Some of the historic Indy 500 machinery on display at IMIS
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a vibrant, visible presence this week at the International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS) in Indianapolis, one of the largest, most prestigious racing trade shows in the United States.
IMIS has strong Indiana ties. The show was founded by Indiana residents Chris Paulsen, owner of Indianapolis-based equipment manufacturer and supplier C&R Racing; Tom Weisenbach, executive director of the Indiana Motorsports Association (IMA); Jeff Stoops, president of Stoops Freightliner; and two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, also a two-time winner of the Brickyard 400.
This is a hardcore racing show with global appeal. It’s based in Indiana. It’s organized and run by Hoosiers. So it’s a perfect fit for IMS.
Cars from all eras of the "500" are on display at IMIS
The large IMS display at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis included 10 classic Indianapolis 500 cars. IMS staff and the IMS Street Team promoted the popular Grounds Tour of IMS and the three Speedway events in 2011 — the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, the Brickyard 400 on July 31 and the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 28 — by distributing collateral material and just good, old-fashioned handshakes, smiles and conversations all three days of the Dec. 1-3 show.
Impressive variety of Indy 500 machinery on display at IMIS
Another popular piece of collateral distributed by IMS was a poster of the 33 Indy 500-winning cars lined up earlier this fall on the main straightaway at the Speedway, also promoting the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 in 2011. A few Indy 500 veterans stopped by to say hello, including Tyce Carlson and PJ Jones.
IMS was one of 579 racing companies that purchased 1,145 booths for the three-day, sold-out trade show. IMIS offers individuals and companies from all facets of the racing industry the chance to interact, share ideas and products, build relationships and attend seminars to improve motorsports business around the world.
For more photos of the IMS presence at IMIS, click here.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway played host to two very dedicated globetrotters in the last week. Both are parlaying their love of two-wheeled transportation into the trip of a lifetime.
Paolo kissing the bricks
Last week, Paolo Pirozzi of Italy stopped by to take a lap around the famed IMS oval on his Ducati motorcycle, affectionately named “Lidia.” Paolo is taking a year to ride around the world, making a point to stop by every MotoGP circuit on the globe in the process. So far, Paolo has taken seven months to cover 24 countries, starting in his native Italy and working through northern Europe, Russia into China, then back west across India and Pakistan and to Australia. He flew to Seattle and traveled down the west coast of the United States.
After Indy, Paolo traveled east to New York, and the plan is to hit Florida (who wouldn’t, in November!) and then work west then south through Mexico, Central and South America, and skip across the southern Atlantic from Brazil to Africa, then north toward home. I’m weary just thinking about it.
On Nov. 23, Az Heydari, one of the world’s newest yet most passionate MotoGP World Championship fans, ran the 2.621-mile road at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of the Red Bull Indianapolis GP.
Heydari, who attended her first MotoGP race at Estoril, Portugal in 2010 and immediately became a self-proclaimed MotoGP fanatic, is raising money for Riders for Health by running 16 of the 18 circuits upon which MotoGP runs around the world. Her goal is to raise 15,000 pounds; so far her running shoes and MotoGP fandom have raised more than 9,500 pounds.
The resident of Kent, England, left London on Nov. 6 and first ran the track at Qatar; she has ran most of the European circuits since and, after her run at IMS on a sunny-but-chilly day, she next heads west for Laguna Seca.
Jimmie Johnson put himself in the same room as NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt — both seven-time Cup champions — by winning his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday by finishing second to Carl Edwards in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson rallied from a 15-point deficit to pass Denny Hamlin for another championship. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus endured a tumultuous Chase, during which Johnson’s crew was benched, to continue their reign over the sport.
Say it five times fast: This guy is a legend.
And the great debate begins: Is Johnson’s dominance good for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and help it gain more attention as it attempts to rebound in 2011 from a season of decreased attendance and TV ratings? Or will it hurt, as fans are getting sick and tired of seeing Johnson and Knaus hoisting the big silver trophy every year at Homestead?
SBNation’s Jeff Gluck, an avid Tweeter, posted this interesting smorgasbord of Twitter reaction from fans after the race Sunday. Many fans complained about Johnson’s victory. And those fans are wrong.
What Johnson is doing here, folks, is beyond special because it’s almost beyond comprehension. NASCAR rule makers toil long and hard to build equality into the sport. The COT has homogenized the machinery. The point system rewards consistency more than winning. The Chase system was created to prevent a runaway champion late in the season, erasing any early-season dominance. Four of the 10 Chase races are on 1.5-mile ovals, with no road courses and only one short track.
