Bryan Clauson, Racer, R.I.P.

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

Racer and four time USAC Champion Bryan Clauson has died from injuries suffered at a midget race in Belleville, Kansas Saturday night. He was only twenty seven years old.

The Noblesville, Indiana resident was in pursuit of starting a record two hundred races in 2016, including the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in which he finished twenty third for Dale Coyne Racing. The Belleville Nationals race that became his last was number one hundred and sixteen out of two hundred. Characteristically, he was leading when the accident occurred.

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

Clauson was widely respected and admired Continue reading

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IMS’s Latest Dirty Trick

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Image from youtube.com

Poor decisions and IndyCar leadership have unfortunately become synonymous.

A recent announcement revealed that a midget dirt track of all things is being constructed on the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This lunacy is to honor retiring NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. It’s a filthy, crass idea, a dirty trick and a roundly regrettable decision.

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This turn three tragedy is a retirement gift for the popular though troubled racer with ISIS links, and strikes us a smokescreen for publicity and profit from the speedway cum cash cow. All this – a brand new 3/16s of a mile track built to host exhibition events – for Smoke? Hell, living legend A.J. Foyt didn’t even get a new suite built for him and he actually won the Indy 500 – four times. He never bolted IndyCar for another series, either. Besides, Stewart hardly punches above his weight.

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Several questions arise from this troubling trend in Speedway. Are still more taxpayer dollars to be used for this travesty? How will historic IMS – and the big league racing held there – be affected? Will the fan experience be harmed by this PR stunt? Finally, what’s the point? Couldn’t they find another suitable piece of property nearby for such gimmickry?

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IMS President Doug Boles Continue reading

Why Menard’s Indy 500 Decision Is So Disappointing

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Photo from twitter.com

In the past, John Menard placed his immense IndyCar sponsorship money for the good of the sport with drivers and teams who needed it – not with super teams who don’t.

On Tuesday Team Penske announced a partnership with the Midwesterner Menard for three races this season, including the all important 100th Indy 500. His sponsorship dollars will go to the irascible Frenchman Simon Pagenaud‘s 22 car for three races, culminating at Road America in Menard’s home state of Wisconsin. This decision by the “Save Big Money” man is highly disappointing, to say the least.

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Photo from speedsport-magazine.com

In one sense, we at IRR appreciate Menard’s recently announced IndyCar backing, which used to be a staple of the series. Like many, we welcome the prodigal billionaire back. Also appreciated are his cars’ distinctive day-glow paint schemes, adding much to open wheel racing’s aesthetic. Last but not least, the billionaire’s backing of the 100th Indy 500 admittedly is also a gracious, though self serving, gesture. But that’s where the rub comes in, as his backing in this case is badly misplaced.

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Citing a lack of “fun,” Menard jumped ship to NASCAR back in 2004 after sponsoring IndyCar teams for twenty five years. Menard’s IndyCar drivers included the late Scott Brayton, Greg Ray and a younger, slimmer and more sane Tony Stewart. Continue reading

Kurt Busch Under Investigation for Domestic Assault

Fox News is reporting that NASCAR driver Kurt Busch is being investigated for domestic assault in Delaware. Dover police have confirmed the incident under investigation took place with his ex-girlfriend in his motor home at Dover International Speedway in September. Busch denies the allegations. NASCAR is not commenting at this time. Just as the NFL is putting such ugly incidents behind it, now NASCAR seems to be in for its turn.

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Photo from foxsports.com

Busch has a history of violence and verbal outbursts, having been fined and punished repeatedly by NASCAR. It’s appropriate that Busch drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, as Tony Stewart has had his own tragic off NASCAR track issues this season. It’s also fitting after last week’s post-race pit-road brawl in Texas that violence is once again in the NASCAR headlines.

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.

Predictions: Fontana Finale Championship Edition

Expect the racing to be outstanding on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. It almost always is as the track’s perfectly designed for IndyCars. Fontana’s an Italian place name with a gritty steel town history. It’s changed drastically over the last several decades and come Saturday night it’ll be known for two types of speed. The 220 mph speeds of IndyCars are perfectly legal though, and much better for you as long as you’re only spectating and not too close.

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Photo from ap.org

The season title is on the line and kudos to the series for another down to the wire year with the championship. In addition to being exciting to watch, it’s further evidence of the parity the league enjoys and the new Dallaras have brought to racing  over the last three years. Of course without race control’s reticence to penalize Team Penske again this year, we’d probably have another contender or two for the championship. The engine manufacturers also have performed well with Chevrolet taking the title again and Honda taking another Indianapolis 500 in May.

Realistically, it’s a battle between the two Penske veterans, Mad Will Power and the ever-ebullient Helio Castro Neves for the million dollar championship prize. IRR predicts it will be Helio who takes home the crown for the Cap’n’s first ICS title in nearly a decade, amazingly. This occurring after Power blows his lead, his race and his stack all in one glorious meltdown. Think New Hampshire times ten.

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Photo from indysportscrew.com

Here’s IRR’s exclusive scoop. For the unstable member of the Penske stable, Sunday’s earthquake sent Will kicking and screaming across  the proverbial edge. As we’ve documented here extensively, he was already teetering on it and Sunday’s 6.0 rumbler finished off his last remaining nerve. In addition to looking forward to Power’s meltdown, Helio’s experience and magnetism will shine through to make the difference Saturday night and beyond. That’s a positive for IndyCar. After all, you don’t want a mad man as your spokesman.  

