Sunday, October 16, 2011

On the Passing of Dan Wheldon

I could write about the confluence of things that caused Dan Wheldon’s death, the fact that the owners of the series had refused for many years to go to a newer chassis in order to save money, that some of them are still angry about going to a new car cause its expensive to buy newer stuff… I could talk about how ISC and SMI have ruined all their oval tracks by making them incredibly high banked to create pack racing for the sake of “entertainment,” even though that banking always causes “the big one” or about how technical restrictions on the engineers cause the teams to be too even causing the big packs like we had today… or maybe it was just a fluke set of circumstances and physics like what happened to Jeff Krosnoff, or how ridiculously cruel it is that Dan has been using this year to help Dallara and Honda develop the new car that has aspects of its design done specifically to stop this exact kind of accident from happening, and the cruel irony that he was killed by the one thing he was working to prevent… and that we were just 1 race away from getting to that new car… but any real in-depth writing about that would be done out of anger…  so I just don’t feel like doing any writing in detail about that… the fact is Kelly (my wife) and I were both immediately horrified when we saw the accident and both cried when we heard the official news, because of who Dan was and how shocking and abrupt it all is.

Like I said on Twitter and Facebook, it’s not like I knew the guy as a friend, but I met him at both Richmond International Raceway and Indy as a “media” member for the Furious Wedge (as it was called then), and both times he was as kind and nice as could be to me. He didn’t ask who I worked for, didn’t look at my credentials to make sure I was legit, I asked a question after qualifying in Richmond in the media bullpen and he smiled and answered and was as nice as could be. There’s a lot of drivers in the series, and a lot of them are happy, distant, shy or pricks depending on how the day is, but I’ve watched Dan since he was in the minor leagues, and I seriously don’t think I’ve ever seen him be angry… ever… He always signed the most autographs and stayed the longest around for fans and to take pictures, and the year he lost the championship on a technicality of tie-breaker, he wasn’t angry, disappointed, but not angry and whining about rules; he took it in stride and came back the next year driven to not have a tie breaker get him again.

He simply loved racing, and loved life. One year my wife and I decided to vacation to Vegas for Thanksgiving week. I of course knew the karting SKUSA Supernats were in town that week so we fit it in for a day, and sure enough Dan was competing; and when he wasn't competing you found him talking to other aspiring karters and fans, that was Dan at his purest.

One year at a race in Homestead-Miami he was dominating the race when his team completely screwed up a pit-stop, and he lost like 16 places as a result, and instead of being angry on the radio, he told his team not to worry about it and that he’d do his part to get those spots back… and he did, coming all the way back to win.

Even when the Ganassi-Target team was found out to be negotiating with another driver (tony Kanaan) to replace him in 2008, he didn’t say anything bad about them, he went about his way behind the scenes and started negotiating with other teams but publicly kept plugging his sponsors at his current team, same thing for National Guard team when he was there… I seriously can’t say just how happy and full of life he was, and that’s what made his win at Indy this year so great, he was there celebrating with his son, even though he knew that was likely his only race this year, then he jumped in the broadcasting booth and immediately had all the fans loving him and wanting him to become a broadcaster if he wasn’t going to be racing because he was so good.

Like so many racers before him taken too young, he had so much ahead of him, the broadcasters were chatting with him from his car on the pace laps and Kelly and I were just commentating on how he is the best spoken driver in the series and a PR dream because he has mastered the talent of mentioning sponsors without making it sound forced. He not only won Indy, but not just 2 days ago it was announced that he had just signed a new contract with the Andretti team to be Danica’s replacement, he was about to go back to one of the best teams in the prime of his career. And outside of his career, he went from being a young 21 year old rookie talking about partying every night to married and just having had his second child... and that’s the part that really makes this a travesty, right now none of that other stuff matters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Fond Farewell for IndyCar

For the last 6 months I’ve been having a thought rolling in my mind that I haven’t been able to shake. It was really stewing for me Saturday night; but I wanted to be sure and give it a few more days to make sure I thought it out before putting it in print…

The IndyCar Series and its fans are going to regret leaving Twin Ring Motegi.

It really is a shame that the series may have turned its final lap in Motegi, Japan, because after you slice it up, you see that it was easily a net-positive for the series and its growth. It’s not to say that leaving Motegi is going to crush the series, just that the race was clear and definite positive for the series and fans, and it’s now going away.

Is the series justified in taking it off the schedule? Truly we don’t know that answer because we don’t know the financial situation of this race’s past agreements, but let’s just tackle a few obvious subjects that revolve races and what makes them tick, in terms of what normally kills off a race.

Was there a lack of support?
Fact is, this may have been the most supported race on the schedule outside of Indianapolis. It was 100% covered. The bill was footed to get teams there, put them in hotels, transport them around, and a sanction fee was paid on top of it. You can’t get around the fact that it was Honda’s race; they owned the track, they paid all the fees, and at no point were they threatening to pull support.  

Was there a lack of interest?
Had you looked at the stands of Twin Ring Motegi between 2006-2008, sure we’d suspect that the demand from fans was an issue. But in 2009 the stands began to get fuller, and then after they switched the race date to be later in the year, which meant much better and predictable weather and coordination with a Japanese holiday weekend; the stands were PACKED in 2010, AND 2011. Some sources in Japan estimate that Motegi on race day in 2011 swelled beyond 60,000 people; Motegi’s total population is under 25% of that; and its not like the track is near... anything; folks were traveling to get to the race.

Was the time-zone difference too much for TV?
For starters, the Olympics… and World Cup... and Formula One… and Australian Open and their subsequent ratings in North America would put the argument of time-difference to rest. But let’s push those aside and realize there is something clearer to see. This past Saturday in North America, the IndyCar race in Motegi finished just after the BYU-Utah football game ended, and BEFORE the Arizona-Stanford game ended, both being broadcast live on ESPN and ESPN2.

It’s actually a weekly practice for ESPN to put games on that late into the night, so obviously it can’t be too much to ask race fans to stay up a little later for 1 race out of the year (not to mention its staying up late on a Saturday!). We’re the ratings abysmal? No, over 100,000 people watched the race live on Versus Saturday, and keep in mind that was going against 3 College football games and the Floyd Mayweather fight.

Did it require too much travel time?
The way they planned the race the past few years, you’d think so; but none of it comes at the fault of Motegi’s logistics. Remember that Motegi used to be 1 week before Kansas on the schedule, and they did it multiple times like that, which means they surely could do that again.

Did it require a week off before the race? Likely, but it isn’t a bad thing, and it’s not the only break in IndyCar’s schedule, in fact there are 10 off-weekends in IndyCar’s schedule this year. That might be too many, but doesn't mean they couldn't cut 6 of them out and keep the one in front of Motegi. Is it harder to do a lot of back to back weekends, sure, but making things easy is a real poor reason to not do something, especially when things used to be tighter without catastrophe.

Was it disliked by the participants?
I have yet to ever see a driver or team member complain about Motegi, but more so, it’s never even neutral when it comes to Motegi, instead everyone involved is always ecstatic about the event, and its fans.

Tony Kanaan: "I had a gr8 time hr n Japan with @IndyCarSeries family. Japanese people were so welcome nd supportive. Thanks Japan hope to come back soon."

Will Power: "Nice to be home...but will miss was a great event...sad to not be going back...great fans and good people"

Dario Franchitti: "Jet lag coming back from japan sucks... hope we go back there to race though, amazing fans, packed the place even after all their troubles."

Marco Andretti: "Tokyo is the coolest city. Going to miss all of my friends here. Heading home!!!"

James Jakes: "Early start on route to the airport, back to the states. What an event this was, I'm gonna miss this place."

Does it fit IndyCar’s best interests?
To a xenophobe it sure doesn’t, but neither does Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, undisclosed future China race, or street races, or road races, or whatever… but we need to ignore crazy internet people and some silly media folks for a second. IndyCar is an international racing series, no matter how you slice it. There are drivers from over 12 countries, and races in 4 countries, and they are about to add China (and there’s talk of returning to Mexico).

