Four more years! Four more years!

Even at its sort-of-annoying worst, the World Cup can be an incredible experience, provided you have a flight to sleep through, a couple cold beers and a few hundred Japanese friends.

In a flurry of yellow cards and a well-placed 116th minute volley, the World Cup is over. As an at least casual soccer fan, I’m a little saddened, but I think I’ll get by, and by next week, not even realize that soccer is still being played, which seems like a horrible thing, considering the decade and change I spent playing the game spring, summer and fall in my youth.

I enjoy the game, can pick out the parts of an otherwise snooze-fest to make it exciting, but I still just don’t “get” it, at least not in the way soccer fans…ahem…”fútbol fans” want me to. As the tournament neared an end and I paid more attention to each game (really, who needs to watch Paraguay and the Ivory Coast in a round robin game?), the more I got annoyed with the announcers. And not the British gents they had leading the broadcasts. In fact, they can make even the worst pass in the first minute of the game sound sexier than Cindy Crawford in 1986.

It’s those darn Americans.

To hear John Harkes insist on using terms that only die hards would understand at first listen (admittedly, the die hards made up 95% of the viewing audience) just made me cringe. At one point, he called a shot on goal, “the final delivery.” Really? I’ll give you “pitch” (field) and even maybe “booking” (red/yellow card), but “the final delivery”?

C’mon John. Your ancestors (or somebody’s ancestors) fought the British off twice so we wouldn’t have to use those words. In fact, by the time we pulled them through the second World War, we should have insisted that they Americanize their soccer lingo.

“Oh, silly Winston. We don’t need need your money for putting the Germans in their place. But could you PLEASE just call it a ‘field’?”

Not that changing a little vernacular will make more people watch a Columbus-Salt Lake MLS game in mid-April, but it would make one month every four years just that much more enjoyable. In fact, unless the United States wins the World Cup, then holds all its players hostage on MLS teams and decides to use its defending champion powers to hold a World Cup every six months with $1 hot dogs and domestic drafts at every game, I don’t think it will ever get the audience the fans clamor for.

And I’m not holding my breath that a World Cup win is coming anytime soon.

Every year since the U.S. hosted the Cup in 1994, we’ve heard about how “they’re bringing a team that could make noise.” And every year, it’s tails between the legs and back home. Even this year was an exercise in “Whew!” England handed the U.S. a tie…errr…”draw” and, while there was plenty of questionable officiating that kept lesser opponents in the next two games, they were still that – lesser opponents – and one of them had to be beaten by, we’re told, the greatest thing since Mike Eruzione invented sliced bread.

It’s just not flying, America. But keep on reaching for those stars.

Negativity aside, I still enjoy the World Cup and hope America can at least get through to the quarterfinals in 2014.

Also, this year’s World Cup gave me one of the most memorable experiences in my life. A couple weeks ago, I went to Japan for a little more than a week. In that time, the Japanese national team had two games scheduled in the World Cup. I thought that it was a “cool” enough experience to watch their first game with the family we stayed with, I had no idea what the second game would hold.

With a 12-hour flight looming at 3 p.m. on a Friday, my wife surprised me by agreeing that watching Japan play Denmark at 3:30 Friday morning would be something we just couldn’t pass up. The half day on a plane only sealed the decision.

So, after a 7 a.m. to midnight whirlwind around Tokyo, our third day in that magnificent city, we got packed up for the trip home, refreshed and hailed a cab at 2:45 am. While the hotel-recommended bar turned out to be a dud, a man unloading a truck on the street proved to be our savior. (As I’ll probably write in a future blog post, as nice as anyone may tell you the Japanese people are, triple it.) He pointed us to the area of Tokyo called Roppongi, just a bit up the road (though another automatic $7 cab ride) and a place where we had gotten a taste of nightlife our first day in town. We knew we were in the right place when the cabs started backing up behind pedestrians making their way across the street to any number of bars.

We hopped out, figuring the growing crowd at Legends Sports Bar (how’s that for feeling at home?) would complete our experience. We had bought Japanese soccer shirts earlier in the day, so we couldn’t be mistaken for Denmark fans and we were welcomed with open arms into the “family.” (Remember: Triple it.)

