Pocono, race review and track safety

I remember watching the 2015 Pocono race on the edge of my seat. That race was so fun and exciting, seven wide on the front straight, a fox running across the track and lots of entertaining racing. After Justin was hit by debris and killed my thoughts changed. As stated a million times before Justin was our favorite driver and losing him will always hurt. For that reason I always have mixed feelings when the IndyCars return to Pocono. Then in 2018, Robert Wickens was involved in a horrible crash that a year later he is still fighting to overcome. I prayed for the race and every driver by name before the green flag flew. I love watching racing at Pocono but it scares me.

One lap in and my heart jumps because we have a huge accident and cars are leaving the ground. Thankfully the cars stayed relatively low and didn’t see the disastrous results of hitting the catch fence full on. Takuma Sato on the high side, for reasons unknown, turned into Alexander Rossi, who had Ryan Hunter-Reay beneath him. All three lost control and Sato landed upside down on RHR’s car and one of the cars was on fire. James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist were also caught up in the accident. James had some scary moments but was fine. Rosenqvist caught some air and was dangerously close to the catch fence. Thankfully one wheel stayed down and he dragged along the wall without hitting the fence full on. The AMR safety team responded immediately but Felix was the last attended. He also was the only one who required further evaluation. We were told it was for non life threatening injuries but I am very curious to know what exactly happened to him.

The race was red flagged on lap four to fix the fence and clean the track. It was a solid 45 minutes later before we returned to green. During the red both Rossi and Hinch’s team decided to take the penalty and work on fixing their cars under the red. I think that was a wise move, especially for Rossi. A lot of work needed to be done and he would be several laps behind regardless, what was a few more. In hindsight it was the right call. Rossi did rejoin the race and had it not been called by rain he would have moved up a couple more positions than he did. Every point counts when you are trying to win the championship. Honestly, I don’t totally understand why Hinch went back out. He was 10th in the championship and so far out of the running that I didn’t really see the need to for him but that’s why I don’t get paid the big bucks to make decisions like that.

When we returned to green flag racing it was a bit processional for the next stint. Spencer Pigot made contact bringing out the yellow. The skies were darkening and rain looked like it might factor in after the halfway point. That would mean it could be an official race and be finished when the rain appeared. That made everyone a bit more competitive and we saw some fun racing. Power and Pagenaud battled for the lead. Santino Ferrucci made up several positions and is always exciting to watch. Tony Kanaan even had a great day finishing 8th when the race was called on lap 128 when lightning enter the vicinity. When the red flag flew it was Will Power in the lead. The race was eventually called and Power continued his streak of winning every season.

I think most are happy with Power winning. Josef remains the championship points leader and I think has a great chance of winning if he doesn’t dnf in the last three races. So the big question that remains is should IndyCars race at Pocono.

Pocono seems to have a lot of bad luck but that is exactly what it is- bad luck and coincidence. Justin Wilson’s accident in 2015 had nothing to do with the track, he was hit by debris. A couple years ago every race ran at Pocono that particular season was delayed by rain. Last year Robert Wickens has his horrible crash. Again this crash was very early in the race. Was there really such a need to be pushing that hard so early. I’m not saying it was Robbie’s fault, it was an accident, but perhaps showing some restraint early in a 500 mile race might help. Then this year-more bad luck. Rain caused practice to not take place so race control decided to cancel qualifying and run an extra long practice. This is fine except we saw some cars we don’t normally see running faster times up front. Most noticeably was Tony Kanaan. TK was fastest in practice but because the starting grid is based on entrant points TK started in the back of the field. This is not how fans want to see a race begin. The back luck continued when the lap one accident took place. Thankfully everyone was fine but again for fans this is not how we grow our sport, now we have a 45 minute red flag. Add insult to injury and the race ends because of rain. So many things I just described are not in the tracks control. They are just a series of unfortunate events.

Most fans realize the dangers of racing and see no reason to take Pocono off the schedule. Social media has made it so easy for us to interact with the drivers that we come to know them on a more personal level. We know about their families, pets, likes and dislikes, hobbies and the list goes on. That makes us so much more invested and so much less willing to put them in harms way but the truth is every time they strap in at any track they take a chance that it could be their last time. Robert Wickens tweeted yesterday about the need to stop racing at Pocono but do you blame him. He is living every day with the injuries he suffered after his crash. I can’t imagine he will ever feel good about racing there. James Hinchcliffe had a very different reaction returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track wasn’t blamed. Indy has the highest fatality rate and yet no one discusses taking it off the schedule.

I believe racing can continue to grow safer and safer. We saw it yesterday as a piece of debris was blocked by the new deflector piece (can’t recall its exact name) on James Hinchcliffe’s car. What might have caused a serious injury was deflected from the cockpit and did not hit James. IndyCar continues to make great improvements in safety. I think they can still look at some things at Pocono. Perhaps a different aero configuration, maybe single file starts, less horsepower or more? I won’t pretend I k ow what would help make the racing safer but I’m confident IndyCar continues to keep their racing as safe as possible at every track.

