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RoadNotes: Slouching Toward Indy

By Carey Lundin

1. The Chase Scene.
I'm a purist. I love a great chase scene - a filmed life and death battle played out on the road. In my opinion The French Connection is the best, followed by a zillion other movies. If you want to catch the essence of a great chase scene, take a look the Indy Car Series. It's got its share of good guys and bad girls.

I watched open wheel racing in the 60s when A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti were America's real action heroes. In 1967, A.J. Foyt once drove through a wreck on the homestretch to get to the checkered flag. That kind of stuff wouldn't happen today, but imagine what it must be like to have him as your coach.

Today Indy Car Racing features endurance athletes who in their own ways are just as bold, a lot more beautiful and just as willing to risk their lives.

They don't just go fast - they're engaged in a weekly battle for dominance worth millions of dollars. Can you imagine what it must feel like to be strapped into a tiny rocket going 200+ mph at G forces seen only by fighter pilots and astronauts, in the ultimate traffic jam? That takes cajones.

Indy Car Racing is ahead of the curve. It's the only sport where women compete toe-to-toe with men. I love that because it feels a little like Hillary versus Barack - for the first time in history a woman competed toe-to-toe for the presidency.

And guess what? Much of the attention to the sport has gone to these brave babes: Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, Milka Duno, Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James.

2. What is the Indy Car Series?
Seventeen races held all over the country and in Canada and Japan. The behemoth is the famed Indy 500, the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

The series breaks down into three kinds of races: ovals like the Indy 500, Chicago and Milwaukee; street courses like Long Beach, St. Petersburg, Toronto and Edmonton; and street/road-permanent road courses like Watkins Glen, Infineon and Mid-Ohio.

These days it's all about Danica Patrick and Helio Castroneves. Perhaps this year the circle can widen out to include more drivers. I have my eye on hottie Dario Franchitti, who is married to Ashley Judd. He won the Long Beach race last week but was penalized in the qualifiers this week for crossing the white line. That meant he had to start last; he finished 18th. I'm also keeping close watch on Sarah Fisher, the world's first female team owner and driver.

3. This Week's Episode: Gonna Go Round in Circles.
The Indy Car Series kicked off it's first oval course at the Kansas Speedway for the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300.

But what if you're like international male model Derrick Zoolander and you're "not an ambi-turner?" Not a problem, Derrick, in this race you only need to make lefts.

While seemingly easier than the first street car races that sent a lot of cars to the repair shop, the ovals are actually a lot more stressful because the consequences of a small mistake can be so much more grave.

Women tend to be stronger on ovals. Many, like Sarah Fisher were brought up on ovals. The road courses require seriously hustling the car around a lot more than the ovals; that tends to play to the men's upper body strength. But with power assist steering permitted since since last year, that isn't nearly as much of an issue as it once was. Danica Patrick finished fourth as the only woman at Long Beach last year.

This week at Kansas Speedway three female racers competed: Danica Patrick took 5th, Sarah Fisher 13th and Milka Duno 16th.

Mother Nature came close to destroying everything, but her tornadoes and drenching rain somehow left the racers alone but the wind.

4. "Scott Dixon is the oval-meister."
Well that about says it all. All four Andretti Green cars finished in the top eight. Team Penske's Helio Castroneves slammed into ABC Supply Co/ A.J. Foyt Racing's Vitor Miera, sending him spinning into the wall and a last-place finish. Tony Kanaan of Team 7-11 finished third and is the points leader going into Indy.

5. Backstory.
Last year Danica got so pissed at Milka for "going too slow" that she had a battle royale over it. Milka threw her towel at her and marched off.

6. This Week's Guest Star: Sarah Fisher of Sarah Fisher Racing. Mainly Sponsored By: Dollar General.

America's image of the Girl Next Door has taken on new meaning with Sarah Fisher. The sweet, reliable girl has been replaced with the sweet, fiercely competitive trailblazer.

Before "Danica Mania" there was "Fisher Fever." At 19, she was the youngest woman ever to race the Indy Car Series. As one of the few women ever to drive, she broke many records: placing second at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2001, placing third at Kentucky Motor Speedway and the first woman to win a pole position at Kentucky. Then her brilliant career started to sputter. By 2004 she was out of the Series and by 2005 she ran only the Indy 500. By 2007 she was driving again for Dreyer & Reinbold but hatching plans for her comeback.

Believing in yourself can take you far in this sport - last year she, her husband (her former chief mechanic) and his dad formed Sarah Fisher Racing. But this frail operation imploded at the Indy 500. She lost her car in an accident and her sponsor, an energy drink, reneged at the last minute. There were tears, plenty of them.

A sponsor like Dollar General believing in you can put you back in the game. Dollar General is backing her for a second year. She says she "can properly prepare for the race" by focusing on the car. Her recent partnership with Forsythe Racing brings chief engineer Tom Brown along with their shop for pit-stop practice. "I can sleep now; it's amazing," Sarah says.

In her first race of six races, she qualified a career high at 11th on the tri-oval at 208.543. Looking forward to seeing what she's got this year.

7. This Weeks' Pitchman or Pitchma'am.
Vision Racing: the team of the George family, who owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, puts his step-son, Ed Carpenter, in ads for Apex Brazil and Ryan Hunter-Reay in ads for Izod/Macys.

Andretti Green: the team of legends Marco and Mario Andretti puts Danica Patrick in almost every commercial break with spots for Peak, GoDaddy and Versus.

8.Road Rage.
Danica, well, she bitch-slaps someone every race; who's gonna get it this week?

Helio Castronaves, known for his work on the track and on Dancing with the Stars, was just acquitted (along with his sister) of income tax fraud. Welcome to America, Helio; we don't mess with the IRS. After his acquittal he got into the car last week for the first time in six months. He didn't finish so well, but you couldn't wipe the smile off his face.

For my money, that smile repaired a lot of roads back into fans' hearts, mine at least.

9. Stay Tuned.
Watch qualifiers and races on Versus and ESPN. You can get full race coverage here: www.indycar.com.

10. Coming Next.
Good guys and bad girls, start your engines!

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Carey Lundin is the Beachwood's auto racing correspondent. She welcomes your comments.

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