Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 31, 2021

2021 Indianapolis 500 Amazing Facts & Figures

Helio Castroneves enjoys his fourth Indy 500 milk bath

INDIANAPOLIS

Helio Castroneves won the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday for the fourth time, which tied him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for the most victories by one driver in the 105 years of Indy 500 history. But did you know he has also finished second three times and third once?

Castroneves’ runnerup finishes were .22 of a second behind, .06 and .20 – three losses by a total of less than a half-second!

Top threes are considered “podium” finishes in IndyCar racing, even though there is no three-driver podium at Indy, as there is at other tracks. (Unser had an unprecedented 11 top threes at Indy, in case you are wondering who rules that category.)

Some other facts and figures about Castroneves’ amazing achievement, and the race in general:

Castroneves won $1,828,305 from a prize money pool of $8,854,565.

It was the fastest Indianapolis 500 ever run, with an astonishing average speed of 190.690 mph over the 200 laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile “Brickyard” oval. The race only took 2 hours, 37 minutes! (Tony Kanaan held the previous record of 2:40, 187.433 mph, in winning in 2013.)

There were only two caution periods, for a total of 18 laps. And there were no cautions from lap 124 to the end, which is also a record for continuous green flag running to the finish. And that is the reason any drivers who were counting on a caution period to slow the race, to help them with fuel mileage, were basically out of luck. (Takuma Sato led up until about 15 miles to go, hoping he would get lucky with a late yellow, like he had in winning the year before. Not this time.)

Castroneves led the race on seven different occasions for a total of 20 laps, including laps 199 and 200 – when it counted most. There were 35 lead changes among a total of 13 different drivers; television viewers missed many of those because NBC was in some commercial break or other.

Castroneves’ margin of victory over Alex Palou was .4928 of a second. A popular photo of them less than a car length apart at the finish line was not taken on the last lap.

Palou led five different times for 29 laps, including laps 196-198 when he passed Castroneves briefly. Palou drove with a splint on one hand, a reminder of a practice crash that broke a pinkie finger and nearly destroyed his car. That his crew was able to rebuild it so expertly that it nearly won the race is a tribute to them. Palou retained the IndyCar season point standings lead with his runnerup finish.

One car length behind Palou, in third place, was 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud (.56 of a second behind Castroneves). Pagenaud said he was catching the leaders so quickly, he felt could have taken the lead with one more lap. He had been one of a dozen or so top contenders who ran out of fuel early in the race when a pit road accident closed it off; he was the only one of that group able to race his way back into contention.

Fourth place finisher Pato O’Ward said he nearly crashed in the final turn, making an all-out effort to catch the leaders. Instead, he had to let Pagenaud go past.

Ed Carpenter survived stalling his engine during one pit stop, and getting the transmission locked in a wrong gear for a time to rally for fifth.

“Super Santino” Ferrucci, who suffered a leg injury in a practice crash, was caught up in the same pit road blockage that affected Pagenaud, pole winner and pre-race favorite Scott Dixon and others. But he came back to finish sixth, and recorded the race’s fastest lap, 227.345 mph in the process. That was about three mph faster than the next fastest driver. In three 500 starts, he’s now finished a laudable fourth, seventh and sixth.

Rookie of the Year honors went to 20th place finisher Scott McLaughlin, who beat out Pietro Fittipaldi, who came in 25th. McLaughlin ran among the leaders all day until having to make an extra fuel stop near the end.

The race’s only female driver, Simona De Silvestro ended up 31st (she had started 33rd, dead last) after spinning her car on pit road late in the race. Only three cars dropped out of the race – all due to pit road miscues; Stefan Wilson caused the pit road closure early in the race when he spun into the pit wall. Graham Rahal had a tire come off – it had not been properly installed – when leaving the pits.

The other 30 cars were still running at the finish, including 22 that were still on the lead lap. There were no mechanical breakdowns – also an Indy 500 first! An incredible feat for Indy’s fastest field.

The crowd of 135,000 was the largest crowd for a sporting event anywhere in the world, since the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020. “We had applications for 60,000 more tickets,” said speedway owner Roger Penske. “But we limited ourselves to 135 this year, to keep things as controlled as possible. Next year, we hope to be wide open.” The speedway supposedly has sufficient capacity for 250,000 or more attendees.

Jerry Garrett

May 31, 2021

Helio Castroneves takes his 4th Indianapolis 500 checkered flag

INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves raced his way into Indianapolis 500 immortality Sunday with a record-tying fourth victory, with a half-second margin over Alex Palou, in the fastest race in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 112-year history.

“You know, you see Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl, Phil Mickelson winning the P.G.A. Championhip, now me winning Indy – the old guys are still kicking it,” a joyous Castroneves said. “The young guys aren’t knocking us off yet.”

Castroneves passed Palou, 24 and in just his second race here, with a gutsy outside move, going into turn one with two laps left. He managed to hold on, as they came up on slower traffic on the final lap, with Palou dogging his every move. Third place went to 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud, another car length back; he out-foxed Pato O’Ward in the final corner, and Ed Carpenter.

“It hurt,” said Palou, the Spaniard who drove an otherwise masterful race, “but it hurt in a nice way. It was a learning experience.” Palou’s consolation was that he maintains a sizable lead in IndyCar’s season standings.

The 46-year-old Brazilian, who was let go last season after two decades with Team Penske, revived his career with this one-off gamble, driving this race in an untested car for series newcomer Meyer Shank Racing.

“Finally,” Castroneves said, after jumping out of his car, and climbing the fence – as was his custom after his first three victories in 2001, 2002 and 2009 – along the front straightaway, waving jubilantly to the crowd of 135,000 – the world’s largest sports crowd since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown a year ago.

Castroneves joined A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the race’s only four-time winners. He has also finished runnerup three times.

He said losing those three races taught him how to win this one, especially the 2014 event when Ryan Hunter-Reay pipped him by .02 of a second at the end.

“I love Indianapolis, and the fans – their love gives me energy,” said the fan-fave Castroneves, whose every move to the front was met by raucous cheers, waving arms and standing fans. “I could see them. I could hear them, even through my helmet and I knew we could do it together. I knew it was going to be a fight to the finish, and I was going to have to put my elbows out.”

Castroneves traded the point with youngsters Palou, O’Ward, Rinus Veekay and Colton Herta much of the race.

“I knew I had the pace to win, but the whole race was so intense,” Castroneves said. “From the drop of the green flag, it was a fight.”

The race hit its first plot twist during the first round of pit stops, starting at lap 30. Half the field had made their regular stops, while the other half tried to stretch their fuel economy to the limit. That strategy back-fired when Stefan Wilson crashed on pit road – closing it off. Those still out on course, like former 500 champs Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Tony Kanaan, Pagenaud and others, were unable to make their planned pit stops – and ran out of fuel. Before they could get re-started and re-fueled, they each lost more than a lap, knocking those pre-race favorites out of contention.

In the next segment, the vaunted “youth movement” that has turned IndyCar’s established order on its head so far this season installed themselves at the front of the field: Indianapolis native Conor Daly, 29, moved to the lead ahead of Veekay, 20, followed by O’Ward, 22, Herta, 21, and Palou, a relative oldtimer at 24.

Despite their raw speed, however, another key factor – fuel mileage – was starting to come into play. Race-proven veterans like Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, two-time winner Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal were wisely stretching an extra lap or two – or more – out of every tankful; factored out to the end, they were hopeful of having to make one fewer fuel stop than the rabbits up front. That would be savings as much as three-quarters of a lap.

Generally speaking, it seemed the drivers powered by Honda engines like Castroneves were getting better mileage than the Chevrolet runners. But at the 300-mile mark, fuel mileage was taken somewhat out of the equation when Rahal, the fuel economy champ to that point, lost his left rear wheel after a pit stop and that caused him to crash; Daly clobbered the loose wheel. That brought out a yellow caution flag that bunched the field, jumbled the order and neutralized the best fuel strategies.