Pocono has seem some crazy years, some sad years but that is what the drivers signed up for, what they live for. I respect Max Chilton, and Mike Conway for admitting that oval racing is not something they desire to do. Ask Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, Tony Kanaan, I think they get a little skip in their step when they are given a chance to race on an oval. It’s their passion. Let’s keep moving to make IndyCar safer but let’s not blame Pocono. I hope it remains on the schedule. I will say a few extra prayers and hold my breath during side by side racing but I know what happened at Pocono could have anywhere.

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Indy 500 Media Day at the Milwaukee Mile

When the boys and I left Indy after the GP of Indy I was bummed that we wouldn’t be returning. We are usually there for time trials but switched things up this year and even though we had a fantastic time it was depressing knowing we wouldn’t be back this May. Then I got an email that made me smile. It said that Ed Carpenter and Townsend Bell would be at the Milwaukee Mile on May 20th and you could walk the track with them. I immediately called my friend, Kristen, and made plans to attend. I considered taking the boys out of school to join me but they already missed a day to attend the GP of Indy so I decided against it. Then in the meantime plans changed and James Hinchcliffe would be there instead of Townsend Bell.
Kristen and I followed our usual race weekend schedule which involves a pedicure. Kristen is not a huge fan so a pedicure on the schedule helps make the day more fun for her–I enjoy it too! Then we headed to the mile. Of course the media was there doing their thing but I got to meet Tony DiZinno so that was cool. I love meeting the people I follow on Twitter. When they wrapped things up we had a chance to get autographs and pictures before the track walk. Ed was great and I got an autograph and a picture with him. I had a bottle of Fuzzy’s vodka that I hoped to have him sign but I didn’t want it on the walk so I left it in the car. Before I got a chance to meet James Hinchcliffe the track tour began. Ed and Hinch sat in the back of a minivan and everyone else followed along as they answered questions about the track. It was fun and great to hear their perspective. Do you ever break in turn two- James answered, -Only if something is wrong or to avoid something that went wrong in front of you. Some tire marks were on the wall and jokes were made about who they belonged to. As we walked around I eventually faded to the back of the crowd because as much as I wanted to hear the conversation I also wanted to enjoy being on the track and take it all in. It’s a track with so much history and I wanted a time to reflect on that while there. I took a couple pictures and made my way back up to the group. When we reached the start/finish line the car stopped and Ed and Hinch answered some more questions. We were then told that Ed needed to leave but Hinch could stay and answer more questions. Before Ed left I wanted him to sign my Fuzzy’s vodka. Kristen, dear friend that she is, ran to the car to get the bottle and when I asked Ed to sign it he remembered I had mentioned it earlier. I love that he took the time (when he needed to be leaving) to sign a second thing for me.
Kristen and I returned to listen to Hinch. The Q &A went on for awhile and the time was getting late. I needed to get home to meet the boys after school. I hated to interrupt the questions for an autograph but I had made a collage print of pictures of Ed and James and really didn’t want to leave till I had it signed by both. I took advantage of a half second lull in questions and said, “James, I’m so sorry but I have to go get my boys off the bus and I would really love an autograph.” I explained that I had this collage made with pictures of him and Ed from last year at the mile. He took the picture and signed it and pointed out that he was in front of Ed on the track. Kristen reminded me to tell him about Zach’s crab so I told him how my son named his hermit crab James Pinchcliffe. James looked right at me and said with all sincerity, “Tell him I said Hello.” It was such a simple thing but I truly felt that he cared about his fans and about a young kid named Zach. I thanked him, wished him luck in the 500 and shook his hand. Then Kristen and I made our way back to the car.
As we walked back it was Kristen who mentioned how incredible it was that we just met two of the 33 people that will be racing in the Indianapolis 500. James had mentioned it during the Q&A that most sports have many athletes but even in the biggest race of the year only 33 will be racing. Kristen said that it is such a small group but that it is amazing how approachable they are and how personable. This was the first time she met any drivers but she was quite impressed. I think we might be making a greater effort to make the autograph session at Milwaukee this year.
She pointed out something I already knew- that the Indycar drivers are awesome. Their willingness to meet fans, sign autographs, answer tweets etc has always been a priority for them. Kristen talked about her son wanting to join twitter so he could follow some Major League Baseball players and she was reluctant because she didn’t know if the content would be appropriate. My boys are not on twitter but if they followed the Indycar drivers I wouldn’t worry a bit. They are all so family friendly and make an effort to stay that way. I’m very grateful for that.
As we left the track you actually cross over the track well I pulled out just enough to look like I was racing down the back stretch in my minivan. We grabbed a couple pictures and then made our way home. What a fun day.

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