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Road Racing in America

Road Racing in America

My latest blog post at iRacing.com

Racing is crazy, let’s keep it that way

In the wake of Dan Wheldon’s tragic death in an Indy Car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway everyone and their brother has written something about it. Make the cars safer. Slow them down. Reduce the downforce. Fix the tracks. Some have even suggested that it is time to ban motorsports all together. Everyone is entitled to an opinion – it’s a free country and blogging is free too – but most of these so-called experts are nothing more than professional talkers who actual gain more when there is a tragedy like this as people actually read what they write. If Wheldon hadn’t been killed I suspect I wouldn’t have seen more than a side blurb in the main stream media regarding the race. With the tragedy all of a sudden everyone is a motorsport expert.

Photobucket

The one solution that I haven’t seen suggested anywhere is simulation. Why not get rid of the cars all-together and make the professional drivers race online. The technology already exists. It’s called iRacing.com (yes I work for the company). You can race a virtual Indycar, NASCAR Cup car, Formula One car or practically anything else. It is completely safe, low emissions and very inexpensive. What’s not to like? I suppose the safety equipment manufacturers would lose out but they could start making sim racing equipment instead as the market would surely grow.

So what do you think? Ludicrous? Absolutely. Without real-world motorsports there is no sport of racing online. The danger, the speeds and the ridiculousness of real world motorsports are what make sim-racing possible. Those of us who do sim race know that we are not actually racing. We know that we can’t crash and get hurt or killed. We know that we don’t have the high cost of fuel and tires to worry about. That’s why it is so appealing to us – duh.

Motorsport has always been dangerous. It has also continued to get safer. If you think that the motorsport community only thinks about safety when someone is killed you are sorely mistaken. Next year’s Indy car, the safer DW12, was well under development (ironically with Wheldon as a test driver) well before the accident. The media only talks about safety when it sells papers or TV ratings.

Let’s not let the media guide motorsport. Let those who know what they are doing make the decisions – drivers, sanctioning bodies, car designers. These are the people that can actually make a difference. They already have and they will continue to as long as we let them do their jobs.

RIP Dan and every other driver who has lost their life doing what they love.

my flag – {Posted 9.11.2011}

September 11, 2001

I rushed home from work after watching the second tower fall to the ground live on TV. I felt compelled to pick up my then one-year old son from the pre-school he was attending as if having him near me could keep him safer from these acts of violence. Laura worked in the same school but I felt I needed to bring him home anyway. I watched hours of coverage throughout the day – I was and still am a news junkie so I needed more information. I couldn’t stop watching, listening and reading well into the evening.

I don’t remember the specific moment when it happened. I suddenly felt compelled to raise a flag outside our home. The problem was I had not gotten around to purchasing one. No problem, I’ll just go pick one up.

I went to the closest store I thought would carry American flags – Kmart. I walked the aisles looking for the flag section. Nothing. Finally I asked an employee. He looked at me like I had two heads and said they only carry flags around the fourth of July. Really? That seemed rather disappointing given everything that had happened today.

On to my next stop. HomeDepot. Surely this hearty American store would have something. Again I walked the aisles. Nothing. I found a salesperson and asked for some help locating the flags. To my dismay I got the same response I received in Kmart. They only carry flags in June and July. This was going to be harder than I hoped.

Next I stopped into several pharmacies as they seem to carry a little bit of everything these days. Nothing. I didn’t even bother to ask after I walked the aisles. It was getting late. Stores were closed or closing very soon. I needed to get a flag. I needed to find one soon. I remembered there was another store down the road that would still be open. I headed that direction.

The number cars in the parking lot signaled I had made it before closing. Surely this American institution would have something with the Stars and Stripes emblazoned on it. Instead of aimlessly walking the aisles I decide to ask for help right off the bat. This time the response to my flag request was yes! I was told the aisle and I headed straight there. Sure enough, there was a rack full of flags. It was the first time I had smiled all day. Thank you Walmart.

I grabbed the largest one they had and brought it to the checkout line, paid and headed home. I immediately hung it on the railing of our deck. I didn’t manage to find a pole to go with the flag so this would have to do.

