Spotter Tony Arnold’s Excellent Day at the 102nd Running of ARCA at Salem Speedway

19 Sep

Zane Smith and Austin Theriault have at it

The Rat Race Behind the Race: Episode Three

This installment of ‘The Rat Race Behind the Race’ is a throwback to the days when small, local tracks not only hosted but also made the future stars of auto racing. What I found was the perfect place to explore this topic; the historic Salem Speedway in Salem, Indiana on a gorgeous early fall afternoon. This is the track that has hosted future champions in many forms of motorsport, from Open Wheel to Grand Touring to Cup. If you consider a particular driver to be beyond great, most likely they plied their craft at Salem. But how does this all tie into the Rat Race Behind the Race you may ask? Well little sparrow, come take a seat and I will share with you how this came to pass.

 

Cuck Walden, personal racing historian (L) and GForcePaul (R) attending the driver’s meeting

 

I enjoy writing about motorsport and in particular, open wheel racing. Living in Indianapolis, it is almost like you have to enjoy motorsports or they will not sell you a house. Typically, I enjoy writing this blog during the off season as I have less competition from the true professional word scribes as they enjoy vacations in sunny locations. It was under these circumstances that I decided to put together a series on those that toil in the background of motor sport to bring you the “show”. One of my favorite people to engage in conversations at different tracks are the team spotters, since my background in this sport was as a television camera spotter. Consequently, I hit on the idea of interviewing a driver’s spotter. My preference was to grab time with one of the spotters working the various “Road To” series across the motorsports landscape.

This particular opportunity was presented to my be Mr. Jay Alley, Alleygroup Associates photography. (Full disclosure: Jay has been the subject of a previous article in this series. You can find his great stuff here:

http://www.alleygroup.net/

 

The right hand of the law:

ALL images in this article from Salem Speedway are solely his or the property of the ARCA Racing Series, presented by Menards ( https://www.arcaracing.com ). They may not be reused in any manner without permission. Jay is the chief photographer for ARCA and had invited me to several races in the past, so I decided to take him up on his kind offer. When Jay asked me if I would consider writing about the day I thought it would be fascinating to get some face time with one of the race team’s spotters. Coming from a TV camera spotter’s perspective, I love spotters as much as a really good driver. Darn if Jay ended up hooking me up with the Arca series’ points leading driver and team, owned and operated by Ken Schrader. Their spotter, Tony Arnold agreed to spend some quality time answering my questions and putting up with my unsolicited comments. What ensued was a fascinating deep dive into the nuts and bolts of a guy trying to help his driver win a race, as well as giving perspective of the long road to the BIG SHOW.

So, having said all of that, allow me to present 10 questions with Mr. Tony Arnold.

ARCA Racing Series Marketing Manager: Tom Legeman
Car Owner: Kenny Schrader, Schrader Racing
Director of Competition: Donnie Richeson
Car Chief: Phil Drye
Spotter: Tony Arnold
Driver: Austin Theriault
Car No. 52

 

Tony Arnold (R) being interviewed for this article

 

Background

1. What is your day job?

I actually run a race car parts business. I sell race car parts for a friend of mine. We have been friends for like 30 years and have been working for him for four years in Danville Virginia.  I live there during the week and get to see my wife once or twice a week because I am on the road all the time. Luckily my wife is very VERY supportive. I have been married 15 years. She basically, she knows I am going to race and allows me to go and have fun and travel the county and live my dream while she stays at home and works. (Which is another point I’d like you to speak to. People go “This is such a glamorous business”, but talk about some of the 18 hour days.)

 

Tony Arnold (L) GForcePaul (R)

 

 

2. About those 18 hour days…

Yeah, it’s tough, man, especially it’s tough for the guys in the race car. Because mainly they take a lot of the pressure. I don’t consider what I do a hard job. I don’t even consider this a job because this is what I want to do. But those guys, that are up on these roofs 18 hours a day, it’s a tough deal because we’re in the weather, the elements and rarely ever get breaks. Especially you go to a Cup track where you end up going to work for two or three series in one day. That’s a tough week.

 

Theriault leads Eckes

 

3. How did you get in the glamorous racing business?

I started out with my dad since he’s a big race fan. This is my 27th year of racing. I’m 40 years old, I’ll be 41 in November. I’ve done everything from lay up under them race cars to crew chief to spotting, I’ve done it all. (you’ve know the business end of the broom?). Yes sir. My dad got me started. He had a friend of his that worked on race cars, my dad got started sponsoring that race car and basically did it just for me to get started (what a nice gift) and at that point in time you had to be 16 years old to have a NASCAR license. (Right) So I was 16 for 4 years ‘cause I was only like 13 when I got my first NASCAR license. So it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s all I know to do you know; my dad builds houses for a living and has for 50 years and ultimately he would have loved for me to take over his business. He also knew racing was where my heart was at and he was behind me 100%. It’s all I have ever wanted to do.

 

Small track, small town, a Saturday night spent with friends

 

 

4. What is it really like to work with/for this crew chief? How did you come to cross paths?

Like I was telling you earlier I got to spot in front of Austin Theriault last year at the Oxford 250. I met him when I went to work for BKR and starting spotting for him. It was right after he had drove for them a lot, he was still running with them so I met Austin and then when he got the deal with Ken Schrader there, I was like “Hey, you know, I’d like to come do some of your non companion stuff”. So he got me in touch with Donnie Richeson, the crew chief there and I guess they say the rest is history.

