The first debris caution on Lap 28 of last Sunday’s Daytona 500 was called because two women had crawled underneath the fence separating the motorhome park from the speedway between turns three and four and were sitting on top of the wall behind the SAFER barrier.
While most of the drivers made their first pit stops, speedway security went over and told them to get down and not to do that again.
Although some people questioned their sanity, I gave them some slack. In 1975, on the Friday night of the Indy 500 weekend, I walked right up to the fence between turns three and four of the mile-long dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and was enthralled as the USAC Champ Cars turned hot laps.
Those pilots would start to broadslide going into turn three (Larry ‘Boom Boom’ Cannon was the most spectacular) and the mud was just flying right at me. Those guys knew what they were doing and I was not the least bit nervous standing there as they slid straight toward me before nailing the throttle and hurtling themselves into turn four and out onto the main straight.
I was buzzed and was ready to stand there forever.
Except a state trooper saw me and told me to beat it or he’d arrest me. So I moved on, just as I’m sure those girls did last Sunday. But for a short time, they sure had the best seats in the house. I know; I was there – kinda – 38 years ago in Indianapolis.
From the moment James Hinchcliffe of Oakville started his long climb up motor racing’s ladder, from karts to Formula Atlantic to the A1 GP and Indy Lights and finally the IZOD IndyCar Series, he has been a marvelous self-promoter.
He has a wonderful sense of humour (mostly self-deprecating) and a sparkling personality and he knew right from the start that if he was going to make it to the top, he would have to be more than a good racing driver; he would have to exploit his own strengths.
So every opportunity he got, he made himself available to the media. Want a photo of a driver clowning around? I’m your boy, he’d say. Need a driver to comment on camera about how wonderful Cleveland/Edmonton/Milwaukee/Toronto is? I’m here, he’d say.
When he was driving in Champ Car Atlantics, he provided colour commentary on international broadcasts of the Champ Car World Series races. He became an expert at utilizing social media and created a web site around the mythical community of Hinchtown, appointing himself mayor.
When Danica Patrick wound down her IndyCar career and left for NASCAR, and sponsor GoDaddy went looking for a replacement, it didn’t take them long at all to zero in on Hinchcliffe. He’s about to start his second season in the IndyCar series, driving the GoDaddy car for Andretti Autosport.
Now comes news, which was officially announced Thursday, that James has been hired by the FOX Sports Media Group to appear on SPEED Channel’s Sunday night racing newscast Speed Center and on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain that comes on later in the evening.
He’ll join Speed Center host Adam Alexander and NASCAR driver Sam Hornish in reporting and analyzing the weekend’s racing during the newscast and will also be available for comment during the Wind Tunnel program.
This is great for SPEED, great for IndyCar and great for James.
It's also a lesson for every other ambitious young race-car driver out there: you have to do more than drive the car.
Two weeks from now, on the eve of the iconic 12 Hours of Sebring sports car classic, the American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am Rolex road racing club will hold a press conference to announce the name, branding and logo for the unified sports car series that will start in 2014.
I don’t know whether to get excited, or not. I know the merger (the sale, actually) is going to happen, because they told me so last Sept. 5. But I’m not sure it’s wise to be beating the drums for 2014 before the 2013 ALMS season has even started. (The Grand Am season will be two races old by the time of the announcement.)
They will have plenty of time to do all this name-changing and branding and logo-ing in the fall. Then they'll have the winter to really go to town to publicize it all.
It’s almost as if they’re devaluing this season’s racing on purpose in order to get people excited about next year.
I don’t get it.
The World of Outlaws sprint car series is out in Arizona these days and a release they sent out on Thursday caught my eye.
Next Saturday, March 9, at Tucson International Raceway, the special Grand Marshal for a meet there will be one of my all-time favourite race track announcers, William "Windy" McDonald.
Windy announced forever at the now-lost Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix and I can still hear his distinctive, high-pitched, emotion-filled voice when he would say, after the sprint car warmups:
"Ladies and gentlemen, it’s SHOWTIME!"
Manzanita, or ‘Manzy’ as it was called, was located in a section of southwestern Phoenix that was, to be polite, rough. The sprint cars didn’t have to run mufflers, it was said, because the sound of the engines covered up the gunfire. (THAT’S A JOKE!)
Whenever CART, and later the IRL, raced at Phoenix International, my pals and I would always fly out. We did this for three reasons: Indy cars, Mexican food and the sprint cars at Manzanita – and not necessarily in that order.
I couldn’t believe it four years ago when they said Manzanita had been sold and would be turned into an equipment depot for a crane company. The almost-sacred place where guys like Billy Boat, Ronnie Shuman, Tracy Hines and J.J. Yeley had gone wheel to wheel would be no more and never again would I be able to hear Windy McDonald say, as the field for the evening’s feature came through four and onto the front straight, all lined up and ready to go:
"AND HERE THEY ARE – THE SPRINT CARS, ON PARADE!"
Maybe I’ll fly down to Tucson next weekend and take in that Outlaws show. And maybe have a word with Windy McDonald.
Fresh from his IndyCar test with Penske Racing, A.J. Allmendinger will climb into a Sprint Cup stock car for the NASCAR race this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
The deal, while rumoured for months, just came together Tuesday.
Allmendinger will replace Regan Smith in the Phoenix Racing car. Smith finished seventh in last Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Okay, so that’s the news. Here’s my question:
Why is this race team replacing a driver who finished seventh in the Daytona 500 with a guy who lost his full-time ride last year because of his conduct and has only been in a stock car once since?
I have nothing against Allmendinger. He did his time. But while he’s a dynamite open-wheel race driver, he’s not that good in stock cars. And from what I know about Phoenix Racing, which could best be described as a low-buck team, it really doesn’t have the luxury of being Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to the rehabilitation of racing drivers. We’re not talking here about a team with the resources of, say, a Hendrick Motorsports.
In short, I don’t get it.
NASCAR and the sponsor Sprint announced this week that the Sprint All-Star exhibition race on the U.S. Memorial Day weekend would be more complicated than ever.
They didn’t phrase it that way, of course. They said changes they had planned would make the race more challenging for the drivers and entertaining for the fans.
Ho, ho, ho.
I say the words "total confusion" would be more like it.
This paragraph is is right out of the press release and, after reading it, I want anybody who understands what it all means to put their hand up so they can explain it to the rest of us. Here goes:
"The running order at the completion of the fourth segment (lap 80) will be repositioned based on the average finish for the first four segments directly behind the caution car prior to the opening of pit road for the mandatory four-tire pit stop. The order of the cars returning to the track will determine the starting order of the fifth segment."
That makes about as much sense as "Drivers and Danica, start your engines" did last Sunday.
I still can’t figure that one out either.
Photo of Larry Cannon, courtesy the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Photo of Windy McDonald, courtesy of the Arizona Republic
Photo of James Hinchcliffe and his lady, courtesy www.thebiglead.com