with minimal downforce deals with it’s tires. Every time there was a pit stop Sam – being a few laps down – would be placed next to the leaders on the restart, and he would drive right with them for a handful of laps before dropping like a stone. To his credit, he finished the race without incident in 30th.

Carpentier – Same problem as Sam, but worse. Not only was he struggling with grip a few laps after each pit stop, but the side of his car kept taking on more of the blue paint of the SAFER barriers at PIR. Puh-TREEK ended up 33rd.

Villenueve – “Jack” spent much of the day racing alone, but when he did get in traffic he had disastrous results. Just as much blue paint as Carpentier, right up until the time he wrecked himself into the Harry Potter lookalike in the #9 car. Say hello to 41st place.

Sam also raced in the Busch series race on Saturday, going about 20 laps before losing it and wrecking. Dario Franchitti was a non-factor in the same race, but did manage to make a HUGE save after being tapped by another driver. His car immediately spun a 360, but Mr Judd saved it from ever touching the wall or leaving the track. So as long as those behemoths don’t get up in the air he should be alright.

And although it’s not a sign of doom for the N-word, there were noticeably less sponsor promotions than last year. For example, one branch of the US military had a rock wall for kids to climb last year that was gone this year, and while there were previously a half dozen “get your picture in the car” deals there were only two in 2007. Granted it’s still light years ahead of the sponsor activation in the IRL, but it would seem the N-word has reached it’s acme of popularity.

This may be partially due to the fact that the events are still far too long. If you’re going to race four hours with only one on-track lead change then it should be expected that at least a third of the crowd will be gone by the time the race is done. Then again, extrapolating that out indicates if they made the races EVEN LONGER it might help smooth out the traffic situation out next year.

Welcome to Phoenix

Posted by Iannucci | 11/09/2007 | 2 comments »
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Now that all that tedious indecision is behind him, of course Sam Hornish Jr finally qualified for a Cup race - right here in my backyard. Topping it off, so did Jacques Villenueve and Juan Pablo Montoya, which means yours truly (along with P2) will be so fortunate as to see not one, not two, but three former Indy 500 winners in a top-level stock car race on Sunday.

AVONDALE, Ariz. - When the green flag waves for Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500, it will be the first time that three Indy 500 winners will be in the field for a NASCAR Cup race.

But let's not rename the event the Race of Northern Aggression just yet.

(MORE from FOXSports.com)
"Race of Nothern Aggression"? Wow, who thought Lee Spencer could write a second sentence more upsetting than the first?

Seriously though, now that Sam has made his departure official I'd like to say for the record that I wish him the best. If this is what he wants to do - whatever the reason - then may he go forth and represent well. I'm not happy to see him go and I think he deserves all of the mockery we've given him for "thinking" for so long (at least Dario was concise), but I'm not going to forget the fine racing he's provided for so many years.

Puting this in perspective, if Sam wanted to take up motorcycle racing, would anyone else be as offended? It's obvious a lot of this bitnerness fans have expressed has to do with the N-word, and the inferiority complex a lot of open-wheel fans seem to be carrying around. And with good reason since it's a no-win situation for us - if Sam sucks then it looks bad for our guys (and girls), and if he does well it may encourage others to follow.

So if you want to be angry at him then by all means go right ahead. You have every right as a paying customer to boo. But if that's where the cash, err, challenge is for Sam and it's Okey Dokey with the company that employs him, then personally I will accept it, maybe make fun of it more than a little, and otherwise spend Sunday waving goodbye to one of the greatest high-side passers ever to strap into a fenderless vehicle.

That is, when I'm not explaining to P2 about those interesting words Tony Stewart is using over the scanner.

Oh, by the way - congratulations also to Patrick Carpentier for easily qualifying for his first Cup race. After spending the last couple of years in Canadian stock car racing, he may end up being the most successful former open-wheel driver of the bunch. Believe it.

Decision '07

Posted by Iannucci | 11/08/2007 | 12 comments »
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Wait - Sam Hornish Jr is leaving the IndyCar series? Who saw this coming?

Sam Hornish Jr. is leaving the IndyCar Series for a full-time ride in NASCAR, joining the mass exodus of open-wheel stars fleeing to America's most popular racing series.

The three-time IndyCar champion told The Associated Press he will drive the No. 77 Dodge next season for Penske Racing with Mobil 1 as the sponsor.

"I feel like this is something that is a new and unique challenge for me," Hornish said Thursday. "It may or may not be the right way to look at it, but I feel like I accomplished just about everything in Indy cars. I got to do more than I ever thought I would."

(MORE from the Associated Press)
Looks like I need to finally find a headshot of Ryan Briscoe.

