Doug Boles

Friday 5: Behind-the-scenes view shows more than expected

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Twitch video streams bring fans closer to drivers by showing them as they compete in iRacing events, but those streams have revealed more in the past two weeks, costing one driver a sponsor and another his job.

Twitch.tv is the popular site to watch people play video games and racers compete in iRacing events, such as Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event from a virtual Richmond Raceway.

Twitch allows race fans to see facial reactions, comments drivers make to themselves and those they make to competitors during races. This unfiltered access is more than fans would experience with a real race. There they would only hear what a driver says when the driver pressed the radio button. With Twitch, the radio button, in essence, is on all the time.

It was on Twitch that fans saw Bubba Wallace quit the April 5 Pro Invitational Series race at a virtual Bristol after he was involved in multiple incidents. A sponsor responded that it would cut all ties with Wallace.

Last weekend, another competitor’s twitch stream caught Kyle Larson using a racial slur, costing Larson his job at Chip Ganassi Racing and leading to questions of if he’ll race in NASCAR again.

Without Twitch, those situations likely wouldn’t have been seen.

But they were and the fallout was real.

“People are going to say, ‘Oh, it’s getting too serious, it’s taking all the fun out of it,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s Dale Jr. Download of the recent controversies. “I’m sorry. That’s the way you’ve got to approach it. You can still enjoy what you’re doing. You can still sit down there and have fun with it.”

Some drivers do, continuing to remain on Twitch. 

“Now, I’ve got to practice what I preach,” Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I’m going to be put in situations where you’re going to bite your tongue and not lash out at someone that might have done you wrong. Like Smithley. Garrett Smithley runs over me at Bristol, cleaned me out. We take care of each other, I always race hard, but I like to take care of the people around me. I don’t go into the corner and if I door this guy and he finishes 20th, I don’t care. That’s not my mentality. I race like I’d love this position but I’m not going to cost this guy 20 spots trying to get it, especially in a sim race.

“I think Garrett went in there and didn’t take care of me and it cost me a top 10 and in that moment I was as angry as I would have been in a real race car. I told him to eat (expletive). I did it over a private (channel to Smithley). I even went to his name and hit private message, but I knew as soon as I was sending that, while I was sending that I knew that that could be on Twitter in two minutes, less than that and it was, but you got to be aware (of) everything you say and do.

“It was tongue-in-cheek and we had a little fun with it. He’s a good guy and has done a good job of being a good ambassador of the sim racing life we’re all living now. You’ve just got to know that everything you type, say (and) do is going to be up for criticism or debate while you’re out there racing.”

2. A new following

After Kyle Larson uttered a racial slur last weekend, Sam Young had a talk with 11-year-old son James, who is a Larson fan.

“We always try to be open and try and make sure he knows if something is not right that he needs to know that, ‘Hey, this isn’t right and this is why it isn’t right,’ ” said Young, who lives in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. “He already knew what Kyle had said was wrong before we even talked about it.

“That afternoon, he was like I guess I need a new driver.”

MORE: Bubba Wallace addresses Kyle Larson’s racial slur 

MORE: Ryan: These might have been Kyle Larson’s last words in NASCAR

That night Young tweeted that her son was looking for a new driver and she wrote: “Any driver out there want to help a mom out?”

She received several replies from fans and some drivers. She showed James the responses and he made his decision.

He chose Spencer Boyd, who was among the drivers who responded to Young’s tweet, which James said swayed him. He also chose Ross Chastain, who was promoted by multiple people.

James later decided to continue to support Larson.

Young also discussed with James what he could learn from Larson’s situation.

“People make mistakes and it’s something that you need to learn from,” she said. “There will be consequences. You have to face the consequences of your action.”

3. Time to read a book

Call him a performance coach or human optimizer or some other title, Josh Wise doesn’t have a particular title. The former racer just works with drivers on how to be better.

Among the drivers he works with are Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Ross Chastain, Noah Gragson and those with GMS Racing’s Truck program.

With racing suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still work for drivers to do. Wise makes sure of it. But it’s not all physical.

“You can be as physically fit as you want, but you get to a point where being more fit isn’t going to make you drive a race car better,” Wise said. “It becomes cognitive and psychological and how you react and respond.”

iRacing helps — and Wise has set up private sessions for his drivers to work on skills while racing on a virtual track with them.

But there is something else that Wise preaches to his students.

