Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Five Fearless Indy 500 Predictions

Is it almost here? Is it really almost here? Can you tell I'm getting excited?

My weekend starts to get busy soon, so I guess that means I am the first one out of the gate with a few Indy 500 predictions. Here we go!

*Like the last three years, the race will be wide open. Which means, there are probably a dozen drivers who can win. Actually, it might be closer to half the field. Don't believe me? Look at the current IndyCar points standings, there is a lot of talent there with a lot of great past performances at the Speedway.

That said, I'm picking Juan Pablo Montoya to win the 2015 Indianapolis 500. As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, I typically don't like to go with the obvious choice, which in this case is Scott Dixon, because I can't recall the last time a "favorite" going into the race actually won. While the guys who have won the last few races could hardly be called darkhorses, I'd say if you look at the last four winners (Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay), you'd find reasons why on race morning they were a little off the radar.

That's where Montoya resides as well, thanks to his awful qualifying effort Sunday that put him 14th on the grid. But don't forget, Hunter-Reay won from the 19th starting position last year, while Franchitti started 16th in 2012 and fell to as low as 28th early in the race. But Montoya had a good shot at winning last year, and has his open wheel chops back, as evidenced by the fact he already has a win and is leading the points this season. Plus, his swagger and confidence is there too, and when he has that going for him he is tough to beat.

*If you are looking for darkhorses, here are two of them. Justin Wilson and JR Hildebrand. Wilson, who has three top-7 finishes in the last five years, has the best car of us career under him. Prior to qualifying sixth on Sunday, he had never before started the race in the first three rows. Hildebrand came one turn from winning in 2011 and had a big redemption moment last year when he ran well and eventually finished 10th.

*Graham Rahal will finish on the podium. He's on the list of my favorites to win, but given his last victory in the series came six years ago, he's not high on that list. It's not the back-to-back, runner-up finished the last two races that have impressed me, it's the way he's gone about them, working his way up the field and then driving at the utmost level of his abilities at the end of both of them. He could change a lot of opinions about him on Sunday, including mine.

*Starting 23rd, Sage Karam will be the race's biggest mover. He showed what he is capable of last year when he dashed from 31st starting position into the Top 5 before coming home ninth, and his qualifying effort aside, he's had a good month where he has finished near the top of the speed charts. While road courses are still a challenge for him, he's shown all the way up the Road to Indy ladder that he loves ovals. In fact, his finish at Indy last year marks the only time in his open wheel career that he didn't finish on the podium. Scary good, isn't he?

*Final prediction(s): 40 lead changes, a race average above 180 mph. OK, so six fearless predictions. Like the last three years, no doubt the lead will switch hands a lot, with most of those changes coming on track. While we won't approach the record of 68 from two years ago, there will be more than the 34 from last year. One trend on ovals over the last few years in the IndyCar series is that there are a lot of long green runs, and we've had green runs of over 130 laps in 2013 and last year's race went clean and green for the first 149 circuits. It should be crazy.

So there you have it. Over the last couple of years I've been about 50/50 with my predictions, but I know I nailed them this time! It should be a good race, and hopefully the finish of the 500 fortnight goes better than the beginning. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@15daysinmay) for race day updates. Just a warning, I have an iPhone 6 now and am not afraid to use it!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Perspective

Daily crashes, cars getting airborne and flipping over, drivers suffering traumatic injuries, safety being called into question, people pointing fingers...did I wake up and it was the (supposedly epic) 1990s again?

In all seriousness, I've been struggling to come up with a post these last few days. Part if it is because, in full disclosure, I spent most of the weekend in downtown Chicago helping Darcy with a big trade show and missed all of qualifying. And part of it is because I have so many mixed feelings abut the events of the last few days that I wasn't sure where to begin...or end.

Part of me wants to show my usual objectivity -- or my attempt at it -- part of me wants to go off on an anger-filled rant, though I'm not sure where to direct it, while the rest of me just wants to say "eff it", go off the grid, circle the wagons and focus on enjoying the race.

It's a conundrum, which became even worse when my favorite driver, James Hinchcliffe, was critically injured in a crash that, as details emerged, had put his life in grave danger. Thankfully, the Holmatro Safety team is the best in the world in what they do, and Hinch woke up this morning and will be able to race again someday.

