First It Was Boring. Now It’s Insane??
This subject has been around for several days now, but the more I think about it – the more I’m bewildered by it. Dale Christensen, a loyal Oilpressure reader, sent me an article from Bleacher Report written by James Broomhead. Dale thought it might be an interesting topic for an article. I will freely admit that I obviously live under a rock, for I have never heard of Bleacher Report or the aforementioned Mr. Broomhead.
The gist of his article dealt with the IndyCar race at Chicago last Saturday night. His premise was that the new aero tweaks that were given back to the IndyCar teams starting with the Kentucky race were gimmicks that promoted artificial racing. He then likened the close racing to restrictor-plate racing in NASCAR and said that IndyCar was “…entering a minefield that NASCAR knows too well” and would eventually have “the big one”.
The author lost credibility with me on two points. First – within the first few paragraphs, he acknowledges that he didn’t even watch the race Saturday night. He had only seen a few highlight packages. Secondly, he lost all credibility when he inferred that stock cars (or NASCAR’s as he called them – another sure sign of a racing novice) were safer than IndyCar based simply on the fact that they have fenders and a roof.
When Dale sent me the article I read it and sent him an e-mail thanking him for it and informed him that I might write about it later this week. I was framing in my mind what to write when Robin Miller wrote an article the next day essentially saying the same thing that Mr. Broomhead had said. I know that Robin Miller is unpopular with a lot of people, but more times than not – I agree with what he says. This time I strongly disagree.
Robin Miller didn’t say anything outlandish like Mr. Broomhead did in saying that IndyCars are inherently unsafe. He did however; question the sanity of running wheel-to-wheel races like we saw (and enjoyed) at Chicago Saturday night. He termed the racing “suicidal” and "insane". Now this is from the same person who chastised Brian Barnhart for legislating the excitement out of racing. Based on some other comments I’ve heard and read this week, I’m just a little confused. Wasn’t everyone, myself included, demanding that something be done to get rid of the boring parades like we had at Texas and Richmond this year? We all wanted races like we used to have at Texas in the early part of this decade.
Well…we got it and now people are squawking about safety. If you listened to Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee on Tuesday night, you heard Curt Cavin say that not one single car had a mark on it. There were no doughnuts from tire-rubbing. Everyone raced each other cleanly throughout the night. Three cars hit the wall Saturday night, but none were due to side-by-side racing.
Racing is inherently a dangerous business. Racing purists don’t like to admit it, but danger accounts for a lot of tickets sold to races over the years. Of course it’s dangerous. If it weren’t dangerous, then anybody could do it. As much as I love IndyCar racing, it was real hard to watch cars run single file all night at Richmond earlier this season. I actually dozed off for a moment, midway through the Texas race. At the time, I was afraid that my old age was catching up to me. As late as it was during the Chicago race, I was on my feet and holding my breath throughout most of the race. The danger was present but never showed itself.
I am surprised at Robin Miller’s take on the Chicago race. He is pretty much an old-school guy who speaks in reverence of names like Foyt, Ruby and Hurtubise. AJ Foyt is symbolic of old-fashioned toughness. He freely admits that there was never a time when he was in a racecar that he wasn’t scared at least once during a race. When Foyt ran his first Indianapolis 500 in 1958, thirteen of the thirty-three starters were killed in racing – one of them, Pat O’ Connor, lost his life on that very day. But I don’t think the fear ever became so great that Foyt lobbied for a safer type of racing.
As for Mr. Broomhead, I think he might do a little more research into IndyCar racing besides watching a few highlights before pounding the pulpit on what he perceives as the non-safety of IndyCars. At the risk of delving into the macabre; there have been only two deaths in open-wheel racing this decade – Tony Renna and Paul Dana. This includes BOTH open-wheel series and feeder series throughout the 2000’s. Compare that with four in NASCAR that all occurred within one year of each other between 2000-2001.
Contrary to popular belief, the major advances in safety were born from open-wheel racing and NOT in NASCAR. It was not until NASCAR finally adapted the safety policies of open-wheel racing that their mortality rate subsided. Is this to say that there will never be another IndyCar driver to be killed in racing? Of course not – but the risks have been reduced substantially over the years.
The danger will never be taken out of racing. It is the combination of skill and bravery on the track that draws us to drivers. It is what makes them stars. Having skill without nerves of steel will not get you very far in racing. Being bold with no talent will put you out of business even quicker. When cars were driving around in parades earlier this season, the danger was still there. There is always a great deal of danger in going over 200 mph. Still, we were bored.
I’m not sure that fans today know what they want. Some scoff at artificial racing in order to attract fans. Well, that’s the name of the game. The number of fans you have is what will make or break a sport. Whether it’s some aero tweaks, push-to-pass, a contrived qualifying format or shooting a man out of a cannon. It’s all about attracting fans. That goes for Saturday night racing at your local dirt track, the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 or the Formula One race at Spa (one of my favorites). If people aren’t going and/or watching…it won’t be happening. Like it or not, the public wants to be entertained and racing is the entertainment business. Not too may people were entertained by the safe parades.
Read Robin Miller’s article here.
Read James Broomhead’s article here.