Scott Dixon still the Iceman after insane Indy 500 crash

The applause broke out almost immediately after Scott Dixon and Jay Howard’s cars slid to a stop, even before broadcasters were able to tell viewers both drivers were OK.

Fans in the stands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw Dixon moving inside his destroyed race car and realized that — despite contact with Howard, an unscheduled flight for Dixon and a bad-angle landing that could have killed him — the “Iceman” was alive.

And not only alive, but well.

Of course he was, right? He’s Scott Dixon, the man who can go to the local Taco Bell, get robbed with a gun to his head and basically shrug it off.

Dixon emerged virtually uninjured, save for a bum ankle that he said “was a little beaten up.” Even it’s broken, that would still be a near-miracle outcome from a crash that was one of the most frightening wrecks in years.

One reporter asked Dixon if he’d ever been in a scarier wreck than that one. His response: Meh.

“They’re kind of all similar,” he replied. “You’re just riding along and waiting for the big impact. And there were a couple (of big impacts) in that one. So probably more than normal.

“But as we’ve seen, especially throughout my racing career, the safety adjustments and all they’ve done — it’s a testament to the safety that we have.”

Not everyone was as cool about it as Dixon.

Friends Dario Franchitti — whose career was ended by an airborne crash — and Sebastien Bourdais — on crutches after breaking his hip last week in a wreck here — quickly arrived at the infield medical center as reporters waited outside.

Dixon’s wife, Emma, was on the scene as well — and even spoke to the media about her emotions.

Emma had gone back to the couple’s motorhome to use the bathroom and flipped on the TV right at the moment of the crash. She told reporters everything was “moving really slowly in that moment for me,” but was massively relieved to see the safety team’s rapid response and the good news for her husband shortly thereafter.

It’s been an eventful week for the couple — from Dixon’s pole position to the Taco Bell robbery to this.

“It’s insane,” she said. “It’s just been amazing highs and amazing lows. I just thank God he’s OK and I’m just so happy he’s OK.”

Meanwhile, her husband made his way down the long line of waiting media. Dixon calmly relayed what happened in the crash and seemed just fine with repeating himself again and again, continually popping a smile.

And why not? Dixon may not have won the Indy 500 on Sunday, but he walked away with breath still in his body.

After his horrifying crash, that seems like a victory in itself.

Indy 500 Impressions: Race Day

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates from the track. Today: A timeline of Indianapolis 500 race day.

4:50 a.m.

I’m absolutely wide awake and wired — and I haven’t even had any coffee yet. I’m already at the track, and I feel like bouncing off the walls of the media center.

I woke up at 3 a.m. — 30 minutes before my alarm — and decided I might as well get ready and hit the road. I’ve never been to an event where 300,000 people are expected, so I figured it would be best to beat the traffic if possible, and I could always sleep in the car if necessary.

But when I pulled into the muddy parking lot at 4:10, I was too pumped to think about sleeping. My adrenaline is already turned up, and I’m ready for the world’s greatest automobile race.

I walked into the track (the media gate was already open, although the public gate doesn’t open until the 6 a.m. cannon boom) and was greeted with blanket of silence. The pagoda lit the night like a lantern, and all was quiet except for the sound of golf carts driving around with workers preparing TV live shots and equipment for the day.

It’s a thrill to be here.

7:05 a.m.

The cannon sounded an hour ago, and a flood of people immediately started streaming through the gates. The place is already buzzing — and whistling, thanks to the yellow shirts — and everyone seems to be in a good mood. Some are in a better mood than others, perhaps thanks to some early-morning drinking.

There’s something about the atmosphere, even just after dawn, that seems important. I ran into a couple of race fans from Sacramento who are attending their first Indy 500, and they said, “It feels like an event.” That’s a good way to put it.

It’s fun to think about how this same race day rhythm has been happening here for decades, down to the minute. Tradition is such a major part of the draw here, because Hoosiers have grown up experiencing the same pattern, year after year. Life may change, but the 500 doesn’t.