“We had ‘em,” said a dejected Rahal afterward. “I mean we had it figured out.”

His teammate Sato, however, was still on the same strategy and was hopeful of cashing in. He was leading when he pitted with just five laps to go. Last year, a similar strategy – gambling on a late caution period to allow him to stretch his fuel to the end – won him the race. Alas, this year’s race went the final 76 of the 200 laps caution-free – a record.

Other fuel mileage hopefuls were Dixon, who managed to un-lap himself during Rahal’s yellow, and Josef Newgarden.

But in the end, the pace of the lead trio ran them all out of fuel. Castroneves averaged an astonishing 190.960 mph, to win the race in just two hours, 37 minutes – just beating Kanaan’s 2013 record. The margin of victory was officially .49 of a second over Palou, and .56 over Pagenaud.

Asked if he was now satisfied in his quest for Indy wins, Castroneves answered, “Hell no. We will be back next year to try for No. 5.”

Jerry Garrett

May 30, 2021

(Please note: A version of this story ran in https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/30/sports/autoracing/Indy-500-helio-castroneves.htmlThe New York Times on May 30, 2021)

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 25, 2021

After 60 Years, A Prodigal Corvette Finds Its Way Home

This is a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette. Really. (RM)


AMELIA ISLAND, Florida

The strange, serendipitous, 60-year-long saga of a historically significant but long-missing 1960 Chevrolet Corvette finally reached a measure of closure Saturday with its sale for a somewhat disappointing $685,000 “hammer price” at a court-ordered auction here. A sales commission of about 10 percent brought the “drive-off” price to $785,500. 

The auctioneers, RM Sotheby’s, had a pre-auction estimate $900,000-$1,300,000 for the no-reserve sale. But that was not the final surprise in this twisted tale: The winning bidder, whose identity, as is customary, was not officially announced; but amateur sleuths discovered it was none other than the grandson of the man who originally owned it: sportsman Briggs Cunningham. Brian Cunningham is a Lexington, Ky., car dealer and collector who already owns more than one of his famed grandfather’s race cars.

Unfortunate victim of amateur body work

Corvette racing aficionados hold this so-called Cunningham Corvette in special regard since it had vanished for nearly a half century after its star-crossed debut at the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans race. It has been the subject of seemingly endless legal twists and turns, and acrimonious confrontations since its chance re-discovery in 2011. 

This car was one of three identical blue-on-white Corvettes – numbered 1, 2 and 3 – which comprised the “Briggs Cunningham team” of 1960 coupes sent with sub-rosa Chevrolet factory support to contest the French endurance classic. Although this particular car, the #1 driven by Briggs Cunningham himself, and a team car crashed and burned in the race while running up front, the remaining team entrant soldiered on to win its class – a milestone in Corvette racing annals. 

The three-car Briggs Cunningham team on the 1960 LeMans grid

Chevrolet couldn’t make much hay out of its accomplishment because the effort had been set up by rogue employees, in defiance of a corporate ban on racing. So after the race, the cars were quietly sold off to private parties. It took until the 1990s for sleuths to figure out the cars’ secret Vehicle Identification Numbers. Two were then easy to find, were restored to their former glory, and ended up with Corvette enthusiast Lance Miller, of Carlisle, Pa. Miller arranged for a lavish, nostalgic return to Le Mans for a 50-year-anniversary Lap of Honor in 2010 for the extant two cars and one of the original winning drivers, John Fitch, then 92. 

The third Corvette, as it turned out, had been purchased by a South Florida amateur sports car racer, who inexplicably commissioned a crude re-shaping of the Corvette’s fiberglass body into something resembling a 1950-ish Zagato gran turismo. A 1970s-era V8, believed to be from a Pontiac, was also installed. It then found its way to a Tampa area drag racer who painted it purple. 

But Miller and his restoration expert Kevin Mackay, of Valley Stream, N.Y., thought they had made the discovery of a lifetime when they responded to a newspaper ad for a “Zagato-bodied Pontiac prototype” that turned out to have the VIN of the missing Corvette. They eagerly bought the misshapen monstrosity from the purported owner, who couldn’t find the title, on a bill of sale.

Junkyard dog Pontiac V8

On the eve of its much-ballyhooed public unveiling in Carlisle they were interrupted by police, armed with a Florida title and a stolen vehicle report. The now-deceased drag racer’s son, a retired policeman, claimed it had been purloined from his dad’s yard many years earlier. 

A complicated legal battle ensued. Miller wanted out of the controversy and sold his interest to Mackay, who vowed to fight to the end. 

Along the way, the drag racer’s son, an Indiana car dealer, a self-described Florida “treasure hunter” and others all asserted an interest in the car. At least three of them subsequently experienced financial difficulties which also brought their creditors into the picture. And it all culminated with a frustrated judge ordering the sale of the car, with proceeds to be divided among the claimants, and a clear title to be issued to the winning bidder. 

Uh…where do I begin?

Mackay, who retained rights to a 30 percent share of the proceeds, declared it the “end of a long road” for the Corvette’s identity crisis. He predicted the car would eventually be restored and take its rightful place in history with its other two pristine teammates.

(Please note: A version of this story appeared in The New York Times, May 23, 2021)

Jerry Garrett

May 24, 2021

A tattered souvenir postcard shows Cyrus Patschke working on his Acme prior to the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup, flanked by admirers. This is one of the few photos of him known to exist.

INDIANAPOLIS

Cyrus Patschke was a co-winner of the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Until he wasn’t.

Patschke was a driver of the winning car – of that there is no doubt. And he was just 21 that day, which would still rank him – all these years later – as the youngest driver ever to win the Indy 500. But, Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s records don’t even mention his name.

Why not? It took some modern digging in old, almost forgotten records to find the surprising answer.

The young phenom had signed on to share driving duties with Ray Harroun in the Marmon Wasp. Harroun, himself only 32, had nevertheless retired at the end of the previous season; he didn’t want to race at all anymore. And he certainly didn’t want to drive the new 500-mile “International Sweepstakes” – it wasn’t called the Indianapolis 500 yet – because it was an extreme distance in those days, and considerably farther than he’d ever raced before.

“I don’t know if it possible for one man to drive for that long, at such a pace,” Harroun complained. However, when his car owner, Howard Marmon, told him Patschke wanted to be his co-driver, Harroun brightened. “You can get Cyrus Patschke?”

Patschke, about 19 here, was just 21 when he raced at Indy.

Harroun knew who Patschke was; he had raced against him back east. Though only racing a couple of years, Patschke already had notched some impressive victories for Acme, Stearns and Lozier in important endurance races. He was a regular in the Vanderbilt Cup and the “speed king” of the wildly popular Brighton Beach 24-hour races; he and Ralph Mulford had co-driven to a record-smashing victory there in 1909; Patschke won there again in 1910 with a different co-driver. Later in 1911, Patschke would also win a shorter doubleheader there.

Several teams preparing for the 500 had tried to hire Patschke, who had a reputation as steady-handed, iron-nerved and bullet-quick. Benz was trying to sign him for their third team car, right up until practice began. But Patschke preferred the Marmon team of Harroun, the 1910 national champion, and Joe Dawson.

Patschke racing the Acme

Harroun, a clever engineer and innovator, had designed the first and only single-seat race car, the Wasp, just for Indy-type racing. Every other team entered in the 500-miler was a wobbly-looking, modified passenger car, with a second seat for a “mechanician”. Harroun considered the riding mechanic superfluous, and he reasoned that with the extra seat eliminated, he could make the Wasp narrow enough to give it a significant aerodynamic advantage. Fellow competitors protested the Wasp violated the spirit of the new race’s then poorly defined rules and would be unsafe without someone onboard to spot nearby cars. (Harroun installed a rear-view mirror to shut them up).

Patschke never even got to practice in the Wasp, because he arrived in town barely in time for the race. He was delayed because he had just eloped with a girl in his hometown of Lebanon, Pa. He had returned from his honeymoon, dropped his new wife off with his mother for a week, and told her, “I’m off to drive in a new endurance race in Indianapolis for Mr. Howard Marmon.”

