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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Announcement

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rolex 24 Viewer's Guide for the IndyCar Fan

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is one of the most prestigious sports car endurance races in the world. Held on the road course inside the famed Daytona International Speedway, the race was established as a three-hour event in 1962 before eventually expanding to 2000 kilometers in 1964 and taking its current form in 1966.

Most sports car events are much shorter than the Rolex 24, especially within the Rolex Sports Car Series that has contested the event since 2000, and only require two or three drivers. But the days of a two-man team competing in a 24-hour event are long gone; teams now look to four or five drivers to contest these lengthier events.

Some of the added drivers come from within sports car racing, drivers who don't have a full-time job but provide safe options for teams looking to fill out their rosters. NASCAR drivers have also joined the field in recent years, especially since Grand-Am took over the event in 2000; Grand-Am founder Jim France is the son of NASCAR founder Bill France, and the two sanctioning bodies have merged their communication resources for the past few years.

But IndyCar drivers past and present may be some of the most popular additions to driver lineups, primarily in the top-tier Daytona Prototypes, for this prestigious event. For each of the past five years, and seven times in the past decade, a driver with significant IndyCar, CART, or Champ Car experience has taken the overall victory as part of a team. In fact, 2006's winning team was composed solely of Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, and Casey Mears, the former two full-time IndyCar drivers and the third an ex-CART and current NASCAR competitor.

This year is no different, as over two dozen drivers with open-wheel chops will appear at Daytona once again. Need help keeping up with who's where? Look no further:

Open-Wheeler Super Teams: It's no surprise that Chip Ganassi would employ five current or former open-wheel drivers between his two Daytona Prototypes. Ex-CART driver Scott Pruett has been his lead driver for years now, in the No. 01 car, and will drive with Graham Rahal. Ganassi's second car is traditionally reserved for his NASCAR and IndyCar drivers, and this year is no different; Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, and CART champion-turned-NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya will wheel that vehicle.

Michael Shank Racing will follow the same strategy as Ganassi did in 2006 with their No. 6 entry, pairing current IndyCar competitor Justin Wilson with two open-wheel-turned-NASCAR drivers: 2006 Champ Car third-place finisher A.J. Allmendinger, and 2004 Star Mazda champion and ex-Champ Car driver Michael McDowell.

Current IndyCar Drivers: Rahal, Franchitti, Dixon, and Wilson aren't the only current IZOD IndyCar Series competitors to land a drive. Ryan Briscoe will work with Wayne Taylor Racing, which has a history of fielding Team Penske drivers in the event. Meanwhile, Ryan Hunter-Reay will return to Level 5 Motorsports, with whom he competed in a handful of American Le Mans Series events last year. Joining him there will be Raphael Matos, whose 2010 Rolex 24 drive at Brumos Racing no longer exists as a Daytona Prototype.

CART, IRL, and Champ Car Alumni: Many open-wheel drivers migrate to sports car racing when their careers at Indianapolis end. Often times they become sports car champions as well. Action Express Racing, which has in effect taken over the Brumos Daytona Prototype operation as that team shifts to GT, has hired three drivers who have followed this career path: 2004 Indianapolis 500 and 2009 Rolex 24 winner Buddy Rice in the No. 5, and 2002 Rolex 24 winner Max Papis and 2004 winner Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 9.

But they aren't the only ones. Ex-PacWest driver (and now IndyCar driver Mike Conway's agent) Mark Blundell will drive in the No. 23 for United Autosports, which is running in partnership with Michael Shank. Shank will also have Michael Valiante, once a budding open-wheel talent but now a seasoned Grand-Am vet, in his primary car, the No. 60. Meanwhile, Starworks Motorsport will employ Jan Heylen and Ryan Dalziel, two competitors in Champ Car's final season, in their No. 7 and No. 8 cars, respectively. Ex-IRL driver Tomas Enge will join Dalziel, who won last year's Rolex 24, in the No. 8.

