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Monday, July 5, 2010

Opinion: It's a Kind of Magic...

An IZOD IndyCar Series event may not have the pomp and circumstance, the television presence, or the giant in-person crowds present in some other forms of motorsports. It may not have quite as many big names as some of said other forms, even though many of those other forms' big names have passed through this series and its predecessors. And it may not have anywhere near as many overpriced merchandise trailers with products far out of the price range of the average fan.

But what an IZOD IndyCar Series event DOES have is a great group of fans who are passionate about the sport, some of the fastest and most talented drivers in the world, the promise of parity (take that, everybody else!), and the promise of becoming the biggest form of American motorsport around in just a few years.

Last weekend's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen has become something of a tradition for my father, my dog, and me. Though we've only seen two of the six events in person, this weekend is more valuable to us than any of the other races we see over the course of a year (and there are many). We make the lengthy trek by minivan seven hours across the country, from Route 95 to 90 to 88 to a handful of New York state roads, all in the name of passion for our beloved IndyCars.

We set up the tent with the uncomfortable air mattress, or we sleep in the minivan, at our campsite near turn 10. We bring our cameras, our racing shirts, and plenty of money for the sponsors that keep this series running. And for a wonderful three days, we enjoy one of the greatest atmospheres in racing - and we're not even talking about a SIGNATURE event of the sport, like Long Beach or the Indianapolis 500.

We walk through the garages of every series, gleaning information from drivers and crew members alike about the cars they're running now and the cars they used to run. We learn about faces long gone from the sport, and faces that should be back sooner than later. We take photos of the Honda Indy V-8s and Dallara chassis that will soon say their farewells to the series.

We see just about every big name in the sport at least once. That's all about being in the right place in the right time, but if you hang around the garage long enough, you'll see every driver from Dario to Danica and every owner from Foyt to Kalkhoven. And if you're really lucky - or if you're just a fan with access to pre-race festivities - you'll be close enough to IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard to shake his hand and thank him for what he's helped do for the sport over the past six months or so.

Us IndyCar fans have a language and sense of humor all our own. That's part of what makes the weekend so great. Nobody else would laugh about Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon standing in the back of the same truck during driver introductions. And nobody else would get a kick out of the cold glances that Mario Moraes and Marco Andretti shot one another a few trucks down in the parade.

Even the off-track events are something to behold. Last year, the Presidents of the United States of America played a fantastic concert within the track on the night before the race. This year, the two bands playing were Jimkata and Kinetix, and while neither had the name recognition or the pop-radio staples like "Peaches" and "Video Killed the Radio Star," they managed to raise an already high bar for pre-race concerts. (Of course, it's also really cool when you meet the band and find out that one of their members shares a hometown with you, and they'll be hanging out in your town in two days.)

I met some awesome people over the course of this past weekend. I gave most of you my business card with this website's name on it. Hopefully some of you read this, because I just wanted to say thanks:

To Craig at Walker Racing, thanks for answering all of my questions about the old Champ Car equipment.

To the Pepsi Max folks, you've made a Pepsi drinker out of me.

To Kinetix and Jimkata, thanks for a hell of a concert. And if you guys in Kinetix ever play a show in Newburyport again, you know I'll be there.

To the Tony Kanaan fan from Connecticut I met at the Tweetup, thanks for the conversation, you know your stuff (and I don't just say that because we agree on a lot of things).

To Doug Harrell at Harrell's Miniatures, sorry I didn't have the cash on me to buy that beautiful RS Spyder model I had my eye on.

To Dan Wheldon and Helio Castroneves, thanks for doing the book signings. And to Mike Kitchel at Panther Racing, thanks for taking my card - hopefully we can get some interviews with you guys set up.

To Mike Kelly at IZOD, I'm sorry I wasn't able to find you at the track and thank you for all that you and your company have done for the sport.

And finally, to those of you that have read my stuff in the past (and hopefully continue to do so), thanks for your time and continued patronage. It's been a great first half of the season - let's make it a great second half as well.

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