If Patschke is in this pre-race drivers photo, please point him out. (IMS)

Harroun, the Wasp’s “driver of record”, started the car and planned to drive it at a conservative pace to preserve his tires. He calculated that over the race’s full distance he would have to make fewer pit stops to change rubber than the hard chargers. But the plan didn’t work as well as Harroun hoped, and after just 150 or miles, he had fallen so far behind the leaders he was no longer even on the lead lap.

Harroun pitted for tires after the 160th mile, exhausted and dispirited, in seventh place.

“I was about all in,” Harroun revealed afterward to an Indianapolis Star reporter. “A man never gets tired in a race when he’s ahead. It’s when he is behind that the wear and tear tells on him.” He turned the Wasp over to Patschke, told him to forget about the conservative pace, and to go as hard as he could after the leaders.

“I’ll give it back to you in first place,” Patschke reportedly promised Harroun.

Most in the crowd failed to notice a new driver had taken over, when the Wasp left the pits. “The car was far behind the leaders at the time,” the reporter wrote. “However, when the Wasp flashed by the grand stand again, there was a shout of approval from hundreds of throats, ‘Harroun is beating it right!’”

Despite Patschke’s unfamiliarity with the Wasp, “he and the car made friends rapidly,” the reporter added.

Incessant smoke from the castor oil fuel often obscured who was driving.

“The Wasp continued to tear off the miles,” the dispatch continued. “Car after car was passed by the flying Wasp and the spectators were wildly excited.” They would soon be startled to learn Harroun was not the driver.

Within 40 miles of driving, Patschke was challenging leader David Bruce-Brown’s Fiat. “At the 200-mile mark, Patschke was traveling just one second slower than the record for that distance,” the report continued. “In the 249th mile, Patschke flashed by with Bruce-Brown in close pursuit.”

“Patschke’s eighty mile spin was one of the best exhibitions of fast driving ever seen on the speedway,” read another report. “The Wasp responded gallantly to Patschke’s call for more speed.” It was at this point, Patschke handed the Wasp back over to the “rejuvenated” Harroun.

“A man never gets tired driving in a race when he’s ahead,” Harroun said with his “Mona Lisa” smile. “When I got back in, with the lead secured, then it was easy.”

Harroun at speed (IMS)

But Patschke’s heroics didn’t end with the Wasp drive; he then relieved Marmon’s other driver, Dawson, and got that two-seat passenger car version up to second place behind Harroun – Marmons running one-two!

“For a while there, it looked as though Patschke would have had a hand in driving both the first and second place finishers!” raved a racing official. “He deserves a lot of credit for keeping both cars up there.” With three laps to go, the car suffered a punctured radiator that slowed it to fifth; it was not clear who was driving at the end.

Patschke never had a bobble; he had no flat tires (Mulford, the race’s runner-up, had to change 14!); he drove relentlessly. It was a virtuoso performance. Newspapers raved about his “spellbinding mastery” and “lightning speed.”

After the runnerup Mulford publicly conceded victory, he graciously recognized the “co-winners” and offered “full credit to Ray Harroun and Cyrus Patschke for their great victory.”

Harroun acknowledged that winning the race was definitely a two-man job and that he could not have done it without Patschke’s “spectacular” stint behind the wheel. Harroun marveled at Patschke’s ability to turn the race’s fastest speeds, without shredding the Wasp’s tires.

Unfortunately for Patschke’s claim to fame, he doesn’t appear in any known photo driving the Wasp. A modest man, Patschke also wasn’t photographed in the winner’s enclosure with Harroun. He did no interviews. Did he just slip away afterward or was he still with Dawson’s car? Some sportswriters to referred to him as “the mysterious Cyrus Patschke.”

“Where’s Cy?” (IMS)

“Much credit for the Wasp’s feat goes to Patschke,” the Indianapolis Star opined after the race. “Many of the racing people in the paddock were loud in their praises of Patschke’s driving, and they said that without his assistance, Harroun would not have come in first in the big event.”

Harroun retired again from driving, but he thought he had his perfect replacement on Marmon’s driving team: Cyrus Patschke. In fact, Harroun went to work as Patschke’s crew chief and ran his team! Marmon okayed a three-car factory-backed stable of cars for Patschke and Dawson to race coast to coast in 1911 and 1912. Patschke was often the fastest driver, a record-setter and a frequent winner.

Harroun and Patschke toured the country together, celebrated as co-winners of the 500. They made personal appearances at automobile shows, trade fairs and theaters from Los Angeles to Detroit to New York. They were sent by Marmon on a two-year nationwide public relations tour.

A 1912 newspaper clipping raved about Patschke’s car control skills.

But at some point in 1912 or so, the bubble of fame burst for Patschke. Indy racing’s sanctioning body back then, AAA, made sure no one would take advantage of the 500’s rules, like they felt Marmon had with the Wasp. For 1912, they outlawed single-seaters like the Wasp (Marmon didn’t return to defend its title). They also ruled the starter would be the “driver of record”. Co-drivers weren’t credited – which, intentionally or not, cancelled Patschke and his scintillating drive. It was a rather odd decision: Traditions of the day tended to acclaim any co-drivers who teamed up for a victory as “co-winners” – especially in endurance races.

AAA’s decision would also end up hurting Don Herr, who drove a stint in relief of 1912 500 winner Dawson (who had to find a new team – National – due to Marmon’s absence), and Howdy Wilcox, who provided essential mid-race relief in the HCS of injured Tommy Milton in 1923.

But in the 1924 500, a sticky situation developed and AAA decided it was necessary to “clarify” the co-driver rules: Joe Boyer took the checkered flag, but he was driving the Duesenberg that his teammate Lora Corum had started. Corum, despite running third, was unceremoniously yanked out of the drivers seat mid-race and replaced by Boyer. Boyer initially celebrated victory, but the chief steward declared Corum the winner as “driver of record”. A snit ensued, but Boyer was a very popular driver, and a close friend of the official. So, after some negotiating, it was decided the rules could be bent enough to declare Corum and Boyer as the Indy 500’s first “co-winners”. Corum, who still felt disrespected, left racing to drive a Yellow Cab.

A similar situation developed in 1941’s 500, when Floyd Davis was fired while running 12th, and replaced by Mauri Rose, who rallied their shared Maserati to victory. Precedent established, they were also recognized as “co-winners”. Davis, unmollified, left in a huff and enlisted for a long tour in the Navy.

Patschke’s legendary Indy drive is now little more than a sepia-tone memory.

But none of that rule tweaking helped Patschke regain his co-winner status. Not only that, his name still is nowhere to be found in Indy’s record books. It’s like his legendary drive never happened. Sadly, he never raced at Indy again (he was to be Dawson’s co-driver in 1914, but Dawson crashed out early). By age 24, despite his impeccable resume (many wins and top finishes, many speed records, no injuries, not even crashes), he decided to heed his wife’s pleas to retire from racing, get a “regular” job, and raise a family.

Over the years, many drivers and even some speedway officials have crusaded in vain (to date) for the rules to be adjusted enough to extend recognition to the 500’s “unofficial co-winners” such as Patschke, Herr, Wilcox and Norman Batten (Peter DePaolo’s relief driver briefly in 1925).

With all due respect, IMHO, the speedway’s rules have it backwards: The guys like Patschke, who did a great job, got shafted. The guys who embarrassingly got canned in the middle of the race? They got their names on a trophy.

Jerry Garrett

May 16, 2021

Hand Painted El Rancho Desert Rose

GLENDALE, California

The Desert Rose pattern, the best-selling American dinnerware pattern in history, was designed by a Warner Brothers cartoonist.

Most folks associate Desert Rose with Franciscan Ware, which dates back to 1941. But the story began even earlier than that. Exactly how early is hard to tell, and when the cartoonist entered the picture is even harder to determine.

