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At one time, the Ybor City section of Tampa out-produced Havana as the cigar-rolling capital. Tampa Bay, which includes St. Petersburg, remains famous for two other Cuban staples: Strong coffee and satisfying sandwiches of ham, pork and Swiss cheese.

The Cuban (or cubano) is the official sandwich of Tampa, and Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg president and general manager Tim Ramsberger (a lifelong St. Pete resident) weighs in on restaurants where spectators for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend can find the best:

Floridian – Treasure Island
Colombia – Tampa/St. Pete Pier
Habana Café – Gulfport
Pipos – St. Pete
Bodega – St. Pete
La Teresita – Tampa

“To me, the sandwich must be evenly stacked and I like mine pressed,” he said.

Another history tidbit: 2013 is the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de León’s arrival in Florida during his expedition to discover the mythical fountain of youth. Born in 1460, he was a member of Christopher Columbus’ second expedition to the New World in 1493. He led his own expeditions afterward, and the Spanish crown encouraged him search out new lands in hopes of finding gold and expanding the empire.

Leading a private expedition from Puerto Rico to the Caribbean island of Bimini, where he heard there were miraculous waters that rejuvenated those who drank from them, the party instead landed on the southeast coast of what would be the United States.

He named the region Florida because he discovered it at Easter time (Pascua Florida) and because its vegetation was lush and floral.

So a wrong turn was made right. He went on to become the first governor of Puerto Rico.

It’s understandable, but not orchestrated, that Page Mader and Al Speyer would retire in the same season of year. They’ve been synonymous with Firestone Racing and, in a sense, with each other for nearly four decades.

In fact, Speyer’s wife, Jane, introduced Mader to his wife, Jean. They’ve been married for 26-plus years.

Page Mader

“I’ve known Page both professionally and personally since the days when we started at Firestone in the early ‘70s,” said Speyer, Firestone Racing’s executive director. “We were both in the tire development department at the time. He actually started out writing specifications for everything and has worked his way up through all the engineering ranks now to be doing some very sophisticated race tires.

“We’ve worked on all sorts of different projects together – drag tires, sprint car tires, sports car tires and now to be doing IndyCar tires. The critical part is that Page has been part of it all the way. I don’t know where we’d be without him. His contributions go beyond the tires. The relationships he’s built with the teams and the people he’s mentored along the way are true traits of his, and he never holds back on letting you know how he feels.”

Mader, general manager of race tire development, transitioned to racing in 1979. He’s been involved in developing a range of Firestone tires for drag racing, sprint cars, modifieds, sports cars and Indy cars.

“The first test I met Joe Ruttman at Bakersfield and I thought, ‘How cool is this?’ ’’ Mader said. “We were doing late model sportsman and modified and also doing World of Outlaws with Steve Kinser. In ’90 we started the Indy Lights program and the first test was with Paul Tracy because he was getting ready to go to Indy car. Indy Lights now is a bulletproof program and along the way we’ve helped a lot of drivers.”

IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights competitors continually praise the Firestone Firehawks for being bulletproof.

The brand’s current Indy car era began in 1991 with title sponsorship of the Indy Lights series. Firestone Racing made its return to the Indianapolis 500 in 1995, and Firestone tires were on the winning car of the first INDYCAR-sanctioned race in 1996 – and every race since. In December 2012, it extended its contract to be the exclusive tire supplier to the IZOD IndyCar Series through 2018.

Mader has been intricately involved in all the programs.

“I never thought I’d get to do all that I do and meet the wonderful drivers, owners and just friends,” he said. “I have loved every minute working in race tire development. Most people go to work and my work is a pleasure for me, and it’s a wonderful thing that the company has continued (in IndyCar racing) and I got to be a part of it.”

How’s this for a calling card?

“Harvey Firestone Jr., the oldest son of the founder, asked me if I wanted a summer job and I said, ‘Heck, yeah.’ That was between my junior and senior years of high school. I was 17. It was doing yard work and I wanted to save up for a car to drive to school.”

Firestone Racing motorsports manager Joe Barbieri.

Joe Barbieri pauses as memories wash over his mind. The Firestone Racing motorsports manager will be retiring soon – at least from his four-decade association with Firestone and parent Bridgestone Americas. The company and silver-haired gentleman with a quick smile have mutually benefitted, and Indy car racing is the better for it.

“Being from Akron, the rubber capital of the world, everyone was involved with some rubber company,” he says. “I had sisters that worked at Goodrich, an uncle at Goodyear, a brother-in-law at General and a brother-in-law at Firestone. It’s one of those deals where you got hooked with a rubber company and that’s where you stayed. It grew from there.

