Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The White Flag For IndyCar?

By Simon

IndyCar is making changes for 2014 and not for the good according to Mario Andretti (as per this article).  And to be honest, Mario is right.

Next season, the IndyCar season will run from late-March through to the end August.  Essentially, truncating the season by ending it two months earlier than normal.  The reason for this is to squeeze out the downtime teams have and pretty much have a race every week and cut out the summer hiatus—and probably cut costs.  This move feels like white flag waving and not the kind that says there's one lap to go—although it could mean one last go around for the IRL if they go down this route.

IndyCar already has an image and popularity problem and in turn, a money problem—the real fuel that keeps racecars going.  By shrinking the calendar to avoid things like the football season just screams that IndyCar can’t handle its place in the sporting marketplace and once you start thinking small, you will stay small.  I fear that this move will ultimately marginalize IndyCar which is sad as I truly enjoy it.   

And I don’t see the sense of a possible of international “winter series” especially when it’s a series of exhibition races.  No one cares about exhibition races because nothing’s at stake.

Personally, I say go big, not small.  That’s the only way to give IndyCar a boost.  If I were the IRL, I’d examine heavily why NASCAR succeeds with fans where Indy doesn’t.  Do something to boost the image of the drivers and cars.  If IndyCar wants to go international, go for it.  Hit up the countries that are losing their F1 status—such as Korea—and fill the void.  Use the Circuit of the Americas for God’s sake. It’s there.  And I hate to say it, bring a Beckham like figure to the series.  It needs something that NASCAR and F1 don’t. 

IndyCar can be a major player and it won’t be easy getting there, but going small isn’t going to do it.  Ignore me at your peril, IRL.  ;-)




Monday, November 25, 2013

My Racing TBR

by Tammy

Suddenly, I have an enormous pile of books about racing and racers to read (TBR = to be read). I read a lot, and mostly it's fiction. But I am compelled to also collect stories of motorsport and those who love her.

Here's my current booklist ... tell me if there's anything you want to borrow, or anything I'm missing!

Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, a motorbike journey around the world
Race to Dakar, Charley Boorman, the story of riding a motorbike in the Dakar Rally
Rush to Glory, Tom Rubython, the true story of the James Hunt/Niki Lauda rivalry
Driven by Desire, the Desiré Wilson story, by Alan Wilson (biography)
The Cars of Vel Miletich and Parnelli Jones ... OK, that's mostly photos (gorgeous photos)
Carchitecture, Frames, Fenders, and Fins ... also mostly amazing photos
As a Matter of Fact, I am Parnelli Jones, with Bones Bourcier (autobiography)
Bugatti Queen, Miranda Seymour, about Hellé Nice, racer and all-around adventurer of the 1920s and 1930s (this was the racer Jay Leno asked if I knew about when I met him briefly a couple weeks ago; I didn't know, so I got the book quickly)

What are some of your favorite non-fiction books about racing or racers? Simon and I have covered some of our favorites in the past (The Limit, Sunday Money, Driving with the Devil, and The Mechanic's Tale, to name just a few) ... but it's going to be a long off-season! Time to stockpile some reading material.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Doubling Down

By Simon

So McLaren have dumped Sergio Perez after one season.  Next year, his seat will be taken by the up and coming Kevin Magnussen.  

Can’t say I’m surprised to see Perez go.  I didn’t think he was the right fit when they announced he would replace Lewis Hamilton.  However, I’m not sure Magnussen is the right guy either.  Perez had F1 experience when he went to McLaren.  And Magnussen has none, although he’s described as “lightning quick.”

I’m not trying to diss either driver, but McLaren doesn’t need a rookie to help them out of the hole they're in.  They need a smart, seasoned and/or technical driver who can help them improve a very poor car.  Magnussen might be the quickest of cats, but without a competitive car, it won’t make any difference.  I know things are changing for 2014 specs-wise, which will level the playing field somewhat, but they really need an all round effort to help get them out of the weeds they currently find themselves in.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen Nico Hulkenberg or Paul Di Resta go to McLaren and have Magnussen go to Force India or Sauber.

Only time will tell, I suppose.  I hope McLaren can turn things around as we don’t need another Red Bull whitewash.  And I sincerely hope Kevin Magnussen does well and the pressure of McLaren’s expectations doesn’t become a burden for him.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Boring, Impressive, and Surprising

by Tammy

The last week in racing was a little bit of everything.

In Formula 1, not content with wrapping up the championship with 3 (or was it 4?) races still to run, Vettel ground the rest of the field into so much dust under his tires, winning the USGP, making it his 12th win of the season and his 8th in a row.

Impressive? Absolutely. Boring? No doubt. As I've said before, I've got massive respect ... but I also had better things to do than watch the race. Again.

In NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson won his sixth championship in smooth style, finishing the final race of the year in 9th place, for a 20-some point margin in the championship. It was a nail-biter down to the end, though, given that he needed to finish 23rd or better to win, and given Matt Kenseth (2nd place) doing all he could. The commentators reported Jimmie having said he wanted 8 championships (the record of 7 is held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt) ... and no one who's watched him over the last decade would be surprised to see him achieve that.

Surprising? Nope. Impressive? Definitely. Boring? Depends on your point of view.