Before “Franciscan Ware” Desert Rose pattern dishes, there was El Rancho Desert Rose (or Wild Rose) dinnerware. These dishes, with the “Hand Painted El Rancho” stamp on each piece were manufactured from 1931 (when a patent was applied for) to 1938, possibly earlier according to some reports. A few one-of-a-kind plates exist which look like the artist’s early prototypes.

Annette Honeywell Desert Rose prototype?

Every piece in every set, though, is unique and slightly different; they’re each little works of art, from a time when craftsmanship meant more than it does today. Though people often refer to the El Rancho line as “Made in Japan” it was not; it is merely a Japanese-style pattern, or a pattern inspired by Japanese paintings and drawings.

Some say El Rancho Desert Rose tableware may have been manufactured by United China and Glass Company (UCAGCO), an American company (not Japanese, even though their logo included the word “Japan”). That’s harder to pin down.

Desert Rose is very typical of Oriental-influenced Southern California art and home décor of the early 20th Century. The artist responsible for the Desert Rose pattern was noted contract designer Annette Honeywell (1902-1959) of Los Angeles. It is known Ms. Honeywell sold Desert Rose designs to Gladden, McBean & Co., in 1940 that were used to produce the Franciscan Ware versions.

It is not known if Ms. Honeywell, who also worked as a cartoonist in the animation studios famed for its Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies characters, was the source of the El Rancho Desert Rose patterns, or whether the designs she sold to Gladding, McBean were merely inspired by El Rancho’s line. But her known works with the pattern seem to be evolutionary, from understated and minimalist, to the bolder Franciscan Ware version – largely similar to the delicate but rococo El Rancho pieces – which featured stronger coloring.

Franciscan Ware Desert Rose

The delicate El Rancho patterns, with pink roses, yellow buds, green leaves and brown branches were very popular; pieces and sets seem to have been sold worldwide. Collectors in Europe, Africa, North America and Australia claim to have large holdings of the El Rancho sets.

If the line truly went out of production around 1938, the reasons why are not clear.

After Gladding, McBean, which became one of America’s big five ceramics manufacturers after a series of Depression-era acquisitions of competitors’ lines, purchased Ms. Honeywell’s patterns in 1940, within a year they began producing Desert Rose dish sets from those patterns, in the Franciscan Ware genre at its factory in Glendale, California. Many imitators and innovators have done subsequent versions.

Early logo

Desert Rose would become one of the best known, most iconic, most copied tableware patterns in history. But it all started with the El Rancho line

Jerry Garrett

February 27, 2021

P.S. Whatever happened to Franciscan Ware? It’s still being made. But the quality of today’s dinnerware differs greatly from its origins. See photo:

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 18, 2021

Why The Daytona 500’s TV Ratings Suck

Six hours of this? Count this television viewer out. (CBS)

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida

One thing racers, racing fans and national television audiences can agree on: They hate when races are rain-delayed or rained out. They tune out en masse.

The latest case in point for this? Ladies and gentlemen, we present the 2021 Daytona 500. It was a real barn-burner of a race – those NASCAR guys really know how to put on a show – from beginning to end. It’s just that, in the middle, there were six hours of delays for rain, pitchfork lightning and golf ball-sized hail. Dead air time, essentially.

The TV ratings for the Fox Sports broadcast of the race, not surprisingly, were the worst in recorded history. (Recorded history dates back 42 years, by the way.)

The sad thing about this unfortunate situation? It was TOTALLY AVOIDABLE, as well as completely predictable.

Blame television.

The traditional start time for the Daytona 500 used to be around 12 noon ET. Back in the day, the people at NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway (essentially the France family) lived in Daytona Beach, and they knew that late afternoon and early evening thundershowers are almost a given this time of year. So they knew if they started the 500 around noon, it would likely be over by about 3:30 p.m. That was usually early enough to conclude the racing before the 4 p.m. lightning-and-thunder show rolled in. Even if the race was still going at that time, it was at least past halfway, which is the point at which any NASCAR race is considered “official”; it can be prematurely ended after halfway and count as a “complete” race. No sitting out the rain storm, or watching Air Titans try to dry the track for hours on end.

Television executives (who don’t live in Daytona) became impressed with the large crowds and good racing going on at Daytona (and other stops on the circuit) and decided to start televising them. A deal was worked out, and the initial ratings were very good indeed. But the television execs perceived two problems: 1. The ratings could be even higher, if the races were run later, right? Typically prime time ratings are higher than midday audience numbers. 2. The 500 started at 9 a.m. on the West Coast. Surely that must be hurting ratings? People Out West are barely awake then, yes?

So the TV execs used their considerable clout to force the race’s start time to be moved back more than three hours. So, the race was supposed to finish about 7 p.m. ET. The ratings would soar, yes? Actually, no. They plummeted. Why?

Here are some possible answers: Rain, lightning, hail.

Since Daytona has started later, that usually puts the race square in the crosshairs of whatever storm system moves into central Florida any given afternoon. I can’t remember when the last time the Daytona 500 ran without rain delays. Oh, the TV people say it was 2019. Ratings weren’t bad that year; the whole telecast averaged 9.17 million. But in 2014, there was another 6:22 rain delay. The all-time record was set in 2012, when the race took 37+ hours to complete, and wasn’t over until 1:00 a.m. TUESDAY!

But compare the last decade’s worth of ratings to 2006: the broadcast on NBC “attracted 37 million total, un-duplicated viewers and drew a record 11.3 household rating and 23 share – the highest NASCAR rating in history and the most-viewed Daytona 500 ever,” according to Nielsen Media Research.

So you get an idea about how the corrosive effects of rain delays, rain-outs and TV audience turn-offs are contributing to NASCAR’s struggling TV ratings. Of course, there are other factors, such as a lousy economy and a pandemic. But if people are trapped at home during a pandemic, one might wonder: Shouldn’t the ratings be going up, not down? I digress.

In 2021, the average viewership for the Daytona 500 was a disastrous 4.83 million! Maybe disastrous isn’t a strong enough word. Ratings like that are driving sponsors away, turning off fans (who wants to spend six hours shivering under metal bleachers during a lightning storm?), and turning off more and more television sets the longer this is allowed to go on.

In 2020, the 500 averaged 7.33 million viewers for the whole telecast. But that was nothing to get excited about either; remember, the 2020 race was completely rained out on Sunday and had to be carried over to Monday.

TV execs might try to rationalize 2021’s dismal numbers by pointing out that the telecast was averaging over 8 million viewers for the first 45 minutes of the race, before the rains came. But races that end in the wee hours of Monday morning, or are completely pushed over to a Monday rain date are going to end up with appalling ratings. That’s not hard to figure out.

Here’s an interesting factoid: If the 2021 Daytona 500 had started at the traditional noonish start time, the race would have been OVER by the time the rains came at 3:40 p.m.!

But what about ratings Out West? Well, if you have ever lived Out West, you would know that live sports on the weekend just start early (see: NFL); it’s a fact of life, and you just plan your day around it. In fact, many West Coasters are just fine with a sporting event ending at 1 p.m. because they have the rest of their Sunday free for golf, surfing, motorcycle riding or just working on a tan.

If a race starts at noon or 1 p.m. on Sunday for a West Coaster, that means a perfectly good weekend day is completely blocked out That’s unacceptable.

And that is yet another reason why, instead of ratings going up with a later start time, they are going down.

This faulty thinking on the part of TV execs who should know better is also hammering IndyCar racing, especially the Indianapolis 500. It used to start at 10 a.m. (or 11) so it would have a better chance of being finished before Indiana’s completely predictable afternoon thunderstorms arrived (Indianapolis has a higher average annual rainfall than Seattle).

The 2020 Indianapolis 500 averaged only 3.43 million viewers – like Daytona, the worst EVER. (Yes, there were some possible mitigating factors, like NBC insisting the race be run on a random August Sunday afternoon.)