The time difference is what did the trick. I don’t know that I could have committed to going to a bar in the States for a U.S. game at 2:30 in the afternoon, but at 3 a.m. in a foreign country, it felt perfect. That is, until my wife turned to me midway through the first half and said “Um, it’s daylight.” Looking back at our pictures from the night, it really is a bit bizarre how much brighter the post game photos are from the start of the…ahem… “match.” (Damn you, Winston Churchill!)

Anyway, Japan won fairly easily, 3-1 and advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time in two World Cups and the second time ever. You’d have thought they won the whole thing. While I have my own videos of the celebration, someone from across the same bar posted video of the final seconds of the win on YouTube.

As if that wasn’t enough, a trip to find breakfast got even wilder. Really, they just won the right to lose the next game (in heartbreaking, penalty kick fashion, mind you) but these fans weren’t going to let the moment get away. The intersection becomes a mosh pit when the crosswalk turns green, then breaks up in a nice, orderly fashion when the “don’t walk” sign pops up. The same person also posted video of that craziness.

Moral of the story? If you’re ever in a foreign country when their team is playing in the World Cup…GO! Do not hesitate. Even if you’re not a soccer fan or even a sports fan, trust me, it’s worth it. Even my wife, who thought it would be cool to go just as an experience, ended up with her face painted and chanting every time Japan touched the ball.

No, really. It was awesome.

And I slept the whole flight home. Mission accomplished.

Let’s go racing…no, wait

Two drivers were out of the Indianapolis 500 before Jack Nicholson could even get to his seat.

After a fantastic-as-usual opening ceremony (national anthem audio issues notwithstanding), engines roared and the field took off.

Then stopped.

For the second year in a row, we had a crash before the honorary starter could shake hands, put the flag away and find some shade. Davey Hamilton spun and found the wall inside turn 2. So Jack Nicholson dropped the green again and we’re back at it.

It took a moment to get my bearings, as the ABC broadcast appears to be about a half lap behind the race outside my window here in the media center. As cars whizzed down the front stretch, they were approaching turn 3. Explains how I could watch the caution flag come out for the Hamilton crash.

Now, it’s Bruno Junqueira’s turn, also in Turn2. The speed demon of the second day of qualifying (and the sexy darkhorse pick because of that) is also out of the race. What a couple of years it’s been for Bruno at Indy.

So we’re down to 31 cars before my seat gets warm. I really hope this isn’t a trend, for the sake of the race.

—————

We’re through Lap 20 (though the average speed of the race is under 140 MPH, if that tells you about how many of those were actually under green) and lookie here… Tony Kanaan, who qualified with about 45 minutes left in Bump Day, then moved back to 33rd when he switched cars, is up to 16th. Now THAT would be a story.

————-

First pit stops hit around Lap 37. All the leaders, then just about everyone else pitted, then the course went yellow. Scary moment in the pits for Will Power as he took off with the fuel hose still attached.

Dario leads Graham Rahal, Power, Danica Patrick and Alex Lloyd under yellow at Lap 41, though I believe at least Rahal and Patrick still have to pit. (I was right. Danica pits and drops to 20th, Rahal only falls to sixth and Power had to come back into the pits and falls to eighth.)

———

Back to green. Lap 51 now and it’s an interesting mix in the top half of the pylon. Dario and Helio are still 1-2, but Rafa Matos is in third, with solid, no-frills, as expected Ed Carpenter and Townsend Bell are fifth and seventh, respectively.

Go back a bit and Tony Kanaan is still climbing and now has help. He’s 12th, immediately behind teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, with another teammate John Andretti two spots behind. A good spot to be for Andretti Autosport to make some ground.

Will Power made a third trip through the pits moments ago and has fallen to 25th from his front row starting position and Bertrand Baguette and Hideki Mutoh have also lost several laps with issues.

Jinx! John Andretti is black flagged for a block of Dan Wheldon on the front stretch. He’ll drop to 25th, just ahead of Vitor Meira and Sebastian Saavedra.

