Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More Re: Conquest

I had some nice exchanges via Twitter with folks on Monday in regards to my Conquest article, and for the most part, it sounds as if folks agree with the basic premise. I also had one of my buddies I was able to meet at this past 500, Trent, point out a driver that I missed in regards to a ride with Conquest--Bruno Junqueira. I actually avoid that mention on purpose, since Junky was with the team for 2009 Indy 500 qualifications, but was pulled out of the car for the ol' sponsor switcheroo with Alex Tagliani. An unfortunate situation, but certainly not one unheard of.

Of course, the list goes on--for every Tagliani or Junky, there's a one-off for Roger Yasukawa, Joao Paulo de Olivera, or Dillon Battistini. If nothing else, Conquest has given us one of the most diverse, quirky groups of drivers in recent years. For trivia buffs such as myself, they're a veritable goldmine. Those of us who dig unique one-offs and underdog stories can appreciate Conquest for that, in addition to their giving some deserving and popular drivers a shot.

So, we'll wait and see what sort of news Conquest has for us. With tickets now available for the opener at St. Pete, let's hope that they're part of that field.

Monday, November 26, 2012

We Need The Conquests Of The World In IndyCar

Over the weekend, while doing the minimal amount needed to work off Thanksgiving's extra poundage, I tinkered a bit with my Silly Season IndyCar projections. It won't surprise any of you that many rides are still wide open, while a couple, such as Rubens Barrichello/Schmidt Hamilton, seem pretty likely.

What isn't resolved is the fate of some of the smaller teams that could potentially round out the paddock, such as Michael Shank Racing and Conquest Racing. Conquest Racing, in particular, seems a tough nut to crack, with some discussion with at least one driver with some money having taken place, but a waiting game in place as far as engine acquisition goes.

It would be a shame if Conquest Racing isn't a part of the 2013 IndyCar lineup. I get some eye-rolling at times when I say this, but I firmly believe it's the case. No, Conquest has never been a world-beating team. Still, they've been a viable option for many drivers who otherwise may have not had the opportunity to be in IndyCar. And while having a Francesco Dracone in the car is not exactly a crowd-pleaser, let's not forget they've also run Ana Beatriz, Betrand Baguette, Pippa Mann, Tomas Scheckter, Sebastian Saavedra, Alex Tagliani, and back in Champ Car days, a young rookie named Justin Wilson.

A huge of part of IndyCar is simply getting the chance to compete. Not everyone can go straight to a top-tier team such as Andretti or Penske, which is why it's good to have teams like Conquest as a part of the proceedings. Having those less expensive teams is a boon to the series, especially as the days of Milka Duno recede in the distance. There's not just one road to success in racing, and the Conquests, just like the Dale Coynes (before their move into mid-tier) and the Dick Simons of the world, provide one more avenue for those looking to get their chance to race. 

I'm not sure what Conquest's future is in IndyCar, but I certainly hope we see them back in action for 2013. (There's the speculation out there that we might see them ally with Andretti Autosport once more to run a driver, which produced a very good Pole Day performance with Ana Beatriz in this past Indianapolis 500). You never know which driver of tomorrow will get a chance with them, or which fan favorite will make an appearance. There's a level of unpredictability and opportunity there that the IZOD IndyCar Series can always use.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I would like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers and IndyCar fans out there. I know it's been a very up-and-down year for many of us, but we still have much to be thankful for. Thank you for reading, for your emails and comments, and for being just generally awesome. Take care, and we'll be back next week with some new articles!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Diffey, Buxton, & The 2013 Broadcast Team

I didn't get to comment on it the other day, but I absolutely love the possibility of having both Will Buxton and Leigh Diffey in the TV broadcast booth for IndyCar next year.

I loved the enthusiasm of Bob Jenkins, and respect his tenure in the booth immensely. He wasn't perfect, but you could tell he loved racing. Fans want professionalism, yes, but they also want to feel as if the individuals relaying the action care as much as they do. I think both Diffey and Buxton will do well in that regard. They are also both immensely knowledgeable, and I think will do a quality job of offering keen insight to the casual and dedicated fan alike--a challenging balancing act, indeed.

Otherwise, I also hope Kevin Lee will have a decent role; he's a professional, and perhaps the hardest-working man in all sports relating to Indianapolis in any way. I see him as more of a pits/interview/overview guy, which I think is his strong suite. Jake Query is a "utility infielder" across radio, IMS, and Indy Lights, and does a good job with it.