5. How long have you known Schrader?

I met Schrader at the spring race here is the first time I ever met him. (Really?) Yes sir. I knew of him all my life watching him race. He’s what I call the definition of a true racer. (Really? What sets him apart?) He is, uh, he’ll race anything, anytime, anywhere. A lot of people love round track racing, short track racing, whatever, I don’t care what it is. If it’s drag racing, moto cross racing, it don’t make a difference to me. If it’s racing, I love it. (Yeah, I love speed as well and I totally get that.)

 

L to R: Christian Eckes, Chase Purdy, Riley Herbst and Zane Smith

 

6. Speak to the topic of the ability to communicate with the driver. It’s kind of an open ended question so share your experiences with us please.

It is. And I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of kids and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of veterans. With the veterans, like when you get to this level, say the ARCA level or the truck level, even the Xfinity level, those guys know how to drive cars. There’s not a lot of coaching involved. Well, I come from the short track stuff where all the guys I work with are kids, trying to come up in the sport and there’s a lot of coaching as well as spotting. I mean it’s even harder and I love that part of it. I like the bigger series just because it’s, I’m not going to say it’s easier but my job is a little easier when I get to the bigger series. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot more information that you have to give the driver when you get to these bigger series, but as far as the coaching part of it, it’s pretty much academic.

Other series spotting work and Nuts n Bolts

 

Tony  Hessert

Tom Hessert wheeling it for car owner Cathy Venturini

 

7. Is ARCA your only spotting gig?

This year I spot for some late model teams back home when I can. I do this for a living, so I still have to make money at it. I can go to like a South Boston speedway on a regular Saturday night and spot 5 or 6 races a night because it’s fun to me. But I got where when I raced back in the mid to late 90’s, I raced by myself. I got way too big to do it, so I went to spotting because that’s where I could get my racing fix. Now it’s like being able to drive the race car! I have spotted for Austin Theriault this year, I spot for Chase Briscoe and Brad Keselowski’s truck stuff. I do his non companion stuff, I have done the 24 JGL car with Dylan Lupton 5 or 6 times this year. In Xfinity series, I did my first Cup race this year at Watkins Glen with Corey LaJoie. So, any time somebody calls I’m ready to go if I’ve got a free weekend.

8. How do they differ, or is the technique the same?

Like I said with Austin, he knows how to drive a race car. So basically I just feed him all the information I can feed him. He deciphers what he wants to decipher. He uses what he needs out of it,  you know. I go to Martinsville Speedway in a couple of weeks for the big late model show down there, I’ve got a kid there that I’ve worked with 4 or 5 years. Now he’s only been to Martinsville one time before and that was last year so that will be a lot of coaching. Teaching him lines and telling him where he needs to be on the race track and sending him out behind drivers that have been there a hundred times before. We are just trying to get him acclimated to where he needs to be. Like I said, you get to these series right and the coaching kind of goes out the window and it makes my job a little easier. But when I go and do a local race track, it’s a lot of coaching. It is also a lot of how do you say it, it’s just harder, I guess, because I drive the race car as much as he does.

 

 

Quintessential Small Track, USA

 

9. How do you calm down your shoe when hates his car set up?

We kind of had that in Springfield, and at Road America. These guys (Ken Schrader Racing) carried a brand new awesome piece to Road America. It was only Austin’s 4th road race and we were going to be happy to come out of there with the fenders on the car and stay on the asphalt all day. We made our pit stop early like Donnie had planned and we ended up running along there and we weren’t really good. We were just average to good and Austin was blabbing on the radio about “we need to do this and we need to do that” and Donnie was like “Hey bro we made our bed and we’re done pitting. We just gotta finish it out as best we can”. So, you just try to talk to him. Austin and Donnie have a really good relationship and I feel like the little bit of time I’ve been with them (this is my 5th race with these guys this year) I feel like Austin and I have a pretty good relationship also. I feel like Donnie and I have a really good relationship so, we’re all on the same page and that’s a lot of the key to it.

10. What affect does Post Qualifying Impound have?

It takes a lot of the money out of it and it puts it back into the racers’ hands in my opinion. If they didn’t have the Post Qualifying impound, you have these guys coming in here and spending a ton of money on just qualifying runs.  Then, they change everything back over to the race set up. This stuff right here, the impound deal, I like it because I’m a poor guy. I’ve always had to race on a shoestring budget with my own cars and stuff. It just takes a lot of money out of it and makes it so the little guys can compete with the big guys a little bit. You’re not working on qualifying set ups and making real fast speed. You come in, you go practice, you work on your race set ups and then you go race.
(So is that what they’ll do today?)
You can make a few adjustments after qualifying, you can make small adjustments and stuff like the track bar that you are allowed to do after qualifying. And at a place like this, it helps to be able to make adjustments. This is only my second time here, I was here for the spring race earlier and I love this race track.

(Is the high line still the fast way here at Salem?)

