mmack's nnotes: Chicagoland 2008

Posted by Iannucci | 9/08/2008 | 11 comments »
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This week on a Very Special Episode of "mmack's nnotes", our always eloquent guest commentator reports to us LIVE from the parking lot at Chicagoland, where he and his lovely wife may in fact still be.

After two failed attempts to wake up for 7:00 AM (darn snooze bar), I finally get out of bed, shower, change into my stylish race day wardrobe (white IRL T-shirt, blue jeans, and Penske Racing hat) and go downstairs to make the coffee while I get our race day tailgating supplies together. The plan is that Maria and I will be leaving early for the track to see the Indy Lights race, while our friends will meet us later for the IRL race. Since it's just the two of us, we'll be taking the pickup. I carefully load our grill, four captain's chairs, a canopy tent, propane cylinders (for the grill), a resin table (for the grille), plates, silverware, and grille supplies in the bed of the truck, while Maria makes breakfast.

After we enjoy a delicious breakfast, the phone rings. It's one of Maria's friends calling to tell us that she CAN join us in going to the track early. Since it'll be three of us. this means we'll need the Impala and not the pick-up. I sigh as I realize I have to take everything I JUST packed in the pick-up, and put it in the trunk of the Impala. I clean out the trunk of the Impala and move everything from the pick-up. I now get the most important things (The beer, the burgers, and the brats) and pack two coolers. In the meantime I log onto the Chicagoland Speedway website to check the race times, and find the Indy Lights race has moved up from 11:30 to 11:00. As I ponder if the track management of Chicagoland Speedway has taken event scheduling notes from the justifiably defunct Chicago Motor Speedway, I realize Maria's friend won't be here until 10:30.

Maria's friend arrives and we pack her food with ours and get in the car. I TRIPLE verify that yes, I have the two tickets my brother got for me and our vouchers for free tickets from Marlboro. We head off with Maria driving using her "secret back road path to avoid traffic and construction." Our trip to the track is pretty much trouble free and we pull into the parking lot by 11:40, just in time to hear the Indy Lights race finish. We decide to get our free tickets and amble over to the Marlboro tent.

Like Penske Racing, the Marlboro ticket tent is a model of precision and efficiency. After providing our voucher and our ID's to three different people, we are sent into the team tent where I discover I am now officially an old man.How do I know this? IT'S BECAUSE THE TENT IS FILLED WITH U2 MUSIC PLAYING FULL VOLUME MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My conversation with the very polite and professional young lady at the ticket desk follows:

She "Would you like a bag?" (you get a "swag bag" of Marlboro goodies with your tickets)
Me "WHAT?!? A HAT?!? OH, NO THANKS (pointing to Maria), SHE GOT ONE IN THE MAIL THIS WEEK!"
She "Would you like another one?"
Me "SURE! I'D LIKE ANOTHER HAT!"

Luckily we improved our conversation when I leaned in about a foot from her face and we got our tickets, a voucher for a scanner, lanyards, our "swag bag", and a frequency sheet. We stepped out of the tent and Maria and I both agreed the experience was very professional and polite, save for the ear blasting music volume.

As we walk out of the tent I see a giant cartoon character Milka Duno posing for pictures with fans. I offer to take a picture of Maria with Milka. Not surprisingly, she declines. Rather than get photographed with a giant Milka Duno, we decide to get our free scanner rental and do some shopping. We discover for some odd reason Vitor Miera and Dan Wheldon merchandise is offered at reduced prices.

At this point we take our free tickets and swag back to our car where we decide to set up our tent and fire up the old grill. At this point we discover the folks at Shanghai Tent Factory #3 forgot to pack instructions on how to put together the frame for our tent. Maria, her friend, and I lay out all the parts, consider trying to assemble the tent sans instructions, imagine the fighting that will ensue, and decide to skip setting up the tent. We unfold the chairs, fire up the grill, and our fourth attendee calls us to let us know she's at the track. After much searching and waving of arms to catch her attention, she arrives to share a brat and tell us the sales prospect she took time off to meet this morning didn't show, and didn't bother to call.

By now it's 2:00 PM and it's time to head into the track. I call Pressdog and leave a voicemail telling him to meet us at our seats, or meet us after the race. Since our seats are a few sections down from our friend's two seats, we split up with instructions to meet after the race. Our seats are in Section 420, row 1, on the exit of turn 1 and low enough to reach over the fence and slap EJ Viso for acting crazy.

