by Julian Spivey
Potentially the best story at this year’s Indianapolis 500 is the majority-female team Paretta Autosport owned by Beth Paretta and driven by Simona de Silvestro. The aerodynamics engineer on the team is also a woman, as is most of the pit crew. The entire team is comprised of about 75 percent women.
And Paretta Autosport is out to prove it can hang with the boys at the what’s likely the world’s most famous racetrack Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This is a dream Paretta has had for quite a while now. She planned to field a race team at the event as far back as 2016 but revived the idea last year when the series was purchased by team owner Roger Penske, who launched a diversity initiative within the sport. Penske team, which has won more Indy 500s than any team in the racer’s legendary history, is providing Paretta Autosport technical partnership.
De Silvestro will be competing in her sixth Indy 500 on Sunday, but it will be her first start in the race after six years away competing in other forms of auto racing. De Silvestro, who competed full-time in the IndyCar Series from 2010-2013 with a best career finish of second place at the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston. Her career high at Indy is 14th, which she accomplished in her rookie try at the track in 2010. She spent the last five seasons competing in the Australian Supercars series.
De Silvestro is one of nine women to compete in the history of the Indianapolis 500. Janet Guthrie was the first woman to qualify for the race in 1977. Sarah Fisher’s nine starts in the race are the most for any female driver. Danica Patrick’s third place finish in the 2009 event is the highest finishing position in race history for a female driver.
De Silvestro in an interview with People Magazine said she believes this female-led startup will lead to more opportunities for women in the sport in the future.
“I think we can inspire so many people through this,” she said.
De Silvestro was Paretta’s first choice for the ride on this team telling People the 32-year-old Swiss driver is “probably the best all around woman driver in the world.”
Four of the seven pit crew members of Paretta Autosport are women, two of whom are moms with kids at home, one is a former Coast Guard mechanic and the other is a dog groomer and bartender when not working in the pits. The previously mentioned aerodynamics engineer previously worked in NASCAR and came to racing from Boeing, according to People.
De Silvestro will be piloting the team’s No. 16 Chevrolet sponsored by Rocket Pro TPO, Money Lion and University of South Carolina’s Carolina Online from the 33rd and final spot on the starting grid. Qualifying was a struggle for the team attempting to make its debut in the series in the sport’s biggest race, but once again the team was just a gleam in Paretta’s eye last year. The car that will be starting in the middle of the final row right beside de Silvestro is Will Power, a driver for Penske Racing’s top-flight team and a former series champion and winner of this race just three years ago. Paretta Autosport out-qualified two other teams for the field’s final spot.
Anything can happen during Sunday’s race and it’s probably hard to have expectations for a first-time team, but one thing is for sure – it’s a terrific story and hopefully merely the beginning for the team.
Possible Brickyard Swan Song for Castroneves, Kanaan, Montoya Has My Indy 500 Anticipation at All-Time High
by Julian Spivey
I always get really excited to see the Indianapolis 500. It’s easily one of my 10 favorite sporting events of the year and many times over the last decade or so it’s ended up being one of my five favorite events of the year. The Indy 500 is this great mixture of incredible spectacle and underrated seemingly more and more with each passing year forgotten classic event. It’s truly the most edge on your seat event with driver making death-defying passes at near 220 MPH. At the Indy 500 the passes seem more spectacular and the crashes more devastating. It’s the event every driver dreams of winning and some claim they’d rather win than the actual IndyCar Series championship at season’s end.
I’m always excited for Indy, but this year the anticipation is even higher because I have a feeling this could be the last hurrah for three drivers I greatly admire and have had a lot of success in their careers at the Brickyard. I’m talking about Helio Castroneves (46 years old), Tony Kanaan (46 years old) and Juan Pablo Montoya (45 years old).
None of the three are full-time drivers. Kanaan is doing a part-time schedule for Chip Ganassi Racing driving the No. 48 Honda at the oval tracks while seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is piloting the car as the most prestigious 45-year-old rookie in IndyCar history on the road and street courses. Kanaan will be starting in the middle of the second row and with CGR being a top-flight IndyCar team is likely the favorite of these three veterans. Kanaan, who’s likely the most popular non-Indiana born driver in the field, won the race in 2013.
Montoya, who’s competing in his first Indy 500 in four years, will start toward the end of the field in 24th position with Arrow McLaren SP in the No. 86 Chevrolet. Montoya is a two-time winner of the Indy 500 winning in 2000 as a rookie and then again in 2015 after making a comeback in the series after spending many years competing in Formula 1 and NASCAR.
Castroneves will once again take a shot at becoming the fourth driver in Indianapolis 500 to win the race four times. Castroneves previously won back-to-back in 2001 and 2002 and then again in 2009, all with Penske Racing, the winningest team in Indy 500 history with 15 victories. Castroneves is running in this year’s event with Meyer Shank Racing, a relative newcomer in the series, and will be piloting the No. 06 Honda. It’ll be his 21st Indianapolis 500 start, but his first for any other team besides Penske.