“I got in with the company and I remember talking with the HR people and they contacted Harvey and made sure if it was OK to hire me, and he said fine, just make sure it was on a back shift. I worked for him from 8-2 and worked in the plant sweeping floors from 4 to midnight. That was a union job back then and it lasted a month and I got laid off. I got called back and worked two months and got laid off.

“All the time I kept the job with Harvey out at his estate. It was quite an experience. Obviously, I’ve come a long way since then. Those roots go very deep with Firestone and I love the company very much.”

Barbieri envisioned working with his hands – maybe even building a desk instead of sitting behind one –as a living. He attended Akron University but didn’t complete coursework for a bachelor’s degree.

“Management was never a dream of mine until I found out how hard work (with one’s hands) that was,” he says. “So I started working in a test laboratory at Firestone, and I did well enough to move up to the engineering department as a technician. I got a lot of experience on how tires are made, what goes into it and did light truck engineering.”

He accepted a position with Firestone Racing in 1987 – initially working in sales and marketing in Akron and then as a project supervisor in the motorsports department. He was promoted to motorsports manager in 1994.

“It’s been a great ride; I’ve really enjoyed it,” Barbieri says. “To watch it grow and change, and to be working with the engineers, has been special. It’s afforded me to go all over the world. It will be quite a change.

“I see golf in my future and I’m an Elk member and do volunteer work. I also love to fish. I’ll have to dust off the poles for the grandchildren.”

Sounds like a great way to create more memories.

Karting and Giving Back

Posted on: March 5, 2013 | Comments (0) | Uncategorized | By: Kate

What happens when you put eight professional race car drivers and a bunch of competitive media members on one karting track? Apparently a lot of trash talking and a few racing moves that wouldn’t necessarily be considered ‘legal’ at the race that the gathering was celebrating, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Justin Wilson (far left) joins Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg vice president Tim Ramsberger and Alex Tagliani.

On Feb. 27, James Jakes, Justin Wilson, Alex Tagliani and Jack Hawksworth joined drivers from USF2000 and Pirelli World Challenge for a media karting event at Andersen RacePark in Bradenton, Fla. The annual event heralded the season-opening race just up the highway in St. Petersburg by gathering media attending the race with some of its stars, but the similarities stopped there. After several protests and unplanned pit stops, Belardi Auto Racing’s Danilo Estrela led his team to the victory, with Hawksworth’s team finishing second and Tagliani’s in third.

To begin the event, representatives from the Grand Prix welcomed Charlie Lemon, a young war hero from Afghanistan that lost both of his legs during his tour. Lemon, an INDYCAR fan who has attended a race in Sonoma previously, was given the first two tickets to the event through a new program established by Wish For Our Heroes (W4OH) and the Honda Grand Prix that will send thousands of troops to the race.

As Tagliani listened to Lemon relaying his story to the crowd, he asked to say a few words on behalf of the IZOD IndyCar Series. What no one expected was that he wanted to make an on-the-spot offer to Lemon and W4OH – provide him with the foundation’s sticker to place on his helmet, and following the race he will auction it off with all proceeds going to W4OH. The gracious solider accepted the offer, setting a great tone to the start of the media event before anyone stepped in a kart.

Riding in his pink Cadillac

Posted on: March 1, 2013 | Comments (1) | Uncategorized | By: Dave

JR Hildebrand's classic ride.

JR Hildebrand turned heads at Sonoma Raceway even before he guided the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car onto the 3.84-mile, 12-turn road course during a Chevrolet manufacturer test Feb. 27.

Hildebrand, a native of nearby Sausalito, Calif., drove into the facility in a pink 1962 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. The recent purchase complements the 1966 Chevelle SS given to him by Panther Racing team owner John Barnes after Hildebrand was named Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 2011 and a TramsAm he’s restoring.

“I’ve always had a thing for early model year Cadillacs, but the 1962 Coupe DeVille has always been the one for me,” Hildebrand said. “It’s 50-plus years old and it’s hard to find one that’s not either a piece of (junk) or completely restored. The guy I bought it from sent me a bunch of pictures and I almost made an offer without seeing it in person.

“It was everything I thought it was, and I decided to pull the trigger and add it to the stable. It’s a little bit of a project, but it’s such a unique car and a lot of fun.”

A Facebook question led to Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing head engineer Nathan O’Rourke explaining the impact of temperature on the race car — in layman’s terms. We all thank him for that.

