Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Back From Hiatus With A Heavy Heart

It's been quite some time since I posted anything on this blog and while I am still not really in the mood to do anything of the sort today, I must recognize the passing of the most decent and honest man I ever met. My father in law, Harry W. Porter (Bill) lost a long battle with cancer recently after leading a life that most of us could never dream of. Without question, the most honorable yet modest person I ever met left this earth leaving all of us wondering how we can ever look at life the same without him around to provide wisdom, guidance, and unconditional love for all his family and friends. While he was never much of a racing fan, we attended the 1990 Indy 500 together and had seats in the S.E. Vista Deck, where the view is superb for the first two turns and the backstrech. I fondly remember Bill looking somewhat bored and saying to me, "Ready for another sandwich?" Forget the torrid pace that day due to little caution on the track, Bill was ready for another great sandwich which his wonderful wife had made early that morning for our lunch. In some respects I feel cheated as I only knew him for twenty years, but it only took me twenty minutes to see what a truly wonderful human being he was. Bill enjoyed fine bourbon, fishing, horse racing and his beloved wife and daughter (Not in that order of course) but he was also a fine athlete in high school and college earning a scholarship to Butler University and later became a successful high school coach which led to recognition from the Indiana Basketball Hall Of Fame. It took the Hall Of Fame about 20 years to see him as worthy, but i figured it out the first time we met. I will miss you dearly Bill and if I ever make it to heaven, we will resume our sports conversations and have a pastrami sandwich just like the good old days at your house. I know you are up there holding court with Barbaro, checking on his leg and talking about this years crop of three year olds as we speak. But until then, I will try and honor your memory by trying to be just a bit like you every day. I know I may have disappointed you as a son in law sometimes, but you never let me down as a father in law and i will never forget you. You took the final checkered flag way too soon with your usual class and dignity. So long to a true giant of a man, who was loved by many and respected by all. Rest assured Barbaro, your biggest fan will always be with you and I am sure he will bend your ear daily. Danny Bridges

Monday, June 4, 2007

France Made Nascar At IMS A Reality

The Godfather of Nascar passed away today and while most think of what he has done for the sport of stock car racing, I look at what he has done for IMS and the IRL. At a time when purists were screaming , enter big Bill France Jr. to provide the direction and leadership it would take to bring a Nascar event to the storied oval in Indianapolis. Along with Tony George, France was firmly in control of the transition and made what some people said would never happen into a grand slam for both of the famous racing families. France in my opinion saved the the IRL by partnering with the IMS Corporation to hold IRL events on tracks owned and operated by International Speedway Corporation, which has had explosive growth and profitability since France became CEO in 1981. In addition to securing a 2.4 billion dollar television contract for Nascar, he convinced all involved to run the Daytona July event under the lights in 1998, and completed a successful merger with Penske Motorsports Inc in 1999 to double the number of tracks that ISC owns and operates. Clearly IMS was ready for Nascar but without the vision and guidance of France there is little doubt that it might never have happened. You can probably say the same for his efforts to stabilize and support the IRL as well, yet few people connected with open wheel give this giant of a man his due. One thing is for certain and that is alot of people at 16th and Georgetown owe Bill France Jr. quite alot. A fitting Brickyard tribute would be to scrap the naming rights and dedicate the Nascar event at Indy to the man who really helped make it happen. Wishful thinking perhaps, but it's truly something to consider. Danny Bridges