Finally, Pruett and Montoya aren't the only former CART drivers appearing in the event to somehow be affiliated with Chip Ganassi. Nicolas Minassian, who drove the team's No. 12 car briefly in their 2001 rebuilding year, has competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the past few years and step into Krohn Racing's No. 76 for this year's event. But unlike years past, the 1996 CART champion for Ganassi, Jimmy Vasser, will not step into the No. 99 for Bob Stallings Racing.

GT Class: Four Atlantic Championship alumni will compete in GT cars in this year's event. 2004 fifth-place finisher and ex-Champ Car driver Ronnie Bremer will drive in Stevenson Motorsports' Chevrolet Camaro, while 1998 third-place finisher and former CART supersub Memo Gidley will step down from the Daytona Prototype of Doran Racing to a Mazda RX-8 with Team Sahlen.

The other two drivers will run Mazda RX-8s with SpeedSource. 1999 Atlantic title winner and longtime Grand-Am competitor Anthony Lazzaro will drive the No. 69. Jonathan Bomarito, the 2008 series runner-up, had been on the fast track to Champ Car until the series folded; now, he's found a home in SpeedSource's Castrol-backed No. 70, in which he finished fourth in last year's points.

A list of all open-wheel affiliated drivers, sorted by car number:
  • Scott Pruett (#01 Daytona Prototype, Chip Ganassi Racing)
  • Graham Rahal (#01 Daytona Prototype, Chip Ganassi Racing)
  • Dario Franchitti (#02 Daytona Prototype, Chip Ganassi Racing)
  • Scott Dixon (#02 Daytona Prototype, Chip Ganassi Racing)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (#02 Daytona Prototype, Chip Ganassi Racing)
  • Buddy Rice (#5 Daytona Prototype, Action Express Racing)
  • A.J. Allmendinger (#6 Daytona Prototype, Michael Shank Racing)
  • Michael McDowell (#6 Daytona Prototype, Michael Shank Racing)
  • Justin Wilson (#6 Daytona Prototype, Michael Shank Racing)
  • Jan Heylen (#7 Daytona Prototype, Starworks Motorsport)
  • Ryan Dalziel (#8 Daytona Prototype, Starworks Motorsport)
  • Tomas Enge (#8 Daytona Prototype, Starworks Motorsport)
  • Christian Fittipaldi (#9 Daytona Prototype, Action Express Racing)
  • Max Papis (#9 Daytona Prototype, Action Express Racing)
  • Ryan Briscoe (#10 Daytona Prototype, Wayne Taylor Racing)
  • Mark Blundell (#23 Daytona Prototype, United Autosports)
  • Memo Gidley (#42 Mazda RX-8, Team Sahlen)
  • Ronnie Bremer (#57 Chevrolet Camaro, Stevenson Motorsports)
  • Michael Valiante (#60 Daytona Prototype, Michael Shank Racing)
  • Anthony Lazzaro (#69 Mazda RX-8, SpeedSource)
  • Jonathan Bomarito (#70 Mazda RX-8, SpeedSource)
  • Nicolas Minassian (#76 Daytona Prototype, Krohn Racing)
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay (#95 Daytona Prototype, Level 5 Motorsports)
  • Raphael Matos (#95 Daytona Prototype, Level 5 Motorsports)

Getting Your Offseason Racing Fix

Only two months to St. Petersburg!

That's right, we are two months away from the end of the IZOD IndyCar Series' marathon offseason and the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. 2011 will prove to be an interesting season, with rules changes and new races galore, even as we put up with one more year of lame-duck and outdated Dallaras.

Now, if you're like me, that's a heck of a long time to wait. Unfortunately, IndyCar isn't at the point where it can add too many more races, and to space them out too much creates lulling gaps in the middle of the season. And it's not like too many racing series really run in these winter months.

That being said, if you're dying for a racing fix, there are plenty of things you can do.

