Like most American kids that grew up in the 80's I watched the Indy 500 every year and became interested in motorsports thanks to that race, but I didn't really get hooked until I started watching Formula 1 racing in the late 90's. My favorite era were those years with the great Mika Hakkinen/Michael Schumacher battles. (I was a Mika Hakkinen fan) So my fondness for Formula 1 waned once Mika retired and Schumacher started winning everything, even at the expense of his teammate Rubens Barrichello. My interest in F1 has only been lukewarm since.

Then I turned to Champ Car racing here in the US for my motorsports fix. However that was quickly extinguished once Champ Car and Indy Car merged and we were stuck with Tony George and his many foibles. (It was entertaining to watch the Hulman/George drama I'll admit.) My interest has been less than lukewarm with Indy Car lately, even without Tony George at the helm.

Over time however, the excitement I once had for motorsports has slowly gone. Maybe it has to do with my age, I don't know. But I think I will pour my efforts into my Trooper and my interests in the outdoors to add excitement to my life.

Thanks for checking out my blog, I hope you enjoy it. I will still post racing news when I find something interesting or noteworthy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

They said it: The year in quotes

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 12-22-09)

I was struggling to put together my traditional end-of-year compilation of classic comments from the open-wheel world, and then I stumbled onto a gem of inspiration embedded in a recent story by Marty Smith right here on ESPN.com.

"There's a market right now for folks who are willing to tell it like it is," he wrote. "It's a rarity these days."

Ain't that the truth. Marty was lamenting the way NASCAR and its sponsors tend to, shall we say, strongly suggest that drivers show as little personality as possible. It's pretty much the same way in Indy racing, and drivers almost never deviate from the script in Formula One.

So it's getting harder and harder to come up with memorable quotes from the year. Maybe the personalities just aren't as colorful as they used to be, and some of it is surely just me losing my memory, but instant classics like Tony George's "I take my hammer to work every day" and Bobby Rahal's "No harm, no foul" just aren't happening very often these days.

But there were still a few zingers -- especially when taken in context. We'll start with an entry from a veritable quote machine who ought to have a full-time IndyCar ride for publicity value alone. Paul Tracy is a hell of a race car driver, too -- the kind of aggressive, combustible racer that Marty and I obviously agree the sport needs more of …

"As I was laying on the couch watching the disaster of a race at St. Pete, I felt like I could get out there and clean everybody's clock, the way they were driving." -- Paul Tracy

"I continue to be perplexed by the board's recent decision to relieve me from my responsibility as CEO of the enterprise." -- Ousted Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George, who therapeutically expressed himself with occasional statements on the Vision Racing Web site.

"I thought the verbal bashing from Marco [Andretti] was completely unwarranted. Who's on the outside on the first corner of the first lap, up in the marbles at the 500? Say no more." -- Jimmy Vasser defending his driver Mario Moraes after an avoidable first-lap accident in the Indianapolis 500.



Foul Language Dept.

"Where the f--- is everyone? I'm world champion, man!" -- Jenson Button's greeting to the near-empty interview room at the Brazilian Grand Prix when he arrived for his championship press conference.

"I'm definitely a guy that's done a lot of stupid s--- too. It happens." -- Scott Dixon defending Ryan Briscoe's pit-lane gaffe in Japan.



The Danica Files

Danica Patrick's pursuit of a NASCAR career was a yearlong story, and by September she grew tired of talking about it. "You'll know when I tell you," was the terse mantra she adopted. But she was still the IndyCar driver most in demand by the media and almost always a good quote.

"You have a million times more joy turning a good lap on a road course than an oval." -- Danica Patrick. Good luck finding joy in NASCAR, then.

"I'm learning how everything I say and everything I do, I just have to imagine that it's all on camera." -- Patrick's reaction to being questioned about throwing fewer tantrums this year.

"She should stay where she is." Pioneering Indy car driver Janet Guthrie assessing Patrick's move into NASCAR.

"I'm starting to get a little nervous. It's time to do my part of the deal and get in these cars and perform."-- Patrick, after her JR Motorsports deal was finally announced.



Milka Mania

Since she's riding Danica's coattails into stock car racing, maybe it's appropriate that we feature a Milka Duno quote as well. Before the season, when she was testing for that Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing ride that didn't quite pan out, I asked Milka how she would respond to the notion that some people maybe questioned her talent and whether she deserved the seat. Her reply was priceless:

"Yes, well, there's only two peoples … [writers] Robin Miller and Curt Cavin. I'm not thinking about what they say. They really don't understand about racing and it's not interesting for me what is the opinion that they have." -- Milka Duno



The Dario Diaries

"A championship doesn't all come down to one race or one point. That's the moment that everybody remembers, but it was a long season, and a lot of things got us there." -- Dario Franchitti, who said it 11 days before he won the IndyCar season finale -- and the championship -- by using a fuel-mileage strategy at the Homestead finale that had some competitors grousing.

"I apologized to the fans, because they came out to see good racing, and I didn't feel tonight was that." -- Franchitti, who wasn't the only one who noticed the lack of passing at what turned out to be the IndyCar Series' last race at Richmond International Raceway.

