Mid-Ohio Preview: Middling At Best

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It’s time again for IndyCar’s annual trek to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the second rate road circuit known for middling racing, surface street speeds and paint-drying-level excitement. Consistently, we say meh to Mid-Ohio.

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Testing at the mediocre track last week yielded one positive development, at least. Actual open wheel IndyCars – or the closest we’ve come in five years – made a limited return. J.R. “wall banger” Hildebrand and the aged Tony “Curly” Kanaan tested their cars sans ass-pods, those unsightly rear bumpers introduced after Dan Wheldon’s tragic death at Las Vegas in 2011. Let’s hope the incompetents running the show at 16th and Georgetown show some common sense for once and get rid of ’em  – permanently.

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There isn’t much else to say about the racing at Mid-Ohio that we haven’t said previously. The track’s inferior, the racing’s sub-par and IndyCar’s artistry on wheels is utterly wasted there. Continue reading

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Iowa Corn 300 Preview: AA’s Stompin’ Grounds

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Host of one of IndyCar’s most riveting races, Iowa Speedway has seen Andretti Autosport stomp the competition. Nevertheless, a return of the fast cars to an exhilarating short oval is a welcome event. It makes us want to jump with joy.

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Anticipate three wide oval-tastic fun on the 7/8s mile circuit with speeds exceeding a hundred and eighty miles per hour and plenty of passing. By comparison, NASCAR‘s junior league pole speed this year was in the hundred thirty range. Yawn. Speaking of NASCAR, the SAFER barrier’s certain to get a workout this weekend with Dallara Automobili making back some serious dough. Stomped upon stockholders demand it after an almost perfectly clean (and really boring) race at Road America.

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A quick, banked bull ring, Iowa Speedway’s one of the best tracks the series visits. The racing is routinely superior, Continue reading

IndyCar 300 at Kansas Speedway, April 27, 2008 in Pictures

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It was a raw, windy, chilly day in Kansas, a three hour drive from home.

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A good sized crowd attended the race and were not disappointed.

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The pit action was furious and directly across from our front stretch seats.

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Several cautions kept the field bunched up for close quarters racing.

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Two and three wide action was the norm on this day.

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The seating at Kansas Speedway allows for views of the entire track.

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The humongous American flag is a nice touch.

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It wasn’t Team Penske’s day, although they ran strong as usual.

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Ed Carpenter’s Menard’s paint scheme was simply gorgeous.

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The late Dan Wheldon won the race that day for Target.

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.

Danica: More Diva Than Driver, Part 2

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Danica endured a disappointing 2010 IndyCar season though she remained well lighted under the media klieg lights. The pressure mounted on her to prove that the historic 2008 win at Motegi wasn’t merely a fueling fluke, an accidental outcome as it started to appear. She managed only eight top ten finishes in seventeen races that year, though she did score a couple of podiums at Texas and Homestead along the way. There was nary a win in sight and it’d been nearly three years since her triumph in Japan.

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The same fans, press and admirers who had helped propel her to such dizzying heights of driver-diva fame now demanded more from her, or else the media machine threatened to move on from “Danica-mania” to the next fabricated folksy focal-point of their choosing, say Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. Undoubtedly, her star had dimmed over the last couple years as the up and down cycles of big league racing took their toll. That glorious Danica glow already had begun to fade amongst the fans, if not yet amongst her dedicated followers in the press corps.

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By 2011 it was apparent that Danica would be leaving IndyCar and her on track results showed it. Emotionally she’d already moved on that final year in IndyCar, merely going through the motions and acting interested, all the while secretly looking forward to trading up for obscene riches. In one of her worst years in racing she managed only seven top ten finishes in seventeen starts, not counting the Las Vegas finale, which was canceled after Wheldon was tragically killed. Her best finish was fifth at the Milwaukee Mile, but it was her only top five finish all year with a couple of paltry sixth place results at New Hampshire and Baltimore for good measure. She led ten laps at Indy but finished a disappointing tenth in her final appearance to date in the Greatest Spectacle in racing.

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Then in 2012 with the usual amount of hoopla and media fanfare she married into NASCAR and its multi-millions, leaving IndyCar jilted, attention-starved and somewhat stunned at its losses. As Elvis once asked, “Are you lonesome tonight?” The divorce complete, her relationship with suddenly shaky IndyCar was behind her and the desirous diva-driver didn’t look back. Whether or not she actually could drive a hulking stocky behemoth around a racetrack was another matter altogether, as her waifish size and weight were no longer advantageous in her new series.

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If DP’s record of one win in a hundred sixteen IndyCar starts was poor, then her record in NASCAR has been even worse. She’s currently oh for seventy seven and counting, with a best finish of sixth quite recently in Atlanta. She has three top ten finishes so far this year along with two ninth place finishes last year. That’s it in two-plus lengthy – by which we mean seemingly never ending – NASCAR seasons.

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The media hype surrounding the driver-diva remains disproportionate to her performance to this very day, and it’s been that way since she made her debut a decade ago. It’d be another matter if she were a consistent or even sporadic winner, but such effusive media coverage starts to become insulting after so many years without results. Just ask her dumped ex-IndyCar colleagues.

