2018 Indy 500 Notebook: Part 5: On The Fly – Before The Green Flag

Tony Borroz opens up what has been dubbed “The 2018 Indy 500 Notebook” for an unedited look at The Greatest Spectacle In Racing. This new series will span the days leading up to, and after the 102nd Indianapolis 500. The 2018 Indy 500 Notebook is an unfiltered look and what makes the Indy 500 so alluring in the first place. 

The prologue can be found here.

Part 2: “Hey Hinchcliffe, Wanna Race? Then Go Faster!” 

Part 3: “Carb Day” here.

Part 4: “By This Time Tomorrow” here.

It is time to speak of what goes on just before The Indy 500 actually takes place. Only the Super Bowl has more hype and run-up before the event itself. As I recall, the pregame show takes about 12 hours, and then the “before kickoff” junk lasts another hour on top of that. Indy, in its own way, is like that, only with the pre-race stuff taking about two hours, and the in-between – the stuff between “Start your engines” and the fall of the green flag – taking a matter of minutes.

But that pre-race stuff, at least from the perspective of television, is a never-ending pageant of over-produced, over-budgeted filler that should come with a Surgeon General’s warning and its own supply of insulin. An excruciating procession of puff pieces on the driver’s wives. An interminable exhibit of the “driver’s inner lives.” A lamentable carnival of what these speed demons of daring do are like, really and truly like, on the inside.

Calling All Curs

If you’re one of those people that absolutely cannot miss Dancing with the Stars, then The Indy 500 Pre-Race Activities are your cup of tea. And I don’t just mean this year, I mean it has been like this since I’ve watched The 500 on TV. If you’re one of those people that watch 50 seconds of this stuff and think, “Why can’t I stream this?” then you, my friend, you are reason #415,690,227,310th that television has a market shrinking faster than the polar caps. And this year, the pre-race show was just as bad as I thought it would be. It was just like the last one I saw (in 2016, since I was covering The 500 last year in person and writing my book), only a little bit more. More saccharine. More faux-patriotic. More uncomfortable and deeply troubling in a way that a wide swath of America is worryingly oblivious to. Oh well, we’ll get it, all of us, eventually.

On TV, the coverage is lead by Allen Bestwick, Eddie Cheever, and Scott Goodyear, aka “The Three Stooges.” I have absolutely no mercy for any of these guys, and it’s down to two reasons:

  1. Racing coverage has always sucked in America, these clowns are no different, and
  2. I worked in television for a number of decades, and a fair chunk of that included sports broadcasting.
2018 I500 Borg1 1600x800
Photo: IMS LLC.

Captain Obvious

So look, I get it. I know the producers meet with you and say, “We want you to hit these four points over and over and really stress this: Alan G. Strongjaw is a true American hero!” And producer involvement can explain a lot of the continual and continued dumbing down of race coverage. Think about how many times during this one race the booth crew will explain why you have to change tires. How would a typical NFL fan take it if every third down they would explain “If they don’t make it, they will have to punt the ball next down . . . and we should explain to you what a punt, or ‘punting‘ is . . .”

So I get it, I really do, but that is no excuse. No excuse at all. You have to start treating the audience better, and by better, I mean like intelligent adults who know what they’re watching. So when Larry, Moe, and Curly pause after watching a pre-packaged feature on Roger Penske and one of them sums it up by saying “Roger wants to win,” I can only slowly shake my head and wish a vengeful and angry Kali to visit these lack-wits as soon as she can fit it into her schedule.

Roger wants to win? What’re you going to enlighten me with next? Ted Nugent enjoys gun ownership?

And that was just the first segment. Next, the TV machine launches into another pre-packaged piece about how Josef Newgarden (who still looks like a comic book hero) and Simon Pagenaud have an ongoing “rivalry” about autographing the other’s stuff. This has all the bad signs of some PR hack telling Roger Penske to show some “personality,” and he agreed with them. Yes, Roger is an uptight guy, but this sort of thing looks as made up as all the other “reality TV” out there. Watch, people probably really liked that segment. Made-up rivalry crap is grating, sorry.