My Indiana-born wife, Sarah, has only missed one Indy 500 in her life — but she’s missed several Thanksgivings and Christmases at home. The one year she skipped it, she was in tears — longing to be with her family and filled with regret. The whole “Back Home Again” thing is more than a song to people here.

The funny thing is, I don’t think Sarah cares about the race itself anymore (she goes to the Snake Pit with her brother these days), but the tradition of attending is part of her heritage. Her grandparents and extended family all come to the race as well.

It must be so cool for lifelong attendees of this race to be greeted by the wave of memories when walking through the tunnel. Children who once held their parents’ hands here have grown up and now bring kids of their own, toting their little backpacks while the adults drag the coolers.

10:35 a.m.

Damn, Indy 500 race day is absolutely lit!

I went to check out the legendary Snake Pit, which I’ve heard so much about. There were expected to be nearly 30,000 people in attendance there today (it’s an add-on from the general admission race ticket), which is impressive considering it’s basically a separate event.

Adventure Club was playing, and they put on a good show (I saw them at Electric Daisy Carnival last year). Sure enough, even though it was only 9 a.m., the Snake Pit crowd was already going off.

The Snake Pit is allllll young people. Probably 99% of the crowd is under 25 years old. There’s a very high-tech, festival-worthy stage capable of spewing smoke and fire, and the bass is so loud, you honestly would have no idea you’re at a racetrack (a hill on the backside makes it a semi-enclosed venue).

It’s hard to believe two of the world’s top DJs, Zedd and Marshmello, will be performing there in a few hours. They constantly travel all over the world for concerts and here they are at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Speaking of Marshmello, I got a text from SportsBusiness Journal’s Adam Stern saying ‘Mello was in the media center. So I rushed back from the Snake Pit, looked through the media center and couldn’t find him. Damn.

But he had to be somewhere, so I started looking on pit road. Sure enough, Marshmello was walking around with his team. Mellogang from all over, including IMS President Doug Boles, greeted Marshmello and posed for pictures. Few things make me happier than seeing two of my passions — EDM and racing — colliding.

Anyway, just over an hour until the green flag.

12:40 p.m.

The start of the Indy 500 was probably the most exciting sports moment I’ve experienced since being at the Belmont Stakes for the Triple Crown win in 2015.

We all see the pageantry of the 500 every year, and it’s everything you’d expect and more to feel it in person. The call of “Drivers, to your cars,” the playing of taps, “Back Home Again” and the balloon launch, the starting of engines and the parade laps — the excitement just builds and builds.

I’m pretty sure everyone had full-body chills at various points during the pre-race ceremonies. By the time drivers actually took the green flag, the energy built to a fever pitch and people just let out this huge “YEAHHHHH” at the start of the race.

It’s pretty badass.

5:57 p.m.

Well, I’m sad this day has come to an end. This was one of the more fun experiences I’ve had in awhile, and I can see why people come back year after year. It was an honor to be in attendance.

First of all, the race itself seemed to have everything: Lead changes (35!), different leaders (a race-record 15, nearly half the field) and lots of passes (871). There were aggressive moves, crazy restarts and enough crashes to prove how much the drivers were pushing the limits.

Second, the atmosphere was just so, so cool. It’s always special to feel like part of something big — and that’s definitely the case at Indy based on attendance alone (let alone the significance of the race). And the track itself does a great job with this event; despite the complaints about the yellow shirts, they keep things running smoothly.

Third, I enjoyed experiencing a different form of racing. There are some similarities between NASCAR and IndyCar, sure — but there are a lot of things each could learn from the other. I’d like to see both sanctioning bodies work together more to lift up all forms of motorsports in the United States. Fans don’t have to choose just one.

I know dollars are scarcer these days and overall interest might be down, but that’s exactly why generating more enthusiasm for racing in general is a good thing. Whether it’s NASCAR or IndyCar, help more fans get to know and love racing; then everyone wins.