Going deeper into the roster, Jon Beekhuis is excellent when used properly, especially with his "Professor B" segments. Robin Miller needs help if the grid run is going to continue, and if he's back, will have several wince-inducing moments (yet I still like him on there, so help me). Wally Dallenbach, Jr. doesn't seem to do much for the fans, but is generally inoffensive. I would like to see drivers with early Did Not Finish results in races pulled into the booth more; Dario Franchitti and Graham Rahal were two particular success stories of in-booth drivers last year.

For ABC, we have what we have. Let's move on.

On the radio side, I can only hope that Pippa Mann continues to be a feature, and hopefully not just for Lights race. She's knowledgeable, and helps return the discussion to the on-track action when it other "wanders". Obviously, I hope she's also racing in events such as the 500, but I think that would be an excellent move for the IMS radio team to make official. The radio broadcasts tend to go on several tangents, so bringing them back to what's happening is a valuable skill indeed.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rahal (and Rahal) Made The Right Choice

Now that the gears of silly season are finally beginning to turn in earnest, we were met yesterday with the long-anticipated announcement of Graham Rahal returning to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as their primary 2013 driver. It’s great to see RLLR back in the midst of things, and I think most of us would agree their resurgent participation in the Series is a big plus.

As for Rahal, many fans and pundits projected this was precisely where he’d land, and they were right. Graham’s tenure in Chip Ganassi’s stable had a few bright spots, but ultimately, both Rahal and the fans were frustrated by what seemed to be a team/driver partnership that never fully seemed to “click”. Right or wrong, the promise of Rahal with Ganassi’s outfit never seemed to materialize into what might be expected be a top-tier combination.

Now, at 23, Graham Rahal is a five-year IndyCar veteran, a winner who has also experienced the tough breaks and budget rides of the Series, and a driver who has worked to make his own way in IndyCar, regardless of what expectations his surname brings.

For Bobby Rahal, he’s grabbed one of the top free agents in the paddock, one he worked quite well with in their 2010 Indianapolis 500 effort, and one who has proven adept at finding funding in an absolutely brutal economy.

For both team and driver, this move simply makes sense, even if the last names involved were Jones and Patterson. But even with their father/son relationship, you won’t hear many cries of nepotism with this ride. It simply makes too much sense, with both sides having already proved they don’t need a family connection to have success in this series. Graham is a known quantity, a young but generally accomplished racer. Meanwhile, the RLLR team nearly won a couple of races last year with Takuma Sato, and there’s no reason to believe they can’t have at least that level of success with Rahal the Younger behind the wheel.

While Graham Rahal’s ride is secure for 2013, the situation at RLLR otherwise still shows plenty of fluidity. RLLR has been looking to run a second entry for some time, and it seems as if every driver from Takuma Sato to Ryan Briscoe has been mentioned as a possibility here. Rahal could be the first part of a nice 1-2 punch for RLLR.

We know from their history that both Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing can compete and win. Now it’s time to see what the combined efforts of both parties brings about. There’s a good chance the results could be excellent.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Veterans Day (Observed)

Whether it's November 11 or November 12, we cannot thank the veterans enough for the sacrifices they have made. On behalf of this site, me, and my family, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for all of your efforts. You've been separated from family, wounded in battle, wounded in spirit, and have done and seen things few would ever believe. Whatever branch, whatever conflict, wartime, peacetime, thank you for having the courage and integrity to serve so that we may be free.

One of the best parts of every Indianapolis 500 is cheering returning Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen as they take a lap around the track with the standings cheering as hard as they will at any point during the day. That's just a microscopic bit of the esteem we feel for you. Thank you, not just yesterday, not just today, but each and every day of the year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Response To IndyCar & The Board

Dear INDYCAR and the IMS Board of Directors,

I know you haven’t heard from me in about a week. After Randy Bernard was rather unceremoniously dumped as INDYCAR CEO, I needed some time off, before I said something I would regret.

Look, I love INDYCAR. I named my website IndyCar Advocate, for crying out loud—that’s not the action of a fair-weather fan. I run a fantasy racing league, and draw drivers out of a hat every race weekend as part of getting my kids and family involved. My son’s hero is Scott Dixon. My girls love Pippa Mann. I attend multiple races each year, and generally have found myself treated extremely well. For that, I thank you.

On the other hand, I continue to feel like you’re talking at IndyCar fans, but not with us. All too often, fans seem an afterthought when big decisions are made. In no uncertain terms, that’s a problem.