The bottom line here is that moving the start times around for racing’s traditional crown jewel events, to satisfy the curiosity of clueless television executives, is having ruinous consequences that won’t be easy to arrest, much less reverse. It’s called “demand destruction.”

Run the races at start times that make sense, or move them to different times of year when rain is not inevitable.

Jerry Garrett

February 18, 2021

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 17, 2021

Michael McDowell, 2021 Daytona 500 Winner, Never Led A Single Lap

2021 Daytona 500 Winner Michael McDowell (USA Today)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.Michael McDowell, a 36-year-old journeyman driver from Glendale, Ariz., has been racing in NASCAR for 14 years, with precious little to show for it. When he started Sunday’s Daytona 500, it was his 358th career start. Up to that point, he’d never won a race, but Sunday that all changed. He finally broke through, and scored his first victory, in NASCAR’s premier race. He says it is too early to tell how his life, and his racing fortunes might change, now that he’s a Daytona 500 champion. But he says, “I will never be a Dark Horse again.”

Our post-race chat had a surprise ending:

It’s the last lap of the Daytona 500. You have two guys between you and the checkered flag and they are crashing in front of you. What do you do?

It was Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and I going to the checker. We had such a good run going, I felt like we were in control of the race. I knew Brad was going to make a move, so Brad and I got together. We had a big run coming to Joey. Brad made his move and Joey blocked it and, you know, they got together.  One went left, one went right and I just drove right through the middle.

What were your chances if you all stay in a pack all the way around the track to the finish line, without crashing? Were you feeling like you had a chance in that scenario?

You’re coming to the end of the Daytona 500. Nobody’s going to stay in line. I knew that Brad wasn’t content to finish second and let Joey win the race. And I knew that Joey wasn’t content to let Brad win. So I felt like I was in a great spot, no matter what, even if there wasn’t the crash. I knew that Brad was going to make a move on Joey and my plan was to come off turn four when he made that move and stay glued to that car. When he made that move, I was going hopefully to be able to make my own race-winning pass and snooker both of them.

When people are crashing around you in such an important moment, do you have to constantly remind yourself not to back off the throttle, which might be your first instinct in a dangerous situation, but keep your foot flat on the accelerator pedal?

Right you can’t lift. You don’t have time to recharge that momentum. Because you are coming to the line, you know once you let off at all, you’re done. Once you make that run, you know you have to stay committed to it.

You ran a long time with the likes of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Logano and Keselowski – these are NASCAR’s tough guys. They have a real “checkers or wreckers” mind-set. You must have thought “I’m swimming with the sharks here.”

Exactly right. I knew I was swimming in shark-infested waters. I’m swimming with the sharks here all the time. So you knew that you were in those waters and something was going to happen. So you know you have to position yourself to win the race when it inevitably does. But I don’t think that you do anything differently in how you approach it. I just knew this was the Daytona 500 and the intensity was going to be ratcheted way up there.

People who might not follow NASCAR regularly might think, “Wow some Dark Horse just won the Daytona 500. What a fluky deal.” Do you feel it was? Or do you feel you paid your dues, you executed the perfect race strategy, and you earned your chance to win?

Yeah absolutely. You know it’s not a quirk thing. Daytona is a place where I’ve had some success. Obviously I hadn’t won. But I have a couple top fives and a handful of top 10 at the track. So when I go there I feel like, you know, we have an opportunity to be in the conversation and potentially win the race. But I do understand, I mean for the millions of fans that might not regularly watch NASCAR, this is my first win and we’re typically not the favorite to win that race, obviously. It’s not offensive to me. I feel like time and time again we have put ourselves in a good position to win, but we haven’t won. I believed I could. But when I come back here next year, I won’t be looked at as the Dark Horse anymore. I’ll like that.

What part in this did Ford’s strategy play? Was there a specific strategy or laid out before the race that “we’re going to run all together like this; we’re going to pit together; we’re going to get back out on the track together”?

We do have a strategy with the manufacturer. Ford is a huge part of that. Getting the drivers on their various teams to work together at Talladega and Daytona. Because we know that there’s strength in numbers. We know that you have to have a good pusher in the draft. Strategy is important. Like when you come down pit road together. I think that was the key to us winning that race. That last stop near end – when the Fords came down together – we executed those stops really well. We came out together and we were able to pin the Toyotas and Chevys behind us, and keep them there coming to the white flag.

You’re backing off, running at less than 100 percent in a scenario like that, just to stay together, are you?

No, we’re racing our guts out. They don’t want us to not race our guts out. They just want to make sure that we’re all giving ourselves the best chance to put a bullet up front, to get us to Victory Lane. I feel like from that standpoint we did that super well. We were in that spot and we had a lot of Fords up there, like you said, at the right time. Once we got 3/4s of the way into the race, we really had control of the race at that point.

Who did you feel had the strongest car? Denny Hamlin’s Toyota?

What he’s been able to do with only a handful of teammates is very impressive. He’s done such a great job preparing for this race. He’s very strong and the other Toyotas were working together and they were making big moves at the end.

But he was running 12th or something there at the end and that is just too far back to have a chance.

Right. If you are back much further than 6th or 7th, that’s really too far back too be able to make a big move to the front.

How did you rate your car against the others you were racing with? Were you just along for the ride? Or on a pretty equal footing, all things considered?

I thought I had a strong car all week.

You actually got through the big crash at the start of the race, not just the big fiery pileup at the end. Your car got some damage in that one, didn’t it? How did it drive after that? Any after-effects?

We did have some light contact. I just brushed the wall. I hit it very square. It wasn’t something that hurt our performance. But we definitely had to execute the repairs well. My team did an excellent job. We are on the clock so to speak, when you’re involved in an accident. You only have six minutes to make the repairs on pit road before you’re disqualified from the race. So we were tasked with doing that well. But we got the repairs done. We didn’t lose a lap and obviously you know we got the car extremely quick. My guys had a plan.

I suppose, before this race, if anybody asked what Michael McDowell is most famous for, it would likely be from the millions of YouTube views of you trying to knock the wall down at Texas Motor Speedway some years ago. Have you given people something new to remember you by?

I hope so, but we all know that crash footage is going to live on forever. You know whether I win the Daytona 500 or crash, it’s just part of the history in the sport. (The Texas crash) was obviously very significant and unfortunately it’s part of my history. But I’ve been in this world long enough now and had to persevere and grind it. I have respect for my competitors and I feel they have respect for me. I feel really good about where I’m at. I didn’t have any doubts about my ability to do the job before this week, and I mean the win just solidifies my belief that we’re heading in a good direction.

You talk about earning the respect of your competitors. It seems like most of them like you. I don’t know that you have any real enemy in that garage area. Even Logano said afterwards, “If I couldn’t win I would prefer Michael would.” Does it help not have enemies out there on the final lap, or is it better to have friends at a time like that?

You always want to have friends. But being realistic here, you know those guys you’re racing with would have done whatever they had to do to win the race. That’s just what we do as competitors. Like I said, Joey is going to do anything he can to win that race. I wouldn’t expect anything different. But to have their respect off the track I think means a lot. It’s nice to hear those comments from Joey and some others. You know I think one of the most rewarding parts of this sport, it’s just knowing that you not only made an impact on the race track but off the racetrack as well. I feel real relationships, among other things, last forever.

The history books will show that you only led the final lap in this Daytona 500. But, really, you never did lead a full lap, at any point, did you? And you only led a tiny portion of the last lap. The race was over before you even got to the checkered flag. Does that bother you at all?

I don’t believe so. I think that any other way that they categorize that is he was a leading that lap coming across the start-finish line. So yes we did technically not lead a lap. In fact, we were only in the lead for about three or four seconds and then the race was over. That’s amazing to me. And mind-boggling!

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 22, 2020

How To Improve Our Next RV Trip? Leave The RV Home

Toyota Tundra TRD and Airstream Basecamp 20X (Jerry Garrett Photos)

BUTTE, Montana

A chatty couple approached us at the KOA campground. The conversation soon turned to the coronavirus, which for months, we had been trying our damnedest to avoid.