To thin the series should only be racing in the U.S.A. is incredibly shortsighted of the Series’ potential, not to mention bad strategy. The best way things grow in any market, is to fill voids no one is filling. Why get 25% of a track and fan’s attention because you end up being 1 of 4 races they hold in the year, when you can go to places where no one else is and take 100% of what is to take. 50K fans/ticket sales in Motegi without any competition.

Won’t China fill this void?
Not even close. For starters, even if you ignore the government difference, the culture and treatment of the events won’t be remotely alike. China is doing this for the same reason they wanted the Olympics, and the Race of Champions, because they want attention. China wants to use the race to show off their city and country, Japan wanted IndyCars because they wanted their engines and drivers to come home so they could see them in person; and they paid the Series for it, they bought tickets to do so; IndyCar support in Japan is no less worthy than IndyCar support in the States. China is also reported to be a street course (rumored to be building an Oval for the future though).

In fact, China getting added actually throws the reason behind leaving Motegi in the wind. The only reason cited by IndyCar and Honda for letting go of Motegi’s race was that it didn’t generate enough profit on either side for them to fight real hard for it… only except the Series will be visiting China now, meaning some scheduling could easily create a situation for both races to split some travelling costs. But let’s ignore hat aside, neither IndyCar nor Honda ever said the race lost them money/exposure... they just said it wasn’t “enough” to worry about compromising on.

Won’t another track fill this void, should it be easily replaceable?
Quick question, what is the only track in the last decade to regularly showcase 4 and 5-wide racing in IndyCar? Texas tops out at 3, Iowa at 2, and 3-wide at Indy gets Marty Reid into seizures; but it’s always been Motegi with its ridiculously wide track, that has drivers trying a million different lines. The front straight at Motegi is so wide, it could probably comfortably fit cars 13-wide.

Aside from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I think it’s safe to say that the egg shaped oval of Twin Ring Motegi is the most unique track on the schedule. It’s definitely been the only asymmetrical oval on the schedule for the last decade, and unless IndyCar gets Pocono or Walt Disney Speedway back on the schedule, there will never be another non-symmetrical track to challenge drivers muscle memory. Drivers have always voiced a love of the track because of the demands it had, it wasn’t artificially high-banked to create close racing, but it was so wide and with multiple grooves, than it never prevented passing, it very much encouraged it.

Most of all, the oval is the ONLY oval in the world that was built for AND used only by IndyCars. It was a haven that NASCAR would never penetrate.

Another interesting known fact is that this race was Honda’s, and you wonder if with the recent announcement of the return of Detroit Belle Isle (Chevy’s new home race) if Honda will stand for not having its own home race as well.

Beyond the track, is the fact that the fans of Japan are beyond unique; they have their own style, their own pre-race festivities from blue angels style motorcyclists, to insane aerial displays
But more than anything those things, fans filled the track for practice, for autographs, for anything… period, and they treated all the drivers greatly because they were just ecstatic that IndyCar was coming to their country… There was even an exchange program between schools in Motegi and Indianapolis… sorry but no other track will ever replace Motegi’s unique place as an IndyCar destination.

Though this isn’t the first time that IndyCar has parted with a track without attendance issues, unlike Richmond (promoter failed to secure sponsorship) and Nashville (promoter refused to pay non-discounted sanction fee), it is the first time that they’ve left a track without a foreseeable major issue, and worse yet, it was enjoyed by thousands.. and we’re all going to miss it once we realize it’s gone...

Sadly, since folks are too busy watching the championship or arguing about Brian Barnhart, Motegi was not given the kind of sendoff or thank you it deserves, so I’d like to at least end with 11 things I’m thankful Motegi gave us.

11. This ridiculous wreck
Watch it and think about it for a second. Sure we’ve seen wheel to wheel contact, we’ve seen cars get airborne, we’ve seen spins on restarts… but Jeff Simmons and Scott Sharp take it to a new level giving us all 3 including a high speed impact, with the backs of their cars! 

10. Roger Yasukawa lights it up, literally
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fish out video of this; but in 2008 Roger Yasukawa had to come to an abrupt stop on the front stretch… because his brakes caught on fire! The strain Motegi put on cars is how you knew it was a driver’s track and not foot to the floor.

9. Egg-static egg-splanation
In case you didn’t know Motegi was shaped like an egg… and even if you did, too bad because Jack Arute Scott Goodyear and Marty Reid were bound to bring it up, or even show you an egg.

8. The advent of online streaming
Twitter, Apps and Timing and Scoring have spoiled the fans, but a small few like myself remember where it all started; as the only way to watch Motegi live. Just one screen and one radio feed, and no fancy anything.

7. Formula One Car vs. IndyCar … on an oval … with a standing start! 
As you might guess, considering the current IndyCar wasn’t made for standing starts nor the same amount of power, its beyond ridiculous.

This also wasn't the only time they did this, here's a video from the year before where the IndyCar stays more even

6. De Ferran’s non-spin/spin in 1999
CART was reversing time on car’s spinning out of turn 4 well before Brian Barnhart was even thinking about it.

5. Turn 2 (and 4) – the rookie eaters
Motegi’s turn 2 doesn’t have the storied history that Indianapolis’ 4th turn has, but from a year-by-year percentage, it’s fairly even, it’s a car eater. The one thing Motegi 2 has over Indy 4, is that Motegi often struck in the opening lap(s):

Marco Andretti, Mario Moraes, Kosuke Matsurra and Bertrand Baguette were all recent opening lap Motegi victims. I’m still not sure what is worse, spending all May only to crash in turn 4, or travelling all the way out to Japan to crash in turn 2.

4. The 2009 race – a.k.a. Briscoe loses Championship
A lot of people seem to forget how close Ryan Briscoe was to winning a championship over Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. The 2009 Motegi race was a duel between all 3 drivers, including a lot of hard racing between both Ganassi drivers, until a yellow flag flew just as Briscoe was pitting, which should have given him the race (and locked up the championship)… should have. 

3. Danica’s win
Like her, love her, hate her, it doesn’t matter. Pretending this victory wasn’t significant, is like trying to pretend Barak Obama being the first black president wasn’t significant. But even if you don’t care for Danica too much, Motegi proves yet another thing… their race broadcasters are so much better than ours.

2. The 2003 race
A great race. If you can find it online, watch it. Think about this, Scott Dixon won the pole, Tomas Scheckter ran the fastest laps, Tony Kanaan led the most laps… and Scott Sharp won the race. 

Tons of action between Scheckter, Kanaan, Dixon, Kenny Brack, Michael Andretti and more, and ended with Dixon and Kanaan making contact and Scott Sharp winning.

1. The best command to start engines.. EVER

...and after that I just leave you with this... Tony Kanaan's on-board camera for an entire race at Motegi:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Knight Turns Out the Lights

Disclaimer: I am not usually one to take such strong offense at something that some random person writes on Tha Interwebs that I feel like I have to rebut the entire body of work, but every so often, something so hilariously wrongheaded comes along that I just can not help myself. If you're squeamish about long-winded diatribes against one writer, or you'd prefer to read my usual "kumbaya, can't we all get along?" stuff that I write here or in blog comments all over the place, maybe you should come back in another month or two, or whenever I get around to writing again. This one's a craw-sticker for me, so if you wanna stick around, you'll want to get comfy. You've been warned.

As we march toward the end of another IndyCar Series season, I've taken some time to count my blessings as a fan of my favorite sport. Sure, we have guys from the two behemoth teams, and only those two teams, battling it out for the championship, just as it seems to happen every year, but at least we've got a close battle, right? Sure, guys from those two teams win most of the races, but we've had a handful of surprise winners (including the craziest darkhorse winner of the Indy 500 in a decade or two), right? The cars aren't all that much fun to look at, and sort of put on terrible racing more often than not, but we're getting better equipment next year, right? There aren't a whole lot of young drivers that are in a regular winning position in the Series, but there are a couple of very good rookies in the Series (J.R. Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe), and a few more (Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, Esteban Guerrieri, Stefan Wilson, Peter Dempsey) coming down the line, right?