That was just the topper to a stretch that saw three other drivers get upside down, which along with the weather threw qualifying into a tizzy while bringing along the expected bad PR, both in the regular and social media circles. It's just been a bad month, and that makes me angry because I hate like hell seeing the sport -- and especially the race -- that I love so much being dragged through the mud. And what raises my ire even more is that instead of coming together in defense of our sport and our race, people, as usual, are turning against it and joining the masses in criticism.

Look, I'm not going to gloss over what has happened over the last few days, or try and minimize it. The problem with the Chevy aero kit is a big one and needs to be! But the fact of the matter is...this is racing! It's a constant battle against physics, and sometimes physics pushes back. You can try to figure out every scenario, but you will never figure them all out.

Despite the rantings of armchair engineers, physicists and rocket scientists that reside on the internet, there is no easy answer. Want proof? Read this Facebook post from a racing engineer that explains the challenges engineers face designing suspension pieces like the ones that injured Hinch.

Eventually, they figure it out. Remember back in 2012-13 where the DW12 was coming off the ground when it made contact with the wall? Remember this crash?

Or this one? I saw it happen right in front of us.

Funny how just a little while after the second incident, Dallara had figured out the problem and fixed it. But it took time. You can criticize IndyCar, or Chevrolet, or whoever as much as you like for what has been happening, but races are never going to be 100 percent safe, cars are still going to flip over, parts, no matter how well built and engineered, are still going to break, and drivers are still going to get hurt. I could post videos all day that show the evolution of the safety designs in race cars. That's how this game works.

What we have to realize, and remember, is that IndyCar pushes the limit more than any other form of motorsports. Sunday's race will be the fastest race on the fastest racetrack in the world. Think about it: in no other race on the planet do cars race each other wheel to wheel at 225 mph, with concrete walls just a few yards away. Hands down, the Indy 500 is the most dangerous race there is. And when stuff goes wrong, it really goes wrong. There aren't sand traps to catch wayward cars, or runoff areas, and a "big one" would be tragic instead of the restrictor plate circuses where cars bounce off each other like pinballs and everyone gets out OK, and then people get into a made-for-TV fight with each other. In my opinion, this is as close to pure racing as you can get.

There is risk to this, people. Lots of it, and the men and women who bravely squad up and strap into those cars accept it. Why we all love the 500 is because it is a hard, hard race, because if it weren't it would just be another race on the circuit. The 500 is compelling because it's human beings taking themselves to the furthest limits of their abilities, it's scary and it's intense and is real-life drama played out on a 2 1/2-mile strip of asphalt. There is a reason that it's still the biggest race in the world, and it always will be.

I mean, to paraphrase Allen Iverson..."we're talking about crashes". Crashes where four of the five drivers involved have walked away from, and the other was a victim of a freak occurrence after a 125G impact.  The wrecks may have been spectacular, or "terrifying" as the media has been saying, but Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Pippa Mann and Ed Carpenter will all be racing on Sunday. Hinch may not be racing, but a generation ago he wouldn't even still be alive.

I'm not trying to downplay what has happened, because I can't. When I was 12 I was in the stands on Pole Day in 1982 when Tom Carnegie came on the PA and said "We regret to inform you of the death of Gordon Smiley". It was one of the worst feelings I've ever felt, and when they started qualifying a few hours later, it just felt so...empty. In hindsight they should've cancelled qualifying and had everyone come back the next day, but, like with so many other things that have changed over the years, things went on.

So every race day, heck any day I go to the Speedway, I say a prayer for everyone involved, and that none of us will ever have to experience something like that again. But I'm also a realist, and know that when you go to the edge of human existence, sometimes you go too far. As people, we aren't built for this, but somehow very intelligent people have designed things that make it possible, things that have saved the lives of every driver in the field at one point or another in their careers.

It's been a trying few days but I think IndyCar has done its best to make decisions based on the information they had in front of them, and they are trying to make decisions with everyone's best intentions in mind. Just because you don't agree with those decisions doesn't mean they were wrong. And for the people that are criticizing them at every turn, my question to you is this: if you had been in the hot seat, what would your decisions have been?

