Wreckfest, Rain and a chat with Tony George Jr.

The Daytona 500 will run today in an hour–weather permitting. This is the first time in the 53 years of “The Great American Race” meeting that such an event has occurred. That is pretty good, considering spring rains can hamper the South East Cost regularly. Superspeedway racing does not happen in the rain–but road racing, on permanent road courses can be quite a spectacle. Looking back, despite the inconvenience of getting wet, while seeking out a sheltered vantage point, watching the open wheel guys navigate Road America–throwing up 20-30 foot rooster tails and sliding around the corners is fascinating to behold. Lets hope that we will get to see a good race today, despite what will be abridged spectators and viewership. How many NASCAR fans took the day off of work today to witness Monday Afternoon Auto Racing?

Detroit area Commercial Photographer, Mark Harmer, known for the beautiful ad copy illustrations for many of the Big 3 Manufacturers and Harley Davidson commented yesterday that he felt the entire Speedweek was more of a “Wreckfest” than real racing. Good Observation Mark. But it got me to thinking about the spectacle that is NASCAR Racing and what the administration of the series thinks will be most appealing to the everyday fan. I posed the question to him: “Do you think that the current spec of the cars, including the aero package and the monumental enhancements to safety actually encourages more wreckage?”

It is quite possible. While no racing fan ever will admit it, crashes are a key part of the ambiance of your typical race. This goes for all forms of motorsport–with the likely absence of historic racing where a write off there is more tragedy to the loss of a beautiful specimen of racecar.

Safety has been an amazing development for the past three decades. As little as ten years ago, Danica’s massive crash in Friday’s duel could have proven fatal. She hit a ton, at a severe angle that could literally seperated her skull and vertebrae–not unlike the sad end of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Daytona 11 years ago. The enhancements, a combined effort of Head and Neck Support (HANS device), Safer Barriers (inertia limiting inner walls) and quick thinking (Danica’s pulling her hands off the wheel a split second before impact) may have saved her from a career-or life-ending situation.

But hers was one of many this week. Only 10 cars finished the Nationwide race on Saturday and predictably, the Sprint Cup race could anticipate the same. No one will come forward and say that the spec of these current cars are built for crashing, but in my opinion, it is quite possible that safe but spectacular crashes will get the fans on their feet and motivate them to buy tickets for Bristol and all the other events to come…

In other news, Jay Penske, son of legendary team owner Roger Penske and Seagate CEO, Steve Luczo will be fielding a team in this year’s IndyCar series. Dragon Racing will have two cars with four-time CART series Champion and F1 driver Sebastien Bourdais joined by Katherine Legge, a talented lady whose brush with disaster five years ago at Road America still gets many YouTube hits. Based right here in SoCal, the team hope to prove formidable as they will sport the factory Lotus motors.

Speaking of Lotus, Chevrolet and Honda–we will have a REAL engine war this year in IndyCar! In a very engaging conversation I had on Tuesday with Tony George Jr at the Mazdaspeed 2012 season kickoff, he was very excited at the developments in the series. he expects the new Dallara DW-12 Chassis to be fantastic on both the road circuits, street circuits and ovals. Further he was very positive of F1 Star Rubens Barrichello finding a home and a prosperous career in the series.

I came right out and told him–as many of you know my feelings about the Hulman George family in the last 15 years–that I have been a very vocal critic. But the developments and star power in the series could really bring us back to the glory years of engine, tire and chassis wars in CART, I could become their biggest fan! I am sure that made a huge difference in the heir-apparent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s mood that day–LOL! All things said, I am excited that things are moving forward. I also asked him, how much he was going to spend to get Michael Schumacher for next year? We both chuckled and agreed that first they need to convince Mrs. Corrina Schumacher.

Things in racing will always be volatile both on track and off, but if we can run the 500 today, we will be off to a very interesting 2012 racing season.


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