———

Lap 69, chaos in the pits! Rafa Matos lost a left rear tire (the only one he has, in fact) and turned it into the pit wall. Everyone appears to be okay and Matos is back out on track. Scott Dixon braked hard to avoid Matos and appeared to kill the engine. He got pushed back to his pit box, re-fired and got back out, but not after a huge drop in position.

More significantly for Tony Kanaan fans, could this incident have shown Lady Luck is getting ready to reward TK for his patience? Matos (and his tire) were headed across pit row toward Kanaan’s car, but made hard left turns and the No. 11 car got through free and easy and into fourth place. Any other time in the last four years, I’m betting that tire gets TK. Is karma being funny for the funny Brazilian?

Back green on Lap 72.

Back to yellow on Lap 73.

Rafael Matos hit Turn 1 hard and backwards. Out of the car and appears to be walking fine.

———–

Vitor Meira became the latest crash victim around Lap 105, getting high in Turn 2 and smacking the wall. A sad end for Vitor, but remarkable that he was back in the field this year. An excellent recovery for Meira after crashing hard in last year’s 500.

Tomas Scheckter took over the lead during the caution, having pitted right before Meira’s crash, but Franchitti took it back on the first lap back green. Tony Kanaan has climbed to second.

———

More pit stops coing. Wilson, Scheckter and Kanaan are among the first in, out with no apparent issues. Marco Andretti takes over second behind Franchitti for the time being.

——

Team Penske had a horrible stretch around the Lap 146 mark. Starting with Helio Castroneves stalling his car in the pits, en route to a 20+ second stop, followed by a 13 or so second stop by Will Power, then topped off by Ryan Briscoe crashing hard and sliding down the front stretch.

Dario Franchitti has resumed the race lead, followed by Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan. Tomas Scheckter and Townsend Bell round out the top 5 at Lap 152.

——-

Rookie Sebastian Saavedra crashed on Lap 162. Saavedra, who also ran the Indy Lights Freedom 100 on Friday, made the field while waiting for an MRI at Methodist Hospital last Sunday following a practice crash on Bump Day. He got in when Jay Howard and Paul Tracy discarded their times in an effort to qualify faster, but failed.

Mike Conway, Justin Wilson, Castroneves and Graham Rahal chose not to pit during the caution period and have taken over the top 4 spots.

One by one, those four peeled off for fuel, leaving Franchitti back in the lead, ahead of Kanaan and Wheldon, when Kanaan needed to pit, a spectacular final lap crash by Conway allowed Franchitti to cruise to victory.

Conway touched wheels with Ryan Hunter-Reay coming out of Turn 4, sending his No. 24 car flipping in the air and into the catch fence on the outside of the track. Hunter-Reay also hit the wall in the incident and finished 18th.

Franchitti became the 17th driver in Indy 500 history to win multiple races.

Two sides, same coin

There’s a lot of chatter going on about whether the new qualifying format is a good thing for the Indy 500 or not. (In fact, I’ll wait to type more until you go cast your vote on the matter on the WTHR homepage. Go ahead, I’ll be here.) The new “Fast 9” format was kind of growing on me until Helio threw up a 227.OMG! on his first run. Game over. That’s like a baseball team scoring 10 in the top half of an extra inning game. Sure, someone *could* knock him off, but as the day’s best kept trying (including an impressive afternoon by Alex Tagliani), it was obvious that #3 was going to be on the pole again.

But aside from that, what about the rest of the day? Admittedly, I only watched the first dozen or so qualifying runs before my wife yanked me off on a quest for hostas and hanging baskets (which was actually not a bad time, but it wasn’t hanging out in the sun at 16th & Georgetown by any stretch of the imagination), but I couldn’t help but reflect on the “what-ifs” of the rest of Saturday.

How different would this year be if it were last year?

Immediately, most will point to Tony Kanaan’s crash as the head of the “cons” list regarding the new qualifying. But as much as I hope beyond hope that TK wins one, if not several, 500s before his time in a car is up, maybe his situation is overshadowed by a couple feel good stories that the new qualifying created.

