1000 Words

Everyone has heard the saying: “A picture is worth 1000 words.” More than ever, with cameras in everyone’s pocket and a fast and easy way to share, those words ring true. Positive or negative, the exposure and sheer mobility that a single photograph can have is staggering. This has always been true for as long as we had photographs, some just stick with us. A first image of the earth taken from the moon, Freddie Mercury playing the sold-out stadium of Live Aid, Muhammad Ali standing over the fallen Heavyweight World Champion, Sonny Liston, protesters on the streets of Selma, AL in 1964 or in Minneapolis, MN last month- these images leave a lasting impression because they are indicative of a special, and often important moment in time. This significance helps us understand and see. The language of photographs is not limited to sports, politics, news, or any one thing or any single emotion that is why each image is worth 1,000 words.

Motorsports is no exception. Through the decades of sanctioned automobile racing, there are some images that stick out. Yes there are moments, people and amazing feats that tell longer stories- but as far as single images—these speak volumes and stand the test of time as being iconic in their own right.

High Speeds and High Tempers
1979 — Daytona 500, Daytona Motor Speedway, Photograph by Ric Feld.

Arguably the most famous fistfight in motorsports history, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison wrestle on national television the afternoon of February 18th, 1979. The high drama and high emotions of racecar drivers are familiar to those who consume the sport, but this particular brawl was pumped into hundreds of thousands of homes across America—live for the first time. Ever. According to the L.A. Times, that particular race had a 10.5 rating, or a little over 15 million people watching. Yarborough and brother, Donnie Allison’s, duel for the win was thrilling enough before taking each other out on the last lap. Yeah, Richard Petty ended up taking the checkers, but Allisons v. Yarborough hooked a whole new slew of fans and helped put NASCAR on the trajectory they took right to the bank.

Leaping Lotuses
1966 — German Grand Prix, Nurburging, Photographer unknown.

Sir Jackie Stewart (front) with Graham Hill (behind)
If the idea of one or two tires leaving the ground is scary to you, try all four. In a spindly Lotus. In the 60’s. At high speeds. Every lap. At the one of the most dangerous and deadly race courses ever in history. Look no further for evidence of big balls than these guys. If there was ever an image to reference in an argument about the bravery needed in this sport, this would be a good one. Besides the cars, drivers, era, and track being iconic in their own right, this image captured the imagination of fans all over the world.

First Kiss
1969 — Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, photographer unknown.

It has been called a Cinderella Story. Driver, Mario Andretti (right) was already stirring buzz as a talented newcomer to the sport of auto racing. Car owner and president of STP, Andy Granatelli (left) helped revolutionalize the sport with never-before-seen marketing and sponsorship strategy for the ages. Both would become legends. Year after arduous year, Andy Granatelli and brothers fielded cars without a win at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the heat of victory, Granatelli’s overabundant excitement made him grab young Andretti’s face and kiss his cheek. This jubilation became immortalized in thousands of ads for Andy’s company and the car’s main sponsor, STP. Making sure that the image was available absolutely everywhere that money could buy for at least the following year, Granatelli did everything in his power to make STP and Mario a household name- both of which eventually happened. Andretti to this day admits that he is still embarrassed by that kiss, but he says it with a smile.

A Show of Force — 1966 LeMans 24 Hour Race, LeMans

It is an unbelievable story. Goliath vs. Goliath of the Ford Motor Company challenging the Ferrari for the crown of endurance racing in the 1960s. After a very dramatic battle, (one that has been recently depicted in the 2018 blockbuster Ford v Ferrari) Ford found themselves not only triumphant over the Ferrari team at the end of a grueling 24-hour race—but decisively so. Looking like a clear first-second-third victory, there was a request from a Ford executive for the team to cross the finish line together. This hammered in a very strong message to the motorsports world, saying ‘we are here, and we mean business.’ Cora Veltman

Magic Muffler
Photo by Ron Lahr. Taken years and years ago at a Southern California dragstrip. This famous photo is on display at the NHRA Museum in Pamona, California. Ron was not a professional photographer. Ed Gilbert

Pick Up Sticks

I am going on ten years. October would have been my anniversary, but I have had a lot of time to reflect lately. Reflect, re-edit, and rethink what the last ten years of being a motorsports photographer have been like. Doing anything for a decade says something, I guess I must like it. It is strange to think how some of those dominoes falling with what seemed like insignificance have paved the path that I now walk.

