PT Barnum is alive and well with IndyCar!

Wahlberg-Andretti I am ready to go Rambo on the IndyCar series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway! First they keep trashing normal month of May traditions and now they will have a 34th car on the track coming to the green flag of the Indianapolis 500!

In their best PT Barnum impersonation, IndyCar is unveiling the “Izod Fastest Seat in Sports” at the Indianapolis 500.  This will be the series two-seater piloted by Michael Andretti with movie/television star and producer Mark Wahlberg as a passenger following the field to the green flag for the race on Sunday.  Oh, and Mario Andretti will be on the headset talking to them during the parade and pace laps. Here are all the details. (Click here )

THIS IS THE INDIANAPOLIS 500! WE DON’T NEED GIMMICKS AND SIDESHOWS!

Did I state that strong enough?  Let me repeat.  THIS IS THE INDIANAPOLIS 500! WE DON’T NEED GIMMICKS AND SIDESHOWS!

What brilliant idiot came up with this idea?  Why take away from what use to be the “Flying Start” to the Indianapolis 500?

I know some will applaud this move as “bringing in new fans” to the sport.  That’s not bringing fans into the sport, that’s amusing them like a YouTube video does.

One more move like this and IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 is going to turn off what is left of its shrinking died-in-the-wool fan base that has stuck with this type of racing through thick and thin. 

I’m done and now headed to Dr. Phil’s couch to get some much needed help to handle this abomination.

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Does tradition really matter at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

ims-centennial-sm Let me start by stating that I know I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. I am guilty of being stuck in the past and see every change made around this iconic event as a travesty.

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway added a Nascar event back in 1994 the Brickyard 400, I saw that as lowering the uniqueness of the Indianapolis 500.

When Formula One came to town with a road course being constructed and a lot of the infield area for fans including the infamous Snake Pit going away I saw that as a slap in the face.

When the “Flying Start” tradition of the Indianapolis 500 became the race starting in Turn three BEFORE the green flag dropped instead of rows of three coming down the main straightaway told me these no longer were the best racers in the world because they couldn’t do a start that had been done for years. (IRL decision to let them race before the green)

When the number of attempts a car could make in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 went from a total of 3 for the month of May to three attempts each day of qualifying meaning a team had 12 tries to make the Indianapolis 500 I was angry.

This year two days of qualifying made more changes.  Now you got three chances on Pole Day to make the “Fast 9” and then as many tries as one could get to improve your starting position and take the pole. They also limited the number of cars that could qualify on Day One to 24. To me those were gimmicks violating tradition.

I’m not the only one that believes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been trampling tradition in its quest to regain its once revered position as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser who has never been shy about giving his opinion on anything agrees many traditions around the Indianapolis 500 have gone by the wayside in the quest for “innovation.” I talked to Bobby on this week’s Pit Pass USA show on the PowerUp Motorsports Channel. (Listen to archived show here) He agrees traditions are quickly being eroded or eliminated and has his own ideas on how to turn things around which he shares as only Bobby can.

Again, I know I’m stuck in the past but have we gotten to the point where tradition doesn’t matter? Just how far can a tradition be “modified” and “modernized” before it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy? Is all of this making the Indianapolis 500 just another race with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just another race track?

Those are questions I have with very few answers at this time.  I just know that to me the Indianapolis 500 and the Speedway aren’t as special as they once were and that makes me sad.

A 30 Year Indianapolis 500 Flashback

Imsradio I’m headed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend.  30 years ago I was headed there as a “rookie” with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.

I received a phone call that spring from then “Voice of the 500” Paul Page along with Bob Jenkins informing me I was going to be a part of the network.  At the time though they told me I was just going to be more of a “helper” than actually being one of the voices of the race.

As was the tradition back then, the network held a breakfast for everyone on Wednesday before practice began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hotel.  It was at that breakfast I was informed I would be part of the broadcast as the announcer on the back stretch position. (The position was discontinued after the 1981 race when I moved to the third turn.)

I remember the excitement at the start of the race and seeing those 33 cars come by me on the the first parade lap. When the green flag flew it was down to business.

Just 9 laps into the 1980 Indianapolis 500, Bill Whittington crashed coming off turn 2 and suddenly I was describing to the world the incident and aftermath.  Quite something for a guy that had grown up in a small  southern Indiana town listening to the Indianapolis 500 as a boy.

Johnny Rutherford would go on to win that 1980 Indianapolis 500 but I also won that day.

Being a part of that broadcast and 14 more of them before heading to the CART series to do radio for them in 1996 fueled my love of auto racing. It opened the door to many opportunities with the sport.  It allowed me to travel to such places as Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Canada to broadcast races.  It gave me the opportunity to do radio for the last Formula One race in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. It also allowed me to make lasting friendships with so many involved in racing from drivers to owners to series officials to media members and race fans themselves.

No matter what my personal feelings are about the state of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today, I will always be grateful for the opportunity I was given in 1980 that allowed me to be doing what I am today.

Are double-file restarts actually hurting Nascar?

2010 Richmond1 May NSCS Busch Gordon battle Okay, you can say it, I have totally lost my mind.  Why would anyone think that double-file restarts in Nascar are actually hurting the sport especially with the finishes we’ve seen this season.  Well, that’s the reason.  You aren’t following me?  Let me explain.

There is no question that the double-file restarts that Nascar instituted last season have brought excitement to the end of races and also allowed drivers to improve their track position much easier during the entire race.  All one has to do is look at Saturday night’s result at Richmond where Kyle Busch on the final restart was able to take the win away from Jeff Gordon.  You can also look back through the field and see several drivers that got a much better finish thanks to the last restart and the double-file lineup.

Here’s the rub.  Why does anyone need to pay attention to the racing for most of the event?  All most people remember is the end of the race (unless there was a major accident along the way.) With the propensity of double-file restarts in the last 30 laps or so of races, could race fans watch the first 30 laps of a race, go do something else for a couple of hours, and come back for the final 30?

Let’s be honest, the mid portion of almost any long race is pretty damn boring and not just in Nascar.  Why then would I invest 3-5 hours of a weekend day, especially in summer with nice weather to watch a race when all I need to pay attention to is the last 20-30 minutes?

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe this excitement will translate to the entire race and help television viewership and also actual attendance.  Maybe, then again, I could be right. Let’s just all hope that I’m crazy.