Usually, after the last final checkered flag has waved and the IndyCar season is over, it takes me at least a week to sort of process everything that went on. I'd also say that losing Kevin Neely this week has put me in a bit of a reflective mood, too. I only met him in person a couple times, but both in person and online, he was a seriously nice guy, a positive influence, and a tremendous IndyCar fan who loved what he did and shared it with others.
With that in mind, I'd be remiss if I didn't share what I loved about the IndyCar Season That Was. It was an absolutely rollicking, upside-down, wild-to-the-end sort of campaign, and it was so much fun to follow. As the leaves continue to turn colors here in Indiana, here are ten thoughts on the 2013 IndyCar season:
1) Everyone can get down at times when things don't go well; I'm no exception to that. At the same time, every year gives me a few times where I just think about how lucky I am to get to be around IndyCar. The first was seeing my daughter get to meet Graham Rahal at Milwaukee, and how many questions she asked all race weekend. The second was sitting in the media center and listening (ok, eavesdropping) to Bobby Unser tell his stories in his unmistakable style. The third was getting to see new fans from my work "get" what IndyCar and the Indy 500 is all about. It's like getting to see something you love again for the first time, through the eyes of someone else.
2) I am immensely excited about the crop of talent that we currently have in IndyCar. Two or three years ago, the question was, "Who will replace Dario, Helio, and TK when they retire?". That's not a question any longer, to my mind. Charlie Kimball, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, and possibly Carlos Munoz are just part of tremendous backbone for this series, especially when you add in slightly more veteran drivers and champions like Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon. When you throw in the rest of the field, it's easy to see why this is hands-down the best racing going right now. This year showed that just about anyone in this field can win at any time. The series went from the Big 2 to the Big 3 to the Big Upset to a sort of semi-parity that is just amazing to see. May it long continue.
3) Along the same lines, I thought one of the best developments of the year was Dan Andersen taking over Indy Lights. The fields will be larger, and the doubleheaders at places like the IMS Road Course should make plenty of sense for the ladder. As for this year, I know people were down on the low car counts, but the drivers Lights had put on a show. Gabby Chaves is going to be a true talent at the next level. Sage Karam was the young, unlikely champion who performed when it counted most. Peter Dempsey won a legendary Freedom 100, and Carlos Munoz shined in part-time IndyCar work. Folks may have seen the low car count and written Lights off, but if so, that was a mistake. They raced their butts off out there, and we could have fully half of the regular 2013 Lights field in make an appearance in IndyCar someday soon.
4) Moving...wow. Moving absolutely destroyed my racing schedule this season. I didn't get to do a lot of what I wanted, and all the bills and expenses that come with a new (old) house certainly took it out of me. Still, while in the middle of our move, I didn't miss the Indy 500. There are some things you simply can't miss.
5) I like Chevy, and I like Honda, and have teams I really pull for that align under both engine manufacturers. However, you'll excuse me if a part of me hopes that Honda gets the best of Chevy in 2014 after the year we've had. We've had Chip Ganassi slagging on Honda in the first part of the year, and Ganassi switching to Chevy in the past month. There's also Andretti's move to Honda, which has caused some lively discussion. Hey, good. I want some animosity between engine manufacturers, and some good arguments between fans of both brands. After an all-Chevy early season, Honda came back with a vengeance, and now we get to see what the twin turbo will do next season. I was really worried one manufacturer would dominate the other this season, but that wasn't the case. Both engine manufacturers had their ups and downs.
6) The one-offs and part-timers we saw this year were a bit better than last year's "no extras" car counts that made seeing part-time rides a pretty rare thing. People will cry that it doesn't do much for ratings, but I don't really care--I LOVE seeing Mike Conway, Pippa Mann, Stefan Wilson, Conor Daly, and several others get some IndyCar seat time. I'd prefer some of them even had more, but to me, weekends with extra drivers have always felt like those "special guest stars" on 80s TV dramas. It can be a big deal to their fans, and is a nice change-up. Plus, as Mike Conway showed us, just because someone is only in the car for a few races doesn't mean they can't win. I don't mind the idea of "place specialists" in IndyCar, for example. If I know Long Beach means Mike Conway driving like a man possessed all weekend, that's a perk for me.
7) My new goal as an IndyCar fan is to live long enough to see Dale Coyne Racing win a championship, preferably with Justin Wilson behind the wheel. After this year, that no longer seems quite as far-fetched a proposition, does it?
8) I've struggled to explain the discrepancy between IndyCar trending during every race and the relatively disappointing TV ratings. I think first off, we have to admit that a lot of IndyCar fans have to hit up illegal channels to watch the sport on a lot of weekends. That's just how it is.
Second, yes, Nielsen Ratings are garbage. However, they're valuable garbage to advertisers, and probably will be for some time. That can't be simply dismissed. Yes, they ignore exposure on items like social media. Still, there is hope the Nielsens will be more all-encompassing at some point in the near future--there's already been steps taken to remedy that, although probably not yet in a direction that helps IndyCar. However, Nielsen's upcoming Twitter Ratings could impact IndyCar, though I'll be curious to see if we can get any sort of usable numbers from them. Ultimately, there's not a lot we can do about it, besides watch and participate in the discussion online. I've always found the folks who are almost happy about being sad about TV ratings a bit off-putting, and this season seemed particularly bad on that account. The Legions of the Miserable endure.
9) Running a fantasy racing league is a lot more work than one might think. I hope INDYCAR Nation takes it back over next year, but this year was lots of fun. I'm not sure how some of the competitors did as well as they did, but we had some expert prognosticators out there.
10) If I had to pick a favorite on-track racing moment, it would have to be James Hinchcliffe's last-lap move past Takuma Sato at the Sao Paulo Indy 300. Charlie Kimball's drive and pass at Mid-Ohio was pretty special, too. I could also say "the entire Indy 500", but that seems like cheating.