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Kligerman: Formula E is an Instagram hit, but attending a race is an out-of-focus experience

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NEW YORK — On a rare Sunday off (after a few days in the pits covering one of the oldest and most popular racing series in the world), I decided to spend my day attending one of the world’s newest racing series, Formula E.

If you haven’t heard, it’s an all-electric Formula car series (think F1 with electric cars).

The race was being held in, as the CEO of the new series called it, “The Capital of the World” — New York. Specifically, a picturesque setting near a landing area for cruise ships in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. This fittingly positioned NYC’s famous Manhattan skyline as the backdrop for many pictures of the cars and track.

Formula E is car racing’s first disrupt-the-status-quo tech startup built on a Silicon Valley vibe, social media buzzwords and celebrity endorsements. Like the provincial tech companies of the West Coast, it was born because a couple of people believed there was an insatiable appetite for something that didn’t exist.

Mitch Evans (NZL), Spark-Jaguar, Jaguar I-Type on track in front of the New York skyline during the New York City ePrix. (Photo by Andrew Ferraro/LAT Images)

An eco-friendly, bring-it-to-the-people, electric-car test bed.

And car manufacturers the likes of BMW, Audi, Citroen, Renault, and Jaguar agreed and all joined.

The world’s tabloid hogs have joined, too, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Branson and (in attendance at the Brooklyn event) Michael Douglas, and Chris Hemsworth. The only thing missing amongst the Instagram-friendly metrics are what most racing series tout first — fans.

But before I go any further, full disclosure: I attempted to race in this series a couple years ago. It was 2014, and my NASCAR Cup team had folded. It seemed through a friend who was a CMO at an energy company that there might be a way to swing getting into a Formula E car.

It wasn’t to be as it was too new, too foreign, and we quickly got distracted by other opportunities. But ever since, I have kept a keen eye on its development.

Bring on NYC.

I was excited to view the upstart series up close. But after a little too much caffeine in the form of a coffee, a bigger coffee and then an energy drink to get home from New Hampshire. I wouldn’t rest my overly caffeinated body until 2:30 a.m. that day. It was a struggle to awake.

Awaiting me was a media credential. But it was to lay dormant as I decided to bring my girlfriend and conned my best friend into joining us. Mostly because he lives in Brooklyn, and this event has zero parking. The official travel guide tells you, “Not to bring a car.”

Certainly odd for a car race but understandable being in NYC. So I parked at my friend’s apartment, and we Ubered.

The Arrival

As we approached the ride-share dropoff zone, I oddly felt devoid of that half-euphoric, half-anxious feeling of attending a new racing series.

I turned to my friend and Blondie to say I remembered attending my first F1 race in Montreal at 14 years old and being able to hear the cars from 2 miles away. The city was overflowing with Formula One fever.

Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT) and Amlin Andretti, Spark-Andretti, ATEC-02 race during the New York City ePrix in Brooklyn. (Photo by Alastair Staley/LAT Images)

I’ll never forget walking up to the corner just before the hairpin at the Montreal circuit, as practice just had started and an F1 car approached. It sounded like a fire-breathing, human-slaying alien spacecraft was rapidly coming our way, and it was not going to be pleasant.

Suddenly, the sound was all around us in a flash of yellow, an ear-piercing scream and a loud BOOM! The Jordan F1 car of Timo Glock streaked past where I was standing. As he shifted gears, the sound and explosion hit me in the chest so hard, I could barely breathe.

It, to this day, is one of my favorite memories in life.

This event was not going to provide that.

Obviously one of the biggest departures from traditional motor racing is the cars don’t make a lot of sound. That’s part of what allows them to race in The Capital of The World. There are no issues with deafening sound reverberating through NYC’s already overflowing boroughs.

As we told our Uber driver to stop, a few Formula E signs were plastered on the walls around us. He asked, “What is this?” and my friend said, “It’s like a Formula One race.” The Uber driver replied, “Who knew? That is cool.” Not exactly a good sign for the promotion of the event.

Nonetheless, I felt good about being able to buy three tickets if our driver had no idea it was happening.

Except when we went inside, the ticket building was completely empty. We abruptly were told it was sold out and actually had been for months. Even though on Friday, Ticketmaster indicated (for $85, mind you), there were tickets available … odd.

G.H. Mumm champagne was served at the inaugural ePrix Race in Brooklyn. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for G.H. Mumm)

We were told we could have free general admission tickets and maybe could get in with them. And this was something I knew Formula E did in its first season as a way to get people to come. I’ve always thought this was brilliant.

