SPIKE ROGAN'S Warped World of Sports

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Fear & Loathing: at Watkins Glen on the 4th

With all the talk about Watkins Glen possibly not coming back to the IZOD IndyCar series schedule in 2011, I bugged my network to let me go. One it was a great excuse to go visit one of the most scenic road courses on Earth.

And considering I was at the last IndyCar series race just a year early at Richmond (owned by the same company) how could I pass this 4th of July event up?

After a few weeks of delay the track finally cleared me to go. My room that was reserved was an hour west of the Glen. In a town named Hornell, NY. The room was cheap and most on-line reviews were neutral of the place.

I left for the Finger Lakes region shortly before 10 AM ET on Friday July 2nd. I was expecting some major delays in holiday traffic. Lord knows every holiday from the 4th, to Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Festivus, Flag Day, and even national Spam carving day, the brilliant minds in TV news inform us that “AAA predicts higher than average people traveling on the highways”.

Well as usual the twits who force smile with chemically enhanced whiter than white smiles had it all wrong. Hell these bastards believed a boy was in that damn tinfoil balloon, is it a shock there highway was no more used than any other weekday?

I flew up Interstate 380, then outside the hell known as Scranton, PA I got on 81 north (a place where even it’s fictional residents can’t wait to jet, ask Steve Carell who is fleeing the fictional version of the city, like Japanese from Godzilla.) which I followed to the Binghamton area where I would follow 86 West until I got to the 414 North exit.

I found myself at the media registration just at 1PM. It took me just 3 hours to get to the track. Slightly longer than a trip to Philadelphia. I went in and got my pass, wrist bands for food, (it’s like a wrist band at an amusement park only I don’t get any free rides, for that matter the amount of food we could eat was small. That’s troublesome since us sports reporters love to make massive pigs out of ourselves on free media food. Why do you think so many sports writers and radio hosts are fat? It’s waiting for the team or league to drop the free grub in front of them. It’s a great way to suck up to us fat bastards; you’d be amazed what a good chicken parm could do to avoid pointing out the poor performance of an organization or a ticket sales department.)

I was massively annoyed they served lunch Friday at 11AM, like all the media members were 80 year olds who only have “Early Bird Special” dinners at 3PM.

But nonetheless, I was there to see the IZOD IndyCar series, not eating some Oscar Meyer, cold cut platter sandwich. So I went and traveled into the heart of the beast, the IZOD IndyCar series Pit & Paddock area.

I had not been to the Glen since October 1999, when I was helping SCCA driver Marc Cefalo (yes cousin of Miami Dolphins radio play by play announcer Jimmy Cefalo). Marc would accidently hit me with his car on pit road during first practice. I spent the rest of the weekend hoping around. I thought of this every time I was around the pits of AJ Foyt racing since it was that general area on pit road it happened.

Luckily I avoided making contact with vehicles at the Glen. But it’s not an easy feat at an IZOD IndyCar series event. I think these crew members who drive the pit carts all were New York City cab drivers in a past life. These sons of bitches don’t stop for many people. Many drive up and down constantly honking those little toy car sounding horns. But as a former pit crew member in the ARCA series I get it. I would have to try and set up the pits race day with all kinds of red neck jackasses in my way.

Many would pester me in “How do I get ones of dems dere ‘HOT PIT PASSES’ like youze got?” Often my less than pleasant answer would be “Get a job with a race team like me, now move!” So I can understand they have a job to do. No complaints, but Jesus the human head can only turn around so far at times guys; I lack mirrors to see you coming. Also turn signals would help us know where you’re going.

But no one is crazier driving around there than drivers on their scooters. The funny thing is all the IndyCar drivers on scooters are in great shape. Yet those kinds of things are not legal in a stock car garage area. And look at Tony Stewart that guy looks like he ate the Tony who raced in the IRL. He has to walk, like John Daley in golf!

