HAULIN’ BUNS: A partly fabricated and almost entirely true story of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile’s first lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“How fast does it go?” I asked. “ It hauls buns!” said the overly cheery 20-something-year old sitting next to me. With a wry smile and a huge crank of the comically large steering wheel, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile gently eased itself onto the surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For the sake of their identities, we shall call the two representatives from your favorite hotdog manufacturing company Jessica and Chris. Why the secrecy? Though the famed Wienermobile had graced the Racing Capitol of the World with it’s presence before, this time around was a little different.

On a crisp winter morning between snowfalls, the Wienermobile was going to take its first flying lap around the famed 2.5 mile oval. In years past the “frank” was quarantined to the parking lot, but today this dog was going to cook up some new history. Track security wouldn’t mind right? (Shhh… don’t tell anyone)

Though the banking in turn one is a slight 9 degrees, you could feel the weight shift to the left side. Chris at the wheel filled me in on the specifics.

“There are six Wienermobiles out there right now,” he explained. “Jessica and I are recent college grads. I was a Communications major and she wants to work in Human Resources. We are two of thousands of candidates from around the country that applied for the job.” Both from opposite sides of the U.S., the two were put together back in June.

“Oscar Mayer pairs us up,” piped up Jessica from the second row of seats as we entered turn 2. “Chris and I never met before then. We are a team for 6 months, assigned a region of the country- ours is the Midwest of course – then we get reassigned a new partner, a new dog and a new region. We do that for six more months then retire as Hotdoggers.”

Two kids in a giant hotdog traveling across the Midwest in all weather conditions for one year – what could go wrong? After their residency they could decide to stay in the Oscar Mayer/ Kraft Heinz family or move on to the next adventure.

The first adaptation of the Wienermobile was built in 1936 by Oscar Mayer’s nephew – Carl G. Mayer. The dog has evolved over the decades and you might have seen the 1952 version at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The “Hotdogger” program was invented and recent grads like Chris and Jessica were the perfect candidates.

In the early days of the Wienermobile, various actors were hired to play the character “Little Oscar” and hand out whistles and hotdogs. The most notable was George A. Molchan who toured as Little Oscar for 20 years, then dawned the costume for another 16 to greet fans at the Oscar Mayer restaurant in Walt Disney World. Like the rest of his troupe, George had a hard time finding viable work as a little person in the 1940s. The Little Oscar character was a rewarding role for decades before the Hotdogger program was put in place in 1988.
Jessica let out a high-pitched breath like a balloon with a small hole in it as the 27- foot long crossed the yard of bricks. “This is one of the coolest things we have done. Like, ever.” She said.

As we quickly snuck back into the Speedway’s parking lot, Jessica talked about their busy itinerary as ambassadors of the bun. “We go to sports venues – pretty much all ball parks. Makes sense right? We go to schools, museums, grocery store openings and children’s hospitals. Yeah it’s about promoting the product – but it’s more about making people smile.” The following day they planned to hit a local brewery and drive around Circle City.

With a handful of stickers, “Weiner Whistles” and postcards, Jessica and Chris left me outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum with a beaming smile and a childlike euphoria. None of my coworkers would understand my excitement of riding around my favorite place in my favorite enlarged novelty food vehicle. No one else had to. The Wienermobile had performed its magic and served its purpose – it brightened my day…. And it made me hungry.

BLACK, WHITE & Chic all Over

Racing fashion is having a moment. What does that mean? Motorsports is many things but rarely is it considered… fashionable. We are not talking about what Jimmie Johnson is wearing on a red carpet or the fit of Courtney Force’s driving suit—we are talking about visual themes in racing transcending popular culture. Again, what does that mean?

Let’s first start with checkerboard; this is a clear motorsports visual cue. To us, the race fans, it is a checkered flag. The race is now complete and the starter is signifying that message to the competitors. Throw it back to the 50s and 60s checkerboard started to seep into the world outside of a racetrack, diners for example. Marketed to anyone that didn’t have a family yet, diners were meant to be a hot hangout and social gathering place. What is present outside? Cars. At that time, young people put a great deal of love and attention into their rides, thus popularizing a culture around said automobiles. Car design, interior design, the invention of the color TV, all played a factor in what American pop culture looked like.

Meanwhile across the pond, another visual trend was moving and shaking. Mod—or ‘Modernists’ were born in England in 1958 and were inspired heavily by music. Thick colors, heavy geometric graphic patterns and a reinvigoration of plaid were en vogue. Checkerboard happened to fit that style.

Perhaps the most popular American brand to incorporate checkerboard in the later half of the century is Vans Shoes. Starting in 1966, the first Van Doren Rubber Company store opened and by the early 1970s, the slick checkered pattern became heavily integrated. Rumor has it that the Vans designers were inspired by reoccurring doodles that teenage customers would draw around the white soles and thus a brand was born. Vogue Magazine attributes Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to be a catalyst in the brand’s popularity and the style continues today. Though Vans wasn’t tipping their hat to motorsports by incorporating checkerboard, they have evolved their company into sponsoring various versions of extreme sports including motocross.