It was a simple thing to do, but somehow it made me feel a little better. We still didn’t know much about what had happened but I felt like as long we could still fly American flags somehow, somehow, we would all get through this. I knew things would never be the same, but we would get through this.

September 11, 2011

Ten years later. Ryan is 11 going on 16. Connor is 7 going on 11. The boys are old enough to have heard about 9/11 but neither really understands it. I can’t say that I do either. Today seemed like a good day to tell them a little bit more about it. What can you tell kids though? How about my flag?

I still have that flag I looked so hard for on 9/11. I stopped flying it years ago as it shows some wear – a few small holes and a couple of stains. As a Boy Scout I was taught to respect a flag and that you shouldn’t fly damaged ones so I had purchased a sturdier nylon replacement that I fly year round. My 9/11 flag has been tucked away in my garage for awhile and I haven’t really known what to do with it.

I dug out the flag and asked the boys to help me with a project. They are always eager to help when tools are involved. A hammer, a couple of nails and small ladder was all I would need for today’s project. As I climbed the ladder and put the first nail in I told the boys the story of my 9/11 flag. It was a little cathartic.

The flag was now flying again. It looks good on the side of our house. I think I’ll fly it again next year, and the year after that. I hope that anyone who sees it will forgive me for flying a flag with some holes in it. If they knew the story I bet they would.

Twice around the clock, well not exactly. . .

I was off to Daytona, again. I’ve been there a number of times over the years  for everything from Rennsport Reunion, to test days and the Rolex 24. I’ve been to the Rolex 24 as a fan, as a vendor and as a car sponsor. This time would be different as I was working for a team that was competing in the twice around the clock race. In case you are wondering, no, they don’t let me drive. I am the PR guy for Mitchum Motorsports. I also shoot photos for the team. This year we were entering a Porsche 997 in the Rolex 24 along with our two Camaros we run full time in the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.

The 86 car on track

Our weekend started strong, with both of our Camaros finishing in the top ten in the season opener. The entire Mitchum team was feeling good about our results Friday afternoon. Both Camaros had struggled in qualifying yet finished with good championship points. No one said it, but I think everyone was hoping the same would hold true for the #86 Porsche in the 24.

Mitchum’s driver lineup for the 24 included two-time class winner Randy Pobst and three rookie drivers – Joey Atterbury, Cooper MacNeil and Derek Whitis. While rookie drivers in the Rolex series, all three have plenty of experience racing. Atterbury competed in the Continental Challenge in 2010, Cooper placed second in the SCCA National Runoffs last fall and Derek runs Freedom Autosport, another Continental Tire team where he races Mazda MX5’s regularly. Our plan was to start our veteran driver, keep the nose clean and see where things shook out when the sun came up. Sounded pretty simple to me.

Randy took the green flag at 3:30pm . By about 3:31pm, as I watched from the photographers’ coral in the international horseshoe, the #86 car was into the outside wall. James Gue in the #41 Dempsey Racing Mazda RX8 made contact with our car and pushed Randy off into the grass and ultimately into the wall. I can’t express in words how gut wrenching it is to see your team car go off track and into a wall on lap one of a 24 hour race. It was almost surreal. The amount of time and effort, not to mention money, that goes into a Rolex 24 entry is mind boggling, and to see your hopes dashed on lap one is a feeling I don’t wish on my worst enemy.

Randy off on lap 1.

Over the team radio I hear Randy report he is in the wall and then a calm and collected Chris Mitchum (team principal) responds with directions to the driver and crew. We went straight to the garage to assess the damage and affect repairs. The team did an outstanding job of fixing what they could and getting the car back on track.

Randy finished his stint, albeit with a less than perfect car, and turned the reigns over to Cooper who drove exceptionally well for his first Rolex race. Joey was next in the car for a double stint and he too kept the car out of trouble before turning it over to Derek just after the sun went down. Unfortunately another RX8 would cause problems for us. Heading into the infield portion of the circuit, the offending RX8 dropped fluid all over the racing line. Derek found the fluid before the flagmen did and he was into the wall, further damaging the left side of the car.

After another trip to the garage Derek was back on track and keeping a good pace. We weren’t going to get our laps back but if you follow endurance racing you know that just by clicking off laps you can often improve your position – lots of cars have problems over the course of the race.