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Photos from dailytelegraph.com.au and usatoday.com

As for the 500 mile race itself that’s another matter entirely. Somewhat unique to motor racing the result of the grand finale may be completely independent of the championship. Therefore multiple winners may well emerge Saturday night, a race winner and a points winner. Many factors go into the final race of the year for the teams. Drivers are auditioning for other opportunities, attempting to pad their career stats and even looking to keep their rides. Teams evaluate their crews and drivers’ performance in the finale closely, all with an eye toward improving next year.

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Like previous season finales in IndyCar, all bets are off. It’ll be a wild and entertaining ride, guaranteed. Both Hunter-Reay and Ed Carpenter are oval aces and Montoya’s been hot lately so any of them could win. Same can be said for Dixie and TK who’s been close most of the summer.

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But for the season finale in SoCal, that’s all too safe and tame for us at IRR. We’re going with a nostalgic surprise winner – one last win for the King of IndyCar – and some other astounding calls. They certainly can’t hurt our season averages and besides it’s the last opportunity of the year.

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Photo from toledoblade.com

% correct in previous 5 races

Pole Winner – Helio Castro Neves or Tony Kanaan                                               20%

Race Winner – Juan Pablo Montoya or Takuma Sato                                            20%

First Out of Race – Will Power or Sebastian Saavedra                                          20%

Biggest Surprise of Race – Carlos Munoz or Mikhail Aleshin                                  0%

Smoke Doesn’t Get in Your Eyes

It was announced last night by the team that Tony Stewart won’t be racing again this weekend. This follows the on-track tragedy in New York costing Kevin Ward his life. Since then, Stewart has bowed out of two NASCAR races and his future is up in the air. Mr. Ward was laid to rest this week.

It’s been reported that no charges against Smoke are imminent, but as IRR pointed out that could change as the DA and police continue to investigate. They’ve appealed to the public for additional videos and other evidence to aide their inquiry, which is ongoing. The sentence for manslaughter in New York ranges from 3-15 years and unlike murder, doesn’t require intent.

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Photo from seattletimes.com

Questions remain about the incident and also about Smoke’s career. Will he set out the rest of the season? It certainly looks like he won’t make the chase. Will the death affect his sponsors, the life blood of racing? What about the broader impact on an already struggling NASCAR? Finally are Smoke’s racing days over? It’s being reported that a retirement announcement is coming – we suggest you prepare yourself for the possibility.

Instant Reaction to Tragedy in New York

Hit by Tony Stewart’s car while he was angrily reacting to an on-track altercation, young driver Kevin Ward, Jr. was tragically killed last night in a Sprint Car race Canandaigua, New York. Stewart and Ward came together during the race, with Ward spinning into the wall.

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Photo from seattletimes.com

As amateur video shows, after the accident Ward exited his Super Sprint Car walked down on to the track and began heatedly gesturing at two other cars, including Stewart’s. One car narrowly missed hitting him while Stewart’s car didn’t, striking and apparently running over Ward who was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at the hospital.

Another stark reminder of the very real dangers of racing, this incident is being called an accident by Stewart’s team in an official statement, according to NBCsports.com. Having watched the video of the incident, it’s clear that Ward was behaving recklessly walking and standing on the racing surface as cars lapped the circuit under caution.

You see this sort of heat of the moment reaction in other series including IndyCar as angry drivers express their displeasure on track at other offending drivers before being herded away by safety crew members. This behavior is extremely dangerous, as events last night graphically illustrate.

It must be kept in mind that no matter how irresponsible the deceased driver’s actions were – and this seems inarguable – Tony Stewart is far from in the clear on  this. The local authorities are investigating and Stewart has been cooperative according to reports.

But it’s now before the District Attorney in New York, who has the authority to not only investigate but also bring charges against Stewart if any are warranted. In high profile cases resulting in death such as this, it isn’t uncommon for charges to be filed.

Various charges, including involuntary manslaughter, aren’t out of the question for Stewart. The sentence for involuntary manslaughter in New York is 3-15 years imprisonment. Time will tell if Stewart faces charges and the possible accompanying legal sanctions. We’ll be watching this developing story.

In the event of potential prosecution and even incarceration, Stewart may have to become accustomed to new meanings for previously familiar terms, including  locked up, smoke, wife, hole, throttle, choke and pits.

Seriously though, this tragedy calls into question the wisdom of a star the magnitude of Tony Stewart racing in minor leagues such as Sprint Cars. While he may have enjoyed it and given local fans something to cheer for, there’s no doubt that doing so exposes himself to incidents such as last night’s as well as to the potentially dire consequences that may follow.

In the aftermath of last night’s sad events, there is no doubt that both the Stewart-Haas Team and NASCAR badly mishandled their reaction to the news of Ward’s death. By initially saying that Stewart would race today at Watkins Glen before reversing course this morning, the team looks inept and insensitive from a PR point of view. Commenting that they saw nothing that would prevent Stewart from racing today, NASCAR has some serious explaining to do, starting with the Ward family.

Could Tony Stewart’s racing career and empire be in serious jeopardy? With the possibility of legal prosecution looming, it doesn’t look good for the former Indy 500 driver at all. Speculation now is that his racing career is over. Now in a statement NASCAR is distancing itself from Stewart only hours after making the opposite call. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

NASCAR has a serious PR problem on its hands and has to be considering the damage that’s being done to its brand. Misstep follows misstep from all parties involved, especially the series and team.