Touring Car Highlights: SPEED carries a metric ton of NASCAR coverage during that sport's ten-month season, but the offseason presents plenty of broadcast time for the other series. One can frequently catch a block of touring car highlights from the British Touring Car Championship, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, and the FIA World Touring Car Championship. The three-hour block of highlights will next be shown on 1/17 from 12 to 3 PM EDT.

Formula 1 Re-airings: SPEED also takes care of these, generally showing them at 12 PM EDT on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This week's events will be the European (1/18) and British (1/19) Grands Prix.

Rolex 24 at Daytona: The opening event of the Grand-Am season always features a handful of non-championship drivers brought in to compensate for the extra length of the event. Drivers with IndyCar ties are pretty common. Look for a handy viewer's guide later today.

Console Video Games: Codemasters' latest Xbox 360 racing game, F1 2010, follows a long tradition of excellent productions, from the TOCA Race Driver series to the edgy GRID. Drive the entire 2010 Formula 1 season, working your way up through the sport in a deep career mode, and experience the best console driving game in recent memory. There's no modern IndyCar game out right now (though Indianapolis 500: Evolution is a nice alternative if you want to drive any Indy 500 competitor's car from 1961 to 1971), so F1 2010 is the top alternative for the open-wheel driver. NASCAR 2011: The Game should also be out in the coming months.

iRacing: Saving the best for last! This is an expensive option, but for those who can't be satisfied with simply watching racing in the offseason, and those who want to drive the Dallara IndyCar, iRacing is it. They've set up discounts to bring in new users, a decent wheel can be had for about $100, and nothing is a better simulator - drivers have used it for years now to learn the feel of tracks they've never driven. And if you're still not convinced, and haven't read my profile on the company, by all means, go here and read it. I think I can change your mind.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Driver Development Programs Key in IndyCar's Momentum

"Momentum" may be the most despised word in the IndyCar fan's vocabulary. An overused term on television broadcasts, describing an abstract concept that ebbs and flows unbeknownst to us all, nine times out of ten it's nothing more than a cop-out to explain something quickly without having to get into too much detail.

Of course, when you apply that term to the sanctioning body, the typical IndyCar fan might change his or her tune.

Yesterday's State of IndyCar meetings went swimmingly, if the many folks tweetcasting from the proceedings are to be believed. The sport and sanctioning body - especially its top two series, the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights Series - have plenty of new positive concepts to build upon. IndyCar is especially doing its part for future generations of racers and race fans, expanding its marketing to karting, opening up 16 of the 17 garages to fans as young as nine years old, and further bolstering the Road to Indy with incentives to move up.

The most immediate thing that most fans will notice, however, is Indy Lights coverage of every Versus-broadcast event, to be shown the Wednesdays following the races at 6 PM Eastern time.

No top-tier racing series can remain strong without a devoted grassroots program and a development series that continues to produce top talent. The past decade has been hit or miss for Indy Lights; since IndyCar founded its own development series in 2002, the only champions to secure full-time employment in the big cars have been A.J. Foyt IV, Alex Lloyd, Raphael Matos, and J.R. Hildebrand. Especially after this year, which saw some of the smallest Indy Lights fields since the series' inception, everybody knew that things had to change.

And change they did. The new IndyCar regime, led by Randy Bernard, implemented bonuses for the Star Mazda and USAC Triple Crown champions to move into Lights. The Star Mazda champion brings about enough money on his own to run all of the road and street course events, while the USAC driver receives enough funding for the ovals. Those programs will result in the dream combination of Star Mazda winner Conor Daly and Triple Crown winner Bryan Clauson for 2011, paired in the Sam Schmidt Motorsports car that won the 2010 Lights title with Jean-Karl Vernay.

Add the Versus deal to that, and you have what was a left-for-dead development series, one that had been treading water, beginning to establish itself as legitimate.

