Sunday, April 29, 2012

Quick IndyCar Thoughts from the Couch: Brazil

1.) Will Power does it again. That’s three out of four this season, and this one was his most dominant performance, in my opinion. Click here for the press release from IndyCar.
2.) No fireworks between Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. No nothing, actually.
3.) Still not sure what defines “avoidable contact,” especially after Mike Conway speared Dario Franchitti. In my view, Beaux Barfield decided to swallow the whistle on Sunday and let them play. This happens in other sports (football, basketball), which doesn’t necessarily make it right.
Photo credit: Shawn Gritzmacher / Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indianapolis 500 Item of the Day: View-Masters

It’s hard to explain to a child of today what exactly View-Masters are. Simply, they are slides you looked at through a special, uh, viewer. Three reels, with seven photos each, came in each package.

View-Masters might still be around – I bought a few for my kids when they were younger – but I suspect the low-tech approach to entertainment just doesn’t resonate today. On the other hand, if you grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s, you definitely remember them, probably fondly. Maybe you even had talking View-Masters.

Just about any subject was ripe for the View-Master treatment, including the Indianapolis 500. This set chronicles the ill-fated 1973 race. It has some great pictures, like of the old main gate (with a red Pinto poised to travel onto the grounds of the World’s Greatest Race Course), the old museum (remember having to stand in line outside to wait your turn?) and some of the top cars of the day.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Indianapolis 500 DVD of the Day: 1974

I don’t need much of an excuse to pop in a DVD or video tape of Indianapolis 500 highlights. A cold and gray day, like we’re having in Southeast Michigan today, provides as good a reason as any. These films are a product of a bygone era when companies such as Firestone produced promotional films for use at schools, churches, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis and so forth. For kids in Indianapolis, these popped up quite a bit on rainy days in May when we couldn’t go outside for recess. I can remember seeing both the 1971 and 1964 highlight films while in elementary school, and I’m sure I saw others.

Each film was about 25 minutes, and the Speedway used to sell VHS copies in the gift shop.

Fortunately, the folks at Rare Sportsfilms have been transferring these films onto DVDs. Today’s selection from 1974 includes three titles for a running time of one hour, 13 minutes. Rare Sportsfilms has most of the races from post World War II into the early 1970s, and hopefully they will add more (1972 and 1975 are at the top of my wish list).

You can find the titles on eBay or by going to

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Indianapolis 500 Post Card of the Day: Tom Sneva

It’s hard to believe that Tom Sneva won only one Indianapolis 500. The “Gas Man” was a top contender for about 10 years during the mid to late 1970s into the mid 1980s. He won the pole three times - 1977, ’78 and ’84. Each time, Sneva set the track record (remember those?). He also was the fastest qualifier in 1981. “Snively” finished second three times as well. In 1980, he had qualified 14th, then totaled his car during practice. He was forced to go to a backup, started 33rd and finished runner-up to Johnny Rutherford.

Sneva is perhaps best known for being the first driver to officially lap the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in excess of 200 mph, which he did in 1977 in the Norton Spirit, pictured here. Sneva’s lone Indy victory came in 1983, giving George Bignotti his final 500 victory as a chief mechanic. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Quick Thoughts from the Couch: Long Beach

1.) Guess it doesn’t matter where Will Power starts, he’ll make up the deficit. Back-to-back excellent drives to victory give him a 24-point cushion.
2.) That hill Dario Franchitti has to climb to catch Power is looking more like a mountain – a steep one at that. Maybe he needs to borrow some Kentucky magic from Ashley.
3.) Josef Newgarden’s front-row start didn’t last long. Given that this underfunded team needs all the TV exposure it can get (even on NBC Sports Network), an overly optimistic pass attempt seconds after the green flag fell that ended up in the tire barrier wasn’t a great idea. Whether you think Franchitti nudged him or not, it’s unlikely a rookie is going to get that call against the reigning series champion.
4.) Been waiting for Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal to make some noise, and, well, they didn’t disappoint. There’s defending, there’s blocking and then there’s chopping. Rather disturbing to see a car launched again. That could have been a LOT worse.
5.) Marco needs to catch up to his teammates. James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay continue to get solid results.
6.) Simon Pagenaud is something else.
7.) What happened to Justin Wilson?
8.) I have more appreciation for the smoothness and precision with which the Indianapolis Motor Speedway executes its pre-race ceremonies.
9.) Be interested to see what the ratings are. No Sprint Cup race on Sunday, not much else going on, either.
10.) One more race – Sao Paulo – before Indianapolis. Would like to see at least one oval before the 500. Would an early May event at Kentucky work?
Photo credit: Dana Garrett/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Indianapolis 500 Lineup of the Day: One and Done

I meant to have this post done in time to go in tandem with the Indianapolis 500 / “May Madness” bracket from a few weeks ago because it’s also sort of college-basketball themed.