At the top of that list, I think, is rookie Bertrand Baguette. While he could easily be bumped from his 24th spot in Sunday’s qualifying, what a fantastic situation for a rookie to be in – and one who many thought may be kept outside the bubble by his lack of oval experience, at that – now only having to worry about getting back in the car if nine drivers top his qualifying time. There are some big names left to hit the track and find some speed, sure, but Baguette has to be sleeping a little easier tonight.

Speaking of rookies, who would have thought *both* Ana Beatriz and Simona de Silvestro would qualify in front of Danica Patrick? Even with Danica’s troubles the first week and a half of practice, you had to think she would, along with the rest of Andretti Autosport, get it together enough to put in a solid qualifying spot, if not get into the Fast 9 mix. Instead, Saturday turned into a rocketship of nerves that culminated in a very public, very emotional moment for Patrick.

I don’t think it’s fair to decide on whether or not this year’s schedule tweaks are good or bad, based on one year. In the end, whether they qualified two or 32 cars on Saturday, Sunday is Bump Day at Indy and when the sun starts to sink below Georgetown Road, the fun will begin and we’ll have our 33 drivers ready to go next Sunday.

And I can’t wait.

Super Saving the day

The “fastest two minutes in sports” proved to be the fastest turnaround in my bank account last Saturday at Churchill Downs.

In 2004, my then-future (now current) father-in-law decided he had to go to the Kentucky Derby once in his life. That was six years and five trips ago. For me, Saturday was the third time and you know what they say about third times and charms.

First off, the Derby definitely is something everyone (and definitely every sports fan) needs to do once. The thrill of picking a winner, even if it’s just $2 at a time, is one thing. Doing it with thousands of your suddenly-closest friends is quite another.

Not into betting?

The people watching alone is worth the $40 general admission fee. Toss in an overnight monsoon and every patch of mud in sight becomes an instant slip-and-slide, be it intentional or not. Curiously enough, even the “forgettable” actions of a few are easily covered over by the atmosphere.

And while TV will show shot after shot of men in perfectly-tailored suits and women in crisp, clean, vibrant dresses (with matching hats, naturally), the true experience is in the infield. Maybe it’s just because that’s the only Derby experience I know, but I can’t imagine the prim and proper protocol of the grandstand can be much more enjoyable. Sure, you can see all/some/more of the race “live” than you can in the infield, but for the most part, we’re all still watching it on TV screens – and I can do it while not worrying about getting a little mud on my shoes.

Now I don’t make a trip to the Derby to get quit-my-job rich and, in fact, it feels a little silly to celebrate a $2.60 win on a $2 win bet, but hey, it’s winning. And it’s 60 cents more than I had 2 minutes earlier. So I take a modest sum into the weekend (Friday, Kentucky Oaks Day, provides similar thrills with a moderately more “family” atmosphere, even in the infield), chalk it all up as a donation to Churchill Downs, and see how much I can win back.

In my first visit, that wasn’t much. I forget the numbers, but I remember coming back with some half-empty (and soaking wet) pockets, figuring I had at least enjoyed the experience. Last year, I paid a little more attention, picked up a few tips on betting smarter and better (trifectas are only worth it if you box them, usually, and even then, only rarely). So I nickel and dimed (almost literally) my way to winning back about half of what I spent. Several $2 place bets were the winner there, along with an uncanny run by No. 7 horses that seemed to finish in the money in every race on Oaks Day.

This year, there was a new goal. I watched the fabulous-but-now-canceled Animal Planet show “Jockeys” to learn a little bit more of which jocks to look for and paid a bit more attention to the races on the “Derby Trail.” In one of those early races, I watched a horse named “Ice Box” come from out of nowhere to win the Florida Derby. He was going to be my breadwinner at Churchill Downs.

Friday was a toasty day with just enough wind to make you not quite miserable, at least until you realize the sunburn your lack of sunscreen planning is going to make your week itchy and flaky and – yuck. I started off the day on fire, hitting the first three races “across the board” and up about $10. Unfortunately, just as quickly, the running total in my race day program turned into a series of frowny faces. By the time Kent Desormeaux rode his horse past defending Horse of the Year (and winless in 2010) Rachel Alexandra, I was headed to the ATM, ready to up my daily limit.

