Archive for March, 2020

Penske Woes Prove No One is Immune

Posted in IndyCar on March 30, 2020 by Oilpressure

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Again, I’m breaking my self-imposed vow not to write about COVID-19; but I am keeping true to my word that it will only be about how it affects the NTT IndyCar Series and/or the Indianapolis 500…at least, to some extent.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how fortunate race fans were that Roger Penske had bought IMS, IMS Productions and IndyCar from Hulman and Company. My logic was that Mr. Penske had much deeper pockets than the Hulman-George family and he would be much more suited to take the hit of the loss of the season’s first four races and still keep things sustainable.

That was posted on March 18, almost two weeks ago. With things sometimes changing by the hour, a lot has happened since then. Businesses had not yet been mandated to a standstill across the globe. Our streets and highways were still somewhat crowded and bars and restaurants were still open, but had just started limiting capacity (at least here in Tennessee). Many were still more focused on losing March Madness and the first four races of the IndyCar season than anything else.

As I said, a lot has happened since then.

For example, the Indianapolis 500 and its accompanying GMR Grand Prix have both been rescheduled to different months.

As the US and global economy crumbles before our very eyes, small businesses and worldwide conglomerates are suddenly faced with unprecedented and massive layoffs. It seems that Penske Corporation is not immune to this pinch either. This past Saturday Roger Penske wrote a letter to every Penske employee, which accounts to 60,000 people worldwide.

The letter stated that senior management would take pay cuts, while layoffs for employees are a distinct possibility. Penske himself will forego his entire salary for the time being, as well as company president Rob Kurnick.

This article that appeared on Autoweek.com states that all Penske operations in the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy are completely shut down, as well as sales operations in Australia and Germany. Here in the US, most of Penske’s business dealings deal with logistics – which has been labeled an essential business. How else will food and supplies make it to their destinations without logistics?

The governor of North Carolina has ordered all non-essential businesses to close, and this includes the race shop of Team Penske just outside of Charlotte. The article was not clear as to whether or not team personnel has been furloughed or just sent home. But with no money coming in, it will be just a matter of time. Then just last night, we got word that IMS and IndyCar have furloughed some employees as of Sunday. Supposedly they were told by IndyCar that the furlough is planned for sixty days. That takes us right to the eve of the Dual at Detroit at the end of May; the projected new opening weekend of the IndyCar season.

If this hits Roger Penske this hard, no one is safe from financial ruin. Even financial giants like Roger Penske or Penske Corporation cannot take hits like this long-term. He built his company on business models that take normal recessions into account; but nothing like what just exploded in this horrific month of March. When he announced his purchase from the Hulman-George family back in November, he made that business (and sentimental) decision based on normal economic patterns. There was no way he or anyone else could foresee what was just around the corner just a few months later.

This is not a political statement, but I’m sure it will draw the ire from some and praise from others. How long can this go? I’m not talking about the loss of racing or other sports. I’m talking about how long can businesses remain shuttered, while we all practice social distancing? At some point, something has got to give or this economy will never come back.

I was having this conversation with a much younger person this week, and he casually said “It’ll come back, it always comes back”. Well, the word always doesn’t apply here because we’ve never seen anything like this. I’m not an infectious disease specialist, nor am I an economist. I’m an over-aged IndyCar blogger in Nashville, sitting anonymously behind a keyboard, so take these words for what they are worth. But I do think I’ve got some common sense and I like to think I take a rational approach to most things. I think those that make it through this crisis are the ones that will keep their head and wits about them.

I respect the coronavirus and what it can do. I understand that it is not the flu or the common cold – it has the potential to be much more serious, especially to those with weakened immune systems. It spreads easily and rapidly and unlike the flu, which has a rapid onset – those infected with the coronavirus can be infected for two weeks without even presenting symptoms, thereby giving a false sense of security as they continue to socialize.

I also understand that there are complete idiots who simply don’t get it. They are having corona parties in small spaces and still gathering in large groups as they throw caution to the wind. They think it’s funny to cough on someone who has made them angry, while they think it’s more important to get in their spring break trip to Florida, as the rest of the country sits at home from work. Those same people will most likely go to visit Grandma over Easter, and Grandma is the one most at risk.

People also need to stop treating a trip to the grocery store as if it’s a field trip to Disneyland for the entire family. It is commonplace to see husband and wife with six or seven kids and an entire extended family in tow, wandering the aisles of the stores. Kids touch everything by nature, and then put their hands in their mouths. It’s also sad that the stores cannot even get sanitizing wipes to wipe their carts down. Why? Because of thoughtless people hoarding them, that’s why?

At some point, however, we’ve got to get back to work. I understand it will be a gradual thing to ease back into it, but it has to happen at some point. The President has said that he hopes to start the process back by Easter. When you realize that Easter is less than two weeks away, that seems a little ambitious. But I would like to think we can start easing back to normalcy by mid-May. If not, the economic damage done by that point may be irreparable. It’s a fine line to walk between being prudent from a medical and an economic standpoint. Both need to be taken into account. Plus, if Penske’s Dual at Detroit has any shot of running on time at the end of May, we’ll have to be back to some level of normalcy by mid-May, anyway.