In 2017, top fashion designers Louis Vuitton and Givenchy debuted collections featuring the checkered theme. Rihanna later created a line for Fenty X Puma specifically inspired by motorcross—right down to giant (magenta) sand dunes and dirt bikes. As recently as spring of 2018, Tommy Hilfiger and Lewis Hamilton collaborated on a capsule collection inspired by the now five-time World Champion. As a full- time Formula 1 driver, it helps that Hamilton already has the physique and international notoriety to be one of Hilfiger’s models. Later last year the Hilfiger brand took it a step further and put out a full ready-to-wear line splashed in checkerboard and inspired by the a European racing paddock.

This integration of motorsports—even in an abstract way—helps all of racing on a recognition level. Checkerboard has always been a symbol of energy, youth and even rebellion- all that represents racing as well. That attitude is being brought back to the mainstream at a global level right now. We know that racing is cool, but this might be a roundabout way for others to realize that fact.

Fashion is also considered fleeting and notoriously styles change with a shift of gears. So relish it race fans, right now you are black, white and chic all over.

Open for discussion: THE W SERIES

Times have changed. In the 1920’s women were first allowed to vote here in the U.S. In 1976 the first women were admitted into the U.S. Military Academy. The following year Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the Indy500. She was by no means the first woman to compete alongside men on a racetrack, but that feat is heralded as a groundbreaking moment for women in motorsports. Since, there have been numerous females to make their mark on the racing world, but even in 2018 there are far fewer women wearing a driver’s suit than men—and fewer still at the top tiers of the sport. This is a problem and one that is not easy to solve. Coming in 2019 is an attempted answer: an all women’s Formula1 feeder division called the ‘W Series’.

Here are the facts—or the ones we can discern at this point. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is the ultimate governing body for Formula1 and all of its affiliating series. This W Series would fall under their jurisdiction. Similar in kind to Formula 3, the W Series will be an open wheel, open cockpit spec series that plans to feed into Formula1. Starting in May, the 2019 schedule will include 6 thirty-minute races all over Europe. All W Series races are scheduled to support the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters or DTM class. Over $1.5 million will be awarded to the field of drivers in prize money and the overall championship winner will take home $500,000 to help further their career.

The biggest challenge for any aspiring professional race driver is funding. This has historically been the largest barrier for women in racing. The W Series has an answer for that. Aside from the season’s-end purse, the W Series is supposedly an all-expense paid racing experience. Cars are owned and run by the sanctioning body and expenses will be paid for as well as travel fees.
Racing is not cheap and it took a wealthy financial backer to get this idea off the ground. British businessman, Sean Wadsworth sold his successful recruiting company for over $200 million a couple of years ago and plans to be the main money source for the first season. Drivers selected to race need only bring a helmet and talent in hand, so to speak.

The W Series says that prospective driver applications have been pouring in from all over the globe. The deadline to submit was October 31st. From those applicants, 55 have been chosen for open skills evaluation test, and then 18 drivers will be selected for the first season of racing. In that initial pool includes 8 from the USA—Courtney Crone representing American short track racing, Natalie Decker of the NASCAR development ranks and Shea Holbrook from the sportscar side of life to name a few. Not only do they come from everywhere—but the pool of candidates drive just about everything. In a couple of months we will have our starting roster.

A women’s-only series in racing is not a new idea. A couple examples include a GT series back in 1999 and Formula Woman in 2004. The former example was moderately successful for a couple of years and included some talented female drivers. Some of those names had success after the GT series, but they also entered the program with momentum. Formula Woman was originally structured to be more like a reality TV show where contestants were eliminated from week to week. Prior to production, however, that caveat was lifted and it was run more like a regular racing series. Both opportunities petered out after a handful of seasons due to lack of interest from fans and sponsors.

It is hard to say what the W Series will really look like, how it will impact the industry and if it will succeed. Do women need a segregated series to climb the ladder of racing? No. Is the added emphasis of women in racing and STEM programs a bad thing? Also no. The W Series was born with a positive motive but its reception is divided.

Critics ask why the sponsorship money attained for the W Series didn’t just go to helping existing drivers further their careers. Others poke holes at the idea of separating female competitors in order to succeed. The reality of all of this is a means to an end. We are talking about more women racing, it is globally being acknowledged as an issue to be addressed in the industry. That alone is a success.
Would the W Series survive better or worse in America? Will it survive at all? How will fans respond? Will there be additional sponsor interest moving forward? It is entirely too early to see the ramifications of such a series. Only time will tell.

American, Mike Goulian wins the Red Bull Air Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“As a kid, I grew up every Memorial day with my dad watching the Indy 500 on TV,” said the breathless Mike Goulian in the Media Center after a highly emotional day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I am an open wheel guy… knowing all the names, all the people, all the tradition… I never thought that I would kiss the bricks.”