From there we went into the stringent security lines, where I got my first glance at what I will refer to as “the clientele” and not “fans.”

Two young men in front of me were the embodiment of the clientele. Both almost identically dressed in expensive, perfectly pressed, white button-down shirts, light tan belts and navy blue linen chinos.

I must have missed the memo.

One wearing Oliver Peoples glasses (if you ever go to an Oliver Peoples store, they will remind you President Obama wears their glasses) turned to the other as they were going through the security scanner. He remarked, “This certainly isn’t like Monaco,” and his friend nodded. Aside from wanting to punch him square in the face, I knew I was in for an experience only the Europeans can provide.

Fans enjoy a champagne toast during the inaugural ePrix Race in Brooklyn. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for G.H. Mumm)

I call it, “European Exclusionary Events,” where they invite you to spend money to feel superior to the others around you. Hence our free ticket allowed us in, but Mr. Oliver Peoples took a very visible red carpet-lined hard left into the E-Motion club, and we were forced down a route past a port-a-potty.

The Europeans love this sort of thing, because it makes an event feel exclusive – as if you have done something to deserve the first-class version of race attendance.

But Americans do not. Sure we have courtside seats in basketball, but the guy who got a ticket from his company raffle can be sitting right behind Kim Kardashian. American events are put on to make everyone feel inclusive. Formula E missed that memo.

But I digress.

As we entered the general admission area known as “E-Village,” it was not overflowing but definitely not sparse. Scattered throughout were a few informational and promotional booths from car manufacturers and racing simulators. Par for the course at a race.

And here I bumped into a friend who lives in Brooklyn. He knew nothing about racing but had brought his wife and twin babies in a stroller. It was free and a block from their place, and the electric racing ensured their babies would be OK with the sound.

It definitely wasn’t something that would happen at a NASCAR race. I thought that was very cool.

The Race

The schedule listed a 1 p.m. start, and as 1 p.m. came, everyone in the E-Village excitedly was listening for a signal or sign that the race had started. And then suddenly at 1:05 a group of cars rounded the hairpin adjacent to the E-Village. There was no warning (not even a race announcer) and the only reason you knew was the chirping of the tires and smashing of bodywork.

Surely, they must have forgotten to turn up the race announcer. But as the laps continued, it became clear they had not put any speakers in the E-Village area. So here we were with what seemed a couple thousand people desperately wondering what the hell was going on.

The start of the New York City ePrix in Brooklyn. (Photo by Steven Tee/LAT Images)

This was incredibly perplexing because the whole selling point as an attendee of Formula E was that it was quiet enough to foster conversation. And to be able to hear the announcers so well they even could play team radios over the loudspeakers, so you could be immersed in the race.

Guess it didn’t apply to the free tickets and the people the series desperately should be trying to impress.

I became Formula E’s best friend as I informed people left and right about the rules and who was leading the damn race. At the other end of the E-Village was a nice lounge area with a big screen TV sponsored by VISA but with no volume. So once again, I was the on-the-ground Formula E informant, letting people know why they were pitting and what the energy percentage meant.

But the best part occurred as the race came to a close, as you only knew it was over because of the fans in the frontstretch grandstand that rose to give the winner a standing ovation. As the cars made their cooldown lap, a fan turned to me and said, “I think this is when they go pit and change cars.” To which I replied, “Uhh, no. It’s over. That was the winner.”

But then as the cars continued to trickle through the corner on the cooldown lap, another person asked, “Why are they going so slow?!?”

Winner Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing, Spark-Citroen, Virgin DSV-02, celebrates on the podium with Felix Rosenqvist (SWE), Mahindra Racing, Spark-Mahindra, Mahindra M3ELECTRO, and Nick Heidfeld (GER), Mahindra Racing, Spark-Mahindra, Mahindra M3ELECTRO after the New York City ePrix. (Photo by Sam Bloxham/LAT Images)

It was clear with no info whatsoever, these attendees might be there until Tuesday wondering what happened to the race.

Why was it like this?

I stood at one of the exit gates to survey the crowd as the attendees and clientele left the grandstands. I begged the event for a redeeming quality, something to make me want to come back, but to no avail.

It suddenly became clear as I looked at photos of the massive but mostly unfilled E-motion VIP club for Instagram “influencers” — celebrities, media, and marketing chiefs.