I dipped a toe back in the black in the next couple races, by which I mean I won about $2 for every $10 spent, but got hammered just enough by Desormeaux to take him out of my plan for the day’s big race, The Kentucky Oaks.

With Blind Luck a 5-6 favorite at post time, I didn’t see any sense betting her straight up with my hard-earned, yet measly, George Washingtons, so I paired her with four horses in an exacta wheel. Then I took Desormeaux’s horse out, because of the aforementioned hammering, and he promptly finished second by a whisker. (Do horses have whiskers? Certainly they’ve got some kind of nose hair, right?) Two more dollars would have won me about $60 on that race.

As an unhappy camper as I could be, I kept my money in my pocket for the day’s final race, but blurted out “8-1-10 trifecta” as the horses loaded into the gate. And wouldn’t you know, that $6 boxed trifecta would have brought home another $60. Instead, I was headed to the hotel with some serious wounds to lick.

Derby Day brought rain. Tons of rain. As I’m sure you all noticed, it was a bit muddy. We skipped the first five races because of all that, opting to stay as dry as we could as long as we could (which wasn’t long) and save a little money for the big race.

It worked.

After some very minor “earnings” in the first five races I bet, it was Derby time. I usually go big with a couple horses, including a $20 win on my boy Ice Box and a total of $30 on Super Saver, mostly because of the amicable, mud-loving, rail-riding jockey, Calvin Borel. Watching him win the 2009 Derby aboard Mine That Bird in the mud and muck at Churchill, and hearing good things about his horse’s prep for the race, it seemed like a good bet.

Boy was I right.

That $30 bet turned into $160+. Then I remembered I had him in the “Oaks/Derby Double,” picking the winner of both of the weekend’s big races for another $56.60.

Then the big one came. With the rainy mess and no clear cut favorite, half my Derby betting turned into blurting out numbers in trifecta and superfecta fashion, trying to turn a buck or two into a house payment. As I sat there knowing I hit two “big” bets, I flipped through my betting tickets like a 9-year-old looks through baseball cards. As if I had found a card of my favorite player, I saw it. Somehow in the flurry of randomness, I had bet $2 on a Super Saver-Ice Box exacta, bringing my total for the race over $350. The trip, including dinner for four on the drive home, was paid for.

Yet despite all that, there was still room for regret. Had Ice Box completed his magnificent dash from near-last to second, my take would have about doubled and covered next year’s “I have to do it once” trip.

What makes your garden grow?

How do you kill weeds that invade your lawn? Please help your friendly web guy in his assault on the dandelions!

I don’t know how or why we went from snow shoveling season almost immediately into lawn mowing season, but I’m not really complaining.

Or at least I wasn’t complaining, until the dandelions took over. Which got me thinking: How do others in central Indiana take on the weeds in your yard? Our house (a very, very, very fine house, I might add) has done a pretty solid, wife-driven job of becoming more “green,” recycling everything from cardboard to glass, reusing milk jugs at the local seed store and, this season, even taking a stab at composting. (It’s not pretty, but I hope it’s working.)

Yet I still reach for the weed killer and fertilizer when the dandelions creep in, then start to move in. Seriously, I think one of them had a suitcase.

For the last two years, I’ve limited the spraying and spreading to the front yard, staying away from where the dogs roam in the back, but this year, I had enough. The sea of yellow took over the matted down brown parts of the lawn, per usual, but when they started to march into soft, thick, fluffy green grass and flower beds, it was time to throw out the rulebook.

But not without some research. I found tons of references to using boiling water, vinegar and other kitchen-type items to attack weeds, but are they really effective? And especially over a solid two-thirds of the yard?

So I gave in and am waiting to see how good of a job the chemical stuff did, but I’m curious – how do you kill the weeds in your yard? Or are you a dandelion fan?

Once I got the dandelion problem (hopefully) under control, I realized there are tons of other things around the house I could probably use input on. And I bet I’m not alone. I hope I can get some of my questions answered here, but also let others get their own questions answered.

