Alex Tagliani was surprised by the number of Canadians who showed up to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning play host to the Washington Capitals in an NHL game March 7.
“There are a lot of people speaking French here,” said Tagliani, who led the crowd at St. Pete Times Forum in yelling “let’s play hockey” just before the puck dropped.
Alex Tagliani meets with a family of fans from his homeland in Quebec.
One such group of French-speaking fans, the La Fortune family, was first in line to meet the Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver. The family was vacationing in Florida from their home in St. Roche de L’Achigan, Quebec, which isn’t far from Tagliani’s home of Lechanaie, Quebec.
“Living five minutes from Alex’s hometown, I know who he is,” said Patrick La Fortune. “It’s very nice to get to meet him and get his autograph.”
Another Tagliani fan, Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Road Show member C.J. Miller, took the opportunity to enlist Tagliani in his planned marriage proposal.
Miller had Tagliani sign a hero card with the message: “Tracy, will you please marry C.J?”
“She told me to come up with an original way to propose,” Miller said. “I thought this was pretty original.”
Simona de Silvestro had the opportunity this week to tour Entergy’s Grand Gulf nuclear energy plant in Port Gibson, Miss., to learn more about nuclear power as a source of carbon-free electricity and the company that is sponsoring the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy car for HVM Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Simona de Silvestro visits with her sponsor
The tour included the reactor control room.
“People are amazed at the complexity and safety protections of the redundant, operational and safety systems that are built into a nuclear plant,” Browning said. “Simona had great questions and was quick to tell me that her home country of Switzerland gets 40 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy.”
The HVM Racing group, which also included team owner Keith Wiggins, received an introductory education program about nuclear energy.
“I didn’t realize that the volume of greenhouse gas emissions prevented at the 104 nuclear energy plants in the U.S. is equivalent to taking nearly all passenger cars off America’s roadways. That was an eye-opening statistic,” Wiggins said.
Following the tour, de Silvestro signed autographs for employees at the plant.
“I was so impressed with the amount of security that we went through and the enormity of the electricity produced 24-7 without interruption,” said de Silvestro, who returns to the track Feb. 28 for testing on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval. “It didn’t take long to see how well-managed the plant is by really impressive engineers and other nuclear professionals.
“I really am lucky to get inside and see a nuclear facility making electricity. That is something that most people don’t get to do. But I think that if they did, people would understand more about the process and appreciate getting clean electricity to use any hour of the day. We definitely need to have more clean nuclear electricity in the U.S.”
Mitch Davis traveled to a garage sale in North Carolina to stock his garage in Brownsburg, Ind., aka Chip Ganassi Racing West.
There is a mountain of items to tackle in preparation for the IZOD IndyCar Series season, and the task been compounded for the start-up teams for Graham Rahal (No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing) and Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing) that were announced Dec. 16.
Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball
Fortunately for Davis, the team manager, items from workbenches to a refrigerator were available as a result of the merger of the Ganassi and Earnhart stock car operations. It was like tagging trees to cut in a forest; a shopping spree without being concerned about prices.
“Overnight, we were instantly a race team,” Davis says. “It’s all up and running. We’re crack checking parts and doing body fits on cars. The hardest part really is getting all the pit equipment and transporters painted and decaled and building all the spare wings. You can’t just have one front wing and bump the wall and say, ‘Oh, I need to buy another one,’ because it doesn’t exist. You have to buy all the components, have them painted and decaled and fit.”
Bell housings are lined up in one room. A stark white trailer occupies space near where a team member is assembling red cabinet drawers. Others are working on the electrical loom of Kimball’s Dallara chassis.
“To have gone from truck bays for an old race shop into a full IndyCar team, it all sets the stage for the season to come,” says Kimball, who’s moving up from Firestone Indy Lights.
Graham Rahal poses by his new sidepods
It’s a work in progress to be sure, but after only two months in existence the group has come a long way to being competitive out of the box in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27.
