(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.
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