Happy 2017! I hope everyone had a great New Year. The last time we talked, I listed for you my top 10 memories of 2016. So, without further ado, the top 10 things for which I'm excited about at INDYCAR in 2017:
No. 10, Josef Newgarden with Team Penske: The young man from Tennessee has shown personality and skill every step along the way to one of racing's premier teams. The sky seems the limit for Newgarden, who appears to be ready to accentuate it as one of the sport’s brightest stars. No pressure!
No. 9, St. Pete three months early: OK, so it's not exactly INDYCAR-related, but I will stroll Dan Wheldon Way while taking in Tampa/St. Pete this weekend. Twenty-two years ago, I was told that if I wanted to be a sportscaster, I needed to learn objectivity. The answer, I was advised, was to pick a team I would likely never cover, to use as my fandom outlet. I picked Clemson football. And here we are: national championship game on Jan. 9 in Tampa. I have my flight, my gear and my fandom. Anyone have a lead on a single ticket?
No. 8, Back to old stomping grounds: My first on-air job in sports was in St. Louis, and I love the people and history of the “Gateway to the West.” I'm excited to call the radio action on the fast oval for INDYCAR’s return to Gateway in August.
No. 7, The rise of AJ Foyt Racing: Super Tex is the winningest driver in Indy car history and he won Indy as a car owner. He's hardly immune to success. I have always been impressed by the composed decisions son and team president Larry Foyt has made with AJ Foyt Racing as his dad has wielded him more power. Now, with a stable of two proven young guns, Conor Daly and the steady, underrated Carlos Munoz, I'm intrigued by what could be delivered for sponsor ABC Supply.
No. 6, More milkshakes? Speaking of sponsorship, no driver does more to connect fans to their sponsor than Graham Rahal has done with Steak 'n Shake. My family has a tradition of a New Year’s lunch at Steak 'n Shake and I got a kick out of watching my niece assemble a paper No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda Indy car while there. As a bonus, the team has periodically brought milkshakes to the racetrack. They're always welcome! Here's hoping the restaurant comes back on board for another season. Granted, I'm always happy to stop in and pay for one with my double steakburger.
No. 5, Montoya at Indy: He dominated in his two Indy 500 wins, so there's no questioning the talent of Juan Pablo Montoya. Now that he's no longer fulltime with Team Penske (see No. 10 above for his replacement), I've got a feeling the Colombian will have a little extra drive in his Indy-only effort. That'll be fun to watch.
No. 4, Sports royalty on pit road: It's always fun to see dignitaries and celebrities taking in INDYCAR weekends, so I'm excited to see the new Indy Lights team of George Steinbrenner IV, grandson of late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The end goal is to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series. I look forward to seeing the rookie (pin)stripes on the car of the team's driver, Colton Herta.
No. 3, Road trip! I love the side trips of INDYCAR weekends. Historical sites, eccentric bars, mom-and-pop establishments, ummm ... crime scenes. If it's near a racetrack, I'll likely hit it. I'm excited to share with everyone. No permission slip required!
No. 2, Let's meet up: The internet is a funny thing. In today's world of blogs, email and "social" media, it's great to be social. I love meeting folks who I previously only knew as "@PoleSpeed33" or other such moniker. Don't let the headsets give the wrong impression. Say hi in person!
No. 1, The 101st Indianapolis 500: Time to go “Fast. Forward.” The first 100 races are in the history books. What comes in kicking off the second century of speed at IMS? Will we have a first-time winner? Will an American again drink the milk? How will the race and buzz carry over from last May's epic event? I can't wait to see.