This is racing’s version of the salary cap and free agency, two components that have killed dynasties in the NFL, NBA and NHL. Yet Johnson, Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports continue to just deliver under pressure, year after year. Think about it: The last time Jimmie Johnson failed to win the Sprint Cup, only Alaskans had ever heard of Sarah Palin. Justin Bieber was a kid dreaming of stardom in his bedroom in Canada. Joey Logano was 15 years old.
Why is this criticized? Why is this seen as boring? I agree with Peter DeLorenzo at Autoextremist: It’s not like Johnson and Knaus are crushing the competition due to superior equipment, an argument that could be made about the Ferrari that Michael Schumacher drove to five consecutive Formula One World Championships last decade.
It was one of those weekends why we dig this sport. The unexpected happened, which is one of the most appealing aspects of motor racing.
Here are the facts after the Kobalt Tools 500 Sunday at Phoenix: Hamlin leads four-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson by 15 points entering the season finale this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick is third, 46 points behind. It’s the closest three-way Chase with one race remaining.
Muzzle the mouth or walk the walk, Mike.
Now to the opinions. It might be a good idea for Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Ford, to keep a low profile heading into South Florida this week. Ford crowed after the Texas race Nov. 7 that crew chief Chad Knaus may have lost a fifth consecutive title for Johnson by essentially firing Johnson’s crew mid-race and replacing it with the crew of Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon.
The end result was that Hamlin is rattled. He ripped his team after the race by saying, “Like I said, I did my job.” Not exactly a rousing vote of confidence or rallying of the beleaguered troops by a wise veteran. More of the impetuous Denny we thought had grown up. And at just the wrong time.
Hamlin pledges a pedal-to-the-metal approach at Homestead. He’s going to need it, as there are only two guaranteed routes to the championship for him, either winning the race or finishing second and leading the most laps.
My money still remains on Johnson to hoist the Cup for the fifth straight year. Who is your pick, and why?
Judging by the feedback I received from the Nov. 8 edition of Splash And Go, it appears that the many dramatic subplots of the AAA 500 last Sunday weren’t enough to draw back those of you who have abandoned the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup this fall. Your attitude seems to match that of Kyle Busch to the NASCAR official during his stop-and-go penalty for pit road speeding last Sunday at Texas — the big, fat middle finger.
Guess many of you feel the same way about the Chase, which is too bad.
That’s a shame, as no one is going to convince me this isn’t a compelling Chase. The top three drivers within 59 points. Two races to go. Forget about the COT. Forget about the Chase system.
Four-time reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson trails leader Denny Hamlin by 33 points after Hamlin won last Sunday at Texas. But there are few better places for a JJ rebound than Phoenix, as he has won the last three fall races at The Desert Mile.
Hamlin is hot, as he’s racing no differently during the Chase than he did during the “regular season” — the dude is driving to win. So anyone Chase naysayers complaining about conservative “points racing” better not point to Hamlin. Oh, sorry, I’m on that soap box again.
And what about Kevin Harvick? He’s 59 points behind leader Hamlin, and Mike Mulhern suggests it might be a must-win situation for Happy this Sunday at Phoenix.
It should be vewwwy interesting, as Elmer Fudd would say.
Is this Kyle Busch after a speeding penalty or NASCAR fans who still think this year's Chase stinks?
So, Chase naysayers: Are you happy now?
If not, then just end your illusion of any allegiance to NASCAR. Just come clean: You’re not a NASCAR fan anymore.
Because if you didn’t find the AAA Texas 500 even the slightest bit entertaining, then you should just move on. Pass Go, collect $200 and move to your latest sport du jour or continue to long for the “glory days” that had no more glory than what was on track Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
I’m far from a NASCAR apologist, as there are times I think reading toaster oven wiring manuals is more exciting than watching a Sprint Cup race. But this season has been solid, and no race has featured more drama, excitement and over-the-top entertainment than Sunday at Texas.
Let’s start recapping the plot lines. I bet we’ll need to move to a second hand to get a complete count.
One, Denny Hamlin uses a great inside-out move on Matt Kenseth to win the race. Denny could have sat back in second and taken the safe route, knowing he still would have left Fort Worth with the points lead. But Denny did what champions are supposed to do: Drove his ass off for a victory. (It’s a shame that NASCAR doesn’t reward winning drives like this with more points, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Two, Jimmie Johnson is out of the points lead with just two races remaining. Johnson entered the race 14 points ahead in his Drive for Five, yet he left Texas 33 points behind Hamlin, in second, after finishing ninth. Kevin Harvick remains third, 59 points out of the lead, in the closest three-man race this late in the Chase since the format started in 2004.