Monday, May 28, 2007

Unser's Performance Painful To Watch

Do you remember him, the chip off the old block who carried the torch for American drivers along with Michael Andretti? Recall the guy who provided us with then the greatest finish ever at Indy in 1992 driving that dog of a Galmer, and total domination of the series in 1994 like nobody ever had and probably ever will? That same fellow was at Indy yesterday driving for another legend in AJ Foyt, but you certainly would not of recognized him without a program if you were looking for the aforementioned. Now 45 years old and saddled with personal demons, Al Unser Jr. hopefully has driven his last IndyCar race. I say that because I selfishly prefer to remember the fast as hell kid from 25 years ago that burst on to the scene and quickly showed he was the most talented one of the Unser clan. I would rather relive his days in the PC23 Marlboro car in which he toyed with the field in 1994 and set what is still the standard for a single season performance. Always friendly and never one to make excuses, a messy divorce and tragic circumstances involving a child no doubt led to a lack of discipline in his personal life that has cost this hall of famer several years of competitive racing. Unable to attract the level of sponsorship that would yield him a quality ride, he has spent the last years of his storied career laboring behind the wheel of back marker rides and has made more headlines in the newspapers with his personal life than on the racetrack. Still, he remains one of the most honest and sincere drivers at IMS this year and answers every question about his troubles with the same enthusiasm he mentions his race car with. There can be no question this man has suffered from his actions as well as the hand that father time has dealt him, but it is still difficult for me to think of him as someone who must now hang it up. I wish Unser Jr. all the best in his life ahead and I hope he can remain in racing, just as long as he is not driving. I want to keep those old memories alive and well in my mind and I need this former talented champion to quit driving so I can do just that. Danny Bridges

Monday, May 21, 2007

Team Leader's Baker A Winner Off Track As Well

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be a humbling experience for even the biggest teams in the sport. Names like Penske, Rahal, Unser and Fittipaldi have missed the big show due to ill handling cars and motors that did not cut the horsepower mustard as well. One of the nicest guys in the sport came up a little short on Sunday and while it may have been due to a rather restrictive engine lease or just plain old bad luck, Kent Baker of Team Leader Car Racing demonstrated both class and dignity as the clock expired on his effort to place P.J. Jones in the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500. A veteran car owner who has fielded numerous entries at IMS for upwards of twenty years, Baker's off the track accomplishments are no less impressive. As a founder of The Care For Kids Foundation, Baker has made a tremendous impact on the lives of a large number of at risk children. The organization was founded in 1995 and provided a 10.8 million dollar renovation of the Marion County Childrens Guardian Home in December of 2001. Just last June, Baker led an impressive effort to errect a beautifully designed memorial at Crown Hill Cemetary to pay tribute to 699 children laid to rest there from 1892 until 1980 without a gravemarker. While Baker will not have a car in the 500 this year, he is clearly a champion in a far greater sense in terms of helping, protecting and recognizing children who are at risk and sadly in many cases forgotten. There can be no greater accomplishment in my opinion and while his team may not have registered highly on the speed charts at IMS this year, he is without question a permanent resident in the victory lane reserved for those who make the effort to enhance the lives of less fortunate children. Danny Bridges

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mario Still The Benchmark For Class

While it seems like just yesterday to an old gray beard like me, it has now been twenty years to the month that the greatest all around driver ever put a beatdown on Indy like nobody ever had in my life. In 1987, Mario Andretti was the quickest car everyday in practice, sat on the pole, and won the pit stop competition just for additional good measurement. On race day it looked like Mario would take the checkered flag and complete the dominant month with his second Indy 500 win. Just twenty laps from victory the ignition on the Chevrolet Lola entry failed leaving Andretti helpless in pit lane after destroying the field all day. When he dropped out Andretti was one lap ahead of second place Roberto Guerrero and two laps ahead of the balance of the entire field. While most drivers would have been in a funk afterwards, I still can remember the calm, collective, and respectful manner in which he dealt with the media following the race. Mario had nothing but praise for the Chevy powerplant, and even took the time to dispell any rumors about the Goodyear tire that had given some teams fits that month, by calling them impeccable in terms of their handling capabilities. But what was most impressive was how dignified this man was in a dark hour and how he skillfully responded to the countless questions from the throng of reporters camped out and waiting after the race finished. I often think his post race performance was just as impressive as his on the track efforts and that in itself could serve as a point of reference for the many drivers today who are prone to throwing tantrums after a tough day at the track. Despite his frustration Andretti demonstrated the demeanor of a champion and gave us all a lesson in terms of dignity, style and grace. Should you see him at IMS this month, take time to greet him and thank him for setting a standard off the track that equals his greatness upon it. Danny Bridges