It is in three and four. One and two is about the middle line. It’s a lot of history here. I’d love to walk out of here today at Salem with a win, you know, but we’re also big picture racing. We’ve got a big points lead, so we are just trying to cap it off with a Championship. Hopefully we get ready to go to Indy for the big party.

The car chief and I went to dinner last night and I told him I’ve never worked with a kid (they’re all kids to me because I’m old) that thinks as much as Austin does; he thinks behind the wheel, he thinks about the race car, he’s a thinking driver and I like him.

Tony Arnold
9/9/2017
Salem, Indiana

 

Austin Theriault wins

 

 

Addendum:

The number 52 Ken Schrader Racing Ford won the race after leading most of the laps. At one point with 10 laps to go, Austin had dropped to third place. He maintained contact with the leaders and picked off the leader when that car’s tires went off. Yes, Austin is a pretty smart kid!

Once again, thanks for stopping by and we will look for you next time.

GforcePaul

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The Rat Race Behind the Race Installment 2: Photographer Jay Alley

24 Jan

Sunset over Chicagoland

Sunset over Chicagoland

Amongst my many “first loves” such as Blues, Motorsport and of course, Mrs. GForce, would be photography. I learned some of the very basic basics back in the late 1970’s from a professional shooter and learned of the three “C’s”: Color, Composition and Clarity. These three things have guided me to the point that I no longer suck as a photog; I just merely stink! Which leads me the point where I would like to mention the social medium platform Twitter (@gforcepaul for those of you playing along at home). It is on there that I began to follow a true professional photographer of motorsport. We chatted a bit back and forth on Twitter but Jay Alley and I never really had a schedule that would allow us to actually meet in person. I was guided however, to the website http://www.alleygroup.net. This is where Jay and his AlleyGroup Associates toil at what quite obviously to me is a true labor of love. For instance, a fun fact I learned is that Jay is also associated with ARCA racing ( http://www.arcaracing.com ) as chief photographer for the series. So, except for the header shot above that I took at Chicago Land Speedway a good 9 or so years ago, all photos appearing here are the credit of Jay Alley. In fact, the bulk of this installment of “The Rat Race Behind the Race” has been produced by Jay so I certainly want to thank him for that! Meanwhile, let’s get this party started, shall we Mr. Alley?

 

photo-by-jay-alley

13 Questions with Jay Alley; and responses in italics
1. Whom all do you professionally shoot for?
I have been the chief photographer for the ARCA Racing Series the last three seasons. I have also shot for Associated Press at race events at Talladega, Daytona and Atlanta. During May, I shoot for motorsport.com at Indianapolis for the Grand Prix and the 500. In 2017 I will also be shooting for motorsport.com at the Rolex 24 Hours and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

2. How old were you when you first got the photography bug?
I didn’t really get serious about photography until I had graduated from the University of Chicago so I was about 24 when I realized I had to get closer to the action at the Indy 500 and began to pursue the dream of being a professional photographer.

indy-500-early-race-by-jay-alley

3. What was your first camera; tell us about it.
I have a photo my parents took of me holding a Brownie camera when I was about 3 years old, so my interest started very early. My first really good 35 mm camera was a Canon A1 35 film camera which I bought new in 1983 at HPS Hoosier Photo in downtown Indy along with a used motor drive. It shot 5 frames per second and my son has that camera now.

4. Speak to your hobby as a high school sports referee. How is that parent monitoring thing going for you? Is it really like herding cats?
When I decided to change careers in 2009 and go back to school so I could get a teaching license, I knew there would be lean times so I got my basketball and soccer referee licenses to generate other income to help make ends meet. I have chosen to stick with mostly club and church leagues so the parents haven’t been too bad – except in soccer where I have had to tell a few to get out of my ear or get their own license and get on the pitch themselves. My first love is basketball so that’s what I concentrate on now and I gave up soccer last year as my racing schedule in spring and fall took most of my weekend time.

heidfeld-wreck-jay-alley

heidfeld-wreck-jay-alley

5. What is your actual day job?
As I said, I made a career change in 2009 to become a teacher. My teaching license has two endorsements, one in Social Studies and the other in Mathematics. I have been teaching Algebra and Economics in an adult high school called the Excel Center for the last two school years. I have basically been a full time teacher since 2010, first as a substitute when I was pursuing my initial license in May 2012. The Excel Centers are part of Goodwill Industries Educational Initiative and we are helping people by providing a second chance for their Indiana high school diploma.

6. Describe the competition between photogs to get that all important money shot.
I would call it a friendly competition as I think everyone understands we all have a job to do and our editors expect certain pictures to be delivered. Sometimes the competition does come out when trying to secure a preferred location to shoot so an “exclusive” angle can be obtained, but even then I have rarely had anyone deny me a rotation in a shooting spot. If I don’t get there first, then I have to just be more creative to get the shots I need. Then there’s the competition to be first during and after events, so the editing room can be kind of crazy when everyone is processing images to get them out to editors as fast as possible. First seems to be best nowadays.

indy-500-post-race-by-jay-alley

indy-500-post-race-by-jay-alley

7. Except for Marshall Pruett, what makes racing photogs so skinny? What track requires the most walking in a day?
Marshall is truly living the dream as a staffer for RACER Magazine so don’t go picking on him! I have never been fortunate enough to have a scooter or golf cart at a race track, so I always have to hoof it wherever I need to go. My all-time high for steps on a race day was over 23,000 at an ARCA race last summer. Combine the walking with the summer heat and lack of decent track food, those could contribute to an enforced diet of sorts. Road courses like Mid Ohio require a lot of walking and this year ARCA goes back to Road America so I know I will get a ton of steps there. The intermediate tracks (1.5 miles) like Chicagoland usually involve the most walking as there’s no direct way to get from one place inside the track to the outside, and I might walk the entire outside fence to find a spot where the angle of the sun and cars is just right. Good shoes are essential!

