Good morning, peeps. It's 5:30 a.m. here in Des Moines, Iowa, and a balmy 37 degrees outside. Actually 37 now with a high of 48 today is blamy for Iowa in December, so I'll take it. I'm here in the underground lair with my space heater chugging valiantly to my right and the furnace to my left popping on occasionally.
Cue the homespun soundtrack. Cue the dark roast. Let's talk about this and that, including some glimmers of hope on the IndyCar front.
The Car of Tomorrow was also a brick, with all models of car being virtually identical and made to look like a Ford, Chevy, Dodge or Toyota via decals. For Gen 6, NASCAR is trying to make its cars more closely resemble the actual production cars of the same model. Back in the early days of stock car racing, teams actually bought production cars (hence the term "stock," as in "something you can buy at the store") then they modified them by various means but they still looked like the car you could buy.
Many fans, especially the nostalgia afflicted (and they are legion in racing) wanted stock cars that looked more like cars from the dealer's stock. So far so good on that front. The Ford Fusion NASCAR (I own a 2010 Fusion) is a hawt-looking vehicle, I must say, so my viewing will be enhanced watching it race.
ANYWAY, NASCAR shot out a glowing news release from the test saying "The look of the new sixth-generation car has been a hit and so has the performance of the new car. Drivers experienced speeds on Tuesday that have the potential to break the current qualifying record at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as the speed chart topped the 193-mile-per-hour range." Stock cars that look more like stock, higher speeds, those nutty NASCAR people ... giving fans what they want. LUNACY.
And, finally, about 20-ish racing media showed up for this test. 20. For a test. NASCAR is smart, so they held the test in Charlotte, where bunches of media are based, and scored some free publicity. You cover NASCAR. They are testing the new car in town. It's December. You go. You crank out a couple stories, you tweet a bunch, badabing, easy day. NASCAR fans endure the shortest off-season maybe ever for racing yet by day four are all "OMG, I'M WONDERING IN THE RACING DESERT! THIS OFF SEASON IS KILLING ME." So they were all over news from the tests. NASCAR PR Machine ... engage.
Katherine Legge gets monster air -- A cool little online documentary by Trace Sports and IMG Sports Media focusing on Woman of pressdog® Katherine Legge's attempt to qualifying for the Indy 500 came to my attention yesterday. I posted it here. Katherine touched on some of the same topics as the documentary when I talked to her a month after the 500 here.
Besides documenting the saga of Katherine's very late passage of her rookie orientation program before the 500 (insert Lotus-related drama here), there's good stuff in there about her career in general, the whole gender thing and the True Car Women Empowered effort. There's also some comments from a female assistant engineer who worked on Legge's team. Worth a gander.
My only issue was when talking about the very legit subject of how Katherine's approach to the "femininity" issue varies from Danica Patrick's, the documentary makers used perhaps the worst pictures of Danica ever. It seemed odd to me out of the universe of images they picked those. Not only odd, but at variance with the point of the segment. The point was Danica has successfully used glamor and "femininity" in a certain way to advance her career ... so you show bad pictures of Danica to illustrate the point? Weird. Maybe those are the only images they could legally use. Maybe I'm fixating on something everyone else will pay no attention to (happens all the time). It's like a little fly of strangeness in the otherwise awesome documentary ointment.
I find Katherine quite fascinating. She was very relaxed when we talked in person at Iowa Speedway. How do I convey this .... Katherine seems like a person who is who she is, and she's not very distressed if who she is doesn't excite you, if that makes sense. She's not pissy or unfriendly, but she does seem to be the opposite of those people who go on the charm offensive from the second they meet you, close talking and trying to make you their best buddy, gregarious, adjusting their demeanor on the fly to maximize their likeability, very stereotypical salesmany stuff. I've only interviewed Katherine once on the phone and once in person, but I think she might even be a fellow introvert. She seems a bit mercurial. A bit of an enigma. She's definitely been through all kinds of craziness and adversity in her career in Champ Car, DTM and now IndyCar, and she doesn't mind giving you glimpses of her battle scars.