Of course, that won't prevent some of the drivers from coming into the IndyCar Series through other career paths. Katherine Legge (DTM and Champ Car), Giorgio Pantano (GP2 and Auto GP), and Andy Soucek (Formulas 1 and 2) are among the European talent looking to IndyCar as a career option for 2011. None will end up in Indy Lights if they do, as all have proven themselves at higher levels than that. But that's to be expected - and any big name is a good thing to have.

At least IndyCar's top development series is on steadier footing than NASCAR's premier development league, the Nationwide Series. For the past ten years, a lack of regulation on Sprint Cup drivers have driven that series into the ground, with its past five champions double-duty drivers. NASCAR has announced a rule allowing drivers to collect points in only one of its top three series, but that may not keep the double-duty drivers out entirely. Imagine the black eye that would come with an ineligible Sprint Cup driver "winning" the Nationwide championship once again.

It's just one of the many situations where IndyCar has the edge on NASCAR right now. The TV contract shows signs of improvement as Versus may become the NBC Sports Network. The lack of a contrived championship system is another obvious plus. New drivers, tracks, and most importantly, sponsors are eyeing the series with keen interest for 2012 and beyond, as NASCAR continues to lose its audience.

After a few years of intense struggling, IndyCar clearly has the momentum necessary to become as strong as it was before the split. And now the sport has the driver development program to keep it that way.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Must Be My Lucky Day: Welcome to the World of iRacing

"You ready?" Kevin Bobbitt, director of marketing at iRacing, asks me as we prepare for the start of our race.

"Of course I am," I say, as the red lights come on.

Sitting further to my left are David Phillips, the editor of iRacing's own news site inRacingNews.com, and Steve Potter, iRacing's director of communications, and we are about to run eight laps at Lime Rock Park in four virtual Star Mazdas. We are sitting in identical purpose-built simulators, each outfitted with a massive Sony flatscreen monitor, realistic racing seat, and Logitech's best in virtual racing wheels and pedals.

Forget that Lou Gehrig guy. I consider MYself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.


Of course, John Henry, owner of iRacing, would probably say much worse than that about any Yankee player. The owner of the Boston Red Sox, Mr. Henry brought iRacing to life in the fall of 2004 out of the ashes of Papyrus, the former publisher of the NASCAR Racing series and Grand Prix Legends.

Mr. Henry used to run the Red Sox Racing League through a LAN in his basement once a week. Upon discovering that Papyrus was based in Cambridge, and that owner Vivendi was looking to shut it down, he looked into purchasing the company with David Kaemmer, its founder and former lead programmer, who was at the time working as a consultant for the brand. Thus, iRacing was born, and eventually launched just a few short years ago.

All this I learned from Mr. Potter, whose own racing pedigree is nothing to scoff at. It's abundantly clear just walking into his office that he's as pure-minded a racer as anybody in the office - and looking at the models, the lithographs, the awards in everybody else's offices, that's saying something.

Mr. Potter has been, among other things, a motorsports photographer, racing writer for the New York Times, and ran all of Mercedes-Benz's sports marketing programs in the late 1990s, as the engine was powering cars owned by Roger Penske, Bruce McCaw, and Mo Nunn. As a race driver, he competed in IMSA and SCCA events, driving alongside the legendary sports car racer Jim Downing.

To me, this all added up to one thing: one of the most satisfying conversations about the sport that I've ever had.


We mostly discussed IndyCar - everything from its long comeback trail, Milka Duno (who was just as bad in Grand-Am as she was in IndyCar), and different manufacturer philosophies (Honda thrives on competition, while Chevrolet generally only likes token opposition), to the history of the sport and the luck associated with success.

Luck was a prominent theme in our conversations. Mr. Potter got his job with the Times through a stroke of great luck - he just so happened to run into a former Times racing writer while grabbing lunch at a Formula 1 US Grand Prix a couple of decades ago, who recommended him for the vacated position.

His first story there dealt with a 15-year-old karting phenomenon at the Bertil Roos Racing School, a young man who most of us know as 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and 1996 Indianapolis 500 runner-up Davy Jones. The editor loved the piece, and so began a career.