Davis, who returned to Chip Ganassi Racing “with a smile on my face” after three seasons with other IZOD IndyCar Series teams, says 25 people are employed full time, with the two chief mechanics and two engineers moving over from the Target Chip Ganassi Racing operation in Indianapolis. Everyone that’s been hired has over-the-wall experience.
Hard at work in the shop
“When I came to work for Chip the last time he was just getting started in IndyCar and wanted me to come over because I had been in (INDYCAR), and this is just the perfect opportunity to come back,” Davis says. “The economy is growing again and Chip is taking advantage of the market with four cars, getting ready for next year with the new car and new engine packages coming.
“You look at what Chip’s done setting this up for the future and it’s a dream come true.”
24 hours and 1,400 Followers later, Team Penske driver, Will Power, has already made a splash in the Twitter INDYCAR fan community. Fans on Twitter can follow the Verizon Team Penske driver @12WillPower.
Fans can now follow Verizon Team Penske driver, Will Power, on Twitter @12WillPower
“Yeah, I’ve finally joined Twitter-nation. Even in the first couple of days I can tell it’s a great way to connect with fans and friends and I’m having fun with it,” says Power. I hope I can share a little bit of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season with everyone and talk a little bit about myself and what’s going on with the VerizonTeam Penske guys.”
The Indy 500 centennial Tour was a 10-day goodwill trip to Europe and the Middle East with the goal of boosting the morale of more than 10,000 service men and women the group will meet.The team, which included Indianapolis 500 winners Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Jr. plus Indy 500 veterans Sarah Fisher, Davey Hamilton, Larry Foyt and Firestone Indy Lights race winner Martin Plowman, gave motivational talks and participated in autograph and Q & A sessions, meet and greets and photo opportunities. Below, Sarah Fisher reflects upon the tour:
They told me at the beginning, that I would be sad to go home even though I would miss my spouse, family and friends, they were right. The past ten days have been the most incredible experience I have been a part of. To say the least, I will be forever grateful for our military and their dedication to keeping us safe. Three troops were in the hallway at the airport as I was making my way to the Indianapolis gate, and I couldn’t help notice the difference in my gratefulness towards them just seeing them on their way. Yes, this trip has changed my life.
Mario Andretti said the whole tour that being in the military was the noblest profession. I couldn’t agree more.
The impact of being a part of the Indianapolis 500 Centinneal Tour in the Middle East, has made a massive difference in the respect and thankfulness for the men and women who serve on behalf of our country. You really think you get it, know what lies ahead for them, but when you see it up close and personal it delivers a new dimension of understanding.
Mario Andretti and Sarah Fisher
I have been asked to identify my most favorite memory from the trip and after thinking intensively about what that would be, I am left with a much broader perspective. The memory I have is landing in Balad, my heart racing, not knowing what it was going to be like as we donned our body armor and helmet. What was it going to look like when they lowered the rear door on the C130. Everyone on the tour was quiet. Surely I am not the only one who was a bit nervous. Knowing that we were going to be in pretty good hands, and still having my heart race, what do our troops feel like? It has to be a level of apprehension beyond the starting grid of the Indy 500.
Every hand I shook this week, had shaken all on its own at some point during their own tour. The Indy 500 can be scary, intimidating, but not compared to the environment our soldiers voluntarily commit themselves to.
Sarah Fisher with the Indy 500 Centennial Tour themed IZOD IndyCar Series two-seater
The confidence in their teams was also another wide spread perspective. At 230 mph, I trust whole heartedly that my teammates will have my car 100%. The same applies to each soldier standing side by side in their mission. Learning about the F16 crew and what it takes to run that squadron rin Balad, I was introduced to one of their “crew chiefs.” His duties resembled our own crew chief identically. Although his name was on the aircraft, maybe we can make room on ours somewhere from here on out… Seeing the Joint Base of Balad, brought home the reality and seriousness of their surroundings.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank our airmen, soldiers, for taking the vow to protect our country, to protect our freedom and give me the hope that knows they will come home safe.