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No other racer with one win in nearly two hundred starts gets a fraction of the attention she does. Clearly, Danica’s far more of a diva than she is a driver. The record – both photographic and otherwise – proves it. The only question is, will the media finally wake up and roll over for a clear eyed, sober morning view of their bodacious bedfellow to acknowledge the obvious fact? We predict no, and that she eventually moves on from NASCAR to fall for her next passionate love interest (media, anyone?), when yet again her utter lack of results will be completely ignored.

Danica: More Diva Than Driver, Part 1

The sometimes salacious, truly tiresome Danica Patrick saga is now over a decade old, lasting from its inception in 2005 to at least the present day. While parts of it haven’t been pretty, other parts certainly were. Danica may not be much of a race car driver, but she’s commendable for making the most of her career through skillful use of her um, assets.

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It’s not that she’s just another pretty face, though. Born in 1982 in Roscoe, Illinois Danica’s raced nearly her entire life. The diminutive thirty two year old has been competing at the big league level for ten years now – all one hundred pounds of her. Between IndyCar and NASCAR, she has nearly two hundred major league racing starts under her belt and exactly one win. The one victory occurred over six years ago in a little noticed late night IndyCar race in a land far, far away. That’s a .52 % career winning percentage in case you’re counting, which obviously is not a very attractive little number.

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Danica burst onto the IndyCar scene in 2005, soaking up the adoring press she generated and turning heads like a wet t-shirt contestant at a tent revival. Her national fame swelled to C-cup proportions at Indianapolis where she made history in leading laps as a rookie. An attractive young female racer who continually gained throngs of new fans and admirers, she also received the ire of competitors who were clearly jealous of the unparalleled media coverage the rookie garnered. Many forget she also led laps at Japan and Chicagoland that year and finished fourth at both Japan and Indianapolis. In a promising inaugural campaign Danica achieved six top ten finishes in sixteen starts, earning Rookie of the Year honors for both the Indy 500 and the season.

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The speedy siren also landed the Sports Illustrated cover after Indianapolis, further irking the more established and proven drivers in the field. In a televised interview after winning the Indianapolis 500, the late Dan Wheldon absolutely went off on Patrick. Asked about her extensive media exposure and whether it overshadowed his 500 victory, Wheldon unconvincingly told ESPN “I don’t care. Who gives a shit, really? I mean, so it’s SI – right there,  I mean if you were owner of SI, there are thirty three people in the Indianapolis 500, one of ’ems hot and female why wouldn’t you put ’em on the front? You’d be crazy not to, right?” The English racer then added tersely, “I have the self-satisfaction of just winning the biggest race in the world. Fine by me. . . . In ten years down the road, no one’s gonna remember the media attention the fourth place person got.”

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Danica experienced a bit of a sophomore slump on track the next year – her last with the struggling Rahal Letterman Racing – failing to lead a lap all year but finishing fourth at both Nashville and Milwaukee. The fawning national media treated her as though she were a female AJ Foyt setting the world afire. Danica had eight top ten finishes in only fourteen races that season but didn’t come close to winning. In fresh surroundings she bounced back in 2007 leading four races and landing on the podium three times, finishing second at Detroit and third at both Texas and Nashville. She finished in the top ten an impressive eleven times in seventeen starts and carried momentum into the 2008 season, her fourth in IndyCar and second with her new team Andretti Autosport.

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In her fiftieth IndyCar start Danica finally broke through with a victory. The general feeling among many in and around the series was one of relief rather than exhilaration once the facts had finally caught up with the phenomenon. She won the third race of 2008, taking the lead with three laps to go as most of those ahead of her pitted in an otherwise forgettable fuel mileage contest on a mountainside in Motegi, Japan. The few Americans who saw the race thirteen time zones away watched it very late at night and went to bed shocked at the result. She led only the final three laps but prevailed to become the first woman in history to win a major league race on a closed race course. The press attention Danica’s win birthed was unprecedented in its scope for IndyCar, lasting for months and years, easily overshadowing the recent announcement of the end of IndyCar’s version of the Great Schism.

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It seemed all the press’s previous glowing coverage of her was now somehow justified as they congratulated themselves, basking in their role of diva-driver queen-makers. She’d already posed in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and was arguably the most recognized (or is it over-exposed?) driver in the world, a true celebrity phenomenon by this point in her career. Starring appearances in extremely pricey and widely discussed Super Bowl ads weren’t far off. The win in Japan proved to be the high water mark of her racing career so far however, as she went on that year to lead only one more lap with high finishes of fifth at Nashville and Sonoma, and a total of nine top ten showings in eighteen starts. Her record didn’t get much better over the next  six years, despite what you may have read.

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In 2009 she did respectably well, finishing third at Indy and fourth at Long Beach and turning in five top fives and ten top tens in seventeen races. While she led laps at Texas and Kentucky and showed some consistency, she really wasn’t a threat to win all year. The next year she achieved second place finishes at Texas and Homestead, but managed only eight top ten finishes in seventeen starts including fifth place in Japan.

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By then the rumors of her leaving for NASCAR raged in the press, again irritating many in the Indycar paddock. Apparently some in the series thought they couldn’t live with her and couldn’t live without her. Having learned their lesson, this time around her fellow drivers muted their displeasure with Danica and her departure, generally voicing it off the record rather than publicly through the press as before. Few in the media ever noted her unremarkable record during a seven year IndyCar career and instead stayed on the Danica bandwagon as it swerved toward NASCAR.

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