Another paraphrased quote, this time from former minor league All-Star center fielder Mike Massaro: "I thought I knew everything...then I got here and realized I didn't know shit". Only a fool would think that they do. They have the jobs they have for a reason, and no, none of us could do their jobs, despite what we might think.

So as the track is dark for a few days, let's sit back and take a deep breath. The world isn't going to end, everyone is still OK, and all of these problems will get figured out. Control what you can control.

Always remember, we are always one day away from redemption. Instead of looking back, let's look forward. Sunday is the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, a day that most of us live all year for. By all accounts, it is shaping up to once again be a wide-open race that anyone can win. So when we wake up on Sunday morning let's just hope for a fast, clean race where the best driver wins and everyone drives home safely.

And, oh yeah, no rain.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Angie's List GP of Indy Recap

Wow, what a race Saturday! I had a great son Matt finished eighth and won his age group, I set a new PR of 28:00 and Kevin, running his first race, was right behind me five seconds later.

Oh, wait! Wrong race! That was THE race on Saturday, the Apple Blossom 5K in Bartlett that I ran with my two boys, marking the first time we all ran the same race together. If you want to read that exciting recap, go here.

(Nothing wrong with a little cross promotion, right?)

Anyway, another little race took place at 16th and Georgetown in Speedway, Ind., Saturday, so I'll talk about that one since that's probably why you came here. :--) Hard to believe this is my first recap of the year but I figured I'd better get going because the season is now 1/3 over.

As always, I'll go through the top five and a few other musings.

Winner -- Will Power. After the performance he put on in qualifying Saturday, there really wasn't a lot of doubt, or surprise, about this result, especially given how the race ran green beyond the Lap 1, Turn 1 incident. As I've stated before, if you let him get out front and let him start laying down qualifying-style laps, he's hard to beat. The win was the 25th of his career, tying him with Gordon Johncock for 15th all-time. Will that translate to success in the Indy 500? Hard to say...Power talks a lot about winning the race, but over the last five years he's led just 43 laps and never finished higher than eighth.

Runner-up -- Graham Rahal. Really, who is this guy? Two races in a row he has driven out of his mind and has back-to-back podiums to show for it. He has driven hard, smart and focused, has he perhaps figured some things out? Since he is one of the few drivers in the series I don't really care for (sorry, Robin Miller), I'm not going to gush superlatives about the guy for another few races.

Third place -- Juan Pablo Montoya. A win, three podiums and the lead in points, safe to say that JP is back! If I had to pick a winner of the 500 other than James Hinchcliffe (inside joke, see my posts from last May), I'd have to go with Montoya. I wasn't too warm to it in the beginning, but it's been a good thing to IndyCar, and looking back it's kind of sad to think of how much time he wasted in Cup. Still, he's got plenty left in the tank and seems to be getting more comfortable with the car as opposed to just driving on sheer talent.

Fourth place -- Sebastien Bourdais. Seb and Montoya had one of the more spirited battles of the race, too bad ABC didn't show much of it! (See below) I commented on Twitter that the road course at Indy seems to fit his eye pretty well and that he will win this race someday. With four Top 8 finishes so far, he is off to the best start to a season since coming back to the series in 2011.

Fifth place -- Charlie Kimball. Solid if not spectacular, which is kind of Charlie's MO most of the time, isn't it? He'd gotten off to a horrible start to the season, so this run was one that he needed badly. The great thing for anyone who drove well over the weekend is that jumping right into 500 prep means confidence and momentum comes with you as well. Kimball has two Top 10 finishes in his four 500 starts, so this might be the start of a good fortnight for him.

ABC coverage -- You know me, I don't rail on most of the minute details of the series, but, man, ABC's coverage is bad making a turn into worse. I think Allen Bestwick is a great racing announcer, but Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear both sound like they have reached the point they are mailing it in. Maybe we are all spoiled by the NBSCN crew, but this isn't the crew I want calling the biggest race of the season. Any way they could talk Dario Franchitti up there? I actually took the advice from someone on Twitter and started streaming the radio call, and outside of not being completely in synch with the TV feed, it was much, much better. Thankfully, I won't have to worry about hearing the broadcast since I'll be at the race, but I definitely feel sorry for the people that will be watching at home.