Indy 500 Impressions: Saturday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

For someone used to NASCAR race weekends where there’s always something on the track, the Indianapolis 500 schedule is a bit odd.

Saturday — the day before the biggest race in the world! — was dark as far as on-track activity. Many of the media didn’t even bother showing up because there was nothing to “cover” and no one to interview.

Now, there were definitely things for the public to do. It started with a one-hour autograph session in the morning — which the full field participated in! Can you believe that? Even Fernando Alonso sat outside and signed autographs for an hour. That was sort of mind-blowing to me, but it’s just part of the tradition here.

What else is part of the tradition? A public drivers meeting that is largely for ceremonial purposes. The drivers already had their actual closed-door drivers meeting on Friday morning — so this was mostly to hand out awards (like a trophy for Alexander Rossi’s win last year) and rings given to all 33 starters in this year’s field.

I’d say roughly 5,000 people attended the drivers meeting. It wasn’t very exciting, but it was a chance for fans to see the drivers and feel part of the experience. IndyCar went over some of the rules and regulations for the race — so there was a competition element — but I’m pretty sure the drivers already heard those same instructions on Friday.

After that, the drivers boarded buses for the annual 500 Festival parade downtown, which is a popular tradition in the city. Some people never miss that parade, just like they never miss the 500 itself.

Then it got sort of quiet at the track. There was a run-through of the pre-race festivities (an opera singer is rehearsing “God Bless America” as I write this). And there’s a Keith Urban concert scheduled for tonight in the infield (it’s a $40 ticket on top of the $10 Saturday ticket), but that’s pretty much it aside from walking through the garages (they’re open to the public today) and a memorabilia show.

Personally, this feels weird. I’d be more comfortable running around getting interviews today in advance of the massive race tomorrow; instead, it’s almost like a day off.

One person who has been around Indy for awhile told me Saturday is sort of like a hangover day. People party so hard on Carb Day, they need that extra day in between Friday and the race anyway.

So I guess it’s a day of rest in many aspects, which is fine. After all, tomorrow is the greatest day in racing, and everyone will need plenty of energy for that.

—-

Other Indy Impressions:

Friday (Carb Day)

Thursday (Media Day)

 

Indy 500 Impressions: Friday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

So for those of you who don’t know, there’s this thing called Carb Day. And in Indiana, it’s a really, really big deal.

It felt like half the state was at IMS on Friday to watch an hour of final Indy 500 practice, followed by the Indy Lights race, a pit crew competition and a pair of concerts (Barenaked Ladies and the Steve Miller Band).

There’s really nothing in NASCAR that’s equivalent to this. In NASCAR, every day of a race weekend is usually built around the on-track activity. There might be things to do, but the race cars are the focus.

But on Carb Day, the on-track stuff is a sideshow — it’s just an excuse to come out and party. And tens of thousands of people did, dragging their coolers around and wearing some outfits worthy of People of Walmart.

Here’s Carb Day summed up: As the Barenaked Ladies sang “One Week,” a group of bros climbed up on top of their coolers and started shotgunning some beers. A dude wearing an American flag tank top that read, “WE’RE NOT COCKY — JUST THE BEST” poured his beer down the hatch — and then took a huge tumble off the cooler.

The cooler spilled open, ice and beer everywhere. The bro, lying on the grass, looked briefly stunned, then jumped up and high-fived his buddies. Party on.

So yeah, this day wasn’t really about racing. But what a crowd. Tickets were $30 each, and that granted access to anywhere on the track property — the grandstands to watch practice and the pit stop competition, the Pagoda Plaza fan zone and the concert venue in Turn 4.

Last year, there were 100,000 people who attended Carb Day — but that was for the 100th running of the 500. For argument’s sake, let’s say 75,000 attended this year’s Carb Day — again, at $30 apiece. That would be $2.25 million in revenue, not including concessions and souvenir sales.

The point is, even with overhead costs and fees for the performers, etc., the track is easily going to clear $1 million — for a practice day.

Now, Indy didn’t just come up with this idea and it was suddenly a hit. I get that. It took decades of tradition to reach this point.

