Mid-Ohio Mayhem ~ All In Fun
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and of course that same warm welcome extends to today’s assigned reader of all things NASCAR. Has everyone enjoyed the Rio Olympics? You’ll have to tell me about them some time. I know that our U.S. Swimmers shone brightly, as expected, and I think our girl’ gymnastics team did so as well. Nope, I haven’t been following them this year. Doing this awesome website, http://www.racefansforever.org/ and boning up for a live NFL draft in 2 weeks has kind of eaten most of my waking hours. That’s OK though. Those are things I enjoy doing and for me, they’re fun.
[Quick aside for some author pride:
U.S. Swimming sensation of the male persuasion, Ryan Lochte, is the son of my daughter Ruth’s swim coach, Steve Lochte, when he coached an age-group AAU/USS swim team at Monroe Community College… “MCC Marauders.” This old lady was a nationally certified swimming referee in those days. We’re looking back to circa 1976 – 1983. It’s a small world after all.]
This past weekend was almost completely barren as far as racing was concerned. Only one race involving a major series was held anywhere in the WORLD! Ah well, there was that little thing called the Olympics and most racing series graciously bowed out in favor of it. Still, there was one race on over the weekend. Did anyone happen to catch the Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio on Saturday? If not, you should have!
Yes, in the title I mentioned “Mayhem”, but aside from utter chaos and wanton destruction, the word also applies to comedies such as the Three Stooges or the Keystone Kops, and it’s in that vein that I use it here. I suppose the Nielsen Ratings will be disgusting for all the usual excuses and maybe a reason or two as well. There was blessedly only one Cup driver at the scene, and that was rookie Ryan Blaney, who admits he needs practice on a road course. Well, he surely got some Saturday! The race was scheduled to see a green flag circa 3:48 on Saturday afternoon. Can you think of a time in the accompanying 24 hours that would have been less conducive to a decent viewing audience? Nope, I think NASCAR hit that one square on the thumb! It was destined from the start to go petty much unwatched.
To add to the unlikeliness of anyone giving a flying whatever, first the race was carried not on any NBC affiliate, but on the unlikely channel of USA. (I’m told that the usual “go-to” channel in the NBC chain, CNBC was running “Paid Programming” all through the time of the race) Everyone I’ve spoken with had to check to see if they even had the USA channel, and where on their line-up it was hiding. OK, so I found it with a little help from “Zap2it”, my resident version of TV Guide. The pre-show was scheduled at 3:00 with race build-up to commence at 3:30 and green at 3:48. I opted to skip the yammering while building a pot of homemade chicken soup in the kitchen, and clicked the TV on at 3:30, preset to USA.
Whoa! BASKETBALL? The race should have been on-air a half-hour ago, and we’re still getting B’ball? Where is my race? I want to see my race! USA offered no crawl; no program alert or anything of the sort. We just listened to the sleep-inducing palaver of a couple of guys talking about Argentina and Brazil and telling us how thrilling it was to have a game so close that it required OT to settle the score. Hah, what did they know? That OT ended in another tie, and we get a second OT. Gentle readers, we all know what a patient old lady I am (Ahem), but I am now near tears and ready to throw any handy missile through that 42” screen, hoping to strike some big tall galoot with a ball in his hand.
Good sense combined with another trip to the kitchen allowed my TV screen to live another day. Finally the race came on, and like the perfect end to a perfect storm, that storm had just hit the track as they went live on TV. With that, NASCAR went into panic mode and told the cars, already on the track and skating, that they were classifying the track as “damp.” I guess some higher power took mighty offense at that slight and made sure with a torrential downpour that the track was slightly more than damp. Some parts were, for the moment at least, under water!
That brought about some sound reasoning and the cars were told to come in… slowly and carefully… and put on rain tires. Now I could feel a smile toying with my lips and turning them up at the corners just a bit. Half of these young’ns had never raced in the rain and some had never even raced on a road course. It’s always an experience to watch that lesson as it’s being taught. Once shod with proper footwear, the cars splashed their way back on track, and it was on from there.
