Thursday, April 30, 2015

Newgarden Reinvigorates IndyCar Season

An IndyCar season that seemed destined to be littered with shredded pieces and broken promises pulled itself out of the marbles just in time as the month of May looms.

Josef Newgarden’s thrilling victory at Barber – his first – gives the series a much-needed boost as it ramps up for its marquee event, the Indianapolis 500.

A few things about Newgarden and his win:

  • He’s American, not German or Austrian as a casual observer might have guessed. Moreover, the fourth-year driver hails from NASCAR country, specifically Hendersonville, Tennessee.  Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star ran a nice piece about how Newgarden and his dad logged thousands of miles driving to New Castle, Indiana, to the karting track of former Indy driver Mark Dismore to begin learning his craft.
  • Newgarden may be the first driver from the Volunteer State to ever win an IndyCar race. I sent an email to the IndyCar Series asking if this were the case, but did not get a response. Certainly no driver with a birthplace in Tennessee – or Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia, for that matter – has won the Indianapolis 500.
  • Given how many drivers with Indiana connections who gravitated to NASCAR because they weren’t interested in Indy cars (Ryan Newman, South Bend), didn’t get a chance (Jeff Gordon, Pittsboro after leaving California) or sought greener pastures (Tony Stewart, Columbus), it’s nice to see the tables turned a bit.
  •  Newgarden drives for the newly formed CFH Racing team, an easy-to-root-for outfit. The “C” is Ed Carpenter, and the “F” is Sarah Fisher. After a rough start, Carpenter, stepson of Tony George, is a solid competitor on ovals with three victories. He’ll be aiming for an unprecedented third straight Indianapolis 500 pole this year. Fisher was one of the most popular drivers and now, despite many challenges, fields a solid and winning team.

Anyway, it’s nice to watch (and talk and write about) good racing.

That momentum needs to continue with the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 9 and the Indianapolis 500 on May 24. These two races, plus the doubleheader at Detroit the weekend after the 500, are the last ones on network television this year (ABC).

With the rest of the races on NBC Sports Network, that means May is the last, best opportunity to grab the attention of casual viewers.

Photo credit: Joe Skibinski/Verizon IndyCar Series

Friday, April 3, 2015

First Indy Trip Memorable for Future Wife

Some 25 years ago, back in 1990, I took my then-girlfriend on her first trip to the world’s greatest race course.

We had been going out for a few months, and things were going well.

It was time for the next big step in our relationship.

It was time to meet … the track.

She was from Valparaiso, went to Purdue and at one time lived in Plainfield, but in all those years had never ventured to 16th and Georgetown.

This I found both incredible and ridiculous and, most of all, something that needed to be fixed immediately.

So we went on the second day of practice, a Sunday. The weather was beautiful – sunny, temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s. A gentle breeze now and then.

We sat in the tower terrace and enjoyed watching the cars race down the straightaway and dart in and out of the pits.

“Joining” us was a group of enthusiastic and, uh, interesting spectators.

They were a few rows down from us. One fellow – despite the warm temperatures – wore a battered brown leather jacket.

Without a shirt underneath.

He didn’t smell too good – reeked would be an apt description.

Every time the No. 19 Budweiser car of Raul Boesel would roar past, he would leap up and yell, “Budweiser.”

And take a drink. More like a gulp, actually. Certainly not a sip.

I’m sure my girlfriend wondered what she had gotten herself into.

Why does he come to this place, year after year?

We thought about moving, but as we all know, people-watching is one of the things you do at the track.

So we stayed. Watched the cars (and people), had a corn dog. Maybe even a sno-cone.

We were married a couple of years later and are still together today.

But she leaves going to the track to me and our son.

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway/scanned out of the 1990 Hungness 500 Yearbook