Chevy vs. Honda -- Chevy took eight of the top 10 spots over the weekend, and seven of 10 at Barber, but will the dominance continue when the cars run the oval kits? The open test last Sunday says otherwise, and you know Honda is putting a substantial investment in trying to catch up over the next couple of weeks.

Oval kits = Pole speed? One of the fun parts of practice beginning is guessing what the pole speed will be when qualifying commences next week. I think if the weather cooperates, we may see something in the 233-234 range. I hope I'm being a bit conservative, as even faster would be more fun!

Speaking of fun, it's here! While I love the entire IndyCar series, this is the two weeks of the year that matter the most to me. Just think, less than 14 days from right now we will crown another driver into immortality and putting another face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Here we go!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Let's Get This Thing Started!

So happy that it is May, and I had a great weekend in Indianapolis running the Indy Mini Marathon on Saturday and checking out the aero kit test at IMS on Sunday.

Of course, I'll mostly be writing on the latter in this space, and if you want to read my post about my Mini experience, you can check out my running blog Let's Run Forever. But, there is a connection given that the Speedway is incorporated into both events. The track is the turnaround point for the race before heading to the finish downtown, and includes a lap around the track, no doubt a big drawing point for a lot of people.

This was the eighth time I had run the Mini, but the first where I had an iPhone. So what did I do? I kissed the bricks of course! Lot's of other people did too, and let me tell you, it was one of the coolest things ever.

OK, so on to Sunday. With the weekend having been as long as it was, Darcy and I planned on going to the track for the first hour or two of the afternoon session before heading home. The only problem was that the session started at 1 p.m. and we had to be out of our hotel by 11. We kind of wondered what we were going to do to fill the time, but decided to go to the track and wander around.

Good decision. No, make that, GREAT decision. When we arrived just after noon and made our way to the area behind the Pagoda, we looked up on the video screen and saw that they were letting folks out on pit road for a pit walk!

Thumbs up to the person who came up with that idea because it was a big deal for a lot of people. The pits remained open for the better part of an hour, and we were allowed to wander up and down pit road to our hearts' content. For opening day there was a pretty good crowd on hand and everyone who was on the grounds seemed to be out enjoying the experience.

Darcy and I took advantage of the opportunity to get our picture taken together at the end of the pit wall. It was pretty cool to be down there again after running past that same spot the day before. 

Pippa Mann's pit was especially popular as they left her car out there for people to look at up close and get some pictures. Her car was at the north end of the track and by the time we wandered down to the south end, Team Penske, yes, believe it or not, Team Penske, had pulled the cars of Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud to their pit stalls. I was pretty impressed with the fact Penske lent so much access to their cars and their operation. I think in years past they would've had some sort of velvet rope or burly bodyguards watching everyone and breaking the cameras of the people trying to take photos of the cars!

People were very respectful of the guys who were doing work, and they in turn let us get pretty much as close to the cars as we wanted. Here I am posing next to Pagenaud's car.

One great thing about getting so close to the cars was that I got a great look at the new oval aero kits. I'm not a total fan of the road course kids -- I think they look like a set of Venetian blinds -- but they race well...oh, hell, who am I kidding, they race like crazy, and as long as that happens I figure I will get used to them.

The oval kits are a different story. I like them, a lot. From the side the car looks like an absolute bullet, it seems like all of the lines of the car transition very well from the front to the back. But the most striking feature to the kits are the wings, they are just so small! The Honda kit's rear wing has a little more to it than the Chevy's (as you can see in the picture), but it's amazing up close how small and narrow they are.

When it was time to clear the pits as practice was about to begin, I matched the driver to his car as Simon was kind enough to pose for a picture with me. And later on, Josef Newgarden did the same as he was leaving the garage area. I have a goofy look on my face with Josef because I was congratulating him on his win at Barber last weekend!
Anyway, I'm going to editorialize for a minute. Last week I posted something to the effect that I don't concern myself with things like attendance and TV ratings and such. Yes, they are all important to the health and welfare of the series, but here's the thing...what I like about the series, right here and right now, is to be able to do what I did today.

