A nightmare scenario for some teams is relieved with the postponement of the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus at Lucas Oil Raceway.
A new one replaces it.
Little hope abided for those teams stung with the cancellation of Sunday's remaining two qualifying sessions. The announcement on ESPN that race eliminations would (likely) run on schedule was met with startling disbelief by teams needing to yet qualify.
The thought arose with the heavy rains creating temporary "lakes" covering the grounds: Fans went to a drag race and a fishing tournament broke out while hooking equipment, coolers and vehicles out of the muddle.
Drag racing has enormous ups and downs, highs and lows. That's not news, though it became a sentiment heard throughout the two qualifying broadcasts as teams desperately dealt with their cloud of shambles looming on the horizon.
Unless, of course, their dragster was securely in the show.
This Mt. Everest of race weekends found a host of teams fighting for a chance to qualify – or even just try – in this the season's pinnacle race when qualifying effectively ended.
Intent on seizing a last Countdown to the Championship slot, initial news the race would go on regardless roiled those yet outside the show.
Thankfully, drivers were more than willing to vent caustic views.
Such a situation is the formula for great television, a live reality show run for over 50 years called drag racing.
Conflict, competition and urgency – shaken not stirred James Bond style – then spiked with time pressure explodes from a glass tube disguised as a camera lens.
Seasoned reporter Gary Gerould interviewed Cruz Pedregon while identifying in detail the damage to the Snap-On Toyota Funny Car, the camera sliding along the right side of the raised shell. Viewers knew exactly where the scratches, rubs and broken parts were left after Pedregon had veered sharply and unexpectedly to the wall in what appeared to be his failing final shot to make the race.
Gerould capsulated his status: "Weather is a pure nightmare for Cruz."
Pit reporter John Kernan found a torrent of words spewing like a summer's fire hydrant from Lucas Oil Mustang driver Larry Morgan. Not qualified for the race by the tiniest of margins while in grave danger of losing his hold on a spot in the Pro Stock top 10 to Jeg Coughlin and Ronnie Humphrey – both qualified at Indy – brought out his thunder.
"This place is so drenched in water," he correctly gushed, moving crowds in and out of parking would be an unthinkable challenge for fans. A front-wheel drive SUV was shown on absolutely flat ground spinning tires like grandma's day at the roulette wheel, going absolutely nowhere.
Morgan's causative analysis why the NHRA was steaming ahead with Monday's event shot out like a hail storm of sarcasm: "The sanctioning body probably has a cookout planned next weekend."
By this time, Gerould, a master at fishing for prize wisecracks, had waded over to bait talkative Steve Johnson. Privateering on his Suzuki motorcycle, staying above water with this mathematical long shot of cracking the Countdown, then losing out when qualifying was swamped made Johnson appear washed up.
But, perhaps not ...
His suggestion was creative, if unworkable: "I need to be on the rules committee."
A cheerleader with boundless energy, if Johnson had committee power he could think of ideas like Pro Stock Motorcycle opening eliminations.
Two-time Indy winner Robert Hight, No. 2 in Countdown points but the only Ford in the John Force Racing camp not in the field, faced the prospect that Courtney Force's No. 1 qualifier in the Traxxas Funny Car would hold.
The crushing comparison against his looming DNQ humbled him to "pray for rain."
Reporter Dave Rieff summarized Hight's predicament and seeming hopelessness with the perspective that "Your best friend is Isaac."
Relatively little additional precipitation from Isaac's storm was necessary for the knock-out punch moving the event one weekend forward. In a historic decision qualifying reopens for the two missed Sunday sessions.
Having those additional two sessions this Saturday makes television sense by also providing the format for the Traxxas Funny Car Shootout on Saturday.
The downside? Teams on or close to the bubble are now vulnerable to getting knocked out of the race – or the Countdown – from this new continuation.
That's the new nightmare from this move. The odds are high drama will flood qualifying day, even with no rain. That last session stacks up as the most dramatic of the year.
Paul Page, in his last Indy appearances as anchor, announced at the opening of eliminations the race date change combined with a new qualifying schedule.