Was it that this event was not for you or me? That the series wasn’t aiming to impress a race fan such as myself? (A race fan who loved this form of racing so much, I responded “open wheel cars with little to no downforce and 1000 horsepower engines on city street tracks” when asked 10 years ago what my perfect race series would be.)

Everyone attending with me began to refuse to call it a race event and started using words such as “promotional display” and “a massive advertisement.”

It became clear that Formula E is for the sponsors, the car manufacturers and the series to have media outlets talking about how they have a presence in the future of the world.

So the CMOs, marketing managers and executives in linens and sports coats can walk into boardrooms with PowerPoint slides of their logos being called “eco-friendly” in the media. And use social media buzzwords such impressions, engagement and KPI (key performance indicator) while showing their logos with Instagram “influencers” drinking champagne and being eco-friendly.

Formula E is an event that has a purpose but to entertain you would be a stretch. It’s much like in school when the teacher tells you you’re watching a movie, and it turns out to be an instructional video. It’s a relief you’re watching a movie, but you still need to learn.

This is Formula E.

You’re provided a race and a damn good one at that. But it’s clear, the truth is it’s for show and not the kind that entertains.

Woman arrested for stalking, intimidation, terroristic mischief vs. Tony Stewart, family

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A Florida woman who allegedly felt spurned when Tony Stewart did not give her an autograph is under arrest and facing several felony charges including intimidation, stalking and terroristic mischief.

Sixty-eight year old Kathi Kathleen Russell – who also goes by the name Mary Kathleen Russell – of Cape Coral, Florida, is being held in the Lee County, Fla. Jail, awaiting extradition to Marion County, Indiana to face those charges – as well as violating an order of protection.

Kathi Kathleen Russell (Photo courtesy Lee County, Florida Sheriffs Office)

Russell’s arrest and the charges against her was first reported by Indianapolis TV station WRTV.

According to the criminal complaint and probable cause affidavit cited by WRTV, Russell allegedly harassed Stewart, his family and employees from March 2016 through last month after he did not sign a piece of memorabilia at an unspecified race she attended. Among the things Russell is accused of:

* Made a total of 333 phone calls to Stewart, his mother, sister, sponsors and several of his businesses, according to WRTV. Those calls came at all hours of the day and night, according to the complaint.

* Many of those calls were also allegedly threatening in nature, according to the WRTV report. Russell is also accused of playing threatening audio clips and song clips during several of those calls, according to the complaint and WRTV’s on-air and online stories.

* On Sept. 27, according to the WRTV reports, Russell allegedly sent an envelope containing a white powder to the Indianapolis office of Stewart’s attorneys, Ice Miller LLP. The scare prompted the evacuation of the One America Building in downtown Indianapolis, which houses Ice Miller’s offices. The white powder was eventually determined to be baking soda, according to WRTV’s online report.

NBC Sports reached out to Stewart. In an email reply, a spokesman for the former NASCAR Cup driver and current co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing said: “We’re going to decline comment and let the legal process run its course.”

It’s unclear when Russell will be extradited to Indiana to face the charges against her. NBC Sports reached out to the Marion County (Indiana) Superior Court, Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, but has not received replies as yet.

Questions and answers about NASCAR’s pit crew cut, at-track roster limits

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NASCAR announced Wednesday a reduction in pit crew members and limits to the at-track rosters beginning in 2018. Here’s a look at what that means and other questions about the changes.

What is NASCAR doing?

NASCAR will cut pit crew members from six to five. NASCAR will set limits on how many team members can be at the track, starting next season.

Why the change?

It’s viewed as a cost-cutting method for most teams, although some small teams likely won’t save much money because they typically don’t reach the limits that will be set. NASCAR will make crew lists available to help promote these people. NASCAR also views reducing the number of pit crew members as a safety factor by having fewer crew members go over the wall.

What position will be eliminated on the pit crew?

Likely a tire carrier position. What you probably will see is a tire changer carry their own tire. So, a pit crew in 2018 likely will have two tire changers, a jackman, a tire carrier and a fueler.

Anything else different about the pit crew for 2018?

Yes, a fueler can only fuel the car. No longer can a fueler help remove a tire or make adjustments to the car.

How much will this slow pit stops?

We’ve yet to see, but it is likely to slow the stop. As the season progresses, teams will become more proficient in what they do but it seems those 10-second pit stops are gone.

Any other changes on pit road for 2018?

Yes. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Wednesday morning that series officials are looking at teams using a standardized pit gun to change tires with in 2018. Teams are responsible for their own pit guns and more effort has been put into that area in recent years. Teams have had engineers dedicated to making pit guns faster to provide an advantage. A standardized pit gun will take away that advantage some teams have.

