Halloween is for the young – and the young at heart. Both descriptions could fit drivers in INDYCAR.
Mario Romancini as Mario
Paying homage to one of the video games that started it all – Super Mario Brothers – on its 25th anniversary is Mario Romancini. Below is Jay Howard, who has the look if not the moves to “Thriller.”
Any guesses on Jay Howard?
Wearing firesuits during daylight hours this weekend are Ryan Hunter-Reay, buoyed by a two-year deal with Andretti Autosport, and Marco Andretti. Maybe they’ll stay in character and scare up some fun in Birmingham after testing at Barber Motorsports Park.
Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, James Hinchcliffe, et al, were planning to attend parties so we’ll pass along photos if they dare send. Have a goolish time.
I know we’re in the midst of a pretty exciting IndyCar season, but I wanted to take the opportunity to mention something else occurring this summer – the World Cup. I’m a huge soccer fan and will be glued to the TV June 11 – July 11, rooting for England (hey, I was born there) and hoping for some magical goal, incredible matches and a thrilling cup final. Player of the tournament? My pick is Wayne Rooney. Disagree?
I know soccer isn’t very popular in the US, but it’s huge a sport and there are many similarities to IndyCar – the global appeal, Brazilians seem to always do well, cool fans, great athleticism, etc.
There are 32 teams at the World Cup. There are 26 drivers in tonight’s Firestone 500k race at Texas Motor Speedway. So what’s the Nation/Driver breakdown? Before I get into that, check out Rafa Matos visiting the Kansas City Wizards of MLS.
“Home, James.” It’s time to leave New York but it’s not the end of the day for many Indianapolis 500 competitors.
The regional jet is scheduled to land at 4:30, which leaves just enough time for a shower and change of clothing for sponsor dinners, media obligations and – for the fortunate ones — dinner with family and friends.
It’s been a whirlwind tour of 33 drivers, 3 cities in 36 hours. And though everyone is fatigued, there’s unanimous sentiment that it was a hit and definitely broke up the focus on the racetrack and the Indianapolis 500.
“Ready to do it again next year,” Justin Wilson says.
“I saw a lot of press, a lot of energy, a lot of excitement today where the IZOD IndyCar Series came in and was able to take over a big piece of New York and make a big image,” says Indy Racing League CEO Randy Bernard, who is attending his first Indy 500 promotional event on Herald Square. “Anytime you’re able to do that it’s great for your sport. IZOD, American Honda and the IZOD IndyCar staff should be cogratulated because they really worked hard on this.”
That’s about all Bernard can fit in before being whisked away to interviews at Fox Business.
Only in NYC can a gaggle of race car drivers in multi-colored and multi-logoed firesuits stoll down Broadway and — aside from cell phone photos and some ‘Good luck’ shouts — not really stop sidewalk traffic.
Honda's, IndyCar drivers and autographs
Mike Conway pauses to grab a photo of Conway Herald Square, featuring women’s apparel for $10 and under in its windows. “Another one of my stores,” the Brit says. Nice to see he’s expanding the portfolio beyond auto racing.
Patrons of Macy’s flagship store on Herald Square patiently (well, some anyway) wait to have their photo snapped in the same frame as Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves and/or Mario Andretti and get their autographs. It’s a good time to snap up IZOD wear, featuring the new Indianapolis 500 heritage series. The yellow 1911 Marmon Wasp T-shirt is my favorite.
“This is the sixth year we’ve come to New York for this day before the ‘500′ and it gets bigger each year,” says Castroneves, the pole sitter who is seeking his fourth victory. “IZOD knows how to do it big.”
It’s on to a media luncheon for all the drivers. Try the veal.
“OK, guys — and gals – look left, now right, now throw your hat into the crowd,” the instructions of Brian Gordon of Phillips-Van Heusen boom over the public-address system during a media/fan/passersby photo-video op and autograph session on Herald Square in New York.
Broadway between 35th and 34th is closed to vehicular traffic. “It’s not the Thanksgiving Day parade is it?” a shopper wearing a “I love NY” T-shirt says.
Herald Square, NYC
With 33 Honda Crosstours (nice vehicle byt the way) lined up in 11 rows of three on Broadway, the starting lineup for the Indianapolis 500 poke out of the sunroofs for the media event as hundreds of spectators anxiously await an IZOD IndyCar Series hat tossed in their direction or an autograph of their favorite drivers.
Fronting the field is Mario Andretti and the two-seat IndyCar that will lead the procession of race cars in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” May 30. The passenger in “The Fastest Seat in Sports” will be award-winning producer/actor Mark Wahlberg.
Mario Moraes emerges from the cockpit of NIRL and aplogizes for the landing at Newark International. “I tried my best,” he says with a smile from behind aviator sunglasses.
In best pilot voice: On the right side of the aircraft you’ll see the new Meadowlands Stadium, home of the New York Giants and New York Jets.
