LBGP President Happy that Franchitti Has Become the Face of IRL
Doug Krikorian, Press-Telegram
Jim Michaelian was on the line early Monday morning, and the president/CEO of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was marveling at Dario Franchitti's dominating victory Sunday in the IZOD IndyCar Series opener in Florida.
"What a start for Dario!" he said of Franchitti's seven-second triumph over pole-sitter Will Power in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. "We all know Dario has been dominant on the oval, but this was a street race and he also proved to be dominant in that."
Of course, Franchitti proved that in the 2009 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which he won to give his actress wife Ashley Judd a stirring gift on her 40th birthday.
Michaelian said he was thrilled because Franchitti - with his back-to-back IndyCar Series championships - has become the high-profile face of open-wheel racing, which is on a rapid ascent after 12 bitter years of internecine warfare between CART and IRL that nearly destroyed the sport.
The opposing factions merged three years ago, and, suddenly, the Indy cars are regaining their popularity with racing purists, much to the joy of Michaelian.
"It's just nice to see the fans' enthusiasm returning to our sport," said Michaelian, the ol' Energizer Bunny now putting in 16-hour days gearing up for his Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach affair that will be staged April 15-17.
Michaelian understands the emergence of Franchitti certainly has contributed to such a development since his
glamorous marriage, which commands a lot of publicity on its own, is enhanced even more by those checkered flags he keeps receiving.
Franchitti recently was in Los Angeles on a frenzied one-day media tour in which he made several radio and TV appearances and met with a group of reporters at the ESPN Zone at L.A. Live.
He spoke about how he never felt comfortable during his brief time on the NASCAR circuit - "I'm just more at ease in an Indy car," he said - and how his relationship with car owner Chip Ganassi has been a godsend for him.
Natch, being a TMZ kind of guy, I was more interested in another subject.
"Do the paparazzi drive you nuts?" I asked, since, after all, he is betrothed to a film starlet.
The Scotland native smiled.
"Not really," he said. "We live in the boondocks in the middle of Tennessee where no one goes, not even the paparazzi. And it's the same with our residence in Scotland. I've had no problems with them."
Michaelian doesn't, either, although he does share something in common with Franchitti.
Both participated in the recent 24 Hours of Daytona, although Michaelian said all he ever saw of Franchitti during the competition were the taillights of his car as Franchitti's mighty Daytona prototype zipped past him.
But Franchitti has respect for Michaelian.
"What other 68-year-old race promoter in the world does what Jim does?" he asked. "I'm sure if he could, he'd like to drive in one of the sports car races in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach."
The gentleman who's been heavily involved in the event since its inception in 1975 certainly would - Michaelian admits to even considering the idea - but job restraints on his big race weekend, alas, prevent it.
Mike Jensen update: The lone survivor of the recent Long Beach Airport plane crash that took five lives continues to show improvement, according to his close friend Martin Howard.
"Mike has been undergoing skin grafts and is slowly being removed from sedation," said Howard of the Naples resident. "He's been opening his eyes. He's definitely on the road to recovery. ..."
If Virginia Commonwealth University, or even Butler, can make it to the Final Four, Long Beach State certainly can, especially if its exceptional coach, Dan Monson, is able to locate some players who can make layups and free throws with consistency.
Is it my imagination, or is there an indifference among local sporting types toward both the Dodgers and Angels as the regular season approaches?
Syria is in the news these days, and I'm reminded of the 2000 New Year's holiday I spent in the country, staying in Damascus but also traveling to places like Aleppo and Hamah. I felt totally safe despite the presence of machine gun-toting soldiers everywhere because the late feared dictator, Hafez al-Assad, was in charge, and the consequences of then breaking the law were harrowing.
I wouldn't feel safe in Syria today.
Actually, on that same trip, I was driven over to Lebanon and visited Beirut. But on the day I arrived, a couple of Chechnyan terrorists assassinated a Russian envoy, and Beirut was crawling with armed soldiers who, unlike those in Syria, fixed you with a glowering stare that chilled your heart.
Scaredy cat that I am, I visited a few spots, and quickly made the 100-mile trek back to Damascus, where a couple of days later I celebrated the arrival of the 21st century.
It's bad enough that ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas is a shameless shill for the NCAA.
But what I find even worse is his know-it-all pomposity that inspires my hitting the mute button as soon as it's his turn to give the party line on any controversial subject like officiating, which I think has been too often unnecessarily intrusive during the tournament.