Phoenix Preview: Unabashedly Unapologetic Edition

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Following last year’s race at PIR drivers sounded like United Airlines after dragging a paying customer kicking and screaming off a flight. While it wasn’t that traumatically awful of a race – no fans were bloodied, broken or concussed, at least – IndyCar better have learned its lessons and get it right on Saturday.

The issue was down force levels and the series can be excused somewhat since it was returning to the track after over a decade hiatus. Next generation, aero kitted cars – soon to be done away with, thankfully – and other variables contributed to the disappointment. Scott “podium” Dixon won going away last year in a so-so race under the lights. No one likes a yellow finish, though. Thanks, race control.

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Image from youtube.com

Unabashed in our adoration of IndyCar oval track action – the highest form, fastest and most entertaining of all racing – we at IRR favor Wild Bill’s (as portrayed by Jeff Bridges) approach: “I DON”T apologize!” It’s also solid advice never to touch another man’s hat, or in this case, helmet. Taking to ovals like Hickock to whiskey, cards and whores, we’re cautiously optimistic that they will provide, as Dixie put it, “a better show” this time around. After all, patience isn’t a limitless virtue.

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Photo from foxsports.com

Son of ‘stache Graham Rahal Continue reading

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Pocono Predictions And Prognostications: Problems Edition

Our problem – one of about 500 of them – is that after nearly a month off our powers of prognostication are really rusty. It’s a good thing our picks have been weaker than an IndyCar penalty all year or else it could’ve been a real problem. Perhaps a month off’s exactly what was needed and everyone can just get back to racing at Pocono problem-free. Yeah, right – at this point IndyCar’s about as problem-free as the drug-addled punk rockers the Sex Pistols.

LONG POND, PA - JULY 6, 2014: The Verizon IndyCar Series Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco race is held at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, PA on July 6, 2014 (2014 pixelcrisp)

Photo from poconoraceway.com

In honor of “NASCAR‘s Tricky Triangle,” we’ve a series of special predictions, though they’re probably problematic for fans of the artistry on wheels that is IndyCar – you’ve been warned. Tragically it’ll most likely be the series’ last trip to Pocono, like Fontana, at least for a while. Sigh. Befitting the mood of the occasion, in their first on track meeting since Iowa Sage “Wildman” Karam and Ed “The Finger” Carpenter won’t tangle with each other again or even make unkind gestures. It’d be just too juicy and beneficial for a series that has so many problems it doesn’t seem worthy of a good break.

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Photo from usatoday.com

Despite his prowess in 500 milers, Team Penske championship leader Juan “You Know” Montoya will encounter problems during the course of the marathon race and fail to repeat at Pocono. This’ll present Graham Rahal and other title contenders with a golden opportunity at Long Pond before heading into the season finale. Looks like it’s not the Cap’n’s year, as even Penske isn’t immune to Pocono’s plentiful problems.

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Photo from usatoday.com

Another problem for Pocono Continue reading

IndyCar News Week in Review

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Photo from IndyRaceReviewer

SPECIAL UPDATE: Series Sponsor Verizon settled a damaging lawsuit late this week, agreeing to pay out millions of dollars to customers the communications company overcharged for years. This affected not only millions of Verizon subscribers, but also the rest of us as apparently the entire internet was impacted by Verizon’s shenanigans. Ripping off your customers certainly isn’t the sort of sleazy corporate behavior IndyCar wants or needs to be associated with one would think, nor is slowing down the whole of the web in the nation that invented it, although in light of the 2015 schedule perhaps Verizon’s the perfect sponsor for Miles’ new tennis racket approach to racing.

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Photo from  espn.go.com

The Hawk Has Landed: AJ Foyt Racing announced this week it’s expanding to a two car operation, and we don’t just mean at Indy. Inexplicably, Takuma Sato is back with the team and will be joined as co-recipient of AJ’s wrath by upstart northern Englishman Jack Hawksworth. Hawk is formerly of Bryan Herta Autosport, who formerly drove for AJ Foyt Racing. IndyCar’s a bit like the Hapsburgs of Europe and many modern day workplaces – an incestuous little circle.