Only a mere 20 minutes after that statement, the exhausted American pilot sat on the front straightaway of the most iconic racetrack in the world with his hands over his eyes. Were those beads of sweat or tears? Maybe both.

A departure from their regular motorsports programming, IMS has hosted the Red Bull Air Race series for the last couple of seasons. The league boasts eight events across three continents with competitors from around the world. The only two races in North America this year are in Indianapolis, IN and Fort Worth, TX to end the 2018 championship campaign.

All races are run on slalom- style courses set roughly 83 feet above the ground. Outlined by large white and red mesh pylons, the pilots regularly fly over cityscapes, oceanic coasts or in this case – a permanent speedway. Pilots try their hand one by one on the makeshift track in search of the best time. Penalties such as flying too low, too high or even at the wrong angle result in added time.

“They want to go as fast as they can, but they have to fly our rules,” says Head Judge and Race Director Sergio Pla Merino. “There are cameras and sensors all over the plane and we can see it all here (In Race Control.)”

Last year Yoshihide Muroya of Japan won both the race and the championship in one carefully maneuvered swoop. Rain and high winds plagued the pilots on race day and it was a hard fought-battle against difficult weather and dancing pylons.
In thick Midwest humidity, the hangar (paddock) was quiet and laid back race morning this time around. The two days of practice gave no indication as to who was going to end the day on top. The finicky Indiana heat stumped mechanics and pilots alike and many complained of frustrating engines temperaments caused by the wet air.

Preparing their birds for battle, mechanics busied themselves in taping up every possible seam to make their planes that much more aerodynamic.
“I don’t know how much this really helps,” chuckled Goulian’s mechanic, “but I don’t want it to be the reason why we don’t win.” The strategy, no matter how miniscule, seemed to have worked.

Mike Goulian was one of the first to take flight in the final round of the day. Set up elimination style, pilots are pitted against each other in seven heats. The fastest of the pair moves on to the next round as well as the ‘fastest loser’ of the initial phase. The field is paired to eight pilots, then down to a final four.

“We knew that if I flew cleanly in the round of eight, we could pull it off,” explained Goulian after the fact. “Pablo, my mechanic stuck his head in the cockpit just before I went out and told me ‘don’t go crazy, just be good.’”

Goulian and team waited in painful anticipation as the three other finalists took their shot at the win. In a particularly tense moment, Canadian, Pete McCleod cut loose with a wicked fast lap, but couldn’t knock Goulian off the top spot. “It is difficult to sit there and watch guys like Pete try to hunt you down,” grinned Goulian.

It had been ten years since an American had won on American soil in this series. Veteran Kirby Chambliss was the last to do it in Detroit in 2008. Upon hearing this, Goulian was hit with another wave of sentimental realization.

“The emotion of one of these days is so high and so low and so high again. My legs almost gave out underneath me there when I found out that we won. It’s special for your family and for you to know that hey- (my team) today just completed a little history in a place that wreaks of history.”

The Greatest Spectacle in (dirt track) Racing

Brady Bacon wins the inaugural BC39 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A certain amount of skepticism comes with the first of anything new—even for an establishment as old and renowned as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track itself began construction in 1909, the first Indianapolis 500 came in 1911. It was decades before another series turned laps on the hallowed grounds.

A dirt track has been whispered about around ims for years, but different logistical problems prevented it from coming to fruition. President of the Speedway, Doug Boles teamed up with a local dirt track promoter and the Clauson family to make the dream become a reality. Thus created a tight 1/4 mile dirt track in turn three of Indy the Driven2SaveLives BC39 event was born.

Bryan Clauson (aka “BC”) was a phenomenal Hoosier dirt track racer that climbed the ranks to national recognition. He has many accolades in the racing world, top marks include the 2014 Chili Bowl winner and three Indianapolis 500 starts. In 2016 Bryan lost his life due to complications from a midget accident and the racing community was shaken.
Only a year prior, we lost IndyCar driver Justin Wilson in a racing incident as well. Wilson’s brother Stefan teamed up with the Indiana Donor’s Network to create a new campaign called “Driven2SaveLives.” Both Justin and Bryan were registered organ donors and each were able to save five lives. To honor Bryan’s legacy, Driven2SaveLives came on board to support the BC39 race, gain awareness and “race to end the wait” for life-saving organ donation.

The stage was set and it was an emotional evening from the start. An unprecedented 115 cars were ready to rumble on Wednesday night, September 5th. They came from all over the country to participate in the first eve, many of which ran with Bryan at one point in his career. The star-studded roster included 24 usac midget feature winners and series champions including Dave Darland, Christopher Bell, Tracy Hines, J.J. Yeley and more. nascar drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Landon Cassill both fielded entries and Conor Daly carried the flag for the IndyCar series.

Tim and Diana Clauson-Bryan’s parents, fielded a couple of cars in their late son’s honor and in a tearful twist of fate, both were in Victory Lane by the end of the qualifier night. Tyler “Sunshine” Courtney from right here in Indianapolis won the first heat race of the night and later on, 15-year-old Zeb Wise of Angola, IN had a daring win in the Stoops pursuit race. Inches off the wall for laps on end, it was easy to identify why Wise was Clauson’s protégé.