Three, Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, benched his pit crew mid-race for poor performance, orchestrating a swap with teammate Jeff Gordon’s pit crew. It was about as stinging as a public rebuke can be, but it’s not surprising considering Knaus’ Texas-sized ego. Plus even though Knaus never has met a mirror or the pronoun “I” that he didn’t like, look at the man’s record: He delivers. Johnson didn’t seem that torn up about the divorce from his pit crew after the race.
Four, smack talk by Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Ford. He said the mid-race Hendrick crew swap could be the tipping point toward Denny ending Jimmie’s run of four consecutive Sprint Cup titles. Brash, bold talk — you’ve got to love it.
Five, Gordon’s crew was available because Jeff Burton inexplicably took out Gordon, precipitating the Backstretch Bash. The Driver formerly known as Boy Wonder stomped toward Burton on the backstretch, gave him a strong two-handed shove and started to throw punches before being restrained by NASCAR officials.
It wasn’t exactly Cale vs. Donnie and Bobby on the backstretch at Daytona in 1979, but it was quite compelling. And because the combatants were Gordon and Burton, two of the more sage, even-tempered elder statesmen in the NASCAR garage, you know it was real.
NASCAR is in the midst of its most exciting Chase for the Sprint Cup since the inaugural year of the format, 2004, when just 16 points separated champion Kurt Busch, second place Jimmie Johnson and third place Jeff Gordon at the end of the season. Yet the endless bleating, soul-searching and head-scratching continues about NASCAR in reverse gear.
Make no mistake: NASCAR has problems. Declining TV ratings and race attendance. Top teams struggling for sponsorship. Yet it’s still the most popular form of motorsports in America, by far. Every other series in the U.S. would love to have NASCAR’s “problems.”
But can we just focus on the racing for the next three weeks? There are three races remaining in what has been a compelling Chase for the Sprint Cup. Four-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson leads Denny Hamlin by just 14 points and Kevin Harvick by 38.
It’s high-octane drama, yet from Tuesday through Thursday of every race week during the Chase — after the race reports and analysis are out of the way by Monday and before the race previews and coverage start Friday — all I read about on NASCAR blogs and websites are theories and speculation about the root cause of the great withering of NASCAR. Dustin Long, who I read daily and whose work I admire greatly, even wrote that the close Chase could be hurting NASCAR.
Isn’t there a two-month offseason during which endless column inches and online bytes can be devoted to the Great NASCAR Decession? You know, when no actual racing is taking place?
A bit of housekeeping and two public service announcements before Splash And Go begins. Sorry for the lack of recent posts — I was splashing and going on vacation last week. And if you’re 18 or older and a U.S. citizen, please vote today. You lose your right to complain about your government if you don’t do anything about changing it. Finally, please help Hoosiers in need by donating to the 1 Lap, 1 Great Cause food drive at IMS.
On to racing.
Sorry, Carl, but Happy Harvick is too busy fighting to win the Sprint Cup
Talladega was an interesting show last Sunday for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but it wasn’t the decisive “wild-card” race many expected. All it did was reinforce that this is a three-man show with three races to go, as Jimmie Johnson leads Denny Hamlin by 14 points and Kevin Harvick by 38 points.
This is the kind of bandstand finish that NASCAR envisioned when it created the Chase. I’m starting to believe that Harvick can be the dark horse in this race and take it all, as he has the right attitude regarding the final three races: Top-10 finishes, simply staying out of trouble, don’t cut it.
Harvick also has a consistent, solid teammate to help him, Clint Bowyer. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin are too inconsistent to be solid wingmen for Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to be largely irrelevant. Kyle Busch is too much of a wild man and wild card to be much of a help for Hamlin, and Joey Logano is no factor.
Take a minute to think about Bowyer. He has won two of the seven races during the Chase. Yet he’s 12th and last in the Chase standings because of the 150-point penalty levied by NASCAR for driving an illegal car to victory lane in the Chase opener in September at Loudon.
Bowyer deserves applause. He’s driving hard, like a man with nothing to lose, despite being buried in the Chase because his car was out of whack by about the width of a hair. He’s the Chase’s version of the Buffalo Bills, still playing with intensity despite being 0-7.