And no IndyCar driver is dangerous with their scooter than… take a guess. Well not Milka Duno, the Coyne team drives her around on their pit cart. (I guess they don’t think she can handle a scooter, but they still let her out in an IndyCar.) No, it’s Mario Moraes. That kid flew through tight spot fans inches from him on both sides squeezed between the rails to keep them from walking too close to the transporters doors, and the cars on line for tech. I think Moraes cleared my left foot by about an eight of an inch moving at a swift pace.

As he got by I heard a voice shout “The kid doesn’t get it!!! That’s why he ends up on top of other cars on the first lap!” I looked around but could not tell where the deep voice came from. I pressed on, finding a man with a blonde mullet, fu-man Chu stash like the father on American Choppers, and a “I’m a Milka Duno Fan” tee-shirt. That is right; he had a shirt announcing he is a fan of Milka Duno. It is up state New York, and many locals are Buffalo Bills fans. I guess if you like to never win, why stop at the NFL?

I almost wonder if Hugo Chavez ran an ad on Craigslist for “…white male Americans to play the part of a Duno fan.” If so, I could use a pay check President Chavez, hell I will race for CITGO and run better even though my fat ass can’t fit in the car. Clearly she needed this man, since she has no “Fans” in the paddock who wear Nomex suites & carbon fiber helmets.

Friday practice was rather uneventful. Maybe the highlight was meeting Stephanie Wallcraft of www.planet-irl.com other wise, the day was nothing more than a chance to get use to the layout, and just enjoy the coolest day of the weekend.

Once practice ended I quickly left the track for Hornell. An hour later I checked into my hotel. I should have known right away it was going to be a total shit hole, when I walked into the office to find an extremely thin, pretty, 20 something woman at the desk who kept rubbing her nose as if she sucked up an eight ball seconds before I walked in.

The place was a 60’s motor lodge layout, and it looked like the last renovation came shortly after Reagan beat Jimmy Carter. They claimed to have free Wi-Fi but it only worked if you were within about 8 feet of the router in their office. My shower was not cleaned from the previous guest and everyday when I would enter the room I was greeted with the smell of sweaty armpits, and not mine!

I’m sure one day I will find a highly disturbing porno on-line shot in this room involving, well gross things. It’s just that kind of a dump. I would not advise any motel in Hornell, NY to be safe. Unless you want to meet people who were on an episode of ‘COPS’.

So I made sure Saturday I was at The Glen as early as I could. I was not getting cheated out of lunch, crap, last thing I need to do as a real sports media member is losing weight. It’s all about pigging out, especially the same weekend as the infamous Coney Island hot dog contest. Don’t you know every guy waiting for lunch that day was 300lbs and up.

As for on-track activities, EJ Viso had a crazy wreck. Yet another KV Racing car bites the dust. I asked team co-owner Jimmy Vasser about the car. It was a loss for the weekend, but Jimmy was sure they could still rebuild it for another road course event. This has to just keep that KV Racing budget racing up like the mountain climber on Price is right. Let’s hope KV doesn’t fall off the cliff soon like the game show bit.

With E.J.’s car not ready to qualify it would give Milka Duno her best qualifying effort, 24th out of 25. And slower than all but two Indy Lights cars. She would also ruin Ryan Hunter-Reay’s effort for a good qualifying run. I heard his radio as he caught her “MILKA!!! MILKA!!! GET BY HER!!! DON’T GET STUCK BEHIND HER NOW!!!” Well he did. Much was made about his “confrontation” with her.

Yes Ryan was pissed, but he was rather calm, and to be honest a bit of a push over with her. He told her she needs to use her mirrors on road courses because she didn’t even see him. Milka tried to defend herself, but was no where nearly as animated with Ryan as she was with Danica.

It would go on to be the topic of the weekend.

The bigger thing of interest was Adam Carroll’s debut with Andretti Autosport. He would advance to the second round in qualifying at a track he never ran until the day before in a series he never drove in until that weekend. It was nice to see a Northern Ireland driver in an open wheel car. It brought me back to the days of Eddie Irvine.