Oh, but I'm wrong on this last one. Or, at least I am according to an esteemed member of the IndyCar paddock/"former employee of every racing team and driver in North America, just look at my sidebar for all the names I like to drop"/"smartest guy in the Northern Hemisphere and if you don't believe me, just read one or two of my posts, please". Jeez, given that my idea of what makes for a decent junior formula field appears to differ so wildly from other folks' ideas, maybe we should have a closer look.

“Those are drivers in IndyCar's 2011 Firestone Indy Lights. Lots of household names and ticket sellers there!”

Wait, what? Since when, in the entire history of motorsports, is the lineup of a support series packed with "household names and ticket sellers"? Well, outside of NASCAR's Nationbusch Series, which is packed full of guys from the premier league who are slumming it and beating the hell out of the young, up and coming series regulars, to the point where the average fan can probably only name 2-3 of those top “Nationbusch-only” guys? Isn’t insisting that a support series be packed with household names like going to your local Double-A baseball team and leaving halfway through the second inning because you’ve never heard of anybody on the field?

“No disrespect intended to those guys -- all real racers are appreciated here -- but as a group they symbolize the problems that have plagued this tour since Tony George decided he needed a development/support series.”

Oh, my goodness, what? This is Tony George’s fault? Because when he created the Infiniti Pro Series, there was no way for a sprint car driver (his intended IRL target driver, however right or wrong that may have been, and no, I am not touching that debate right now) to get into a car with wings, slicks and an engine that sat behind the driver and get experience in large, paved ovals. So, Tony should have just said, “well, I know there’s no way to actually attract the drivers I’m trying to get and train them up to get into my big cars, but screw it. I sure can’t spend a couple million dollars extra, create a training ground series where there is none (because Atlantics ran 90% road courses from 2000 to 2007, so rear engine car experience on ovals was basically impossible to get without winding up knocking down walls at Indy or elsewhere) and create an undercard series for people who actually come out to my races to watch while they wait around for the big cars to take the track.” What? Oh, right, every last thing that’s gone wrong with motorsports since 1992 is Tony George’s fault. I forgot about that. OK, as you were, Mr. Knight.

“Here are the champions and their subsequent histories: 2002 -- A.J. Foyt IV (out of racing). 2003 -- Mark Taylor (bombed out of brief stint with Panther). 2004 -- Thiago Medeiros (touted as a potential superstar, crashed in practice at California Speedway, finished 31st in one Indy 500 start, and eventually disappeared from the scene). 2005 -- Wade Cunningham (kicking around trying to make something happen). 2006 -- Jay Howard -- (ditto). 2007 -- Alex Lloyd (part-time IC competitor). 2008 -- Raphael Matos (trying to keep a full-time IC ride). 2009 -- JR Hildebrand (you know his story). 2010 -- J.K. Vernay (TBD).

A pretty thin record book, there."

Hmmm, well, I’ll grant you those early years were pretty bare, especially since talent was also split with Atlantics at the time, but holding up the last 3-4 years of Lights as a punching bag of everything that’s wrong with American Open Wheel’s feeder system seems pretty short sighted. Let’s see...

Cunningham: had a good debut at Texas this year, is running a couple more races, and is trying to find the sponsorship dough to move up, just like most other young drivers in every other feeder series around the world.

Howard: has NEVER gotten a decent shake at an IndyCar, and when the top-15 or so full-time drivers stays static for 4-5 years (as it has since 2006 or so), it’s going to be hard to break into a team where you can prove what you can do. Oh, except that Jay did a great job at Indy this year, finally given a better-than-terrible car and looked really good at Texas as well, so maybe there’s a little talent lurking in there somewhere? Nah, you should probably write him off for good.

Lloyd: see Howard, except that we all know that he’s a stud from his RoY season last year (or does that not count, since it’s an “IRL” RoY title?).

Rafa: it drives me crazy when people deride him as being a colossal failure. Let me break this down. 2009: 13th in points, 8 top-10s and no top-5s, finished behind 4 drivers who didn’t drive for Ganassi, Penske, Andretti or Panther (unquestionably the Series’ top 4 teams), while driving for a team that was brand new to the full time grind of the Series. 2010: 14th in points, 4 top-10s, 2 top-5s, finished behind 3 drivers who didn’t drive for Ganassi, Penske, Andretti or Panther, while driving for a team THAT SHUT DOWN AT THE END OF THE YEAR and had to be saved from ruin twice in the last 12 months, so maybe they weren’t all that well heeled to begin with, remember? That is a huge, embarrassing failure? Oh, and he was like top-12 in points with a completely brand new team at the beginning of this year before things fell off a cliff when he DNQ’d at Indy (again, with a completely brand new team, in a year when 40 legit car/driver combos showed up). Give credit where it’s due, folks. Back to the “Lights List of Shame”…

Hildebrand: gee, that seems like a success story, if you ask me. What’s your point again, Knight?

Vernay: yeah, didn’t get the sponsor dollars to move up this year, but Peugeot did hire him to be one of their young test drivers for their Le Mans program, so maybe there was SOMETHING there.

Oh, while we’re here, maybe we should toss in James Hinchcliffe, who finished 2nd to Vernay last year and has been a revelation thus far in 2011. I don’t understand what you’re talking about at all. Are you also saying that the Heisman Trophy is a joke because some of the winners haven't gone on to superduperstardom in the NFL?

"The Bosch Super Vee series, which was contested from 1971-1990, really didn't have the engine horsepower needed to provide a full training ground for Indy. But taking a look at the list of some of its champions showed it served a most useful purpose:

Bertil Roos (highly respected racing school operator); Elliott Forbes-Robinson (sports car winner); Bob Lazier (CART rookie of the year); Geoff Brabham (IMSA champion, longtime CART driver, IROC race winner); Al Unser Jr. (double I500 winner); Michael Andretti (CART champion); Arie Luyendyk (two I500 wins); Didier Theys (sports car winner)."

Oh, my, we’re going to pine for a support series that’s been dead long enough that kids who were born during the last season are now old enough to drink legally? Let’s take a close look at those drivers while we’re at it.

Roos: so, we get to count something that a driver does after his active racing career is over as being the element of success that sets him over the current crop of young drivers? Boy, that doesn’t seem fair at all, especially if Mark Taylor becomes the next Skip Barber in 15-20 years somehow.

EFR: if we’re going to count “sports car winner” as a “Super Vee success story”, shouldn’t we wait to see if Howard, Lloyd, Rafa or Vernay win Le Mans like 6 times or something? Or are we just talking about later IndyCar success, of which EFR had none?

Lazier: OK, CART rookie of the year, but how many career wins did he have in CART? Or top-5s? Oh, zero and three, respectively, i.e. about the same numbers that J.R. and Hinch are tracking for this year?

Brabham: um, son of a 3-time World Champion, so I’m thinking he might have found his way to the top, regardless of what junior series he picked.

Al Jr. and Michael: see Brabham.

Arie and Theys: wait, are you claiming that those guys were “household names and ticket sellers” in the days when they won the Super Vee title? I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about that. Seems to me a touch unfair to not wait until we see if any of the current Lights guys pan out before deeming them as all sub-Theys talents.

“The most legendary of the training tours was, of course, Formula Atlantic. It had a great run from 1974-2009. No explanation is needed when listing some of its graduates: Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, Tom Gloy, Johnny O'Connor, Richie Hearn, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Barron, Buddy Rice, Jon Fogarty, AJ Allmendinger, Simon Pagenaud and Matos.

CART's minor league, first known as the American Racing Series, was started by Pat Patrick and went from 1986-2001. Competitiors who went on to bigger and better things included: Theys, Jon Beekhuis, Mike Groff, Paul Tracy, Bryan Herta, Robbie Buhl, Greg Moore, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Cristiano da Matta, Scott Dixon and Townsend Bell.”