Next stop: Herald Square and the event at Macy’s flagship store.
6:55 a.m. Tuesday
Did you “Wake Up with Al Roker”? Sarah Fisher did as the team owner/driver was on the Weather Channel set bright and early. The forecast for the Indy 500 is a mid-afternoon high of 80 with plenty of sunshine. Thanks Al and Sarah.
Speaking of warm temps, the 90 degrees that blew through Indianapolis over the weekend has worked its way to New England. It will be a steamy one today in Boston and New York, where the field is headed soon for the Herald Square event.
Also, an addendum to the Robin Roberts note from Monday morning (below), her interview with Danica Patrick will air Saturday on “Good Morning America.” Roberts is the Pace Car driver for the ‘500.’
11:10 p.m. Monday
Paparazzi fill the media “bullpen” and spectators clamor for the attention of drivers and celebs who walk the red carpet to the IZOD “Race to the Party” event at Rumors nightclub on Warrenton Street in Boston (this is all between 8:45-9:15). All pose for photos with the ubiquitous “IZOD Girl,” whose name BTW is Carmen, and many are sidetracked for interviews.
IZOD girl, Carmen
“Quite a hopping place for a Monday,” says Rafa Matos. “It is Monday, isn’t it?” Yes, everyone is a little spent after the non-stop day. Before departing to take in the Celtics home playoff game — they fail to sweep the Orlando Magic — 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti poses with actor/producer Mark Wahlberg on an IZOD logoed two-seat IndyCar. “Hey, you guys coming?” says pole sitter Helio Castroneves, holding open the door of the limo, “we’re going to be late.”
Mark Wahlberg and Mario Andretti
It is getting late, but while some drivers depart for their cells (hmm, 40ish Davey Hamilton and John Andretti are noticeably among the first to leave the pounding music of the club) others chill on a white leather couch and chat, take photos of each other in groups and E.J. Viso and Danica Patrick share iPhone apps. They compete on the same racetracks, but they rarely get to spend much time together socially. For some on this rare night off (after the ‘500′ on Sunday the series swings to Texas Motor Speedway four days later), another stop is Beantown is likely in order.
“I had a stressful weekend so it’s nice to have a party to relax,” Tony Kanaan says.
Also enjoying the atmosphere is Micky Ward, a retired pro boxer whose life will be portrayed by Wahlberg in an upcoming feature film. “Mark is a perfectionist, so I expect the movie to be great,” he says. “He’s been hitting the gym hard and looks great.”
It’s wheels up at 9 a.m. for Newark, N.J., and the bus to 36th Street, where the Indy 500 starters will drive IZOD-logoed Hondas a few blocks to Herald Square for media photos/video, an autograph session with fans along Broadway and a media luncheon at Gotham Hall.
Weary drivers slide off the bus from the short (well, by distance anyway; it’s rush hour in Boston) trip from Bedford (Mass.) airport and enter the Liberty Hotel — which was a former prison. The hotel’s main restaurant is appropriately named The Clink. Lots of exposed brick and beams, but fortunately no cots in the cells, er, rooms.
The front-row starters — Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Dario Franchitti — arrive before the rest, having hitched a ride on a helicopter from ESPN in Bristol, Conn., after being guests on SportsCenter. “Beautiful countryside to fly over,” says Franchitti, a licensed helicopter pilot.
A quick shower and change and it’s off to dinner with GQ execs, actor/producer Mark Wahlberg (some say the Boston native “owns” the city but he hasn’t produced the deed) and local sports celebs. Cam Neely lightly(?) punches my arm as a way to say hello on the elevator. I’m sure some of his checks during his All-Star career with the Bruins were devastating.
The menu is better than your typical prison food (not that I would know).
At Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Conn., the ‘500′ rookie qualifiers load onto the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp.’s G4 for the flight back to Indy. They have the Fastest Rookie Luncheon (Mario Romancini) sponsored by the American Dairy Association of Indiana on Tuesday morning.
“I think I’m going to glow tonight,” Dario Franchitti says as the bus pulls up to the farm that grows satellites on the sprawling ESPN campus.
33 drivers and satellites
Are they really for broadcast purposes or to listen for extraterrestrial contact? Fronting the massive structures and an IZOD IndyCar Series backdrop, the 33 starters hang in the mid-afternoon sun for photos and video and to say “hello” to ABC affiliate presidents and general managers gathered in New York for meetings.
For the 46th consecutive year, ABC is broadcasting the Indianapolis 500 (noon ET May 30).
Next up are more interviews (Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power to Studio E for SportsCenter Australia please), and interspersed are autograph sessions for ESPN employees and their families. IndyCar simulators are nearby, which draw a crowd. “Don’t hit the wall E.J. Viso encourages a participant. “I did and it hurts.”