“Oh, we got it!” said the woman.

When?

“We still have it!” she answered. “Yeah, we’ve been stuck here in our RV, throwing up, having diarrhea for almost a month now. Sick as dogs. We have no idea where we got it – maybe at the gas station, maybe another camper.” She looked around, warily.

Horrified, we politely excused ourselves, while the maskless couple moved on to chat up a neighboring group of RVers. We overheard them trying to organize a caravan of fellow travelers to the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. – destined to be a “super-spreader event” that would be blamed for sickening at least 70,000 and lead to 700-plus deaths, as of this writing.

Home!

Scenic Wonders!

At this point, our fanciful plan to take a 1,700-mile RV trip through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce, Zion and other national parks, monuments and forests, was over. We had blocked out two weeks on our calendars, but a week proved more than enough.

We thought traveling with an RV would be our literal escape vehicle, to leave civilization behind, experience the wild, be a part of the environment, and revel in nature.

We thought we had planned this trip out pretty well. Turns out we didn’t. We didn’t foresee the myriad problems that would force daily improvisations needed to keep moving down the road, the unexpected costs of meals and motels, and stops at seemingly every gas station – much less surprise exposures to the virus we were trying so hard to avoid.

Airstream Basecamp 20X

We had arranged to tow a new $48,900 Airstream Basecamp 20X, which is a version with off-roading capabilities facilitated by beefier tires and suspension, higher ground clearance, skid plates (which unfortunately leave the underbody PVC plumbing too exposed), and stone guard protection for the aluminum panel exterior.

To best leverage the 20X’s enhanced abilities, we paired it with a stout four-wheel-drive Toyota Tundra pickup, which also retails for close to $50,000. So, our rolling revue represented an investment of close to $100,000 – before we even left our driveway; not exactly an escape for the everyman.

Rear view of the Basecamp

In combined city/highway driving, the Tundra TRD can be expected to average about 14 miles per gallon, according to FuelEconomy.gov; towing the 20-foot RV knocked that down to near 10 m.p.g. Ouch.

We had three adults and some little Pomeranians that are generally wonderful to travel with. The Tundra was more than roomy enough for all of us and our gear. (“Remind me again: Why are we towing this thing?”)

intrepid travelers

The Basecamp features expanded water tanks that handle the flushing toilet, shower and kitchen sink. A stove, fridge and heater are propane-powered, but the twin tanks lack fill-level meters.

There are also seats, benches and tables that can be reconfigured into Spartan beds for up to three adults.

When we picked up the RV, we learned that optional solar panels were not available. Neither was a side tent that could nearly double floor space.

Basecamp 20X interior

Other features such as the air conditioning don’t run without a 30-amp power source. That means either purchasing a substantial generator, which would take up a lot of room in such a relatively small RV, or finding a campground or RV park with an upgraded electric hook-up (standard hookups are usually 20 amps).

The internet router required purchase of a pricey, duplicative data plan from AT&T; it also wouldn’t work out of cell phone range. If you have cell phone receptivity, why not just use that?

Dry camping with a Basecamp 20X

So, setting up a real off-the-grid “basecamp” with the Basecamp can be problematic.

The first leg of our trip was supposed run about 400 miles from scenic Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in southern Utah to Evanston, Wyoming.

Big Horn Sheep in Zion

There were no campground spots available in Bryce or Zion, or upon our arrival in windy, cold Evanston. The state had closed all the rest areas along the highway. So we ended up driving 60 more miles to the nearest affordable hotel (that also welcomed pets) in Little America. This is an overgrown truck stop in the middle of nowhere; no sit-down restaurants were open, no grocery stores, no RV hookups. That night, we dined on the few leftover snacks we had brought to munch on in the truck.

Little America, Wyoming

This ended up being a recurring theme; we would have been better off reserving a hotel room and driving there in the truck – without the RV.

The RV required at least two spots in any parking lot, and an easy way to get and out (without backing up – our most dreaded chore). We avoided drive-thru fast food lanes, low overhangs and awnings at motels, and crowded parking lots at malls and grocery stores. This quickly got tiring.

The next day, without breakfast, we hit the road for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was a wonderfully scenic drive. But a lot of attractions were closed along the way: restaurants, tourist camps, stores, even motels.

When we arrived in Jackson, however, despite the raging pandemic, the place was teeming with tourists. We couldn’t find a place to park downtown. So we kept on going toward the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

On to the Grand Tetons!

Our plan to wait at Grand Teton and nearby campgrounds for a site to open up had some flaws. Many campers have figured how to game the system, in which stays are supposed to be limited. In actual practice, there are devious ways to keep rolling over your departure day; in some instances, aggressive campers manage to stay in one place all summer season. A small number of spots theoretically open up each day – they usually don’t – but competition for the few that do is intense (and often cutthroat).

We ended up staying in the Signal Mountain Lodge, which was memorable but expensive. Staying in the lodge would have been much cheaper if we had reserved ahead (but why would we, if we had an RV?). Sadly, many of the features of the lodge, including the highly desirable restaurants, were closed due to the virus. So, again, we were reduced to eating snacks.

Signal Mountain Lodge area, campgrounds at left

We unsuccessfully tried daily for three days to snag a camping spot. Without a camp site, we had to keep moving the RV around inconveniently distant parking lots to store it; we weren’t allowed to park it near our cabin. Which also meant we couldn’t use it.

We could have ventured off road, and tried dry camping. But it seemed there were too many unknowns around how long our propane or water supplies could serve our needs, and if we had enough power to keep us warm and safe.

The unexpected cost of renting a cabin totaled almost $1,000 – about ten times what we had budgeted for a campground. That, added to the Little America stay, and the cost of eating junk food from truck stops and sandwich stops – rather than preparing meals in the RV – was starting to add up into the thousands.

The drive through Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks was magical – especially for the passengers. For the driver, it was a fulltime nerve-wracking job keeping the RV from wandering off the edge of narrow roads.

Grand Teton National Park

About six hours of driving per day was the absolute maximum that this driver could handle before fatigue set in. Roadside parking was severely limited for trucks towing an RV. And most sites were restricted for pets.

Not surprisingly, to me, I came home with only five photos on my camera.

From Yellowstone, we headed north into Montana, through the Gallatin River canyon – “A River Runs Through It” country. Again, we didn’t – and couldn’t – stop for long anywhere. After coming out into the Bitterroot Valley and a pleasant sightseeing loop through old mining camps and ghost towns, we were thankful to find a spot at the Butte KOA.

But after our eye-rolling encounter there with virus-carriers, we made a bee-line home. We did stop to overnight in an RV lot in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, but it proved too crowded, with zero health and safety considerations. A second choice was much more agreeable – a quiet creekside park along the historic Oregon Trail – but it lacked wastewater dumping facilities, showers, toilets or a store like the first one had. We ended up using the facilities at a nearby truck stop.

Roughing it

After one night of this, we were more determined than ever to get home.

When we arrived, I was surprised how dirty the RV had gotten, despite using it very little. It took almost a full day to clean it.

One the one hand, RV life and living or working off the grid has never been easier or more convenient – and it is getting more so all the time. But significant challenges remain for intrepid RVers, around such issues as finding reliable sources of water, power and food; sanitation and hygiene needs; daily scheduling; budgeting; dealing with feelings of disconnect and isolation. And perhaps most important of all location, location, location: Where will you go, where will you stay, how long will you remain there?

Essentially these are the same challenges faced by city dwellers, but RV living requires overcoming them with new, unconventional solutions.

My solution so far is to leave the RV parked in the driveway. In the two months that have passed since this trip, I have never had occasion to wish we could hitch the RV back up and take it on another trip.

Jerry Garrett

November 22, 2020

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 25, 2020

Ten Reasons Why The 104th Indianapolis 500 Finished Under Yellow

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Quick: Decide how the 104th Indy 500 will end (NBC)

INDIANAPOLIS

The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 was within three minutes of an incredible finish when a horrible crash happened. The track was littered with debris. A driver was injured.