Like college basketball today, the Indianapolis 500 also has had its share of “one and dones” – one-time participants in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. By my count, 737 drivers have been in the race. Of that, nearly one-third drove only once, which astounded me. (Note: I counted 240 drivers with only one appearance; I did NOT count the five rookies from last year – J.R. Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, Jay Howard, Charlie Kimball and Pippa Mann – because it’s possible they will be in the 500 again. I also didn’t count Sebastien Bourdais, who drove in the 2005 race and seems a likely candidate to compete again this year.)

The most notable “one-timers” of course are Ray Harroun and Juan Pablo Montoya. It’s well known that Harroun had retired from racing, came back to drive the Marmon Wasp in the inaugural Indianapolis 500, then retired again. It’s possible Montoya could race again in the 500, but at this point he seems content to have traded an excellent open-wheel career for a middling one in NASCAR.

From the list of 240, I listed everyone alphabetically from best finishing position (Harroun and Montoya, first) to worst finishing (Francis Quinn, listed as 40th in 1931).

So here’s the “Greatest 33” among one-time participants (finish in parentheses):

Row 1
1. Ray Harroun (1)
2. Juan Pablo Montoya (1)
3. Arthur Duray (2)
Row 2
4. Christian Fittipaldi (2)
5. Howdy Wilcox II (2)
6. Fabrizio Barbazza (3)
Row 3
7. Percy Ford (3)
8. Bob Carey (4)
9. Al Holbert (4)
Row 4
10. Carl Marchese (4)
11. Eddie Miller (4)
12. Myron Stevens (4)
Row 5
13. Johnny White (4)
14. Theodore Pilette (5)
15. Sam Posey(5)
Row 6
16. Lewis Durant (6)
17. Ray Pixley(6)
18. Mickey Rupp (6)
Row 7
19. Len Zengel (6)
20. Louis Chiron (7)
21. I.P. “Red” Fetterman (7)
Row 8
22. Carl Forberg (7)
23. Jim Hickman (1982) (7)
24. Tony Renna (7)
Row 9
25. Luigi Villoresi (7)
26. Joe Horan (8)
27. Art Johnson (8)
Row 10
28. Charlie Keene (8)
29. Jeff MacPherson (8)
30. Johnny Mauro (8)
Row 11
31. Andy Michner (8)
32. Max Sailer (8)
33. W.H. Turner (8)

Some interesting names in that top 33. The third-place finish by Fabrizzio Barbazza in 1987 won a little money, er, a few jelly beans for me, from the 500 pool at the Jewel/Osco I worked at while in college. Sports car ace Al Holbert finished a fine fourth in 1984 and couldn’t even snag a share of Rookie of the Year honors. (That went to Michael Andretti and Roberto Guerrero.) There were two Jim Hickmans who started once. In addition to the Jim Hickman noted above who finished seventh in 1982 (winning Rookie of the Year), another Jim Hickman was 22nd in 1933.

That’s one of the fun things about the 500 – there is so much history that you can spend an afternoon (or a few weeks) going through the drivers and concocting your own “best of” races or lineups – drivers who never won, Rookies of the Year, drivers who qualified on the front row and so forth.
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photos.

Friday, April 13, 2012

IndyCar Program of the Day: 1986 Long Beach

Television coverage is a frequent target of criticism by fans. Not saying it isn’t justified from time to time (OK, a LOT of the time), but at least the races are on TV. Here’s my story of being glued to the radio for a race other than the Indianapolis 500.

I have been a fan of Michael Andretti since his rookie year at Indianapolis in 1984 when he diced with Rick Mears and Tom Sneva and stayed at the front of the field the entire race. (Andretti finished fifth, sharing Rookie of the Year honors with Roberto Guerrero, who was second to Mears.) I got a firsthand view (not to be confused with a good view) of this from my seat in the bleachers on the inside of the track between Turn 3 and Turn 4.

Unfortunately, this early promise was not followed up by any victories in 1984 or 1985. TV coverage during this time was spotty. ESPN was carrying more races, for example, but the Indianapolis 500 was still on tape-delay (and of course blacked out in Indianapolis).

Because I grew up in Indianapolis, I was used to listening to the 500 on the radio. So it wasn’t that big of a deal to tune in to a race, which is what I did for the 1986 season opener at Phoenix. It looked like Andretti would get that first victory. He was leading, then dropped out late (imagine!), leaving Kevin Cogan to win his first and only IndyCar race.

The next week, I tuned in for the Long Beach race. I remember being on the edge of my seat in my dorm room at Purdue as Andretti kept fighting off Al Unser Jr. to claim his first victory. The other guys on the floor figured I had a screw loose, wasting time listening to an automobile race on the radio. Actually, there was no choice – NBC showed the race on “SportsWorld” the next week.

Last year, I purchased a batch of Long Beach programs off eBay specifically to get this program from Andretti’s first victory. That’s Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Danny Sullivan across the top. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

IndyCar DVD of the Day: "Once Upon a Wheel"

Combine Paul Newman, Al Unser, Cesar Romero, Richard Petty, Ronald Reagan, a long-lost super speedway and a soundtrack featuring Cher and you have what might possibly be the greatest auto-racing documentary of all time.