8. When is “crew call” on a typical race day?
For our ARCA officials meetings, we usually have to be at the track by 7:00 in the morning, even for a night race, so it is not unusual to be at the track until 1:00 the next morning after editing and filing has finally done, so 18 hour workdays are typical. At someplace like Indianapolis, I usually go in before the public gates open which means I am up by 4:00 a.m. and in the media center by 5:30 or so.

indy-400-race-action-by-jay-alley

indy-400-race-action-by-jay-alley

9. Have you ever been stuck in traffic on race morning?
That is my worst nightmare and I do actually have nightmares about missing the start of a race because I can’t get into the track or am stuck in traffic en route. Thankfully that has never actually happened but Indianapolis used to be the worst race morning to contend with as the credential gate on Georgetown Road would get jammed up with people without credentials who thought they could get in early. One year, several of us photographers had to get out of our stopped cars and beg State Troopers to get us moving before the public gates opened and we barely made it. No matter what track is involved, I always allow extra time to get inside and get parked; until then I am anxious as hell and that has paid off more than once.

10. Describe the daily photog meetings, are they required
I wish I had a dollar for all the photo meetings I’ve attended! Most tracks now require photographers to go through a safety briefing to get a photo vest that identifies us as media members, so usually someone from the sanctioning body (NASCAR, Indycar, etc.,) will run the meetings along with someone from the track staff. Safety requirements change sometimes, so we hear about areas that are acceptable for shooting and those which are off limits. There’s also the threat of credential revocation if you don’t follow the track or series photo rules, so even though I’ve probably heard the spiel a thousand times, the meetings are still important for the smooth and safe operation of a race event. We are quite often in dangerous trackside or pit positions so safety briefings like these meetings are absolutely necessary. I also appreciate the chance to meet series or track officials in person and put names with faces.

talladega-by-jay-alley

talladega-by-jay-alley

11. What music is on your playing device?
I love guitar oriented music so I have a lot of old school blues and rock on my iPod. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Deep Purple, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonnamassa, or Eric Gales feature prominently. However, I also like a lot of more recent music by bands like Evanescence, Skillet, Breaking Benjamin and Avenged Sevenfold. Hard and loud with some melody usually works for me. I will also admit to enjoying “The Voice” competition the last couple of years but I can’t stand country!

12. I was surprised to learn that your mother is a Sagamore of the Wabash recipient. When did she receive it and what were the circumstances behind her being selected.
Thank you so much for asking about her. My Mom, Reene Alley, God rest her soul, was honored with her Sagamore of the Wabash in June 1989 by Governor Evan Bayh. People outside of Indiana may not know that the Sagamore is the highest civilian honor that Indiana’s Governor can bestow so it was a big deal for our family, which has been in Indiana since the 1820’s, for Mom to receive that award. Mom was recognized as a trailblazer and significant contributor in education in Indiana as one of the first women to teach chemistry, physics and higher level mathematics in Indiana. She also held administrative positions such as principal at a time when very few women were being hired for those. She went back to school at Purdue in her 30’s to get her Masters in Mathematics and to Indiana University in her 40’s to get her Doctorate of Education in School Administration, so when I decided to go back to school at age 52, she had already blazed a path for me to follow. She finished her career as a professor at Akron University and Youngstown State University teaching doctoral students who wanted to be principals. Mom was also a huge race fan and loved going in to the 500 with us before the crack of dawn to experience the whole atmosphere. She passed away July 5, 2015 and I miss being able to call her when I am on the road.

photo-by-jay-alley

photo-by-jay-alley

13. What compelled you to shoot motorsport as opposed to say, shooting school kids pictures?
Anyone who is involved in racing would I’m sure tell you it gets in your blood. I always tell people I came by it naturally as I was born the day after Sam Hanks won the Indy 500 in 1957. My Mom’s dad, my Grandpa Jay (after whom I was named), barnstormed with Eddie Rickenbacker in the 1920’s so he loved racing and helped get a quarter-mile dirt track at the Kosciousko County Fairgrounds in Warsaw, Indiana built after World War II. He used to take me in the pits when I was no more than 4 years old and I have vivid memories of hanging on the board fence watching sprint cars or late models race there, and the sights, sounds and smells are what got me hooked. When my Dad took me to my first Indy 500 in 1970 for my 13th birthday, there was no turning back. Now, I still get a thrill from the physical aspects of racing that you can feel and experience through all of my senses. If my memory is bad sometimes, I tell people I have spent too much time in the sun breathing exhaust fumes at racetracks. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