"He pays all the time; he's his own worst enemy. TK is always the first man to reach for his credit card." -- Franchitti explaining why his pal Tony Kanaan seemed so out of sorts all year long.

No doubt the happiest story of the IndyCar year was Justin Wilson's victory for Dale Coyne Racing at Watkins Glen. It was the only race in 2009 that Target Chip Ganassi Racing or Penske Racing did not win, prompting Coyne to say:

"We were David and we beat two Goliaths today. My wife and I didn't buy a new house; we bought an engineer." -- Dale Coyne, after his first win in 25 years of trying.



The New Car Follies

The IndyCar Series originally announced that its new formula for engines and chassis would be implemented in 2011. That quietly turned into 2012, and the way things are going, 2013 may not be out of the question. Here's a timeline of the IRL's progress -- or lack thereof.

"We've engaged multiple manufacturers. We're at a point where at least one of them in the next 60 days should be seeking board approval for participation in the IndyCar Series in the future." -- Brian Barnhart, now COO of the Indy Racing League, in February

"We have previously confirmed five engine manufacturers have expressed continued interest in participating in the IndyCar Series in the future … and they continue to show great interest. Plans for introducing a new engine spec, while remaining and maintaining the series position as a leader in the use of ethanol biofuels remains an ongoing process with considerable OEM [original equipment manufacturer] input. We are expecting to finalize the engine specifications in the next few months." -- Barnhart, July

"I think we'll have the package announced by Thanksgiving of this year. We expect the engine and chassis specifications to be announced in the fourth quarter." -- Barnhart, September

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vision for IndyCar, speedway still on track



(by John Oreovics espn.go.com 12-17-09)

One of the most important stories in Indy car racing during 2009 was the boardroom coup that resulted in Tony George being removed from power at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even more surprising was George's subsequent decision to relinquish leadership of the Indy Racing League and the IZOD IndyCar Series, which he founded back in 1996.

George's roles with the IRL and IMS were taken over by Jeff Belskus, a longtime associate of the Hulman-George family who has worked for IMS since 1987. Like the Hulman family and many key members of Speedway management, Belskus is a native of Terre Haute, Ind., and he has been a friend of George through high school and into their time at Indiana State University.

A certified public accountant by trade, Belskus has long been known as the money man in the background of the IMS hierarchy. But with George's ouster from IMS and surprise move to distance himself from the IRL, Belskus found himself thrust into the spotlight.

Shy by nature, Belskus was somewhat unfairly roasted by Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz following his first public appearance in his new roles. But the key constituents of the Speedway and the IndyCar Series are comfortable with their new leader, mainly because he was quickly able offer a sense of calm and a "business as usual" approach to the issues faced by the track and the league.

"I think it has gone as well as anyone could expect it to go," Belskus said of his first three months as the outright leader of IMS and IRL. "I'm pleased with the way it has gone. Tony and I have a good working relationship and I'm happy about that. I'm still spending a lot of time learning the lay of the land in some respects. It's been a great learning experience so far and I feel good about the way it has gone."

Belskus' longterm association with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation gave him an insider's view of the workings of the company, a huge advantage over hiring an outsider to take over the notoriously private family business. He's not concerned that he could be stretched too thin by being in charge of multiple facets of the company.

"We have a good team in place at IMS that is very experienced and we depend on them," he remarked. "Even though I'm not there, I get e-mails and phone calls, but I have responsibility for running the Indianapolis Motor Speedway."

After relying solely on the Indianapolis 500 through 1993, the Speedway now hosts three major events a year. In 2009, attendance was down for the NASCAR Brickyard 400 and the second running of the Red Bull Indianapolis MotoGP race, but Belskus is not significantly concerned.

"Renewals [for the Brickyard] have been strong -- they are in line with last year," he said. "It's a higher quality product when you don't have to stop every nine or 10 laps for a competition yellow [as happened in 2008], so we hope those problems are behind us and we can win back the fans we lost as a result of that.

"Having said that, it seems like NASCAR in general, whether it's the economy or whatever it is, has certainly had their share of attendance issues this year. It's a good event for us and we hope it continues to be a good event for us. We met expectations this year. We planned for it to be off, but I think that was as much about the economy as it was about the event."

A bigger adjustment has been required in terms of managing and being the public face of the IRL. One of the toughest tasks he already dealt with was cutting staff by approximately 40.

"It's an ongoing process," Belskus said. "We're doing what we can to review everything for efficiencies to try to be as productive as we can be. I know my way around the racetrack pretty well and there haven't been too many surprises about what's going on with the League at these events. Terry Angstadt [Vice-President of Marketing] and Brian Barnhart [Vice-President of Competition and Operations] are working hard and doing a good job, and I think we deliver a lot of value."

The IndyCar Series got a huge boost in early November when it was revealed that apparel manufacturer IZOD signed a multi-year contract for title sponsor rights. Most importantly from Belskus' perspective, IZOD is essentially going to pick up the tab for the TEAM subsidy program that pays each full-time competitor up to $1.2 million annually in lieu of prize money.

