My all-time favorite book is "Watership Down" by the late British author Richard Adams. The book, which anthropomorphizes a warren of rabbits, features a battle scene between two of the hares, when the biggest lets it be known he is following orders of his chief. It was a true statement and it sent shockwaves through his rival warren. It was assumed the biggest rabbit was a chief because there couldn't be one larger. Could there?
Which takes us to the Indianapolis 500.
Certainly, Formula One and the Verizon IndyCar Series are not sparring rabbits. But what happens when an F1 champion announces he is purposely missing the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy 500? Monaco. The 75th running. Formula One's crown jewel. Yet, a two-time champion and one of F1's most popular drivers will miss it. In favor of another race. If Monaco is Formula One's “chief” race, could there actually be one bigger?
Since the announcement last week that Fernando Alonso will attempt to qualify for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, it has been discussed and debated about what it will mean for TV ratings, attendance and overall buzz. I can't answer any of that. What I DO know is this: Indy matters. There is no price tag on that message. It further cements Indy's place as an international temple of speed.
Juan Manuel Fangio mastered the F1 circuits, but stepped out of a car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before making a qualifying attempt in 1958. Yes, the Argentine was past his prime, but the lure of Indy still drew him in. Alonso can still bend a wheel, but the lure of Indy drew him across the pond. That's as big as TV ratings to me.
Speaking of Formula One and the Verizon IndyCar Series, I interviewed Juan Pablo Montoya for my Indianapolis afternoon radio show. He was fantastic, as loose and jovial as I have ever heard.
Montoya seemed confident Alonso will be able to adapt to his maiden oval voyage. However, Montoya is a unique breed. He told me he has never been scared or nervous when driving at Indy. He said some people "think too much."
Later, Montoya said flying and landing his sophisticated remote control airplanes makes his finger shake. which led me to ask: "Model airplanes scare you, but 240 mph heading into a turn does not?!"
Montoya replied, "No, ‘cause there I know what I am doing." Classic.
Don't phone home, "E.T.," you're not welcome
I told you I was going to sightsee in Southern California when we were there for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach a week or so ago. I went to some cool places, but one of my favorites was the house where “E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial” was filmed.
The homeowner told me an interesting story. Director Steven Spielberg and the crew rented the house to film the internal and external home shots. With a little over a week to go, they asked for a rental extension, but the homeowners and neighbors were ready to have their lives back and said no. So the last 10 or so days saw architects and engineers blueprinting the house so they could build a perfect replica in a studio. Which they did. Should they not have done so from the beginning?!
On to beauty of Barber
It's on to Barber Motorsports Park this week and one of the most underrated stops on the schedule: Birmingham. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First has become a big part of the Birmingham sports calendar and it takes place on as pristine a sports property as you'll see outside of Augusta National Golf Club. The track winds through George Barber's plush acreage, with immaculate landscaping dotted by trees indigenous to all 50 states.
I call the race for the Advanced Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network from the bottom of a long right-handed elevation change, the fourth floor of the Barber Motorsports Museum. It's a shrine with more than 1,200 motorcycles and North America's largest collection of Lotus race cars. All in working condition!
It's a fantastic setup for my work. I wear a headset, carry a microphone and, via the magic of RF (radio frequency) technology, I do live play-by-play as the cars zoom past. The museum goers usually get a kick out of it. (At least I hope they do.)
Another thing I look forward to in Dixie: A Naked Pig IPA from Black Forty Beer Company. Check it out.
Veteran broadcaster Jake Query is a member of the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network team and will offer his musings regularly on IndyCar.com.