I was pretty lucky to be noticed by Mr. Potter as well. I submit the occasional NASCAR piece as a featured writer for Bleacher Report, partially because it generates some solid exposure for me. IndyCar remains my passion, especially as I become more and more dissatisfied with the management on the stock car side of things, but it's a good way for me to get my name out to a few more people.

Originally, my editor had asked me to do a piece on the sport's top 25 wives and girlfriends, but after I deemed the subject matter hard to approach in good taste, he asked me to produce a slideshow on the top 15 NASCAR video games of all time. You should be able to guess easily who I ranked first, and why Mr. Potter invited me down to their offices for a visit.


Of course, Mr. Potter isn't the only heavy hitter in the office. Enter Mr. Phillips, whose office is full of pictures of IndyCars of yore, from the Quaker State Porsche to Will Power's Panoz DP01 from the Champ Car World Series finale at Long Beach in 2008.

From the moment I came into the office, most of the people I met asked me what school I went to, how far along I was, and what I was studying. As I said to everybody, I mentioned to Mr. Phillips that I had been a journalism major at Boston University, but I had switched to advertising.

"Ah yes, I've done my time as a journalist," said Mr. Phillips, in what may have been the understatement of the day.

Mr. Phillips' work has appeared in just about every reputable racing publication from RACER to Autoweek to SpeedTV.com. His specialty? IndyCar racing, of course. He's done just about everything with his career that I want to do with mine, and he just so happens to work in an office building that's an hour from my house.

Talk about a stroke of luck.


Of course, my luck runs out once the green lights flash at Lime Rock.

I've played iRacing once at this point - 15 to 20 minutes prior to this event, in the same car at Loudon - and the only reason I managed to finish third out of the four of us was because I knew the track well enough and somebody wrecked a little harder than I did. But I barely know the layout of Lime Rock, posted a qualifying lap that even Milka might have laughed at, and am still getting used to paddle shifting without blowing my engine.

I manage to get a great start (well, relatively great for a first-timer), but as I had been through the entire qualifying session, spin the car in turn one. It's not long until I blow the engine and get towed back to the pits, resetting a country mile behind the field.

And so it went. I don't think I completed a single clean lap all race. The climax came when, after taking the checkered flag, I drove the car straight-on into a wall in sixth gear to a thunderous sound. "We hear that a lot!" somebody joked.

The Star Mazdas had given us all a little bit of trouble at Loudon, as they got pretty loose in turns one and two, but my disappointing run at Lime Rock was 100% the result of driver inexperience. Of course, with my new complimentary membership (apparently this article I wrote went over exceptionally well), I'll be working on that pretty often.


If you haven't seen iRacing, or experienced it, you're missing out. There's a reason why the pros - IndyCar fans would recognize the Wilson brothers Justin and Stefan, Takuma Sato, and Conor Daly among the testimonials on their website - often use the simulator to prepare for tracks they haven't competed on yet, or just stay fresh when they're not in the car.

Mr. Potter proudly told me not a single one of the game's many professional supporters, which range from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR to Ron Capps in the NHRA, has ever been paid to back the game in the United States. The only driver who's ever been paid to shell for the company, ex-V8 Supercars champ and current NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose, had a deal with the company in Australia that led to a Cup sponsorship at Pocono this year, but even that "wasn't for much more than it cost to paint the car."

It's easy to see why the pros would give them so much publicity on the cheap. Every visual detail, from the braking markers at the end of the straightaway at Lime Rock to the logos painted on the wall at Loudon, is painstakingly recreated in the game. Everything feels as realistic as any other racing simulator, too, from the bumps on the tracks to the amount of control an iRacer has over his car. It's as close to real testing as it gets for a driver without accumulating a massive tire bill.

That's part of the reason why Greger Huttu, arguably the best iRacer in the world, was given a Star Mazda test with the folks at Andersen Racing. In that car, he put up respectable lap times, especially for somebody who had never actually been in a real race car.