“I figured I couldn’t follow everybody around the bottom or I’d lose spots,” said Wise. “I tried the top side. I was patient with it, figured it out and came through the field.” Win in hand; Wise became the youngest usac feature winner in history — poetically beating his mentor, Clauson, in the process.

On Thursday, mother nature did not cooperate. After weeks of torrid heat, the skies opened up and poured for hours leading up to the green flag. Fans, drivers and crew waited skeptically for the track to dry. After a delay in action, USAC announced that the surface has been prepped and ready. Although the first couple of mud packing sessions were… tough, the track worked in quickly and racing resumed.

The storm did not scare the fans away. The following morning, the Indy Star reported that over 13,000 people were in attendance and the grandstands were completely sold out. By the time the A main squared up and the 4-wide salute laps were completed, everyone was on their feet.

39 laps for Bryan’s car number, each more exciting than the last. Cullman, AL native Kevin Thomas Jr. led early on, with Courtney hot on the trail. Two grooves distinctly started to develop. Cars piled up on the 14th lap and all were able to restart.

Shortly after getting back to action, Broken Arrow, OK native Brady Bacon’s light knock came to a pounding on the door as he took jabs for the lead. He tried low, but couldn’t make it stick, pulling the front two wheels off of the racing surface.

Once the leaders caught up to traffic, Bacon got to cooking. A beautifully executed slide job through turn 4 earned him the lead and that was all she wrote. Chad Boat slid into second in the closing laps, Thomas clinched third, Courtney fourth and Christopher Bell clawed his way from 17th to finish 5th.

“This is definitely extra special…” said the ‘Macho Man’ in Victory Circle “It is obviously very special that (Clauson) opened a lot of doors to make a lot of things happen that would have never happened without him… He has done a lot of things for a lot of causes even since he had been gone and that shows the impact of his personality on the whole world.”

The stroke of midnight ended the festivities and race fans both familiar with this genre of racing and not went home content. From the start, Bryan was smiling down on this event. He would have loved to race a midget at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

All morning and day leading up to the first heat race, we were skeptical that the weather would allow such an event. Lightning, thunder, and rain threatened at a distance but just before the big drops fell, a striking double rainbow appeared over the oval.

In a choked voice over the track’s loudspeaker rang the words we were all thinking. “And there he is, Thank you Bryan.”

Personality with a side of Ribbs

Big personalities are nothing new to racing. From the very beginning, motorsports has attracted some extremely colorful characters. Since I have been working in racing, everyone pales in comparison to Willy T. Ribbs. His presence is instantly recognized in a room, and it always has been that way throughout his career. From the very beginning, Ribbs idolized Muhammad Ali, and modeled his physique and attitude after the iconic boxer. Pair that with an intense gaze and larger-than-life stories, Ribbs always stood out. That, and he was the only African American driver around.

A second-generation racer, Willy can thank his father, Bunny, for putting motorsports on his radar. Growing up in San Jose, CA famous motorcycle and IndyCar driver, Joe Leonard lived next door to the Ribbs family and was an influence as well. “I wasn’t a problem child, but my thing was driving fast” explains Ribbs, “By the time I got out of high school- I knew where I wanted to go… you look at all the drivers that came from around the world and they were racing the British championship.”

Ribbs made a name for himself in Europe through Formula Ford before coming back to America and competing in the Formula Atlantic series. He fell through IndyCar, Champ car and NASCAR, tried his hand at Trans-Am thanks to Paul Newman, and raced in IMSA for the late Dan Gurney.

Ribbs credits a handful of highly-recognized friends that have helped him through his career. “If I were to have been a grin’n shugglin’ idiot- it wouldn’t have changed anything… I also knew that for me to continue to go up the ladder of the sport, I had to have a name. I could not be like the other guys. It was that personality that got Bill Cosby’s attention.”

Though recent issues have been brought to light about Cosby’s life off-camera, Ribbs admits that his career would not have been the same without the help of the famous comedian. “I didn’t call him, he called me!” Ribbs says that Cosby was not the slightest bit interested in racing. In fact, though Cosby helped funnel a significant amount of money into Ribbs’ career, he did not come to the track. It was purely a business transaction. Cosby had the funds and the name recognition in a time when there were few African American men in the spotlight. This was an investment in Ribbs as a promising athlete and man of color.

Another influential figure in Ribbs’ Rolodex was famous boxing promoter, Don King. “Don knew me through my relationship with Ali. He said that he wanted to represent me,” says Ribbs, “Bernie (Eccelstone) knew that Don was representing me and wanted to meet.” Ribbs recounts how the eccentric boxing promoter came face-to-face with his motorsports counterpart “If you ask Bernie Ecclestone about this, he will still remember Don walking into the hotel room eating an ice cream cone. It was fascinating to watch the two engage.” It was King that helped orchestrate Ribbs’ first entry in the Indy500, but the relationship was fleeting. “I just think that Don thought that there was going to be more money in racing, at that time boxing was all cash.”