I’ll try to make this a semi-regular thing. With any luck, I can get it to grow…like a weed.

Can they do it?

Can the Butler Bulldogs extend their season one more game? Cue Marv Albert….YES!

Doesn’t it seem like a month ago that Butler finally put away Kansas State and cut down the nets in Salt Lake City? (Technically, it WAS last month, smartypants, but you know what I’m saying.) My less-than-normal work schedule gives me a Wednesday-Thursday weekend, so it really feels like forever ago that our BU alum-filled sports department was going nuts over the Bulldogs’ trip to the Sweet 16. Actually, it was a Ball State grad that was most vocally in disbelief, but if Butler really is carrying the flag for the “mid-majors,” he gets a pass.

So a week has passed since an improbable, but apparently not impossible, three-day stretch of basketball where Syracuse, Kansas State and the hoops world learned all about “The Butler Way.” Count me as a believer now, too.

Not saying I didn’t think they had a good, possibly great, team at Hinkle Fieldhouse, as that much has been evident for the better part of a decade now. But while several co-workers were touting their pick of “Butler to the Final Four,” I brushed it off as home cooking and moved on. But to me, the Bulldogs proved in roughly 48 hours in Salt Lake City that they not only deserve to be in the Final Four, but that they can probably win it all.

In a pair of very similar games, the Bulldogs built a lead with solid shooting, held on with tough defense, then used both to put a couple top 10 caliber teams away. So now, with a week off and a trip home the Bulldogs are rested and have had time to plot the Attack of the Butler Way on a hobbled Michigan State team. And just like the two games before (or heck, why not the first rounder against UTEP that several “experts” gave them no shot to win?), Butler has a chance to play their game and, I think, beat the Spartans – and after that, who knows?

Win or lose, I’ve enjoyed the excitement of the past week-plus. Who knew when I headed south to Roberts Stadium in Evansville in late November to watch the Bulldogs nip the UE Purple Aces, I could have been watching a national champion?

Oh, and for those doubters that think this Butler team is a one-trick pony? You might not want to look at the “Class” column of their roster.

Bracket, bracket…we all fall down!

Who can help answer the health care debate? Ali Farokhmanesh, that’s who.

Talk about a weekend of Madness! (With apologies to the ’80s band, I’m talking hoops and health care. Although “Our House” *is* the ringtone on my phone.)

Even if Butler’s appearance in the Sweet 16 isn’t too much of a surprise, how they got there is pretty impressive. Upstart Murray State gave them a handful, but the Bulldogs fought through it and are halfway toward the exciting 50-block trip to the Final Four.

And who thought Purdue would be the Indiana surprise in the Round of 16? Talk about gutting out a win! Even though having two teams advance makes for a logistical nightmare for the sports department and coverage on the web is increased, it’s cool to have local teams still going after it. And technically, as we speak, IUPUI is alive and well in the CBI, tied in overtime with Princeton. Update on that before this post is over.

Everyone’s talking Kansas, of course, and I’m just about as guilty as anyone for getting on that train. It’s odd, because as they announced KU as the top seed of the tournament on Selection Sunday, I thought “Don’t pick Kansas. They always flame out. DON’T pick Kansas.”

So I picked Kansas. On several brackets.

In the flurry of mostly-for-bragging-rights brackets I picked this year, I think five of six end up with the Jayhawks on top. Fortunately, in the WTHR Bracket Challenge, I’m the only “expert” on our staff to NOT have KU as my champion. But watch out, Kentucky. My jinxability knows no bounds.

Kansas is bracket death. To steal a sports cliche, “You have to make them beat you.” They either win the title, or seem to flame out dramatically. Why would we think this year would be any different.

Thankfully, with the pool hopes destroyed, I can root unabashedly for the slew of mid-majors left in the tournament. Butler, St. Mary’s, Cornell and, of course, bracket-killer Northern Iowa. Speaking of, how…um.. “extremely bold” is Ali Farokhmanesh? And who thought “Farokhmanesh” would become a household name in just 36 hours?