Several drivers stood out as having more road and rain experience than others, and throughout the race, Sam Hornish, Justin Marks, Andy Lally, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Blaney (yes, that Ryan Blaney), Erik Jones and Ty Dillon were seen in or near the lead, but even those few were not exempt from the off-track, on again, off again ballet that the rain produced at Mid-Ohio. I sincerely believe that every car on track was off the track at least once, and most several times over.
It was really a circus to watch them slide, spin, reverse direction and try it again, perhaps to lose the car again in the next turn. Still, only a couple cars managed to dig a hole from which they could not escape without the assistance of a tow-truck. Most just kept on rolling, sliding or spinning until the car was righted; then they carried on like little soldiers marching into battle… again and again and…
At this point, history has to be given center stage for just a moment. Back in the mid-60s, NASCAR made a couple of forays to Watkins Glen, then must have thought better of the idea, not to return for another 21 years. Saturday’s racing was very reminiscent of that time, though the young drivers of today talked of how much fun they had racing in the rain. Those drivers of yesteryear had a completely different mindset when it came to turning right. It wasn’t natural and they didn’t like it. Also, they didn’t do it well for the most part, which of course is a large part of why they didn’t like it. It was every bit as comical as the kids on Saturday, spinning, sliding, turning around and getting back on track only to reprise the performance again, probably on the same lap… and it wasn’t raining then!
For the inquisitive, here are the race stats for both 1964 and 1965.
From those, we can see who ran well, who ran not so well and who might have parked out of either desperation or fear. The reasons for outage are many and varied, and probably a large percentage are also untrue. YouTube may have some footage of the old Glen races, but you’re on your own with that. This piece is about Mid-Ohio and Saturday’s fun. Your scribe just can’t resist adding a bit of recalled history to most pieces that come from this keyboard.
NASCAR, to its credit, did not whip out a caution flag for every spin or agricultural adventure. Had they taken that course, we’d still be watching that race, and it is Sunday afternoon as I type this. They did, however, call one “Full Course” caution for debris. Hello? It’s a road course! The big kids in the big leagues have a thing called a “corner flag” for that. Instead of halting the entire race for a pick-up of whatever, the corner flag tells drivers to proceed slowly and with caution because something is amiss in that one particular area. The race continues, with the only slowdown being right where help is needed. Would someone send that memo to Brian Z. France please?
By the time the race was half over or thereabouts, the sun came out and the track began to dry. One car, driven by Andy Lally, a very experienced road racer from the Sports Car ranks, came in early and put back on his “dry” tires. “Slicks”, they are called, denoting no tread at all. All others remained out with those rain treads until the consensus was that it was safe to resume on slicks. That of course, put Lally handily in the lead because his speed had been so much greater than that of cars sporting the ploughing rain treads.
The next caution would erase that lead, and at the restart, a trunk full of Erik Jones’ front clip would send Lally from the lead to the grass. From there, the spin ballet continued, but perhaps not at the fevered pace of earlier. When they finally reached the checkers, it was Justin Marks taking his very first Xfinity win and doing it in fine fashion by winning on a rain-soaked road course. His companions on the imaginary podium were Sam Hornish in second and Ryan Blaney in 3rd. Young Marks dedicated the win, in the name of Chip Ganassi Racing to Bryan Clauson, who passed away last week from severe injuries sustained in a crash in his Midget car at Belleville Kansas.
OK friends, family and countrymen, what more could one ask of a Saturday afternoon on an off weekend than two and a half or so hours of solid fun? That word, “FUN” was my first impression of Saturday’s race in the rain, and it’s the word I’ve heard repeatedly from everyone I’ve spoken with or read. These weren’t heart-in-throat scary adventures; not at all. Each parting from the asphalt was a comical dance between a semi-helpless driver and Mother Nature in a humorous mood. If you missed it, check for reruns or on YouTube, where they tend to emerge rather quickly these days.
As I told a friend just as the race ended, “That was the most fun I’ve had in racing in years!” NASCAR, can you please arrange for more of that in the future? Maybe the Bristol track could be watered down, just for fun? Didn’t think so…