IndyCar Baltimore postscript
However, let me just offer this.
Before the green flag fell Sunday, I was wondering what on earth we were going to do with the upcoming five week break before the series gets back to racing at Houston. And while we all thought it couldn't have gotten any crazier than the previous week at Sonoma, I'm now wondering whether five weeks is enough time to digest all that happened this weekend at the Grand Prix of Baltimore Presented by SRT won by Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports.
Below, in a topic/discussion format, I will attempt to add insight and make sense of what was a fun and bizarre weekend in Charm City.
The Local Angle:
Readers of this space probably know this already. However, to briefly repeat, I live about 45 minutes from the start/finish line on Pratt Street. And although I am not a Baltimorean (I grew up and live closer to Washington, D.C), I consider the Baltimore event my home race. While I'll admit there is some potential bias here, let me be clear, that I am not attempting to cheerlead.
Rather, in knowing the local area well combined with covering the series, I am of the firm belief Charm City is a place IndyCar needs to be.
Now, I say that knowing this: the locals are not very familiar or knowledgeable regarding IndyCar, or racing of any kind for that matter. Yes, there are local SCCA chapters, vintage racing groups and the like, but generally speaking this is a city incredibly unfamiliar with racing, much less IndyCar.
One example illustrating this, came about two and a half weeks at a media luncheon with Marco Andretti. The luncheon featured mostly local media asking Andretti questions, when the fact Andretti drove for Chevrolet came up.
As the conversation moved on, and other questions were raised I spent a few minutes explaining to a confused, yet curious, local media member that Marco did not actually race a Chevrolet like you might see on the street.
Yes, Marco would not be racing a Cobalt, a Volt, or even a Corvette. His car was a little different, as I politely explained.
Still, Baltimore is curious.
While the member of the media did not know details of the sport, he was curious. This is similar to how the Baltimore race crowd is.
Clearly, it is not an informed crowd of diehards like say, Mid-Ohio. However, Baltimore is unquestionably intrigued by and welcoming of, IndyCar.
The city enjoys the carnival atmosphere, the friendliness of the paddock, and international flair of the series and its competitors. I'll provide another example illustrating this.
One local media member asked me if I knew a way they could possibly interview some of the drivers. Looking at a list of contact information for IndyCar PR reps, I highlighted some of the people I had previously found helpful.
Not thinking much of it, I bumped into this person later, and asked if he/she had any luck. Visibly excited, almost giddy, this person said to me, "Yes, thank you so much. I’m interviewing James Jakes in ten minutes."
Baltimore is also not jaded (at least when it comes to IndyCar).
Let me explain.
While there have been a few teething problems in getting the race off the ground (okay, more than a few) the fact Baltimore is relatively new to IndyCar is in my opinion, an asset, not a liability. The locals can be taught about red and black tires, pitting out of sequence, and what is different about their car and Marco Andretti's car.
But Baltimore offers something IndyCar badly needs: no memory.
Baltimore is not a market that has a history to overcome for IndyCar to rebuild like say, Milwaukee. Baltimoreans were not partial to one side or the other during the CART/IRL civil war like say, Toronto. Baltimoreans don't know about the slippery politics of engine leases from the old CART days, or the 25/8 rule.
In short, there is plenty of building to do in Baltimore. But there is no rebuilding, if you will.
The city itself.
Understand, Baltimore is a city that has, if not an inferiority complex, definitely something of a chip on its shoulder. Merely 40 miles north of white-collar Washington and not far too south from Philadelphia and New York, Baltimore gets lost in the shuffle amongst larger, more populated, more prominent, East Coast cities.
But remember, Baltimore is in driving distance of those densely populated cities. Further, the "chip" Baltimore has often manifests itself in fierce civic pride, as Baltimoreans will rally around events and attributes they believe showcase Baltimore in a positive light, The Preakness is a good example of this.
And IndyCar's international field of glamorous drivers, "festival of speed" street course race model, and willingness to embrace Baltimore back, appeals to Baltimore’s civic pride.
Of course, there is a question about the race date next year, although we do know it will not be Labor Day weekend. Still, it appears the local promoters and IndyCar want to be back, and vice-versa. It is simply a matter of agreeing on a date.
Presuming that does happen, the next step for IndyCar is to convert Baltimore race-goers into fans who watch on television and maybe travel to Pocono, Indy, Toronto, or Mid-Ohio to follow the series.
While that may occur over time, it will not happen overnight. Rather, it is at the very least a stable, regular event, and a few years of the Baltimoreans getting to know IndyCar and IndyCar getting to know Baltimore from happening.
About the actual race....
Yes, there was a close hard-fought race with numerous lead changes, and more than its fair share of excitement. As mentioned earlier, Pagenaud captured the win with young American (and confessed Baltimore enthusiast) Josef Newgarden scoring a career-best second-place. Sebastien Bourdais finished third.
From an aesthetics standpoint, it was not a thing of beauty. The combination of a tight course, desperate drivers realizing the end of the season is nearing, and general tension throughout the paddock combined for more crash damage and laps behind the pace car than one would like.