The very first inkling was a book. Olympic Portraits by Annie Leibovitz changed the game for me. Seeing a body of work bringing beauty out of sport inspired me greatly. The pages of Sports Illustrated were dynamic, yes, but the same shot on the football field, basketball court, and baseball diamonds became somewhat forgettable next to Leibovitz’s elegant photojournalism. It became less about the sport and more about the people.

Right around that time, I signed up for my first photography class at the local art center. Armed with my dad’s old Canon AV-1, it was the beginning. My first four or five photography classes remained in the darkroom and I learned to see like many of the ‘traditional’ photographers before me. The anxiety of not knowing how the shot will come out and the smell of fixer on my fingers became normal. It was only when my mom bought me a digital camera for Christmas did things take a turn again.
Nikon D3000 in hand and a wobbly zoom lens empowered me to shoot at the local dirt tracks that my dad was racing. Rarely did I photograph the cars because the people were far more interesting to me. Most ignored me for the strange kid trying to be covert in the shadows, but some asked for the photos for their sponsors or own promotion. That attention made me feel like I had a place there.

Midway through high school, my family went to an IndyCar race at Homestead Miami Speedway. It instantly changed everything. Camera in hand, the colors and sleekness of the chassis were unlike anything I had photographed before. At speed, these cars were an incredibly difficult but exhilarating new challenge, especially during the night race. I decided then that was where I was meant to be.

A season or two later my dad got us press passes for an established Northern Californian racing magazine and we set out to cover the IndyCar season finale at Fontana. Entering the media center, those in charge deemed that I looked too young to be an accredited member of the press and we were stripped of our additional access. The weekend consisted of me sneaking into the pit lane and pre-grid to shoot the pictures we needed for the article. I have no regrets. The following seasons I became a regular contributor and shot my first Indy 500 for the same magazine.

Six years ago, I found a home here in Roddin and Racing NW and it has been a good fit. Where other editors and magazines I have shot for along the way have been restrictive, here I have been lucky enough to shoot whatever it is that interests me.

By sheer luck and years of diligent preparation, I met the right person at the right time. He hired me to NBC Sports and I fell into my dream job- traveling the country to cover the IndyCar series.

I can thank both of my parents, had my mom not given me that Nikon for Christmas, or had dad not instilled this passion for racing in me, then my life would look very different right now. I can also credit two very inspiring and supportive art mentors that pushed my boundaries. Between my past cameras and my current Canon 70D, I have shot hundreds of thousands of photos. A large swatch of that have been racing-oriented, but I have learned a great deal from studying other types of portraiture and landscape documentation. Concert photography interests me greatly and shooting for local arts and culture magazines have been a tactful way to stay sharp in the offseason.

Make no mistake, I have sacrificed a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for this endeavor. To this day I am one of the few regular photographers on the circuit under the age of thirty and fewer still, a woman. The way I look has solicited comments and unknowing assumptions about my skill and my commitment. They will never know how much work I have put in to overcome those barriers and refine my craft, but I do this for myself and because I love it. It is where I feel like I belong.

From getting lost in the backwoods of Portland International Raceway to meeting Lady Gaga on the Yard of Bricks at IMS, these ten years have been a colorful blur of opportunities and I can’t be more appreciative. Each event that has built my experience lays atop the last like a jumbled pile. I can try to pull out one defining moment at a time but it is useless because they are stacked haphazardly. In the end, these ten years can be a mess of scattered memories, but I see it as a pile of Pick Up Sticks.