Vote for Julio

Posted by Iannucci | 11/08/2007 | 1 comments »
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No, pressdog didn't write this - it's on the front page of the Panther Racing site under the headline "DANCING WITH THE STARS: PANTHER ADMITS IT'S JULIANNE, NOT HELIO, THAT THEY'RE WATCHING"

Panther driver Vitor Meira, who is friends with Castroneves, didn’t seem to even realize his fellow Brazilian countryman was on the show.

“Julianne is doing such a great job on the show and it’s been fun to watch,” Meira said Wednesday. “She’s such a great dancer, she’s beautiful and I think she’s brings a lot of skill and elegance to the program. I can’t wait until the show comes on next week and I can watch her again.”

And when asked about Hough’s partner Castroneves, Meira seemed confused.

“I forgot she had a partner,” Vitor admitted. “But I guess that Julio guy is doing a good job too.”

(MORE from Mike Kitchel Panther Racing)

Indecision '07 may soon be over

Posted by Iannucci | 11/06/2007 | 3 comments »
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And wouldn't you know it, the good folks at Team Penske might make the announcement right here in my backyard. Actually, two annonucements.

If Sam Hornish stays true to form, trusting team owner Roger Penske to all but make career decisions for him, the three-time Indy Racing League champion will be announced on Saturday night in Phoenix as the new third driver for Penske's Nextel Cup team.

Though Penske said Sunday a final decision would be made in next few days, he smiled, adding, "My inclination would be to go with him."

Penske said if Hornish goes to NASCAR, former IRL driver Ryan Briscoe, who has tested Indy cars for Penske, would move from the organization's American Le Mans Series unit to team with Helio Castroneves. (MORE from St Petersburg Times)
Now now, let's not make any SNAP decisions here, Roger. You should really take your time and thoughtfully consider all of your options, but just in case I'll be preparing a press bullpen outside of my cubicle here at work. I'll have complimentary Atomic Fireballs ready for anyone who attends.

(And yes, I am aware that with all the posts about Sam and Helio this month it seems like I should be on the Penske payroll. What am I supposed to do - post more about Hideki Mutoh? Gomennasai.)

Still dancing with Helio

Posted by Iannucci | 11/05/2007 | 2 comments »
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It’s another Dances With Helio kind of Monday again, and after the Cheater Girl was shockingly sent home last week our own beloved Happy Feet has now bested half of the field with but a handful of weeks remaining. After exchanging sobbing “I Love You”s with her dance partner last week, Sabrina looks to be the early favorite to capture the “Sleeping With the Stars award”.

Being a newbie to watching this dancing thing, I had no idea this was not a dancing show. No friends, it’s a popularity show, and after seeing Helio hobble around on a bruised knee the first week it’s clear the way to gain the maximum popularity is by garnering sympathy with the television audience.

Check the list of “reasons to pity me” the other finalists have displayed:

Old Spice – Scary Mel had a cold a few weeks ago, and now she’s battling an eye infection. She’ll probably have diverticulitis this week, so count your lucky stars you aren’t her healthcare provider.

Dr Quinn – Jane Seymour missed the elimination episode last week due to “food poisoning”. Plus she’s older than dirt, which means the judges are incessantly tripping over themselves to see who can call her “classy” the most times.

Humpy – While Cameron has no obvious injuries, he has subtly reminded everyone how nice his wife is for letting him dry-hump his “partner” every week. Plus, how can you not take pity on a guy who dances with a woman who’s wardrobe is straight outta Cher’s garage sale?

90210 – Jennie Garth tripped and fell in the opening weeks, but she’s really played up the angle about how she’s been FORCED to neglect her kids while dancing with a teenage boy for 8-10 hours a day. The horror, the horror.

Grandma Osmond – The pity champ thusfar, Marie fainted on LIVE television. Dropped to the floor with a thud, I tell ya. This can only be trumped by saving a child from a burning building or dying. Or both.

Helio, you defiitely have your work cut out for you. These washed up stars are shameless, and limping isn't going to cut it anymore. It's time for you to develop a mild case of laryngitis like you did in Michigan, big guy. You've made us watch this much, so you better do what needs to be done to win the freaking thing.

Still racing an open wheel

Posted by Iannucci | 11/05/2007 | 4 comments »
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So this weekend Sam Hornish Jr took a different approach by entering in a Busch series race instead of trying to get into a the Cup series, and lo and behold he qualified just as he has several other times this year in that series. But then something strange happened. Remember this weekend how Sam had changed his tune? Instead of quotes about doing all he can do in an Indycar he was yapping about how if he has to return to IndyCars and try to win The 500 again then he’s all for it. Well, maybe some higher power was listening.

