"Peace On Earth" For The IndyCar World
As we inch closer to Christmas Day, one of the regular readers of this site, Mike Clossin, suggested it might be appropriate to consider some of the good things going on in the IndyCar world. I thought this was an excellent idea since there seems to be so much venom spewing right now with about every article you read regarding the Izod IndyCar Series. I’m guilty of some of it myself.
As we all spout off about things like Danica going to NASCAR, the radical concept that may be the next Indy car or the shortened schedule in May – it might be an appropriate time to drop the swords for a short time to see what good things are going on in the IICS. I broached the subject over Thanksgiving when I wrote about what the IRL has to be thankful for, but there are a few other aspects of this segment we need to discuss.
First of all, the new “Road to Indy” plan that was just unveiled by the league is a huge step forward. Before, the path to the Indy 500 for young aspiring drivers was muddled. Now that the league has added the Star Mazda Series as well as the U.S. F2000 to the Firestone Indy Lights Series as a three-step ladder program for advancement to the Izod IndyCar Series, things are at least a lot clearer. It’s not any easier but at least the path has been cleared up. In the past, there was no distinct path for young drivers. This won’t convince any young star to choose Indy over NASCAR, but for those that want to follow the open-wheel route; they have at least created a map in how to reach the top.
Speaking of NASCAR…don’t look now, but I think that they may actually be feeling the sting of this economic environment more than the IICS. The teams of the Izod IndyCar Series were more or less forced to cut back a couple of years ago. They have been down to a lean & mean state for a while now. They’re primed and ready to move forward. NASCAR is faced with higher overhead combined with dwindling crowds and TV ratings. While it’s tempting to chuckle just a bit – it doesn’t do anyone in motorsports any good for one of the major series to be hurting.
And while we’re on the subject of one series gloating over the other, that brings us to the Christmas theme that I wanted to explore.
I really enjoy reading Curt Cavin’s articles at The Indianapolis Star. But for some reason, I always feel compelled to read the comment section after his articles on IndyStar.com. Unlike the comment section of most of the IndyCar blog sites that are either well thought out points, humorous or both – the comment section on The Star web site seemed to written by the angriest of IndyCar fans.
Whether the article was about Danica’s new paint job or the Chevy Camaro that will again pace the field at Indy in 2010 – somehow the comment section will quickly devolve into a battle of wits between the lowest common denominators on the planet; with both sides playing the same tired CART Vs. IRL card. The outcomes of these encounters are always predictable and never pretty.
There have been two full racing seasons to come and go since unification between ChampCar and IndyCar took place. To be arguing about who won and who screwed whom, is pointless. In 1996, I was in CART’s corner all the way. I gave up my Indy tickets and stayed away from 1996 until I returned in 2003. Nothing gave me more pleasure than watching Juan Montoya dominate in Indy 2000 and then to watch the CART sweep of the first six positions of the 2001 Indianapolis 500. Healthy discussions and debates are good for sports. It’s when things sink to the level of when two anonymous internet strangers are hiding behind screen names, arguing about who sucks the most – that things get to a destructive stage.
The biggest reason for my joy was that I was hoping it would hasten the end of the ridiculous split in open-wheel racing. I followed most of the top teams from CART when they migrated over to the IRL in the first part of this decade. I didn’t care about the philosophy of one series over the other. I cared about the Indy 500 and followed the series I thought had the most staying power – and by 2004, that was the IRL
Both sides had their faults in the late nineties. They both made mistakes and both acted like a group of second-graders at times. Quite honestly, I didn’t care which side won so long as the Indianapolis 500 was preserved and the split finished early. Well, neither happened.
The split drug on for twelve years and the Indianapolis 500 lost a great deal of its luster, as a direct result of this split. What can I do about it? Well, if I’m a loyal reader of The Star — I can put up a daily post to slam Tony George for ruining the 500 via the split. That will certainly get others to weigh in real quickly about the varying viewpoints of the open-wheel split. Suddenly, we don’t even remember that Curt Cavin wrote an article about tires, as the comment section takes on a life of its own.
Quite honestly, I don’t know why the Champ car side is so slow to embrace the unified series. With high-dollar teams, engine leases, foreign drivers, the majority of tracks on road courses and international races; the IRL of today more closely resembles CART of the nineties than it does the IRL of the nineties.
The truth of the matter is, there is nothing I or anyone else can do about the past. We can either continue to point fingers and worry about which side won, or we can try to do what we can to support the Izod IndyCar Series. When compared to NASCAR, it is an awfully good product. My concern for the sport is for the next five years. My personal opinion is that the long-term prospects look good for the sport. If the league can survive the next five years, the groundwork that is being laid in marketing and driver/team development will pay dividends down the road.
In the meantime, I implore both sides to embrace the Christmas spirit. We need stop being so angry about something we can’t change. The only thing that can change is the future. If you want to see open-wheel racing thrive in the next decade, hop aboard the bandwagon. There’s plenty of room. If you want off, we’ll stop and let you off so you can quietly go do something else. But don’t stay on board simply to cause trouble. All that will do is create havoc and make our admittedly small fan base implode.
So in this Christmas season, let there be Peace on Earth in our IndyCar world. Like any family, we all have our differences. But also like any family, we’ll crumble if we focus too much on the transgressions of the past instead of moving forward.