Jay on the wrong side of the camera

Jay on the wrong side of the camera

 

So there, in a nutshell is another individual, working away to bring you motorsports as an art form.  I actually do enjoy shooting but I seldom get action  shots. I look more for the artsy fartzy approach to my shots and as a result I stage the shot and do not go after pans and stop action stuff. That remains way to complicated for my tired old brain! Funny in that Jay and I finally met many months after we started to engage on Twitter. It was in the garage area as I was escorting my fresh, out of school IT Intern, Mr. Brett Wehmiller. Jay was very approachable and once he mentioned blues music it was on like donkey kong! Nice guy to say the least so next time you are roaming around the circuit De Le Mans pour La 24 heures du Mans, look Jay up. He got the gem of all gem assignments and will be there this June. I remain a jealous man!

Jay Alley, GForcePaul and Brett

Jay Alley, GForcePaul and Brett

 

As always, thanks for stopping by and we will talk to you next time!

GForcePaul

 

Homologated Results from the NAIAS 2017 show

17 Jan
capture1

Credit IndyCar

While it looks like there is nothing to see here that is in a definitive design state, comments made by Mr. Jay Frye at the NAIAS 2017 lead one to believe that finally there is a distinct vision of where the IndyCar series is headed. This includes a statement as to where IndyCar wants to be in 5 years. And what a long wait it has been for that to finally manifest itself! Make no mistake; this off season is like no other that I can recall in 30 years of following this sport closely. For once there was the schedule wrapped up and it was actually posted to multiple media outlets shortly after the conclusion of the 2016 season. This has to be the earliest that the schedule was communicated to the fan base sine the infamous split back in the 90’s! With the release of the television broadcast schedule I am very pleased to see not only date equity in the schedule but broadcast slot equity as well. Now that has to help tremendously with the task of rebuilding the sport’s interest and as the 800 pound gorilla known as NASCAR sees falling numbers, this can only benefit IndyCar. Now if we can just get those elusive additional manufacturers in place……

http://www.indycar.com/~/media/IndyCar/News/Other/2017/01/01-12-New-2018-Car-Concept-Sketches-HIRES

As last week began to unwind, more news came out of the NAIAS that made me rather sad and at the same time made me realize that speed growth (i.e. new track records) are not in the immediate future. After reading the comments and thought process behind this as espoused by Mr. Frye, I again agree with his logic of measured growth and a slower operational tempo. Will the racing still be fabulous? Most certainly! Will the speed records fall like shattered glass? No, not so much. The details as brought to you by Motorsport.com:

http://www.motorsport.com/indycar/news/indy-500-focus-will-be-on-racing-not-outright-speed-865309/

 

Honestly, I am good with this. As one that has hiked darn near every square inch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I have seen cars go by a speed, under speed and no speed at all. I have to agree with Mr. Frye that the quality of the racing product is more important at this time then the overall speed of the product. The focus on downforce being generated from the floor surfaces of the car as opposed to being generated by the pieces of body work will definitely make passing easier. This was my only complaint from races during last season; cars could gain on the guy ahead, it was just too difficult to complete a pass due to all the turbulence. These drawings presented at the auto show indicate that being held back by dirty air may become a thing of the past. My take on all of it? I think these cars have an Indy Lights pedigree and I am working up a froth just thinking about the appearance of the final race car.

Finally, of note:

I caught this little gem last week pushed out to the twitterverse I believe by IndyCarPR so dust off thoise resumes. While I am in IT, I just do not have that strong enough background in Project Management. Also, at the age of 62, I think I will keep my current day job.

http://indianapolismotorspeedway.teamworkonline.com/teamwork/r.cfm?i=107700

As always, thanks for stopping by and of course, we will talk to you next time!

 

GForcePaul

The rat race behind the race:

10 Jan

Installment 1

IndyCar Mechanic Grant Bentrud

When I first trotted out those words, I would imagine that they were taken incorrectly or at least, out of context. You see, I wrote them on December 22, 2016 in a twitter post beamed at @IndyCar, @tonydizinno, @IMS and @IndyCarPR. They are four of my favorite follows on Twitter as that social media platform is where I go to get current motorsport news and links. I mean, red hot, while it happens current news from all sorts of motorsport. That makes things a whole lot easier when I finally flip on the TV to take in the current weekend’s televised racing event because I am ‘up to speed’ and ready to sit back and crack open a cold one. So, what exactly was my intent with that tweet? What would put into context the rat race behind the race? Allow me to digress.

 

grant-and-gforcepaul

Grant and Gforcepaul

In a previous life, I came across an opportunity to become involved in the televised production of live events for the fledgling Indy Racing League. This should give you an idea of just how long ago that was. Being that up close and personal with the sounds and smell of speed allowed me to draw some conclusions about just how hard this endeavor really is. Believe me, it has many moving parts and synchronization is a highly soft after goal. But what I did take away from the experience was the appreciation of the various interests and talents involved in the weekly circus called racing.

