Why IndyCar Should Be Thankful
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought that it might be appropriate to list a few things that the Izod Indy Racing League should be thankful for. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are a few items that fans and anyone involved with the league should be grateful for, in no particular order…
The Izod Sponsorship – There was not a whole lot of imagination required to come up with this one. At a time when economic uncertainty surrounds almost every industry, the IRL landed the golden goose with the deep pockets and vast marketing power of Izod parent company Phillips-Van Huesen. There is to be an influx of cash but more importantly, they have the ability to reach out and tap into an entirely new fan base for the series. The six-year deal also lends an air of stability and makes it a little easier for teams to close potential sponsorship deals.
Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing – Although everyone complained that these two teams won sixteen of seventeen races in 2009, we should be thankful we have these teams to shoot for. Other than whoever Danica Patrick is driving for, these are the most visible teams in open-wheel racing. They are the Steelers and Cowboys; the Yankees and Red Sox or the Celtics and Lakers. They are two teams that have been at it for years. Each team may have its down years, but year in and year out – one or both of them is the team to beat. Before either team moved over to the IRL, there was not a whole lot of satisfaction or notoriety involved in beating Cahill Racing or Bradley Motorsports. Like them or not, they set the standard for the rest of the series.
Danica Patrick – If you’ve been reading this site for very long, you probably realize I’m not a huge Danica fan. I see her as a slightly better than average driver that tends to be a little too conservative. She never seems to push the car to the limit, but she usually brings her equipment home in one piece. At least she isn’t one of those drivers who toils near the back of the field and still find a way to put it in the fence.
Even though I sometimes resent the attention she gets, at least someone is getting attention. The thought has been that she would generate interest and these new fans would stick around once they sampled our product. That hasn’t been the case. Instead, we’re stuck with a bunch of drunk, overweight guys wearing Danica T-shirts that seem to hang around the track thinking they might actually get to date her. Maybe Izod can devise a way to retain these new customers sampling her brand.
Honda & Firestone – These companies are more than just partners or vendors to the league. They have both taken the initiative to work with the IRL to do whatever it takes to keep their product on the track. Honda reluctantly became the sole engine provider as their competition withered away after the 2005 season. They detuned the engines to improve reliability and have worked with the league as they switched from methanol to ethanol. They are encouraging other manufacturers to join the series but they have made it clear they still want to participate. Firestone has also worked with the league to provide a safe yet reliable tire. It speaks volumes for Bridgestone-Firestone engineers that they are the only tire company that has not been embarrassed by bringing a faulty tire to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the last few years.
A.J. Foyt – Although his team was uncompetitive in CART and the current decade in the IRL, he has been loyal to the league and has been a fixture on the grid for my entire life. While many teams would have packed it in years ago, Foyt shows up year after year and always has a car in the field in a time when car count is a big concern. In some years, without Foyt there may not have been a full field in the Indy 500.
The man is a living legend. He has now grown into a caricature of himself, but he is a link to the past that we are lucky to have. Most of the drivers in the field today would do well to gain just a quarter of the passion that AJ Foyt still brings to the track. He turns seventy-five next January and is still extremely active. Some would say he is too active, but we need to appreciate the man while we’ve still got him. Once he’s gone, it’ll be a huge blow to the sport.
The Andretti Family – Like them or not, they have remained just as much a part of this sport as Foyt. Mario Andretti is another legend that is still very active in the sport. Michael Andretti has been fielding at least four cars on the grid since 2004. His team, which has just been renamed Andretti Autosport, has underperformed for the last couple of years but the league is a lot better off with his presence. His team has fielded some of the biggest stars in the sport in their short history. If he suddenly grew tired of being a car owner and closed up shop, I shudder to think what it would do to the league.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway – There aren’t enough accolades for the property that sits at 16th and Georgetown. There would certainly be no series without the famed 2.5-mile oval. The Hulman-George family, for all of its recent shortcomings, has done a phenomenal job of preserving the past while moving the facility into the future. Like his grandfather, Tony George realized what his facility meant to so many people. Although I didn’t agree with everything he did, I never questioned his dedication to the institution that the Speedway had become. I can only hope that Jeff Belskus and the sisters act with one eye on the bottom line with another one on the track’s heritage.
There are a lot of problems within the IndyCar inner-workings and there is a tremendous amount of work to be done by a lot of people in 2010 and beyond. But we’ll worry about that next week. Right now, it’s time to realize and appreciate what is right with the series.
*Please note – There will be no blog this Friday Nov 27. I am traveling this weekend and will be eating turkey at my mother’s home in the house that I grew up in, which I am very thankful for. I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend. I will return here on Monday Nov 30. – GP