The “Big One,” which ESPN’s announcers seemingly so desperately wanted to see last Sunday at Talladega, never really happened until A.J. Allmendinger’s wild ride on the final lap that precipitated the extending scoring review to determine Bowyer edged teammate Harvick for the victory.
But there was a massive wreck last Sunday in the DTM (German touring car) race at Adria, Italy. This looked every bit like a tumble-and-spin job from restrictor-plate racing, yet it was on a road course. Thankfully driver Alexandre Premat was OK:
There might be only three guys in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing who have it better right now than Jamie McMurray — Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — even though McMurray isn’t one of the 12 drivers this year in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
You'd be stoked if you won at Daytona, Indy and Charlotte in the same season, too. Even if you weren't in the Chase.
McMurray continued his banner season with a victory last Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jamie Mac’s three victories this season came at the three most prestigious tracks in NASCAR – Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte.
I wrote this before, but McMurray’s primary sponsors, Bass Pro Shops and McDonald’s, must be pretty stoked these days. I know I’d rather benefit from the exposure of winning the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and a race at Charlotte and miss the Chase than make the Chase and go winless, as Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth have done so far this season.
Only Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick should be happier than Jamie Mac these days because they’re the only three drivers with a chance to lift the Sprint Cup on Nov. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson finished third at Charlotte, with Hamlin fourth, stretching JJ’s lead to 41 points over Hamlin in the standings. Harvick is third, 77 points back.
Everyone else from fourth-place Jeff Gordon to 12th-place Clint Bowyer are at least 156 points behind Johnson. They can turn out the lights on 2010, Irene. With just five races remaining, they’re toast.
While most media members and fans think Johnson is easing away from Hamlin heading into Martinsville this weekend, Dustin Long begs to differ. He believes this could be Hamlin’s Chase to lose and presents an interesting statistical case.
Kasey Kahne’s lost season continued with illness and a third brake failure Saturday night at Charlotte, and the relations between Kahne and Richard Petty Motorsports plunged to an even deeper malaise. Kahne claimed illness for his reason for leaving the team after his early accident, yet he was healthy enough to run a 5K race for charity the next morning. Granted, RPM has provided Kahne with cars barely worthy of Fred Sanford’s junkyard this season.
It’s an ugly example of how a lame-duck driver and team should not end a partnership.
There are some things in racing that make everything else — including the NASCAR Chase, MotoGP crowning two World Champions and the F1 race at Suzuka — feel irrelevant. Shane Hmiel’s accident in a USAC Silver Crown car during qualifications Saturday night at the Terre Haute Action Track is one of those.
Get well soon, Shane
Hmiel was badly injured and faces an arduous journey of recovery after a sickening, single-car wreck in which his car bicycled into the outside wall, directly impacting the roll cage. I thought about posting video of the accident that’s out there on the usual places on the Interwebs, but it turns my stomach every time I see it.
If you’re a fan of NASCAR or USAC racing, you know Hmiel’s story. He is the son of longtime NASCAR crew chief and team executive Steve Hmiel. He was banned for life from NASCAR in 2006 for failing three separate drug tests.
But Hmiel was navigating the road to redemption through the tough arena of USAC short-track racing and had won features in Sprint and Midget competition. He was seemingly doing everything right as he rebuilt his professional and personal life.
That’s what makes this accident even more painful for the racing community. America is the land of second chances, and here was a 30-year-old guy who was making the most of his. Now he faces a much greater fight.
If you believe in a higher power, pray for Shane Hmiel. If you don’t, think of him often. He needs all of the prayers and positive thoughts we can offer. A Facebook page is available for fans to offer support and thoughts, with updates on Hmiel’s condition also posted.
There is no such thing as a smooth transition from the sadness of Hmiel’s accident to the rest of the racing results from last weekend. But the octane show did go on around the globe.
Two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart jumped from 10th to fifth in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup after his victory at Auto Club Speedway. Smoke is still 107 points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson, who has switched on his Mr. Consistency mode after finishing third.
Jimmie Johnson at age 60: "Stay thirsty for Cup titles, my friend."
The Bearded Man of Mystery has finished first, second and third in his last three Chase starts after a rough opener at New Hampshire. Is there any wonder why this cat has won four consecutive season championships and seems to be destined for a fifth this year?