 

It wasn’t until I had been out of the racing production involvement for a while that I came across a fellow blues music lover. We met one evening at an open stage night in some dive bar on the west side of Indy and I enjoyed his harmonica playing.  For the purposes of this article, we will refer to this musical instrument as a harp. (Bear with me a moment as this will all tie together shortly and I can see that your eyes are already glazing over a bit). Anyway, this gent and I started a conversation about what each other did for a living and I said I.T. work and such. He mentioned he was a mechanic and I asked if he worked at a dealership. Without skipping a beat he said Honda. After some conversing on this topic we parted ways after doing a quick set.

98-car

Contemplating speed

Later on last spring I made a trip to the hallowed grounds of IMS to take in early loading in for the IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis and cruised through the garage area. Lo and behold, there toiling away was this “Honda Mechanic” working on a non-descript car that I determined to be the 98 car! Believe me, we had done several open mic nights and sets of blues since that first meeting so it was quite a surprise seeing him performing his day job. We engaged a bit and neither of us had any idea that he would be involved in the most memorable Indianapolis 500 finish in its 100th running. Everybody knows how that ended so I have no need opine here. I do, however, want you to get to know a little more about the guy they call Grant Bentrud. So, without further ado, a quick “A Baker’s Dozen Probing Questions and BS With:”

 

A Baker’s Dozen Probing Questions and BS With: Grant Bentrud

  1. What’s on your music playing device?
    Tony Joe White, Waylon Jennings, Shelby Lynne, Roy Buchanan, The Allman Brothers, Climax Blues Band, Mountain, Jessie Winchester, J.J. Cale, mostly artists that started in the sixties and seventies, they seem to mix country, rock, soul and blues into their sound.

 

  1. When did you first turn a wrench?
    When I was 12 my best friend’s dad got us involved in SCCA, he ran a Elva Mk VII in sports D class, we crewed for him at Road America, Donnybrook which is called Brainered International Raceway now. My dad got his first snowmobile when I was 7 and I did alot of wrenching on those when I was teenager.

 

  1. How do you rally the troops when the shoe wads it up in turn 3?

We got a great group of guy’s, we don’t think twice about getting our hustle on to get the car back on the track, it’s what we do, we’re proud of it!

Headed off to work

NAPA 90

4. Tell us a story about who it was that helped you the most to get to this position?

The Archer Brothers in Duluth Minnesota gave me my first job on a professional team, we ran in SCCA Trans Am and World Challenge. They were great, we would start every morning with a meeting in the conference room and they wanted everyone’s input, made us feel like we contributed more than just turning wrenches.

5. You have a very interesting off season hobby, don’t you?

My son and I race vintage snowmobiles on an ice oval track up in Michigan, it’s a 5 race series in January and February, it’s a blast!

winter-hobby

Warming up at 10 below?

 

6.  Do you have any siblings? What is the meanest thing you did to them as a kid?
I have 3 sisters and 1 brother. My brother, being the youngest probably got the brunt of meanness, but he was a sturdy kid and I think he handled everything that us older kids gave him pretty well.

Speeding into turn 1 with a severe push

Speeding into turn 1 with a severe push

 

7.   What is your favorite track to race an Indy car at?

There’s no place like Indy! It’s in a league of its own, but after that I would say the classic road racing tracks like Road America and the Glen, Sonoma to name a few, they’re made for racing and have an amazing history of cars and drivers and I just feel at home in places like that

7.  I know that in addition to blowing a harp, you also strum a little guitar. Anybody else in the paddock that you have jammed with? Who are they?

Aleshin plays guitar, I’ve asked him to come to jam night and he seemed interested, but no I haven’t had the chance to jam with anyone else in the series.

mechanics

9.  At what point in the race did you feel your team had the 2016 Indianapolis 500 win wrapped up and in the bag?

Well up until the last few seconds it seemed Munoz had a chance to catch us, we were coasting and he was full throttle! So it was a big relief when it was obvious that he couldn’t catch Rossi.

10  Who is the funniest guy or gal in the paddock?

Hmmm I don’t know of anyone getting offers from SNL

11.  In an earlier conversation you mentioned that you enjoyed sports car wrenching. Why?

Well my first several years in racing was with tube framed cars and I really enjoyed the fabrication that was needed, with the carbon fiber Indy cars I don’t get to do a lot of fabrication.

12.  Blues, Rock or R n B music. Which one rates highest on your list?

The bluesy sound of the Allman Brothers playing Stormy Monday is number 1.

13.  I hear that you are a Veteran. How was that experience?

It was such an honor to swear in and have the opportunity to serve my country, even though it was over 30 years ago I’m still honored to have that experience. I’m still in touch with some of the guys I served with.

speed

Shew! I had no idea that wrenching for a race team had so many moving parts! It is also very fortunate for us that these man and women that toil so diligently pay some kind of serious attention to detail. Early on during the month of May in 2016 I had a chance to share with Grant that while I enjoy and appreciate the skills of say, a team strategist, a huge helping of my appreciation is heaped on the wrenches. You see, while a strategist may help win a race, the wrenches actually KEEP THE DRIVER ALIVE. Ponder that thought the next time you visit a race track of your choice. And remember, if you watch racing you are just a viewer. If you GO to a race track, you really are a fan. So the next time you are at the track, tip your hat to the guy or gal with grease under their fingers; they are helping keep someone alive!