And, of course, this doesn’t happen at every IndyCar race. It’s unique to the 500 and part of the weekend.

But NASCAR could try and take a couple notes from what happens here by making one of the race weekend days into a party day. Scrap the Sunday pre-race concert, for example, and move it to a Friday. Chop down on practice sessions and add driver appearances or other fun diversions instead.

Let’s be honest: In this world, there are far more people who are fans of getting drunk than are fans of race cars. So appeal to them, gladly take their money and give them a place to go wild for a day.

Tracks like Michigan and Talladega have tried things along these lines, but more could follow suit. One of those is Indianapolis, which is going to try it for the Brickyard 400 this summer; a two-night concert festival featuring the likes of The Chainsmokers and Major Lazer is already on the calendar.

Conor Daly, IndyCar driver and friend of EDM stars

How many American race car drivers are buddies with the likes of Deadmau5, Marshmello and Zedd?

The answer is: One.

That driver is IndyCar’s Conor Daly, a friend to many DJs in the electronic dance music community. That’s pretty badass if you think about it, since racing and EDM have dramatically different audiences for the most part.

But Daly can go between both worlds with ease, and has been doing so since he struck up a friendship with Deadmau5 in 2013.

Deadmau5 had followed Daly on Twitter and they started messaging back and forth. When Daly had an open weekend in 2014, he went to Vegas and met up with Deadmau5 — which led to connecting with other DJs and their friends. (Deadmau5 has since been to several IndyCar events and even taken a ride with James Hinchcliffe at Indianapolis.)

“I’m like a really business-to-business relationship type of person, so I connect with people through other people and we become friends,” Daly told me Thursday. “And suddenly you’re in different groups of people.

“It’s a small world in there (in the EDM community) just like it’s a small world here. If you know someone in the racing community, they probably know 30 other people that you know. So it’s the same thing, just a different environment.”

Daly said there are many people in dance music who “appreciate cars and racing,” but just don’t know much about it. So they’re curious and end up asking questions — just as Daly asks questions about music.

Marshmello, who Daly met last year, is playing at the Indy 500 Snake Pit on Sunday (along with Zedd and several others) — and expressed his enthusiasm for learning more about racing.

“Marshmello texted me at the end of last year after I met him and he was like, ‘Hey, my dad just saw some of your crashes on YouTube. That’s crazy! You guys are nuts,'” Daly said. “So apparently they were talking about that. He’s excited about it for sure. Apparently one of his video guys went to (Indiana) as well, so they’ve been hyping up the Indy 500.”

Daly said he’s been trying to get Zedd up to speed on Indy ahead of his Sunday appearance, but Zedd isn’t super into racing yet.

“I’ve been trying to tell him as much as I can, but until you see it here in real life, you don’t really know,” Daly said. “So we’ll see what he thinks.”

Last year, Skrillex and Martin Garrix — who is friends with Formula One driver Max Verstappen — were the headliners at the Snake Pit (an EDM concert in Turn 3 that takes place before and during the Indy 500 itself).

Daly obviously can’t attend the concert while the race is going on, but went to Electric Daisy Carnival at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to see friend MAKJ perform last year and saw Deadmau5 in Chicago earlier this month. Daly plans to attend EDC again in Las Vegas next month.

Knowing the two groups of fans as well as he does, Daly said the Snake Pit represents an important part of building the Indy 500 tradition.

“It’s a huge group of people who would never entertain the idea of a race unless it was involved with this type of concert,” he said. “Even if it’s 10 or 15 people, if we can turn their heads and say, ‘Whoa, this race is actually really entertaining, too,’ then who knows?

“It gets people to the venue, gets people here and gets people talking about the Indy 500. (The 500 experience) is the race, it’s the Snake Pit, it’s everything.”

 

 

 

Indy 500 Impressions: Thursday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

Today was Indianapolis 500 Media Day, and they have a very different format here than we get in NASCAR.