Total air mileage traveled on this tour was 16,600 miles
2-seat car was driven at four locations: Bahrain, Incirlik Turkey, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Honington (British Base) in the UK
Total rides given to troops on entire tour were 254
People traveling on the tour included 27 people with Morale Entertainment group and 10 Air Force crew members on the KC-135 for a total of 37
The tour visited troops at 7 bases in Germany, Bahrain, Joint Base Balad – Iraq, Turkey and the United Kingdom and visited the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier (that has 4,900 total personnel sailing aboard)
Members of the tour also supported a US State Department request at Cukurova University in Adana, Turkey.
Want more on the Indianapolis 500 Centennial Troops Tour?
Review the IndyCar.com running update from the tour here.
We’re all about the 2011 season, thinking about new things we can do online. We’re working on a lot of different digital projects including a revamped IndyCar Nation section to IndyCar.com, a new mobile site, new content and more interaction with our fans – You!
One thing we offer a lot of online is video. Our YouTube Channel has over 1200 videos. Here’s Danica Patrick talking about technology in one of our videos from 2010. My point is, we produce a lot of video, and that won’t stop.
For 2011, we want to try a new video series, called 11 in 11. We’re going to try and ask all of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar drivers the same 11 questions over the course of the season.
33 Indy 500 drivers at ESPN
Here’s where you become involved. We want you to come up with the selection of questions that would apply to any of our drivers.
Leave your general question as a comment on this blog. Or send it to us via Twitter (@IndyCar) or through our Facebook page. We need your suggestions by next Monday, January 10. Hey, we move fast.
We’ll pick the final 11 for 2011 and get started soon. You can expect to see these videos throughout the season and we promise to try and cover all of the drivers.
Growing up in Columbus, Ohio the closest race track to my home was Mid-Ohio. I spent most of my summers attending both my father’s races and IndyCar races. As a result I developed a love for road course racing and became a diehard fan of the drivers that were the best at turning left and right. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a road course elitist, it was just what I was exposed to and what I enjoyed. It wasn’t until I attended my first Pole Day at Indianapolis in 1988 that I realized how incredible oval racing can be.
Al Unser Jr
As most people my age who were/are race fans, growing up there was only one driver who kept my attention at every race. Al Unser Jr. He was always quick at Mid-Ohio and everywhere else for that matter. As a youngster you don’t really realize the driving prowess of some of these guys… it’s more like cheering for a team, you pick your driver, he’s your favorite for whatever reason, and very few things can change that.
Al was super friendly with his fans. I have multiple autographs and pictures with ‘Little Al’ from my days of running around the paddock. It was only at a later age that I started to realize what a true racer little Al was and is. The guy was quick… EVERYWHERE… and he drove every lap as hard as ever.
In 1993 a new driver entered the picture. Nigel Mansel. I’m not sure what drew my attention to Nigel when I was a kid. It could have been that he was the reigning Formula 1 champion, it could have been that I loved the Texaco Havoline cars, or maybe it was his helmet design. One thing was for sure, despite my Dad’s wishes, I was a Nigel Mansel fan. To this day it’s the only racing shirt from my childhood that only has ONE autograph on it… Nigel’s. I have a Bobby Rahal Kraco shirt that’s riddled with autographs, some of which I don’t even recognize, but Nigels was reserved for him alone. One of the stories I’ve heard over and over about Nigel’s first days in an IndyCar is in regards to his famed test at Firebird International Raceway where he broke the track record his first time in the car. Apparently, Nigel had a special test he liked to perform on new race cars. The test allowed him to see how the car would handle when he drove it on (and sometimes over) the ragged edge. Today, I miraculously discovered this famous first test in an IndyCar as well as footage of the famed “Spin Test.” The entire video is pretty awesome but fast forward to the 5:00 mark if you’d like to skip straight to the “Spin Test.”
