Ed Carpenter is hoping to make his 19th career start at Indianapolis. (IndyCar photo)

Public Forum & The ‘Send’ Button

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Public Forum. For decades it was the letter-to-the-editor section in the weekly National Speed Sport News.

And that’s exactly what it was, a place where passionate race fans could share their opinions — good, bad, unique and sometimes preposterous.

Some were angry, some were enthusiastic and others were just lonely and wanted to be part of something. But what they all did was take the time to put pen or pencil to paper and mail their musings to the NSSN headquarters. Later, many clacked away at a keyboard and emailed their thoughts with a simple click of the “send” button. That was a precursor of things to come.

For years, editing these letters and preparing them for publication was part of our gig. It was the highlight of the week.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, there almost always were too many letters to use them all. If something significant (controversial) happened in the sport, the pile was even larger.

Many were first-time writers, others (like the late Kevin Olson) were frequent contributors. Subject matter ran the gambit from on-track shenanigans, to cheating, Americans vs. “foreigners,” and good races and bad races.

They were always emotional in one sense of the word or another — sorrow, anger, fear, humor, gratitude, love and dedication.

Thanks to these passionate folks, Public Forum was one of the most-read sections of SPEED SPORT. It was popular with readers from all walks of life and each week inspired a new group of folks to reach for their pads of paper.

In some ways it was ahead of its time.

But as the years went by and technology changed, the letters stopped coming. Today, we get about one a month.

That doesn’t mean folks tired of giving their opinions, technology just made it easier for them to share their thoughts with the world.

The “send” button became even more important as people took to Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to share their thoughts and opinions. More people than ever place comments on stories and other posts.

The sense of being part of something remains. There is still emotion, passion, humor and some excellent debate. But there’s one thing present within these comments that was rarely exhibited in Public Forum — hate.

While it’s easy to say, “Well, that’s the way of the world today,” the bigger difference is that in the world of letter writing, folks had the opportunity to calm down and “self-edit” their rants. With social media and that all powerful “send” button, things are much more immediate.

While many find the anger and hate offensive, there are still plenty of folks who spend a lot of time pouring through social media comments for their own entertainment.

It’s still a Public Forum.

• With the month of May and the 106th Indianapolis 500 looming, the question remained whether or not there would be a traditional 33-car starting field.

As Easter weekend passed, only 32 car-and-driver combinations had been confirmed for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing and it was difficult to speculate how a 33rd entry may transpire.

Still, it seemed likely that some person or group would step forward to help ensure that the time-honored tradition of 11 rows of three will continue come Memorial Day Sunday.

Of those 32 entries, 17 were Honda-powered cars and 15 were to carry Chevrolet engines. Meanwhile, there were eight Indy 500 winners (Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alexander Rossi and Tony Kanaan) entered. Six rookie drivers were also slated to participate.

Ed Carpenter hopes to start his 19th Indianapolis 500, which would put him in a tie for 13th for most Indy 500 starts. Carpenter has never won the race and only two drivers have participated in more 500s without winning — George Snider (22) and Gary Bettenhausen (21).

Marco Andretti looks to make his 17th Indianapolis 500, which would put him ahead of his dad Michael, who has also started 16 times. Neither driver has won at Indianapolis.

Also in this year’s field, Graham Rahal (14 starts), J.R. Hildebrand (11 starts) and two-time IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden (10 starts) will be looking to drink the winner’s bottle of milk for the first time.

• Twenty-five years ago, we were among four staff members who moved National Speed Sport News from its longtime home in New Jersey to North Carolina.

It seems like only yesterday.

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