Willy T. Ribbs is a recognizable name in racing, but not necessarily for the results that he earned. Controversy has followed Ribbs through his career. Strangely enough, Ribbs was an extremely proficient driver. He has, to this day,a fire in his eyes. For whatever reason- and there are a few theories- Ribbs never reached his full racing potential. Some attribute Ribbs’ attitude and sometimes prickly, outspoken nature and to that he says “BULLSH*T. I didn’t talk myself out of anything.” His response points directly to the obvious. “Be honest with what the truth is. Be man enough to admit that ‘we didn’t want him because he was black.’” Realistically, it is a combination of many factors. Sadly, the result is a driver who had the gumption, bravery and talent to get the job done, but will be remembered more for superficial reasons than capability.

In fact, Ribbs has talked frequently about how he was treated in different series, and he found that the European mindset was more welcoming to him. “It was a night and day difference. When I went over there to race, it was like going to another planet in terms of acceptability. Those guys saw me as a race driver- and that is what it was all about. You know? When I got back here, I was a black race driver.”

Like being the ‘first’ of anything on an emerging front, Ribbs was faced with unfair added pressure to set a precedent. It was Dan Gurney who pointed out to Ribbs that his responsibilities as a racing driver ended with himself, his family and team- just like any other racer.

Bottom line is, Willy T. Ribbs pushed the envelope. His uniqueness steps outside his race- Willy truly is a vivacious, bold and an unapologetically fierce person. If there is an opportunity to hear him speak at an engagement, it is not to be missed. Look past the controversies, look past influences, and you will find one of the most colorful voices in racing with stories that will make your jaw drop. He is, at his core, personality with a side of Ribbs.

Rebel Rally

The goldRush Rally is the craziest exotic car parade that you have never heard of. If you have heard of it, then you probably stumbled upon it somewhere in the back roads of the United States or caught ‘dope’ pictures on social media.

Though it is referred to as a ‘rally,’ those who organize it are adamant that no street racing is to be tolerated. This is not a cross-country barnstorming, but more of a wild group road trip. Almost 200 participants sign up to caravan in their Lamborghinis, Porsches, Ferraris, McLarens, and more. There are no restrictions on makes, models, or years of the participating cars, though most that are entered are considered to be ‘exotic.’

Each year, the route changes. For the special ten-year anniversary this June, expedition stopped in ten metropolitan cities from Boston to Las Vegas. Lasting little over a week, they happened to swing through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for an afternoon.

There is nothing subtle about a fleet of candy-colored supercars arriving at your office- especially on a grey Tuesday morning. This was the VIP group, which included nascar Champion and 2014 Indy500 starter Kurt Busch driving a menacing 2018 Ford GT and former Seahawks Defensive End Cliff Avril in his own Black Panther themed ride. All of a sudden, there was a spectacle. These magnificent cars were a taste of the 200-odd legion on their way.

“We get guys from all over the country” explained one of the drivers named Geoff. “Most own their own cars, but sometimes you’ll get someone from another country that rents a new Lambo or something just to participate.”
Geoff Fear owns a luxury watch company that sponsors the series and has been an eager participant since the beginning. Decked out in Premiere Jewelry logos and goldRush stickers, Fear rocked a classic Gulf paint scheme this year on his McLaren 570S. Every car sports their own unique design and attitude – each wilder than the next.
Geoff represents most that run this rally. This tradition has turned from a lighthearted week of parties and supercar spectacle to a close-knit reunion. “This is my family and I look forward to this every year,” he said earnestly before smirking and adding “There is something about running from the cops that really brings people together.”

As one can imagine, discretion is not the goal of this organization. No matter the city, a crowd gathers. This often times includes the Fuzz. Sometimes the police are present to provide an escort, and sometimes they are present to provide tickets. The series rules specifically state:

“The goldRush Rally (the “Rally”) is not a race. You must not compete in any manner with other participants. You must not place any bets of any kind in relation to the Rally… You must comply with all applicable laws and regulations of the City, County, State, and Country in which you are present at any given time during the Rally, including but not limited to all speed regulations, laws of the road, etc.”

But being pulled over is a regularity. Speeding tickets are a mark of pride but not getting caught is the ultimate prize.
From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Las Vegas strip, goldRush embodies a new type of gearhead. It is luxury, it is humor and it captures the elusive idea of ‘cool.’ There is an outlaw vibe here and the cast of characters has no shortage of personality. In their mission statement, goldRush even refers to themselves as both a ‘social event’ and a ‘lifestyle brand’ and travel days are almost exclusively covered with new media platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Besides a presence at sema, this organization’s focus is not on media attention — but bringing like-minded people together.

This is a tribe and yet another flavor of car culture, one that is still creating their own mark and community. These guys have a mix of crazy eccentricities and attitude. In a word, these guys are rebels.