When I talk about being careful for what you wish for, this is what I mean. If IndyCar ever became a behemoth like NASCAR, we wouldn't be able to do this stuff. We wouldn't be able to walk the pits for free and we sure as hell wouldn't be able to saunter up to a driver and get photos or autographs. I want to see the series become viable and successful financially, but not at the expense of what makes it such a great thing to the fans. Personally, I like the series being big enough to draw 250,000 fans to the Indy 500, but small enough that we can all feel a part of it and have a personal investment in it.

OK, done with that. Once practice started, Darcy and I headed up to the grandstands, where we stayed until about 2:30 before heading home. It was such a glorious day to be outside, and hopefully a precursor of things to come this month, especially on the 24th!

Overall I saw about 20 cars on the track, and it was pretty uneventful. Being that it was not only the first day of practice and the debut of the oval kits, no one tried to do anything heroic and the speeds seemed to reflect that. While Juan Pablo Montoya got a tow and posted a 226 mph lap to set the day's best speed, it looked like everyone was in the learning and development stages. You could tell as the cars came by that the rear wings were level and pretty neutral. In fact, it looked like a couple of cars even had a little bit of a positive slant to them. I bet that will change next week when practice starts for real!

Still, it was an awesome day to be at the Speedway and it was great to see the cars back out on the track again. Racing activity for the next three weeks at the Speedway...who's got it better than us?

Below is a bit of a gallery of other photos. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jeff Gordon, Yay or Nay?

Hard to believe that May is finally here! For a bunch of reasons, I haven't had a chance to follow the IndyCar season as closely as I've wanted to so far, but as you know that will soon change. While I don't spend a lot of time in this space, as always I'll be here for the events leading up to the 500. After all, this is why I started this blog! Hard to believe that in December this blog will celebrate its fifth birthday!

Anyway, I thought I'd kick off the month by talking about our pace car driver. It was a bit of a surprise to me to hear the news that retiring NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon would be wheeling the Chevy Corvette in front of the field in three weeks time, and I think it caught a lot of you off guard too.

As usual, there was the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth over this. Part of that is understandable, it's a little strange to see an active driver from another series pacing the field, especially on a day where that person will be driving in another race later that night. After driving the pace car and watching the opening laps of the race, Gordon and his family will fly to Charlotte for that night's Coke 600. And, it's a little weird because it's a driver from the sworn enemy race series, I'll give you that.

Still, like it or not, Gordon has a spot in Speedway history, just like Michael Schumacher does. While what they accomplished pales greatly in comparison to winning the Indy 500, both have been dominant in their respective disciplines at the Speedway. Gordon has won five of the 20 Brickyard 400 races ever contested, and is among the leaders in laps led and money won. Numbers don't lie.

Does that justify his driving the pace car? Who knows, but if you look at the history of pace car drivers, there is often very little rhyme or reason to it, especially over the last 15-20 years. I definitely prefer a Jeff Gordon driving the pace car as opposed to some actor or celeb personality. And hey, let's thank the good Lord they have never asked a Kardashian to drive...although the ill-fated Donald Trump idea was just as bad.

Of course, there has been a lot of speculation as to what this decision does to "help" or "hurt" IndyCar, or how it moves the all-important "needle". Really, if you are thinking in those terms you are micromanaging your fandom to the degree that it is affecting your enjoyment of the sport.

And as far as the needle goes, I have been waiting for the perfect blog post to ask this question, and here it is: Why do you care? I guess I've never understood the discussions about attendance or TV ratings or marketing, because in the end none of that matters to me. Sure I like to read that lots of people watched a race or like seeing more people in the stands, but in the end I have no control over that. If the TV viewership consisted of me, my wife, and the couple dozen cool people I've met through this blog, I'd be OK with that.

I get the fact that there are business implications and the health of the series depends on that, but that doesn't matter to me and my enjoyment of IndyCar. As I've said before, I'm a college dropout, and I don't even pretend to think that I know about the business side of this sport. So I don't think about it, and I sure as heck don't dissect to the nth degree every decision that gets made.