As Katherine said when we talked at Iowa: "I think the thing is in my career, I’ve been through so much. I’ve always had to fight as hard as I can for what I’ve done, and it’s been really hard. And sometimes I think I’m stupid for pursuing it at all costs." (Complete interview here.)
In my experience interviewing female drivers, I can very much tell you that like every other human being, no two are alike. There is no single personality for a female driver, just like there's no single personality for a male driver. Katherine has a unique vibe to her and, honestly, from what I know of it (and that's not a ton, admittedly) it seems a lot like my own personality, which is maybe why I find her fascinating.
One of my all-time favorite driver scanner-based moments came while I was monitoring Katherine during the race at Iowa Speedway. Her pit posse asked "what are your thoughts" on hitting pit road as the pack came to the green late in the race, to get Katherine, who was a lap down at that point, out of the mix in the front pack. Katherine's reply was classic: "No. (one-second pause) My thoughts are no." Insert me chortling here.
If anyone knows if TrueCar is going to continue to sponsor all the women on the team next year, let me know. The "working on 2013" messages coming from some of the Women Empowered Women have me a little tense.
IndyCar Glimmers -- So, previously I've gone grand mal with my despondency about IndyCar and threw my toys out of the pram (Britishism for having a fit), blah blah blah. But two interviews published in the last weekish have given me some hope. One was interview with IndyCar CEO Mark Miles on IBJ.com (read it here), the other was an interview with IndyCar interim CEO Jeff Belskus on SpeedTV.com here.
Why hope? Just compare the two interviews. The one with Belskus is pretty much informationless. A lot of words with very little communication. Everything is important, we're working on everything, we're addressing everything, we're analyzing everything. Struck me as how to answer questions without actually answering them.
I guess it's not really surprising. Belskus is interim CEO and all the talk is he's not a lock by any means for the full-time gig, and it's super duper clear that Miles is the real boss, so if I was Belskus I guess I wouldn't get too far out there espousing a "vision" either.
Now contrast that to the interview with Miles, at least what Anthony Schoettle, IBJ's sports business reporter, tells us about the interview (you have to subscribe to read the entire thing). Schoettle describes and quotes a guy who is willing to try new things, willing to ... GASP ... break some traditions that no longer work, willing to ... GASP ... update and improve Indianapolis Motor Speedway facilities, which would require him to determine IMS is not a perfect, frozen-in-amber cathedral and therefore improvable. Install lights at IMS. Why? To move the NASCAR Brickyard 400 to a night race. Why? Here's where I get giddy: because the heat of a day race is killing fans AND a night race might improve TV ratings. Fan-motivated improvements. Insert me breathing into a bag here. This guy shows some promise.
Key quote for me:
“The trick is to have a fresh set of eyes come to this and not let the past—in fact, not [being] interested in continually digging up the past—but looking forward and yet doing that in a way that appreciates the culture.” Miles said.
He's also talking about some kind of a playoff system in IndyCar, similar too (take it easy) the NASCAR Chase for the Championship. Maybe that will work, and maybe not. Many many people are immediately going to react with "BLASPHEMY!!" etc., but my mind is open.
I want more ideas, even goofy ones. Even non-starters. So I won't be screaming at anyone who offers any ideas, even ones I think are stupid. I want a guy who comes in and says "everything is on the table" not just for the Indy 500 and IMS, but for the entire series. A guy who wants to make positive, fan-focused change, and isn't content with 2% tweaks here and there. The most important thing of all is: a guy who has the backing of the family to make those changes.
If Miles wades in and starts making real changes, there will be feathers ruffled, and if an owner junta can just go over Miles' head and get him canned, well, we're back where we started. But if Miles has the family's backing, and they stay solid behind him, and he has some diplomacy when it comes to dealing with teams, even if Chip Ganassi et al start to bitch and moan, we got a shot to improve things.
Miles background including his handling of the wildly successful Super Bowl hosting in Indy in February, gives him the bona fides as someone who can grab this bull by the horns. I hope he does, in a big way.
That's all I got. 6:44 a.m. and I'm onto the day job stuff. Couple brochures to draft. Always enjoy your comments below. Word to your posse.