Just before the race starts I somehow punch the right combo of buttons on the scanner and the IMS radio network comes up. I plug in Maria's headset and now we listen to Mike King and Co. Ladies and Gentlemen start your engines and Marty Roth is in the pits! I briefly consider a drinking game where every time Marty pits, you chug a beer. Then I realize I need to drive home tonight, so perhaps it's NOT such a great game. Then Marty charges back to his top 10(!) starting spot and gives me a reason to drink, along with several other drivers.

GREEN GREEN GREEN and Briscoe LEAPS to the lead as The Dancing King shows his fancy footwork by moving up four spots. Cars go screaming past mere feet away with no lock stepping while people slice and dice all over the track. NOW I remember why I love coming to this track!

As the race continues on just about everybody is putting the moves on somebody as Danica!, Carpenter, AJ Foyt IV (!!!), Viso and the hometown boys of Dale Coyne Racing roar around. Helio! and Viso bob and weave up to the front ten and then BOOM! Carpenter "blowed up REAL good!" I have a surreal moment where I can see Carpenter's car spewing lurid orange flames right next to the Jumbotron showing Carpenter's car spewing lurid orange flames.

After pitting and a line-up shuffle, it's back to flying on the ground as Kanaan leads and Helio! keeps clawing his way forward. After a while of slicing and dicing I can't take it anymore and tell Maria I need to hit the pits. At that exact moment, I doom Vitor's chances forever as he clouts the wall. Vitor, I am sorry.

When I and the field return from yellow, now begins the absolute WILDEST race I have ever seen at Chicagoland, much less any oval, bar none. Three wide for Helio, Wheldon, and Briscoe lap after lap, with two and three wide racing back in the pack behind them. How long can this continue? How long can you hold your breath? At this point I'm SURE we're going to see "The Big One", and I'll be nailed with a Firestone Firehawk off one of the cars. People are slicing and dicing who I've NEVER expected to see slice and dice before. AJ IV channels his grandfather's genetics and claws and elbows his way past Dixon! EJ Viso channels Tazio Nuvolari! People pass where they shouldn't pass, where they can't pass. Then Miss Terry DeBree makes an appearance and lets us fans catch our collective breaths long enough to see Buddy Rice and Graham Rahal play bumper cars in the pits. Then we go green and Sarah Fisher spins lazily to a stop right in front of us. She hops out and gingerly hops to the safety car. I figure Pressdog is mighty upset at this.

A little more green flag dueling and EJ Viso slides to a halt in front of us. In spite of what I said earlier, I don't reach out to slap him for acting crazy. I'm split on EJ: Is he crazy brave or steely nerved? Is he skilled enough to know how to make those impossible passes, or just dumb lucky? I do clap when he climbs out of his car because if he ever learns control, he'll be a winner.

At this point in the race I try to call Pressodg again because I don't believe what I'm seeing. Milka Duno leading. I need independent verification: Milka Duno leading. Really. In P1.

And at the restart, she actually stays ahead of the Penske Twins. Okay, it's only one lap, but still. Later I laugh when I realize Danica! has to pass Milka for position. I look for a white towel to come flying out of car #23 aimed at ol' #7, but it never materializes.

As the end of the race rapidly approaches, the radio staff ponder: will it stay green? As The Big Three and the smaller fish slice and dice I can almost guarantee it won't and Moraes proves me correct. At this point Dixon comes out first and I imagine some regular My Name is IRL posters are upset. One sitting right next to me sharing my scanner is VISIBLY upset. And she is VERBALLY upset, but I will not recount her verbatim and teach P1 or P2 any new words or phrases today.

Then we have a phase of Yellow - Yellow - Yellow. In addition to what Jeff posted, some cars from position 10 back had some problems with the idea of "single file restart" and pulled some penny ante junk that wouldn't fly down at the little paved bullring down in Morris, IL. Scratch that, it WAS amateur hour back in the field because we HAVE seen cleaner restarts in the bomber-stock class at Morris. And those people are racing for a $50 trophy and coupons to the local pizza place.

FINALLY we have a restart worthy of professionals and Helio and Dixon have pulled out the hammer and tongs to go at each other. At this point I know Dixon is going to take the crown. But I want Helio to win. Maria wants Helio to win. Our section wants Helio to win. People in the sections next to us want Helio to win. We are standing, yelling, cheering, stomping our feet, waving our hands, swinging our hats, urging these drivers on. GO! GO! NOW! GO! GO D@MNIT GO! We're screaming ourselves hoarse to be heard over the engines as they feint and thrust and slide searching for an advantage. One lap, one turn, the crowd yelling as one as the cars scream past. Is Helio ahead? Yes, No, Wait IT'S .... DIXON! HOLY $%^&!@#, AJ IV is sliding past us in the grass!

