Archive for category Indycars
My article in Heartbeat of the Texas Hill Country – Winter Issue
What an exciting year 2016 was for sports! It’s not too often that one sees so much history in the making as we did. The year started out with a Cinderella ending for NFL great Peyton Manning as he guided the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl win. What a way to end a career!! He hasn’t done too badly in post-football either. There’s rarely a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t see Peyton in a commercial. I think the funniest is the one where he’s sitting on the couch in his bathrobe and sipping coffee. Lionel Richie is singing in the background, “It’s Peyton on Sunday morning.” Manning is on the phone with brother Eli wanting him to come and watch Sunday football on his DirecTV set-up. Eli’s seen in the Giants locker room explaining why he can’t – he’s playing football. “I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday,” and Peyton writes “Eli” in the empty calendar.
March Madness in college basketball made history too when the number fifteen seed Middle Tennessee upset number two seed Michigan State in the first round destroying just about every basketball fan’s bracket including mine! The “experts” had predicted Michigan State to make the Final Four and some had even picked them to win the championship. And it didn’t end there! The fourteenth seed Stephen F. Austin upset number three seed West Virginia and Syracuse became the first tenth seed in history to advance to the Final Four. The finals were held in Houston where Villanova upset North Carolina to win the championship on a three-point shot at the buzzer!
The NBA followed suit when the Cavaliers brought Cleveland their first sports championship in fifty-two years! Hubby was happy as he’s from the suburbs of that city on the lake. As Rick watched the TV coverage, he wondered which speck was his nephew Bret and was probably secretly envious because he wasn’t there too.
Even car racing re-wrote history when both the June and July NASCAR races at Pocono Speedway had to be postponed due to weather as well as the Indycars at Texas Motor Speedway finishing the end of the June race in August due to weather. Weather delays are never fun for fans as a lot of the spectators travel in and postponements cause havoc on hotels, car rentals, transportation and work plans. We know only too well after waiting out a few ourselves only to be watching concession stand commercials on Big Hoss and covered cars on the track as the rain dripped off our hair and clothes.
But no greater history was made with the conclusion of the Major League Baseball season! For a while, it looked like both Texas teams, the Astros and Rangers were destined for the playoffs. Houston had a September meltdown, and then the best in the American League Texas Rangers found themselves swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round of the playoffs. Our home became a war zone with my husband’s Cleveland Indians and my Boston Red Sox meeting in the AL Championship. I was the queen of trash-talking only to eat my words as Rick’s Indians swept Boston and moved on to the World Series.
I quickly found myself OK with t he loss when I realized that I was watching sports history unfold yet again! The Indians were in the World Series in 1997 when they lost in extra innings in game seven to the Florida Marlins. They hadn’t won the title since 1948. The Cubs hadn’t won the title since 1908, and hadn’t made it to the World Series since 1945 – the infamous series where the Billy-goat curse was put on the team. We were witnessing one of the two longest championship droughts in baseball finally come to an end! It looked like destiny was going to hang onto the coattails of the Cavaliers and side with the Tribe, who jumped out to a lead of three games to one. Then Chicago shocked themselves and the Indians not to only to piece together back-to-back wins, but they also forced a game seven and won in extra innings! . I just wonder if sports will ever repeat a year like 2016!
This is my July column published in Hill Country Happenings magazine.
June brought me another birthday and the NASCAR trucks and Indycars back to North Texas. Texas Motor Speedway dodged this year’s weekly NASCAR rain curse and instead steamy, hot temperatures and George Strait’s last hurrah in Dallas beleaguered the event numbers. Those choosing to battle the desert-like temperatures were an interesting combination of true diehard NASCAR devotees and the fast Indycar aficionados. The common denominator was a love of speed and racing.
The afternoon of the truck race, I met up with Jennifer Jo Cobb, the auburn-haired owner/driver of the #10 truck. She grew up watching her dad Joe race and found herself racing at Kansas’s Lakeside Speedway by the age of eighteen. Being owner in addition to driving puts more responsibility on the forty-one year old. It takes money to operate the car, get crews and equipment so on non-racing weeks, she works hard at getting sponsorships for her truck. If I wanted to sponsor her truck one race, the costs ran from $1,000 – $15,000 depending on extras like appearances. Perhaps if I win the Powerball…. As we talked, I learned that Jen is not in racing to be a “token” female. Instead she is in it because she loves it and wants to be respected as an equal. Her favorite track other than her home track Kansas Speedway? She laughed as she explained it would have to be Las Vegas because of South Point Hotel Casino’s full infield spa offering pedicures! At that point I spotted a pink chandelier hanging over her as she filed, then blew on her nails. She looked more like a model than a racecar driver and it was hard to visualize a helmet would be smashing the auburn locks in just a few hours. This is the fourth year that Steve Kuykendall has been her Crew Chief. She shook her head as she explained that he was currently using a crutch due to twisting his knee. Sure enough, we later spotted him hobbling on one foot as he pushed the #10 truck through inspection. Later that night, Jen finished twentieth.