My close encounter with an RX8

Sometime during Derek’s stint, while I was once again shooting pictures in the international horseshoe, I got to experience the impact of a car first hand. As I stood against the blue guardrail I was panning my camera to capture an image of a car rounding the corner, I heard the crowd behind me get really loud all of sudden (keep in mind I was wearing a crew headset and cars were racing at speed so it is hard to hear much of anything). It suddenly registered with me that something was happening near me so I spun to look back down the track toward pit out. Just as I turned my head another RX8 slammed in the guardrail exactly where I was standing and abruptly came to a stop. Water from the tire barrier splashed on me just as I felt the impact. Wow, that was close!  After the car was pulled out and taken to the garage I did notice a few of my fellow photographers giving me nods and smiles – signally they had all been there before and they knew the feeling I had just experienced. No harm, no foul, right? Once my heart rate returned to normal I started snapping pictures once again. I also swore that I wouldn’t tell my wife Laura this story, oh well.

Back to the race. Derek would find himself in the garage again after a big spin in the bus stop. The car was towed back slowly as we were concerned we had lost the engine. After a thorough checking out of the car, including a visit by a Porsche Motorsports engineer, it was determined we were ok. Cooper would head back out on track for his second stint of the race.

After just a couple of more laps I heard the call on the radio that we were off in the bus stop again. This time there was contact with the wall which would put an end to our Rolex 24. The entire crew worked so hard leading up to the race and especially during, in order to keep the car racing. It was definitely a huge disappointment to not finish but a great experience none-the-less.

The 86 shows some wear after multiple on track incidents.

If you have never been to the Rolex 24, I highly recommend it. There really is nothing else like it in this country. The Sebring race is only 12 hours and the six hours at the Glen is, well, just six hours. To put this race length into perspective, we raced for about nine hours before we had to retire. I found a hotel room at about 2am Sunday morning after packing up my gear at the track, slept for a few hours, hopped on an earlier flight which touched down in Manchester at 3:15 in the afternoon. As I was walking down the jet way it occurred to me that the race wasn’t even over yet.

hear me roar

It’s time for the Roar before the 24 again. Three final days to get the cars, drivers and crews ready for America’s premier sports car race – the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I am headed to Daytona with Mitchum Motorsports to support their two car effort – the #6.2 Camaro in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the #86 Porsche in the Rolex Series. This isn’t my first trip to the twice around the clock race, but it is the first time as truly part of a team.

Last year I was there as a sponsor of the #99 Gainsco car as well as a Mustang in the Continental Tire series. Prior years I was there in a vendor role, showing off iRacing.com to the teams and fans. I am really looking forward the opportunity to document this historic race for Mitchum Motorsports in both words and images.

The Roar Before the 24 will serve as a warm-up for the team. We’ll find the right setups, practice pit stops and get comfortable with everything. I’ll do the same and find some spots to shoot the cars on track as well as work the media center to get the word out about Mitchum’s two cars.

Daytona here we come!

Is it really over?

Vettel on his way to being the youngest F1 Champion ever.

Is it really over? I can’t believe it’s that time of year again. My least favorite season – it’s fall here in New England, but past the time when foliage is up. It’s getting colder.  Leaves are covering my yard.  It’s too early for any real snow.  It’s dark when I leave the office in the evening.   What’s not to like??? What really gets me down this time of year is the fact that the racing season is essentially over. Formula One crowned the youngest world champion ever just a few short weeks ago and Jimmie Johnson is king in the NASCAR world, again. GRAND-AM, ALMS and pretty much everything else we have TV coverage for has finished as well.