I'm not sure that's just luck.


Unfortunately, Mr. Kaemmer wasn't in the office - a few people had asked me to ask or tell him a few things - but a meeting with the lead programmer was about the only thing missing from my three-hour tour. I left the offices with plenty of new connections, a few opportunities for the near future, and best of all, a rejuvenated interest in racing simulators or video games that I haven't quite felt since the release of Forza Motorsport 3 for the Xbox 360 - and even that never quite did the trick.

But after meeting the folks behind the game, it's easy to see why their subscriber base of 21,000 is growing by the day. These people are just as passionate of race fans as you or I, and they understand the sport from the perspectives of both fan and insider. That's what enables them to provide such a popular and successful product... although, of course, some programming expertise certainly helps on that end.

iRacing is looking to add even more content in the future, but it all depends on the growth rate of that subscriber base. We all agreed that vintage cars, from front-engine Indy roadsters to single-seater Can-Am sports cars, would make great additions to the game, but that all comes down to demand. Without giving any concrete information up: Mr. Potter mentioned a popular and significant European track that they'd like to add with a few thousand more customers, and at lunch a group of about a dozen or so of us talked about how cool it would be to someday see what would essentially be an iRacing version of IROC, only featuring professional drivers. But the realization of both of those ideas are in the distant future.

In the meantime, business as usual continues in the offices, as the greatest team in motorsports simulation continues to improve their product. Maybe, if I'm really lucky, I'll get to go back someday.

Until then, I'll keep trying to master that first corner at Lime Rock. One of these times I'll get it down.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sealing the Cracks That Caused the Split

My good friend Tony Johns over at Pop Off Valve likes to say that bantering over Twitter enhances social media usage by those of us who like to create content for the web. I've always been a little more wary of it.

Part of it is because I always like to have a hard-news-only option (hence the creation of a site account @OpnWhlAmerica), but part of it is because I don't feel like some of the more mundane experiences of my life really merit tweeting about. (I have to admit, I love Graham Rahal as a driver, but following his account isn't particularly enriching.)

This all changed for me over the holiday season.

With no other outlet to express the frustration and comedy of a Christmas Eve dinner gone somewhat awry, I took to the Twitterverse with the story of my 92-year-old grandfather figuring out that he was, indeed, home. One of the more entertaining stories I've ever had to tell, even in its simplicity and lack of two-way dialogue, it opened me up a little more to the idea of using social media to bring people into my life.

Then, in the wee hours of Boxing Day night, I let loose an even more frustrated nugget go: "Never letting longtime dating partners try to work out their shit in my apartment again. Sitting outside wondering what the fuck happened."

Throwing all caution to the wind, three of my closest friends had a small party in my apartment last night, spending an hour traveling to Boston in the midst of a noreaster that has proved catastrophic for any car unfortunate enough to be parked on a public road and most airports. Most of the night was a good time - fun, games, a lot of cathartic stories told between a bunch of people who have known each other for a long time. It would also be a good night for the former couple of two years to spend time with each other in the company of friends, perhaps providing an impetus for them to work out their differences.

Then, of course, things started to go wrong. The differences that caused the couple to split up in the first place, nearly a year ago, came back to the forefront. They tried to be better than one another. They complained about little things. The cracks that caused the split were only widening once again.

Things got heated, with the other friend and I removing ourselves from the room so the couple could do their thing, before we split them up to talk to them individually. The rest of the night was a big mess of awkward, bothered folks who didn't sleep very well or have their senses about them for much of the morning.

We basically concluded this: they need to figure out how to close the book, or at least come to a satisfactory point of renewal, because although things are on the road, they need to tie up some loose ends and get things right. Each side has their strong points and their flaws, but somehow every festering wound needs to be aided, every unplugged crack needs to be sealed, every broken lamp needs to be superglued back together before both sides can be satisfied. Both sides need to respect each other as equals, complete and inarguable equals, and until then, that can't happen.