Ms. Understood

One thing is for sure; Danica Patrick is a household name in America. Those outside of racing have a very basic understanding of her, but even some of the most dedicated fans I have met have only a superficial view of the GoDaddy Girl. This year, Danica announced that she will be retiring from her role as racecar driver, and decided to end her career with one last shot at Victory Lane. They dubbed it the ‘Danica Double.’ Two races: NASCAR’s Daytona 500, and the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. Here, she wanted to redeem her reputation, end the doubts of her talent and (maybe) make history. Neither of those races shook out the way she wanted them- 35th at Daytona and a 30th at Indy. As we end the chapter on her racing career, there are still countless misconceptions, false stories and heated arguments involving Danica. At the end of the day, her image is her legacy and things have spiraled out of control, Danica Patrick is gravely misunderstood.

The first thing that Danica haters bring up is the stats. In calling attention to the scoreboard, no, her record is not overwhelmingly impressive. She started her professional racing career in the Formula Atlantic series before moving up in open wheel to IndyCar. She was not the first woman to race in IndyCar, the Indy500, or even be the first female Indy500 Rookie of the Year. Patrick was, however, the first woman to win an IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan back in 2008. To those who say that she won off fuel strategy and thus does not count as a real win…Shut up! That argument is invalid. Every win in modern motorsports has something to do with strategy.

Should Danica Patrick be inducted into the motorsports-based Halls of Fame? If the criterion is based on statistical wins and poles… No. After the 2011 season with Andretti Autosport, Danica took her rising star and sponsorship money and went over to NASCAR. Here, she raced 6 seasons. In that time she scored 7 top 10’s, and 0 top 5 finishes. She is however, the first woman to win a pole in NASCAR and did so for the 2013 Daytona 500. Add that to her 3 poles, 20 top 5’s and 7 podiums in IndyCar she had a somewhat modest career. The numbers are a small blip in the Danica superstardom. As she grew bigger, so did her reputation.

As someone who has personally worked with and in proximity to Danica Patrick, I testify from my own experience that she is perfectly respectful to those around her. The stories I have heard from others say different. I take those with a grain of salt. She is blunt, honest and answers questions thoughtfully. I will say that her patience is very short, but so is her time. Think about what you are going to say to her beforehand, and furthermore, really think about if your question is worth asking. If you have to answer the same question 1,000 times in a season- you would get a little annoyed too.

Danica is also a very public sore loser. When things fall apart on the racetrack, the disappointment radiates off of her. She cares. This should not be a deciding factor in her image. There is something to say about taking defeat with grace and poise, but many great moments in racing have sprung from the heartbreak of losing. A.J. Foyt jumping out of his car on pit lane at the 1982 Indianapolis 500 and beating his Coyote with a hammer. How about later on as a team owner, backhanding Arie Luyendyk on camera after a dispute in Texas in ‘97? Tony Stewart still is not ‘graceful’ when his day goes south nor is Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch or was Mario Andretti in his hayday.

As a young fan, I will never forget the 2008 Indy500 when Ryan Briscoe took Danica out in a pit incident. Danica literally marched down the pit lane to confront her fellow driver. She had to be held back by security. Through racing’s long and heated history, one thing is for sure. Like Foyt, Stewart and countless others: hell hath no fury like an angry racecar driver. She proved to me her true grit that day.

A separation is in order. As frustrating as an on track incident is, drivers still have a role to play with the fans. There have been many a negative stories about Danica in this category as well. I have to chalk some of it up to fans not choosing their time appropriately. There is absolutely no excuse, however, for a driver to be rude to fans. I personally have seen Danica be respectful with her hoards of followers.

Something that Patrick is adamant about is her reputation as a role model. She did not ask for that spotlight. The on track novelty of being a woman in a man’s world has long since worn off. She is first and foremost a driver- that means she is an inspiration to little girls and little boys alike. If she has proved anything in her career, gender does not play a factor.

In the spirit of full-frontal feminism, Danica has harnessed the power of what she brings to the table. A mantra of hers is ‘rock what you got’ – and she has used her differences to market herself. The provocative GoDaddy commercials and racy pictures at the beginning of her career were all a means to an end. It worked. In her book Danica: Crossing the Line she notes that she was in control of her comfort level the whole time. Instead of questioning her path to household fame, maybe ask yourself why there is a demand for cheesecake pictures of her in the first place.

At the end of the day Danica Patrick is only human. She has been faced with an unfair amount of scrutiny and judgment over the years. Be reasonable your expectations. She gets tired of being asked the same regurgitated questions, being forced into a role as the token female, and fighting off the army of liquored up race fans asking for her phone number. As much as we would like to believe that the motorsports community has evolved, racing is still very much a boy’s club. Danica has helped fight that battle, even though she was unfairly drafted into that war. For that, I have the upmost respect for her. She has made her money, and she had the opportunity to do what she loved. Maybe she changed perceptions just a little. She doesn’t care what we think of her. In her last press conference after crashing out on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500 with a smile she leaned into the microphone and said to the media: “I will miss you- most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me a little bit.”