Ambient weather conditions, including temperature, have profound effects on both car and driver. This may seem like a simple question, but temperature has an influence on many different aspects of the car, and the ideal temperature for each generally isn’t the same and varies across the different types of tracks. Engineers are continuously monitoring and logging ambient temperature, track temperature, ambient pressure, humidity, and wind direction/speed and making adjustments as necessary to re-optimize the car’s setup. Instead of giving you our priority list for best adjusting the parameters affected by weather for a particular track, I’ll just go over a few of the primary temperature-dependent components of the car and the reader can decide which would be more important than others at a particular track.

Driver: I’m not a human performance specialist by any means, but in general it’s the cooler the better. Cooler temperatures reduce the chance of dehydration and help maintain consistent driver performance in the car during a race. Dehydration not only effects physical performance, but as we’ve often seen at the end of long, hot races when people start making mistakes, it can tend to effect cognitive/judgment skills and tempers! Even in the coolest of temperatures in which we run, the driver is still sweaty when he/she gets out of the car, and I’ve never heard anyone complain of being cold in the car, so other parameters would prevent us from running in temperatures that would ever be too cold for the driver (i.e. tire temps).

Engine: Engines run better with a cooler air inlet charge because it increases the air density (more oxygen available for a given volume of air). The role of the turbocharger is to increase the density of air entering the engine through increased pressure. Since the rules provide a maximum boost level, the density of the air entering the engine is very consistent regardless of ambient temperature or pressure because the turbo is maintaining this consistent “boost” level. From a temperature standpoint, the inlet air temperature is normalized to some extent by the heating of the inlet air that occurs while passing through the turbocharger. Some turbocharged engines use devices called intercoolers to cool the compressed air charge between the turbo and engine, but this isn’t the case with the current IZOD IndyCar Sereis specification. Turbocharged engines are considerably less influenced by ambient conditions than the normally-aspirated engines we had prior to 2012, as in the past a decrease in temperature resulted in a very noticeable increase in power and fuel consumption.

Aerodynamics: This is somewhat track dependent, but in general with the Dallara chassis and the current regulations and trends of setting a maximum downforce level for a particular track, this is another area where it’s generally the cooler, the better. Since cooler temperatures result in higher air density, the cars produce more downforce and drag with cooler temperature by increasing the amount of air passing over the car. Less angle of attack or smaller wickers are required on the front and rear wings to produce a given level of downforce in cooler temperatures, which in turn makes them more efficient (less drag for same downforce). If you take the 2012 Fontana race as an example, it seemed in the very hot daytime practices that the race was going to be extraordinarily difficult because of the low downforce level, but the 10 degree cooler temperatures during the night race added enough downforce that it wasn’t that bad. One thing to note in terms of the ambient temperature is that because IndyCars ride so close to the ground, the temperature of the air feeding the car’s aerodynamics is usually considerably warmer than the air temperature as measured at a weather station. On a 90 degree day, the track temperature might be 130 degrees, which is probably more representative of the temperature of the air passing over the car’s various aerodynamic devices.

Tires: Tires in general are very temperature sensitive, not only in their ultimate operating temperature, but also in the process by which they are brought to operating temperature. Firestone does a fantastic job of building tires that are very consistent and durable, that aren’t overly sensitive to abuse or using the incorrect processes of generating temperature (i.e. not to underscore the importance of this in IndyCar racing, but this process seems to be much more sensitive with European formulas and tires). Cooler track temperatures are generally better for tire wear and maintaining a higher grip level over a longer period of time, but there is a disadvantage in that it takes longer to generate tire temperature and get to the optimum running temperature. Warmer track temperatures require less time to reach ideal operating temperatures, but are generally worse for tire wear and require the driver to be extra careful about not abusing the tire and generating excessive temperature which will quickly accelerate tire degradation. The ideal situation would be to have pitlane tire warmers and cool track temperatures, but this is a bit of a fantasy situation for us as tire warmers are not permitted in IndyCar.

