[This is my column in the May 19 issue of The Commercial Review.]
Editor’s note: This is the launch of a special Foul Ball column, a play off of Chris Schanz’s normal Line Drives column on Thursdays. Foul Ball will appear from time to time in print and on thecr.com.
SPEEDWAY — It was a strange weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
First, Mother Nature dropped rain in the area Saturday after two drivers had completed the first round of qualifying for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.
IMS and IndyCar officials were forced to postpone Saturday’s schedule to Sunday, cramming two days worth of activities into one.
Then Sunday morning during his practice run, Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter crashed into the wall, spinning his car around, causing it to go airborne and land upside down.
Carpenter’s grueling wreck — he walked away unscathed — wasn’t a one-time thing either. Two other drivers have had their cars leave the ground this week.
It’s a problem some are blaming on the new aero kits, which IndyCar manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet debuted this year. All three were by teams that drove Chevrolets.
Following Carpenter’s crash Sunday morning, officials from IndyCar, Honda and Chevrolet met to discuss possible changes to ensure the drivers’ safety. The meeting had media members, drivers and fans in attendance in limbo for more than an hour wondering about the next course of action.
Would there still be qualifying? Will the racing teams go back to the aero kits from last year? What changes will have to be made?
The meeting concluded, and a standing-room only press conference divulged details.
“This morning we saw a third car get into the wall, turn backward and lift into the air,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent of IndyCar and IMS. “As a precautionary measure, IndyCar will require that cars qualify (Sunday) in the same aero setup that they will run in the Indianapolis 500 next weekend.”
Miles then went on to say cars would lower the horsepower of the engines, resulting in slower qualifying speeds, much to the chagrin of fans and drivers.
Also, a revised, compacted schedule for the remainder of the day was released. Rather than two sessions and a Fast Nine — the drivers with the nine fastest speeds battling for the pole position — each driver would get one, four-lap shot at qualifying. There would also be no Fast Nine.
Oh, and qualifying would begin five hours later than its original 10 a.m. start time.
I ran into Portland resident Isa Minnich, who is attending the Indy 500 festivities with her family and friends for the 13th year. She mentioned she had never seen anything like this delay in the dozen years she’s been going to The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Just my second year at the track, it was a strange experience for me as well, sitting in the media center without really knowing what was going on.
It was an odd atmosphere around the track, too. During interviews, drivers were stating they and their teams were on edge because they only had one shot at the pole.
Amidst all the changes being made to the cars, and the schedule, one constant remained — the drivers appreciate their fans, probably more so than any sport I’ve noticed.
Almost every driver interviewed for television apologized to the fans. Graham Rahal, last year’s winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carpenter all thanked the fans for sticking out the delay and bearing with all involved to get Sunday’s events underway.
Carpenter’s words were slightly more heart-felt. He apologized not only for the delay, but also for not signing autographs.
“I wanted to get my head right,” he said.
Apologizing for skipping an autograph session isn’t often heard from professional athletes. Stories of NBA or NFL players offering an apology for missing time with fans are few and far between.
Carpenter’s apology was authentic. It was needed, and it was necessary.
It was indeed a strange weekend at IMS.