Again, fella, you have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight when looking at those names (and that one guy’s name is O’CONNELL, by the way). There’s nothing that says that Rafa, J.R., Hinch or even Charlie Kimball can’t be as big or bigger than any of those guys, simply because they graduated from Tony George’s Terrible and Evil Indy Lights Championship. And if we’re really gonna play this game, then shouldn’t we be asking whatever happened to Steve Robertson (1994 Lights champ, who later became Kimi Raikkonen’s manager, but never raced anything beyond touring cars after he won the Lights championship), Dave McMillan (1982 Atlantic champ), Dan Marvin (1984 Atlantic champ), Michael Angus (1985 Eastern Atlantic champ), Ted Prappas (1986 Western Atlantic champ), Steve Shelton (1988 Eastern Atlantic champ), Dean Hall (1998 Western Atlantic champ), Jocko Cunningham (1990 Eastern Atlantic champ), Hiro Matsushita (1990 Western Atlantic champ, and considered by many to be one of the worst CART drivers in the entire history of the sport), Lee Bentham (1998 Atlantic Champ), Hoover Orsi (2001 Atlantic champ), and Charles Zwolsman (2005 Atlantic champ)? Or the 5-6 Super Vee champions that never won a race in anything bigger than a showroom stock series race after their champion years? Do we get to count those guys toward your list of junior formula champions who are beyond reproach?

“Point made. Something for Bernard to ponder before his next news conference about the "Road to Indy."”

Point made? How so? And besides, what’s Randy Bernard supposed to say when talking about the current crop of young drivers? “Gee, our Lights guys are all talentless hacks, who have won zero IndyCar races, while Mike Knight’s list of past Atlantic, Vee and ARS champions won roughly 3,567 races and collectively came up with a cure for Appalachian ringworm. I’d implore all American, Eurpoean and Japanese companies to stay far, far away from any driver who has graduated from our current feeder ladder or from any team who wants to come run here. What a black hole of talent. Why do I even get out of bed in the morning?”

Look I’m no Tony George defender, but this is clearly an attack on a holdover TG institution, only for the sake of it being a holdover TG institution, and for no other reason. Hey, Mike? How’s about you just stick to drag racing, if everything is so beyond broken in the IndyCar world?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Don't quit, Adam Dunn! The economy needs you.

Adam Dunn is thinking about quitting baseball.  We can't let this happen!

First of all, this situation creates very entertaining content on Chicago sports radio.  As bad as my Cubs are this year, it's pretty fun to listen to the media blast Dunn every day.

But more importantly, we need contracts like Dunn's (four years, $56 million) to work out terribly for teams and perhaps they will eventually begin to bring these salaries down to something a little closer to reality.  Hopefully, this would then allow ticket prices to drop, along with everything else related to attending a major league sporting event.

Twenty years ago, before player salaries were beyond outrageous, I attended a couple of Cubs games in the Houston Astrodome.  The first night, we went with the cheap seats and paid only $5 per ticket.  While the Astros now play in Minute Maid Park, you can use a seating chart to compare the seats and find a similar ticket today would cost $23.  I understand inflation, but that doesn't justify the price increase here nearly as much as salaries like Dunn's.  If I paid .50 cents for a Coke in 1991, according to this math, that same Coke would cost $2.30 today.

For the second Cubs/Astros game in 1991, we stepped it up and went with the $10 seats.  Similar tickets at Minute Maid Park today would cost $58.

It's pretty obvious to me.  We need players like Dunn and Alphonso Soriano to show up every day and collect their millions.  Maybe then baseball executives will stop handing out these absurd contracts.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Baseball is Not Just Hitting a Ball With a Stick, and Driving a Race Car is Not Just Sitting and Turning a Wheel

IndyCar's Tony Kannan
Clearly a donut eating
couch potato
You're welcome ladies
This comes up fairly often in internet message-boards and in casual conversations, and usually with American football fans, and I honestly can't do more but roll my every time I hear it. Its now recently coming from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. Race car drivers are not athletes, and its always the same fairytale excuse: "they're just driving a car, I do that every day."

Only you don't do that every day. That's like telling a F-18 fighter pilot you can do what he does because you've flown in commercial aircraft or that you could operate a construction crane because you once got the prize out of a carnival crane machine game.

Equating IndyCar or NASCAR to "just sitting in a car and turning a steering wheel" is like saying baseball is "just throwing and hitting a ball with a stick" or football is just "throwing a ball and running into other people" and soccer is "just running around kicking a ball."

Many people are recently starting to mention J.R. Hildebrand tearing his ACL while doing a rigorous obstacle course that was set up by the National Guard. Sammy Sosa once threw out his back from sneezing. Soccer player Robbie Keane once ruptured ligaments reaching for his TV's remote control. Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear once famously sprained his neck from test driving a a super sports car because it couldn't handle the constant change in G-forces from the sharp turns. Numerous football players have injured themselves while celebrating their scores (Deion Sanders, Bill Grammatica and Gus Ferrotte just to name a few). Injuries happen regardless of athleticism.

The fact is it not only takes the quick reflexes and response time of any sport, but just as much athletic strength to drive a professional race car. The SportsScience TV show proved that IndyCar drivers experience more G forces than fighter jet pilots do. Its less extreme G's than the pilots, but pilots only do it for a few seconds while drivers do so over the course of hours while the cars have no power steering. Ever lose power steering and know how hard it is to turn that wheel, now imagine doing it at 200 mph.+ They don't get breaks every 12 seconds like football players, or sit on a bench every inning like baseball players. NASCAR drivers get power steering, but their races are longer needing more endurance stamina.

Back in the early 2000s, ESPN had a battle of the athletes competition with wall climbing, obstacle courses, running etc. Unfortunately I can't remember if he won or came in 2nd, but I do remember IndyCar driver Tomas Scheckter was in the final matchup. These guys and girls need to be in prime shape to do what they do, many regularly run triathlons or do other rigorous sports to stay in shape.

Back in my former hometown of Baton Rouge, they recently built a pro-level high speed go-kart track, and my brothers (one a varsity baseball and football player who has stayed in shape and the other just recently the Division I runner-up wrestler in Louisiana) were texting me all excited and telling me how much fun they were going to have. I've done karting before so I knew what was coming and called the next day.

Anyone who doubts the need to be athletic to drive a race car simply need to go to a high-speed go-kart track (a fraction of what the pros do), and they'll learn what my brothers did. They had a ton of fun, but even though the tracks usually only let you go out for 8 minute stints, they were winded, tired, and more sore than they'd been in a very long time.

So to any naysayers out there, I just want you to find a good high performance karting track, and give a good 30 minutes of it, and when you're winded, sore and tried, let me know if you still think it takes no athletic ability and only requires sitting in a chair and turning a wheel.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Time For a Change: Blown Save

In Wednesday night's game against the Giants, Ryan Dempster pitched great for the Cubs.  He entered the final inning with a 1-0 lead, but gave up a double to the first hitter.

The Cubs went to Carlos Marmol to close out the game, and in true Marmol fashion, the bases were loaded and a run scored before a double play got them off of the field.  Of course, Aramis Ramirez drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 9th and the Cubs got the win.

The pitching "win" in these situations, however, is kind of odd.  Dempster gave up no runs himself, but because his baserunner, inherited by Marmol, ended up scoring the tying run, Dempster automatically lost his chance at being awarded the win.  Marmol, the pitcher who actually let Dempster's runner score, then became the pitcher of record and did receive the win when the Cubs scored later that inning.

Is it time to change this?  I believe it is.