Or at least from 1971. Anyway, “Once Upon a Wheel” is a LOT of fun and, in my opinion, worth searching out. Paul Newman, in the early years of his love affair with auto racing, serves as host of this quirky look at pretty much the full spectrum of auto racing – Indy cars, road racing, NASCAR and even a bit of drag racing and local dirt-track/jalopy racing thrown in for good measure.

Newman’s narration is a bit on the corny side, but because of his talent as an actor as well as his genuine affinity for the sport, the viewer is more likely to nod and smile rather than point and laugh.

A good chunk of the footage was filmed at Ontario Motor Speedway (aka The Big O) in 1970, its first year of operation. Ontario was almost a complete copy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway except it was a bit wider and elevated in spots so that spectators could see cars all around the track. It also had a road course in the infield and a drag strip.

After a promising start, attendance dwindled and eventually the property was foreclosed. The last Indy car race was in 1980.

The Cher song, titled “Gentle Foe” and allegedly recorded during her sessions for “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” (so says a YouTube entry), serves as a fantastic soundtrack during a vignette on a down-on-his-luck stock-car driver. We follow along as this fellow scrapes out a meager existence on dusty tracks in his beat-up jalopy, trying to win enough money to keep a roof over his family and food on the table, all the while dreaming of mansions where money flows out of every faucet.

Overall, “Once Upon a Wheel” is a nice trip (in more ways than one) back.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Indianapolis 500 Post Card of the Day: 1973 Front Row

Indy cars of the early 1970s have a few attributes I really like. First, the design is simple, clean and uncluttered. Not a bunch of stuff hanging off here and there. Second, there were different makes – McLarens and Eagles, shown here, as well as Coyotes, Parnellis, a Kingfish and others in the 1973 Indianapolis 500. Third, I liked the solid paint schemes. Almost every car that year was ONE color. It made it easier to identify cars as they came out of the fourth turn down the main straightaway.

From 1971 through 1973, the same teams and almost the same drivers were in the front row. In 1971 it was Peter Revson on the pole for Team McLaren, with Mark Donohue, in a Sunoco McLaren next (Donohue was all but conceded the pole; it was a big upset when Revson snagged it from him) and Bobby Unser outside in his Olsonite Eagle.

In 1972 it was Unser, Revson and Donohue on the front row again. Johnny Rutherford crashed the party in 1973 with his pole-winning run in the Gulf McLaren, followed by Unser and Donohue, who switched to an Eagle.

The Eagle proved to be a vexing machine for Donohue, as he struggled most of the month trying to figure it out. (For more, see “The Unfair Advantage.”) It’s a testament to his great ability he put it on the front row. Rutherford just missed becoming the first driver to turn a qualifying lap at 200 mph (his best lap was 199.071 mph).

Because in part of the energy crisis and oil embargo, 1973 was the last year for Gulf and Sunoco as major sponsors at Indianapolis, though Sunoco returned a few years ago as the official fuel of the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

IndyCar Collectible of the Day: Rick Mears "Rookie"Card

Unlike other sports, such as baseball and football, trading cards of Indy drivers are pretty scarce. From 1983-87, A&S Racing Collectables of Noblesville, Ind., filled the gap nicely. Pictured is the Rick Mears card from the 1983 set, which I guess makes this his “rookie” card.

These sets provide a nice walk down memory lane because in addition to the top drivers of the day like Mears, Mario Andretti, Gordon Johncock and so forth, there are cards of other drivers who are barely remembered. Like Chip Mead – I think he had a car sponsored by White Castle. And Hector Rebaque, who won his only race at Elkhart Lake when several drivers either had to pit or ran out of fuel in the closing laps.

The cards were hard to come by – they weren’t sold in packs like other sports. I have a vague recollection that Hardee’s gave away individual cards during May with the purchase of a breakfast sandwich.

The sets pop up on eBay quite a bit. The first set tends to be the priciest, but sometimes you can find all five sold together. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Quick Thoughts: IndyCar at Barber

Quick thoughts from the couch on Sunday’s race at Barber (Ala.) Motorsports Park:
1.) Excellent drive by winner Will Power. Showed great patience in chipping away throughout the race. Given that he was starting ninth, anything in the top five would’ve been a good result.
2.) Impressed with Simon Pagenaud again.
3.) Dario Franchitti struggled for second straight week, but showed determination to salvage 10th. Still, has he dug himself too deep of a hole already?
4.) Strong runs by Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves.
5.) Largely unnoticed, but Oriol Servia had a good day to climb from dead last at the start (26th) to 13th.
6.) How good of a driver is Sebastien Bourdais? If Lotus gets its equipment situation straightened out, watch out.
7.) Glad to see the new cars can stand up to some pushing and shoving. The drivers also deserve credit for what so far has appeared to be sensible give and take on the track. Of course, this all could go out the window at Long Beach, a circuit known for outright punting competitors out of the way.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series
Here’s a PDF of the final results