Guest Column From the Town of Speedway

images
By John Oreovicz

George and Susan have a lot going on right now, so in the tradition of Roberto ‘Supersub’ Moreno, I offered to contribute a guest column or two to help lighten their load.

The Phillips’ are good people who I have enjoyed getting to know over the years, whether in the media center at IndyCar Series races or over a bite to eat and a few Budweisers at Dawson’s on Main. I’m astounded that George finds the time and the desire to crank out two or three columns a week for Oilpressure.com. This is not his paid day job; he operates this website out of pure love for Indy car racing. Original content doesn’t grow on trees these days, but George constantly manages to find interesting topics to write about.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s harder and harder to find IndyCar coverage in the media. Even before COVID, the IndyCar press corps was decimated; only a handful of writers including Marshall Pruett, David Malsher, and Bruce Martin cover most or all of the races. Outside of specialty press like RACER.com, the series has zero presence in traditional mainstream media, and the number of blogs like this one is much smaller than it used to be. The IndyCar Series is fortunate to have enthusiasm and support from people like George and Susan.

As mentioned, IndyCar content can be hard to come by in an era when teams aren’t allowed to develop unique parts for their cars and are pretty much prohibited from testing. Luckily for me, some interesting stories unfolded over the last couple of weeks, so here are some thoughts:

Jimmie Johnson tests at IMS – This is great news for the IndyCar Series. Having one of America’s most successful and renowned drivers express an interest in the series is a big boost for IndyCar. Open-wheel fans love to hate NASCAR, but stock cars are still king everywhere in the USA outside of Central Indiana. So it’s a big deal when a seven-time champion says he not only wants to test an Indy car, he wants to race one.

By all accounts, Johnson’s test on the IMS road course in a Dallara-Honda prepared by Chip Ganassi Racing was a success. No lap times were published, but Ganassi managing director Mike Hull and five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon expressed confidence that Johnson has the ability to competitively race an open-wheel car in the future.

Johnson himself could barely contain his glee in his social media posts. In a conference call with reporters, he declared his hope to compete in the Long Beach Grand Prix, an event the California native attended as a boy. Johnson said his early dream was to race Indy cars, and he appears to be dead serious about running selected races in 2021, possibly including the Indianapolis 500.

Johnson’s desire to race Indy cars is a win-win for the series. If he successfully makes the transition, it will certainly whet the appetite for other stock car racers to try their hand at 220-mph open-wheelers. Kyle Busch on the IMS oval? Bring it on!

Cole Pearn to engineer Daly at Indy – This one came from out of the blue – or maybe more accurately, from out of the north. Pearn, a native of Ontario, Canada, is best known as Martin Truex Jr’s crew chief, a partnership that won 17 races and the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series championship for Furniture Row Racing. Aside from his nationality, Pearn broke the mold for NASCAR engineers with his aggressive strategies and unusual dress (he eschews a firesuit or crew shirt for a simple t-shirt).

FRR folded at the end of 2018, as Pearn and Truex were incorporated into the Joe Gibbs Racing lineup. At the end of the 2019 season, Pearn shocked the world by resigning from JGR to pursue opportunities outside of NASCAR. His first gig was revealed last week, and it’s a shocker: Pearn will engineer Conor Daly’s entry for Ed Carpenter Racing in the Indianapolis 500.

I’m fascinated by this development. I always thought that Pearn’s background and personality would be a better fit in IndyCar than NASCAR, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he picks up the nuances of a single-seat open-wheeler. It’s also a key development for Daly; a lot of people rate his feedback highly, and that could play an important role in bringing a rookie engineer up to speed. Definitely a combination to watch.

Full “500” field with bumping? – It’s unfortunate that this has become a storyline more years than not, but it’s certainly understandable in the challenging circumstances of 2020. There appear to be 30 solid entries for the “500” at this point, with an open seat at Dale Coyne Racing and cash-strapped possibilities at Juncos Racing and DragonSpeed Racing. There’s also a slim pool of drivers, including Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson, and Pippa Mann. Figure on a full field of 33, but not enough entries to create bumping.

Will the “500” be run in August? – Indianapolis Motor Speedway management is saying all the right things and has put an aggressive fan protection plan into place. IMS reassigned seats and mailed out those sought-after blue envelopes full of tickets this week, so the intent to run the race on August 23 is clearly there. But now more than ever, events are “subject to change,” and those events will ultimately be dictated by the state’s ability to get the COVID-19 spread under control.

Even at 25 percent capacity, IMS will spread 60,000 people around the stands, and scatter probably another 20,000 throughout the infield. In all likelihood, it will be the largest gathering of fans at a public event since March. This week, IU Health, the largest healthcare network in the state of Indiana, strongly advised IMS to consider running the race without fans. Of course, Roger Penske has stated that Indy will only be run with fans, and Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles came out with a sharp rebuttal to IU Health’s statement.

From my own perspective, I’m leaning toward skipping the Indianapolis 500 this year. The 500 has dominated my life for the last 45 years; with the exception of a few years in the late 1990s, I’ve attended the race or listened on the radio since the mid-70s. In 2018, I had surgery to repair a heart valve, putting me in the at-risk category.

I have never watched the Indianapolis 500 on live television; oddly, it’s something I was always curious about, especially back in the day when the race had its traditional 11 a.m. start and folks on the west coast got to watch over breakfast or brunch.

So it’s beginning to look like this may be the year. Even before the local Indianapolis television blackout was lifted, I was already thinking about going out of state to find a nice place to watch the race. I’ve attended the Indianapolis 500 thirty-six times, but I think I’m going to take a one-year break. Number 37 can wait until things are hopefully more normal for everyone, including George and Susan.

If you do attend the race as a fan, I hope it’s still an enjoyable experience. Please take care of each other.

Oreo

6 Responses to “Guest Column From the Town of Speedway”

  1. An Oreo column and a Roberto Moreno reference in the first paragraph?!?! Score! Nice read, thinking about George and Susan, thanks for stopping by, Oreo!

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Good to hear from Oreo!

    IU Health is weighing in on this awfully late, it seems. I can appreciate their argument, as I can appreciate the economic reality that faces IMS and compels them to push to hold the event with some number of fans. Hopefully, the 500 will go off as safely as possible. That it is an outdoor event should mitigate risk measurably. Folks wearing masks en masse should do so as well. Still, the risk will be there.

  3. John – It is always good to see your byline! Thank you for filling in today.

    All the best to George, Susan and family.

  4. scott kenney Says:

    Oreo is Back!!!

  5. Tom from Lake Forest Says:

    So glad to read your work again, John. Many thanks to George for opening the door.

  6. Mr Oreo, thanks for subbing for George! Not so sure I’d want to cancel the 500 this year. Everyone knows it’s a weird year so it is what it is. I have concerns if everything will be back to normal by next May. I’d hate to see the race postponed for 4 or 5 years such as in the war years. Let’s try and race on as best as possible I say! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: