Saturday, July 30, 2011

Appreciation for the Brickyard

After my agony at the Kentucky Speedway a few weeks ago, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

They say attendance is down at the Brickyard. They say the racing isn’t up to par.

I’ve been to every Brickyard 400. If people are losing interest, you couldn’t tell it by me. My section is always packed with familiar faces, meaning people must be renewing their tickets year after year.

I’ll grant you IMS isn’t ideal for NASCAR. Since the track is 2.5 miles long, you see only a small piece of it. For that reason, I’d much prefer to watch a race at a smaller facility where you can see more -- or all -- of the track, like Kentucky.

However, in other ways, IMS has it in spades over Kentucky … at least based on Kentucky’s inaugural race. IMS has hosted big events for like a century, and it shows. The traffic flow is well planned, publicized, marked and managed.

Kentucky banned coolers at its race, saying it had no time to check them. IMS methodically checks coolers without causing delays.

Tradition is a mismatch. IMS is the track of the Andrettis and A.J. Foyt. You feel like you’re part of something bigger by being there. Furthermore, the crowd is a fascinating mix of sinners and saints. There might have been a nice atmosphere outside the Kentucky Speedway, but I wouldn’t know it, since I spent all my time in the car.

The Brickyard is the one day of the year I actually like listening to Bob & Tom
on the radio as they preview the race while I drive to the track. On the way to Kentucky, I listened to the veins popping in my head.

And even the weather cooperates at Indianapolis. Although it’s always hot, the race has never been cancelled by rain.

So while I’d rather watch a Kentucky race, I’d much rather go to Indy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mr. Hand Wouldn’t Approve

In my favorite scene from my favorite movie, a surfer/stoner dude defies authority by having a pizza delivered to his high school history classroom. Now, I know how Jeff Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” must’ve felt.

My family recently spent several days on vacation at a somewhat upscale resort in Fort Lauderdale. The rooms were affordable enough, but everything else cost a tanned arm and leg. Having tired of $10 cheeseburgers, I concocted a solution. Channeling my inner Spicoli, I logged onto the Internet and ordered a couple $9 pizzas from Papa John’s.

I waited with trepidation, just like Spicoli must have. In my mind, chances were better of getting a pizza delivered to history class than to this resort. But to my surprise, the front desk called after the obligatory 20 minutes passed. I had a visitor in the lobby, they said.

As I strode across mosaic tile and past a couple of very proper concierges, a pizza guy waved for my attention. “Doug?” he inquired.

“Right here, dude,” I replied.

It was my Spicoli moment, only better. In the movie, Mr. Hand takes Spicoli’s pizza away and gives it to his classmates, whereas I got to literally taste victory.

Now if only I could save a girl from drowning and blow the reward money getting Van Halen to play my birthday party.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You've Been Served

Ever have a server so professional that he suggested three different tasty dishes for you at three different restaurants?

That was my unusual experience during a recent vacation in south Florida. On my family’s first day in Key Largo, we ate at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. That’s where I first met Carlos. I asked about fish tacos. Instead, he suggested a blackened fish sandwich, beans and rice, and key lime pie. All three were winners.

The next day, after snorkeling, we went for a bite to eat on another part of the island at a place called Sharkey’s Pub and Galley Restaurant. I was shocked to be greeted by – you guessed it – none other than Carlos.

Could my eyes be deceiving me? No. It seems Carlos works at both restaurants and goes to college to boot.

“You should get the fish tacos here,” he said, uncannily recalling the previous day’s conversation. I readily obliged. They were another winner.

When I mentioned the delicious dessert from the previous day, Carlos said The Fish House makes a mean key lime pie, too. Not one to break a streak, I naturally had to give it a try. I went to the Fish House and discovered yet another winner.

It fact, the only thing missing there was …. well, Carlos.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Traffic Time Could've Been Better Spent

Following is a list of the Top Ten things I could have done Saturday rather than wait in traffic for five hours outside the Kentucky Speedway.

10). Dethrone the national Donkey Kong champion.
9). Read the Unabomer’s manifesto.
8). Catch up on the Twilight trilogy.
7). Learn to play harmonica like a folk singer.
6). Eat more hotdogs than the Nathan’s guy.
5). Review all the software agreements I previously skipped.
4). Become conversant in Klingon.
3). Take the SAT for University of Kentucky basketball recruits.
2). Discover a new flavor of Snapple.
1). Design a better parking plan for the Kentucky Speedway.

That’s what I could have done rather than wait in traffic. How about you? I’m eager to hear what you could have accomplished.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stalled by Speedway Traffic

If you’re thinking about going to next year’s NASCAR race at the Kentucky Speedway, then you ought to be leaving right about now. That’s the lesson I learned yesterday as I crawled in traffic for more than four hours.

Sure, the racing was good for the inaugural race at Kentucky … at least for the half I saw. The track looked great, too.

But getting there was a nightmare.

I know for an event like this that you better leave early and expect to park far away and walk a lot. But Kentucky Speedway obviously has problems other tracks don’t. For starters, it simply doesn’t have enough roads or parking lots. That problem won’t be solved overnight, but other problems can be fixed through better management.

Having been to many of these races all across the country, here are a few of the random thoughts that occurred to me between four-wheeling through gullies and dodging wayward canines … and a lot of waiting.

· Lack of direction. I never saw anyone directing traffic anywhere until I was almost directly upon the track. By then, it was too little, too late. Far before that, people began fending for themselves, leading to absolute confusion and chaos. To restore order, there should have been people along the route providing critical information, such as distance remaining to the track, lots, etc.

· Looking for a sign.
There was a lack of signs both inside and outside the track, making everything from finding a parking lot to finding your seat absolute guesswork. If I were track owner Bruton Smith, I would name the grandstands something other than “5C” and have them marked with big signs, like other venues.

· Capitalism in the countryside. One of the most frustrating things about getting to the track is there seemed to be fields everywhere suitable for parking, but unoccupied. For every track I’ve visited, “unsanctioned” lots are as important as the sanctioned ones. I’ve parked at churches, elementary schools, golf ranges and many front yards. Maybe the speedway’s neighbors didn’t realize how willing and how much people would pay to park in proximity to the track. To paraphrase President Reagan – the king of capitalism – “Mr. Landowner, Open up Those Fields!”

· There’s bound to be another way.
Actually, there is. Lanes coming from the speedway were deserted. They should have been converted to one way before and after the race, like they do in Darlington. Some people did this anyway, driving the wrong way in the emergency lanes. I’m far too law-abiding for that, even though the likelihood of getting caught would have been nil (see my first point).

I will tip my hat, however, to the many shuttles to and from the track. If not for them, I wouldn’t have seen any of the race. And I did see enough to know that Kyle Busch won. He negotiated the traffic far better than I could.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Free Throw Line Not Always Charitable

Basketball players today are a combination of athletes and acrobats. They leap, twist and contort in ways their predecessors could never have imagined. But there’s one thing they can’t do: Shoot free throws. It’s a shame, too. While high flying acrobatics are fun to watch, free throw shooting is frequently the margin between defeat and victory.

Take the last games of Kentucky’s famed basketball programs as examples. Louisville lost its NCAA opener by one point to Morehead State. In that game, Louisville shot only 7 of 16 from the free throw line for a paltry for 44 percent. It’s easy to see how U of L could have advanced simply by making a few more free throws.

The same could be said for the University of Kentucky. UK fell a bucket shy of making the national championship game. In its loss to Connecticut, UK shot only 4 of 12 from the free throw for an anemic 33 percent. I think it’s fair to say Kentucky could have won the national title if not for poor free throw shooting. This is old hat to UK Head Coach John Calipari, having already lost a title due to poor free throw shooting.

The most frustrating part of this is free throw shooting is really the only thing in sports that can be replicated in practice almost exactly as it occurs in a game. The shooter will always be 15 foot from the basket, which is always 10-feet high. There are no other variables, such as defenders in the way. Given this, it would seem a player could improve his free throw stroke with nothing more than a basketball, a goal and a commitment. Nevertheless, the line continues to confound otherwise good players.

Consider Louisville’s Stephen VanTreese. Van Treese is the kind of player coaches love. He is a 6-foot-9 bottle of energy who hustles, rebounds, plays defense and kicks in a few garbage baskets. He also shoots only 31 percent from the free throw line. As a result, he has to sit at the end of close games, when he could be most useful.

Peyton Siva, Louisville’s point guard, shoots free throws at more than double Van Treese’s average. However, his 68 percent (63 in conference) isn’t good enough for someone who is always handling the ball in late game situations. In fact, I doubt there is anyone on Louisville’s team who could have stepped up and knocked down two free throws with two seconds left the way UConn freshman Shabazz Napier did against UK.

Free throw shooting won’t get you on SportsCenter. It will only win you games … and championships.