Upon reflection, I can’t remember a year where more titles went down to the last race of the season (F1, Indy Car, NASCAR Sprint Cup) or one with more surprise victories(Rolex 24, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400). For me, it was truly a great season for motorsports. My wife will tell you I watched far too many hours of racing on my DVR, but it was worth it. Racing is such an exciting sport, I just can’t get enough of it. Some of the highlights for me are below:

  • The unknown team with the unsponsored car, Action Express Racing, winning the Rolex 24, beating the dominant Ganassi team along the way
  • Jamie McMurray winning the Daytona 500
  • Sebastian Vettel winning the World Championship in the last race of the year, having never lead the points at any point in the season
  • Jimmie Johnson winning his fifth consecutive championship
  • Peugeot winning the Sebring 12 hour race
  • Audi winning Le Mans, again
  • Chip Ganassi winning the Daytona 500, Indy 500, Brickyard 400, Indy Car Championship and GRAND-AM Rolex Series championship
  • Greger Huttu winning 15 out of 16 iRacing Drivers World Championship Road races on his way to winning the crown of best road racing sim racer
  • Richard Towler winning the NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship and being runner up in the iRacing World Championship Road Racing

Jimmie Johnson heads out on track and to his 5th consecutive title.

There were many more exciting moments in racing this year. What’s your most memorable?

What’s mine? It’s a tie for me – JJ’ 5th and Vettel’s 1st.

Who’s better – F1 drivers or Sprint Cup Drivers?

We are about to release the Williams FW31 at iRacing.com so I thought now would be a good time to revisit the age old question. . . . . Who’s better – F1 drivers or Sprint Cup Drivers?

Is Jimmie Johnson, the four time reigning champion in NASCAR’s highest level series, better than Lewis Hamilton, F1 star and past champion? What is more difficult, driving a 3,450 lbs brawny stock car shaped like a brick with a gigantic V8 under the hood or driving a sculpted 620 kg open wheel car with a 2.4liter V8 that revs to 18,000 rpm?

Jimmie Johnson at NHMS in September 2010.

Sure there have been publicity stunts where drivers from each series swapped cars for a couple of laps, but they never really had enough time to get up to speed with the new cars. And what about the F1 drivers that moved to NASCAR like Juan Pablo Montoya? He was fairly successful in F1 when he ran in a top performing car but he has yet to see the same level of success in NASCAR as of yet. He also won a few races on oval tracks in Indy cars so he definitely gets the whole turning left thing. Does this mean that it takes more skill to race in NASCAR compared to F1? If that is the case how come the less successful NASCAR drivers aren’t jumping ship joining F1, surely they could win there if they are as talented as NASCAR commentators make them out to be.

Let’s face it, winning at these levels is hard to do. You really are racing the best of the best (minus the back markers who seem to buy their way into the series). You need skill, equipment, luck, as well as a team that can back you up. In NASCAR, where the cars are so similar between the teams, JJ clearly has the edge on everyone right now. No doubt about his skill as a driver, Hendrick cars are fast, he somehow misses the ‘big one’ more often than not and he has one of the smartest crew chiefs and most reliable teams in NASCAR. On the other hand, Formula one puts more emphasis on the equipment since each team build their own car from the ground up. To win, drivers still need skill, luck and a solid team, but there is not much a driver can do if the car he is driving is inferior to the rest of the field.

Hamilton, Alonso and Button in Montreal June 2010

In F1, qualifying is crucial. It is very hard to pass due to current car regulations, although it is getting better, so drivers need to be able to turn that ‘golden lap’ when the pressure is on. In NASCAR, qualifying rarely selects the race winner – it is basically used to sell more tickets and ads on TV. Qualifying only matters for the few that might not make the field, and several of these guys don’t even plan to race the entire distance (maybe that is where Nick Wirth got the idea to design the Virgin Racing F1 cars with fuel tanks too small to complete a race). One might even argue that in order to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race you first need to just survive the 300-400 laps before the final caution, and then race to the finish. Does merely surviving 480 miles at Daytona so you can race the final 15 minutes make you a more skilled driver than someone who has to race all out for an entire Grand Prix?

So where does this leave us? NASCAR or F1? Remember, so far Jimmie Johnson won all of his championships without ever winning a race in which he had to turn right. I suspect we’ll never know for sure and we certainly won’t all agree who is better. My opinion is that F1 drivers are more skilled behind the wheel – they drive their cars on the edge at ten-tenths all of the time, race in variable conditions including rain and have so much less room for error with the fragile carbon fiber suspensions.  NASCAR drivers, well none of that applies.

Who thinks I’m wrong? Oh and by the way, this is not a debate about which makes better racing for the fans, I am saving that one for another blog entry.

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