Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Some Random Comments

 Belated congratulations are in order for Indycar for holding a great event at the Milwaukee Mile. There was a lot of advertising (billboards, radio spots, etc) in the months leading up to the race-something that can't be said for past years. Ticket prices are good. My south terrace seat was $35. I'm sure the higher rows in the main grandstand are better, but for someone on a limited budget, I'm 100% happy with my seats. The infield carnival is a great idea. More activities for more fans. I wasted no time getting to my car after Ryan Hunter-Reay's victory donuts, but I was still surprised at how quickly I got onto the highway and got back home.

After their performances at Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Iowa, I'm concerned how dominant the Andretti cars will be at the season's remaining oval races. The upcoming road course season should be interesting, too. Looking back on the 6 road course races in the book for 2013, three were won by Honda-powered cars. Hopefully that parity will return shortly.

This season has seen wins by the Foyt, KV, Coyne, and Schmidt teams. Think about that for a minute. It wasn't that long ago that the Penske/Ganassi juggernaut dominated absolutely. Those two teams combined for all but one win in 2009, for example.

The next Indycar race will be held July 7th at Pocono. That sounds pretty strange at first blush. Cursory research reveals, however, that I only have my youth to blame. Indy cars ran there from 1971 through 1989, conveniently running the last race right before I became a hardcore race fan. In the intervening years, Pocono has always stuck in my mind as that strange triangle track where the drivers actually shift going down the main straightaway. The fact that it seemed nearly invisible made it more strange-I believe the June Cup race was one of the last to be regularly shown live every season, plus summer months = less time to watch 4 hours of racing every weekend...

It actually makes a lot of sense to run Indy cars at Pocono. It has long straightaways, three dissimilar turns, little banking, and a massively wide front stretch. It's like Indianapolis. If Indianapolis had only 3 turns, had a super-wide straightaway (how wide is it, exactly? Google wasn't forthcoming with an answer for me), and was in the middle of nowhere. Um, Ok, so Pocono is its own animal. Which is good. Its features (like Indianapolis') might not be conducive to great stock car racing, but they should be perfect for Indy cars.

In any event, keep watching this spot! And please check out my Kickstarter for something racing-related!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

It's Time

One day in May some time back, while daydreaming about the Indy 500, I started a search. I looked everywhere I could think of and put Google to the test. I never found what I was looking for: Cool racing shirts. I found a few, and I found some that were 'OK', but nothing that made me excited to spend $25 plus tax, plus shipping, etc. Several ideas came to mind that I thought would make cool shirts-the kind of stuff I would actually buy. Interesting, thoughtful designs. Rejection of the existing race shirt conventions. Celebration of what racing is. Recognition of racing's heritage.

Then it hit me. Why shouldn't I design shirts? And have them made? Surely I can't be the only one looking for this kind of thing. I reached out to friends and professional graphic artists and got some validation for my thinking. Then I started working on designs and the technical questions that came up. Finally, now, my ideas are coming to life.

I decided to begin the project with a Kickstarter campaign. Click the link to back the Flat Into One project. See the site for details, but basically if you back my project you will get a t-shirt of the above image (well, a larger, higher-resolution, cleaner version of that image). This color combination will be available only to my Kickstarter supporters.

Other shirts will follow in the near future. There will be shirts with themes for what I'm interested in: Racing, race cars, modern race cars, vintage race cars, technology, tools, photography, model cars, and so on.

I am very, very excited about this enterprise and the possibilities it holds. If you are, too, please contribute to the Kickstarter campaign linked above, and spread the word to anyone else who might like what I have to offer.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Accidentally Changing the World. For the Better.

The current Indycar is basically a spec formula. Dallara produces every chassis and every part of that chassis, and each team is required to buy and run it. Yes, there are multiple engine manufacturers, but I would imagine that they weigh nearly the same and produce nearly the same amount of power.
Historically, this is a recipe for dreadfully boring racing. The 2012 and 2013 Indycar seasons, however, have given us something different. Very different. The 4 tracks the 2013 season started out on were a street course, a natural road course designed for motorcycles (i.e., it's narrow), a street course, and a street course. Every one of those races was interesting, if not just plain great. Even the Detroit Belle Isle street circuit doubleheaders were good races. But why, when before 2012 seeing another street circuit coming up was reason to groan, were these races so good?

These races have been so good because Indycar has changed the nature of top-tier professional racing. A team's performance on any given weekend depends on several factors: The driver, chassis setup, fuel/tire strategy, and race tactics. The most important factor is the one not mentioned: The equipment. Every team uses an identical Dallara chassis and either a Honda or a Chevrolet engine. That's it. No individual engine calibrations, no trick suspension components, no proprietary aerodynamic packages. Driver performance and chassis setup are the same factors they have always been. Different ways to swing the hammer, so to speak. Things get interesting when the other factors come into play. I'm thinking in particular of the Option tires and of Push-to-Pass. I'm the first person to speak up about the "purity of racing" and to decry such artificiality as a video game gimmick-but I think I've changed my mind. Push-to-Pass and the Option tires have taken racing from the manufacturers, designers, and engineers and given it to the drivers, teams, and strategists. No longer is racing an (extremely expensive) engineering contest, but a game-a sport!-with strategy and tactics and courage and spirit played by teams. Teams that must manage resources, execute strategy, and rely on every member to step up when the time comes in order to win.

I never would have guessed, but it appears to be the way forward for Indycar. Elevate the heroes-both in and out of the cars, and celebrate the different paths they can take to Victory Lane.

The danger still exists for a team with deep pockets to exploit its advantages and find a way to make the base car outperform the other teams'. I believe Indycar has baked a solution to this issue with the upcoming aero kits... But that's for a future blog...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Go See a Race!

Five of my favorite hours of the entire year come during the two Indycar races I attend annually. It feels good to settle into a seat (er, balance on the edge of a bleacher) and watch a race unfold. The sights, sounds, smells, and general experience are nothing like one gets on TV. A modern race-watching experience usually includes video boards and scoring towers that convey most of the information the coverage is good for. Television universally, however, misses and flattens out the real experience. Just how long does the backstretch at Indianapolis look? How busy are two dozen drivers on a flat 1-mile oval? How fast does a car slow down to negotiate the esses at Mid-Ohio?
I've given up trying to do basically anything on my phone during a race (if you know who you are, sorry... I didn't want to miss anything...), but my stopwatch and camera are always at ready. I spent the final couple of stints at Milwaukee timing Will Power's deficit, and got a lot of good (for my skills, anyway) pit stop photos. Anyway, it will be a long wait until Indianapolis next year, when I plan to be at my next Indycar race...

In any event, maybe the most fun part of actually going to races is meeting and hanging out with all those friends I seldom see any other time. To everyone I met up with at Indianapolis and Milwaukee, Thanks and I'm looking forward to next year!