Cattle ... we got 'em.
Yo yo yo. Who’s coming to Iowa Speedway? My home track, just 45 minutes east on I-80 from pressdog WOOOORLLLD Headquarters, aka the Underground Lair (basement). That’s right; I’m a blogger who sits in his basement and blogs.
But it’s MY basement, not my mom’s, and I also make pretty decent coin down here as a full-time freelance writer. I never sit here in my jammies, but sometimes I’m … ah … rather unsightly in my non-showered state and ratty outfits. Today, however, I’m sporting the Danica Patrick #7 Nationwide t-shirt tastefully coordinated with olive-colored shorts. #Fashionista. (The previous Danica name drop, while 100% true, is brought to you by Search Engine Optimization.) And my desk looks like a land fill most of the time. It’s breathtakingly unimpressive. In fact, non-family is just not allowed down here for fear they will think we’re a bunch of hobos.
Got my dark roast right here, was just messing with my scanner in preparation for Sunday, so let’s discuss …
IOWA (baby) -- Sure, I’m geeked for Iowa. Not simply because it’s 45 minutes from the Lair, but because Iowa always puts on a great race. The first race there in 2007 was … I got say … putrid. First, there was a parking debacle, followed by a blame-the-fans response from Iowa Speedway. A case study in how not to respond to a big issue. Second, the track was brand new and it was super-super grippy, so IndyCars just hugged the bottom and it was one groove. For that reason, chaos on the restarts as drivers recognized it was about the only way to pass.
I went back in 2008 with a “last chance” mentality, frankly. Fortunately the speedway recovered from its unfortunate response to the parking debacle which was caused by new grass parking lots and a lot of rain. They put down a billion tons of gravel and came up with a new traffic plan and parking was fantastically easy, and it has been for every race since. Note: you’re going to a race, not the mall, so some reasonable delays in and out are expected. You’ll always have some level of complains about waiting as little as 30 minutes, but I go as a fan to this race and park in the fan section and have gotten in and out in very reasonable time every year since 2007.
Second, 2008 featured one and a half grooves which made overtaking easier. As the track has been beaten on by Iowa weather, including our lovely winter, it’s lost grip and developed two solid grooves. The last several IndyCar races at Iowa Speedway have been the best oval racing on the schedule, most years including the Indy 500. Obviously that’s my opinion because this is my blog, but I stand by it.
Third, fans show up for the race. Iowa Speedway’s 32,000-ish seat grandstand gets pretty filled up, if not sold out, and looks good on TV. Of course if you put 32,000 people in a place like Texas Motor Speedway it looks like a family reunion since that place is cavernous. Most of the 32,000 tickets are $50 a pop or more with the first four rows going for $20 per. I have no idea how many tickets they give away, but based on my perusal of Ticketmaster’s pick your seat feature, it looks almost sold out. Tickets here... hurry!
Fourth, the race has presenting sponsors, Iowa Corn Growers and Pioneer seeds, and that helps a TON with making it work. See NewTrackRecord.com post on the value of sugar daddies here. I weep openly before the corn people and thank them for sponsoring the race. If you’re at the track and see masses of people in red race day t-shirts, hug them. They are the corn people.
So the track does a great job (insert you-can’t-please-everyone-all-the-time caveat here) and the racing is fabulous and this year the drivers are working the fan zone, primarily on Sunday morning. Outstanding. Don’t forget the pdog Introvert-Friendly Tweetup featuring Pippa Mann at 1 p.m. in the Fan Zone. Check the full lineup of driver stuff here.
Also, for $10 you can buy a “Fan Walk” pass (actually a colored bracelet you wear) that lets you go under the tunnel and along pit road. You can either walk it or take a tram pulled by a magnificent John Deere tractor (massive low-end torque!). The Fan Walk runs all along pit road (there’s a chain link fence separating you from the pit boxes, of course) and you can even hang out there during the race and watch some pit stops, etc. There’s a concession stand over there and you can also mill around the Pizza Ranch Victory Circle before, during and after the race and view the cars going through tech inspection and being rolled out. Not bad for a $10 spot.
