Monday, July 27, 2009

No Place Like The Brickyard

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When my good friend Dan Parsont came by to visit me Sunday, this native New Yorker knew that he would get an earful of stories from me because of the tremendous amount of memories that I've had attending three races, several practices and qualifying runs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

Even though New York City doesn't have a race, the Big Apple is host to the annual awards banquet.

I told Parsont that I've attended two Indy 500's and one Brickyard 400. I'll never forget the first time I went to the track in 1994. I maximized that experience as I drove six hours each way from Detroit to Indianapolis and spent an entire day walking the track and watching practice in preparation for the 75th running of the race.

The following two weeks, I went down for qualifying as Al Unser Jr. took the poll and on race weekend, my best friend George Eichorn and I saw Unser finish what he started by winning the race. Eichorn and I stayed about an hour away from the track because hotels were booked for the race. We had a chance to spend time downtown and watched the parade and saw an Indiana Pacers basketball game both on that Saturday.

Aside from Unser's success at Indy, I came away impressed with a Canadian rookie driver named Jacques Villeneuve, who finished second. The Brickyard is usually tough on young drivers but not this one.

In 1995, I spent four more weekends at Indy and on race weekend, my college buddy Stuart Bloom drove down from Minnesota for the race. We did find a place to stay near the race track and had a blast. In all my years of watching motor sports, I've never seen a driver have two years like Villeneuve. How do you top a second place finish the year before? You win the race and that's what he did.

My final race at Indy was when my ex-wife Susan and I went to see the Brickyard 400 in 1996. This was the third running of the event. Dale Jarrett won the race but the moment I remember the most was when Kyle Petty crashed into turn four, the ambulance attendants tripped on his pony tail and dropped him then had to put him back on the stretcher into the vehicle.

There will never be a shortage of stories at IMS. Then again, when a track has been open for 100 years, would there be?

I don't care what NASCAR fans will say about the tradition of racing in Daytona Beach.

There have been seven champions crowned after they won the Brickyard 400.

I've always found it interesting when Tony Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon have made attempts to run the Indy 500 and the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte on the same day.

This years Brickyard 400 saw plenty of former Indy 500 participants.

On Saturday, Max Papis failed to qualify for the race. But on Sunday, Tony Stewart finished third and has won this race twice. Juan Pablo Montoya led 116 laps but due to a speeding violation on pit road ended up losing the race to three time winner Jimmy Johnson. Robby Gordon finished 28th, John Andretti 32nd, and Sam Hornish Jr. finished 37th.

When Montoya was knocked out of contention to win this race and finished 11th, 19 year-old rookie Joey Logano, who replaced Stewart in the No. 20 car for Joe Gibbs finished 12th. I thought for sure Logano was going to get humbled by this 2.5 mile monster but he impressed me and proved me wrong.

As I watched this race, I was hoping that Jeff Gordon would win his fifth Brickyard 400 and if he didn't triumph that his teammate Mark Martin, who became the oldest pole winner for the event at 50, would prevail. Instead, he finished second.

But as I sat next to Parsont and asked him how many race tracks would be part of a golf course and have a couple holes, he just nodded his head and he seemed amazed at the venue.

Yet, Parsont and I talked about what event would be better to attend, an Indy 500 or a Kentucky Derby? We both agreed the Indy 500 because who would want to attend an event that lasts two minutes? I do hope that I can still see a Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs because it's still a great tradition but I'll always be partial towards the venue located at the corner of 16th and Georgetown.

While we'll never know whether the Indy Racing League will ever race at Daytona, I am confident that one day Danica Patrick will get her shot at the Brickyard 400. I've always admired Patrick's competitive spirit and she has engaged in a few shoving matches in her IRL career. But I do know one thing, Danica won't be shoving any of the NASCAR guys around and she does know that she'll be facing the best competition she's ever faced having to control a much heavier vehicle that she's not accustomed to handling.

No matter what event you attend at IMS which includes Formula One, anytime I see an overhead view of the facility, I do get chills down my spine and on this day, Parsont found that out. This is a spine that faced major back surgery on June 24th and figures to take as long as a year to fully heal.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Harrell Is A Man On A Mission

