Picking Winners

Hopefully you read and enjoyed our “Odds Makers” story in the last issue of Speed News, the one in which we laid bare our picks of drivers to win the Eastern States Championships at Watkins Glen International. Maybe you got chuckle out of it. I have to admit I enjoyed writing it.

When I wrote the story, I had just returned from a trip to Las Vegas, so it seemed appropriate to open the feature with quotes from Robert De Niro’s character the movie “Casino.” That character, Sam Rothstein, was an odds maker for the mob who had an uncanny knack for picking winners in all kinds of sporting events. I don’t know how people can consistently pick winners for sports as divergent as football, baseball and basketball, and still be good enough at it to stack the odds in favor of the house. That’s skill.

I enter an informal pool each year on TrackHQ.com in which we all try to pick the podium finishers in Formula 1 races. It’s harmless fun with little money at stake, but the glory and bragging rights that come with winning are priceless. To make things more difficult, we must predict down to fourth place the top finishers in qualifying and in the races. There are also side picks for which second- and third-tier teams will finish higher than others, and some other bets that can change from race to race.

To be honest, to place my picks for those races, I just go to a British gaming website and use it as a guide. More often than not, I just cut and paste them directly into the pool I play. In the years I’ve been playing, I’ve never won the pot. Not even close. I’m not even sure I broke 50 percent correct, which means it’s probably a revenue-neutral feature on the gaming site.

For the picks in the “Odds Makers” story in the September issue, I hope to have a little better showing than I do in the F1 pool. As I pointed out in the lead of the story, the whole point of the exercise was to have a little fun. I think maybe it worked because the story got some play on Facebook. Some of the drivers mentioned in the story were talking about it. Some of the drivers not mentioned were talking about it, too. I was pleased to see that, because I wondered if people even bothered to read those “who will win?” stories.

I strive to get as many NASA members and cars as possible in Speed News, but when it comes to picking championships winners, I have to pick with my head, not my heart, so that’s what I attempted to do.

I have to admit, I’m pretty eager to see how my picks play out. In fact, I think we’ll publish a page in the next issue of Speed News, the Special Championships issue, that compares my picks for the Eastern and Western States Championships with who actually won the races. That seems like a fun and worthwhile exercise.

Next, year, who knows, maybe I’ll try to get some more people involved in making picks and we’ll have a little more fun with it? I don’t know yet which tracks will host next year’s Championships events — well, I do, but at deadline I was sworn to secrecy — but I can tell you the tracks are popular, so those events will be well attended. That will make the task of picking winners even more challenging.

As I write this, I’m on a plane to Watkins Glen for the Eastern States Championships, and I’m feeling pretty confident. I’m hoping I’ll do better than I have been doing in my F1 pool, and I’m certainly hoping I do better than I did on my last trip to Vegas.

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