Also while Viso had a shitty day Saturday with that massive AM practice wipe out. Takuma Sato had a great day. Qualifying 5th for the race. When the session was all over, you would have thought Takuma just won the Indy 500. His pit swarmed with Japanese media, both print and Nippon TV. And an ESPN “reporter” whom I question if she knew his name before that moment. And a sockless middle aged man named Robin Miller. When it ended tons of people were coming over in KV uniforms and corporate types shaking his hand. The jubilation for the 5 team was high. Perhaps this will be the shot in the arm the team needs for the rest of 2010. (God knows their race finish was not)

The pole sitter was Will Power; this guy is quickly becoming the new franchise of the IZOD IndyCar Series for Penske Racing. While they keep “joking” publicly, I suspect behind the scenes Helio is really becoming un-happy playing backup to his old backup. It’s like Joe Montana becoming Steve Young’s back up QB.

And Penske is not the lone dysfunctional family in the paddock. The “new” family of Andretti Autosport is really on the verge of group therapy. See my separate article “I hate you, you hate me, we’re a fast un-happy family” for this scoop.

Sunday would be more interesting for the pre-race press conference than the main event later in the day. Ryan Hunter-Reay was announced would drive the “IZOD” car for the rest of 2010. With two events Ethanol USA would be the main sponsor. But what made this interesting was the one-liner made by Andretti PR man Al Larsen. Who would introduce Hunter-Reay as “…the President & treasurer of the Milka Duno fan club.” http://instantrimshot.com/

The members of the media had a mighty hardy chuckle over this. Ryan Hunter-Reay seemed to giggle nervously a little. Normally PR people avoid any semi-controversial comments like I avoid STDs. Clearly Larsen had no fear of backlash from this. Kind of ballsy considering Hugo Chavez is bank rolling her in the series more or less. Hey Al Larsen, be careful, who knows, Chavez may have Fidel’s old October missiles.

I could explain the charity that is getting set up, but check out the “mainstream” IndyCar press for this.

The Lights race was dull, and the main event after was worst. Luckily the league’s PR staff supplied me with a “Race Mode” sticker minutes after I tweeted I was going to be stuck in the Media center since the Glen never gave me one. I guess important people might see my tweets. This day Gonzo-tweeting won. Even after all my unprofessional tweets about the goings on behind the scenes, I was cleared to be up close and personal.

Maybe it was my Saturday coverage of Robin Miller. This guy is a piece of work. If you ever read ‘Fear & Loathing: In Las Vegas” Imagine Raul Duke, minus the salt shaker of narcotics, the angry Samoan lawyer, and a red convertible. Miller twitches like Jell-o in an earthquake as he writes. Not to make light of it, but something really is not right with that man. He’s nice, other than snubbing me on gum, but he’s a real odd-ball. (I like that!)

I struggled to watch the video feed of the World Challenge race with Miller's khaki ball cap shaking away under the TV. The guy was dropping F’ bombs like a kid with IBS drops deuces. He even called a driver in the series a “Fucking bitch” to the delight of media members in the room. I won’t name names.

I think Miller also could have been the basis for “The Dude” in the Big Lebowski. I just fear who would be his Walt. I know he loves A.J. a bit. But I digress. The man is very, honest with his thoughts. Plus I envy any man who has the fashion sense of Don Johnson and leaves the socks at home.

When the subject of the NASCAR race from the night before at Daytona came up. And a media member asked him how much money of equipment was destroyed did he think. Miller did like my point that so many teams were also being sponsored by US Military branches, that a shit load of US Taxpayer dollars were pissed away at Daytona. I never saw him on Speed, that night, not sure if he was on Wind Tunnel. I could see him repeating that there to diss NASCAR.