Despite what part-of-the-problem people like Robin Miller think, I believe the series is in good hands, is being run by people who know what they are doing, and is going in the right direction. I don't need TV viewers or full grandstands to validate my fandom, and you shouldn't either. Just love the sport. As the great, trailblazing IndyCar blogger Zach Houghton once said, we only have so many IndyCar seasons in our life to enjoy, why let negativity bog down your enjoyment of it? (Or something like that)

Besides, what matters most isn't the person driving the pace car, it's the 33 men and women behind him who are going to battle for 500 miles when he pulls off the track. Let's keep that in perspective.

I'm excited about May, and also that I will be starting the month in Indy. I'll be heading down there tomorrow to run the Indy Mini Marathon on Saturday, then if the weather is good I plan on stopping by the track on Sunday for a while before heading home. Then of course we'll be back on the 24th for the big event. Look for me at the track on Sunday...I'll be the one walking very, very slowly. Running 13.1 miles does that to a guy!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Take On Kurt Busch

After following the Kurt Busch/Patricia Driscoll case for the last couple of months, and dealing with the often-moronic posts on Twitter and message boards, I figured I would come here to get my opinions off my chest, because 140 characters just isn't enough.

First of all, there is no room for domestic violence in this world, period. That doesn't mean that I am taking sides here, because I'm not. And besides, the only people who know what really went down that night are the two of them. Still, the Delaware court system determined there was enough evidence to support that SOMETHING went down that night, so I am going off those findings.

I try to look at things objectively, so when I view this case I'm throwing out the public opinions, that he is an alcoholic, rageaholic time bomb, that she is a gold digger looking for attention, etcetera and so forth. That she had no right going into his motor coach, that all he did was cup her face. Look, it's obvious that this relationship either was or had become codependent or toxic -- however you want to look at it -- and probably any court order keeping the two of them apart is probably a good thing so that they can work through their issues and go on with their lives.

Fact is, NASCAR was correct in their indefinite suspension of Kurt Busch, they did the right thing. While some may argue it was the PC thing to do, and maybe it was, what option did he leave them? Maybe he didn't necessarily "deserve" a suspension based on this one incident, he still has yet to be charged and Travis Kvapil wasn't disciplined for his domestic violence arrest, but his past transgressions really painted NASCAR into a corner.

After all, how could they not suspend him for (allegedly) striking a woman after they had done so for swearing at Dr. Jerry Punch during an interview? How could they not have done so after Jack Roush suspended him in 2005 for being pulled over by cops with the smell of alcohol on his breath -- on a race weekend no less?

The more you do, the less rope you get. That's how the entire world works.

Many people will scream that he hasn't got his "due process", or that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Both of those are true, in a court of law, but employers and sanctioning bodies don't have to follow those same rules. Their responsibility is to protect themselves, and their brand. It's business. Any company would do the exact same thing. No, it isn't fair, but that's how it is.

Several years ago I made a procedural error at work that got me suspended for a week. I was suspended, without pay, and later put on probation, not because of my conduct, but because I had sent a data file to a vendor where I had typoed the name by one letter, meaning it didn't get processed and people didn't get their pension payments. The delay was one day, I was suspended for the next four.

The people above my boss wanted me fired, but he stood up for me and thankfully saved my job -- in fact, I still work there. Was my suspension fair? Probably not, however, the impact was such that it could've become a public issue, it had with other companies in the past, and to merely let me go back to my desk and continue working probably wasn't the smartest PR idea. In fact, I'm sure if it had become public, I would've been canned.

I didn't get "due process", the only time I got to see the people who made the decision was when they called me into their office and sent me home. That's just how the world works. As long as someone else's name is at the bottom of your check, it's their world, not yours.

So just because Kurt Busch is a successful, series champion, millionaire driver, he still doesn't sign his checks. Tony Stewart does, and as part of his agreement as a NASCAR owner, he has to abide by how drivers are disciplined. Again, that's how it works.

He gave them no choice. Usually discipline is handed down procedurally, with each incident more harshly punished by the previous one. Not only that, with domestic violence in sports such a forefront issue right now, the decisions to suspend, or even release, athletes who have been accused of such actions, will come a lot faster than it used to. Yes, most of those decisions will be PR-related, but again, it is a privilege to be a professional athlete, so their standards of conduct must be higher, and having a solid domestic violence policy in place is something I support, because a man should never lay his hands on a woman. In fact, I'm a believer that physical confrontations isn't the solution to anything.