By Scott Morganroth

Prior to the NFL Draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper said some of his top busts of All-Time were: 1) Tony Mandarich, 2) Ryan Leaf, 3) Art Schlichter, 4) Akili Smith, 5) Ki-Jana Carter and 6) Lawrence Phillips.
If I wanted to research more and name many others, this list could lead to my own version of a Hall of Shame and this museum would be located in Iraq.
But there is one player who won't be included in such a discussion.
Why former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell wasn't drafted this year baffles me. He did get a free agent workout by the Cleveland Browns but wasn't offered a contract. The perception is he didn't have the arm strength to succeed in the NFL.
Harrell is the NCAA Division I career leader in touchdown passes with 134. He passed for 15,793 yards. The 6-3, 205 pound native of Ennis, Texas., had to fight the perception that his numbers were the product of Texas Tech's offensive system. Even if that is partly accurate, it didn't stop the San Francisco 49'ers from selecting his favorite wide receiver Michael Crabtree as the 10th pick overall in the first round.
Despite lobbying from his Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach to get more tryouts, now Harrell is on a mission to put himself in a group which includes former NFL quarterbacks Warren Moon and Doug Flutie. It's the "I'll Prove The Critics Wrong" group.
Harrell will begin his pro career the same way Moon and Flutie did in the CFL. Moon and Flutie are legends playing in a league which has a 55-yard line and longer end zones.
Harrell signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and will have all the time he needs to develop.
Even though the Grey Cup isn't as prestigious as the Vince Lombardi Trophy, if he's fortunate enough to lead his team to a championship as Moon and Flutie did, there will be a payday down the road in the NFL.
One thing is for certain, he won't ever have to be viewed as one of the biggest busts in the NFL. For the time being, in addition to working towards a championship, a great CFL career could lead towards gaining a bust in the CFL Hall of Fame.
If Harrell can duplicate or come close to last season's numbers when he went 442-626 for 5,111 yards, amassing 45 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, the CFL fans will be thrilled. In Texas Tech's 39-33 victory over the Texas Longhorns on November 1, Harrell threw for 474 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
He played in the tough Big 12 Conference against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Nebraska so nobody can say he didn't face quality competition. I'll be monitoring how the 49'ers fare this season, and in this crazy world of ironies, who knows, maybe if San Francisco Coach Mike Singletary isn't happy with his signal callers, it would be neat to see Harrell reunited with Crabtree.
Should Harrell get to the NFL, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that scouts are human and they do make mistakes which when judging amateur talent. There is major margin of error and these busts/mistakes do cost teams millions of dollars and championships.
There is no exact science to finding talent but at least with the CFL and now the UFL, there are other leagues to give guys an opportunity to develop their skills. We should also remember that Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner led the Iowa Barnstormers to a pair of Arena Football League title games.
We all know that one major injury can destroy a team's dreams to win a title although the St. Louis Rams were lucky when Warner replaced Trent Green and led them to their lone Super Bowl title in 1999 and he was the NFL MVP.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Numerical Voids At Comerica Park

By Scott Morganroth

As I watched the Detroit Tigers lose 2-1 to the New York Yankees Sunday on TBS and noticed the amount of retired numbers the Bronx Bombers had, it made me think that with the Tigers and Pistons, there is a huge void in these franchises traditions at Comerica Park and the Palace of Auburn Hills.
I don't know what the criteria is for the Tigers to have a number retired, but I'm disappointed that Alan Trammell's No. 3 and Lou Whitaker's No.1 are not with the rest of the great players that proudly wore the old English D. Even though Gary Sheffield asked Trammell if he would mind wearing the number and Alan politely had no problem with it, this should never have occurred.
Nowadays, how many players play their entire careers with one organization with free agency and major trades for contenders in the heat of a pennant race? How weird would it be if Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn, Derek Jeter along with many others ever played for teams than their original employers?
It's hard to fathom all of the talk surrounding Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher Roy Halladay playing South of the Border when he's been a mainstay in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Yet, the headlines are centered around the hurler's next destination and the impact that he could take his next team to a World Series Championship.
But back to the Tigers. If the criteria is to retire a number once the player is in the Hall of Fame, then Willie Horton's No. 23 shouldn't be on the wall. Today's Tigers fans will remember Kirk Gibson's 1984 World Series homer that led the Motor City Kitties to a championship against the San Diego Padres. By no means am I disrespecting Horton because he was a major contributor on the 1968 World Series team and is a Detroiter, though Gibson is also a local product.
Trammell and Whitaker were one of the best double play combinations in baseball history and today's fans should see that 81 times a year plus the postseason. What's the delay? Lets get these numbers with the rest of the Tigers legends!
I don't care about Trammell's record as a Tigers manager because he had lousy players.
Trammell is the modern day version of Rodney Dangerfield because he hasn't been given much respect in the eyes of the Hall of Fame voters.
Perhaps if there is one good thing about the steroid era is all of these guilty users will take longer to get inducted into the Hall of Fame and there will be room for Trammell in Cooperstown, NY. Even though the low-keyed Whitaker is a long shot to get to Cooperstown, he should get consideration.
Despite the recent shake-up of the Detroit Pistons, there is room in the rafters for a few retired numbers from the 2004 championship team.
I highly doubt that Ben Wallace's No. 3 will get retired because of his take the money and run approach to play for division rival the Chicago Bulls.
But Chauncey Billups No. 1, Richard Hamilton's No. 32 and Tayshaun Prince's No. 22 would be the right numbers to honor. After the disastrous Allen Iverson trade to Denver, Detroiters know that Billups was the glue that kept the Pistons together and led them to a championship, another finals appearance plus six conference finals.
Joe Dumars will probably never hear the end of this mistake but to Dumars credit, he signed Billups as a free agent when many other teams including the Nuggets gave up on him. Hamilton still has a chance to work with some of the Pistons newer free agents as the team retools.
Meanwhile, Prince, is still with the organization which drafted him and barring any trades could finish his career with one team. Prince's No. 22 was also worn by John Salley of the Bad Boys era so it would be fitting that this number is connected to all three of the teams championships.
My advice to the Tigers and Pistons front offices, lets set a few days aside in the future to honor players that have enhanced your team's traditions and give them the proper respect they rightfully deserve. It will also be another way to connect the past generations to the current and future generations.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com

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