Friday, May 4, 2007

Hard Not To Root For Hamilton

In a sport that truly subscribes to the what have you done for me lately theory, open wheel fans quickly forget about the fallen drivers who from time to time are horribly injured in the profession they have chosen. While few who experience devastating injuries make it back to the drivers seat, some do and that is where we apparently will find one Davey Hamilton this May in his quest to return to open wheel racing as he attempts make the field for the 91st Indy 500. Robin Miller of has reported Hamilton will drive the fourth Vision Racing entry rather than being a analyst for the IMS Radio Network throughout the month of May. Hamilton who will turn 45 in June, cut his teeth on the supermodified circuits and is a veteran of six Indy 500's with a best finish of fourth in 1998. But most remember this polite, easy going Idaho native from a violent crash in 2001 at the Texas Motor Speedway in which he sustained serious injuries to both feet and ankles. After numerous surgeries and long periods of rehabilitation, Hamilton was able to walk again and be involved in various other aspects of racing besides driving. I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time in April of 2006 when I was his passenger in the Sinden Racing two seater program at IMS. What a change of scenery it must of been for a talented driver who was twice runner up in the IRL points standings to be driving folks like myself around the track at the "slow" pace of 170 mph. When we concluded the quick ride, I asked him if he ever got the urge to drive again and he smiled and simply said everyday. Hamilton undoubtedly had that desire fueled even further having to watch less talented drivers compete in the IRL since his crash and wondering time after time what might have been. Having not driven in the series for close to six years, he will no doubt have his work cut out for him when the track opens next week for practice. Hopefully Vision Racing will provide him with all the resources and necessary track time to give him every chance to make the field. While many have been very critical of Tony George for his part in the current split of open wheel racing, I must salute him for remembering one of the IRL'S fallen warriors and giving him this opportunity. More importantly, I hope Hamilton will complete this odyssey in a safe fashion and can walk away with the sense of satisfaction that those like myself rooting for him would surely savor as well. Danny Bridges

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sinden Racing has hit a grand slam

So you want to drive an Indy Car eh? At the most famous track in the world right? Before now you were only dreaming but now thanks to Sinden Racing it is game on at IMS for all you open wheel hounds out there. You can be Mario dominating the month of May as he did twenty years ago next month, or Rick Mears chasing down Gordon Johncock in 1982, or if you like, a pot bellied over the hill blogger like me who actually was sleepless the night before wondering if he could let the clutch out without killing the engine. From the racing gurus who brought you the famous two seater ride along program, you can now strap in to an actual Indy Car and give it a run solo. For a mere $399.00 (Bargain of the century!) I was cruising on the same course that the IRL big boys spend millions on to win at each May. The first lap allows you to get accustomed to the feel of the car and adjust to being just inches off the ground with your legs straight out in front of you as well. As my bravado rose, I increased the gas and experienced a rush that I had not felt since I opened up my father's 440 Mopar Hemi in my high school days circa 1975. The smoothness of the track coupled with an excellently prepared car gave me more than an ample opportunity to experience what it must be like to dive in to the first turn at Indy when they drop the green flag on race day. (Ok so i was going about 160 mph slower too) As I completed my four lap run I kept waiting to hear Tom Carnegie call out my name but alas, it did not happen. Hats off to Scott Jasek of Sinden for settling my nerves enough before the run and allowing me to enjoy an incredible ride. This program is perfect for corporate outings or simply those like me who want to feel like they were (if only for a minute) a big time race driver. Call them today and see for yourself what it is truly like to go for it. For now, this is the old "88 mph at Indy" blogger heading in to the pits for fresh tires and fuel. Danny Bridges