Officials had to make literally a split-second decision how to end the race. The options:

1. Display a yellow flag to slow the race for its remaining distance.

2. Display a red flag and stop the race, and let safety and cleanup crews, and medical personnel take whatever time needed to clean up the mess; then, restart the race and run it at speed until the prescribed distance of 500 miles was completed.

The pressure was on; the decision would go into the history books. What did they decide, and why?

Here’s the scene: A wonderful duel had been developing the last quarter of the race between Scott Dixon, who had led the most laps (111 of 200), and Takuma Sato, who had taken the lead from him after a final round of pit stops, just a few laps before. Dixon believed he had the faster car, plenty of fuel for maximum power, and a strategy that would net him his second victory in the IndyCar classic. Sato conceded his fuel situation was “tight” and that his car tended to go its fastest right after a pit stop; Dixon was reeling him in. Sato led by one second.

Well behind them, 15th place runner (out of 33 starters) Spencer Pigot decided to let it all hang out, with five laps left and pass Will Power for another position. It was a bad idea; too much risk, for too little reward. He lost control entering the front straightaway and crashed spectacularly. His car bounced off the outside wall and careened toward a tire barrier, called an attenuator, that separated the track from the entrance to the pits. He t-boned the attenuator, demolished it, and threw literally tons of debris everywhere, before his car slid to a stop. Pigot appeared to be injured – perhaps seriously; safety crews rushed to aid him. The track and pit entrances were all but blocked.

Meanwhile, Sato and Dixon and the rest of the field came hurtling around the fourth turn, bearing down on the accident site, at 200 m.p.h.

A system of yellow safety lights suddenly blinked on, around the track. Cars were obligated to slow immediately to highway speeds – about 70 m.p.h. – and stay single file. No passing was permitted under the yellow.

Dixon radioed in to his crew, offering his unsurprising opinion that the race should be stopped via the red flag. “They are going to throw the red, aren’t they?” he asked, almost incredulous when advised they might not. Dixon had been victimized by two previous 500s that finished under yellow, while he was running second, denying him an opportunity to go for the win. He didn’t want this to happen to him a third time.

No red. The yellow stayed out. Why?

The ruling:

  1. “There were not enough laps left to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag, then restart for a green flag finish”, officials decided.
  2. IndyCar has no provision in its rulebook to extend a race with caution laps until a green-white-checkered flag can be achieved, like NASCAR racing does.
  3. The Indianapolis 500 is 500 miles. Period. (Although the race is considered “official” after it reaches half-distance, and it can be ended early anytime after that for rain or other unsafe conditions that might prevent it from going the full distance.)
  4. There was no precedent for stopping a race with only four laps – two percent of the distance – to go. The closest precedent: the 2014 race was red-flagged with seven laps to go to clean up a wreck. (Even that 2014 stoppage is considered a borderline call by purists; a different race director,  no longer with the series, decided that.)
  5. During a red flag, teams are not allowed to work on their cars. Several cars had taken evasive action to avoid Pigot’s wreck; others had driven through the debris. If they had suffered damage, that damage might not manifest itself until the race restarted. A punctured tire or damaged part on one of those cars, with a return to racing speeds, might have had disastrous consequences.
  6. Pigot was laying on the ground next to his wreck. Safety crews had pulled him from his demolished car, and propped him up on the ground to examine him. He was in and out of consciousness, and it was inadvisable to move him at that time. An ambulance, tow trucks, track cleaners and a large number of safety personnel were also on the track.
  7. A safety feature of the track – the tire attenuator – was destroyed; the race could not resume with a safety feature disabled. Also, piles of tires fastened together, a component of the attenuator, had been pushed out onto the race track itself.
  8. Repairs to the attenuator might have taken an hour or longer. The attenuator is a complicated structure, comprised of a system of belts, tires and foam, with a covering over it.
  9. Because the race had not started until 2:30 p.m. (latest ever) due to conflicts involving other programming being shown by broadcaster NBC, a lengthy delay might push the finish of the race closer to sunset at 8:30 p.m. The track has no lighting.
  10. It was already coming up on 6 p.m. Eastern time, and NBC had optimistically scheduled its Indianapolis 500 coverage to go off the air by that time, so it could then switch to a hockey playoff game (or local news on the West Coast). A red flag would cause chaos for its Sunday night primetime lineup. (Note to IndyCar: Next year, maybe tell NBC to come up with a more flexible plan.)

Any one of these reasons could have been enough to call it; but ten? Case closed. So, Takuma Sato goes into the record books as the winner. Dixon was a dissatisfied second. Sato’s teammate Graham Rahal was third. That’s the way it is.

It is easy to see how things might have been decided differently had the race been run May 24 (instead of August 23, without fans, due to the pandemic) as originally scheduled.

In May, the race would have started at a more traditional time, like 1 p.m., instead of 2:30. NBC programming executive Jon Miller said the network required the late start because the Democratic National Convention had just ended and the Republican National Convention was about to start, so its Meet The Press and Today show news programs dealing with those events had to be aired before NBC would green-light its Indianapolis 500 telecast. With an earlier, more traditional start time, approaching darkness might have been less of a consideration.

Election coverage conflicts, of course, did not exist in May.

Also in May, NBC would have had fewer scheduling issues with other sports properties. In addition to hockey, NBC was also trying to broadcast a NASCAR race on Sunday on NBCSN. In May, the NASCAR TV contract is still with Fox.

More importantly, perhaps, in May in excess of 300,000 fans would have been in the stands, screaming for a crowd-pleasing finish, NBC be damned. The final seven laps of the 2014 race produced an epic razor-close finish between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves that fans are still rhapsodizing about.

(Editor’s Note: How did the fans like NBC’s broadcast of the 500? They apparently hated it. The ratings for the 2020 Indy 500 on NBC were the lowest in recorded history.)

Jerry Garrett

August 25, 2020

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 31, 2020

NASCAR Mid-Week Races: Here To Stay?

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Brad Keselowski wins the 2020 Coca Cola 600 (NASCAR)

NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski was asked last year, while watching another sport compete on live television during the week, how he might like NASCAR to schedule mid-week prime-time televised events, answered, “I’m ready, let’s go!”

While that may have seemed like an impossible dream a year ago, it’s now very much a reality as NASCAR is actually experimenting with some mid-week races. This an integral part of NASCAR’s “back to racing” effort to make up for events cancelled during March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic .

“I like this format a lot,” he said after a Thursday night 300-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think it makes sense. I think it makes sense to have long races on weekends and kind of shorter races, disregarding the weather, during the week.”

Keselowski was the winner of the grueling 600-mile Charlotte event that had been run the previous Sunday. Running a shorter race, at the same track a few days later, was surprisingly easy, he noted.

“It feels like I just played one half of a game, rather than a full game. It’s a lot easier, for sure,” the 36-year-old Michigan native said after finishing seventh Thursday.

NASCAR has no official comment on whether the mid-week races might become a fixture on future schedules for its cup series. Officially, the concept is “under study,” but it has yielded some attention-getting television ratings. All the races have been on Fox so far.

“I really like the format NASCAR has here,” he continued. “It’s a good give-and-take. It doesn’t just completely destroy your body, so I think NASCAR has really hit something here.”

Asked if he thought NASCAR might schedule more non-traditional mid-week races, Keselowski answered, “Oh yeah, I think absolutely. NASCAR, in my opinion, has hit gold with this format.”

It would be hard to hear a discouraging word among fellow drivers, even though racers are given no chance for traditional pre-race practice, qualifying or testing.

They show up, race and head on to the next track. An added twist is that half the field is inverted, from one start to the next, to liven the running order up a bit. For example, the winner of one race, would start 20th in the next; the 20th place finisher in one event would start on the pole for the next.

“Inversion from the week before is really good because it mixes the field up and creates some good storylines there,” Keselowski said. “I think it’s fair. It’s compelling.”