What about these crew limits?

In Cup, teams will be limited to 20 or 21 people per car. For an organization that has one or two Cup cars, it will be allowed to have three people in the organizational category, 12 in the roster category and five pit crew members. For an organization with more than two cars, they can have four organization people. Cup teams will be able to have an additional road crew position for the three road courses and Indianapolis.

So what are the classifications: Organizational, road crew and pit crew?

Organizational category includes the competition director, team manager, technical director, IT specialists, etc.

Road crew category includes crew chief, car chief, engineers, mechanics, shock specialist, tire specialist and aero specialists.

Pit crew category includes the over-the-wall members.

What about the limits for Xfinity and Truck teams?

Xfinity and Trucks teams will be allowed one organizational member each and five pit crew members each. Xfinity teams will be allowed up to seven road crew members. Truck teams will be allowed up to six road crew members. Xfinity teams get an additional road crew member for up to 10 races. They can choose the 10 races. Truck teams are allowed an additional road crew member for up to five races. They can choose which races.

Who is exempt from these lists?

Team executives, public relations personnel, etc. The crew limits are for those who directly work on the vehicle.

At Homestead, a crew member from Kyle Busch’s team worked on Martin Truex Jr.’s car after he hit the wall in practice. Will that still be allowed?

For that to happen in 2018, the crew member would have to be listed on the roster for both teams. Otherwise, they would not be allowed to work on the car. If they did, it would be a penalty.

What is the penalty for a crew member working on a car they’re not assigned to?

That has yet to be determined, but O’Donnell said: “It will have some teeth to it. I think the teams and NASCAR are in agreement that this is something that we want to work for all the race teams and there needs to be a penalty behind this when it is violated. We’ll make that clear to the media and the fans as we head into (the 2018 season).

What happens when there is a crew chief suspension or car chief suspension or other team member suspension? Will the team be able to replace that position or will they lose a spot for each suspension on its at-track limit?

This also is to be determined, O’Donnell said. He added: “Still working through some of those details. We’ll have prior to the Daytona 500 … what the final aspects are.’’

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Oh, baby: Ty and Haley Dillon welcome first child, daughter Oakley Ray

Photo courtesy Ty and Haley Dillon
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Brothers Austin and Ty Dillon have long called Richard Childress “pop pop” as an affectionate alternative term for “grandfather.”

But as of Tuesday, Childress may soon come to be called “great pop pop,” as Ty and wife Haley announced the birth of their first child – and Childress’ first great grandchild.

Daughter Oakley Ray Dillon weighed in at nine pounds, eight ounces, and was 21.5 inches long, according to an Instagram post by Haley.

“Our baby girl waited just in time for her daddy to get home from Homestead to make her grand entrance,” Haley wrote in her post.

Ty Dillon recently agreed to a contract extension to continue driving the No. 13 Chevrolet for Germain Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Four other NASCAR drivers and their wives or girlfriends will soon be part of the NASCAR baby boom.

Brittany and Joey Logano are expecting their first child in January, while DeLana and Kevin Harvick are expecting their second child the same month.

Due in May is the first child for Amy and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the second child for Katelyn Sweet and Kyle Larson.

NASCAR reduces pit crew members, sets at-track roster limits for 2018

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NASCAR will enforce crew limits for its three national series next season and reduce how many will go over the wall, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

Pit crews will be reduced from six to five beginning next season as part of a cost-cutting measure for teams.

Rosters will be divided into three categories: Organizational, road crew and pit crew.

Organizational includes the competition director, team manager, technical director, IT specialists, etc. Cup organizations with no more than two cars will be limited to three people in this category. Cup organizations with more than two cars will be allowed four people in this category. In Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series, each team will be limited to one person in this position.

Road crew includes the crew chief, car chief, engineers, mechanics, shock specialist, tire specialist and aero specialists. Cup teams will be limited to 12 people. Xfinity teams will be limited to seven people, and Camping World Truck Series teams will be limited to six. Cup teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at road courses and at Indianapolis. Xfinity teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at up to 10 races. Truck teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at up to five races.

Pit crew represents over-the-wall crew members. Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck teams will be limited to five individuals. Also, NASCAR announced that the fueler can only perform the task of fueling the vehicle beginning next season. Previously, fuelers could help with removing the left rear tire, making adjustments or some other role if the team was not fueling the car on a stop.

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