Indy 500 – observations

I spent most of the day walking all around the Indianapolis Raceway.  Not the track itself, but the infield, the garage area, and even the museum.

There is a lot of time and effort spent on selling the race.  There is the Danica effect:

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She hasn’t won a race, but she did make a lasting impression on many fans.  It will be interesting to see what she can do this year.

There were video cameras everywhere.  There seemed to be a crew setting up wherever I went.

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I guess this is a good thing, or maybe it doesn’t have to be good or bad, it just has to be what it is. 

Instead of actually being at Indy people can now get a perspective provided for them by these intrepid video crews and their beautiful commentary people.  These weeks and days prior to the actual race day used to be filled with a hundred thousand fans flocking to see it all in person.  Now the spin is provided on camera and beamed to whatever video monitor you have, probably in a sports bar. 

As I walked past the hospitality areas that have been set up at great expense to entertain sponsors and their guests and was shocked to see how deserted they are.  Maybe race day they will be packed, but when you see all the expense put into the acres of these entertainment facilities you would expect to see them overflowing with VIP’s.  Instead they are constantly premed by the staff that is paid to make them look as focused on the car’s sponsors as possible.  With only a handful of guests clustered around a single table in amongst dozens of tables, talking about who knows what, to themselves.

A lot of racing has become a spec racing formula.  NASCAR now has the CoT (car of tomorrow) which puts the final touch on what has been a spec series for quite a while.  Now NASCAR will only have multicolor paint, vinyl graphics, a driver, and maybe the engine to differentiate the cars.  There is not much difference with the IRL and the CART teams either.  CART now runs one chassis, the Pannoz, and the IRL teams use virtually only one chassis as well.  There are now so many restrictions on wing profiles, dimensions of parts, etc. that there is only colors and drivers that differentiate teams and cars.

Why has this happened?  It has been due to an attempt to control specific human behavior with the desired result of holding down expenses.  The human behavior that is being controlled is inventiveness and that is a shame. 

Back in 1911 the first use of a rear view mirror revolutionized racing.  Prior to that the mechanic would ride next to the driver and look behind to warn of cars overtaking.  The weight savings provided an advantage and introduced what is now a common accessory on road cars and race cars alike.  The same goes for seat belts, although it was resisted for longer than it should have been.

NASCAR was once an organization that went by the name of Stock Car racing because its cars were based closely on a car you could obtain in a show room.  The teams would take a car like anyone could buy and tear it apart and put it back together as a race car.  A Ford didn’t look like a Chevy or a Plymouth.  They looked like what youcould buy.  There was the time when Mopar came out with the Super Bird with its pointed front end and tall rear wing so that it could get a legal aerodynamic advantage over the other cars.  No matter that it looked as much like a cartoon as the bird it was named after.

It used to be that Indy cars were harbingers of change and new technology as well.  The move from roadsters to engines behind the drivers was a huge change.  The addition of wings and turbochargers.  People would try all sorts of things:

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There were the turbine engine cars that featured all wheel drive:

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Now the rules books are written tight so that the teams are not “forced” to out-spend each other on outlandish technology.  Instead they out-spend each other on entertaining sponsors and paying drivers.

But there is a new technology at Indy this year:

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Ethanol.

This is the new salvation to the evil internal combustion engine.  Never mind that it produces far less energy than gasoline.  Never mind that it doubles the market price of feed corn.

This has meant that a staple food for humans is now getting far more expensive.  Farmers are jumping on the opportunity to make financial hay and are expanding their fields and in some countries depleting the soil.  Feed corn prices have risen to the point that livestock feed is now being supplemented with trail mix and tater tots.

I’m not sure where all this is going, but it is sure interesting to watch.

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3 Responses to Indy 500 – observations

  1. markitude says:

    Jim, It’s great to see the observations that go outside of the normal commentary. I think you’ve got a keen eye to the influence of commitee on things.

    One aspect of your post was on how teams seek advantage. Fundamentally, it’s either going to be through better technology in the car, or skill of the driver and crew. Man or Machine. I blogged on this from a rather different perspective today.
    http://markitude.wordpress.com/2007/05/24/finding-advantage/
    But, I think you can see how even as a child, I was making a choice in whether to try to get ahead through technology or personal skill development. Obviously this extended through my later teens into the automotive world, and is now evidenced in other aspects of my life.

    In contrast, your philosophy in Jims Garage is a balanced approach. Balanced on the car mods, AND the driver mods. You’ve invested in your car, but also in yourself through your VIR, autocross, tail of the dragon, factory 5, and Indy experiences.

    Interesting contrast, huh?

  2. Pingback: Inside the C6 Z06 « markitude

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