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Photo from foytracing.com

Schedule Announced and Many Pounced: The IndyCar Series unveiled its thinly veiled schedule for 2015 and there wasn’t an abundance to be excited about and even fewer surprises. Initial reaction to it is here and it hasn’t changed much. More ovals, please. Brasilia and NOLA will be new road courses, hurray. We hope everyone makes it back safely from these exotic, crime-ridden third world destinations. Dubai didn’t make the cut, although it appears to remain under consideration for the future. Why? We have no idea. As trumpeted by Curt Cavin and others, “Dollar Dale” Coyne’s driver and race winner Carlos Huertas posted “Dubai Feb 22” on his website earlier in the week. Perhaps he meant in 2016.

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Photo from usatoday.com

Testing, Testing: Also according to the ever accurate Twitter, Rahal Letterman Lanigan failed to show at the test at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on Monday, possibly significant of larger problems for the floundering team.  Maybe Graham was just hung over, or all loved up by Courtney Force. Graham, Bobby, Dave and company had a horrible year as documented in IndyCar Season Grades and missing off season tests isn’t a positive sign. Apparently the late night talk show business isn’t what it once was, but then again what is?

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Photo from examiner.com

Flipping Formula 1: Lesser known F-1 Teams are dropping like bribery charges against Billionaire Bernie Ecclestone lately. First Marussia went bankrupt, then Caterham bowed out of the next two races, also reportedly belly up and entering receivership. Respected British newspaper The Telegraph called F-1 a sport “no one can afford” and described it as being very much “in crisis.” Maybe IndyCar doesn’t look quite so bad in comparison after all.

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Photos from bbc.co.uk and dailymail.co.uk

Odds, Ends & Tweets: At Monday’s test, unemployed driver/Indy 500 crasher J.R. Hildebrand drove the Fuzzy’s number 20 car normally reserved for Ed Carpenter of newly merged CFH Racing. No grand theft charges have been filed to date, so evidently J.R.’s joy ride was legit. Curiously Kentish Mike Conway was no where to be seen and rumors have him out. In a Tweet from Barber Motorsports Park, Carp’s teammate Josef Newgarden called it “the most consistent track” they race. Perhaps surprisingly to our readers we at IRR wholeheartedly agree. Barber is consistent – consistently tedious and boring. Finally, the flow chart at CFH Racing seems to be taking shape as another official Tweet referred to “Team Manager Andy O’Gara.” Andy is of course Sarah Fisher’s husband. We wonder if Ed knows of the news yet? Incestuous little circles.

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Photo from cbsnews.com

IndyCar Driver Test: Helio Castro Neves

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Photo from usatoday.com

Veteran racer HCN hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil, the nation that greatly contributed to the visual pleasure of men everywhere with both thong bikinis and the necessary follow up bikini wax. Helio was born appropriately enough in the month of May in 1975, obviously making him a senior statesman of the series. In Helio’s recently adopted home country the U.S.that year there were two attempts on President Ford’s life within a three week period (and you thought the current Secret Service had problems) as well as the debuts of “Jaws” and “Rocky Horror” in cinemas. This last is especially fitting, as Helio’s an exceptionally funny guy who’s got er, um, rhythmic moves.

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Photos from npr.org and billboard.com

In a seventeen year driving career (“Let’s do the time warp again!”) Helio’s amassed an outstanding record especially at the Indianapolis 500, where he’s recorded three wins and remains a man eating threat to win more. Every May Foyt, Unser and Mears hear that menacing music whenever Helio arrives at the Speedway: duh-duh, duh-duh, duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh . . .

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Photos from starstills.com and motortrend.com

The Tim Curry of racing has led thousands of laps, won twenty nine races between CART and IndyCar and owns eighty some top fives and literally hundreds of top ten finishes. The word is consistency and it’s put him flagrantly on the list of best of all time. Remarkably, Helio’s kicked up his heels and won at least one race every season except 2011 in the last fifteen years.

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Photos from fanpop.com and espn.go.com

He’s also earned tens of millions of dollars in his storied career, which didn’t escape the notice of the intrusive, abusive IRS several years back – just like Roy Scheider who Helio rather resembles. With Team Penske fielding four fast cars in 2015, the other three driven by teammates Pags, Power & JPM, the shark-like HCN had better step up his game else despite his past success he could become IndyCar chum.

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Photo from craveonline.com

The Brazilian does splendidly well with media, who openly adore him. For once, who can blame them? His Helio-isms are a nice touch, too and among our favorites are “Man, that sucked!” “Come on guys, it’s pronounced EH-leo,” and “Just a li’l bit loose out dare, ha ha ha.” Ebullient, handsome and likeable, apparently he even dances well according to reports. If true, then that’s seventies Susan Sarandon hot!

