Random Thoughts on Nashville

Scott Dixon was still in the post-race press conference last night, and the Legions of the Miserable were out in full force on social media. “That was not IndyCar”,  “This was a sh**show” and “Circus” were all reflective of what people were saying while Dixon was still talking about what a great win it was.

I don’t just say this because I live in Nashville – I had a good time this weekend, but most importantly – I enjoyed watching this race in person.

What I think was a surprise to most of the IndyCar media was that the drivers all seemed to love this track. Dixon said that it was a crazy race, but we need a couple of crazy races each season to shake things up some. He said it makes up for some races that can be rather boring. I agree.

I’m not sure what IndyCar fans want. They complain when races are boring and processional. Then when you throw in a race like Nashville with lots of cautions, they complain about that too. Some people just like to complain.

As I said in my wrap-up yesterday, this was a typical Scott Dixon win by Scott Dixon. He had a rough pit stop, but kept chopping away at it – even when he admitted that he thought his race was ruined. At the midpoint of the race, it appeared he was headed to a very forgettable finish. But as has happened so many times over the past two decades; Dixon was out in front when the checkered-flag flew.

TV Coverage: Usually, I don’t get to see any of the TV coverage of a race I attend until a day or so later. With the lightning delays, I was safely ensconced in the media center of Nissan Stadium during the down time – meaning we got to hear all of the pre-race show. The failed Zoom connections with drivers, provided a lot of comic relief as we waited out the weather.

On a serious note, I crossed paths with NBC pit-reporter Dave Burns several times throughout the weekend. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a fairly public figure be so engaging with fans. Once, he and a colleague were walking through the paddock, when a middle-aged fan ran up and asked for a selfie. Instead of the obligatory posing while walking, he stopped allowed her to take a couple of them and then he chatted with her unsolicited. He then thanked her for coming out to the track. As he and his colleague walked off, she ran the other direction to her friends – jumping up and down. That simple gesture made her entire weekend.

That was one of three encounters I witnessed on Friday, then at least another three more times on Saturday and Sunday. There was a group of guys, he noticed pointing at him. He went out of his way to speak to them. I heard one of them remark how it felt so weird to hear his familiar voice talking directly to them. After each encounter with fans, he always thanked fans for coming out.

Most all of the NBC on-air talent is very fan-friendly and accessible. But I was really impressed with how Dave Burns seemed to go way out of his way to accommodate fans and embrace them. He is definitely one of the good guys.

The Red Flag:  If you’ve followed this site for very long, you know that I am very opposed to the use of the red flag to “spice up the show”. They did it again yesterday and I did not like it.

In my opinion, the red flag should be used for four reasons – to get to an injured driver without putting first responders at risk, to clear a totally obstructed track, to repair the safer barrier or the track itself and for inclement weather.

I know I am in the vast minority on this, but I do not think spicing up the show should be a determining factor by Race Control. That falls into the categories of manipulating results and manufacturing drama.

Scott Dixon was polite when asked if he saw red when the red flag flew. He said he’s fine with whatever they want to do, so long as they do it consistently. But according to what I heard after the race, Mike Hull was not so indifferent.

Some argue that when it’s all said and done, this is all entertainment. While that may be true, there is an awful lot riding on the outcomes of races and championships. Don’t tell all of Chip Ganassi’s partners that this is just entertainment. They are in it to win. Had the red flag cost Scott Dixon this win and ultimately a seventh championship – I think you’d have an upset driver, race strategist and a lot of disappointed partners and sponsors.

What They Fixed:  Aside from the track improvements, race organizers changed a lot of things that obviously needed fixing in Year One.

Last year, the foot bridges were points of congestion. They had one bridge at each crossover section, with a railing going down the middle. The result was single-file each way, that led to congestion on Friday and impassable conditions on Saturday and Sunday. This year, they had two bridges for each direction, with no railing down the middle. Even on Sunday, the crossover bridges were much more passable.

There was also more signage this year. Many areas were hard to fins last year. There were few signs and the staff had no answers, when asked.

