Tuesday, May 31, 2005

More on Danica (background)

Bobby and Danica
Originally uploaded by sethsdisciple.
So anyways, this might ramble a little. There is a lot of subject matter here.

First some background. When I was growing up with John Lischke, I went to races. A lot.

Every May weekend was spent, essentially, in Indianapolis. Two weekends of qualifying followed by the 500 on memorial day weekend. I went to the race itself every year from the time I was about nine until I moved to Virginia. I was at time trials before I could walk.

I used to love those long weekends spent baking in the sun, cheering for Rick Mears. But in retrospect, maybe the cheering wasn't as important as I thought. Indy to me is really about getting together with my family and friends. There was nothing like walking up the stands right behind the scoring pylon and seeing the Weglarz and the Lohrs and the McDonalds (and the Kennedys and the Krauses) sitting in the same spot we always go to. Families we'd see mostly in May, but we would spend a lot of it together out in the sun.

Then when May was over, the next week was always the Rex Mays Classic at the Milwaukee Mile. It was heaven. They guys that I had be watching all May came to my hometown! During ever break I could at St. Rita's, I'd get as close to the windows as I could and listen for that low groan of the engines to make its way over from the State Fairpark Speedway. It was clearer when I got to later grades, and I was up on a higher floor.

But, we'd be at races a lot during the summer. Even if there wasn't an Indy Car race that weekend, we'd still be over at Angel Park in Sun Prarie most Sunday nights, eating hamburgers and corn, and going over to look at the sprint cars by their trailers after the A-Main had wrapped up. Or maybe we'd get lucky and the Outlaws would be at Hales Corners speedway. Or occasionally we'd go over to the Action Track in Terra Haute, IN, or Eldora in Ohio. Once I even went to the Little 500 the night before the Indy 500, "2000 turns to victory."

Sometimes with more family members, but as I was 10 years younger than my brother and sister, in some ways an only child, it was often my Dad and I. Like we said, "That Tom and his dad sure have a lot of fun together."

But the most fun was always chasing the Indy Cars. The season would traditionally start in Phoenix, but the second race of the season was Indy. Then, depending on the year, they'd go to Miwaukee, then Detroit (and Ed and Merriam Weglarz, some of our closest family friends, ran credentials for that race, so we were so close on the infield that we could literally touch the cars as they went by...er, if we wanted to lose fingers), then Cleveland (where the Weglarz ran credentials too!). The Michigan 500 was in there somewhere in the Irish Hills of Brooklyn, MI. Then the series would go out west for a month or two, but in September, they'd be back in Wisconsin at Road America.

The point is, some years I would see as many as six or seven of the 16 races, and a bunch right in a row. With the hookup from the Weglarz and my dad, we often had pit/garage passes too, so we were seeing the people up close. The owners, the drivers, the wrenches, the engineers, all of it. God I loved it. Indy cars burn methanol for fuel, and in the same way that Formula One cars running at stupidly high RPMs sound different than anything going, to me, the Indy cars smelled different, and it will come to you up in the stands. That was what clicked in my head when they started running, that smell, and I knew I was in for a good weekend.

Side Note: The ugliest noise I ever heard in my life was when Al Unser Jr. was at a dead stop accross the back stretch at RA, in a driving rain, and got obliterated by a driver who couldn't possibly have seen him at the speeds they were going in the rain (no windscreens on a Champ car). I can still hear it.

But then some things changed. A lot of it was the fact that I now live far away from the midwestern stomping grounds that the Indy cars frequent. But a lot of it had to do with the "rift."

You see, for years, the Indy 500, the biggest race on the circuit, was run by a different organization than the rest of the races. But, as was bound to happen I guess, eventually the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway realized that they had most of the power if they were willing to play hardball. Running an Indy car team is expensive ($20+ mil a year), and to do it, you need corporate sponsers. Corporate sponsers care about the one race that gets ratings, Indy.

When the split happened, most of the best drivers stayed with the series that had most of the races. What a mess, the best drivers didn't go to the best race. Attendence and ratings of both series slumped deeply. There is a lot of bitterness even still. Open wheel racing (Indy car) was in free fall while NASCAR was on the rise. And as my brother said, "Dad really wants me to go to the 500, but I just don't want to give a dime to Tony George (owner of Indy)." Plus, frankly, since the split, the racing hasn't been very good or interesting. I can see that, but it bums me out. I miss meeting everyone each May up in the stands.

You see, I've been back for timetrials exactly once, and that was mainly when my Dad was in bad health as an exuse to go see him. I haven't been to the race in years, nor have I felt especially compelled to watch it on TV.

All of this factors, one way or another, into the whole Danica Patrick thing. I so want Indy to be something I care about again. I want it to be something that my family and our friends care about. It was such an important part of my growing up that with Pavel(ina) on the way, I just want it like it was.


Anonymous Reynolds said...

Richmond in a few weeks, anyone?

10:10 AM  
Blogger Shocho said...

IRL at Richmond? Really? Sounds terrific.

Tom, I wish I had something more of substance to say right here, but that was a great post. Thanks.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Thanks CK!

Big Time, it sounds like the Richmond game may be afoot. I can't commit yet, but lets keep it on the front burner.

My Dad mentioned Milwaukee later this year too...he was excited about how she did, and he usually isn't the first to jump on that kind of bandwagon.

He mentioned that there are some rumblings about the two race series getting back together...Danika maybe the fatality move on CART.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Dave(id) said...

It's Danica not Danika :-)

2:17 PM  

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