King of the Shops

When you think of the history of the Indy 500 you think of names like Unser, Andretti, and Foyt. Move further into the folds of the photo album, and you’ll find the builders behind the drivers. Huge innovators in the sport like Miller, Watson, and Gurney—to name a few—have been the driving forces of change at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the years. In the rich tapestry of the sport, the Pacific Northwest claims a few names of note as their very own. Tom Sneva from Spokane, WA carried the banner and Rolla Vollstedt from Portland, OR enacted change to name a few. Another great name that earned his place in the record books is Grant King.

Born in China in 1933, Grant King and his family immigrated to Victoria, British Columbia early in life. Like many, King became addicted to racing at a young age. Working in his brother’s machine shop, a customer brought a sprint car by and that was all to took for young King to become enamored with racing. According to the Sprint Car Hall of Fame’s archives, King stated: “I was still in school at the time in machine shop class, instead of making screwdrivers and chisels like everyone else, I was making sprint car parts.”

After a stint living in Portland, OR and working alongside the renowned car builder, Rolla Volldesdt, King moved to Indianapolis to be close to the big show. He made a home and eventually race shop on Crawfordsville Road that stands today. Nephew of Grant, Billy Throckmorton grew up on the property and keeps the memory of his uncle alive to this very day.

The current owner and operator of Grant King Racers, Throckmorton and his wife Stephanie live on the very property that Grant’s shop and original house were built. They own hundreds of hours of old footage, photographs and memorabilia as well as numerous cars built by King. After a devastating fire in 2015, the shop had to be rebuilt and inventory had to be taken. Today, the Throckmortons pride themselves in running the business as part museum, part operational race shop. They work in restoration, host events and have on display incredible amounts of photos and crew clothing. Each item has a story, and each story the Throckmortons are more than willing to tell you.

From Indy cars, sprint cars, modifieds, and midgets, it is estimated that King built over 250 cars from scratch. King worked alongside Vollsedt, A.J. Watson, the Granatelli brothers, and many others before forming his own IndyCar team in 1970.

Many, many, many well-to-do drivers of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s drove King’s cars—Indy Cars and otherwise. It is easy to look straight to drivers in the record books, but those who were part of the team are just as important. In his lifetime, King helped win the Indy 500, numerous dirt car championships in multiple disciplines and frankly, stood out as one of the only Asian-American around the paddock through the decades. From the stories to the physical pieces of history that the Throckmortons have on display, there are lots to see at this little shop. They welcome visitors and will take any chance to tell a great story and share memories. An excellent way to honor a memory, it is worth the stop for any enthusiast of IndyCar history.

Why You Need to Go See Ford Vs. Ferrari, Right Now

When was the last time that a ‘racing’ movie was nominated for an Academy Award? Let me help you out, it was 1966. Grand Prix was a huge Formula 1 themed cinematic epic. Filled with (a pretty cheesy) romance, groundbreaking filming techniques, and eye-popping racing sequences, the academy recognized it with a nomination and subsequent award in the following categories: Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Effects.

It’s been 54 years. A handful of motorsports movies have come out. Driven certainly was not going to be winning any awards. We got closer with Rush back in 2013 with a couple of Golden Globe nominations, but let’s be honest, that wasn’t stacking up against the chops of other big blockbusters that year.

Starring Matt Damon as iconic builder Carol Shelby and Christian Bale as a prickly racer Ken Block, this is an incredible true story of speed, revenge, and good ol’ American angst. It is funny, emotional, and above all- passionate. Sitting and watching it on the big screen- as everyone should- you find yourself tensing up and rolling with the curves of Le Mans. Similar to Grand Prix, this tale is beautifully filmed- though director, James Mangold had the aid of 21st-century special effects.

As far as accuracy, some notes might be elevated for the Hollywood glamour. Did Caroll Shelby take Henry Ford ii aka ‘the duce’ for a joy ride in one of the prototypes, rendering the heir to the Ford fortune into a blubbering, crying mess? Maybe not. Did Block and Shelby have a first fight in the front lawn of Block’s Southern California home? Does anyone know? Most importantly, did Caroll Shelby not use car doors? No seriously, the entire movie he hoists himself of the driver’s seat of the vintage Cobras that are sprinkled throughout the movie. He doesn’t once use a door to handle time.