Traffic around the stadium seemed to flow a lot better this year.

The starting time for the race was two hours earlier than last year, but the lightning delay pushed the start back to 4:10 – just about twenty minutes earlier than last year’s start. But that could not be helped.

What They Didn’t Fix:  While staff seemed to be more customer service oriented than last year, there still seemed to be confusion about who was allowed where. My credentials allow me in the pits at every track. But twice this weekend, I was stopped and told that my IndyCar-issued credentials did not get me through the gates. I had to point to the chart up on the fence to show then that they would. One guy was friendly abut it and let me pass, while another one argued that the generic badge on the chart did not look exactly  like mine.

At some point in the offseason, they talked about adding additional crossover bridges, one specifically near the Turn Eleven section. Anything on the northside of the paddock is only accessible by the crossover bridge south of the stadium. It more than doubles the distance you have to walk by making everyone double back like that. Why they didn’t follow through with that plan, I do not know.

So it wasn’t a perfect fan experience, but they are working to improve things. These are just a few things they need to shoot for in Year Three.

Drive of the Day:  As this race was unfolding, I was seeing several drivers having good days that were suddenly tossed away. Graham Rahal had moved up four spots from his eleventh place starting spot, before it all went terribly wrong as he rear-ended Pato O’Ward. The contact immediately ended O’Ward’s day, and ultimately ended Rahal’s as well.

Kyle Kirkwood was having an outstanding day as he was running consistently and legitimately in fifth. This wasn’t by catching a yellow at the right time, he earned it. But he got way too greedy and made another rookie mistake that has plagued him this season. He attempted a late move on fellow rookie David Malukas, but Malukas did not know he was there and turned in on him. It’s hard to assign blame, but I think Kirkwood was more at fault. By the way…Malukas was having an outstanding day as well, before their incident.

Alexander Rossi was spinning all over the place and brought out the first caution on Lap Eight. Still, he finished fourth – but can you award a driver whose problems were mostly self-inflicted?

I was going to give it to Christian Lundgaard for having such an outstanding weekend. But he faded in the last few laps from challenging Dixon for the lead from second place to finishing a disappointing eighth.

For once, I’m giving the semi-coveted Drive of the Day to the winner of the race – Scott Dixon. Considering the obstacles he overcame yesterday and put himself in position to win his seventh career championship.

All in All:  It’s great to have an IndyCar race in my hometown. It’s also good to have it be a success. They got unlucky with the weather this year, but most of the crowds stuck around. If the IndyCar media could lay off of the event and quit trying to bait the drivers into trashing it, maybe the fans who watched on television would not be so quick to trash it on social media.

I would say come before trashing it, but I never let my lack of attending Belle Isle keep me from running it down. I guess it’s a fair argument.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Nashville”

  1. Yes, some people like to complain. That’s not a good reason to dismiss all complaints.

    Processionals are boring, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the further away a race gets from being a processional, the better it is. There’s a balance to be struck. I think it’s reasonable to want to watch a race where half of the laps aren’t run under yellow. And it seems clear that we’re not going to get that with this race course. I don’t know how many accidents we’ve seen over the last two years that looked just like Newgarden taking out Grosjean, or DeFrancesco taking out Sato. The course is just too narrow in the passing zones. And, for two years in a row, that’s led to blockages that have led to additional accidents.

    The track was tweaked this year. In a comment on your Friday post, redcar said, “I think the track needed a bit more than a tweak.” That’s what I was thinking, too, and I think that redcar was proven right. This course needs major surgery. My guess is that, given the constraints of the location, the changes that are needed are infeasible. And that means that this will be the last time you read my complaints about the Nashville race, because I’ll find something else to do next year. It’s not that I like to complain, or because I’m complaining because I saw other people complaining on social media. I just don’t like to watch crappy races.

  2. My big difficulty in understanding the track is why there’s a technical section after the bridge that’s basically just a caution magnet? Just make it a broad hairpin.