Final Answer: So what does all this mean? I’d like to just answer the question simply and say that the optimum temperature for an IndyCar is 78 degrees, and this applies to all tracks, but that’s not the case. With the diversity of tracks and aero packages in the IZOD IndyCar Series, the “optimal” weather condition for a given track may be decidedly different than another. As you could expect, the sensitivity of the car to weather and the emphasis we place on all of the parameters effected by it are going to be much different at a bumpy, high downforce street circuit like Detroit than it is at a smooth, high-speed low-downforce oval like Indianapolis. It’s important for engineers to closely monitor not just temperature, but all aspects of the weather to ensure that the proper adjustments are made to best optimize performance at a particular track. Thankfully, all of our manufacturers, including Honda, Dallara, and Firestone, have given us excellent products that have been developed to provide a wide range of adjustability which allows the teams to optimize all aspects of the car in a variety of different weather conditions. As it is with many things, the extremes are always bad (way too hot or way too cold), but we know from experience that the current IndyCar is capable of putting on a great show regardless of the outside temperature.

Greetings from Homestead, Fla., where it is NOT in the single digit temperatures like it is in Indianapolis! I arrived yesterday for the first Firestone Indy Lights open test in advance of 2013, and currently have a great view of the road course from race control. I’m usually sitting in the media center in the infield where I don’t have a clear shot of the full track, so our Timing & Scoring staff are giving me a treat this time around.

We have nine awesome drivers out here today. Star Mazda (now Pro Mazda) is really representing, with last year’s champion Jack Hawksworth, 2012 standouts Zach Veach and Gabby Chaves and former competitor Peter Dempsey running in the top five this morning. Carlos Munoz, who’s going into his second season in Firestone Indy Lights, has been fastest all day. Check out this story on him and his quest to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 this year AND earn the Firestone Indy Lights title.

It’s great to see some familiar faces on the INDYCAR tech side and the team side. Chatting with one of them during the lunch break today, I was asked, “So…what is it you actually do here?” It’s funny how much time we spend around each other without asking that, so I didn’t mind.

During a test, I find a good place to camp (qualifiers: wi-fi, a decent view, safe to leave my things behind) with a radio so I can keep posted on what’s going on. I still have to do the things I do on a daily basis, like post to our Facebook and Twitter pages and respond to my email. Also, if we have any media attend, I work with them to make sure they have what they need and get to talk to the drivers they want interviews from. This test, we weren’t able to bring a photographer out, so I went up to the spotter stands to test my artistic abilities so I can have photos to post with web stories I’ll file after the day is over.

After the session is over and I see who’s fastest, or who went notably fast, I hunt them down during the lunch break and conduct interviews. I try not to interrupt debriefs or meal time, but I’ll take an interview with food rolling around in their mouths over no interview any day! We usually haven’t seen each other in a while, so it’s also a great time to catch up for a bit before the afternoon starts up. Today’s lunch break included new photos of Zach Veach’s puppy that he’s about to get.

From there, it’s back to my post to write and prepare stories for the new, where we’ll be posting all of the latest Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy news from now on. Hope you enjoy its new home, our web staff did a great job getting it up and ready, and we’re excited to get more news flowing through it about these great, up-and-coming drivers.

Let me know in the comment section below anything you’d like to see from our time here at Homestead and I’ll do my best to get it to you in the second day of testing tomorrow! We have a gallery of photos up on our Flickr page. — Kate

Week three.
Again, great answers and submissions for week two of Guess that Tweeter. Here are the answers to match up and see if you were right! Be sure to follow the drivers so you can stay up to date with their latest happenings (and be able to guess that tweeter of course!)
1. Will Power (@12WillPower)
2. James Hinchcliffe (@Hinchtown)
3. Luca Forgeois (@LucaForgeois)
4. Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan)
5. Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal)
6. David Ostella (@DavidOstella)
7. Helio Castroneves (@h3lio)
8. Connor De Phillippi (@CDePhillippi11)
9. Oliver Webb (@OliverJamesWebb)
10. Charlie Kimball (@racewithinsulin)

Here we go for week three! As always, may be a driver from the IZOD IndyCar series or any of the Mazda Road to Indy series.

1. What’s better than a red-eye?? A delayed red-eye!
2. Running on the boardwalk with my dad. He’s all excited about this
3. Southwest lane slots start getting aggressive for group C. #whatsyournumber
4. Chilling in San Fran today, weather is pretty poor lots of fog! Might be a good day to check out Alcatraz. #spooky
5. +++++ Negativity breeds negativity and I’m choosing positivity today. +++++
6. Fun morning with @scottdixon9 checking out the @oracleTeamUsa boats.. I Tried to borrow one for next years West highland yacht week!!!
7. Thanks for the info, sounds like its a harmless critter, we’ll keep him :)
8. 6:25am……..about to start work. Ugh!!!!!! Where is my bed!
9. Few minutes @cudaracing event with @Barracuda folks let’s have a bet, I will get famous question? What happen when you need to ….. In car
10. Whos the dummy that forgot her race boots in the truck for the tv stuff!… that’ll be me wearing heels. Doh.