The following day Rick was working so I gave my brother, Craig, his ticket for the Indycars. Poor Craig experienced the “Lotta Sports obsession with sports.” As usual, I was like a kid in a candy-store visiting with other fans, TMS workers, car crews and of course, driving the simulator. After losing me twice in the Indycar garage alley, Craig said “I’m putting you on a five-minute limit and no wandering!” I can’t help myself. With my flight attendant background, talking to strangers was my way of life. While in the garage alley, I met a father/son duo, Mike and Zach Jankelson from the state of Washington. Mike (dad) flies to North Texas every year for the three NASCAR race weekends. He is a diehard stock car follower. Last April, because of the rain one-day postponement, he found himself watching the race on an airport TV. Son Zach was a college student and a huge Indycar fan. Will Power was “his driver.” The Indycar organization offered an open garage to all those holding pit passes. It was thrilling to many of us to actually get feet away from the cars and their parts. The only drawback I noticed was because some fans were so zealous; it was pulling some of the garage team from their duties. At one car, the gal next to me was shouting, “Cameron! Cameron! One more picture! Let’s do a selfie!” Poor ruddy faced Cameron couldn’t say no and found himself posing repeatedly as she clicked away. I couldn’t help but laugh when his garage boss gave him “the eyebrow.” There’s a fine line between customer service and getting the job done. Adding to the excitement of the day was the last leg of the Triple Crown so at five pm, Craig found us with front-row stools at Fuzzy’s Taco Bar in the pit. There were two local radio guys doing their show and my brother watched nervously as I asked them if they would mind breaking away during the race. Fortunately, they wanted to see the race too. It was an exciting few minutes when the Belmont Stakes ran and we almost saw history made. Sadly, California Chrome was literally out of gas having raced the Derby and Preakness while some of his competition rested. A collective groan filled Fuzzy’s as we watched him come up short.
For every person who purchased a pit pass, we were allowed at the start-finish line for pre-race introductions. Waiting for the festivities to start were the Great American Sweethearts who would be announcing the drivers. I approached them and asked, “Is one of you friends with Donnave Abt?” (Donnave worked at Delta with me) A tall blonde named Katie, in a definitive Texas drawl proclaimed, “I am! My daddy works with her husband Jim!” (I wondered if she knew she made Rick’s day when he posed with her at Big Hoss’s debut.) During the ceremonies, it was great as we found ourselves standing by a guy with a loud voice. As each driver came out, he would shout their name and say something personable. The driver would look our way and wave back so it was as if they were posing for us. Except for Marco Andretti ‘s crash on the third lap, the race itself was rather boring — until the final twelve laps. Crowd favorite Will Power had a miscommunication and exited to pit row to find his crew not ready for his arrival. A collective gasp radiated from the crowd as he passed through without stopping. He tanked to eighth, however a caution and restart gave Power one final chance to win. The crowd stayed on their feet as Power sped his way back to the front. After dominating the entire race, Power finished second to #20’s Ed Carpenter. It was not a good weekend for ANY of my favorites!
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My article below appeared in the July issue of Hill Country Happenings.. Click here for more articles and information about happenings in the Texas Hill Country.
I was in my element again in June. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the IZOD Indycars were at Texas Motor Speedway for a three day weekend. I couldn’t think of a more fun way for this sports addict to spend my birthday! The first day was the truck practice and qualifying. Wedged in between were the driver press conferences which are always an enlightening experience — some of those kids decked out in their spandex suits could be my grandchildren!! Two of the drivers we interviewed also were celebrating their
birthdays around the race, Joey Coulter on the 8th and Matt Crafton on the day after mine, the 11th. Neither one could compare to my instant favorite, Brendan Gaughan. I don’t know what attracted me — his high position in the truck series standings or his rugged, Teddy-Bear look with a smile perfect for a toothpaste commercial; I suspect the latter. He was considered a “senior” driver. When I asked him what was thought of as “old” in truck racing, he replied, “Me!” “Old” turned out to be having a 1975 birth date!
Day two started with an appearance by Helio Castroneves, points leader of the Indycar Series as well as winner of Season 5 of Dancing with the Stars. Questions from the media started with the “usual” about tire usage, downforce and grip. Rick held his breath as my hand went up; he anticipated something like, “Did you keep your yellow costume from the quick-step?” Instead, he got to proudly beam as I asked, “Helio, some NASCAR drivers have been racing in Indycars; would you ever consider crossing over to NASCAR?” He smiled. “Excellent question… If the opportunity presents itself, then I certainly would love to try. Right now I only have one thing on my mind and that is trying to win as much [sic] races as possible here and hopefully bring this championship to Roger.” (Penske Team Owner). Later, during a one-on-one with him, he confirmed that he did keep the yellow outfit from Dancing with the Stars. After Helio, a Grapevine deli unveiled three sandwiches named in honor of Mario, Michael and Marco Andretti. The three generations of Indy racers sampled the sandwiches and then the younger two departed for practice on the track while Mario stayed to chat with several of us. I was immediately awestruck over the twinkle in his eyes and how incredible he looked for his seventy-three years. He and I talked about young drivers and the importance of setting a good example for our youth. He assured me that he already had discussions with his grandson of the importance of putting his racing in front of the “glamour” life at night clubs.