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Photo from listsplosion.com

One of our favorites on the grid, HCN passes the Driver Test with flying – mainly white, yellow and orange – colors. He’s simply . . . absolutely fabulous is what he is, though distressingly not everything’s as sunny as the beaches in Rio. Other Great Whites lurk just off shore, hungrily, stealthily. In the future, Helio will do well to triumph over the tempestuous Transylvanian transvestites on his own truly talented top tier team.

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Photo from IndyRaceReviewer

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Photo from foxsports.com.au

Instant Reaction – Death Sometimes Wins the Race

Tragedy struck yet another racetrack Saturday night. Sprint car driver Scott Semmelmann was killed in an accident during practice at Beaver Dam Raceway in Wisconsin. Semmelmann’s car made contact with another car and then flipped repeatedly, smashing into the wall. He was 47 years old according to USA Today and curiously racing for the first time in 2014. This is just the latest in a long list of driver fatalities, reminding us that death defying drivers don’t always succeed, and death sometimes wins the race.

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Racing’s always been an inherently dangerous pursuit, particularly in its earliest years. Six IndyCar drivers were killed in 1916 alone when safety technology was primitive or non-existent. Bill Vukovich, Jerry Unser, Tony Betttenhausen, Dave MacDonald, Swede Savage, Scott Brayton, Paul Dana, Greg Moore and Dan Wheldon are just some of the better known racing fatalities on the list of over ninety driver deaths in IndyCar alone.

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NASCAR’s shorter history nevertheless yields plenty of tragedy, as well. Tony Stewart, still facing a possible grand jury indictment for the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. in August is the latest celebrity racer to encounter a brush with tragedy, although the list is a long one. Dale Earnhart is perhaps the most famous stock car driver to die on track, one of nearly seventy driver fatalities in NASCAR. Add in sprint car and other racing disasters and the late list swells to the hundreds. That’s not counting fan deaths at events, either. Interestingly, a surprising number of fatalities occurred during practice rather than a race.

Every driver who straps into a racecar is well aware of the risks he’s taking. Let’s face it, the obvious danger of racing is a powerfully appealing pull to drivers and fans alike. In that sense, racing and danger go together like lightening and clouds. It’s a loathsome but essential aspect of a package deal. Like most things in life without the risk, there is no thrill, no reward. The lengths technology and safety have advanced in racing’s first century are amazing, but frequent fatalities remind us that racing, like life, can never be made completely safe or risk free.

Eleven Reasons to Embrace the Endless Off Season

1. There’s time for pursuits other than IndyCar. For example, did you know Emerson Fittipaldi had a brother named Alexis DeJoria who drag races? Or so we gather. 

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2. There’s more time for non-racing pursuits, like drinking and jousting.

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3. Less caffeine, fewer blog posts and more sleep!

4. Other sports can fill the void, like water football.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

5. Bonfire preparation – Guy Fawkes Night is coming.

6. Sunny Florida!

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7. If it’s anything like last winter, snow sports.

8. Time to catch up on our banking.

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Photo from telegraph.co.uk

9. “Rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear.”

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10. Sit back and polish our “Bloggy Awards.”

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11. Apologize to certain important individuals in IndyCar for all the mean posts we’ve written about them before next year, when we plan to do it all over again – only better.

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Photo from foxsports.com.au

Ten Reasons to be Fond of the SoCal Finale

1. Big, bouncy, beautiful ovular racing.

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                                   Photo from ap.org

2. Proximity to Los Angeleez, according to The Stranger a place “high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide.”

3. Hot Hollywood offspring like Ireland Baldwin.

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               Photos from gotceleb.com and dailymail.co.uk

4. It’s too far to drive, so there’s no guilt over not attending the race.

5. Celebu-tards like Gwyneth Paltrow.

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                                      Photos from dailymail.co.uk and fitsugar.com

6. Many more beaches than Louisiana.

7. Earthquakes!

8. Better weather and less sand than Dubai.

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                Photo from usatoday.com

9. It’s where the Dude abides as well as resides.

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                            Photo from dailycaller.com

10. It’s slightly less third world-y than Brazil.

Fontana Finale Foreshadowing (in Fine French Fashion)

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Photo from sfhracing.com

For hard core oval track racing fans, The Scheduling Gods this year blessedly provided three 500 mile race holiday weekends: Memorial Day at Indy, the Fourth of July at Pocono and summer’s bittersweet swansong in southern California. Therefore, we offer sacrifices of ethanol, oil, carbon fiber and rubber out of appreciation to those upon Mount Foyt-lympus. We’ve been looking forward to Fontana since July and in some ways since last fall.