On the short walk to the bus — and brief interlude with Hannah Storm and Linda Cohen — a tape editor thanks the large group for visiting on what otherwise would be a day off. “It’s something we’ll talk about for a long time,” he says.
Soon it’s off to Boston and a GQ dinner hosted by actor/producer Mark Wahlberg with Boston sports celebs past and present (Bobby Orr, Dwight Freeney, etc.). Later there’s a red-carpet event at a downtown nightclub.
Robin Roberts is taping an Indianapolis 500 promo on the ESPN campus. She has a more vested interest than past year; the “Good Morning America” host is the Pace Car driver.
“(Johnny Rutherford) is a great instructor and he really calmed my nerves,” says Roberts, who got behind the wheel of the Chevy Camaro for the first time last month. “Now I’m ready to go. It’s the greatest spectacle in the world and to be a part of it is amazing.
“I’m looking over at Helio (Castroneves) because he reminded me that the first time he won (2001) there was a woman Pace Car driver (Elaine Irwin Mellencamp). He feels I may be good luck to win his fourth. If there is a 34-car field this year, I’ll be in the back.”
Robin and Helio
Alex Tagliani shakes his head when asked about his beloved Montreal Canadiens, who face playoff elimination. “I was talking about it with the boys (at FAZZT Race Team) yesterday about it, and I don’t understand how can they beat Washington and Pittsburgh — two strong teams — and then struggle against Philadelphia,” he says. “Once they beat Pittsburgh, I was dancing because I thought they’d be going to the Stanley Cup finals. It’s frustrating for a fan.”
And we’re back for a lunch break at ESPN headquarters. The field just finished a studio taping for First Take and SportsCenter … they nailed “We are the starting grid for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 and you’re watching SportsCenter” on the third take. The first take was a tad too soft (“What, are we in church?” the director says). The second was OK, but not quite. The third: “Home run!” the director says.
After a brief lunch break is off to the farm where the grow satellites.
Danica Patrick is live on SportsCenter in Studio F.
Mike Golic wants to know if his mug will be added to the Borg-Warner Trophy after claiming victory (with partner Danica Patrick) in a tire change competition at ESPN headquarters. “We won; I should receive the rewards,” the co-host of “Mike & Mike in the Morning” says.
Mike and Mike
“Pit stops are a team effort,” says Patrick, who joined Dan Wheldon and show co-host Mike Greenberg for the segment that closed the weekday show (on radio and ESPN2). “You have to hit your marks, and if they’re one second off you lose about 100 yards.”
Chimes in Greenberg: “Golic couldn’t run the length of a football field in 12 seconds so he’d be left way behind.”
Simultaneously, Graham Rahal, Sarah Fisher and Alex Tagliani are being interviewed for SportsCenter.com; Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti are doing shoots for the ABC broadcast of the Indianapolis 500; Scott Dixon, Darrio Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power are taping a segment for Game Night Radio; and Helio Castroneves is taping a piece for Page 2.
It’s a packed day at the campus.
The field of satellite dishes is a landmark for air travelers, screaming “Welcome to Bristol, Conn., home of ESPN.” It’s on to lane in Hartford, which whispers “Welcome to the home of First and Last Tavern, the Mark Twain home and, well, that’s about it. Have a nice day.”
Graham Rahal occupies his time in the air by sorting images and playing games on his iPad. A half-dozen rows back, Helio Castroneves snaps photos on his phone of unsuspecting (dozing, eating, movie-watching) compatriots that are destined for Twitter.
Rahal and iPad
Handlers go over details of the ESPN itinerary of interviews, tours and employee autograph sessions at the sprawling campus – plus what’s in store for the evening (a dinner hosted by GQ with Boston sports celebs and a party at Rumors). There’s a rumor that some ‘500’ participants will head straight to the bus for the 7:30 a.m. Tuesday departure for NYC. Hey, it is their only free night for a week and all – save for Sebastian Saavedra – are of legal age.
Thirty-three drivers, three cities, 36 hours. This May 24-25 IZOD IndyCar Series whirlwind field trip to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Boston and New York is unprecedented for the starters in the Indianapolis 500, and mixes some fun and business.
“Oh, I always enjoy the trip to New York,” says pole sitter Helio Castroneves, “and now they’ve expanded it so it’s all good.”
All good, and packed with public, media and personal appearances — capped by the second bash in front of Macy’s flagship store on Herald Square in New York (11 a.m. for photos and autographs on Broadway if you’re in the vicinity).
The journey begins
The sun broke the horizon, the fog rolled out and the drivers who will start the Indianapolis 500 rolled in — coffee cups in hand — for the first leg of the journey. Pockets swapped stories of the wild weekend of qualifying and the great crowds at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s a fun day, just because we are exposed to a lot of media. Even though I’m an old guy (47) and it’s early, I enjoy this,” Davey Hamilton said. “I have to say, this year with IZOD stepping up and taking us to ESPN, the GQ party, New York, I think it’s even better.”