An Offseason Like No Other

By Susan Scruggs

I’m still a relative newbie to this sport. I went to my first Indy Car race here in Nashville in 2002. I was excited that Alex Barron won, strictly because I thought he was cute. I went to my first Indy 500 in 2004. I took my oldest son Eric, and we went with George and his daughter. George did his best to make sure Eric had a good time and Eric got hooked on the sport. Because Eric was hooked, I sort of got hooked myself.

It was pouring down rain and a tornado was heading straight for the track as we left that day. I had no idea that our lives would eventually get so eaten up by this sport. All I cared about was getting dry and getting home. But that day, Eric became a Tony Kanaan fan. It helped that Kanaan won the Nashville race that summer and then the championship that fall.

In fact, he became a fan of the whole Andretti-Green team. He is now the proud owner of die-cast models of every car on the AGR team that year with autographs of all four drivers that he hunted down over the next couple of years. That would be Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta and yes, Dan Wheldon. He also has the matching Palms poker chips that are also autographed. Other than Kanaan, Wheldon was probably Eric’s favorite driver on the team. He bought a Klein Tools cap (I wouldn’t let a 14 year-old wear anything with Jim Beam on it) and several other pieces of Wheldon merchandise.

By the time we returned to Indy in 2005, Eric and I were well-versed with everything Indy Car. George made sure of that. Even though Kanaan didn’t win the race, Eric was thrilled to see Dan Wheldon win it. I didn’t think it possible but Wheldon was closing in on Kanaan’s sacred spot as Eric’s favorite driver.

Many seasons have come and gone since that first Indy 500 we went to in 2004. As with most kids, the offseason held little interest for Eric and I thought every year, that he had completely lost interest in Indy Cars. But each May when Indy rolled around, you couldn’t be around George and have a conversation about anything that wasn’t Indy. It rubbed off on Eric and his interest quickly returned.

The 14 year-old kid we took in 2004 will turn 22 next spring. The kid who used to line up all of his die-cast cars in front of the TV for every race, now has his own apartment across town and a full-time job. He still watches the races, but somehow I don’t see him getting his cars out in front of his roommates.

He was watching the Las Vegas race when the accident happened. He immediately texted me, before we knew the final outcome. We talked later on. Eric doesn’t show emotions that often and tried not to that day. But something sounded different. Suddenly, he sounded like the 14 year-old that had just seen his first Indy.

Like Eric, I’m new to death in racing. George always said it would happen again, but you tend to ignore such talk. With this having happened at the end of the season, we all have to dwell on it for almost six months.

But this offseason was already going to be different. For the first time since I’ve followed racing, there will be new cars next year. The cars that ran this year were the same cars we saw back in 2004. I know George isn’t wild about the looks of the new car, but I actually like it. It’s different. But as we all know, George hates change.

I don’t know anything about the engines except that Honda has been the only engine around for years. I know when we were at our first Indy, Chevrolet and Toyota were there too. I know there is a lot of testing going on with the new cars and new engines. I don’t ever remember this much activity just before Thanksgiving.

With new cars and new engines, this already promised to be a crazy offseason. With the Dan Wheldon tragedy, it became almost surreal.

Along those lines, I do want to mention one thing that I’m in complete agreement with George on. The flack that Randy Bernard has taken over the Las Vegas crash is ridiculous. I know the subject has been beaten to death, but this is my first time on here in a while. The other day, someone actually accused George of being Randy Bernard’s brother-in-law and a butt-kisser because George usually takes his side.

As I posted on here, I was sitting there the day George interviewed Randy Bernard. George was very cordial and respectful, because Randy Bernard treated him like he was the most important person he was going to see all day. The George I know does NOT kiss butt. He just knows that Randy Bernard is the right man for the job, wants him to succeed and believes he will. There have been several times that I have read George disagree with something Randy had done, but he thinks he has done a fabulous job and so do I. OK,,,that’s enough of that rant.

Compared with George’s time spent following Indy Car and most of his readers, I don’t know that following this sport for only eight seasons counts for much. But as long as I’ve been around the sport, with the new cars, new engines, new teams and old drivers with new teams along with the odd circumstances surrounding the end of the season, this looks like it will be an offseason like no other.

4 Responses to “An Offseason Like No Other”

  1. Nice column, Susan.

    I don’t always agree with George, but I do agree with him about Randy! At first I was very sceptical: never saw an IndyCar race, didn’t know much about racing and was coming from some cowboy rodeo “sport”? I was so wrong; Randy has done so much in two short years to help restore IndyCar’s prominence.

    This off-season already has such a strange flavour to it. Even the drivers are commenting on it. I know they are all concerned about the teething problems with the new DW12 and everyone wants and needs time to learn and fine tune the new car before March. The loss of Dan Wheldon has spread a kind of melancolea over not just the drivers, but the teams and even some of the sponsors closest to the sport.

    Lest we forget Silly Season’s Musical Chairs has started now too! Lots of talented free agents available, new teams trying to start up and established teams with holes to plug. Sponsor $$ are tight, so we may see another Kanaanian situation with some good drivers.

  2. Good to see you posting again, Susan!

    I think one of the big things about this offseason is that we have a level of complexity that’s been missing in years past. We have the intrigue of three engine manufacturers, teams jockeying for the right deal, and a higher potential car count than anyone once thought likely. It’s just more fun having 26-30 potential full-time seats than hoping you can limp to 24 FT entries.

    Losing Dan has been exceedingly terrible, but if there’s anything positive that’s come out of it, it’s been that most of the IndyCar community has really pulled together. I think it was a wake-up call in a lot of ways, and helps you remember the sort of things that are important.

    No, not everything is roses and sunshine—we’re still waiting on that schedule, after all!—but I’m fired up this silly season. There’s so much to find out, so much news, and more chances for our favorite drivers to secure rides. Randy Bernard is out there fighting every single day, and I’m optimistic we’re going in the right direction. Progress is never a uniform thing, but I’m excited about what the offseason and 2012 looks to bring.

  3. Simon Garfunkel Says:

    Excellent post as alwyas Susan. You and George compliment each other very nicely with your differening writing styles. It’s always good to read your perspective.

  4. The thing I missed the most over the last 10 or so years was the anticipation of new cars or upgrades every couple of seasons or so. It’s a lot of what draws me to the other motor sports I enjoy like sports cars and F1. There are a lot of unknowns going into the 2012 season and that always makes things interesting!

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