Auto Club Speedway is a wonderfully wide, steeply banked two-mile oval built by The Cap’n Roger Penske as a sister track to Michigan, which by the way must return to the schedule. In the meantime, we’re fortunate to have Fontana as the finale and anxiously anticipate a season ending stem-winder of a race under the lights. All this while trying not to let the leaks about next year’s schedule harsh our ovular buzz.

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Photo from ap.org

Purposely built for IndyCars atop the site of an old steel mill that helped in America’s WW II effort, Fontana usually provides for highly entertaining, edge of your seat racing. Plentiful three-wide passing should be the order of the evening Saturday in SoCal, barring the possibility of the big one striking the area between now and the race. We kid our cool Californio readers and note that the thousands upon thousands of ex-Californians we’ve met who’ve moved to the Midwest seem like nice enough folks generally. Plus, SoCal’s not only where the Dude abides, but also resides (“high on the list of laziest places world-wide“). 

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Photo from dailycaller.com

The main focus of the coverage this week will be on the championship battle with Power, Helio and Pags all still eligible for the one million dollars and the IndyCar tiara and scepter. Well it should be, as it’s been one hell of a season long race. We wish two-thirds of the contenders all the best. 

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Photo from autosport.com

As underdog aficionados and ones ourselves, we’re going full Francophile for the finale, hoping against a Pags’ championship debut debacle. “Never surrender!” shall be our adopted battle cry for the week, as fellow fans of the fast Frenchman – from Frere-Jacques to Francois – form up to fete the famous frog.  

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If the Frenchman retreats during the fight, then hopefully it’ll be Helio who takes the championship since all our favorites are out of it. Somebody’s going to do it for The Cap’n eventually, so it might as well be the longest tenured driver he has. We’ve come to appreciate the ever-ebullient Castro Neves realizing the old adage “if you can’t beat them, don’t root against them.” Obviously we’re not rooting for Mad Will Power (see “Ain’t Penske Ashamed, Will Power’s Insane”) while risking the ire of our own beloved mother in opting out. It’s best to avoid that booby hatch.

We simply can’t bring ourselves to pull for the crazed cream puff-eared crank, not even for dear old mum. Undeniably, the Aussie’s about as stable as a two legged chair on an ice rink. To quote him after Milwaukee, “I love winning on ovals! I love winning on ovals!” Here’s to hoping fervently that he doesn’t win on the massive D-shaped oval. 

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Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au

Another “fun-tastic” feature of the finale in Fontana is that it isn’t just about the points battle, but also winning the 500 mile race itself. In fact the race winner easily could come from outside the top three and often does. Hunter-Reay and Eddie Carpenter are always formidable oval racers with a shot to win on the big tracks, as are the Target cars piloted by thirty-five time winner Dixie and the always affable Tony Kanaan who nearly won Pocono. Let’s not forget Montoya who actually did win Pocono and had this to say prior to Sonoma: “Awful, like awful. Like my shit . . . was shaking. It was bad.”

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Photo from usatoday.com

The racing Saturday night could well be the best of the year and sets up an epic finale. It’ll be a terrific ending to the season and hopefully leads to another highly entertaining year for 2015. Provided that neither the silly season nor the aero-craze get too far out of hand. In that event, the staff here will be forced to personally intervene on the fans’ behalf. Never fear – IRR’s here!  

 

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Sonoma Recap: Rockin’ Race Review

To our pleasant surprise, Sonoma provided glimpses of real IndyCar magic on Sunday afternoon. Even a blind racetrack can find a decent race once in a while. Racing broke out after an earthquake jolted the area overnight, Will Power inexplicably remained un-institutionalized and Sebastian Saavedra somehow received another series start. Hats off to Scottie Dixon who stealthily stalked the leaders most of the afternoon to take the win. It’s only his and Target’s second win of the year, but thirty-fifth of “the ice man’s” impressive career.