The race itself is more memorable for the excessive amounts of times my scanner would stop on Milka’s channel to hear over and over “Come on Milka DRIVE HARDER, YOU HAVE TO GO HARD OUT THERE!!!” “NO! NO! NOW YOU’RE GOING SLOWER!!! GO FASSSSSTER MILKA!!!

I think if you need any evidence just how bad it is her scanner on race day is all you need to hear. Clearly the 18 bunch know they are stuck with a lame horse, only this one can’t be taken behind the barn and shot for the glue factory.

Also the other things that went over looked in the days race was the fact that Raphael Matos (or Raphi as that clueless douche on ABC Marty Reid kept calling him.) finished in 4th place. This would tie his best finish for 2010 at Sao Paulo where he also finished P4. 5th place would be Mario Moraes topping his prior best finish of 2010 of P6 at Long beach.

Sure Penske went 1&2, with Dario taking third for Ganassi. But the fact the de Ferran Dragon team ended up 4th shows maybe this team is finally moving in the right direction. As is the case for Mario Moraes. His 5th place finish shows that when a KV car is not totaled they are good cars. If this team could stop having so many crashes, they could get a podium or two this year.

The last matter on the race I would like to address is what happened to the blocking flags? Remember Barber & Indy they were using that flag like toilet paper at a baked bean festival? Where the hell was it with Paul Tracy Sunday?

This guy was putting down blocks that would make Kyle Busch of NASCAR blush. He several times was way too aggressive with Adam Carroll. Luckily Carroll is a smarter driver than a Duno, or Romancini. How he didn’t get wrecked is beyond me. And Note to Paul Tracy, way to be a douche to the 24 team. They already lost one car to a massive crash this year, why must you risk destroying another car for them as you promote the race in Canada.

I think we saw this weekend why no one will give PT a full time ride any longer. He tends to have bouts with “Jackass-ism”. I’m sure the 24 team would have regretted not having Rahal in the car instead had he wiped out being such overly aggressive driver.

I think we did see that Adam Carroll is an extremely talented young man from the Northern six counties. Perhaps we will see more of this young man in 2011.

After the race I pigged out on Buffalo wings and slices of room temperature Dominos Pizza during the post race press conference. More comments about how Milka sucks and was in the way were made.

I’m not sure what else can be said, the racing was bad, attendance weak other than the turn one stands which were general admission. (The front stretch stands that were once Nazareth Speedway looked like seating for the invisible race fans) I don’t see this race coming back, it felt just like Richmond last season, but with right handers, and less fans.

Clearly after speaking to Randy Bernard pre-race the series will not run 4th of July weekend next season. He seems to think all holiday weekends are bad because corporate sponsors don’t want to entertain on holidays they would rather be with their families. Only I have two problems with that, one how many of these companies make their employees work holidays? And two, did Randy miss what weekend the Indy 500 is on?

The bigger problem is ISC is cutting the series loose and therefore under promoting events, leaving the series looking weak. Shit they had the place packed in Richmond but still used the lack of passing as the excuse to can the series. It seems IndyCar racing went from a split between teams and series, to a split between race track corporations ISC which is run by the France family of ASSCAR, wants to be almost exclusive to the Git-er-done crowd. And Bruton Smith is the real life George Costanza always doing the opposite.

Ok don’t race the 4th Randy, but don’t count out Labor Day weekend either. Since most CEOs don’t really “labor” they pay little people to do that.

On my way out of the track to my car, I passed Robin Miller going the opposite way driving a golf cart. I waved to say good-bye to him. He replied with a wave as he yelled "LATER DUDE!!!" I would drive off into the sunset, toward Pennsylvania, passing a barrage of fireworks exploding in the air along the highways. The dude abides, and shall return to an IZOD IndyCar event.

No Animals, media members, or race car drivers were harmed in the making of this story.

Spike Rogan has a letter in the August 2010 issue of Super Street magazine. On sale at newsstands now!!! And can be followed on twitter http://www.twitter.com/spikerogan

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