VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — One of the nice things about spending seven decades watching racing is the element of surprise. I sure got my share of them on Memorial Day Friday.
Just getting home after shopping for supplies for my Indy 500 potato salad, I switched on the TV and noted that the Freedom 100 for the Firestone Indy Lights series was about to start.
I thought this would be a good way to learn about the budding young racers, slated to be the next stars of the IZOD IndyCar Series. I was disappointed that only 11 cars (four of which were owned by Sam Schmidt Motorsports) were in the field but decided to stick with it. I’m glad I did.
Carlos Munoz had been on a streak. He won the last two FIL races. He’s the new face of Andretti Motorsports. At age 21, he qualified for the front row for Sunday’s Indy 500, the youngest to do so since Rex Mays, 78 years ago. He’s the whole package with his soap opera star good looks.
When Munoz took over on the 15th lap, I figured the race was over.
However, the interestingly named Sage Karan wouldn’t let him get away and stayed on his tail. Three other cars closed in and it was a neat five-car dice.
The five drivers all took stabs at improving their lot and did so expertly without incident. Near the end, Munoz and Karan broke away from Gabby Chavez and Ireland’s Peter Dempsey.
But with three laps to go, all four got close again with Munoz deftly hanging on. With the white flag, I thought Karan would slipstream by but he couldn’t. Coming off turn four on the last lap, the unbelievable happened. The four drivers managed to race four abreast as they headed for the finish.
Dempsey who never lead managed to slip by and win by .026 seconds. Munoz, despite being abreast of the winner wound up fourth behind Karan and Chavez. It was the most exciting finish in the 104-year history of the speedway.
Tony Stewart tweeted to TV commentator Davey Hamilton that it was one of the best races he ever saw and praised the four drivers for “not blocking.”
The person who bowled me over was Josef Newgarden. The young Indy driver was handed a headset by NBC sports and was on hand as an analyst.
He was superb. Josef is blessed with a great voice and he knows how to use it. He sounded like a polished broadcast veteran. What a breath of fresh air he is after years of listening to commentary like DW’s “boogity,” Larry McReynolds’ homicide of the English language and Rutledge Wood as an over rehearsed dufus.
If Josef’s driving career goes south, he should consider media.
This showed you don’t need 43 cars running four hours, the Lucky Dog and debris cautions to put on a great race