2018 I500 Penske 1600x800
Roger Penske. Photo: IMS LLC.

Pomp & Circumstance

The first commercial break hits, and it couldn’t have come soon enough. Think about that: looking at commercials as a relief. If people in “traditional” media (i.e., television, print, etc.) want to know why revenue is down, watch crap like this. It does everything a medium is not supposed to do: treat the audience like idiots and be overly simplistic. Then again, it was nothing in comparison to the commercials. The crap they’re advertising makes me fear for the human race.

There were seven commercials making for a four-minute break (including bumpers). The commercials were for cars (natch), candy (makes sense), Amex credit services (everybody is broke, so why not?), Danica/Godaddy (strike while the iron is hot), Aussie artery death company (an alleged restaurant named “Outback Steakhouse”), Criminal Justice Porn – White Mom Edition, an upcoming ABC show about a white mother railroaded by the justice system, and a horrid network cross-promotion for a fish-out-of-water/pretty-but-failing-actress-turns-into-private-eye (they might as well have called it “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Detective Agency”).

If these ads appeal to you, or, even worse, all of these ads seem to describe you or your demographic: Change your life!

March of Madness

Now there’s a medium blond woman with medium colored eyes and medium skin tone dressed in white on my TV. She is Nicole Briscoe. Who is Nicole Briscoe? Why is she on my TV screen? More pre-packaged rah, that sucks. There’s too much leeway in the marketing department. An entire red yarn conspiracy theory set to show how complex racing is. Then they make a big introduction for the guy reading the driver introductions. Ah, driver introductions. A bit of pre-race razz-ma-tazz that has the potential to be informative. They parade the drivers up on stage, one row at a time, and introduce them. Potentially you can see who is looking confidant and who is not.

Sadly, my first impression is nearly convulsing on seeing how Graham Rahal is dressed: like Evel Knievel. An incalculable fashion mistake. Another driver uses an infant as prop; you stay classy. Whoa, Stefan Wilson is huge for a race car driver. Wickens looks at ease; Sato looks comfortable at home, like overlooking his front yard. Oh no, Ryan Hunter Reay is improvising. Not to be outdone by one child, RHR suddenly lunges to his left and goes for the late child grab, then another! THEN ANOTHER!!!! One at a time, he pulls his entire progeny onto the stage with him.

The entirety of Row Four  – Kanaan, Matheus Leist, and Marco Andretti – looks scary fast, scary mellow, like a bunch of pros waiting to get to work. Watch these guys. Dixon seems resigned, Hélio edgy, Danica standoffish. Bourdais brings on three marketing props: two children and a can of sugar-water-energy-drink that he painfully turns to face front at the last minute.

Will Power, looking uncomfortable as always, Simon Pagenaud smiling and Carpenter looks like he’s brought the entire Osmond family with him, a passel of tow-head chilluns and his wife and the whole Hee Haw gang.

2018 I500 VC Power 02 1600x800
With his victory this year, Will Power became the first Australian to win the Indianapolis 500. Photo: IMS LLC.

But Wait . . . There’s More . . .

And now you think they’re going to get into their cars, turn them over, and we’ll get this show on the road? Sadly, no. Before that happens, we have to sit through:

  • Drivers reading mean tweets (oh no).
  • The Whitest Name in The World(tm): Beccy Hunter-Reay.
  • An obligatory history piece VO’d by . . . Paul Page? Paul Page? No, just . . . no. It’s a solid B- effort even though Page said family more times than Dominic Toretto and someone actually wrote the phrase “ruthlessly rip out your heart” and it was really nice seeing Jimmy and Mark back to back there; crash checker spin checker milk.
  • AJ is going to kiss Kanaan if he wins? This I gotta see!
  • Nicole Briscoe? Still? Still.
  • John McLaughlin has seriously sold out since disbanding The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Oh wait, this is a different Jon John McLaughlin.
  • Historical puff piece #2. The theme: dead soldiers!
  • Anthem sung by Generic Woman.
  • And then, and I am not making this up, an extended ad for what we’re already watching.
  • Back to live, and here’s animatronic Tony George, with the new v3.2.6 control software, looking much more lifelike this time around. He gives the command to start the engines and now we can finally race.

Part 6: “On The Fly – Everything That Matters” here.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. His forthcoming new book The Future In Front of Me, The Past Behind Me will be available soon. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.