 

 

As always, thanks for stopping by and we will talk to you next time!

 

GForcePaul

Starting to get the “itch”

7 Jan

Wheldon Way

I am finishing up the final touches on the first installment of The Rat Race Behind The Race and cannot wait to share it with you! Look for this post to hit on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 and feature one of the many hard working wrenches in the IndyCar paddock. We will address such hard hitting topics as “how did you get here” and my favorite topic, “whats on your music playing device”.

In the mean time, here is a small snippet of action from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as cars draft and dodge and search for that elusive extra 10th of a second. This is from May 19, 2016 and shows the frantic pace of activity we enjoyed the entire month of May at the 100th running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Thanks for stopping by and of course, we will talk to you next time!

GForcePaul

What Will 2017 Bring?

1 Jan

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and good bye to 2016.

credit-marshall-pruett

Rossi Wins a Stunner!

 

A new year brings hope and renewed energy, as well as new dreams. It seems like only yesterday that this surprise of the century happened right in my own backyard.

We plan so many new things for this little spot in the blogosphere, including a new series about those that support racing events at tracks around the country. Did you ever wonder what being a team mechanic involves? What is a day at the track like for a professional photographer? How does all of that information from pit road make it to your television screen? Stay tuned because we will be exploring “The Rat Race Behind The Race“. Plan on Wideopen Wheel doing the digging out of facts and information that will shed light on these pressing questions in 2017. The first installment will feature “A Baker’s Dozen Questions and BS With:” and highlight someone in this picture (credit Marshall Pruett).

To get those IndyCar juices flowing again (St Pete race is only 10 weeks away!), hit this link to start revving up.

 

Stay tuned and, as always, thanks for stopping by and we will see you next time!

 

GForcePaul

Brainstorming; Finding The Next Generation of IndyCar Fan

28 Sep
Push to WHAT?

Push to WHAT?

As the off season rolls onward, I like to start posting on the ‘ol blog again. Typically, I leave the season reporting and opinionating to the ‘professional’ blogging word smiths. I always say “why put up my second best to their best efforts?” and enjoy the season. There is only so much one can write about a race and provide true insight, hence I take a back seat to my fellow bloggers.

Today, I want to begin my off season musings with a repost of an article I wrote for the current Dean of IndyCar Bloggers, George Phillips of Oilpressure Blog. A few months back he had asked me to cover an episode for him called “Brainstorming”. I had a few ideas about putting butts in seats so I decided to provide the below transcript of that post. From George’s blog dated July 27, 2015.

My first exposure to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was as an eighth grader, spending some quality time with my father on an all-day field trip. We drove from northern Indiana down to Indianapolis and the speedway that day to experience qualifications. Little did I know that seeing the wedge shaped, brilliant hot red STP turbine cars would become my version of crack. All I knew was that afterward, I had ringing ears from the screaming Novis¹, tingling fingers from gripping my seat and the aroma of high speed rated industrial lubricants swirling through my nasal passages. In short, for some reason I did not want the day to end.

Fast forward 30 years, if you will. I am pulling my 6 year old son around the speedway in his red Radio Flyer. Strolling through the newly relocated snake pit in turn 4, I realize that in a few more years the gentrification of all snake pit activities at IMS will be in full swing. One would think that my son, who now is in the sweet spot of that all-important marketing demographic, would be a bigger motor head than I. Not close, folks; not even close.
What makes up the difference between the current crop of open wheel racing fan and the ones that roamed the hallowed grounds of 16th and Georgetown back in the 70’s and 80’s? Geese, there must be a gazillion differences! Kids today (read; new millennial marketing demographic) have very little interest in anything automotive. To my point, Uber makes far more sense than car payments, insurance and ad valorem taxes. Just ask any millennial which they would prefer and be prepared to be shocked. Frankly, I am just stating the facts here. For a brief, technical info graphic on the topic of New Millennials, hit this link that is brought to you by Goldman Sachs. It is a great summary and comes off as Millennials 101.

http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/millennials/

So here is the crux of the problem; how to involve, engage and ensnare the next generation of IndyCar fans? How does one go about harvesting all that soon to be disposable cash that the largest, single generation since we baby boomers, will supposedly have? Well….I certainly have a few ideas! Let’s start with the presumption that we are not just selling the race. We are going to MARKET to this generation that couldn’t care less about cars and motor sport, and we are going to be very successful in doing so.

The Vegas Effect:

Las Vegas offers and sells one thing and one thing only; games of chance. I do not care if the gambling hall (casino) is red, purple or black; nor do I care if they are an oval casino, an urban located casino or a natural terrain casino. All a casino is offering is games of chance. In fact, the only thing Vegas really has to offer is a game of chance. Get my point? Each casino has as its manifest, the goal of separating you from your cash, because, as we all know, the only thing that stays in Vegas …..drum roll please….is YOUR MONEY.