Fan Walk doesn’t get you into the garages, however. That takes a $60 “Paddock Pass” which his good for Saturday and Sunday. With that you can wander the garage areas at your leisure. IndyCar offers incredible back-stage access ... for a price. I know you can buy Fan Walk passes at the track and I THINK you can buy paddock passes on race day if they aren’t sold out. Don’t quote me! Here’s the info from Iowa Speedway’s site.
I’m pretty closely identified with the Iowa race, most likely because I prattle on about how awesome Iowa is and embrace our status as an agricultural superpower (as you can see), so I feel like the concerned host who lives in TERROR that people won’t have a great time even though I have zero to do with the conduct of the race. That’s kind of an Iowan genetic condition, actually.
I also feel (perhaps in a fit of paranoia) that people come to Iowa expecting to be bored stiff or looking for a reason to ridicule. I understand that’s pretty irrational, but there it is.
Actually, that mentality often works to Iowa’s advantage, because people land in Des Moines expecting to have to buzz the runway first to scare the cattle off it. But when they get here and don’t see tractors going up and down the road and buildings with more than five stories and indoor plumbing and stuff, they’re like “WOW!!” The greater Des Moines area (including Newton) will surprise you. Oh, and be sure and have a pork chop at the track. Oh … my … God. Awesome.
Iowa is the media hot spot this weekend. The U.S. track championships are happening right now and through the weekend at Drake Stadium in the middle of Des Moines. The absolute most elite track athletes in the U.S. are competing for a spot on the Olympic team right here in podunk De Moines! Drake Stadium is home to the Drake Relays which means something to big-time track stars. Unfortunately, the presence of the track stuff is crowding the IndyCar stuff off the TV news. IndyCar can’t get a break, even in allegedly backwater Iowa.
So, come on out, bring the sun screen (no rain but some heat in the forecast) stay hydrated (DRINK water, ye BASTARDS) take advantage of the driver meet-and-greets and let’s light this candle. Come say hi at the pdog Introvert-Friendly Tweetup (minimal eye contact, large rest periods after conversations). Keep your expectations low. I’m very disappointing in person.
Sonoma & Twisties — Briefly, I’m looking forward to seeing NASCAR at Sonoma this weekend (via DVR). Call me nutty, but I enjoy a twisty to break up the NASCAR oval-fest. No question a good road race can be way better than a bad oval race. Ovals are not automatically better. The fact that Danica has road course skills (relative to the rest of the field, that is) only enhances my anticipation. Watching a road course involves a different kind of fan brain function … one that’s more about strategy and patience. BUT, I will say when the action is low, watching cars navigate various different turns is more entertaining than seeing them take the same big turns over and over. The Sonoma race is on TNT at 3 p.m. EASTERN.
Clearly, recent TV ratings for IndyCar have stuck a fork in the argument that IndyCars on ovals are by default more popular with the masses than IndyCars on road and street races. Something completely abysmal like 146,000 people watched the IndyCar race on the Milwaukee Mile on NBC Sports Network. That’s the smallest audience of the season so far. The Iowa race is on ABC, so it will be very interesting to see what kind of rating that pulled in.
The doubleheader twisty races at Detroit got a 0.7 (ish) each on ABC. Of course a lot of it has to do with the competition the race faces, etc. etc. But it’s possible that IndyCar is building a niche with the twisty racing fans. That doesn’t upset me, even though I love to see IndyCars run a quality oval race. The road and street schedule is a big differentiator for IndyCar from NASCAR, after all. The IndyCar oval race from TMS on ABC in Saturday prime time got a 1.0 rating. So let’s see how Iowa does on Sunday afternoon on ABC, head to head with NASCAR at Sonoma. In a delicious irony, this weekend NASCAR is on the road course and IndyCar is on the oval.
Hope to see you at the track …. ye BASTARDS