Without ruining it for those who have not watched yet, some best scenes include Block’s in-car commentary, Matt Damon’s description of driving Le Mans when Ford representative comes to visit and the final scene with the wrench.

In light of Ford Vs Ferrari’s recent nominations, local theatres will likely put it back on the big screen- it is wholeheartedly worth the price of admission to see it in full larger-than-life form. The academy awards are Sunday, February 9th on 5p on ABC We might just see it bring home some hardware.

New Captain at the Helm

We woke up the morning of Monday, November 4, 2019, to find that the whole kit and caboodle has been sold. No seriously, for an IndyCar fan, it felt like it. A year and a day since the passing of Mari Hulman George, the only daughter of the late Tony Hulman, it was announced that IndyCar, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IMS Productions will be turned over than none other than Roger ‘The Capitan’ Penske come January 1, 2020.
“I think once the momentum continues to swell here, I think it’s going to raise all boats, so hopefully, we’ll have that opportunity to continue to be involved and work right alongside Roger and his group and all of the teams and fans and media that come here to enjoy it” — Tony George, son of Mari Hulman George and Chairman of Hulman & Company.
This is a huge deal. Like has-only-happened-4-times- in-100-years kind of big. When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909, four local businessmen became the founding fathers of The Racing Capital of the World. Arthur Newby, James Allison, Carl Fisher, and Frank Wheeler oversaw the construction and effectively owned the track until WWII Flying Ace Eddie Rickenbacker and associates bought it in 1927 for $750,000. Rickenbacker ushered in a new era of safety innovations and was the face of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway through the Great Depression and World War II. In 1945, supplies were short due to the war efforts and the track had fallen into a state of disrepair. Terre Haute, IN native and Anthony ‘Tony’ Hulman bought the track at the suggestion of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Wilbur Shaw. Shaw was named President and the Hulman family has proudly owned the track and the subsidiary racing series and Production Company for decades. Enter Roger Penske.
“We’re very excited to be in a place where our process took us to a point where we as a family all agreed we needed to have a conversation with Roger Penske. I approached him at the final race of the season, not wanting to distract from the task at hand, which was bringing home another championship… I just simply said, I’d like to meet with him and talk about stewardship” — Tony George.
Roger Penske is no stranger to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or IndyCar. You could easily say that he has been an integral part of both for the better part of his life. Once a racer himself, Roger became fascinated with motorsports early on. The Penske Racing team debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1966 and he entered his first car at Indy in 1969. The rest is history. Fielding cars with iconic drivers and chassis, Penske Racing racked up a record-breaking 14 Indy500 wins alone- including this year’s Champion, Simon Pagenaud. Just looking at 2019, Roger and Team Penske had a big season. Induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Fifth IndyCar Championship title and IMSA Prototype Challenge Championship- all of which are significant on their own yet somehow only ended up being footnotes to one of the largest purchases in American Motorsports history.
“I think to everyone that’s here today and around the world listening to this iconic event, I really have to wind back to 1951 when my dad brought me here when I was 14 years old, and I guess at that point the bug of motor racing got in my blood I’d have to say… So today I hope my dad’s looking down at me and looking at this group and saying, Son, you did a good job.” – Roger Penske
This is fantastic news- and news that affects the entire industry as a whole. If anyone cares about IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, it is Roger Penske. Someone who is not afraid to pour dollars, manpower, and experience into a project, Roger himself is already talking about big plans. Night racing, more series, and upgraded safety and technology will take a venue that is already legendary and make it better. Bigger business and more partners can help bring in another engine manufacturer or international races into the series. Make no mistake, by no means, will the traditions we know and love be cast away or forgotten, but encouraged on a larger stage.
“Look, we’ve got to break some glass on some of these things, don’t we. We’ve got to try some of this. I’m prepared to take a risk. No risk, no reward in many cases.” — Roger Penske
It’s hard to say what ideas will be implemented first or on what scale. Suffice to say, that 2019 is already shaping up to be an incredibly interesting racing season. Thank you, Hulman George family for the decades of service and let’s welcome our new Capitan, Roger Penske.