Those that point out the economic ramifications of this virus are roundly criticized with barbs like “You care more about the almighty dollar than human life” or “OK, you pick which ones to die when we go back to work”. Although some people don’t like to admit it, businesses drive this country. Without the economic engine of big business, our country would not enjoy what we take for granted today.

I find it ironic that those that bemoan how sponsorship dollars have dried up in motorsports, are the same ones saying that anyone who worried about businesses and the economy during a worldwide pandemic are evil, and should only be worried about the safety and well-being of their fellow humans. Well, I’m worried about both.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, this crisis does not really compare to what this country went through after 9/11. That catastrophe brought out the best in people; this has brought out the worst. There is the crowd that is hoarding toilet paper and purposely coughing on people as a sick joke. On the other end of the spectrum there are those that are clamoring for martial law. I actually saw a Facebook post over the weekend from an IndyCar acquaintance that said “…if we don’t implement a national lockdown immediately, enforced by our military, over two million Americans WILL die. This is not an exaggeration. It’s not a fear-tactic. It’s a FACT. Does it scare you? GOOD.”

Pay no attention to the fact that just yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci gave a worst-case scenario of 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths before this is all over. While that is a huge amount, this person claimed it to be a FACT that over two million will die, so it must be really be a fact. I would like to see the data that backs up this so-called fact. Then again, the person also stated that this was not a fear-tactic, then followed that up by asking if you were scared. Some of you reading that may completely agree with this person’s post, and that’s fine – but I think the majority of people fall somewhere in the middle of these two camps – the COVID-19 deniers and the alarmists spreading gloom, doom and panic.

Rest assured, it’s about to get uglier as the war of words escalates when people’s finances begin to dry up as most continue to sit at home.

We are lucky. My wife, Susan, worked last Monday – but on Monday night she got the e-mail to remain at home until further notice. They say she will continue to be paid, but who knows how long that will last? My line of work is considered essential. In fact, starting last week, I’m now working twelve-hour days – from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. But I’m grateful to still be working. I don’t get overtime, but I get comp time – which means extra vacation days for when racing season starts back.

But at my work, we have all quickly adapted to today’s way of living. We are all conscious of keeping our distance, scrubbing down door-handles as well as our mouse and keyboard. I suspect some of these practices will continue even after things get back to normal – whatever the new normal is going to look like.

When iconic companies that have been the model of stability, like Penske Corporation, have to make drastic moves – you know we are in unprecedented times.

I thought the most telling part of the Autoweek article was when Penske commented on having to reschedule the Indianapolis 500, when he said “I took the road that gave us the longest distance, five months. If this thing isn’t over in five months, we’ve got bigger problems”. I agree – both medically and economically.

George Phillips

The Uncertainty Ends For Now

Posted in IndyCar on March 27, 2020 by Oilpressure

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We all knew it was coming, but when it happened it was a very empty feeling. The 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 has finally been postponed from its originally scheduled date of May 24, to Sunday August 23. Once the Olympics were cancelled, the dominoes started falling.

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A Collection of Misinformation

Posted in IndyCar on March 25, 2020 by Oilpressure

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I belong to several IndyCar and Indianapolis 500-related Facebook groups. Most fans there are so hard-core to the point that I feel intimidated on there. I have always considered myself fairly knowledgeable about Indianapolis 500s of past years, but I sometimes wonder how Donald Davidson would stack up to these guys.

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A Needed Diversion to Yesteryear

Posted in IndyCar on March 23, 2020 by Oilpressure

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As the entire world is in something of a holding pattern, there is no racing news to speak of. Even in the offseason, there is always some silly season speculation to write about, but right now there is nothing. I could use this crisis as an excuse to take an extended break from this site, but I’m not going to do that. This site may not have the largest following out there, but I think I have the most loyal readership. Many of you have been here since the beginning almost eleven years ago. Because of that, I feel a loyalty to my readers to provide an escape, if only for the few minutes it takes to read one of my rambling posts.

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Falling Behind the Times

Posted in IndyCar on March 20, 2020 by Oilpressure

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With no racing or any sports to speak of going on right now, many motorsports fans and drivers have jumped onto the eSports bandwagon. Those of us over sixty used to refer to these as video games. Somewhere along the line, the term evolved into eSports – I guess to make it sound more athletic.

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A Silver Lining in a Dark Cloud

Posted in IndyCar on March 18, 2020 by Oilpressure

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Although it may look like I’ve already broken my vow to not write anymore about the novel coronavirus, remember I did leave myself some wiggle room by allowing myself to write on the effects it has had on the NTT IndyCar Series or motorsports in general.

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The Race Weekend That Wasn’t

Posted in IndyCar on March 16, 2020 by Oilpressure

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By the time we got word on Friday morning that the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg had been cancelled, I was disappointed but not surprised. We had seen changes by the hour over the previous couple of days, so I no longer felt comfortable making any predictions about anything.

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