Television's five hours of eliminations coverage does not (yet) jive with ESPN2's television schedule. Their site shows two hours of Lucas Oil Series drag racing starting at 3:30 p.m. Viewers can assume that show is bumped for this race.
Remember, though, the time was announced for a 3 p.m. start. Backing up 30-minutes then bumps an hour of "Catching Speed." More problematic is the U.S. Open tennis coverage scheduled until 2:30 p.m.
Scrolling forward, the 5:30 p.m. one-hour slot is now occupied by the 2011 International Challenge. Then at 6:30 p.m. the World Series of Poker lasts until 8:30 p.m.
Interest lies in how the schedule juggles out to accommodate the broadcast of a potentially remarkable day.
The qualifying show is likely to follow a full day of college football games and scores on ESPN2, though it is possible to bump score shows (but not the games). Don't be surprised with a post-midnight qualifying show.
The Traxxas Funny Car Shootout may be shown with the qualifying broadcast and then rerun during eliminations particularly if the broadcast has five hours.
The quickly organized one-hour program updating the status of teams and publicizing the new dates and times was broadcast in lieu of the scheduled Labor Day finals.
Interestingly, this update show featured Lucas Oil Sportsman broadcaster Rieff in a role that might be seen as a live audition for the post Page vacates at year-end.
Teamed with Mike Dunn, his former partner on the now retired Sunday pre-race show, their chemistry was instantly back, upbeat and given the drab overcast and quick nature of the preparations, quite bright.
Maybe Rieff's comment to Hight: "Your best friend is Isaac" became a subconscious nod to himself. Without the storm camping right on top of Indianapolis, he would not have enjoyed this sterling opportunity to showcase his talent for filling the lead chair.
Also, consider Traxxas and their Funny Car Shootout, the companion to their just-completed Top Fuel Shootout. Prior to the announcement changing the dates, the race found itself scrubbed to a date unknown, buried in an event yet undetermined but most certainly with less appeal than Indy; these circumstances had to exert pressure on the NHRA.
With the flick of a switch, a reversal of weekends by Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president racing operations, the Traxxas Funny Car race-in-a-race will be highlighted at the venue the sponsor intended with the advantage of the class now capturing center stage without competition from the Top Fuel show.
That Shootout ended without question regarding the dominance of Fram's dragster driven by Spencer Massey. Top Fuel's best qualifier thus far, the winner of the weighty Traxxas trophy while holding the large wooden panel mimicking a $100,000 check, Massey gave this clue to his success.
Not only does he sing to his dragster but also pets and talks soothingly to it – "Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy, this is the Traxxas Shootout" – calming the beast and perhaps himself, too.
Stories like Tony Shumacher's bid to pass Don Garlits' wins and Erica Enders primed to be the first woman to ever win Pro Stock here, were washed under the pending tide of doom, the race's schedule. When that became crystal clear, these stories bobbed back to the surface.
A favorite feature scattered throughout the programs were flashbacks to highlights spanning decades here; in addition to the changes one notes since those days, they serve as a reminder that events of any nature today will be looked upon with similar nostalgia by future audiences.
Page remarked, Indy's race is a "once a year meeting; it's special."
Jack Beckman qualified his Valvoline Dodge for the race and Traxxas Shootout and thinks "Indy has the most legacy."
Four-time Indy champion in his Castrol Ford, John Force gives the race props because "You think about Indy even when you're not at Indy."
Morgan Lucas, fresh off his Brainerd win, thoughtfully reflected in an extended interview on several topics such as his parents' involvement in racing and his ultimate role at Lucas Oil. His take on Indy's spectacle is "how amazingly big it is" to win here.
Jeff Arend, vulnerable in his ninth-place points spot in the DHL Camry, spoke of Indy as "sacred ground."
With the move of the race date and re-opening of qualifying to currently entered teams, a capitulation to the real king of this year's event – tropical storm Isaac –
Light described the 2012 Indy race thus far with his comment about the return to qualifying next weekend: "Unprecedented."
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