Read a book.

“My goal over the last few weeks has really shifted to focus in this area because I see the opportunity that comes through causal conversations and book assignments and other literature that I’ve gone through with guys,” Wise said. “I think it’s a great time for that mindset growth and development.”

Wise has used book assignments even before this break.

He said one driver was given “Mind to Matter” by Dawson Church. The book shows how intentions can create things. Gragson said in September that he was reading John Maxwell’s book “25 Ways to Win with People” to be a better team leader.

“That’s what I need to be for this race team,” Gragson said at the time. “It’s really easy to be happy and smiling when things are going good, but I feel like your character comes out when maybe things aren’t going as well as you would want. I’m trying to lean on people who I call my mentors … reading that book and just trying to be better and more positive.”

Wise said the book assignments are good for many reasons, especially the younger drivers.

“Most of them are kids and they’re just bombarded with this stream of information that isn’t always the best for developing the way you think,” Wise said. “Books became a big part of what I do with everyone because it gives them something positive and productive to talk about. I’ve obviously read most of the books, and if I haven’t read it, I read it with them, and we’re talking about something that is pushing us to grown and change the way we think.”

4. Advice for those at home

With so many in the country under stay-at-home orders, what advice can Josh Wise give to the public to optimize their time?

“I had this kind of thought … I’m really talking to myself, if you’re not coming out of this with a new skill or self-betterment in some way — whether that is I’ve always wanted to run or I wanted to be more flexible and I want to do yoga —  we still have access to the tools to better ourselves,” Wise said. “Just focusing on what you can control and that’s those things. That’s you. This is the time. This is an opportunity I feel like.”

5. Somber day

Thursday, Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the site of a funeral for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer Breann Leath, who died after being shot on duty while responding to a domestic disturbance call April 9. She was 24.

With social distancing, officers could not pay their respects in the customary ways following a line-of-duty death.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which had never before hosted a funeral, was utilized. Cars lined the inside lane and outside lane around the 2.5-mile track and the funeral procession drove a lap in the middle lane, allowing those to pay their respects while maintaining social distancing.

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IMS president discusses possibly lighting historic track under Penske leadership

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Track president Doug Boles and Roger Penske were a part of a group that walked the grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday until they couldn’t.

They simply ran out of light at the historic 2.5-mile track.

“We didn’t leave last night until it got too dark to see in some of the buildings that we’ve turned the power off in different places around the facility (to save money),” Boles said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “(Penske) finally said, ‘OK, we’ve had enough, that’s great.'”

Penske’s group, which was touring the facility the racing legend will soon own pending government approval, could have kept going if the track had lights to brighten the facility for night racing and other events.

The prospect of lighting the track – which hosts the Indianapolis 500 in May and the Brickyard 400 on July 5 next year – has picked up buzz since it was announced Monday that Penske would purchase the track, IndyCar and IMS Productions from Hulman & Company.

MORE: Penske bullish on Brickyard 400, NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheaders

But Boles told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio the idea of equipping the 108-year old track with lights is not a new one.

“I’ve been there for nine years and I’ve been in this position for six, and over the last several years … we’ve often talked about things we could do to invest and make this (track) way better,” Boles said.

“Lights are one that we’ve had a serious conversations about. But we’ve never really been able to sit down and think about, ‘Ok, does this make sense? How can you invest this and really make it pay off?’ Or how can we look at it and say ‘This is what the investment would be and there’s no way that it ever pays off. So let’s move on.’ Having Roger Penske, the Penske organization, the deep bench that they have to help you understand, look at data, understand how you get from Point A to Point B or how you say, ‘Look, we don’t want to go from Point A to Point B because it doesn’t make sense. We’re going to pivot.’

“That’s what he brings.”

Boles further discussed the “fiscal impact” of lights at IMS.

“There’s ROI (Rate of Investment) impact,” Boles said. “If you invest $20 plus million dollars in lights at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, how long does it take to pay that off? Not only is Roger passionate about motorsports. He’s a great businessman and he’s going to make an investment that makes sense for everything. So we have a lot to look at. I think that’s something we’ll definitely keep looking at and his team will keep looking at and we’ll see where it goes.”

Boles said any plans for lights would face “a hurdle” with the community in Speedway, Indiana. But Boles said it would really be a hurdle if “we started thinking about an endurance race.”

