It's summertime 2006. I'm unknowingly in my second season of following ChampCar/IRL for more than a few races per year. My nights are spent watching wrestling and late night sitcom reruns on the UPN station out of Atlanta (Chattanooga didn't have one), my days are spent with a mix of sleep and marathons of Burnout Revenge on the PlayStation 2, with my weekends spent at my friend Boone's house watching NASCAR Busch races and bootleg tapes of obscure cartoons. My first crush is a girl named Kaitlin and I just saw Texas and all states in between for the first time.
The soundtrack to that summer is the ever romantic "I'm N Luv (Wit A Stripper)" by T-Pain. (ya know, of "Buy U A Drank" fame?) Oddly enough, I'll never be able to see The Alamo again without thinking about it.
Speed Channel is a constant on my television. Not knowing of too many trustworthy racing news sites (and fearing viruses from places like Geocities and Tripod), I get most of my news from Dave Despain and Bob Varsha.
Fun times to be a kid.
I had heard rumblings of NASCAR unveling the ominous sounding, grandiose "Car Of Tomorrow" at Daytona, but thanks to a vacation to Biloxi, Mississippi I missed out on seeing said unveling on Speed during the Firecracker 400 weekend. I had heard it had a wing and was excited, despite knowing it still seemed like something from that cartoon, NASCAR Racers.
It wasn't until 2 or so weeks after the fact that I got to see it. While being sold on the idea of embracing the future, I was by no means sold on the boxy, lumbered look of the COT. Compared to the sleek, curvy, slender cars of Nextel Cup at the time, this new thing looked like a dump truck.
Boone and I had a rather pensive discussion the weekend of the NASCAR Pennsylvania 500 that summer, as most kids do as they prepare to enter middle school. We discussed what was important to us at the time, what we wanted to grow up to be, the fear of fitting in at a new school, and the fear of growing apart. Then, as if it meant the world to me, with the kind of adorable, innocent, parylized fear only an 11 year old could have, I looked at him and asked "Dude, what if the new car sucks?"
Fast forward half my life so far later and a lot has changed. UPN's gone, Speed's gone, my PS2 hasn't been used for anything but an old F1 game in 3 years. (Spectator mode in the 989 games is how I practice commentary.)
Most importantly, The Split ended in '08 and I've been fully converted to IndyCar since 2005.
But our worst fears came true. Boone and I grew apart and the Car Of Tomorrow can be summed up as polarizing at best.
I find myself now in a similar but different position. Instead of fearing middle school, I turn 23 in 2 months and it scares the hell out of me. Mom only lived to be 42, after all, so health is becoming a concern. Beyond that, time's a tickin' on pouring the foundation for my future. Who knows where this racing stuff will take me? But those fears are just as deep as my fear of what would go on to be the best years of my childhood. The fear of fitting into the sport of auto racing feels just like my fear of fitting in with the football players a decade ago.
Similar too is the world of IndyCar. The engineering marvel that is the 2018 car was unveiled earlier in the summer, and it's one sexy beast. It will be the second new car of the Reconstruction Era, and it couldn't be a more exciting time to give the fans something new.
But on many levels, the fear I had over the COT in NASCAR is back.
Funny, it's Pocono weekend for IndyCar and my love for 2000s hip hop mixed with insomnia brought me back to T-Pain at around 3AM.
It has me thinking, fearing whether or not this new car will be as good as the DW12. As a fan, that fear exists because it's been a great car. All 6 Indy 500s with the DW12, they've been bangers, as the kids say. And my already strong appreciation for road racing skyrocketed in 2012. Simply put, the racing, especialy on ovals, has been tremendous. Professionally, my life has become intertwined with this sport. With a little luck, my life will revolve around this sport soon. I want nothing more than for IndyCar to regrow and become known by race fans as the place "Where the big boys play," to steal a slogan from my old line of work. It would be a crime and a major setback if the 2018 car didn't meet expectations. I'd hate to see our sport hindered by technology.
But there is hope and I am more than confident that things will only get even better. The Mid-Ohio test gave me added optimism. IndyCar isn't the thrilling series that it is by luck, after all. And at the very least, the cars ooze beauty inside and out. However, we will see if the anxiety is quelled when the season begins next spring.
And just like that summer night where Boone and I stayed up talking all those yesterdays ago, dawn brings with it the realization that things will be okay. Through pieces like this I can hopefully find a job in the business, and worst case scenario, the 2018 car will be an ever changing work in progress, with engineers striving to make it cutting edge, competitive, and captivating. Even if it isn't perfect right away, it can be improved.
And just like in 2006, my plan for Sunday is to sit back and soak in 500 miles of racing at Pocono, albeit with a different form of race car. I'll have in mind my childhood optimism, to enjoy the races we have left with such wonderful racing machines. A little older, I'll have a beer in hand, taking notes for a write up.
So I guess, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that's alright. We'll all be here to roll with the changes.