I don't think it is fair for Marmol (or any relief pitcher) to be credited with a loss for allowing inherited runners to score.  But in this case, when an inherited runner scored only the tying run, if the home team scores to win in the bottom of the inning, I believe the starting pitcher should be given the win.  The relief pitcher can have the save, which is a more valuable stat to him anyway.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Justin Bell Never Disappoints

Ex-driver Justin Bell is one of the "on the scene" reporters for SpeedTV for most of their long distance endurance races. At Daytona this year for the 24 Hours, he spent a considerable amount of time interviewing fans in Daytona's backstretch Fan Zone, who seemed only tangentially aware that there was a race going on (in fact, I think one of them claimed that they were waiting to see Dale Earnhardt Jr., who may not have even been in the state of Florida at the time). Usually, when Justin's doing these remote reports, it seems that Justin may be suffering imparement of some sort? I can not say if this imparement stems from massive sleep deprivation, or a beverage or five that he's recently consumed (be it coffee, Red Bull, or something a little stronger), or if it's just from years of carbon monoxide intake in the cockpits of enclosed race cars, but whatever it is, the results are usually spectacular. This year at Le Mans, Justin has not disappointed. While saying something about how this is his last gig working for SpeedTV, he claimed to have found an old "friend" of Dorsey Schroeder, who is working with the booth crew this weekend.

This man should be getting a raise, not walking papers. The campaign to save Justin Bell's broadcasting career starts right here. Who's with me?

Happy Race Weekend, Y'all!

Only time for a quick post today, but I just had to weigh in and say that I'm...ahem...Positively Geeked for all of the racing that's on this weekend. In short, here's what we've got:

- 24 Hours of Le Mans - Starting in, oh, about 5 minutes, and running until...well, this time tomorrow. It's sure to be another EPIC battle between Audi's new R18 and Peugeot's new 908, with the Sebring winning Oreca 908 HDi-FAP (the previous model Peugeot) playing the role of "garbage man", should all of the to six diesels stumble. Don't look for any petrol cars up front though, since they were some 7 seconds off the pace of the top diesels in qualifying. GT should be a fascinating battle as well, with some 19 different manufacturers (or, at least it feels like it's that many) in play for the win.

- IndyCar Firestone Twin 275s - You can look elsewhere for a good, full preview of this race, but here's what you need to know: Two races, two winners. Race 1 starting lineup decided by yesterday's qualifying session (with Alex Tagliani on the pole again, just like at Indianapolis). Race 2 starting lineup decided by random draw. Hilarity is bound to ensue.

- Canadian Grand Prix - The Red Bulls look quick again, but it appears from Friday Practice times that there are several teams that should be in play for the win. Also, the Canadian GP has a tendency to get a little...let's go with "chaotic" from time to time. Airs tomorrow at 1:00 PM Eastern on Fox, so nobody reading this should have the excuse that they don't get the channel. Well, unless you don't have a TV.

There's more going on (MotoGP from Silverstone, NASCAR at Pocono, not that I endorse watching NASCAR), but that's all there's time for now. As a special bonus, the good folks over at Fast Lane Daily are doing 25 hours worth of live, streaming racing coverage, with Leo Parente apparently going to do all 25 hours himself, along with cameos from all of the other guys who appear there. Go here to check it out, and you can communicate with them through Twitter, as long as you use the hashtags #FLD and #LM24. Should be a good time.

That's all, folks! Grab a comfy couch, some tasty beverages and your favorite salty snacks, and get your sloth on! I know I am!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Things I Hate

The Brewers.
Having to watch Brewers announcers.
Prince Fielder homeruns vs. the Cubs.
The stupid sliding mascot.

I want to line the slide with razor blades, put a pool of alcohol at the end of the slide, and serve a hanging slider to the Prince.

Lets be clear here: I hate the Brewers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

2011 MLB Projections

Baseball is here! Finally, the only sport that I can watch every single day for months.

With the start of baseball, a sport where each team plays 162 games, it's always fun to see who gets off to a hot start and do some stat projections.

So here are my Top 5 MLB Stat Projections for 2011:

5. Of course, the most obvious stat is that the Orioles, Rangers, Phillies, and Reds are all on their way to perfect 162-0 seasons! Meanwhile, it will be a long summer in Boston, Houston, and Milwaukee, where their respective teams will apparently finish up this season at 0-162. Sorry, Brewers!

4. Diamondback speedster Willie Bloomquist (who??) is going to steal 162 bases this year!

3. Nelson Cruz, on the other hand, is definitely going to smash 162 homeruns. Steroid conspiracy!

2. In the year of powerful secondbasemen, Brian Roberts is going to drive in an amazing 324 runs. (And to think I kept drafting him in fantasy the last few years and finally gave up on him this season.) Roberts will completely overshadow Pittsburgh's Neil Walker, who will knock in a respectable 283 runs himself. Unfortunately, he will also strikeout 283 times. I think the Pirates will take it!

1. As a Cubs fan, (in addition to Starlin Castro's .500 year-end average and 81 triples) I am most excited about Matt Garza's projected 344 strikeouts. It will be equally amazing to watch him scatter those 344 hits, while keeping that ERA under 4!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Max Lagod 1969-2011

Most of the folks reading this post have likely never heard of Max Lagod, as he was a race car driver who never hit the "big time" (NASCAR, IndyCar, F1, etc.), but nevertheless, he was one of those guys who I followed whenever I saw results online or in magazines for big bore sedan racing, or on the off chance that a TransAm or SCCA GT-1 race managed to make it on to TV. I never met Mr. Lagod, but he was one of those guys who struck me as a scrappy, underfunded underdog, who was able to drive a race car to the exact speed that it was absolutely capable of. With all of this in mind, and knowing that he was somebody that I stumbled across early on in my race fandom, I was extremely saddened to hear that he died on March 12 of lymphoma.

The first time I was aware of Lagod, he was in the process of absolutely demolishing the GT-1 field at the SCCA June Sprints at Road America, a race that my parents took me to in lieu of a high school graduation party (they gave me the choice; I thought about it for about 0.042 seconds before picking the Sprints). In qualifying for his race, I distinctly remember the track announcer excitedly exclaiming that on Road America's brand new pavement, Lagod had just broken the all-time GT-1 track record. Given the speed and quality of the equipment that this class contains (ex-TransAm cars), I knew that this was no mean feat. Race day was no different. Lagod sped off into the distance, and left the rest of the field in the proverbial fight for 2nd.

So, among the amateur racer set, Lagod was obviously incredibly quick, but was he professional material? As I'd find out a few years later, the answer was definitely "yes". Lagod made periodic appearances in the TransAm series in his family-prepped Camaro over the years, with a little success sprinkled in here and there, but I managed to cross paths with him again at Cleveland in 2003. Most folks will remember this race weekend as being the world's first major road race held at night, but I also remember Max Lagod's run in the TransAm race that year. The race was won by Scott Pruett (who I'm sure said hello to his kids at home afterward), and was notable for Paul Gentilozzi hitting pretty much every car within a mile of Burke Lakefront Airport, but Lagod largely kept his nose clean and finished on the podium, only the second of his career. In such storied company, this was no mean feat. After the race, I took my pit pass and headed toward the padddock to see if I could congratulate Lagod on such a great finish and mention that I'd last seen him race eight years before in that demolition job at Road America. Well, between my crippling bashfulness around real, actual race car drivers and the fact that the ChampCars were being pushed toward the grid before I could spot Lagod wandering around his paddock spot, I never got a chance to say hi.

Anyway, this is a far cry from a real eulogy, and of course, I never even met the man, but I just couldn't let this piece of news go by without saying a little something. Thanks, Max, for giving this race fan some thrills on the track, and Godspeed.

What I Learned While Watching the 1971 Indy 500 On My TiVo

Last May, ESPN Classic ran ten old Indy 500s in abbreviated formats, but each still clocking in at a relatively comprehensive two hours. Since I am a sucker for posts with recurring themes, I'm going to take a periodic look at the races my TiVo captured and recap what I learned. This week (month? year? decade? whatever), I'll be taking a look at 1971.

1) Back in those days, it was totally OK to make non-PC jokes on the air. At one point, Jim McKay made some sort of remark about how somebody had hit a bird on the track during qualifying. He then joked to boothmate Jackie Stewart, "Of course, that's a different kind of bird from what you're used to where you come from." Wow! Can you imagine Bob Jenkins and Jon Beekhuis joking like this today? I mean, Bob Varsha and David Hobbs would, but one of those guys sounds like he's got something other than coffee in his cup (how else would we be treated to the world's best Mark Webber, Alan McNish and Flavio Briatore impressions?) and they'd be making the joke at like 5:00 AM, so nobody would be any the wiser.