State Fair

“Honey, you have a bit of butter dripping down your chin,” said Robin Miller as he handed me a napkin. I am not normally this messy, but then again, I am not normally eating a piping hot ear of fresh corn doused in melted butter and parmesan. This is a day of ‘I don’t normally.

I don’t normally make it a habit of eat -ing something that takes three hands and a bushel of napkins. I also don’t normally let people call me ‘honey’- but Robin Miller gets away with that, from him it’s a term of endearment. Above all, I don’t normally hang out with a bunch of IndyCar drivers outside of work. Today was a special occasion.

“Welcome to the 11th annual Robin Miller and Tony Kanaan Day at the Indiana State Fair!” yelled Robin triumphantly. The quasi-famous writer turned NBC Sports Pit reporter looks forward to this every year. A staple in the IndyCar paddock, Miller arranges for a group of drivers, their significant others and varying IndyCar workers to spend an evening together at the historic Indiana State Fairgrounds munching on Midwestern delicacies and learning about the racing history of the property we were on.

This year’s driver lineup included Tony Kanaan (of course) and his wife Lauren, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and his new bride Becky, and IndyCar rookie Marcus Ericsson and his girlfriend Alex. Both Marcus and Alex were from Sweden and had yet to experience the true red white and blue fair before. They were the guests of honor.
Once our party arrived at the correct Pork Tenderloin tent, of which there are many, we set off.

“We come every year,” explained Lauren Kanaan “we bring our kids on their own night, this is more just fun amongst friends. The Indiana Dairy Association booth is always the first stop to get grilled cheeses… Tony can even eat it in one bite!” Walking up to the circular-shaped black and white cow painted building, I could see that everyone else at the fair that night had the same idea. After slowly shuffling to the front of the line, Robin tossed a couple of bills to the teenager inside and said, “Give me however many grill cheeses that is.” Walking away with a comically teetering Dr. Seuss- like stack of grilled cheese sandwiches, he handed them out to anyone that might want one in our group. I was determined to try everything.

It was a similar routine going with fried Oreos, fried cookie dough, fried cake batter, fried mozzarella sticks, fried cinnamon donuts, fried funnel cakes, and – Robin’s favorite—fried apple turnovers. Ever the adventurist, Marcus tried everything as well. “Actually, the fried Oreos are pretty good!” he chewed, wiping away a smear of powdered sugar.

Aimed at the colorful midway, we slowly progressed towards the games. Strangely enough in the crowd, fans occasionally stopped us to take a picture but more often stared and whispered in recognition. Everyone was most excited to see Tony, for his career in IndyCar has been the longest and he was the only one with his face on the BorgWarner trophy.
“Let’s see how athletic you are!” yelled Robin as he steered Marcus to the nearest basketball shooting game. “Have you ever held a basketball or thrown a football- and not the soccer kind of football but the football kind of football?” Marcus shook his head with a nervous grin starting to form. What did he sign himself up for?

“Here honey, we have this group here and everyone is going to take a turn. We will just keep shooting until we win some.” A couple hundred dollars and lots of attempts later, we as a group toted numerous 4 ft. tall stuffed animals with bulging eyes. Though James, Conor and Tony each won their own, Lauren Kanaan was far and away the best at the carnival games, walking away with a prize under each arm and a massive stuffed elephant perched on her shoulders.

“The fairgrounds are around the big horse track here-,” pointed Robin “That dirt track was where they always held the Hoosier Hundred. The likes of AJ (Foyt) and Mario (Andretti), Parnelli (Jones) and Jim (Hurtubise), all those guys that raced Indy in the 50s, 60s, 70s, they all raced here as well. They raced open wheel Champ cars- what they now call Silver Crown. If you could win the Hoosier Hundred, you’d for sure have a ride for Indy. It was a different time.” Robin sighed and passed around more napkins. Sadly, the Hoosier Hundred had its last year at the fairgrounds this past May and the facility was set to be paved over. Robin telling these stories was his way of preserving what was left of the history.