This isn’t to judge NASCAR or throw shade on NASCAR drivers — because let’s face it, NASCAR in general is bigger than IndyCar — but there was a lot to like about how Indy did things from a media perspective.

First, some background: NASCAR currently has four main “media days” per year — the preseason Media Tour, Daytona 500 Media Day, Playoff Media Day and Championship Media Day (for Homestead). What typically happens is NASCAR rotates the drivers through booths (two at a time, for example) and they’re available for 10 minutes — maybe 15 in some cases. The NASCAR media corps has occasionally gotten upset at the lack of time we get with drivers on these days.

But at Indy 500 media day, the entire field was available for ONE HOUR. The session was split into two groups, but every driver had to sit there and answer questions for a solid 60 minutes — even Fernando Alonso, who was surrounded by a huge group the whole time.

This sort of blew me away, because I don’t think NASCAR drivers would ever stand for that. They would raise hell if NASCAR tried to make them sit there for an hour. In general, NASCAR guys want to do their 10-15 minute obligation and are looking to bolt.

Honestly, the drivers council would probably get involved if NASCAR said, “You will do an hour of print/TV media today.” The IndyCar drivers didn’t seem too bothered by it, though — I assume because they’re used to it? Also, they realize this is the best time to promote themselves and their sport, so I suppose they just embrace it.

Another thing that caught my eye today was the hospitality tents. I’ve covered some IndyCar events before, so I remembered these hospitality tents existed, but I forgot the details of them. Team Penske had a media luncheon at its big hospitality tent, where all the drivers were present as well as Roger Penske. It had to be quite expensive, because the food was quite good (and the media loves food!).

I bring this up because that sort of event typically would not happen at a NASCAR race. For one thing, these mobile hospitality centers more of an open-wheel thing for whatever reason. And second, I’d argue the drivers’ extra time in NASCAR is typically spent fulfilling sponsor obligations, not hanging with the media at a luncheon.

Again, I’m not passing judgment (for anyone who wants to get defensive in NASCAR), I’m just making observations.

One last thought for today: Wow, who are all these media people? I feel like after covering NASCAR for more than a decade, I have a pretty good idea of who the American racing journalists are. But I didn’t recognize maybe 80% of the media today. Some of them are foreign (the guy sitting next to me is from France), but not everyone. It’s just kind of crazy how the media corps in the two major forms of motorsports in the United States could have so many different people without that much crossover.

News Analysis: Fernando Alonso to run Indy 500, skip Monaco

What happened: Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso, sixth on the all-time F1 wins list with 32 Grand Prix victories, will skip Monaco to race in the Indianapolis 500 in May. He’ll drive a Honda-powered McLaren car run by Andretti Autosport.

What it means: A huge boost internationally for the Indy 500. An active F1 driver missing the biggest F1 race — which Alonso has won twice — to come drive at Indianapolis? That’s wild! It’s going to get a lot of attention around the world and will be quite a big story in motorsports from now through the race. Depending on how Alonso’s experience goes, it could pave the way for more famous drivers to try to the Indy 500 and raise the prestige level even further.

News value (scale of 1-10): Depends on where you’re reading this. It’s probably an 8 for international readers and a 6 if you live in the United States and only follow NASCAR. Alonso said in his view, the Indy 500 is “one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivaled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix” and said he’d like to win the “Triple Crown” one day (which has only been achieved by Graham Hill, who raced in the 1960s). Of course, that perspective is different in the U.S., where even some race fans don’t know who Alonso is and may feel the Daytona 500 is just as big as the Indy 500. 

Questions: Can Alonso, who has never raced on a big oval (or any oval, perhaps), get up to speed quickly enough to be competitive? How much will this raise the international profile of the Indy 500, which was already coming off a ton of publicity with the 100th running? Is there anything NASCAR can do to counter this move for the Coca-Cola 600, which likely loses some of the media spotlight (Gordon? Stewart)?

Fernando Alonso speaks to reporters at a Shell-sponsored event in Austin before the 2014 race there. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)