“Who am I? And why am I here?” Or, the Iowa Indy 300 and other musings

First, we here at IndyRaceReviewer must acknowledge the two major sources of inspiration for this ridiculously irreverent, johnny-come-lately site. The first is the gracious Bill Zahren, aka Pressdog, whose wonderfully witty – and substantive, too, dog gone it – blog on IndyCar (and sometimes other, lesser important forms of auto racing) can be found at pressdog.typepad.com (for the one person who may stumble upon this tiny little excuse of a blog who has not seen his site). And secondly, we must pay homage (or is that hemorrhage?) to the one and only, the late, great Doctor of Journalism (“God Damn it!”) Hunter S. Thompson. May ye rest in peace, in pieces, on that rugged rocky mountain you so loved. D’ya ever think you’d be mentioned in the same paragraph as HIM, Bill?!

So now with the formalities and other b.s. out of the way, let’s get to the crucial answer to the late Admiral Stockdale’s poignant questions all those years ago: “who am I and why am I here?” The answer to both: racing. Specifically, IndyCar racing. Let’s face it, and be not ashamed to proclaim it fellow IndyCar fans: IndyCar racing is the best. (And it simply blows N@$*#! out of the freakin’ water.)

Allow me to explain what I mean by “the best.” To paraphrase the great Wm. Makepeace Thackeray’s line from Kubrick’s extraordinary film Barry Lyndon, “Not the best people, or the best coverage, or the best sponsors, or even the best paint schemes. But the best.” And by that I mean that he meant the best racing (even though he was writing in the 18th century about a totally different subject and in a completely different context. Plus the fact that I couldn’t possibly have spoken to him as he died centuries ago. And also cars didn’t exist in the 1700s).

After all, it’s really the racing – the sheer joyous entertainment that only death defiance over raw speed achieved through uncanny driving skill can deliver – that’s the point, is it not? Not the crowds, not the hype, not the coverage (First Amendment in the USA, where have you gone?), but the racing, pure and simple. And in that regard, my friends and fellow fans of fast, we can be supremely confident in the fact that IndyCar racing is the best. That is why we’re here at IndyRaceReviewer, and why we so look forward to race weekends, or as we refer to them round here, holidays.

For this inaugural post in the height of holiday season, IndyCar’s latest race and Bill “Pressdog” Zahren’s own home race in Iowa is the topic, appropriately enough. The Iowa Corn Producers Indy 300 made the case brilliantly for the aforementioned and under-girding argument upon which this site – and others – are based. The racing was that good. For novice followers of the sport who saw the Iowa 300, it should have come off as unbelievably entertaining racing and would have to your author, too, if not for the fact that oval racing in the IndyCar series historically has been similarly breathtaking and ohhhh-so-fun to behold. Especially at Iowa, as well as other great ovals including Indianapolis, Texas, Kansas and others. It goes beyond must see – it’s must see distraction free tv.

From the above list of speedways, Iowa is the only one your humble author hasn’t attended. Of course the plan is to correct that deficiency as soon as possible. Having been to twenty five Indy 500s through the decades in addition to numerous other tracks and races, including now defunct venues like Gateway and Colorado Springs, this blogger has no mean experience. Having missed exactly one televised race in the last thirty years or so (not counting some forgettable CART events, such as the infamous US 500 – sorry, had a conflict attending a real race), your humble narrator also has seen quite a few races on tv. (Considering what and who I was doing that night I missed Tomas Sheckter win Texas in the silver Pennzoil car, I have no regrets. That is until now, seeing it in print for the first time.) So it’s safe to say this blogger has some experience as a fan of the sport. By the way, Chicagoland Speedway near Joliet should be back on the schedule forthwith, as it yielded some of the most outstanding, harrowing and closest races in history. Bring back the Blues Brothers’ track!

But back to Iowa. What a race! (said in one’s head in the voice of the eternally silly Yakov Smirnov.) Hunter-Reay, the all American driver for Andretti Autosport comes from out of no where to win? From tenth place? Are you kidding?! As Yakov would’ve said, “What a finish!” Who honestly saw that coming? Any true fan of the series respects if not roots for TK and – as usual – the cagey veteran put in one hell of a race for the fans and spectators, dominating until the final two laps when RHR’s new tires propelled him into the lead. It’s safe to say that most of us didn’t see that coming. That’s yet another beauty of IndyCar racing – the unexpected nature of many race outcomes.

Another all American boy, born in Paris, Illinois (where your humble author happened to hail from at one time), Ed Carpenter ran an admirable race, as well, until that unfortunate contact with JPM, who has been the mid-season story after his triumph at Pocono. Loved the on-air JPM quote, er threat, when he was told IndyCar stewards were taking no action against Eddy: “I’ll take some action later!” Then, he stormed off camera. Classic JPM and some pretty compelling tv, one must admit.

It appeared as though Target would break their horrid 2014 winless streak, finally; but to no avail. The speedy Honda and more precisely the fresher Firestones of RHR carried the night, sealing his third victory of the season and first decent finish since his historic 500 win in May. I sincerely hope the Iowa corn growers bring back this race in perpetuity, or until corn is no longer grown in the madcap Midwest, whichever comes last.

Some terrific driving and some blazingly fast pit stops stand out about this gem, aside from TK’s latest heartbreak and Ryan’s stunning win. Where else can one watch two indy 500 winners battle it out in the final laps in such exciting fashion? No where, this author respectfully submits, is the only correct response. Young Tennessean JoNew’s second place (and best career) finish also deserves a mention, as it was team owner Sarah Fisher’s first race back since giving birth to the next generation of IndyCar racers; and what a performance her team put in for her! It was heartwarming to see, as Josef and the team needed a strong result. Finally vis a vis Iowa, the legendary AJ Foyt deserves (more than) a few words. The man was, is and shall ever remain the king of Indy Cars, and if he wants to call out, insult and cuss flagrantly on live tv, we here at IndyRaceReviewer wholeheartedly support it.

So now, it’s on to Toronto, the sole trip into the great white north this year. The pressure on Canada’s only ICS driver, James Hinchcliffe, is real and he feels it, having finished poorly before his hometown crowd in his several attempts at the big league level (Go daddy! No wait, don’t go). I expect the disappointment for the Canucks to continue for at least another year. Dixie swept both Toronto races last year, so he and the entire Ganassi team should be a force with which to be reckoned, including TK and Briscoe.

IndyRaceReviewer’s wildcard teams to watch – and perhaps even win – this weekend include Ed Carpenter’s Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka car driven by Mike Conway, from Kent, England, UK. Your humble author has been fortunate enough to reside in Kent, and it’s the garden spot of the entire UK, friends and fellow fans of fast. Canterbury is a must visit. Plus, Mike is absolutely insanely fast on street courses with something still to prove to the paddock. Also, don’t forget this Bastille Day week about everyone’s favorite Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, who is becoming a serious threat to win weekly and contend championship-wise again this year.

Now, enjoy your double holiday weekend – Sat & Sun races, huzzah! – from north of the border with bonus qualifying coverage on NBCSN  Friday evening. And be sure to check back to IndyRaceReviewer for further updates, posts and musings. One may even want to . . . bookmark it.

UPDATE: NBCSN is in fact showing Race 1 qualifying Saturday, right before the race. It’d be kinda hard to show quals on Friday when they don’t take place until Saturday morning!

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