This was the last fall race at Auto Club Speedway, as NASCAR responded to the ho-hum attitude toward the sport by Southern California by moving this Chase event to Kansas next season. Past races on the 2-mile oval at California have been NASCAR’s alternative to Ambien, but that wasn’t the case Sunday.
There was plenty of action in the Cup race Sunday and the Nationwide race Saturday, including a hell of a comeback drive by four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon after he was nailed for speeding on pit road Sunday and Danica Patrick learning the ropes of NASCAR give and take Saturday with a firm bumper up the posterior.
Cars also drove four- and five-wide on late restarts in the Cup race Sunday, and there was a questionable debris caution that pulled the pin on Clint Bowyer’s race. Engine problems also put a serious hurt into the Chase chances of Roush teammates Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, and Kyle Busch’s engine condition mirrored his personality, too, spewing hot, black lava.
One of my favorite parts of any Monday during the Chase is reading which drivers are being coronated and written off after the weekend’s results. Remember, media were crowning Denny Hamlin and crucifying Johnson after New Hampshire. So it’s always fun to observe the spastic knee jerks of scribes.
Instead of distilling the Chase contenders from pretenders, Tom Bowles of SI.com is playing the “what if?” game. A fun read, but it reminds me of one of my favorite sayings from my college cross country and track coach: “If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.”
Speaking of attachments, as David Hobbs calls them, was there a gutsier performance in a major event all weekend than the victory produced by Valentino Rossi at Sepang? Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi slipped to 11th after a horrible start in the Malaysian Grand Prix, but he sliced through the field in an imperious, improbable ride to the top step of the podium on his Fiat Yamaha.
Still, one couldn’t help but think Rossi’s fantastic ride and victory were messages Lorenzo for 2011: “Yeah, kid, you’re the champ this year. But I’m going to kick your ass back to Mallorca next year when I get on the red bike.”
Nobody plays mind games in MotoGP quite like Rossi.
It was a good weekend for MotoGP at Sepang. There was a stirring victory by Rossi, a popular new champion crowned in MotoGP, a nice story of redemption through the crowning of Toni Elias as the first Moto2 World Champion and news that Dani Pedrosa is returning next weekend for the Australian Grand Prix just two weeks after suffering a broken collarbone.
But all is not sunny for MotoGP. The bike count for the premier class in 2011 is looking pretty bleak, fluctuating between 15 and 17 depending on the rumor du jour. It’s a far cry from just five years ago, when there were 23 bikes on the grid for this event during the height of the incredibly competitive and exciting 990cc era.
There is a simple solution: MotoGP should just return to the exact specs of the 990 era. The racing was fantastic, the costs were lower, and the cornering speeds were safer. But the electronics’ groundhog has seen his ugly shadow over the last four seasons. So the all-controlling, all-powerful black boxes sadly never will be removed from the bikes.
In Formula One, Red Bull teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ran away and finished one-two, respectively, in the Japanese Grand Prix at the sensational Suzuka circuit. Webber leads Vettel and Fernando Alonso, who finished third at Suzuka, by 14 points heading into the Korean Grand Prix on Oct. 24.
The track is a typical crap Tilkedrome, with 17 turns, no flow, very few high-speed corners and maybe two good overtaking areas. It’s going to be a jarring contrast from Suzuka, which ranks right up there with Spa as the ultimate challenge among current F1 circuits.
Suzuka is a masterpiece designed by the late John Hugenholtz. Hermann Tilke, the designer of nearly all of F1′s boring new circuits over the last decade, isn’t even worthy to carry Hugenholtz’s sketch pad.
The mighty Mount Panorama circuit in Australia also is a man’s track that never could come out of the mind of Tilke. It’s the site of one of the world’s great races, the Bathurst 1000 for the awesome Aussie V8 Supercars. These machines are fantastic, basically agile Sprint Cup cars on steroids. Series stars Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife teamed up to win the most prestigious touring car race in the world Sunday.
Stewart Friesen won another big race Sunday that’s off the radar of many American racing fans, the SEF Small Engines Fuel 200 at Syracuse, N.Y. It’s the Super Bowl for DIRT modifieds, the top form of short-track racing in New York and Pennsylvania. Friesen became the first Canadian winner of the race.
In NHRA, Top Fuel superstar Larry Dixon continued to be the most clutch performer in drag racing — if not the entire motorsports world — this season. He beat Cory McClenathan in the finals of the national event at Reading, Pa., and has 12 victories in 12 final-round appearances this year. Perfection.
Dixon is 89 points ahead of Cory Mac in the NHRA standings with just two races remaining.