Crazy weather fouls baseball sectionals

John Gilbert

Esko’s Carter Northey chops one toward third against Moose Lake-Willow River in Section 7AA at Bulldog Park Tuesday. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Esko’s Carter Northey chops one toward third against Moose Lake-Willow River in Section 7AA at Bulldog Park Tuesday. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Esko led 11-0 when Noah Koski lined a shot to left that hooked foul, moments before lightning caused the umpires to puill the teams off the Bulldog Park field. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Esko led 11-0 when Noah Koski lined a shot to left that hooked foul, moments before lightning caused the umpires to puill the teams off the Bulldog Park field. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The Section 7AA baseball tournament was breezing right along for Esko, which had beaten International Falls, and jumped ahead of Moose Lake-Willow River at Bulldog Park. The Eskomos had expanded their early 9-0 lead to 11-0 through four innings when the ominous looking black clouds on the western horizon started showing off some significant lightning.

By the time the umpires called both teams in because of the imminent threat of lightning, the black sky started pelting the area with rain. Word was, games in other sections in Cloquet and at Wade Stadium were called off because of heavy rain, so the nice, tight schedule for all the sections was thrown askew. Which should make for some exciting action as this week concludes.

Power inherits lead for Penske’s 17th Indy 500 win

The Indianapolis 500 lived up to its billing this year, as a wide-open charge through 200 laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway with more than a dozen potential winners. What did it take to win the race? A lot of Will Power.
Will Power, who had to earn a place on Roger Penske’s powerhouse team, inherited the lead on the final five laps, just about the time he might have been wondering how he could pass the three cars ahead of him in a nose-to-tail chain. Penske’s team uses Chevrolet engines, but with a half-dozen laps remaining, the Honda powerplants in cars driven by, in order, Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson, and Jack Harvey were speeding along at 225 mph in a chain — all of them with Honda power ahead of Power.

That was the order they fell into after some quick pit stops following a spinout by Tony Kanaan, one of the race favorites. Kanaan fell victim to the same issue that affected Ed Jones in the early going, Danica Patrick shortly after that, and then Helio Castroneves, who was striving to join the very small club of four-time winners. All of them had the same problem, which was a controversial rule change for this year.

Strange as it seems, race officials worry about safety when the cars are sailing along at 225 on the straights and maybe 215 in the turns. Oddly, one of the ways to slow the cars down is to restrict the engines, which nearly everyone dislikes. Another way is to reduce the amount of downforce the wings can create. The tremendous downforce allows the cars to run just as fast through the mildly angled corners as they do on the straightaways, so reducing it should cause the drivers to caution themselves into slowing down.

Didn’t happen. The drivers kept charging, and all of the above drivers, from novices to stars, went either into Turn 2 or Turn 4 going what they figured was reasonably under control. But in all their cases, with no contact from other cars, a slight wiggle led to a fishtail as the lack of downforce caused the rear drive wheels to break loose, and in a flash, the cars’ rear ends swung too far out and the cars either spun out or sailed directly up into the outer wall.

The remaining cars were gambling that they could make it to the finish without what many thought would be one more fuel stop. The caution slowdown to clean up Kanaan’s crash led to significant single-file strategy by Servio, in the lead, but he didn’t pull it off. Sometimes a driver might hold back, and then hammer the throttle and try to bolt away from the field; other times a lead car might simply go hard coming around Turn 4 and try to outrun his top foes that way. But Wilson and Harvey both got good aerodynamic drafts and passed Servio coming off the restart. Power also got by Servio, creating a new order with four laps left. Suddenly, Wilson and Harvey, running 1-2, both darted into the pits ahead of Power, and Servio disappeared, obviously ducking into the pits also, which meant that only Power among the top four was left out on the track.

He maintained his pace, trailed by Ed Carpenter in another Chevrolet-powered car, and then the Hondas of Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Wilson, who started 23rd, dropped from the lead to finish 15th because of that full-green final pit stop, and Harvey, who started 31st -- inside the last row -- finished 16th, and Servia, who drove up magnificently from a 26th starting slot to appear to be on the verge of winning, settled for 17th.

The most spectacular ride in the 500 was by Rossi, who won the race two years ago as a complete unknown, started 32nd, next to last, and came on the hard charge with bold confidence and tremendous skill. Repeatedly, he passed big-name drivers, often on the outside of a three or four abreast run, and occasionally on the inside of such clusters, but he also got close enough to look like he could write a stirring finish and win the race. Going from 32nd to finish fourth was still spectacular.

The question remains, is it wise to lessen the downforce that drivers have come to depend on for stability and security, causing such experienced drivers as Castroneves and Kanaan to completely lose control, must make officials wonder about the near disasters they caused.
Another unfortunate circumstance happened when James Davison for some reason slowed down with some problem, but stayed in the racing line, right near the middle of the track, on Lap 45. As several cars swerved around him, Japanese driver Takuma Sato was among them and had no place to go, crashing into the rear of Davison’s car. Why he stayed high instead of pulling down out of the racing line is a mystery, but his inexperienced action took out Sato, who won the 2017 Indy 500.

Every one of the 33 entries had a story after the race. Danica Patrick was ending her racing career with a drive in Carpenter’s second car, and her spin, all alone, was a disappointing way for her to wind up 30th, instead of making a run at contention.
But with 30 lead changes, among 15 drivers, nearly half the field had a chance to run up front, even if it was only for a few brief laps during the pit-stop exchanges.
Meanwhile, at Monaco, Daniel Ricciardo won the Formula 1 race for Red Bull, with his Renault engine giving him the pole and the chance to lead from start to finish. Sebastian Vettel was second in a Ferrari and points leader Lewis Hamilton was third in a Mercedes-powered car. And Kyle Busch won the Monster Energy Cup NASCAR race, the Coca-Cola 600, at Charlotte, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin, for a 1-2-3 Toyota finish.