Around lap 10 of this weekend’s race, Sam’s behemoth lost it’s grip (where’s all that downforce when you REALLY need it?) and started sliding around the infield. To Sam’s credit he kept the car from hitting anything, but he had flat-spotted the tires and would suffer a blowout while circling the track. And this is the strange part: just a few laps in and Sam’s right front tire explodes, shredding the entire fender off the car. Sam would go on to finish the race, driving the reminder of the race with an, ahem, “open wheel” tin top. Sam finished 31st.

Now this kind of thing happens now and again in the N-word, but for it to happen to Hornish in his first race laps since the end of the ICS season is just monumentally coincidental. Maybe this is connecting too many dots, but if ever a guy needed a sign as to his future it would seem Sam just got one. Then again, maybe he just takes Kurt Busch’s points and we’ll all forget this ever happened.

Also entered in the race, Dario Franchitti finished 25th. FoxSports has a nice story about how popular Dario is for his work with Special Olympics, but please don’t draw any parallels between the mentally challenged and his new form of racing. I’m just going to stop right there.

Indecision '07: Texas

Posted by Iannucci | 11/02/2007 | 2 comments »
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A twist this week from Texas Motor Speedway - the very same track where Sam may have recorded his final ICS victory. In an attempt to get seat time in any kind of stock car, Mr Penske has entered Mr Hornish in the Busch series race on Saturday instead of the Cup event on Sunday.

More intriguing are the words coming from Sam's mouth about his "Indecision" decision.

"I don't know," he said. "It's tough to say. I think we'd be a little closer along to making the decision or might have made it by now if we had had more success than what we've been doing so far. But I think the big thing for us is not to push too far ahead or to be too worried about that decision.

"The good thing about being here at Penske Racing is Roger will be able to find a good driver to put in. If he decides to have me keep running Indy cars, he'll find somebody for over here. I'm not forced to make that decision because I don't have to give anybody a heads up right away because they might have to find another driver real quick."

"I had a dream to some day go to Indianapolis and qualify for the (Indy 500)," he continued. "I accomplished that eight years ago and everything's been a bonus since then. I'm up for whatever the next challenge is. That could be to win Indy again or try to win Indy in a stock car." (MORE from Yahoo! Sports)
Sam? Is that you?

At any rate, Sam DID qualify 16th for the event - two spots ahead of Dario something or other.

Panther Racing keeping busy

Posted by Iannucci | 11/01/2007 | 4 comments »
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Despite the departure of Hideki Mutoh and the Super Aguri sponsorship packages, it would appear to be a bit premature to write the Panther Racing eulogy. The team has already released two announcements today, with perhaps more to come very soon.

First, Henri Durand has been hired as Technical Director – a position that hasn’t been filled since Andy Brown left in 2006 to go help Dan Wheldon and TCGR win a bunch of races. Durand comes with LOTS of Formula One experience, which should come in handy considering that last season the two Panther drivers only once finished higher than 9th on a road or street course.

Nobody is more excited about Durand’s arrival than veteran driver Vitor Meira, who joined Durand for the first time during a test recently in Alabama. The test was short, and the track unfamiliar, but Panther’s Brazilian came away impressed.

“I don’t know how else to say it – but he’s awesome,” Meira admitted. “He knows these cars and anticipates how they’ll react. For every change we make, Henri is thinking about how that affects every other part of the car – and it’s going to make a difference.”
Meanwhile, in a separate announcement the folks at Panther sounded confident they will remain a two-car team in the ICS and will also be able to continue their Indy Pro entry in 2008.

Panther officials are working hard to solidify the team as a two-car IndyCar Series operation and continue to run its Indy Pro Series car...

With Delphi set to return in 2008, Panther already has a solid foundation entering the season. Now, it’s a matter of crossing the “Ts” and dotting the “Is” to complete it’s full program. What has been a tremendous help in putting together a budget for 2008 is the IndyCar Series new TEAM distribution plan, which Barnes praised when it was announced last month.

“We’re really close,” Barnes said. “I can’t wait to tell our fans what we have in store for next season.”
How close? Well, the Panther Racing web site says to look for new web site on November 1st.

UPDATE: No major announcements, but the new site is SWEET! I don’t mean just the look, but the content as well. There’s a whole lotta stuff there. Be sure to check out the Q&A section which is chock full of answers to questions like:

  • So Hideki is at AGR, will Kosuke be back?
  • Is John Andretti on the radar for a third car at Indy?
  • Is Tomas Scheckter on your radar for 2008 if he leaves Vision?
  • Is Jeff Simmons on Panther Racing's Xmas Card list these days?
  • Isn't this Q&A deal just a rip off of Curt Cavin's blog on the Indy Star's site?
Too funny.