In 1997 Dario Franchitti came on the scene and would quickly become my favorite for the foreseeable future. Dario had his fair share of shunts that season but the very next year he really put it together. He managed to string together a series of races late in the season (1st, 1st, 4th, 1st, and 2nd) to finish an impressive 3rd in just his second season in an IndyCar. Quite the improvement from his 22nd place finish in his first season. Dario may not be the flashiest of drivers but he’s one thing above all else… consistent. Consistent enough that in 1999 he finished 2nd in series standings after he and Juan Pablo Montoya tied in the championship standings. (Juan was awarded the championship with his 7 wins compared to Dario’s 3 wins.) Pretty impressive. He only finished outside the top 10 in 4 races out of the 20 race schedule that year. In 2007 Dario continued to show his consistency with his first championship. Dario only finished outside the top 10 ONCE in 2007 as well as only finishing outside the top 5 four times in 20 races. The guy is calm, cool, and calculated… and it’s awarded him three championships as a result. He’s a legend on street courses and as good as anyone on ovals. A two time Indy 500 winner and to this day, my favorite driver…
Editors Note: Over the course of the off-season Tomas Scheckter will be writing from time to time updating us on his current racing pursuits, telling us his most memorable moments, and providing the fans with insight from inside the cockpit. Tomas is one of the most exciting drivers to watch in the IZOD IndyCar Series and as you’ll soon realize he’s got a lot to say. He’s not afraid to express his opinions so keep that in mind… these blog posts are HIS opinions.
First things first, I have to admit I have never written a blog before and, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever read one before. A friend approached me and asked me to write up something after some heated exchanges between myself and Paul Tracy on Trackforum.com (more on that later).
The same friend who got me to write this blog recently brought by a recording of a TV show that aired in England not long ago and it really inspired me. The title of the show was “When Playboys Ruled The World.” It’s a documentary that covers the lives of Barry Sheene and James Hunt. It was during the year 1976 in which Barry Sheene won his 500cc Championship (which later became MotoGP) and James Hunt won the Formula One World Championship. These two were no ordinary champions. They lived life to the max and on the ragged edge. James had even been known for punching track marshals for restraining him after an accident. James and Barry were no strangers to the party scene either, even to the point that James sported a badge on his race suit that said “Sex Breakfast of Champions.”
James Hunt and Tomas’ Father, Jody Scheckter, are interviewed after the 1976 British GP
The side of these two that most didn’t see, and the documentary brought to light, was the tangible danger they faced weekly. They speak during the documentary how each of them lost upwards of 25 friends to the sports they loved. I like to think of myself as quite fearless and there is really only one moment in my career where I remember feeling fear. It was the morning Paul Dana passed away at Homestead-Miami Speedway. I’d seen Paul that morning as he parked his rental car right next to my bus and I remember greeting him. During the morning warm-up a yellow came out to clean up an incident and after about 15 minutes they cancelled the session, which they NEVER do. I knew my teammate Ed Carpenter had been involved but I didn’t know how bad it was. I went back to my motorhome after the session had been ended early to take a quick nap before the race got going. I was sitting on my bed as it came across ESPN that Paul had passed. I was in complete disbelief, my stomach turned, and my girlfriend at the time did her best to console me but I was feeling completely disconnected. About 3 minutes later my team manager called and said “Tomas, the race is back on, driver intros in 30 minutes.” I hadn’t felt confident in the setup of my car during warm-up and this tragic incident didn’t boost my confidence any. I have no idea where I finished in that race but I knew it was the best finish Vision Racing had at that point. After I got out of the car there were some people trying to come speak to me. I was in no mood to speak to anyone, pit lane lost a great individual that day and my great friend and teammate was in the hospital.
The feeling of fear is what sometimes drives us to the limit. It’s not the speed that’s exhilarating; we’re all used to the speed. It’s knowing that there’s a chance you might not come out the other side of the corner. It gives you that feeling in the pit of your stomach, as much as you hate it, it becomes addictive and that’s why it’s so hard to walk away from this sport.
There’s no track in the world that gives that feeling more than Indianapolis and that’s exactly why I think we need to be going 230 – 240 mph. Great ad campaigns like IZOD’s and leadership are of the upmost importance to any sport, but racing is sexy, dangerous, loud, scary, and on the edge. It’s all about speed, going for it, and breaking records. 220 is a thing of the past, if we’re approaching 240 we’ll be on the front page of every major newspaper in the country. Racing needs to get back to being on the edge, being on the edge is what Indy is all about. It’s the bravest drivers at the fastest track taking it to the absolute limit. We’re not playing ping-pong, darts, or bowling. We’re driving IndyCars at the greatest racetrack in the world and that’s a privilege. If you want that privilege, you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to take that risk?” If the answer is no then it’s time to hang it up. There’s no greater feeling in the world than being able to say you were lucky enough to be one of the 33 drivers at Indianapolis.