Now, at the risk of going Roy Hobbson on you all, the question at hand here is simply: What the HELL does this lengthy anecdote have to do with IndyCar?

You've probably heard by now that the sport is finally taking two huge steps to bring it back where it once was. The first, of course, is bringing technology back to the forefront, making it matter, and making higher standards a possibility (if not immediate reality) for a new generation of fans. That's big - it brings back many of the people who bought into the open-development of CART and Champ Car, the technological advances that those series liked to bring to the table, and perhaps our first new track records at Indianapolis since the very beginning of the "split."

But the second step is to finally combine all American open wheel records into one record book. USAC or CART, IndyCar or Champ Car, they're all being brought together officially for the first time. Less physical than psychological, it's just another important instance on the road to complete unification.

For a long time, American open-wheel racing was torn apart by two very distinct schools of thought. One was the Tony George opinion, that the sport should be more like NASCAR, with more ovals and American drivers. Those in power in CART in the early 1990s were greater proponents of bringing in European drivers and fashioning the sport into an American Formula 1. George created the Indy Racing League as a backlash against it, and for 12 years the "split" festered.

When IndyCar bought out Champ Car in 2008, it was only the first, biggest step. There were still hard feelings. Four or five race teams went out of business, and some top Champ Car drivers to this day struggle to land rides. The Champ Car teams, having no more use for their cars, setup notes, and some equipment, were faced with a major competitive disadvantage. Now, they're not so much disadvantaged as they are still viewed differently; generally, owing to their road-course-only heritage, they mostly hire road course specialists, and former IRL teams often do the opposite.

Of course, we've made plenty of progress in these past three years. I say enough about Randy Bernard and Mike Kelly and what they do for the sport - while that's important, let's focus on some of the smaller things for a second. Some ex-IRL squads, like Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, have employed road course specialists like Justin Wilson, while Conquest Racing and Dale Coyne Racing have embraced development drivers from Firestone Indy Lights instead of the Atlantic Championship, Champ Car's former development series. The schedule is now an even mix of ovals and road courses. And with the record books being fixed, putting everything in one place, it's just another step forward, eliminating yet another point of contention.

American open-wheel fans are much like the feuding couple in my apartment from last night. Both sides want the same thing - complete unification - even if they may hesitate to admit it. It's best for both of them. Except, of course, each side wants things to go their way and not the other's, so things remain heated and some problems stay unsolved.

But enough time has passed that they should come to some mutual understanding and try to get it right. There will still be some fights and bitterness, but by this point, it's really time to put it all in the past, come back together, and start anew.

Maybe I'm a couple years too late with this post. Maybe not. I still see the dividing line in the sport between the IRLers and the Champ Car folks rear its ugly head now and again. There are still some loose ends to be tied up. Embracing the old sanctioning body's philosophy on car development is great. But combining the sport's record books recognizes the defeated series as the victorious one's equal... well, you can't ask for much more than that internal validation.

That's what the feuding couple needs, and it's what IndyCar needs, too, before things can be completely fixed - for both sides to recognize one another as equals. We're on the way, we're getting close, but we're not there yet.

Like Tony's hashtag said when he tweeted about the combined record books, it's about time it happens.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Refound Perspective

I've been in a bit of a rut as far as writing goes lately. I didn't finish my season review pieces here, even though I got through 17 of them. My readership, I think, has declined. My stuff elsewhere has suffered. The inspiration has been there in fits and starts, but not as constantly as it once was. Even my Christmas wish to you all was pretty lame. Maybe it's just because we're in the offseason.

Instead, I've been relaxing with my friends, Matt and Tom. We've known each other since middle school, at least. These guys are like brothers to me - the brothers I never had. We trade advice, we play video games, we try to make something of ourselves and our unit. But what we do together has nothing to do with my writing. They don't see my passion for motorsports as much as you all do.