Game-winning three? He’ll take it. Game-sealing three with no one around and 30 seconds to kill on the shot clock? He’ll take that, too. Need to buy a vowel? Ali’s on it for ya.

Seriously. This guy has probably collected more phone numbers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa than a census worker this week. Butler and Purdue have uphill climbs in the regional semifinals, both facing #1 seeds, but Farokhmanesh has shown that seeds aren’t nothing but a number. As for the Panthers’ matchup, they meet Michigan State, so unless you’re a Spartan or one of those Big Ten fans that think “wins are good for the conference,” it’s pretty easy to root for Ali to continue to shock the world.

********

So then, after a weekend of nail-biting hoops action, we turned our attention to CSPAN and a historical vote on health care.

(BTW, IUPUI lost in double overtime to Princeton tonight.)

I don’t know enough about the bill, the pros, the cons, or which states are getting ponies out of the deal, but I know one thing: That 7th grade Civics class taught me nothing. I had absolutely no clue what was going on during any part of the “process,’ except that it was taking so long. I’m just glad Jimmy Stewart never showed up with his copy of the Constitution.

In the end, it all worked out nicely from a TV standpoint, though. The vote came in just before the 11pm news, giving us fresh news for the Nightbeat. True “breaking news,” if you will.

One of those weekends where you just exhale at the end and race home to your pillow.

So *this* is what that’s for!

When the rains came, Twitter took our weather coverage to a whole new level.

Earlier this week, I had been tossing around thoughts for a blog post about using Twitter. Something between “How do you use Twitter?” and “How should we use Twitter?” with a dose of “Absolute No-no’s” tossed in for good measure.

Then the rains came.

Tuesday morning, some time before this 2nd shifter rolled out of bed, lightning flashed, thunder roared and suddenly Indiana was under 2-6 inches of rain, with more coming down. As is my usual unconscious morning (and more often than not noontime) routine, I shook the dogs off my chest, roamed to the home office and started making my online rounds.

But when the e-mail was checked and 20 of my 200-ish Facebook friends had declared their desire for the weekend, TweetDeck dropped a surprise on me. Not only was the rainfall outside my window stretching across most of the state, but Twitter was alive with people sharing their weather stories. In moments, I was taken to powerless streets on the southside, fender benders on the northside, cars up to their door handles in water on the west side and all the wetness in between.

Frankly, I was slightly amazed, though obviously for no reason.

Twitter, of course, is about people sharing parts of their lives. Usually, it’s aimed in the general direction of friends and acquaintances, but as a card-carrying member of the “Fourth Estate,” @WTHRcom gets to see it all. And for all the thousands of “Going to lunch…Eating lunch…Going back to work” tweets in the world, it was pretty cool to see what happens when an event brings us all together.

(“All together” is another post for another day. The roll call of who I share tweets with in a given week reads like the ultimate “walks into a bar” joke.)

The WTHR interactive radar I often jump to when rain and nastyness is near shows what kind of mess is hovering over your street. Our tweeps went above and beyond that on Tuesday. Twitter brought us pictures and live weather reports from every corner of the viewing area and it was terrific.

Even with crews scattered across the region, we can’t possibly see it all. Consider this a big-time “Thank You!” to all the tweeps who helped us see a little bit more.

And we’re green!

We’re off and racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway!

While it wasn’t quite Moraes-esque, Robby Gordon kept up this year’s tradition of first lap yellows at IMS with a spin out of Turn 4. From what I could hear through the rumble of engines, he may have hit some moisture on the track, likely from the 19 car of Elliott Sadler. Sadler’s Best Buy crew spent some time in the pit looking under the hood, then made a run toward Gasoline Alley. I haven’t seen him come back out.

UPDATE: Gordon’s sister, Beccy, posted on Twitter that Sadler laid some oil down on the track.

Gordon, on the other hand, got checked out, caught up to the pack under yellow and has climbed back up around 33rd.

The story of the restart, however, was Juan Pablo Montoya. The 2000 Indy 500 champ knows how to drive here, passing leader Mark Martin and opening up a 3-second lead just about nine laps into the race. This would be a heck of a place for him to get his first win on a NASCAR oval.

