The second installment of the Ten Best of 2019 continues with a typing dog, a delicate balance and some fast rookies. Let the countdown continue:
7. Social Media
Have you met Norman Pagenaud? If you follow his human on Twitter, you have. Norman is the Jack Russell Terrier fur son of Simon Pagenaud and Hailey McDermott. His dad’s Twitter account has nearly 77,000 followers. Norman’s account has 3,200 followers. Not bad for a dog.
Norman is so popular, his likeness is on the Baby Borg presented to his dad for winning the Indianapolis 500 in May:
He doesn’t have thumbs, as he has duly noted, but apparently Norman can type. He also is testament that IndyCar drivers (and their pets) are quite clever on social media. Norman’s dad took his tweets to another level this season, posing in costumes, in cornfields and fishing on the Mississippi River (while wearing his helmet and firesuit, of course).
He’s not alone. Will Power is delightfully Will Powerish with his random videos. Scott Dixon’s “A Lap with Scott” is essential viewing. And if you’re not following Alexander Rossi and the exploits of his car (#babygirl), you haven’t reached your daily allotment of LOLs.
This ability to connect with fans digitally didn’t exist 10 years ago. It draws people into racing in a unique and personal way. It could be used rather blandly -- breaking news and sponsor mentions and such -- but IndyCar drivers have turned it into an art form. And they owe it all to James Hinchcliffe, who started it as the mayor of Hinchtown.
6. Balance among teams and manufacturers
The most significant news story of 2019 broke in late July. Another story with nearly equal implications dropped two weeks later. First was news that Rossi, the most sought-after free agent in the paddock, was remaining with Andretti Autosport. Second was news that Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was partnering with McLaren and moving from Honda to Chevrolet in 2020.
The ongoing, ever-fragile balance between the series’ two engine manufacturers is crucial to the success of the series. This year, Chevy took nine of the 17 races. Over the past three seasons, the score is Honda 26, Chevy 25. That’s not only remarkable, it’s essential to continued growth.
Consider the difficulty -- and simultaneous ease -- of the decision Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson faced when leaving longtime associate Honda for a groundbreaking partnership on the other side.
“When (Honda isn’t) winning, they do everything possible to win, so we wanted to stay in that camp,” Schmidt said during the August announcement. “When you draw the line down the center of the paper and you put your pros and cons on each side, that was definitely a big negative to doing this deal. On the other side of the page, there were so many positives that it really was a no-brainer.”
If you haven’t seen replays of Felix Rosenqvist’s in-car cam from the Laguna Seca finale, click below and marvel. Angry Felix is the best Felix. Upset by being penalized in qualifying the day before, he tore through the field with fierce and precise skill, going from 14th to fifth to clinch rookie of the year honors.
Read (and Watch) More: Felix Rosenqvist
While he was securing the award for top newcomer, another rookie, Colton Herta, was winning the race, his second victory of the season. Combined, the four rookies of 2019 -- Rosenqvist, Herta, Santino Ferrucci and Marcus Ericsson -- led more than 16 percent of the total laps, recorded five podium finishes and won four poles.
This isn’t just an unusually good rookie class. It’s a landscape-altering class. It elevates the series as an international destination while reiterating the importance of the Road to Indy program. It’s likely that more than one of the four is a future champion and/or Indy 500 winner. That’s a positive development.
Tuesday: The final installment of the Ten Best concludes with the top racers of the year, the series’ unique connection with the past, a look at television and an inspiring soul.