"Getting the right [title sponsor] was important," Belskus said. "We spent a lot of time talking about 'fair value' and what the series is worth. We're very excited about being associated with IZOD, a brand that we feel good about."

The other bullet the IRL dodged was Danica Patrick's potential move to NASCAR. In the end, America's favorite female racer elected to remain with Andretti Autosport in Indy cars fulltime for at least the 2010 season while beginning to sample the world of NASCAR with a limited schedule for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.

"She's great for our series and an important part of our series," said the IRL leader. "We hope to see her as a part of it for many years to come. I won't say it's absolutely necessary, but we'd prefer to have her here, given our druthers. My hope is that she's going to continue to be an Indy car driver first and foremost."

Belskus said that Indy car racing fans shouldn't expect radical changes to the IRL schedule or the Indianapolis 500 during his watch. However, at a Dec. 9 meeting, the IMS board did approve a plan to shorten the month of May Indy activities to include just one week of practice and a single qualifying weekend.

"We will still be primarily a North American series, though international events are important to us," Belskus said. "We need a compelling reason to do the international events and it is important from that perspective. For Japan, it's because of Honda. We're looking at three or four international events as the most. I don't see it as a significant portion of our schedule."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

For Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Jeff Belskus, it cuts like a knife

(by Anthony Schoettle ibj.com/the-score 12-16-09)

It doesn’t make any sense.

That’s the thought that went through my head yesterday when Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus told me business operations at the famed Brickyard “aren’t as bad as they look.”

Well, they look pretty bad.

There have been two rounds of layoffs within the last year, sending at least 70 people packing at the IMS—and its sister operations. That doesn’t include the people who vacated voluntarily.

There are a couple company jets for sale, the month of May is being sliced by one-third and the golf course and catering businesses are being privatized.

“The sky is not falling,” Belskus said yesterday from what looks like an unmistakable hard hat zone.

Belskus insists the Indianapolis 500 is financially strong and the MotoGP and Brickyard 400 races are “making positive impacts on the business.”

Belskus admits the motorcycle and NASCAR events aren’t making nearly as positive an impact as they once did. Still, something doesn’t jibe.

With all your properties presumably turning a profit, why all the cost cutting. And consider, this is a property—with its famed oval, 2.5-mile road course, broadcast facilities, pagoda, garages and other infrastructure—that was once estimated to have hard assets near $1 billion.

There’s another thing I don’t understand. The notion that shrinking the month of May won’t have much of an economic impact on Indianapolis.

What about all those thousands of motorsports related businesses in the region that the governor and Indiana Motorsports Association have been touting recently. Aren’t they hurt by this—at least a little?

My how things have changed. Steve Goldsmith thought the month of May was so important to the city, he threw all his support behind Tony George in the mid-1990s as open-wheel racing began to fracture.

A former top Goldsmith aid recently told me that the then mayor threw his support behind George after CART boss Andrew Craig told Goldsmith his plan was to cut back the month of May and emphasize the entire series.

In 2000, a study demonstrated the Indianapolis 500 had a $336.6 million economic impact on the city. It takes $6 million to $10 million annually on the conservative side to run an IRL team.

And we’re talking about reducing hotel and dry cleaning costs for teams and a week’s worth of yellow shirt staffing for the IMS. Oh, and a week’s worth of expenses for IMS Productions.

Belskus said the most recent move will create a six-figure savings for the Speedway. Team operators say they’ll save five-figures. By my calculations, this is a low single-figure percentage savings for the Speedway and IRL teams.

Now this startling revelation: Belskus said the IRL teams asked him to cut the month of May. I thought the Indianapolis 500 was the one thing that has kept the IRL afloat during the worst of times. I thought that’s what kept the teams, sponsors and TV partners hanging in there.

And in the same breath, Belskus told a small group of us reporters gathered yesterday at IMS’ headquarters that another IRL race could slide into the calendar space abdicated by the Indy 500—as soon as 2011. Wouldn’t that take a bit more luster off the Greatest Spectacle in Racing? This is the exact sort of idea that caused caused Goldsmith to turn his back on Craig.

This part of the puzzle does make sense: The Indy Racing League is not profitable, and its losses might now be outstripping the shrinking financial gains of the 500, 400 and MotoGP race.

Officials for the Performance Racing Industry Show, the nation’s largest motorsports industry trade show held last week in Orlando, told IBJ yesterday that business for all motorsports companies was down 30 percent in 2009—40 percent or more for open-wheel businesses.

And there’s this: The board that controls the Speedway and Indy Racing League didn’t care for Tony George’s proclamation that the IRL needs to be profitable by 2013 or else. They liked the idea of profitability, but another three plus years of sucking money from the family fortune didn’t sit well. That six-member board includes George’s three sisters and mother.

Belskus, the IMS’ former chief financial officer who replaced George as captain July 1, got the message. He sharpened his pencil—and his scalpel—to a very fine point.

And the transformational surgery is underway.