So how do they succeed? I don’t recall much in the news lately informing me that Vegas seems to be running out of visitors. So how did they differentiate and separate from one another? As an example, the older casino, Circus Circus, pandered to people with children. An encompassing circus theme, complete with actual circus acts running 24/7 made it easier for both mommy and daddy to try their hand at games of chance, all the while making it a “family” vacation. I believe they call that marketing.
Vegas also was very successful in playing the E card; big name entertainment galore. These acts do not have their access fee rolled up into one big casino visit price tag. They are add on value to the cost of the room, which of course, is located pretty near the gaming tables. Say you get hungry while happily being parted from your money. How about we open a buffet line? Why not locate that buffet line in close proximity to the gaming tables? Yeah, let’s do that as it makes pretty good sense.
So now we have a city that offers only one true product, wrapped within several other products that contribute to the differentiation of one gaming house from the next one. As Charlie Sheen used to mumble: WINNING!

The Speedway Effect:

I want to go and see a race but my spouse and son couldn’t care less. But I DO know that my spouse is hell-bent on seeing a good DJ or nationally famous band and dancing the afternoon away. How about we set up a KILLER mosh pit with more than just one internationally famous DJ? Smoke, fire and a BIG show? Heck yeah! Park that puppy smack in the middle of the short shoot, just behind the (insert your favorite light beer brand here) Party Deck. Now, I admit that this is not a new idea. I just want to take a more aggressive approach with the musical act and the possibilities because as I have learned, these Millennials are not coming to the speedway just for the cars.

My son is pretty geeked about virtual reality. I have discovered that Millennials tend to shun reality anyway! That being the case, consider fulfilling one of his wants. He wants to try his hand at competing with the cars on the track and the drivers IN REAL TIME. After all, life is one big virtual reality to the Millennials anyway. I will bet you lunch every Monday for a year that Verizon could “hook him up” with the technology in a tent somewhere on the premises, for a value added on fee of course!

I have a friend that is interested in cars but not all that much in watching them go around in circles all day. I do know he and his spouse are back to nature types that love being outdoors and camping. His wife is not all that rustic a camper (actually her idea of the wilderness is a paved parking lot without any lines painted on it yet). However, they are intrigued with Glamping, but without all that glam. Stick them on the golf course, out of sight of the glamorous campers, but do not deny them the experience. Don’t relegate them to the Coke lot with all the crazies! They have cash to spend so…..

Everybody I come into contact with that discovers I have, in a previous life, been involved in the television production of motorsport mistakenly believe that that must have been a glamorous activity. To a man and woman, they are smitten with the idea of behind the scenes access. This is the last commodity that has not really been exploited with the exception of the Bronze Badge program. I can take that one step further and for no more capital outlay, you grant access to true behind the scenes locations. Why not open a viewing window next to Race Control so the masses can see the decision makers hard at work? I would consider going even further. Open the side of one of the television broadcast control trailers in the TV compound and include that on the tour called “Behind the Scenes at Indy”. Send folks up the pagoda to enjoy the magnificent view next to the team spotters. Then, enter a chance to win and be present at Victory Lane at the end of the race. Exploit, Exploit, EXPLOIT!

Since the Millennials are bane to drive, let alone own an automobile, how would they even get to the track? Not to answer a question with a question but; how come there are not any Uber or Lyft lines and designated drop off points? Stage them in the north lot since the number of cars coming to the speedway should, in theory at least, be diminishing over time. Refer back to the infographic if this point seems fuzzy.

The Food Effect:

Last but not least, I like food. I mean, I really, REALLY like food. Keep your current line-up of tenderloin fry houses sprinkled about the hallowed grounds. Give up on the caterer brought in to give Jugs a run for their money, charging out-of-sight prices for a very average tenderloin. I WANT TO SEE A BUFFET LINE, centrally located and opened from sun-up to sun-down. Make the hungry masses come to you and just keep changing out the hotel pans on the hot line. I would venture an uneducated guess that Jonathan Byrd and family would like a piece of that action. I would just advise a menu slated towards the highbrow Millennial taste buds.
I would like to end this tirade of mine with a question to the other tracks and events out there. Why did it take the promotional arm of the Andretti organization several years to put a beer garden inside of the fairgrounds facility in Milwaukee during race weekend? Do you think it was well received this year? Do you think any of these ideas have validity? I certainly do. So hey Mr. Miles, got a minute? I have an idea…..

Footnote(1):
In consultation with an acquaintance of mine it was discovered that there were not any Novi’s at Indy in 1968. Specifically, he wrote the following when being given an opportunity to review my draft. Chuck Walden wrote:
A technical point that I must point out as I’m sure some of your readers will know this: there were no Novis at the track in 1968. The last Novi to lap the hallowed course did so in 1966 with Greg Weld at the wheel. When he hit the wall on the final day of ‘66 quals, Andy Granatelli was already planning/building the first turbine which appeared in 1967 and he reluctantly moth-balled the Novi. However, there were a variety of engines in 1968 to make your ears ring: Turbocharged Offenhausers, Turbocharged Fords, Normally aspirated racing Fords and Offys, Stock block Fords, Repco powered Brabhams, and I think there may have been a stock block Chevy or two on the entry list as well. And of course, Granatelli had his turbines and the Shelby turbines were there as well (at least briefly.) 1968 was one of the most varied entry lists in the history of IMS in terms of equipment. Unfortunately, just no Novis.

So, having said all of that, as always thanks for stopping by! Lots to go over this off season so let’s make it appoint to talk to you next time!

GForcePaul