The sun set as we listened to stories from Robin. Kanaan appeared to have fallen asleep with his head rested on a giant stuffed animal. Marcus and Alex spoke to each other in Swedish and we all were starting to sweat out the sugary sweetness from what we had eaten earlier in the night.

We parted ways and I waddled back to my car, filled with stories and fried dough and tired from laughing. I cannot wait to come back next year.

The Worst Racing Movie Ever Made

Whilst sitting around a room of young racing aficionados, empty cans were strewn about the table surface and a forgotten slice of cold pizza sitting unwanted in the corner, somebody asked “What is the best racing movie ever made?” a chorus of answers was quick to reply “Senna!” “Rush!” and my personal favorite, “Grand Prix!” Sadly the congregation of twentysomething-year-olds stared back at me with a blank expression- their cinematic catalog peters out pre-1990 and everything made prior is sadly rendered obsolete.

“Days of Thunder!” Somebody slurred and instantly an argument broke out about whether or not the 1990 NASCAR flick starring Tom Cruise was actually under serious consideration for the prestigious Best Racing Movie title.

“Driven!” the same guy yelled and everyone laughed. This was clearly a joke. No true-blue race fan in their right mind would pass over LeMans, Winning, or even Talladega Nights for Driven.

A passerby walked back into the room and said, “I have never seen Driven.” Unanimously we decided that it was vitally important that a screening was in order. Couches, chairs and a TV were immediately shoved into the adjoining living room and someone dove into the corner of stacked DVDs in search for Driven.

Made in 2001, Driven stars Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, and Estella Warren. (Who?) Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds are supposed to be leading men but their storylines are barely a step above a cameo. Women, crowd shots and dramatic one-liners pepper this somewhat confusing storyline. Guys are stealing each other’s girlfriends; cars are being launched 50 feet into the air and frosted tips hairstyles are present.

A personal favorite scene includes a spontaneous chase sequence through the streets where neither driver is wearing any sort of safety features in open cockpit IndyCars. I guess we, as an audience, are supposed to believe that these guys are actually chatting with each other between midtown traffic while going close to 200mph.

One of the guys in the viewing party had a particular problem with how the characters in the movie put their gear on in the wrong order before strapping into the car. “HEY BUCKO, NO RACE CAR DRIVER TAKES HIS HELMET OFF, THEN HIS GLOVES! IT WOULD BE TOO HARD TO UNDO THE STRAPS” he yelled. When the dust settled, credits rolled, and the fridge was out of beer we all sat around and continued the conversation from earlier in the night.

“The McLaren documentary was really good.” “I have been watching the Formula 1 docuseries on Netflix, Drive to Survive—that’s really good too.” “I’ve never heard of Winning, who is in that?” Could all be heard over one another.

“Guys,” I said, “we are never going to agree on what the Greatest Racing Movie Ever Made is, but I think we can all safely say what the Worst Racing Movie Ever Made is…”

20 Racing that are More Worth Your
Time than Driven:
1- (2013)
The Big Wheel – (1949)
Days of Thunder – (1990)
Drive to Survive- Series – (2019)
Dust to Glory – (2005)
Le Mans- (1971)
Grand Prix – (1966)
McLaren – (2017)
Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans series – (2013)
Rush – (2013)
Talladega Nights – (2006)
The Love Bug – (1968)
To Please A Lady – (1950)
Senna – (2010)
Snake and Mongoose – (2013)
Stoker Ace – (1983)
Viva Las Vegas – (1964)
Weekend of a Champion- (1972)
Winning – (1969)
World’s Fastest Indian- (2005)

Top 5 reasons why you need to watch the Indy500 this year

❺ Proud as a peacock

Only one TV/ sports partnership has lasted longer: CBS and the Masters (since 1956). For 54 years ABC had been the exclusive broadcaster for the largest single day sporting event in the world. Until now. Before the 2018 season NBC Universal partners dropped a couple Million dollars to take over the reigns for the entire IndyCar schedule, but their eyes were set mainly on the crowning jewel of it all: The Indy500. As part of NBC’s exclusivity deal, fans can utilize the NBC Sports GOLD package to stream all practice sessions during the month – produced to full show quality and complete with a fleet of commentators (see next point.) The two-day qualifying shows May 18th and 19th have been overhauled as well to accommodate more interviews and more action. The main event itself will be on prime time NBC and will include the most comprehensive pre and post race coverage that NBC can muster. Keep a sharp eye out for revamping old traditions and staring new ones.