Everyone submitted a lot of great answers to the first installment of Guess That Tweeter, here are the answers to week one:

  1. James Hinchcliffe (@Hinchtown)
  2. Scott Dixon (@ScottDixon9)
  3. Ryan Briscoe (@ryan_briscoe)
  4. Zach Veach (@ZachVeach)
  5. JR Hildebrand (@JRHildebrand)
  6. Simon Pagenaud (@SimonPagenaud)
  7. Alex Tagliani (@Tagliani)
  8. Josef Newgarden (@JosefNewgarden)
  9. Ed Carpenter (@EdCarpenter20)
  10. Sebastien Bourdais (@BourdaisOnTrack)

So now gear up for another addition of “Guess That Tweeter” to see how well you pay attention to what the drivers have to say on the World Wide Web. (Note: Tweets this week come from IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights, Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championships by Mazda drivers.)

  1. @JennaFryer @usainbolt Insain needs to come to an @IndyCar race and I would try to outrun him…could be tough…he’s insane fast
  2. There’s been shockingly little talk on my feed about the fact that it’s shark week.
  3. Ran a solid eight miles today in 59 minutes and 54 seconds. Yes the 54 seconds matter because i kept my run 6 seconds under an hour.#details
  4. Fathers day here in Brazil. Enjoy my little one today. What a bless.
  5. Just drive through Frankfort Indiana, home of the….yep you guessed it, hot dogs! #StuffYouCantMakeUp
  6. This is too long of a break in between races might have to bring out the old shifter kart for a little drive #cantsitstill #needforspeed
  7. Now my phone battery running low and I need to do #1…. Hehehe
  8. We have a @PlayBoy bunny trying to do an anti-texting video with @MazdaUSA!
  9. Sat next to half the Man City Field and Owners trying to listen in on their tactics for the season haha
  10. Looking for a house is harder work than driving an @IndyCar!!

Good luck, and same as last time, the answers will be posted next week!

Show us your Twitter knowledge!

Note: At the invitation of INDYCAR, several Tweeters ventured to Mid-Ohio for the race weekend. @NascarCasm recaps his experience:

You’re standing next to Rick Mears and Arie Luyendyk. Just keep your cool.

That was the thought going through my head as I tried to process the somewhat surreal nature of the moment. I was standing in Race Control at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, having just received an informative tour from IZOD IndyCar Series Race Director Beaux Barfield. In walked Luyendyk, and Mears shortly thereafter.

A small aside: I grew up in Indiana. When May rolled around, all eyes were on 16th and Georgetown. Every year we made the pilgrimage to the Brickyard for practice and Pole Day. I cheered on Foyt, Andretti, Mears, Unser, Luyendyk and, of course, Fabrizio Barbazza. (OK – I know he only ran the race once, but when you’re 8 years old, things like wacky names grab your attention.)

So there I was, standing next to two racing icons. Mears was his usual gracious self. Luyendyk was equally as gracious, despite probably another exhausting morning of women asking him for his son’s phone number. They were there to observe practice, and not wanting to intrude I shook their hands, and got out of their way. Thankfully, I was able to stifle the “DEAR LORD, I JUST MET SIX INDIANAPOLIS 500 WINS – I AM NEVER WASHING MY HANDS AGAIN,” feeling. (Note: Before you question my hygiene, I assure you that the Mid-Ohio chicken fingers basket later on made doing so entirely necessary.)

Again, it was a surreal moment — so surreal that I forgot to ask Beaux if I could randomly call someone for avoidable contact, just for the rush.

How we wound up there is equally as surreal. Thanks to Twitter, I’ve been able to meet several incredible people in the world of motorsports, primarily in NASCAR (@NascarCasm is my ridiculous, unpronounceable handle). But a few weeks back I was contacted out of the blue by INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard (which I had to convince myself wasn’t a prank call). It led to an incredible invitation.

I, along with some other Tweeters, traveled out to Mid-Ohio to experience the fender-free world of IndyCar. I didn’t know what to expect. Nor did I know why exactly they invited a schmuck who spends most race days lying on his couch posting lame jokes on Twitter to join them. But I didn’t ask. And now I’m pining to return.

Saturday’s schedule was packed. We enjoyed a nice breakfast with Randy Bernard at the INDYCAR Paddock Club, where we discussed IndyCar and social media, among other things. (Yeah, you heard that right Brian France – bet you wish you’d responded to my repeated requests to meet up at Waffle House now, don’t you?). Next we proceeded on to the walk-in-closet-sized media center, where A.J. Foyt was announcing that driver Chase Austin would be driving for him in next year’s Indy 500.