“Reserve is off!”

“Andwearestartingoffattenthousandtenthousand… tenthousanddollARS. Eleven? Eleventhousandelevendthousandd… Twelve! Twelvethousanddollars. Who else? Do I hear thirteen?Thirteenthousand?Thirteenthousand? Once. Twice… One more time… SOLD!”

This constant rhythm of words is pumped through the loudspeakers for hours on end, the cadence of money exchanging hands. This was the sound that I heard going through the tunnel entering the Indiana State Fairgrounds arena. Usually home to the Indianapolis semi-pro hockey team, the building was turned into a auction stage for the week.

The largest touring auction series in the United States, the Mecum show has been coming to Indianapolis for 31 years. They have a total of 14 stops on their tour and touch all corners of the US of A. Every Mecum event is televised live on NBC Sports and it is easy to see the entertainment value.

Mecum proudly states that they have the most stops on their tour; the most collector cars offered at auction, the most cars sold at auction and the most dollar volume of sales.
The Indianapolis stop alone is a six-day extravaganza. They feature 300 cars a day minimum for sale in order to show all 2,000+ lots that have been consigned.

“There are no restrictions,” said a seller named Michael in a vaguely east- coast- style accent. “I make my living selling cars at these things — primarily Volkswagens. That’s my little Bug right there!” Nestled between an impossibly tall 2000s Ford F150 and a brutish 1960s Ford Mustang was his little cherry-red Bug.

“This is my 21st car this weekend for sale. I have sold 13 of da ones I brought. Whatever I don’t sell, we ship home. You see — mine have a reserve.” He leans over and points to a yellow sticker centered at the top of the windshield. “That there means that I, as the teller won’t take home any less than THAT amount. When one of my cars is up for sale, I can stand up there with the auctioneer. If no one is biddin’ at my asking price here, I can give him the nod. That tells him that I’ll take anything for it- just to not have to pack it up and take it home. He tells the crowd that the reserve is off- and the biddin’ really starts.”

Unlike Barrett- Jackson auctions, Mecum does not have any parameters of what types of cars people can put up for sale. No restriction of year, make, model, rarity, or current condition makes for a cornucopia of options. Buyers can be anywhere from the Average Joe who pick up a car for fun, to serious collectors looking for diamonds. Sit in the auction arena for 20 minutes and you will see a varied array of items come up for bid and hundreds of thousands of dollars- if not millions- change hands.

Part of the excitement comes from the randomness of what is put up for sale. “Sellers pick which stop they want to sell at based on the market of that city,” explained one of the traveling Mecum security staff. “Trucks you want to sell at the Kansas City or the Houston stops. Exotics go better in LA or Kissimmee (FL).”

Sellers can put one lot up for sale or many. The collection that captured my attention was the Jim Street Estate.

James Skonzakes, better known by the moniker Jim Street, bankrolled the legendary car customizer George Barris to make a dream car in the early 1950s. The ultimate result was the Golden Sahara II. After the second round of modifications, Street invested over $75,000 (equivalent to $675,000+ today) in this technological masterpiece. Street used it as a marketing tool and lent the Golden Sahara II to motor events and dealerships to show off the car’s new- age voice control system, remotes that could drive the car and even the self- driving feature. This must have melted the minds of onlookers back in the mid 50’s. Unexpectedly pulled from the show circuit and stashed in a garage for decades, the Golden Sahara II fell into a state of disrepair.

If that piece of rolling art was not enough to capture the imagination, the other lot in the Jim Street Estate collection was “Kookie’s Kar.” Hailed as the “catalyst that started the T-Bucket Craze” this car is the definition of a classic hot rod. You might have heard of it from the TV show “77 Sunset Strip” though it has undergone an extensive re-customization since then. Also stashed from public eyes for decades, both lots were put up for bid with no reserve to begin with- it would be completely at the digression to the pool of buyers what they wanted to pay for it. Estimates were between $100,000 – $1.2 million each. It all depends on who has the money and how bad they want to take either car home.

Though the lineup of cars is seemingly random, it is clear that Saturday’s lots are the top shelf items. A collection of Ford GTs, a group of cars being sold by baseball icon Reggie Jackson and others will join the Golden Sahara II and Kookie’s Kar.

Cars are displayed in groups organized by which day they will be put up for sale. In the morning they are rolled to a big screening / staging area where buyers and people representing buyers give the cars one last look over.

“I call them Flashlight Commandos” laughs Michael, “likely is that if their boss wants my car, they will have picked it out in the catalog already and they are making sure that it doesn’t leak or nothin’.”

Once past staging, the car is driven up to the queue and given a last wipe down. The handlers cut the engine and manually push it on stage. All the while, an auctioneer is hammering words a mile a minute until it is time.