2) Safety measures were held to a far lower standard than they are today. McKay remarked something like "that would have been a far worse fire, if it weren't for the space age fuel cells that these cars use" when Mike Mosely's car hit the inside wall of Turn 4. Note that at the time, there was an actual 40 foot tall (my estimate, though it might have been more like 60) mushroom cloud of burning methanol towering over the wreckage in the infield. Um, so this would have been worse somehow without a fuel cell? I guess 50 people could have died or something?

3) It was totally cool to smoke at the track, and a cigarette could be bummed off of just about anybody (grade school kids possibly included). I learned this when Bobby Unser lit up a smoke as he walked away from his wrecked car after the Mosely crash.

4) David Hobbs was already hilarious. He was incredibly philosophical and even cracked a couple of jokes after Rick Muther's car hit the inside wall of the front straight and speared back across the track and collected a completely innocent Hobbs at well over 180 MPH.

5) People who say that you can't tell the difference between 180 and 220 MPH are full of crap. The cars, while fast, looked like they were crawling in comparison to even the cars from the 1981 race that I watched later (more on that race in a subsequent installment).

6) Chris Economacki was not available to interview Mario Andretti when Mario dropped out of the race (McKay threw down to Chris for the interview), but the guy who was actually standing by with Mario in Turn 3? A guy named Dave Letterman.

7) The commentators were not aware of basically anything that was going on other than what their own eyes and the eyes of their corner reporters saw. No timing and scoring, no instant replays, no video to analyze, very limited pit reporting = two guys saying stuff like "Joe Leonard comes into the pits! We think this is a planned stop, but it might be a little earlier than we'd have thought!" And now people complain that we know too much about fuel strategies, in- and out-lap times, push-to-pass applications remaining and car setup changes made during the race. Go figure.

8) The 1971 McLarens, the first cars to have the huge rear wings, were crazy fast in comparison to everybody else in the race. Al Unser led more than half of the laps and beat Peter Revson handily, but Revson and Mark Donohue were able to pass people wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Only trouble for the McLarens allowed Big Al to win that one, in my opinion.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Online Streaming Fraternity

I've gotten a lot of twitter/comment/email followup on the NBC/IndyCar article mostly asked about the same two issues that I figured we could use an addendum.

1 - NBC already does live streaming for over 100+ Olympic events so they definitely have experience and server capability.

2 - We can all agree that IndyCar fans have been spoiled with free streaming, but those of us up in a stir are not mad because we think NBC needs to offer this stuff for free. We all just know some option needs to exist; whether pay-per-view-streaming or a free but slightly inferior online product compared to TV with sold ad space. Both are revenue streams NBC is ignoring that ESPN and CBS have found a way to make work very well.

Here is a list of all the many sports that I can watch LIVE online as of today:

- Olympics (free via NBC)
- MLB (paid for any game / some free on ESPN3)
- NFL (paid)
- NBA (select games free on ESPN3)
- NCAA basketball (select games free on ESPN3, paid to watch any regular season D-I game)
- NCAA baseball (select games free on ESPN3, paid to watch any regular season D-I game)
- NCAA football (free for a multitude of games on ESPN3)
- NCAA softball (select games free on ESPN3, paid to watch any regular season D-I game)
- NCAA Wrestling (free for select tournaments)
- NCAA Hockey (select games free on ESPN3, paid for most other D-I games)
- ATP Tennis (everything free except champ matches)
- PGA & LPGA Tour (free until final day then TV only)
- American LeMans Series (free qualifying and races)
- La Liga (free / soccer)
- German Bundesliga (free / soccer)
- Eredivisie (free / soccer)
- Serie A (free / soccer)
- FIFA World Cup (free)
- FIFA U20 and U17 (free)
- MLS (free)
- X-Games (free - all events qualifying and final runs)
- Rugby (free)
- U.S. High School basketball & football (select games free)
- NCAA Lacrosse (free)
- Major League Lacrosse (free)
- KHL (free / hockey)
- Race of Champions (paid)
- FIA GT1 World Championship (free)
- Superleague Formula (free)

IndyCar is falling off a list that includes basically every major sport on this earth. For a sport that tries to brand itself as being at the forefront of technology, its about to start looking like its on the cutting edge of the late 90s for fans.

I don't imagine ESPN, CBS and CBS-C are eating huge losses to keep those many streaming options alive, some of them are on their 4th or more year. That list is also only based on U.S. availability, I'm sure other countries can add more to it.also send me anything you think I missed.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

NBC Missing the Boat, Taking IndyCar With It

NBC/Comcast hasn’t even yet aired a single race of the IndyCar Series since their merger, and yet they already seem committed to their first monumental mistake...
“Because of network TV contracts, live streaming video of IndyCar Series practice (outside of the Indianapolis 500), qualifying and races won’t be available this season.”

To say this development is shocking would be a lie; NBC is the same organization that thought it was a good idea to cut away from the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremonies so they could show the pilot episode for “The Marriage Ref.” A tactic that backfired, not only in tons of anger in social media but also negative big-media press, plummeting ratings and the show seemingly disappearing from air anyway.

Even as this decision to kill off ANY race related streaming in IndyCar goes, it’s not a new concept; we’ve seen this exact tactic before:

In 2008 at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, SPEED committed itself to 16 hours of live race (including 30 min post/pre) coverage of the race. During the 9 race hours off of TV coverage, fans were able to log into Grand-Am’s website and access three live track cameras with audio simply picking up the track’s PA system. The cameras never moved, in fact their positionings were awful. It wasn’t anything you could actually watch, but die-hards and off-site media like me were able to stay up all night and hear a few developments be announced over the track PA.

When 2009 came around, it was gone, and it very quickly became evident why. Enter stage right is The Racer’s Group team, who had an epiphany, let’s bring a little attention to ourselves because SPEED focuses a bit much on the DP class and not our GTs. So to give a little something extra to their fans, they mounted a webcam in their pit-stall. It did not pan or zoom, it had no announcing and it was clearly just a $0 setup web-cam staring at their pit-box. The idea was that when it came time for pitting, fans could go to their site and watch them perform a pit-stop, nothing more. Only, the stream never lasted to the first pit-stop.

TRG (who kept fans up to date via a chat box) noted an ongoing struggle with SPEED who shut them down. SPEED cited that it interfered with broadcast rights (which it did). But in the agreement they came to, TRG would be allowed to go back live once the race was off the air… only it never did. SPEED actually instead made sure TRG never went live again, threatening legal action, even though SPEED wasn’t showing the race or any coverage at all during those 9 hours. All TRG could do was change it to a refreshable picture from the pit-cam. Thusly fans got NO INFORMATION about the race except from Grand-Am’s (much underrated) timing and scoring application.

Now it’s 2010, and TRG was still trying to be at the forefront of technology and fan-connectivity, so they devised an idea that shouldn’t go against SPEED’s broadcasting rights. TRG’s plan: set up a web-cam not showing the track in any way. This year instead, the webcam faced a table and 2 chairs with a white background showing their team logo. the video was crap, and the audio wasn't perfect either, and if it weren’t for hearing cars in the background you’d never know it was at a track. In one chair sat one of TRG’s PR reps on a headset, and all they did was answer questions in a fan chat box embedded in the page. It was nothing short of great fan interaction.

Occasionally they let fans know updates about the team like “we’re coming in to pit next lap” or “we’re in 6th place now” information that could already be garnered from timing and scoring or twitter or TV broadcasts. They’d occasionally pull TRG’s drivers into the 2nd seat and let them answer fan’s questions in real time. It was great, while it lasted; as once again there was a struggle with SPEED, who again cited broadcast rights even though TRG weren’t showing anything race related. After what one assumes was a pretty interesting debate, TRG and SPEED came to an agreement and TRG was allowed to go back live, but with 50 corporate logos of SPEED or TaxSlayer all over the white tarp backdrop. Because neither company had anything to do with TRG’s web-cam, all it did was gave SPEED more bad publicity with fans.