After the press conference, Rick and I headed up to the start-finish line for the pace truck rides. The truck was driven by Ward Burton, retired NASCAR driver and 2002 winner of the Daytona 500. Ward, in a soft, Southern drawl, inquired, “Aren’t you riding with your husband?” I explained that I had enough speed in April with the pace car and that I was going to pass. After watching Rick’s laps, it appeared that Ward’s driving was the gingerly ride I so wanted in April. Within minutes I found myself in the truck cruising around the oval track for several laps at a modest eighty miles per hour. Ward was pumped that his son Jeb was racing that evening in the truck series. It was then I found myself with a conflict — do I root for Teddy-Bear Brendan or Jeb? While I mulled my choices, the Indycars lined up to start their qualifying. It was strange going from watching pick-up trucks to seeing a flat-style car which came up to my waist and sounded like a swarm of bumblebees!
A few hours later, as the sun flirted with the horizon, we found the trucks back out on the track lining up for their race. As the race progressed, daylight went to evening and the bright lights blazed the oval track while the field of thirty-two pick-ups roared around the speedway. Mid-race found Brendan leading and things looked very promising until he spun his tires on the last re-start. As his number started to plummet on the pole which listed the order of the trucks, we recognized a number in the top three. It was the #4, Jeb Burton. The final laps were very exciting as Jeb raced against the leader, Ty Dillon. It was Jeb to cross the finish line first followed by a burnout for the fans. At the later press conference it was not Jeb who the press was most interested in hearing from — it was his dad, Ward. Yes, the same Ward I took the gingerly ride with around the track earlier that day. He was beaming with pride as he told everyone that seeing his son win this race meant more to him than his (Ward’s) win at the Daytona 500.
Day three started with an invite to ride the Indy pace car. I was getting melancholy with my birthday only two days away so I decided to “throw caution to the wind” and just do it! Since I was taping the experience again, I vowed to not repeat my expletives used during last spring’s ride. Instead, they were replaced with “Breathe …. Breathe …. Breathe” as we got up to speeds of 140 mph! I also decided that motorsports is a family affair as our driver, Stefan Wilson, had a brother in the race later that day. Further down the track, they were offering rides in a two-seater Indy car. I opted out when I saw I would need to wear a helmet. It would only mess up my ponytail or maybe it was hearing that I would have to be strapped into the car because of the speeds of almost 200 mph!
A more serene setting was in the media center where I got to meet two teachers from Moore, Oklahoma and a firefighter from West, Texas. They had been invited to the race to do the “Start Your Engines” and the flag to begin the race. It was a very emotional thirty minutes as they relayed their experiences from the tornadoes and the fertilizer plant explosion. After they left, two members of the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) presented Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan with a certificate of a bull TK500, named in his honor. The bull, formerly known as Mud Wasp, has been successfully ridden only four times!
During the Indycar pre-race ceremonies, I met the only female pit member. Her name was Anna and she was the rear-jack for National Guard Panther Racing #4 car. I commented that I thought it would be neat to do something like that, but I was too old. “Never give up on your dreams,” she advised me.
There was only one person left on my radar and it was someone I had not seen since the mid-70s when I worked flights between Houston and Indianapolis. As I proceeded down the line of pit crew canopies, I spotted him – racing legend and now owner, A J Foyt. He was seated in a golf cart in the #14 car’s area. I had already met his assistant, so when she saw me, she motioned me over. Moments later, I was on the cart talking to A J about the year I worked his charter to the Indy 500 and we watched the race in the rain. And as if seeing AJ wasn’t exciting enough, a third of the way through the race I ran into former Texas Rangers catcher, Pudge Rodriquez. The day before he had been named to the Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame so I congratulated him. I had not seen Pudge since I worked the baseball charters in the early 90s; he had not changed at all.
As it was the night before, the race was exciting. Mario Andretti’s grandson Marco led the first part of the race. He and two other drivers kept the lead until Lap 97, when Helio Castroneves took over and kept the lead until the race ended at Lap 228. For me, I was torn between which was better — that night, or the night Helio won the Dancing with the Stars competition. Hmmmm… a blue and red helmet or dancing shoes? I guess it just depends on one’s sports perspective, and that’s Lotta Sports!