Decisions have been made, and it is what it is. Reality is that Kurt Busch's racing career is once again in the crosshairs, and the only thing he can do is move forward. If something in his personal life needs to be fixed, he has to face up to it and fix it. Not only for his racing career, but so he can just find happiness as a person.

While I know that his comments and interactions with the media are limited due to the legal process that is still ongoing, he needs to get out there and, in the words of my PR-goddess wife, get in front of the story. In the same way I was critical of how AJ Allmendinger's PR team mis-handled his positive drug test a few years back, I don't think Busch is doing himself any favors by letting his lawyer do his talking for him.

I don't need to know what happened that night, and I don't need to hear him declare guilt. However, he would go a long way with a lot of people if he just took ownership of things, whether it is what happened that night or in the past. Despite his nicely-worded PR pieces that say otherwise, I don't think he really, truly has, and that in itself will help with his image in the eyes of the public and the fans.

It did for Dinger. While I think he has a better personality, not to mention better skills at working with the public and media, once he became the face of those comments and statements, he went a long way towards repairing relationships by truly being contrite and willing to learn from his mistakes. In the three years since his positive test for Adderall, does anyone think or talk about it anymore?

I also think Kurt needs to ditch the "Outlaw" thing for good. Because at this point it is racer-speak that really means -- pardon my French -- "Asshole". In other words, it's worn thin. Like most sports prodigies, from what I have read Kurt and his brother Kyle grew up in an environment where their massive talents gave them plenty of free reign for their behavior. That's just not how grown-ups work.

Point to Dale Earnhardt if you like, but off the track Dale was very well-liked and very kind, loyal and accommodating to many people. The Busch brothers could drive pretty much however they wanted on the track if they treated people better and acted better off of it. But in their minds they do no wrong, and are still seemingly surrounded by people in their lives that let them act that way. How else do you explain their repeated acts of stupidness?

But if Kurt wants to repair his image, it definitely shouldn't be in IndyCar. First of all, IndyCar would more than likely honor any suspension NASCAR would hand down to any driver -- and as a professional courtesy, they should -- and second, it would be a dumb move on a lot of levels.

While some might think any publicity is good publicity, in this case it isn't. The easiest way to raise a lot of ire among a large group of people would be to employ a driver who is suspended by another organization, especially for domestic violence. No doubt I enjoyed watching him drive in the 500 last year and would like to see him take another shot someday, but not under these circumstances.

My wise mother once said that saying you are sorry isn't just apologizing for what you did wrong, it's a promise to do your best to not do that thing again. Kurt is only 36 and has a lot of racing in front of him, but I hope in his quiet moments of introspection he someday realizes that he can't continue this way. Right, wrong or otherwise, he's given people too much ammo with which to come after him, and that won't stop until he fixes things himself.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Karting In Dubai!

Hi all! I'm back! Sorry I haven't been in this space in a while, but I've been focusing on other things -- like my running -- over the winter, and truthfully wanted a bit of peace and quiet for a while. I hope to post something after every race during the IndyCar season, and other times when the spirit moves me.

Anyway, I was a little excited last fall when there was talk of the series racing in Dubai, because at the time I already knew that Darcy and I would be coming here so she could attend a trade show. Needless to say, I was disappointed that it fell through because that would've been quite the experience.

We arrived in Dubai last Friday (2/7) and even without the race the place has been quite the experience. The city is amazing, very modern and pretty much brand new. The people take great pride in keeping the city clean -- I saw a worker cleaning the steps in a Metro station with a spray bottle and a rag -- and they are amazingly friendly and helpful. It's also a benefit that everyone speaks English (and the signs are in both English and Arabic), and that makes it very easy to get around and do things.

I have been posting pictures of our adventures on my Facebook page, which is public so anyone can view it (I think). So check them out there.

So despite there not being an IndyCar race, we decided to head out to the Dubai Autodrome to check it out. I was hoping to get into the single seater experience, but if I couldn't do that I was at least going to try doing some karting.