“Okayfolks. ABeetle. ABeetle. LotW201.” The auctioneer lists the car’s stats, make, model, and asking price then recites the bill of sale in one breath. The bidding starts. Teams of Mecum employees are dispersed throughout the crowd of bidders. Referred to as Ringmen, they are in charge of relaying if someone in their section wants to place a bid. To alert the auctioneer when they have an interested buyer, the Ringmen holds up fingers to represent how many thousand dollars and gives a short yell. Every time a desirable car is on the auction block, these Ringmen sound like a chorus of squawking birds until the price is driven up to draw out the top buyer.

“Once. Twice. SOLD!” The auctioneer hammers down their gavel and the Ringmen let out another shout to celebrate the fact that they just sold another car. If a lot is not desirable, the seller can give notice to take off the reserve price then the crowd practically falls over themselves to get the car at the lowest price possible. This happens for hours on end without let up. The energy level is incredible, and it is hard to understand without being there in person. Auctioneers are the ringmasters but the Ringmen run the show.

As I exit through the tunnel on my way out, the auctioneer is still drumming up the crowd. “What is that?” he yells, “THE RESERVE IS OFF!” I close the door behind me just as I hear a loud cheer from the crowd.

Full Tilt

“I have the sickness,” he said with a smile, pushing his beer back and forth across the polished wood table at the restaurant we met for lunch. “My first Sprint car race was at Terre Haute a long time ago and I was like: ‘WOW, This is really cool.”

The sickness he speaks of is an affinity for racing. Ask a true race fan and they will tell you that the sport gets under your skin, you become addicted to going to the dirt track, the drag strip or anywhere they drop a green flag. Renowned motorsports photographer John Mahoney takes that passion to another level.

Mahoney, a Indiana native, discovered dirt track racing first then graduated on to his first Indy500 in 1955. “I have not missed a ‘500’ since” he states proudly. You might know his name, you might not- but if you follow American open wheel racing at any point in the last 40-odd years, you have undoubtedly seen his work.

Mahoney has photographed the stars of USAC, long before they become stars. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree is psychology and went to work for the state of Indiana. During his studies, he met and befriended an equally well known and talented would- be motorsports photographer Gene Crucean.

“I got my first Press Pass by pretending to write for a fake newspaper.” Mahoney admits wryly. “We called it Northwest News.” It was the mid sixties and he and his first wife had moved to southern California. “We reached out to the track in Sacramento, asking for passes but got no reply. I just wanted to get into the pits for free!” He had Crucean pose as the pretend editor for Northwest News and kept sending in requests. “The weekend of the race I was out in southern California, I was at a hotel- they were always having parties in the hotels- and I ran into JC Agajanian, you know, the promoter for Ascot Speedway. I thought to myself: ‘its now or never’ and walked up to him, saying that I was a writer for Northwest News and we never heard back about credentials. JC said that he had never heard of Northwest News but pulled out a pass from his pocket and gave it to me!” Later on Mahoney got hooked up with a couple legitimate racing publications, his photography flourished and the rest is history.

The camera was merely a means to an end. In order to get in the gate, being a member of the press was an easy and fun way to be close to the action. For John Mahoney, it was his golden ticket. His ex father-in-law was a master in the darkroom and quickly taught young Mahoney the tricks to developing film and printing his own pictures. Many years later at a pivotal point in his career with the Indiana Employment office, Mahoney decided to take make his ever-growing weekend hobby and turn it into his sole career. “It was a risk” he admits, “But it was the right choice.”

Dirt track sprint car and midget racing was, is, and will forever be his favorite. He has had the privilege to work with some of the biggest names around. From Foyt – his personal favorite-, Andretti, Rich Vogler, Bryan Clauson, Tony Stewart, and many more. In the handful of best races he has seen, the Hoosier will list big, local, Indiana races over the decades at the top.

“Some guys says that the ‘good ol days of racing was better- BOLOGNA! Some of the best drivers and racing is happening today!” Though the sport has changed, Mahoney loves it the same as ever. “Yeah the money aspect has changed racing, but the on track skill is as good as it always has been.” He cites the talent of Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell as reference. “THESE at the good ‘ol days!”

Mahoney is constantly asked for photographs for varying projects. Trying to obtain credit for his images is a never-ending battle. He has helped put together a few books on the history of USAC racing and is currently working with Dave Argabright and Pat Sullivan on another. His personal photo collection is featured proudly in “FULL TILT: The Motorsports Photography of John Mahoney” and on his website johnmahoneyphoto.com.

Mahoney, unlike most professional artists- is about as humble as they come. He refuses to admit how influential and important his vast experience is. He also jokes that he has yet to make a good portfolio of racing pictures. His wife, Martha, made a point to pull me aside after our lunch meal. “He is one of the best, no doubt. He will never say it but – if you have seen his work, you know.” Between portraits, actions shots and details of the track — John Mahoney is one of the best visual storytellers in racing. For a career made through the lens of a camera, Mahoney has managed to live his life at the place he loves best and the manner he loves best: at Full Tilt.