23 May 2010

A Tradition Lost?

All things change.
I just wish "New and improved" always actually meant "New and improved".

Yesterday we Tivo'd 7+ hours of qualification attempts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then reviewed them last night. It's always interesting to me, watching these upside-down
aircraft-with-wheels in their search for just the right compromise between Drag and speed.
Anyone watching that broadcast got a sense of the danger of it all during Danica Patrick's interview following her successful qualification attempt...
Frustrated and frightened at her team's inability to find the right combination to go fast safely, Danica had her worst "500" qualification ever and was almost in tears.

"The race for the Pole" always happens on the first day of qualifying. Winning "The Pole" is a big deal in that it puts the racer on the inside of the first row of cars at the start of the race...
a relatively safe place to be with the shortest distance to make it through the first corner during the frenetic start.
"The Pole" winner also gets lots of bennies...
Going fastest among 24 racers yesterday netted Helio Castroneves' "Team Penske" over $175,000 and a new Chevrolet Camaro, along with lots of other goodies... a good day's work.

Preparations for "The 500" used to consume most of the month of May. Teams would show up and start practicing for the race the first week of the month. Qualifying used up two weekends... four whole days. "Bump day", the day slower qualifying cars are bumped out of the race by faster qualifiers, happens on the last day of qualifying. Qualifying for the race was a spectacle in itself and always drew big crowds.

It became a tradition for my Mother and me...
I'd travel back to Indy the night before "Pole Day" qualifying.
Bright and early on Saturday Mom and I would pack up a cooler full of sandwiches and beverages, our stopwatches and radio, and we'd head to the track. Traffic getting there would be heavy, but tolerable. We'd find and pay for parking on a Speedway resident's front lawn, then tote all our gear a couple blocks to the track, pay $10 to get in the gate, then lug the stuff uphill in the stands overlooking the entrance to the pits where we could see the cars exit turn four, go down the backstretch, and enter turn one. We'd make a day of watching the cars, the crowd, and listening to race commentators talking about team strategy trying to win the coveted "Pole".
When the track closed at 6 P.M. we were always satisfied we'd gotten our money's worth. We'd pack a much lighter cooler back to the car and deal with horrendous traffic leaving the track, always handled professionally by the Indiana State Police.
It was a fun day I always looked forward to.

Then one year things got "New and improved"...
No coolers above a certain size allowed... (apparently to force attendees to use the concessions.)
The entrance fee to the track jumped from $10 to $15. (Not in itself a big deal, but irritating in light of the restrictions on allowed cooler size.)
Mom and I quit going.
(And qualifying has since been reduced to one weekend only... the weekend just before the Memorial Day race.)

So I was not surprised yesterday while watching the proceedings on TV to see MOST of the stands completely empty. The "powers that be" have made things so complicated and expensive, they've succeeded in running their core customers away.

Telling isn't it?
The entire Nation seems to have gone crazy.
Everyone is SO smart these days, the biggest race around seems to be who can go bankrupt most quickly!

Short notice I know, but I have a friend who has two tickets to the race... turn One, row Six. Great seats, and he's unable to attend. He's offering them at face value. If you're interested, I'll put you in touch with him.


ddf said...

I agree. Pick your sport, any sport. Customer service and respect for the fan has dropped WAY down, while prices and inconveniences have gone WAY up. Coupled with the superb TV coverage and instant news/statistics/information on the 'net, leaves little reason to go to the event. ...and the next generation will NEVER understand the thrill of being there.

The subject line of this post is dead on. Lost and soon forgotten.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

I used to really enjoy the 500, but my real love now is F1 and rallies. Speed channel used to provide lots of rallies to watch; I absolutely LOVE the cockpit shots.

I also LOVE the cockpit shots from F1 cars. In my opinion, THOSE guys are THE most accomplished of racers.


the golden horse said...

My dad and I used to spend the month of May at the track. He was a die hard fan.
He used to build and race stock cars at the "Little 500" track across the street from the Indy 500, for those old enough to remember that.
I lost most of my loyalty when they changed to everyone drives the same engine, use the same tires and so on. What kind of sport is that? Where is the motivation to come up with a better car? Where is the excitement?
Gone are the best days of the Novis and the turbine.

Greybeard said...

BZ, I'll agree the F-1 cars are the pinnacle of racing. I wrote a post some time ago pointing out that at 18,000 RPM the pistons are going up and down the cylinders 300 times PER SECOND, and THAT reciprocation is not something I can wrap my mind around. But F-1 cars are so computer controlled, and the tracks they normally run on are so restrictive, the driver that finds himself at the lead in the parade has a HUGE advantage...
Passing is extremely difficult.
Monaco is the most boring race in the world.

What troubles me most about the IRL goes back to an indirect reference in my post...
Things have become so expensive the diversity we used to see in the series is gone. When Mom and I last went to the time trials there were four or five different chassis and three tire manufactures represented. The cars had engines manufactured by Pontiac, Chevrolet, Ford, Buick, and there were Cosworth-tweaked versions of some of those listed.
There were normally aspirated and turbocharged engines competing.
You can have any engine you want, so long as it's the same Honda your competitor is using.
How sad huh?

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Greybeard: I've been teaching cops and fire engineers emergency response driving since 1975. I make that observation predicated upon the fact that your visual horizon is so incredibly low in F1. You either have to memorize the track or have to have driven the track so many times that you know it by heart. Couple that low visual horizon with the incredible speeds encountered in concert with the IMPERATIVE that you CANNOT touch ANYthing in open-wheel racing, and you have a safety and racing margin that is pushing the envelope with every second. This, in turn, DEMANDS human reactive skills bordering on the unholy.

Given, when your F1 track is about two cars widths it limits passing. But with a more open track F1 can be absolutely stellar. I'm more about the nature of F1 than its actual results. I'm wrapped up in the process of F1 rather than points. I've used cockpit videos of F1 in my classes in order to have my students try to identify apexes, late apexes or double apexes and where, if they were the driver, they'd place their own driving and sight lines.