Still, this brings us back to the local angle.
While I personally enjoy any IndyCar race, and numerous other forms of racing, the Baltimore crowd is more discerning at this point. However, the shuffled order, constant overtaking that the yellow flags and double-file restarts foster, and dare I say, some of the carnage, a more entertaining show for the locals.
In other words, I don't think Baltimoreans would have gone home happy if the race had been like, Mid-Ohio. Us purists are different, but remember, there are not enough of us.
IndyCar needs more ticket-buyers and television viewers. In talking to the locals, and reading the newspapers, they were happy with "The Show."
And it seems IndyCar is becoming more of a show.
I didn't think anything could possibly top Sonoma in terms of drama. I might have been wrong.
For one, there was the wreckage previously mentioned. But also the tension that came to the fore between Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing at Sonoma, further escalated in Baltimore.
Of course, there was the pit-road incident at Sonoma where Scott Dixon hit a crewman for Will Power's team and was controversially penalized while leading the race, which Power eventually won. The penalty not only took away a chance for Dixon to win but allowed Power's Penske teammate Helio Castroneves to extend his points lead.
Dixon would accuse Power's tire changer of intentionally impeding his exit, calling it a "d*** move," accuse Race Control of failing to properly act.
Fast forward to Baltimore.
During Sunday morning's warm-up Dixon and Power came together in something of a bizarre fashion. Dixon had slowed to create space between himself and another car, which caused Power to get into his rear. Dixon dismissed the incident as one of things, seemingly in an attempt partly to not escalate matters from Sonoma.
However, on a lap-53 restart Dixon attempted to overtake Power, who either did not see the Kiwi (likely) or threw a reckless block. Dixon got into the wall, his day effectively ended.
With Power clearly at fault, Dixon walked by his parked car on pit road, pointing at Power saying "your fault, your fault." Further, the suddenly transparent Kiwi let his feelings be known regarding Power and Race Director Beaux Barfield, albeit in less colorful tones.
And Dixon hasn't stopped.
Please note that I write as of Tuesday afternoon 2 p.m. EST. Should Scott Dixon have any more choice words for Barfield, Power, Barack Obama or anyone else, we will update.
Of course, Dixon called Barfield "a total idiot," who "should be fired," Sunday after the race. He then, for whatever reason, went after Team Penske President Team Cindric yesterday calling Cindric a "piece of s***.”
I’m not sure exactly what Cindric did to deserve that. I do know Dixon has been sounding off at whoever, whenever of late, which brings me to my next point.
This casual smashing of Race Control must stop.
Let me be clear: I am not advocating for or against Beaux Barfield. I am very much advocating for this reckless, direct criticism of race control and whoever happens to be in charge of it, to stop.
For example, if Scott Dixon disagrees with the call, that's fine and I have no problem with him saying so. I have a very big problem with him saying the Race Director, whether its Beaux Barfield, Brian Barnhart, Wally Dallenbach, Sr., or Mickey Mouse, is "an idiot."
That is a direct attack on the credibility of the series and the sport. No sport can be considered credible if they are idiotic enough to hire idiots, which is what Dixon is suggesting.
Further, the position of race control is one with a direct link to driver safety. Casually calling the person in that position an idiot, questions the credibility of that person to make the call.
In fairness, Dixon isn't the first. However, he needs to be the last. Simply put, for the credibility of the sport, this reckless practice of smashing the person in charge of officiating the races needs to go the way of the Offy.
I can't recall an IndyCar driver undergoing such an image transformation in this short a time.
Sure, everyone regards Dixon highly as a champion driver. He has never to my knowledge been involved in anything one might call scandalous, or morally objectionable. We were also willing to look at last week's "d*** move" comment as well, "heat of the moment."
And maybe it was.
But Dixon seems to be undergoing a transformation. Yes, dare I say that in the span of about 8-9 days, Dixon has gone from completely and totally devoid of controversy, to adopting the role villain for IndyCar.
Yes, you read that correct.
To be clear, I do not think Dixon is a bad person, or villainous, so to speak. However, in a sport, crying out for personality and conflict amongst the competitors, the last person we thought might ever provide that, has in the span of a week, shown an ability to do just that. And considering we have five weeks coming up to well, just talk, you may be reading a column soon, articulating how Dixon might just be perfect for the villain role in IndyCar.
At minimum, he’s put forth a more than adequate audition the last two weeks.
Through three years, Charm City and IndyCar have put all the makings for a wonderful relationship in place. The city has no institutional memory of the sport's embattled past, and a civic pride that encourages an willingness to embrace some of the attributes of IndyCar others snicker at.
Plus, you have one racy, albeit somewhat flawed circuit, that puts on an exciting show, and provides a backdrop for drama, the sport desperately needs.
Yes, I am local. Yes I am probably somewhat biased.
However, I likewise believe, Baltimore and IndyCar have all the makings of a long and beautiful partnership that will benefit both sides.
Will that come to fruition? Time will tell.
Brian Carroccio is an IndyCar Columnist for AutoRacing1.com. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.
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