22 laps in, Montoya still leads Martin by about 3 seconds, with Tony Stewart climbing into third. Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. round out the top five. Defending champ Jimmie Johnson is on the move as well, starting 16th and shooting into the top six.

Lap 31 and we’re seeing some pit stops among the leaders. Tony Stewart stayed out and was shown as the race leader, but he’s now taking on tires as I type.

Most of the cars have gone through a pit stop. Stewart is still shown as the leader, Martin and Montoya in 3rd and 4th.

The massive empty stretches of bleachers gained a few folks, but there are still large areas of metal seats. Same goes for the short chute between 1 & 2. Maybe there was something to all the economy & tire issue stories we’ve done the past week or two.

Lap 35 – We’ve shuffled back around out of the pit stops and Montoya is back on top in the 42, followed by Martin, Vickers, Stewart and Johnson.

Lap 50 – We’re still green, with nothing of note since the Gordon spin in Lap 1. Looks like the “tires are fine” talk was true. Good for Goodyear to put the time and effort into getting that worked out.

Montoya still leads as he and Martin work in and around lapped traffic, making the roar of the engines a steady one around IMS. Not much change in the rest of the top six, with Stewart, Vickers, Johnson and Earnhardt following the top two.  At this point, it would be easy to say that pit stops will win this race, but NASCAR is always good for finding specks of debris in the closing laps.

Lap 80 – We’re halfway and it’s all Juan Pablo Montoya! He came off a restart after Kyle Busch went out with tire issues from contact and, like he did on the previous restart, opened up about a four-second lead on Mark Martin. Brian Vickers is putting together a good run in third and Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson are lurking in the top 5. But this one’s looking like JPM’s to lose.

Lap 103 – Montoya. I wish there was more to say. He pitted a lap after the rest of the field, did it perfectly and even opened up his lead. Unreal.

Lap 129 – In the span of about a lap and a half, we’ve got ourselves a race. All Montoya had to do is not mess up and he apparently messed up, entering pit road too quick. He only dropped to 12th and he definitely has the car today, but with 30 laps to go and some big names (and former winners) in front of him, this chance may have slipped by.

Right after that wrapped up and Montoya took his drive-thru penalty, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. blows up coming off of Turn Four and the smoke brings out our third caution.

Martin takes over the lead and Jimmie Johnson, the two-time winner that started 16th has worked his way into second. Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers round out the top 5 as we get ready to go back to green with about 25 laps to go. Jeff Gordon is in eighth.

It’s still anybody’s race.

Lap 151 – And what a race it’s turning out to be. Jimmie Johnson passes Martin on the restart out of Earnhardt’s caution, but Martin is within a half-second and closing. Montoya dropped to 15th on the restart and will have to be happy with 116 laps led, it appears. Might make for an interesting postrace commentary, though, JPM and some of his camp claim he wasn’t speeding when he was hit with the penalty.

Jimmie Johnson holds off Mark Martin to win his third Allstate 400 at the Brickyard! I got some pretty good post-race photos, make sure you check them out!

The buildup continues

The drivers are on the track, ready to drop the green flag on the 16th Allstate at the Brickyard!

Less than an hour until the green flag drops here at the Speedway, the drivers are on the track, headed to their cars, but are the fans headed to their seats? Along the front straight away, there are rows upon rows of bleachers still unfilled. There are still plenty of folks milling about the plaza and through the tunnel under the front stretch, but I don’t know that it will be enough to fill some of the holes in the grandstand.

And I can’t even see Turn 3 from here.

This being my first NASCAR race in person, the driver introductions were interesting. You can really feel the passion, both good and bad, in the fans. A roar went up for Jeff Gordon, but it was matched with an equal number of boos. Tony Stewart was much the same way when introduced, though he seemed to have more fans on his side than his Hoosier compatriot. And I really don’t think anyone will go home unhappy if Mark Martin in the #5 takes the checkered flag.

We’re 35 minutes away and I’ve grabbed a great seat to watch the green flag drop!