But How? Helio was in the lead? How did he, I mean, c'mon!

Maria and I get up to leave and I realize that even though I didn't like the winner, I have seen the race that topped The Greatest Race I've Ever Seen. That was here in Chicago in 2002, but this race tops them all. And as we wait to meet up with our friends, what's this? HELIO won?!? The League screwed up? I smile and shake my head.

We walk back to the car past rows of people who were hoping to beat the traffic, get the chairs and coolers out of the Impala, and fire up the grill to make some burgers. Just as I'm about to bite into a hot, juicy, grilled Bubba Burger, my cellphone rings and it's Pressdog. We try to entice him to stop by for a beer and a Bubba Burger, but no dice. Bill's a workin' man and has been schmoozing the drivers in the press room. Now he has to roll on to Iowa and Mrs. Pressdog.

And soon we too have to roll. In a flash it's pack up the coolers, throw out the trash, and pack the trunk before we leave. In traffic Maria pulls some EJ Viso-like moves to get us out of the lot and soon another IRL race at Chicagoland is history. A little more drama than most, but still the best one I've seen so far.

And that's it for my recaps for '08. I don't know if I can stay awake for Surfers.

11 comments

  1. pressdog // September 08, 2008 11:32 AM  

    sorry i missed you. I was busy urinating myself when Wheldon, Briscoe and Helio went three-wide for about 12 laps like something out of the Joi Chitwood Thrill Show. Milkalicious! As Jeff noted, she led more laps than Danica this year. BAAAAAAAAAA.

  2. Anonymous // September 08, 2008 2:22 PM  

    After watching the last two races, someone tell me why we are getting more road courses next year. Why? Why? Why?

  3. Skip-SC // September 08, 2008 4:22 PM  

    MMAck:

    Your best live blog so far. I enjoyed reading it thoroughly and likened your experience to many that I have had at IMS.

    As for the race, my wife and I were watching on the flat screen from our screened porch, and, because of the heat/humidity conditions here in Myrtle Beach, without having to deal with Marty Reid. (Hell, NO SOUND is somewhat better than Marty Reid.)

    In the meantime, we were flipping off during the "side-by-side" marathons to the Carolina Panthers/San Diego Chargers game, which was just as good a finish.

    We weren't too terribly concerned about the race finish, since it was obvious that no one was going to punt Scott Dixon into the wall, even Helio's teammate, therefore taking away any opportunity that Helio was going to dance his way to the title.

    I have to confess, though. I was looking for a bridge from which to jump when Milka was posted in P1. Fortunately, she didn't take anyone out on her way backwards.

  4. Carrie // September 08, 2008 4:58 PM  

    Awesome! Now I know I can get Bubba Burgers up north if I ever need them.

  5. Bash // September 08, 2008 5:22 PM  

    mmack, awesome stuff. Thanks for giving us that ol'"you were there" feeling. I gotta get to Chicagoland next season!

  6. mrs.mmack // September 08, 2008 7:27 PM  

    Wait a minute. I resent the comparison to EJ Viso. I did not hit the wall, I did not hit anyone else and I did not drive through the grass...well strike that last one. I did get us home a heck of a lot faster than Milka...at least I thin I did but I Duno for sure. According to Mark that never gets old.

  7. mrs.mmack // September 08, 2008 7:29 PM  

    I forgot to add one more thing. Ditto to what anonymous said!!

  8. the american mutt // September 09, 2008 11:36 AM  

    Would you people quit complaining about the damned road races. They added races, and we only lost Nashville. I can tell you from personal experience we lost NOTHING in losing this race. I went this year, and it was more boring with less passing than some road courses. If you don't want to watch the roads then don't watch them...it's simple....instead of watching them and complaining about how boring they are...don't watch them, and go do something you DO find exciting. Which incidentily...I'll add...nashville IS NOT exciting...you all sound just as bad as the crapwagon.com crowd.

  9. Robert // September 09, 2008 11:42 AM  

    mmm Bubba Burgers!

    We should make them the Offical burger of IRL fans.

    I hope you are saving all of these recaps so you can publish them in a few years as "IRL historical data" after Napcar finally drives the last fan from the stands and they come over and want to learn about the days of Blendification racing.

  10. Anonymous // September 10, 2008 1:29 PM  

    Mutt: Actually I am still complaining about the loss of Mich and the second race at Texas. But you are right in just not watch. I have not missed a lap (on tv) for years, but probably I can miss a few road courses and be OK.

  11. Anonymous // September 16, 2008 2:30 AM  

    Marlboro: official Lung Cancer provider of the IRL ???