My dad will probably hate me for saying this as he was the head of the Drivers Association when he was in Formula One. They focused a lot on safety but back in his days they lost 2-3 drivers a year. It’s a whole different world today. I’m not trying to say I want to see people get hurt or anything but I do think it’s important that we get the fans respect back. There are things we can do better to increase the safety, but still allow for higher speeds. Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti have started having some meetings with drivers to get everyone’s point of view on safety, etc. It’s my opinion we can absolutely go 230-240 mph safely.
During this same documentary, they spoke about James’ and Barry’s exploits as “ladies men” and how open they were about it. Gerhard Berger made one comment that regardless of their extra-curricular activities they were still able to get the job done. Being great drivers made these guys famous, but their personalities and emotions made them legends. We need more of that. A good example was last year. I was sitting in my car after the Edmonton race, completely exhausted, seeing Helio Castroneves running around shouting and grabbing people (who easily could have tossed his butt all the way back to Brazil.) I loved that. It showed true emotion and it showed just how much emotion we all have invested in this. My other thought was, the WWE needs to get Helio in the ring, he’s a great performer.
I fully understand that racing is expensive and sponsors want a certain image but I think for the overall popularity of the sport everyone needs to loosen up. I would love to go back to the ‘70s or ‘80s and drive past the Snake Pit after a long day at the track. I would love to not be afraid to tell someone to stop “crying like a baby,” even though I’ve done that anyway. I read Graham Rahal’s tweets. He is a great kid and super talented but he is about as exciting as British politics. He is in his 20s, he drives the fastest cars in the world and he’s speaking about holding hands and getting double frappaccino with whipped cream. I’m not saying rob a liquor store or anything crazy like that but let loose, live a little.
I think anyone who steps into a race car has to be mentally and physically prepared. I spend a ton of time in the gym and I sleep in an altitude tent in preparation for race weekends. I weigh myself every single day. It’s important to have respect in combination with fun. As much as we all enjoy chasing girls we still control some very powerful machinery and take our own lives as well as the lives of the spectators into our hands every time we go on track. With that type of responsibility if you don’t have respect for it you shouldn’t be involved.
I hope I didn’t make too many people angry over the course of this. I can honestly say I love each and every single one of you fans and the amount of support you’ve shown me over the years has been incredible. I hope to be writing more often here. And hopefully, if everything comes together, I’ll see you all at the greatest place on earth, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Day 2 of the IZOD Brave New World shoot continued today. The rock band may have left the desert, but we had new guests. In preparation for print, video and web content in support of the 2011 IndyCar season, IZOD was working with six current IndyCar drivers, a former Indy winner and more models. The edited piece will feature Weezer, all of the above, fast cars, rock and roll and some more surprises. Bring on 2011.
Ed, Justin and Alex had the opportunity to visit playrooms where the kids were drawing or playing with toys and video games. The drivers enjoyed talking with the children and giving away signed hats, hero cards, IZOD IndyCar Series calendars and Hot Wheels diecast. The children enjoyed the visit as well– greeting the IZOD IndyCar drivers with numerous smiles and autograph requests.
IndyCar Drivers Alex Tagliani, Ed Carpenter and Justin Wilson spend the day at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.
In addition to the playroom visits, the IZOD IndyCar drivers also had the opportunity to visit individual rooms of children too ill to visit in common areas. For the patients and families at Riley, this week’s visit brought a momentary break for the challenge of childhood illness. For Ed Carpenter, Justin Wilson, and Alex Tagliani, the visit brought the chance to meet some of their biggest (well okay, littlest) fans.
Justin Wilson signs autographs at Riley Children's Hospital