  3. S0CSeven Says:

    Living in a country where Peacock isn’t available, …

    The race started on NBC with a women’s golf tournament and continued until after the 18th hole and interviews were completed around 4:30 and
    Off we went to Nashville where apparently fans were being told the delay was because of lightening… and the race started right away.

    At 5:30 EST when coverage was originally scheduled to end … it did. ..on lap 20 … and NBC went somewhere else.

    I don’t know what the race was like, but from my seat it WAS a S#@t Show.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I suspect the track is a lot of fun for the drivers to drive and less fun for them to race. It is very unforgiving even in practice and qualifying, we continued to see single car incidents and lots of use of the run-off just like last year. Drivers both good and mediocre made mistake after mistake, to the point that I struggle to be frustrated with them. These incidents seem inevitable when taking to this track in anger, and the fact that close to 45% of the laps run here over two races have been under yellow would seem to bear that out.

    That said, a lot of elements of this race as an event are clearly working. It seems to draw well with both sponsors and fans and, frankly, it remains a very cool thing to see the cars racing over the bridge.

    Also, what a strange day for weather and racing. I think I heard that Indycar, NASCAR, and IMSA all had weather delays of some length yesterday. Worked out relatively well for Indycar in that the golf tournament’s tiebreaker coverage didn’t wind up taking any time away from the actual race… well, it worked out well until NBC had to cut to their affiliates’ news broadcasts.

  5. even the commentators on SkySports were Les Miserables.
    “embarrassing”, “you who are still awake”, and
    “maybe we will resume with better results”, etc. etc.

  6. I ditto your comments George about many of the key people involved in all aspects of IndyCar engaging with the fans this weekend.

    My son and I were at Road America in June and we stood at the ropes of the transports in the paddock of a well respected team with veteran drives. ??? The team manager was talking with fans and handing out hats he had in-hand. We asked for a hat for my 5-year old grandson who was not at the RA race but would be in Nashville. He replied that if we bring him to their trailer in Nashville he would give my 5-year old grandson a private inside the ropes tour of their paddock area and trailers. He spent 15 minutes doing just that on Sunday AM prior to the warm-up!!! That’s engaging fans! I’m not saying who it was in respect for the teams time and his need to manage the team vs fielding tour requests, but he was extremely generous.

    I saw and experience several more. Mario, Hinch, Josef, Will, …. All doing the same. I applauded all for their efforts and respect of the fans.

  7. The use of the red flag is not to “spice up the show”. It is to give opportunity to have a green flag finish. Adding laps for a green white checker is a gimmick. I am grateful that IndyCar doesn’t want to go down that road, but also tries to avoid a race unnecessarily ending behind the pace car. They’re trying to maintain integrity on the track, while giving fans what they came/tuned in to see, and it was a hell of a finish.

  8. I thought the race was a mess, but more from a track design point of view. Great effort went into giving Nashville a signature part of the track. The bridge. I think the bridge is great, but it lead to design compromises elsewhere that impact the race, like pit out in Nashville and several of the corners.

    Most street circuits seem to have something that eats cars because of circuit design. Pit out in Long Beach, Turn 3 in Detroit. Nashville just seems stacked with them. I think that, and the lack of efforts to mitigate them, like the tires in Turn 3 in Detroit, reflects poorly on the race organizers.

    11 cars not finishing, 10 due to contact, reflects poorly on the drivers, the series, and the track. I think that’s something to consider going forward, if Indycar wants to draw big sponsors and international attention.

  9. I was lucky enough to be a flag marshal at Turn 2/3 all weekend and it was also my wife and I’s first trip to Nashville. We thoroughly enjoyed it! On Friday I was stationed at Turn 2/pit exit and Dave Burns was in line for the 2 seater ride. I walked up next to him and asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”. He let out a good laugh and talked to me for another 10 minutes. Just a great guy. I personally could have done without the red flag at the end as I was completely exhausted by the end of the day.
    Overall it was a great race weekend and a great experience in Nashville. We can’t wait to come back next year!

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