Now in 2011, SPEED has cut their broadcasting back by 2 hours, meaning they give fans even less coverage. TRG, meanwhile does the same awesome behind-the-pit webcam, bringing in drivers to talk directly with fans during the race, and in no way attempting to cover the on-track action, and they do it for the FULL 24 hours and it’s great.

In the end TRG has increased the amount of behind the scenes coverage they do each of the last 3 years, Twitter has boomed meaning fans can follow all the drivers, teams and media for real-time updates, JustinTV and many other illegal online streams have boomed, and things like GrabBagsports’ very own Blogathon give fans immediate information and analysis of 24 Hours of Daytona.

The way SPEED (and now NBC) act/react to new technology mediums, you’d think it’d be the death knell for the broadcasts… well apparently not:

In 2010: “In total, 2010 Rolex 24 viewership was up 22 percent over 2006,”

In 2011: “SPEED's coverage racked up some impressive TV viewership numbers, with an average of 443,000 viewers tuning in - a four percent increase from 2010.”

You can’t fault the IndyCar regime; most TV networks require the all-inclusive broadcast clause, in-fact give props to them for breaching the contract for the last 2 years to continue their online offering. But IndyCar better be trying to change NBC’s mind, because the world is changing and NBC clearly isn’t paying attention.

This Thursday/Friday will see millions (yes, millions) across the globe watching multitudes of college basketball online as the NCAA March Madness tournament begins. CBS is smart, rather than allowing the NCAA or illegal streams to take charge, they take care of this rebroadcasting themselves and they sell advertising for it.

In fact, here’s just a quick list of sports I can currently watch LIVE online (some free, some paid): National Football League, Major League Baseball, NCAA basketball, NCAA baseball, NCAA football, practically every professional soccer/futbol league in the world, professional rugby, the Olympics, NCAA track and field, The X Games, all events on the ATP Tennis World tour, PGA and LPGA Golf, and now the American LeMans Series.

There are some serious heavy hitters in there, and I bet you they aren’t worried about hurting Nielsen Rating’s points. Instead they’ve realized that they can capitalize on the advanced level of advertising and specified/reliable statistics the internet brings. They can tell advertises exactly how many people clicked/watched their ad (not hopeful estimating like Nielsen), they can tell exactly where the viewers are geographically, how long they watched for, what they watched, what they clicked, how they go to the stream, where they went after the stream and more.

By not jumping on the technology and continuing to do their own stream, IndyCar/NBC will not create a ratings boost; that’s just as silly as the RIAA’s thought that suing/killing Napster etc. would boost music album sales. Instead, international and non-Versus able fans will simply find their way to illegal streams. This means it’s now a lose-lose for broadcasters, not only do ratings not go up, but they also don’t reap any advertising revenue.

Why NBC/Versus/ESPN3(ABC) wouldn’t take the opportunity to sell more advertising to IndyCar fans is beyond me as a marketer. The cameras are already monitoring the track, there’s already a radio feed, so the only extra person to pay is the one combining those and sending the feed to the internet; and frankly advertising revenue should more than cover that.

CBS has been doing this for the basketball tournament for over 5 years now, ESPN is starting to throw any sport they have onto ESPN3 and yet their ratings rise every year on TV. Clearly online streaming is a net positive; not only for the bottom line, but in finding, converting and increasing the fan base.

As to the possibility Randy Bernard laid out for trying delayed online broadcasts...

At 1:11pm today, I found out via twitter and ESPN that Kurt Busch had been eliminated from the NHRA Gatornationals. Any opportunity for people to view this (outside of attending) won’t occur for more than 5 hours later on ESPN; and Kurt Busch, NASCAR and driver cross-over fans won’t be watching; we'll already be over it and NHRA loses potential eyeballs to convert into fans.

Sports are not scripted, people don’t watch to see how an ending was set to happen, they watch to see a contest bdecided at the moment it is being decided. It’s all about real-time action and results, it’s why we watch; its why there are 3+ 24-hour live news networks. Newspapers aren’t dying because people stopped needing news, it’s because we the consumer found a way to get news with the same accuracy quicker and within a more relative time-frame.

IndyCar fans have already tasted and feasted upon live real-time practice and qualifying and they know how great it tastes; they won’t go back to tape-delay; they’ll just go elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Well, That Changes Everything

This just in: IndyCar owners vote to keep Firestone in as tire supplier in 2012!

In related news, my wife and I had a vote at our house as to whether or not winter should continue. We voted unanimously that it should not. We expect 80 degree temperatures to commence tomorrow.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Let the Parity Ensue! Can 2011 Be the Year of the Underdog?

Tidbits and observations from the realm of sport

Huge win for the Gryffindor Lions who now pull solidly into a 5th place tie of the NHL’s Western Conference after their 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Awesome Calgary uniforms aside, it was great to see outdoor NHL hockey return to Canada where it belongs. Some worry if outdoor games will lose their cachet. If the NHL doesn’t change one thing, the answer is yes. Fans are often noting the Winter/Heritage classic games have poor sight-lines and are separated from the action but are worth the high price for “the experience.” As time goes on, the “experience” factor will soon fade away. Get fans as close to the action as they get in an arena.

It was nice to see NASCAR stick to their guns for once rather than just fenagle with rulings to make things better for marketing. (I say 'for once' because I'm still not sure how half a spoiler is ok in the truck series). In all three of the NASCAR series over the weekend, the winners in Daytona logged a whopping 0 (zero) championship points. Some people think of it as silly, but it’s not. Nationwide driver Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 is an odd situation, but he does not intend to contend in Cup; and not awarding points for Michael Waltrip or Tony Stewart is exactly what needs to happen to start discouraging Cup drivers from ruining the ladder series.

I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised by anything that Bernie Eclestone does these days; but really I have to say I’m shocked that, even with someone who loves money as much as he does, he is still trying to get the F1 Bahrain GP rescheduled. I just don’t think he understands human nature; once a government starts killing its citizens, no amount of time is going to allow that blow over; at least not until that government regime is gone. Hopefully the race’s so-called “postponed” status is actually an indefinite moniker but is just stated as is to not have the series jump into something political... then again am I giving Bernie too much credit to hope that?

The sound of ‘ping’ means Spring has begun! Ok, it’s still cold in many places, but this weekend was the official start of the NCAA baseball season and that means I have an excuse to put that cartoon anteater on here. College baseball is right next to basketball in terms of post-season parity and also awesomeness of the post-season format. Unlike Major League Baseball, it doesn’t take forever to complete (champion will be crowned in June) and there’s no Yankees or Red Sox. In fact, college baseball more than any other major NCAA sport has the most parity in terms of underdog contenders who win. In the last decade, 8 different teams have won the College World Series, from 6 different conferences and 6 different states. It also introduces us to some of the best mascots around as teams like the Dirtbags, Waves, Golden Eagles, Ragin Cajuns, Aztecs and the Anteaters are serious contenders, even as underdogs.

Congrats to the Baltimore Grand Prix! They have now gone 5 days without copying/pasting on twitter. They’ve not stopped tweeting to accomplish this, they’ve gone back to a great patter of interacting and finding new stuff to say. A nice breath of fresh air, and one we can only hope continues.

Get the popcorn, because this is going to be good! If you were watching the Daytona 500, you may have seen a trailer for the new Cars 2 movie. But that’s not what the popcorn is necessarily for. The movie’s premise calls for the main character (a stock car) to compete in a Race of Champions against formula, sports-prototype and rally cars across the world on road/street courses. The movie will no doubt be great and entertaining, but may not be as near entertaining as all the bitching/whining/complaining that will soon flood Formula 1/LeMans/IndyCar message boards.