It’s great that you are proceeding with plans for 2013. IndyCar has a lot of awesome stuff to look forward to. But again, why do I end up with the feeling we’re getting proclamations in lieu of actual conversation?

I understand that Randy Bernard’s removal as CEO wasn’t a black-and-white issue. But the fans, who clearly overwhelmingly trusted and supported him, were left to twist in the wind, while this sad situation played out in rumors, drips, and drabs over an embarrassingly long period. Communication was sparse and misleading. In the end, the wound was deeper, because we watched it play out in a sort of macabre slow-motion. It was embarrassing, unprofessional, and painful to see unfold.

IndyCar has amazing drivers, great competition, and there’s no sport I’d rather watch. Yet time and time again, we find ourselves left out in the cold, dragged about as whatever the crisis of the day brews. And when we’re worrying about this, or feeling like you’re going to do what you’re going to do with any respect for our opinion or premium put on informing us, that hurts the fan experience. Say what you will about Randy Bernard, but when I sent the man an email, I got a straight response from him, and promptly so at that.

In the play 1776, Benjamin Franklin argues in favor of independence by asserting, “Never was such a valuable possession so stupidly and recklessly managed, than this entire continent by the British crown”. The conflict is two centuries later and smaller in scope, but the base sentiment may be applied directly to IndyCar. You have the best racing going, the world’s best multi-discipline drivers, great on-track battles, and incredible events like the Indy 500, Long Beach, Texas, Iowa, and Baltimore….yet you continue to take your eyes off what’s important. Every public argument between the Series and owners, every time we find out about the latest round of behind-the-scenes skullduggery, every time the fans have to do public relations or fact-finding because no one else will, takes away a bit of that.

In short, you have been gifted by God, the giants of racing’s past, and the legends we still love today an amazing, wonderful, unparalleled gift. And yet you squander so much.

I barely make enough every year to cover my bills, and support a wonderful wife and three children. When I do get some extra money, I throw a good chunk of it towards your product. I’m not a millionaire; I don’t bring a sponsorship check. But I live, eat, sleep, breathe, and dream IndyCar. If I’m not at the track, I’m watching on TV. I bring friends along. My investment in it—and by extension, the investment of every dedicated fan—is what you have left to support you. We have bought Firestone tires in years past, because we know what their support has meant. SunDrop is served when we entertain, because they’re an Andretti team sponsor. Fuzzy’s Vodka, Verizon, Sunoco--the team and series sponsor list goes on, because we want to show our support and loyalty to IndyCar.

We fight for you. We spend our money to bring new fans to the track. We buy hats and t-shirts for our kids. We call out Jim Utter online for the feeble NASCAR homer he is every time he tries to trash you to cover his own insecurities. We believed when we were kids, watching Parnelli, or Mario, or Rick Mears, or Buddy Lazier, or Alex Zanardi. We believed in 2008. We believed when Dan won, and still believed unceasingly when we lost him. We believed when no one else did in this DW12 machine, and we believed when this last year’s amazing season drew to a close. We live for the Month of May, and get up ridiculously early on Saturday to have coffee and swap lies about silly season, the ladder, and Indy 500s from years gone by. We believe in the ideas and an ideal of IndyCar, and we live that belief, year in and year out.

Now, you need to show loyalty to us. Something needs to give, and it isn’t the fans. Improve your public relations. Interact more with the fans—you’ve got folks doing a great job, but it needs to go all the way up the chain. Listen to us, and give us the courtesy of the same trust we show in you. I know the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a fan council—isn’t it time to expand that to IndyCar? Because right now, there an awful lot of voices out here in the wilderness, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is  listening.

As I said, you haven’t heard from me in a week. But if you keep up what you’re doing, you may not be hearing from many of the fans for much longer than that. I don’t want that. INDYCAR is the best, most exciting racing out there right now. It needs to act like a major sport. Involve the fans. Respect them enough to give them the truth. Consider them true stakeholders, because in truth none of the Georges and Ganassis and Penskes in the world matter one bit without them.

Respect us, be straight with us, and think enough of us to not have bad news broken by a series of news outlets in excruciating fashion, and we will be loyal through whatever challenges might lie ahead. Ignore us at your peril.

I remain an INDYCAR fan, loyal, dedicated, and true. Reward my trust. Be better. Do better. Act better. Please. And if you want to have a conversation, you know where to reach me.