❹ Commentary, shaken—not stirred

The Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever bit worked well enough over the years but as the sport constantly evolves, so should the additional elements of the show. NBC plans to throw everything and the kitchen sink at their new baby including an unprecedented 14-broadcaster lineup. Why? Because NBC will do something that has never been done in motorsports broadcast history. They plan to be ‘on-air’ from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in some capacity or another for 99% of the days in May. In addition to Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Paul Tracy, NBC is clearing the NBC NASCAR and the NBC IMSA benches as well. Krista Voda, Rutledge Wood, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick are only part of the dizzying lineup. So many points of view can only create a cocktail of commentary never been seen before around the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

❸ Fernando fever

If you keep up with motorsports news, you have undoubtedly heard about Fernando Alsonso’s return to IndyCar. After an extensive career in Formula 1, Fernando and McLaren team owner Zac Brown have decided to dip their toes in the IndyCar pool. A couple of years ago Fernando shocked the Formula 1 community by bowing out of the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy500 for Andretti Autosport. Such a daring statement was clear: IndyCar is where the party is. A clandestine engine failure took out the contender, but not without an impressive surge to the front. Alonso was met with overwhelming excitement from fans and the Spaniard vowed to return.

This time is a little different. With the Andretti stable full, team McLaren sought support from Carlin Racing to field an entry. This also raises eyebrows, as Carlin is a Chevrolet team where Fernando has a long-standing relationship with top-competitor, Honda. Think of it like Michael Jordan suddenly appearing on an Adidas commercial after building an empire with Nike. Carlin is also an interesting choice as they are pretty fresh on the IndyCar scene themselves and have struggled with consistent finishes. Regardless, this will be a strong point of interest throughout the entire month.

❷ This ride is about to get bumpy

In case you didn’t know, only 33 cars can start the Indy500. It has pretty much been that way since the beginning. With the exception of some odd years in the 1910s and 20s, the historic 11 rows of 3 have stood the test of time. That was deemed to be a ‘safe’ number of cars to fit on the impressive 2.5-mile oval and is a strong tradition still carried on today. Through the 40s, 50s and 60s simply being fast enough to start in one of those 33 sports was a huge accomplishment. In that era, literally hundreds of drivers would flock to the speedway for a chance to make a qualifying run. On qualifying weekend, that pool would be narrowed down to the fastest guys—‘bumping’ the rest out of the field.

As the sport progressed and it became more expensive to race, people with deep enough pockets to fund these rides became scarce. Prior to 2017, it was a stretch to fill the field; therefore no one was ‘bumped’ out. Last year drama ensued when one of the regulars of the IndyCar field, James Hinchcliffe did not go fast enough to make the race, and therefore missed his chance to finish well in the points championship at the end of the season.

At this moment, numerous drivers have announced ‘one- off’ entries to stack ontop of the 24 IndyCar season regulars. Only 38 engines are available to use (19 Honda and 19 Chevy) and so far 34 have been spoken for including Conor Daly steeping into Andretti Autosport’s 5th car, Pippa Mann for Clauson/Marshall Racing, Fernando for Carlin, Sage Karam for Dreyer and Reinbold, and more. There are rumors that we will reach the full 38, but that is dependent on sponsorship dollars. There is always an abundance of drivers waiting in the wings to take their shot at the most prestigious crown in racing.

❶ It’s the *@&¤¥§£ Indy500

The sight, the sound the spectacle. The on track competition has never been tighter or more dynamic. This era of drivers hang it out on the line and have proven their talent, courage and luck lap after lap and year after year. If you are a consistent 500 viewer, this year will be a treat. If you have stopped watching over the years—no matter the reason— its time to come Back Home Again. Need I say more?

 

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.