Friday, July 20, 2007

Easy Ride

The big news in the world of American motorsport has to be the Indianapolis Motor Speedway essentially giving the finger to the high-price, low-profit world of hosting Formula 1. Instead of bringing the Formula 1's dictatorial ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone and his circus to the Speedway, CEO Tony George is bringing in the much more economically-reasonable MotoGP motorcycle championship for 2008. While the Formula 1 US Grand Prix drew some of the biggest crowds on F1's calendar and brought a lot of money to the city, there are several reasons why MotoGP will be a much better fit for the region.

First of all, MotoGP is a lot more fun for the crowds. While Formula 1 races tend to dissolve into a 90-minute parade punctuated by a few moments of excitement, MotoGP races are an hour-long shootout at 180 mph on motorcycles. There is passing -- sometimes multiple passes in one turn or one straightaway. There is plenty of excitement as riders chase each other down, looking for the right opening at the right time. Finally, the riders are a great mix of characters, with the youthful excitement of Valentino Rossi, or the southern charm of Nicky Hayden.

I just touched upon another reason that MotoGP will work so much better here than Formula 1. Some kid from Kentucky who rides around on a Honda sport bike will immediately identify with Nicky Hayden, who just so happens to be a kid from Kentucky riding a Honda sport bike. Not only that, but Hayden is also one of the best riders in the series right now, coming off of winning a series title and the last two MotoGP races at California's Laguna Seca. That same random kid on his Honda had a very hard time trying to relate with an international driver driving a futuristic, very pricey F1 car.

Now, Hayden isn't even the only American in the series. John Hopkins and Colin Edwards are also very accomplished riders and will garner a lot of support from the fans in the crossroads of their home country. Whereas the majority of the fans at the Formula 1 race had a connection with South America, showing up to cheer for Felipe Massa, Rubens Barrichello, or Juan Pablo Montoya, I have a feeling that the MotoGP race will be a huge draw for American fans.

One last reason that this race will be a big success is the prevalence of motorcycle culture within America. Every city you go to in this country has dealerships that sell Harleys, Hondas, Yamahas, Suzukis, Ducatis, Aprilias, and Kawasakis -- and people buy them. There are so many motorcycles on the roads of the United States that there has to be someone who says, "You know, I'd like to go see someone take a motorcycle and go 200 miles per hour." It's the same reason that the normal-looking NASCAR stock cars have become such a success in America.

I know that I will be making my way to 16th and Georgetown in Indianapolis in September, '08 to watch these great machines and their extremely talented riders zip around IMS' re-tooled road course. Plus, I'll be doing something that was extremely difficult to do at the Formula 1 race: cheer for an American rider.

Note: The impetus for me writing this article is the fact that MotoGP's US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca is getting underway today. I strongly recommend that you watch the race on Sunday at 5PM on Fox. The Laguna Seca race will be coming back next year and the Indianapolis race will make the United States the second country on MotoGP's schedule along with Spain (which hosts 3 races) to hold multiple races.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Respecting the History of the Game

There are few people within the world of baseball that I care for less than I care for Barry Bonds. He has a terrible personality for a baseball player. Even Alex Rodriguez chats with the media and the fans without causing a huge amount of drama. Sluggers like David Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, and even Mark McGwire were personable and would smile and talk to the media when they had to. Bonds, even before recent controversy, has always lashed out at members of the media and members of his own team. Now he's been brought into this whole steroids controversy in a huge way, despite a lack of solid evidence that he's knowingly and habitually done anything wrong.

That said, one of those few people that I care for less than the Giants' outfielder is the man who is his ultimate boss: Commissioner Bud Selig. Even if Bonds has been habitually using steroids for the past ten years or whatever, the blame ultimately rests with Selig. The reason that guys like Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco were allowed to dip into the steroid market was the fact that Selig never, ever put rules into the game banning the drugs. It took a massive amount of media pressure and the threat of government investigation before Selig introduced his first, rather puny steroid policy.

Of course you can say that Bonds, if he took the drugs, should have gone with the morally correct choice and stayed clean. However, if the door is open for you to take an advantage over your competitors and, ultimately, earn more money, a majority of people would jump at the opportunity. Even in circles such as the Olympics, where the steroid police are among the strictest, people still try to get the advantage. In baseball, there was absolutely no penalty at all for juicing, so players felt free to bulk up.

So, what does this have to do with respecting the game's history? The answer is a very simple, three-digit number: 756. If your grandfather is a baseball fan, ask him about the significance of the number 715, and you will know the importance of 756. When Henry Aaron put his 715th career home run over the left-center field wall in Fulton County Stadium, it was as if the world had exploded. A number from the annals of baseball history that people thought would be impossible to achieve was achieved. Aaron went on to hit 40 more homers for his career and his final number of 755 was yet another that no one thought would be reached.

Now, Barry Bonds is sitting on 750 home runs and, barring a major catastrophe, he will put those last six baseballs over the outfield wall. Now, I am not, never was, and never will be a fan of Barry Bonds. I will watch the TV broadcast, but I'll be damned if I even think about going to AT&T Park (it will happen there; it's the only place where he'll be cheered) for the occasion. However, I am not the commissioner of Major League Baseball who mismanaged the steroid era that allegedly bred this slugging machine. Bud Selig, who has not announced his official intentions regarding number 756, needs to be in the park for this occasion. Even if Bonds has intentionally juiced in the past, there is still no actual proof of it. Therefore, this record is still clean and must be respected by the league and, more importantly, its commissioner.

Side Note: During today's All-Star Game selection show, Cal Ripken Jr., one of the most respected men in baseball (and one whose record will truly never be broken), broke down the actual reason that Barry Bonds is a good home run hitter: his swing. Fast, smooth, and compact is the best way to send a ball out, and that's exactly how Barry does it. Steroids won't give you that.