Now, as far as I have seen none of these drivers have come out and officially announced that this year’s race will be their last at what’s likely the world’s most famous racetrack and I certainly would love to see them all compete in future years. But given their ages and the fact that none compete full-time in the series and haven’t in a few years I’m sort of reading the writing on the yard of bricks.
Not only are Castroneves, Kanaan and Montoya legends of auto racing, but all three are truly memorable personalities, which is why I’ve loved watching them, particularly at the Brickyard, all these years. Castroneves and Kanaan – both from Brazil – are just so genial and affable and almost always seem to have smiles on their faces. It’s no wonder both are so beloved by fans of the sport. Then there’s Montoya, who hails from Colombia, who’s an absolute bulldog of driver who gives no quarter and takes no gruff on the track from anyway.
I can’t wait to see what these three men do on the racetrack on Sunday and wish them all success. Frankly, I’d love to see a 1-2-3 finish between them. They’ll have terrific competition though with six other previous winners of the race in the event including last year’s winner Takuma Sato (a two-time winner of the event), the reigning series champion and active legend Scott Dixon, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi, who many believe to be the favorite.
I was watching the final outs of Detroit Tigers hurler Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter on Tuesday, May 18 against the Seattle Mariners. It was the fifth no-hitter less than two months into the 2021 Major League Baseball season and the second time in two weeks the Mariners were no-hit. Statistically, Turnbull has not even been a good pitcher throughout his career with a 10-25 record and a 4.33 career ERA (but some of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game never threw a no-hitter and some guys who did not have very long or great careers did).
I just can’t help but feel that the game of baseball is boring now. It has turned into a three-outcome game: strikeout, walk or home run and of all these the majority outcome is the strikeout. The average batting average in baseball right now is .236, nine points lower than the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season and 16 points lower than the last full season in 2019. It is 25 points lower than it was two decades ago.
Longtime baseball journalist Tim Kurkjian recently published “How the ‘K’ became the most destructive letter in Major League Baseball” for ESPN.com and I recommend the article.
There are two quotes from this article that immediately stood out to me about how the strikeout is now so prevalent within the game …
“It’s embarrassing,” Reggie Jackson, who holds the record for most career strikeouts in MLB history.
“It’s worrisome,” Nolan Ryan, who holds the record for most batters struck in MLB history.
The article includes many other quotes from those within the game, including active coaches and players who aren’t happy about the way the game is currently being played and the article mentions pitchers throwing harder than ever before, but also a change in the game’s philosophy of constantly swinging for the fences and no longer trying simply to put the ball in play.
It is the change in philosophy from the hitters within the game, one that seemingly has been thrust upon the game from nerds within the front office with computer analytics, rather than past game experience, that has impacted the game most negatively from my viewpoint.
Yes, pitchers throw harder than ever, with the average fastball being five MPH faster than it was just 10 years ago, and seem to have more movement on pitches than ever (which seems to at least partially be due to substances MLB is allowing pitchers to use and also not cracking down on some substances that pitchers might be getting away with), but in the Kurkjian article Washington Nationals veteran infielder Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t seem to think it’s the uptick in velocity that’s the biggest issue when it comes to strikeouts within the game. Zimmerman said, “They throw a lot hard today. I say this jokingly, but I’m an old man and I can still hit velocity because a lot of these guys don’t know how to pitch.” The not knowing how to pitch is where the walk outcome of the three outcomes comes and the biggest reason for MLB seeing an uptick in hit batters this season, which is currently on a record pace.
In the same article Zimmerman believes it is the secondary pitches that are giving the batters so much hell at the plate, which are also faster than ever and with more movement due to the previous mentioned sticky substances allowing more spin than ever from the pitchers. There has been talk about changing the height of the mound or even moving it back some to give hitters better reaction times.
You also have the rampant use of the defensive shift by teams these days where they have figured out where the hitters are most likely to hit a ball and set the defense up accordingly. There has been some talk over the last few years about MLB banning defensive shifts and making infielders stay in traditional zones. This would no doubt help offenses throughout the game, but I’m not a fan of baseball dictating defensive strategy. I’m more of a fan of teaching the hitters how to be better hitters. If the defense is giving you the entire left side of the field, then learn to hit the ball to that side of the field.
Sometime over the last few years baseball players have been taught to swing for the fences every time at the plate and not to worry about striking out. Striking out, which used to be the most embarrassing thing a hitter could do, no longer has a negative stigma to it. It’s this home run or nothing mindset at the plate that has made pitching easier than ever and made the game less fun to watch than it’s ever been before. Home runs are cool. There’s no doubt about it. But you also need balls put in play and runners moving on the basepaths and defenders making slick plays to give the game an all around feel and make it more exciting. Otherwise, a baseball game has essentially become a home run derby, but one in which the pitches are way harder to knock out of the park.
The biggest issue with baseball seems to be a mindset issue, but it’s also one that players and teams don’t really seem to be in a hurry to change. The game of baseball is hurting because of it.