The cab dropped us off at the wrong place and we ended up at the kart track. They weren't sure about the big track experiences but one of the guys was nice enough to load us into a van and take us to the Autodrome. Let me tell you, the place was awesome! From the "welcome center" we could only see part of the track but it is an incredible facility, and the track looked glass smooth. Here is a view from the grandstand.

Unfortunately, they were booked up for the single seater experience (and couldn't fit me in at all the rest of the week), but the guy who organized the events was nice enough to show me the room where they did the classroom portion. There was a Formula Ford car in there and he let me sit in the car for as long as I wanted. He showed me some of the features of the car and he said that there was "no traction control and no power steering" and I thought, "yes, then that makes it a proper race car!"

Sitting in the car was awesome, but it kind of added to my disappointment too. Maybe someday I'll be able to go back and drive one! I guess there are three levels to the experience, you start on a side track (a short oval), move to a bigger configuration in the second level, and finally they let you onto the big track, which is just over five kilometers in length.

Next he took me back out to the lobby. The track offers other driving experiences, and one involves the Audi R8 with the V10 engine, and one just happened to be sitting there! He came over and unlocked the car and let Darcy and I sit in there.

One thing you find a lot of in Dubai are supercars -- I've seen plenty of Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis -- and this car was truly awesome, even standing still! I would've loved to have started it up and given it a bit of a drive on the track.

After looking around for a while longer, we headed back to the Kartdrome. There are an indoor and outdoor track there, and both of them are competition tracks, which means they have ultra smooth surfaces, rumble strips and even kerbing in the corners.

The track, which is 1200 meters around, also has 24 garages for karts during competition weekends. Needless to say, these people are serious about their karting!

I got signed up and after a quick classroom session (which lasted two minutes because the guy could tell I had done this a few times) got suited up. This included a driver's suit, gloves and helmet.

Once I was all set up, myself and two other drivers went out to meet up with an instructor and get into our carts. The guys I was driving with for this 15 minute session brought some of their own equipment, so I had a feeling I would just be logging laps by myself.

Once we got settled into our cars (I was driving the
No. 31), the instructor took us for a slow lap around and showed us the racing line. Once we got back to the main straight he turned us loose. I was first in line but knew that wouldn't last long, so I went low and let the other two guys pass me. Good thing too, because they were gone in a hurry!

I would guess the kart topped out at 45 mph or so, which does look fast since you are sitting so close to the ground. Our 15 minutes was up way too quickly, but I can tell you that first 15 minutes gave me an example of how hard driving an IndyCar could be. I unzipped my suit and my shirt underneath was soaked with sweat, as was my balaclava. My shoulders and upper arms were also kind of sore just from steering the car.

The track has transponders that give out lap times, and the first two guys had laps in the 1:14-1:15 range, while my best lap was 1:27. Ugh. Then again, it looked like they were serious drivers, but what is scary is that I discovered the fastest lap of the month was 1:10 and the fastest of all time in those karts was 1:08! Wow.

I had fun but wasn't really satisfied with how I did, so I went in and paid for another 15-minute session. One thing I'd also realized is that I was trying way too hard. I was trying to tell the kart exactly what to do, and going fast(er) is in reality a compromise between what you want to do and what the car wants to do. Letting the kart (car) free up and let it do its thing is so important.

One other thing I decided to do was just trust things a little more, meaning I went into a couple of corners flat out and I got super aggressive in some of the turns. This time I started third in line and actually hung with the guy in front of me for a long time. It also made it easier to "see" the line because I just followed him and copied his movements.

The second session was a lot more fun because I just let the car go and it really responded. As a result my best time for that session was 1:20, just a second slower than the guy in front of me!

I had originally thought I was going to sign up for a third session, but when the second one finished I was done, and I consider myself in pretty good shape! Still, it was a great experience and I think over the summer I'm going to try and find a track near home and do it again. I can see where this could get addicting!

Darcy took a lot of pictures and video, so below is most of a lap from the first session. This was a lap after I spun out, which was why I was so far behind! Still, my lines coming onto and off of the main straight are pretty sweet, don't you think!