“The nice thing about our community though is Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in a corn field and the neighborhood has come up around it,” Boles continued. “Most of the people that live in and around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway live there because they love it. So we have a base there that wants to be supportive of any of our events.”

Part of early discussions about lights have even included an analysis from Musco Lighting, a company responsible for installing lights at race tracks and other sporting facilities.

“Musco’s really helped us understand what it would cost to light not just the race track, but the rest of the facility,” Boles told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “So (we’re) walking through those studies at a really high level with Roger and his team so at least that seed he’s sort of planted in the announcement, he can start beginning to look at and decide if it’s something we should move forward with.”

Indianapolis to add dirt track race to NASCAR weekend

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway plans to build a quarter-mile dirt track inside Turn 3 to run a USAC race to kick off the NASCAR weekend, the track’s president confirmed in reports by Racer and The Indianapolis Star.

The move is being made to connect the NASCAR event, which has seen a steady decline in attendance in the last decade, with race fans.

“The short-track community in a lot of ways is the heart and soul of racing across America,” Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway told The Indianapolis Star. “USAC midget racing, especially in the Midwest, is really strong and competitive, and attracts people like Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Rico Abreu when they have time to come race.

“So for us, we thought, is there away we could connect with that short track guy or gal, who spends their weekend at the local track on Saturday? And we thought this was good way to experiment with connecting with that fan base.”

IMS constructed a 3/16-mile flat dirt track inside Turn 3 in 2016 as a gift to Tony Stewart to celebrate his final Cup start at that track that year. Sarah Fisher and Bryan Clauson, who died from injuries suffered in a crash at the Belleville Midget Nationals about a month later, joined Stewart in running midget cars on that track.

Stewart ran about 20 laps. Even then, he looked ahead to the possibility of a dirt race at the Brickyard.

“If we get to actually watch a race here at IMS on a dirt track, that is going to be pretty awesome,’’ Stewart said that day. “They haven’t been able to do that for the first 100 years, but they can do it for the next 100.’’

The dirt track that IMS plans to construct for the NASCAR weekend will have 60-foot wide straights and 8-degree banking in the corners, according to Racer. The track plans to build bleachers to hold 5,000 fans. IMS began bringing in dirt Tuesday.

The date has yet to be announced for the event but both reports stated it would be the Thursday or Friday before the Sept. 9 Cup race at the track.

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NFL schedule reveals conflicts in some markets with NASCAR races

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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The NFL released its schedule for every team Thursday night, revealing conflicts with a few NASCAR Cup races — but not as many as it could have been.

The first conflict comes Sept. 9 when Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Cup regular-season finale at 2 p.m. ET. The Indianapolis Colts play their home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. ET.

“In a perfect world, we’d rather not be head-to-head at home,” Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told The Indianapolis Star. “But we knew we’d be head-to-head regardless, whether they were here or on the road. … We just had our fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be the first year of the new date for the race.” 

Other places where NASCAR and NFL compete nearby:

# Oct. 7 – NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who have a strong following in that region, are home to the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of the NFC championship game that sent the Eagles to the Super Bowl. The race is at 2 p.m. ET. The game is scheduled for 4:25 p.m.

# Oct. 21 – NASCAR races at Kansas Speedway at 2 p.m. ET, and the Kansas City Chiefs are home to the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. ET.

NASCAR avoided conflicts a few other weekends.

The Charlotte Roval race is Sept. 30 and the Carolina Panthers have a bye that weekend.

The Texas race is Nov. 4 and the Dallas Cowboys play Nov. 5 in a Monday night game.

The Phoenix race is Nov. 11 and the Arizona Cardinals are on the road.

The season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is Nov. 18. The Miami Dolphins have a bye that weekend.

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway has special gift for Tony Stewart – a dirt track

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What to give a retiring driver when they say they don’t want any gifts?

Some dirt to play in, of course.

The Indianapolis Star reports that Indianapolis Motor Speedway will install a 3/16-mile dirt track inside Turn 3 in time for Stewart’s media appearance there Tuesday. Several teams that own dirt midgets have been invited.

“Tony doesn’t want gifts, per se, but we thought this was a great way to marry his love for dirt-track racing with his love for racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told the Indianapolis Star.

Stewart’s climb through the ranks of racing on the way to NASCAR included racing on dirt in sprint and midget cars.

The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has twice won the Brickyard 400. The July 24 race is scheduled to be his final start at the historic track.