Speaking of message boards, IndyCar fans should head over to this new Tomas Sheckter Q&A forum. Tomas opened this up after Paul Tracy did one earlier. Just like Tracy, Tomas is being incredibly candid about everything. What was it like to drive for Eddie Cheever or John Barnes and why he left Panther, but my favorite so far has to be a hilarious story about pretending he wasn’t himself at a hibachi restaurant after the 2002 Indy 500, and understandably so.

Lastly, thank you NCAA basketball for always keeping things interesting as we head closer to your post-season, underdogs are very much alive! This past week four of the “Top 5” ranked teams lost. This means we’re heading into March without a clear favorite. #4 San Diego State now holds the best record being the only team with only 1 loss… but has a rematch with the Jimmer (#7 BYU) who gave SDSU their 1 loss. that's right the Mountain West has not one, but two teams in the Top 10 as we head towards March Madness, underdogs unite! Then there’s all the many conference races…

Let’s attempt sorting Conference USA: Southern Miss (USM) is technically on top by virtue of having the best overall record but has a loss at Marshall and lost twice to Memphis (both happening in the final seconds). Memphis has been just outside of being ranked but has lost games to Marshall and Tulsa. Tulsa hasn’t played USM or Marshall yet and beat Memphis but then lost to UTEP… only to return and beat them later. UTEP was the conference leader until they recently lost to Southern Miss this weekend and also previously got beaten by UAB whose losses are Tulsa, Memphis and USM... So who is #1? Its times like this you need to be incredibly thankful football is the only sport that determines its champions by opinions and rankings…

The #6 seed Green Bay Packers win in the NFL, "2nd Cup race ever" Trevor Bayne wins the Daytona 500, Aztecs and Cougars Top 10'ing in NCAA Basketball, Anteaters and Red Storm ranking in NCAA baseball; now if we could just get Penske/Ganassi to get a little competition in IndyCar we could truly have a year of underdogs. I'm calling it now, Cubs win the World Series... yeah ok maybe not all underdogs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

As the Technology Turns...

With the many changes in the technological world, and especially social media, it’s often that people venture forth in the many new venues available. You can’t expect everyone to automatically be experts at all the new tools available, but as someone whose daily job is in marketing; I don’t think it’s too much to expect marketing types to understand basic marketing tools and best practices.

There are some true visionaries in the world of motorsports: The Racer's Group with their 137 Porsches in Grand-Am, by leaps and bounds has left everyone in the dust. TRG for 2 years straight has given fans live video interviews with all the TRG drivers and team personnel as the race goes on. They’ve accomplished this by bringing an extra laptop into their pits, some headphones and marrying a live UStream video feed with a chat box where fans can submit questions. In effect TRG has not only done a great effort to connect fans to their team/drivers, but it’s a great, free of operational cost, marketing opportunity for team and sponsors.  

Then of course there is the other end of the spectrum, where we’ve recently poked fun at the 3rd person speak coming out of Scott Dixon’s twitter account. Sadly Dixon’s account may now only be the 2nd or even 3rd most annoying “practice” coming out of motorsports marketing.

We, as fans, now have to deal with constant un-disguised name-dropping of sponsors. It’s one thing to name-drop like a NASCAR driver’s post-crash interview when on TV, or even do the occasional name-drop on twitter; but it’s another to try and pretend like everything you do in life revolves around oil-changes and tire changes. The reason doing it is not a “best practice” is because you are assuming your consumer is an idiot and won’t see that you are actually marketing.

The other variation are the people who think repetition = success; if they didn't respond to my email, I'll just send them another. Mark Cuban once wrote about exactly why this is stupid:
"For those of you who are not smart enough to figure it out,  it is not perseverance to resend an email to someone, anyone, multiple times. Its LAZINESS . Lazy people think they are working hard when they hit the send key. That’s not work.  That’s wasting time. That’s the lesson of the day.  Sending the same email over and over again not only shows you to be lazy and annoying, but it gets you sent directly to spam."
These are the companies that sends you emails every day selling their whatever, or the credit card company that sends you the same mail every week; just throwing money at the problem on the hopes that they'll get you with the same thing over and over. In all cases of over-saturation, it simply serves to annoy 99% of the recipients. You see this all the time from people who don’t quite understand current mediums and tools.

Case and point (actual tweets of @BaltimoreGP):                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
21-JanWe are looking for interns to help us in a number of different areas! Check out the Contact Us section on our website for application forms
1-FebCheck out our ticket options!
2-Feb has info for the businesses interested in working with the Baltimore Grand Prix
2-FebThe Engines Won’t Roar Without You! Become a volunteer at the Baltimore Grand Prix.
2-FebCheck out our ticket options!
2-FebAll businesses wanting to work with the Baltimore Grand Prix should be looking at our website in the Vendor section. we are taking BIDS
2-FebAre you interested in hands-on work in the developing, planning and running of the 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix?
3-FebCheck out our ticket options!
3-FebCheck out our promo video and GET EXCITED!
3-FebDID YOU KNOW?! The Baltimore Grand Prix will be held on Labor Day weekend 2011! (September 2-4)
3-FebDo you want to see the Baltimore Grand Prix? Check out our ticket options!
3-Feb has info for the businesses interested in working with the Baltimore Grand Prix!
3-FebCheck out the ticket options!
4-FebWe want to give all vendors an equal bidding chance! Electrical, plumbing and power washing companies wanted! Please RT
4-FebWe are currently looking for companies specialized in electrical, plumbing and Power Washing! Be part of the Baltimore Grand Prix!
4-FebCheck out The Baltimore Grand Prix ticket options!
4-FebThe Engines Won’t Roar Without You! Become a volunteer at the Baltimore Grand Prix.
4-FebCheck out the Baltimore Grand Prix ticket options!
4-Feb has info for the businesses interested in working with the Baltimore Grand Prix!
4-FebCheck out the Baltimore Grand Prix promo video and GET EXCITED!
5-FebThe Engines Won’t Roar Without You! Become a volunteer at the Baltimore Grand Prix.
5-FebWe are currently looking for companies specialized in electrical, plumbing and Power Washing! Be part of the Baltimore Grand Prix!
5-FebCheck out the Baltimore Grand Prix promo video and GET EXCITED!
5-FebCheck out The Baltimore Grand Prix ticket options!
6-Feb has info for the businesses interested in working with the Baltimore Grand Prix!
7-Feb has info for the businesses interested in working with the Baltimore Grand Prix!
7-FebCheck out the Baltimore Grand Prix ticket options!
8-Feb has info for the businesses interested in working with the Baltimore Grand Prix!
8-FebThe Engines Won’t Roar Without You! Become a volunteer at the Baltimore Grand Prix.
9-FebDo you want to learn what it takes to make an event like this happen? Fill out the intern application!
11-FebDo you know Adobe Creative Suite? Graphic design interns wanted! Experience with web design is a plus!
13-FebDo you know Adobe Creative Suite? Graphic design interns wanted! Experience with web design is a plus!
14-FebCheck out the Baltimore Grand Prix promo video and GET EXCITED!
14-Feb has info for the businesses interested in working with the Baltimore Grand Prix!
15-FebDo you know Adobe Creative Suite? Graphic design interns wanted! Experience with web design is a plus!
15-Feb has info for the businesses interested in working with the Baltimore Grand Prix!

We get it, you want people to buy tickets, you need volunteers, you need business partners and plumbers, but look, twitter is a medium to stay in communication and increase information depth, its not a stock-ticker, or a commercial buy on television or radio. We f’n get it already. It’s not that we don’t want you to get your interns and welders and succeed; many people including myself plan to be at your race in your city Labor Day weekend; I can’t wait to see cars racing past Camden and the Inner Harbor, and still hope that you’re getting Charm City Cakes to do a cool IndyCar cake.

But man, you started so well back in 2010 giving us updates about the track map, linking to IndyCar and ALMS news, and even re-tweeting relevant people from all the different series associated with your upcoming race weekend. Dear Baltimore Grand Prix… you’ve suddenly started doing it wrong. All you're doing right now is giving us all the impression that you have no staff at all to run this race. At least give the copy/pasting a rest, for the sake of all us that follow you.