This past weekend an extremely moody Mother Nature finally answered the racing God’s messages and allowed Waterford Speedbowl to open it’s season with a bang. Since the final flag fell last Sunday Keith Rocco’s Waterford “hat-trick” has been the main topic of discussion throughout the Northeast auto racing community.
By all reviews and reports it was a good weekend of racing overall. I could go over what I viewed on TheChromeHorn.com live reports and what every news source has already covered. However, I’ll spare you the “Pete ‘n’ Repeat” and just direct you to a damn fine video presentation of the VMRS 100 which includes driver’s intros and a “aerial cam” by the great folks at Sid’s View fueled by Sid’s Vault Productions! These guys bring the video recap coverage to a whole new level. It’s well worth the watch believe you me!
The Grand Prix of Long Beach was an interesting one. Road course ringer Mike Conway came from 16th on the field to take the win. It was a breath of fresh air seeing the IndyCar grid go off the line from a standing start. In my opinion standing starts should be the case for all of their road course races. Will Power (for those unfamiliar, yes that is his real name) pulled some questionable moves involving contact that went unpunished by series officials. However, Graham Rahal made what can only be described as incidental contact in the hair pin during a log jam and received a drive through penalty. This left many fans questioning reasons behind series officials looking the other way from Will Power’s bullish driving with Penske’s multi car team yet hitting out at the Rahal/Letterman single car team. After some incidents involving Power last year going unpunished and some questionable tactics in these first two races of the 2014 IndyCar season it gives the appearance that politics very well might be playing a part in official’s decisions. Ah, the ever evasive calls of consistency.
What had me shaking my head was when the announce team took steps to pop off an excuse for Power’s rough driving. After Power made contact with a competitor one of the announcers remarked in so many words that you can’t blame Power as he is just anxious to get by these guys so he can race the lead pack. Really? Doesn’t every competitor want to get to the lead pack and challenge for the win? The difference is the overwhelming majority in open wheel are of the opinion you don’t knock a driver out of the way or put them in the fence and wreck their equipment while doing so. Leave that for the fendered up boys in Cup. Come on guys.
Pardon My French
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced they will be adding a practice day in order for teams to prepare for the Indianapolis 500 that takes place on auto racing fan’s Christmas, uh, I mean Memorial Day weekend.
In other news concerning the Indianapolis 500, the scumbags of Westboro Baptist Church decided they will be picketing the Indy 500. You know who I’m talking about, right? The jackwads who like to protest our fallen soldiers at their funerals and what not? Yeah those imbeciles. Anyways.. Two sad excuses they referred to as reasons were given for the protest. One being the large consumption of alcohol during the event. (No! You don’t say!) The other is just plain distasteful, which coincidentally is exactly what these protesters are all about.
It’s an Indianapolis 500 tradition that Jim Nabors sings ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’. He’s been a part of the 500’s long list of pre-race activities for as long as I can remember. This year will be Jim Nabors’ final appearance at the speedway singing that traditional song and he is being honored. It’s not because the disgraceful organization hates the song. It’s because Jim Nabors is gay. These pathetic pieces of trash who make up the Westboro Baptist Church have made it their calling card to stir the pot in an attempt to create an incident. Now they are trying to grab more attention by ruining a well deserved tribute to a long time friend of the speedway and all the fans of the 500. The only beliefs Westboro Baptist Church have are disrespecting life in general and those that have given the ultimate sacrifice to protect this country and seeking attention in the ugliest form.
Side thought.. Wonder how things would pan out say if they decided to protest at Talladega during a Cup race? If I were a betting man I believe they lack the testicular fortitude to pull that one off on the boys down south. One might say the red clay, bonfire, after hours, party goers would swallow them up whole. Wishful thinking is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
Recently, through a very heartfelt message, a friend reminded everyone that it has been 10 years this past Sunday since the passing of flagging legend Jim Hanks. For those of you unaware who Jim Hanks is I’ll tell ya. Jim Hanks was one of the elite chief starters in the Northeast to ever take command of a speedway. Jim was every bit the definition of what a chief starter was and then some. He flagged in the days when the chief starter position owned the speedway when competitors were on the track. He flagged when a race director job was moving the show along and making sure everyone was well organized in doing so, not orchestrating official decisions while a race is in progress. Hanks was a chief starter when the position meant you were responsible for everyone’s safety including the fans and track employees in the grandstands behind him. I literally mean when Jim stepped onto the flag stand he held the keys to the speedway.
When I was 13 my father offhandedly told Jim Hanks at a racing banquet that he had asked his youngest son if he wanted to race or be a flag man and his son answered the latter. After they joked about it Jim told my father with a straight face that if his son was serious about it he would be more than happy to help out in any way when he could. The next year began an on again off again 2 years of training. I look back on those years and my years as a chief starter and think of only five flagmen who were influential with my decision to pick up a flag set; Frank Sgambato Sr. (Stafford Motor Speedway), Chris Hopkins (Stafford Motor Speedway and GATR), Bob Watson (DIRT), Nick Fornoro Sr. (CART and so much more), and Mr. Jim Hanks (Monadnock and Star Speedway).
What Jim taught me while watching him and listening to his advice through the years that followed was not only lessons for the position, but life lessons. He taught me how to carry myself when at the speedway and in front of the fans while on the flag stand. He showed me how to stay cool and calm in an escalating situation. He preached about reaction time and how every second counts. Most of all Jim taught me to stand by a decision and don’t think twice about it “..because up there (Jim pointing at the flag stand) thinking twice gets someone injured or even killed.”
Jim Hanks was someone special whom I will be forever grateful for his willingness to take time and give pointers to a 14 to 16 year old kid before being thrown into the fire. If not for him I would not have had the mind set or thick skin early on to withstand the punishment that sometimes fans, and more often drivers and crews dished out during any given race night. Nor would I have had the right frame of mind to deal with the constant paranoia and adrenalin draining the position demanded.
To prove to anyone unfamiliar how the man performed his job at the highest level and what the chief starter position used to define here’s a math problem for you to solve. Guesstimate how many people occupy a speedway grounds on any given night. That number should include drivers, owners, crewmen, press, photographers, safety crews, wrecker crews, fans, and fellow officials. Now multiply that by how many races make up an average schedule. It’s quite mind boggling when you look at the number you have before you. Now take into consideration of those he took the time to mentor or influenced along the way to be a chief starter. The people those individuals saved through their actions and decisions on the flag stand just add to how many were kept out of harms way over the years. That does indeed make up a big part of Jim Hanks’ legacy and one that his family and friends should always be proud of.
I feel fortunate to have witnessed him take control of the track like a general, beckon the field to the line for his green flag, have his head on a swivel (turn 1-2, back stretch-front stretch, turn 3-4, backstretch-front stretch, turn 1-2 and on and on), then drop the checkered. Man it was something.
Until next week’s republishing of another Classic NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, be safe and enjoy the racing where ever you may travel.