We got together for Christmas, just like it was any other night. After a series of awkward family gatherings and decent gifts (especially money, always a necessity for a college student), Tom and I went to Tom's house to wait for our friend, Matt, to get out of his late shift at work. His adoptive father, Big Joseph, is usually up when we get in. We trade stories, we talk sports, we learn from each other. Well, mostly, I learn from him, because that's how it goes with generational gaps, usually.

This particular day we'd gotten to talking about sports, and witnessing greatness. He was 20 feet from Jimi Hendrix playing the national anthem at Woodstock. John Bucyk sized his skates as a teenager. He once witnessed Ted Williams talk fly fishing with a friend's father. The point was that, no matter who you are on this earth, you're never nobody - you're always somebody. I heard more stories from him in a night than I'd heard from my father in five years.

I said this to him. I wished - and I do, to this day - that I could hear more of my dad's crazy driving stories from when he was a kid. I wanted him to teach me how to drive a stick, show me how to wheel a muscle car, endow me with the skills that would enable me to pilot a car with confidence and skill.

Thus far, I've had no experience with any of that. My family has a Mustang, but it's an automatic. The limitation of my manual abilities is acquired muscle memory with a Ferrari FXX on Road America in Forza Motorsport 3. Yet I've always wanted to be the next Dario Franchitti - hell, at least the next Marco Andretti. I never really got that chance. I'd be more at peace with it with the stories of his driving adventures. Nothing.

I told Big Joseph this. I said, "There's one quote that stuck with me. I think it was Bobby Knight, if not, somebody attributed it to him and that's the name that stuck with me. But he said that 'Those who can, do. Those who can't, write about it.'"

Said Big Joseph, "Fuck him."

My eyes widened a bit.

"Yeah, fuck him," Big Joseph continued, slicing carrots into a chicken soup. "Writers live forever. You come along as an athlete, you set a record in sports... sooner or later somebody's gonna come along and break it. But as a writer, if you can tell a story, you can live forever.

"If you can write - and I know you can write - stick it to 'em. Take your talents to the ice, to the field, to the ballpark, and shine."

I was witnessing greatness. Not the kind of greatness that you see on the sports field, but the kind of greatness that comes from the heart, when you want to teach somebody else a life lesson. It was a motivational speech on par with Herb Brooks in the locker room at Lake Placid in 1980. And it contained the same message - to go out and be the best at what it is you do, no matter what anybody says, if anybody doubts you, if you're not getting any breaks. Just go out and be somebody.

Perhaps the greatest Christmas gift of all was the inspiration to write something again, and it came from Big Joseph.

He said earlier in the night, "What's wrong with things coming by accident? How do you meet the woman you love?"

"By accident."

"Exactly. BY ACCIDENT. I wandered into The Grog in Newburyport, and who walks in but this beautiful brunette that turns out to be Thomas's grandmother. I might have come into the bar a nobody that night, but I was somebody enough to say 'Hey, how you doin'?' You're never nobody."

And I think I'm taking the right message from all of that.

I'm not nobody. I'm somebody. I may just be a mere IndyCar blogger, but you know what? I'm somebody. And so is everybody else in the IndyCar blogosphere. And I may be young, unpolished, and not know when to shut up sometimes, but I'm one of you, just the same. And I'm going to keep being somebody.

If you read me, good. Glad to have you. If you don't, well, you'd better start, because I'm going to come out next year and show all of you that my writing means something. I'm going to be a voice that leads the sport into the future, through ups and downs, peaks and valleys, good times and bad. I promise you no less than that from me, or from this site, from this day forward.

To that end, let me also announce the site's expansion. We're adding writers next year. We're switching from the tried-and-true Blogger format to a more heavy-duty WordPress site, and you're all invited. We'll still be at OpenWheelAmerica.com, but we'll also be on Twitter at @OpnWhlAmerica and attending at least half a dozen races between us next year. Expect nothing less than innovative and interesting content from young, dynamic, and authoritative voices year-round.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all - look for us in the future. See you soon, maybe even with the rest of those season review pieces.