He said mid-week, live, televised racing also helps NASCAR stand out in the sports world, during the pandemic shutdown, because “everybody is hungry for content.”

He added, “I think they’ve got gold here. [Coronavirus] or not, I hope we keep this for years to come. I think this is a great little format that’s good for the sport and good for the fans and good for everybody all around. So kudos to them.”

Jerry Garrett

May 31, 2020

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Sean Connery and James Bond’s 1965 Aston Martin DB5 (NYT)

(A version of this story appeared in The New York Times, May 25, 2020)

Public interest in the 1965 Aston Martin DB5 always seems to peak whenever a new James Bond movie appears, since the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, drives one. And a new installment in the long-running movie franchise, “No Time To Die,” is due later in 2020, when 007 will ride again in a classic DB5.

As a tribute to that iconic model, Aston Martin is resurrecting the DB5, which was introduced in the 1964 movie, “Goldfinger,” starring Sean Connery.

A special production run of 25 of what are being called “Goldfinger Continuation” DB5s is being hand-crafted at the same Newport Pagnell facility, where all 898 of the originals were built between 1963 and 1965. These cars are all finished in the same Silver Birch paint scheme, the interior leather is identical color and texture, and the dashboard and gauges are as true to their original appearance as is possible. Aston Martin even called upon the special effects wizard from the Bond films, Chris Corbould, to supervise the re-creation of the Bond movie car’s fantastical gadgets.

“Aston Martin is fastidious about authenticity,” said Paul Spires, head of Aston Martin Works in an interview. “And we have gone to very considerable lengths to ensure the equipment in the Continuation cars is as faithful to that seen in the film as possible.”

He added, “Aston Martin has sourced the cockpit instrumentation from the modern successor to the same supplier who made the original instruments in the 1960s. They appear, essentially, identical.”

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In Goldfinger, the Bond DB5 was equipped with a lethal array of non-standard gadgets, to aid 007 in his crime-fighting efforts. These included oil slick sprayers, smoke screen foggers, a retractable bullet-resistant shield, a passenger ejection seat, nail-spreader, hide-away machine guns in the fenders, and telescoping battering rams.

“The main challenge has been to recreate the gadgets from the film world and transfer them into a consumer product,” explained Mr. Corbould. “We have licence in the film world to ‘cheat’ different aspects under controlled conditions. For instance, we might have four different cars to accommodate four different gadgets. We obviously don’t have that luxury on these DB5’s as all the gadgets have to work in the same car all the time.”

Work underway at Newport Pagnell

There are also concessions to the real rather than “reel” world. The ejection seat will be omitted from the Continuation cars, as no “practical” use could be identified for it. Same with the nail dumper. The oil and smoke sprayers will emit simulated substances. And the machine guns will fire something other than actual slugs.

“That would not be compliant with a very great number of laws and/or safety regulations!” Mr. Spires said. “However, the guns do appear to ‘work’ and have light bursts to indicate them ‘firing’ along with authentic gunshot sound effects amplified through speakers – for a very impressive effect.”

Most other gadgets will be updated behind their dials and exteriors, to function in the modern world.

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Everything is intended to be period-correct (AM)

“The ‘radar’ screen uses modern day satellite navigation mapping to show, as a blinking point of light in the centre of the screen, the position of the car at any given time,” Mr. Spires continued. The original just had a non-moving map of seven southern England counties affixed to it. “It mimics the functionality of the car’s screen in the film. Work is still ongoing on the phone functionality, and we will provide more detail to owners in due course.”

Although the corded handset in the movie car appeared ground-breaking, the carphone was invented in 1946, and unlike the DB5’s phone, actual car phones back then could make actual calls. Bond’s phone had no dial!

The most noticeable difference between the Continuation cars and the originals is the price. A base model 1965 DB5 cost a then-pricey $12,850. The Continuation cars were offered for $3.5 million each. Despite that rather daunting price, and some tough sledding in the luxury car market of late, Aston Martin reports all 25 were pre-sold. All are in the process of being built at this writing, a company spokesman said, and they are expected to be delivered to their owners in the coming months.

In either case, the Continuation cars are a veritable bargain compared to the actual Bond DB5, which sold at an RM Sotheby’s Monterey, Calif., auction last August for $6,385,000.

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007’s DB5 patrolling the Scottish Highlands

Aston Martin’s continuation cars may be the most ambitious of several such projects to have been undertaken by auto manufacturers to date. Four years ago, Land Rover embarked upon a project to refurbish a handful of their original Series I sports utility vehicles, which first appeared in 1948. Jaguar has also built XJSS, E-Type Lightweight and D-Type continuations, hand-crafted – like the Aston Martins – from original blueprints. Ford has licensed third parties who offer complete 1965-66 Mustangs, as well as 1930s Model As and other models.

Bentley is also planning a production run of a dozen 1929 “Blower Bentley” continuation models – which has elicited letters of protest from the owners of the four originals still extant (including fashion designer Ralph Lauren). They complain the value of their ownership will be diluted by replicas – even if they are authentic Bentley reproductions.

Controversy aside, the continuation models, like the DB5s, are not actually even road legal; technically, they must be labelled current-year models – the DB5s are 2020s – and as such they fail to meet modern-day safety and emissions regulations.

So, what buyers of these continuation cars will do with them remains an open question. They’re almost too valuable to drive.

Aston Martin, at least, also offers a possible garaging solution:

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Aston Martin Residences in Miami

Jerry Garrett

May 25, 2020

 

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McQueen, McGraw finally make their getaway

 

HOLLYWOOD

At the end of the 1972 movie, “The Getaway“, the lead character Doc McCoy, played by Steve McQueen, and his wife Carol, played by Ali McGraw, drive off down a lonely road in Juarez, Mexico, headed for Chihuahua.

They’ve made it; they pulled off a lucrative bank heist, hijacked an old pickup truck, crossed the border with it from El Paso into Mexico. And the implication is Doc and his wife will go down that road and never be seen again.

Who knew that eight years later, the real-life Steve McQueen would really disappear – literally – down that same road?

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Original lobby poster for “The Getaway”

When he made that hit film, with legendary director Sam Peckinpah, McQueen was – at 42 – the biggest star in Hollywood. He would marry his sultry co-star McGraw the next year. And he could pick and choose what films he wanted to make. His horizon seemed as limitless as the Juarez skyline.

Mostly, McQueen chose to do nothing; he turned down the part that went to Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, the role that went to Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now”, the lead in “Dirty Harry” – the Clint Eastwood classic, Gene Hackman’s character in “The French Connection”, and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. He turned down a personal appeal from Steven Spielberg for that one.

Aside from the obvious career blunders, McQueen’s life fell apart in other areas. He and McGraw quarreled and split up within a few years. He mostly stayed away from the movie world; he became reclusive overall. He mostly wanted to race cars and motorcycles. Once a health and fitness nut, he then drank and used drugs heavily, according to published reports. And his health started to crumble.

As McQueen came to learn later, he had come down with a rare kind of lung cancer – mesothelioma – believed to be caused by asbestos exposure. The only places in his life where he could recall being around asbestos was on ships during his stint in the U.S. Navy, movie sets, and in processing fire retardant coatings for his racing uniforms.

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McQueen at the end

No matter, mesothelioma was – and is – a death sentence. It has no known cure – although McQueen resolved to try to find one. One of the avenues down which he searched was in Mexico, where controversial doctors promised “unconventional” new miracle treatments. The treatments were costly – and they failed.

That brings us again to Juarez, in late October 1980, where McQueen – his body covered with cancerous tumors – made one final trip down that lonesome highway. This time for a desperate, dangerous, last-ditch surgical procedure.

His personal “Getaway” got no farther than Juarez. He was never seen alive again. His death certificate said “heart failure”. His body was cremated; his ashes scattered at sea.

Re-watching “The Getaway” since then has put a whole new meaning on that last scene.

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 6.01.50 PM(Editor’s Note: Watch the final three minutes here.)

Jerry Garrett

May 8, 2020

 

 

 

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