And in IndyCar, the news that took plenty by surprise, and dismayed many, many fans, was of Dario Franchitti's retirement from racing. The bottom line is that he got one-too-many concussions, and he hasn't been recovering as quickly as hoped from the last one. The medical opinion seems to be that any more such bell-ringers and he risks brain damage (Is this sounding familiar, Simon?), and he made the wise choice to stop. (It does make me wonder how many racecar drivers have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease that the world of football is just beginning to recognize.)

Surprising? For sure. But rational and understandable.

Lastly, in the media, former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb dredged up the years' old question of whether drivers are athletes. Jimmie wouldn't be drawn into the controversy, but Jeff Gordon had a great response (image).

Surprising? Yes. Boring? Completely. Aren't we past this by now? And seriously, even the notoriously unfit Tony Stewart could take most defensive linemen, am I right?

Best two Twitter hashtags of the week: #peoplewhoaremoreathleticthandonovan and #ThankYouDario.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A New Era? I Hope So

By Simon

Tammy’s favorite billionaire Bernie Ecclestone said that Seb Vettel’s F1 dominance is bad for the sport (and probably Bernie’s bank balance).  I’m actually a Vettel fan (although his little breakdown last month’s complaining it wasn’t fair cars were getting in his way was painfully childish) but I get what Bernie is saying. Vettel and Red Bull’s dominance is great for them but not so much for everyone else—especially spectators.  It’s McLaren of the late 80’s all over again.  However Bernie might get his wish with the changes for 2014.  

Essentially the new engine format (tiny turbo charged V6s) means everyone has to design a car from the ground up to accommodate it.  No doubt that Adrian Newey will come up with something amazing, as will McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, etc., but the game changer is the engine.  Who knows whether Renault, Honda, Ferrari, Mercedes can come up with a winning engine in such a short development period.  It could and probably will be a very unpredictable for a season or two.  If Renault doesn’t give Red Bull the engine they need, it’ll be interesting to see how much of Seb Vettel’s success is his driving or Adrian Newey’s genius.  Either way, 2014 will be a very interesting season.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Spiritual Home?

by Tammy

Since I'm newer to the whole racing world than most of you out there (and most of the racing fans I meet), I'm often playing catch-up. Which is what happened this weekend.

At the urging of a Facebook connection, I finally headed up to Glendale to a wonderful bookstore: Autobooks-Aerobooks. It's, you guessed it, a bookstore that focuses on print and video about cars and airplanes. A bookstore? Focusing on cars and racing? That might just be where I belong.

And I'm really playing catch-up. The store has been around since 1951, and it seems to still be going strong, even in this era of digital books. As Tina van Curen, the current owner, said to me, "The kind of books people buy here, they want to look at in large format, not read on a little screen." And she's right.

My excuse for finally getting up there this weekend was a signing by Vel Milatich and Parnelli Jones for their large-format, coffee-table book, The Cars of Vel Milatich and Parnelli Jones (photographer Dean Kirkland was also signing). In the hour I was in the shop—overwhelmed by the variety of materials and the people eager to stand around talking about cars and racing—the place was buzzing, and Parnelli was kept busy signing that book and his autobiography (and taking photos with us).

But the store doesn't just have signing events, they also have an informal car show every Saturday morning. And it's not just any car show, it's one that Jay Leno routinely appears at. I'd heard "Leno is often at the bookstore," in the past, but I was still astonished to walk into the store at 11:15 Saturday morning and find him there—on his way out, but stopping to sign books and take photos with anyone who asked. Nicest guy ever.

So, anyone who's into cars? This place should be on your list of places to stop when you come to LA. I'll probably take you there myself. (And Simon? Tina's interested in doing a signing event of "car-guy novels" with fiction writers next year ... maybe you can come down?) And if we get there on a Saturday, we might just run into LA's biggest car guy and one of his treasures.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I'm in The Bad Groove

By Simon

The lovely Amy Marbach interviewed me over at Bad Groove. We talked about racing, books and open wheel.  Not bad for a NASCAR site.  :-) 

Any, enjoy the interview here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Racing Dominance

by Tammy

Was it boring when Michael Schumacher was winning? Because I have to tell you, I'm finding Formula 1 so boring these days I can't even be bothered to DVR the races—I used to always DVR them and watch if the reports were of a good race, but "the exciting battle for 5th" doesn't count.

Partly, I assume, it's a matter of whether I like the driver or not. Take Jimmie Johnson. I tend to like him, so I'm glad to see him winning ... then again, it was less liking than awe and respect when he was steamrolling the competition to five consecutive championships. The last one and this year have been different, more clutch performances. Down to the wire.

But I just can't get excited about Vettel. Is it that he's cold, aloof, reserved? Is it that he's kind of a brat? I figure he's outgrown that by now, but I'm still not warming to him.

I think my problem is the combination of open-wheel cars, fragile cars, no refueling strategy, and then the dominance of one specific driver that means I just don't engage. If I'd been a lifelong viewer perhaps—then again, a friend of mine who's a lifelong viewer isn't watching the end of this season anyway.

I caught a tweet today where someone blamed Jimmie's dominance for NASCAR's viewer woes. But I don't think it's entirely on his shoulders. After all, he's not dominating this season, and someone else won last year. Plus, plenty of other racing series (hello, IndyCar) have seen declining viewership and attendance numbers, so I'd be more inclined to blame the economy and strange broadcast channels (who else misses SPEED?).

But I want to know what you think? Is it boring when a driver or team dominates a particular series? Or just when it's a driver you don't like?

And do you think Jimmie will take it this year?