A.J.’s 77 years old, but still tough as ever, which is why I opted not to ask any stupid questions. Next up was Race Control. Barfield showed us the ins and outs of RC, from the TVs covering every foot of track to the famous instant-messaging system, which upon quick glance was free of the words “LOL” and “OMG”, as well as any emoticons. Did I mention Luyendyk and Mears came in also?

Other activities included a quick meet and greet with TrueCar Racing drivers Katherine Legge (IZOD IndyCar Series, @KatherineLegge), Shea Holbrook (Pirelli World Challenge, @SheaRacing) and Shannon McIntosh (USF2000, @SHANNON_MAC), where we learned about TrueCar’s Women-Empowered initiative (Follow them at @TrueCarRacing).

We also had a chance to meet USF2000 points leader Spencer Pigot, and learn more about IndyCar’s “Road To Indy” developmental racing program.

The most eye-opening experience was a side trip to meet “Jakesy Nation.” Who are they? A fun, jovial and possibly over-served collection of guys and gals united through their devotion to IndyCar driver James Jakes, who also just so happen to have an awesome trailer.  The group, dressed in matching T-shirts, was surprised out of the blue by Jakes himself, who ventured out to the parking lot to greet his loyal fans and celebrate his birthday.

The group’s amazement that their hero had come out to greet them seemed to equal that of Jakes himself, once he saw their degree of fanaticism. I never got to experience the infamous “Snakepit” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during its heyday, but with this rowdy group, the “Jakes-pit” could easily pick up where they left off.

The next day we were greeted with a torrential downpour, but having been to several NASCAR races, I was used to that (It’s a running joke that you could run a NASCAR race in the middle of the Sahara Desert, and somehow a pop-up shower would interrupt it before halfway.) This day kicked off with an informative tour of the pit/garage area with Pippa Mann – encyclopedic in her IndyCar knowledge. From there, we roamed at will, awaiting the start of the Honda Indy 200.

Not surprisingly, the IndyCar garage is bustling with activity on race day, but it’s very common to see the drivers out signing autographs, taking pictures, and being their accessible selves. I also learned to recognize the tell-tale sound of an approaching scooter – see, the drivers zip around the garage on personalized scooters. They get them from point A to point B pretty quickly, but would likely get them laughed at were they to roll into Sturgis.

The Team Penske scooter fleet is especially impressive. They all match. They’re polished. Shiny. I wonder how often they get scooter-jacked.

Before the race, I was unable to hunt down Robin Miller, as I wanted to draft him during his famed grid run. But I was able to get close to the cars, and see drivers like Helio, Kanaan, Will Power and Josef Newgarden transitioning from driver-intro friendly to game face.

I also I disappointed my mom, who wanted me to inform Helio that she voted for him every week during “Dancing With The Stars.” I didn’t think during the pre-race invocation was the appropriate time.

The race itself was clean yet exciting. I watched several laps by the exit of the Carousel. As this was my first road-course race in any series, I was amazed by the precision it took to maneuver the tricky, sweeping right-hander lap after lap. I spent the majority of the race on pit lane, observing lap times, pit stops, and the loads of data each team parses during the race.

Most teams have what seemed like 7-8 laptops humming at all times. Looked somewhat like a mid-race Gen-Con “World Of Warcraft” meet-up.

Overall, what struck me the most about the weekend was the hospitality – everyone, from Randy Bernard, to Beaux Barfield, to the drivers, to the hard-working public relations people who planned the weekend and let us have the run of the place, was as congenial and welcoming as could be. They’re a young, enthusiastic accommodating bunch – practically the polar opposite of the yellow shirts at IMS.

They’re absolutely driven to raise the sport’s profile as high as possible, and know they have the product to do so.

I was primarily a NASCAR follower, but I went into the weekend with an open mind, as I try to do with any event (With the noted exception of that Michael Bublé concert I once went to. There’s three excruciating hours of my life I’ll never get back). I walked away thoroughly impressed with the race, the track, and most importantly, the people.

I’ve never joined the stock car vs. open-wheel debate. They’re separate animals, with their own attributes and intricacies. After the weekend in Mid-Ohio, I can honestly say I’m a big fan of both, and will be adding a few IndyCar races to our yearly motorsports itinerary. And Jakesy Nation darn well better be there.