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It threatened to be another Power-from-the-pole snoozer like we’ve become accustomed to at Bored to Tears Point, but acts of God have a funny way of changing things up. The race was very much like a six foot long sub sandwich – good at first, then there’s the long middle part but boy is it exciting to finish.

It started with a first lap pile up that saw Hinch spin for about the eighth time of the weekend and collisions involving Helio, Sato and others receiving damage in the corner. The accident was precipitated by Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais who like the others continued on until the wild finish. A skittish Bourdais later tangled with his teammate (two Sebastians come together!) and finally with Will Power on the last lap ending up in the wall. Helio’s race would be at the rear of the field and he’d soon be joined by teammate and championship leader Mad Will Power, a massive mistake adding some unexpected drama to Bored to Tears Point.

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Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au

Power controlled the race and pulled away under largely green though dusty dry conditions. Nearly halfway through the race however, he uncharacteristically spun coming off of a corner in traffic, losing the lead and the race and dropping to twentieth. Like Helio he continued on for points sake, but wouldn’t be a factor in the outcome. This put the race up for grabs and led to an extremely entertaining though jarring finish. Less Power means more drama at tracks like Sonoma.

As they dashed to the finish line behind leader Scott Dixon, cars raced all over the track, bumping and grinding and several even running out of gas. It proved to be a finish worthy of the quake rattled weekend, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud filling out the podium in fairly close fashion. Conway who led the race for Ed Carpenter Racing ran out of gas and coasted across the line before stopping on course.

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Bourdais was driven into the wall as they came banging three wide to the line with Power finishing tenth despite some controversy with his final placement. Sato comported himself well finishing fourth and Montoya charged back coca crazed style to a fifth place finish after also starting in the back. There was another brief yellow brought out during the middle portion of the race by Coyne’s Carlos Huertas who stopped on course. We predicted Huertas as first out, as well as Power on pole but missed with winners RHR & Montoya who fell just short.

The race sets up a grand finale for the championship as usual in IndyCar. With no contrived chase system like other series, IndyCar consistently has championship drama through the final race of the season. The double points Fontana offers as a 500 miler makes it a three way battle between the Penske duo Power and Helio and remarkably Frenchman Pagenaud for Sam Schmidt. Fontana will make for a thrilling conclusion to what’s been an entertaining season.

The coverage of the race by NBCSN although with the B team was colorful and competent, as usual. We just wonder how much they get paid to call the area “beautiful,” as unless you really like dusty brown, Sonoma just doesn’t do it aesthetically. Sam – you know – did all right as a new announcer, Townsend’s tolerable and PT’s ok for a Canuck. Leigh Diffy is preferred over his stand in, though. We particularly loved finally getting to see Courtney Force on camera. Damn, Graham needs to lead more races.  


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Photo from examiner.com

Earthquake Quotes –  

“Man I thought it was all over. I didn’t think we’d have the race. Oh my God – such a shock. I thought I was gonna die-uh.” – Will Power

“Not what you want. Man, it was amazing. I never knew we had that. Man, wow, that was the scariest thing of my life.” – Helio Castro Neves

“It was exciting – first earthquake ever.” –  Simon Pagenaud

“Yeah it was crashing and banging and stuff flying across the room.”  – Mike Conway

“The building was swaying so much. It was pretty big.” – Graham Rahal

“It was weird, man, I’d never been through an earthquake.” – James Hinchcliffe

“Awful, like awful. Like my shit- my, the bed was shaking. Anything in the bathroom went to the floor. It was bad.” – Juan Pablo Montoya

Eleven Ways to Improve the Race Experience at ‘Bored to Tears Point’

Because we’re “you know” all about solutions. 

1. Install sprinklers and off track shortcuts throughout the race track.

2. Jan Beekhuis acting as chief wine steward as well as race steward.

3. Pre-race wet t-shirt competition.

4. Beux Barfield in clown makeup doing tricks and juggling.

5. A smiling Sam Hornish, Jr.

6. Two free bottles of wine with admission.

7. More Wives & Girlfriends tv air time both pre- and post-race, bikinis optional (though strongly encouraged).

8. Robin Miller’s grid run blindfolded on a segue scooter.

9. Mandatory 2 lap “interest” yellow flags every 15 laps.

10. One lap head start for the back half of the field. 

11. Winery crawl commencing at 8:00 am race day and lasting through the green flag.